BUDDIE Explores the Dark Side: The Winner of the 2002 Best Unknown Database Award Is. (Database Review)

By O'Leary, Mick | Information Today, May 2002 | Go to article overview

BUDDIE Explores the Dark Side: The Winner of the 2002 Best Unknown Database Award Is. (Database Review)


O'Leary, Mick, Information Today


It's awards season again. A time to acknowledge the heights of human achievement. Or maybe not. Plumbing the depths of human decadence is more like it. The 2002 Oscars, for example, were a wretched excess of greed, ambition, and poor taste. You had supporters of one Best Movie nominee slurring another one. You had the Best Actor and Actress awards engulfed in racial politics. You had wealthy women wearing unforgivable dresses. If you're honest enough to admit that you can't get enough of all this, you'll be delighted with this year's BUDDIE winner. So, following the lead set by the Oscars, the BUDDIE will restimulate your dark side.

For the benefit of new readers, the BUDDIE is awarded annually to the Best Unknown Database. It has the following three criteria:

1. Significant Content--The database must have content of widespread and enduring importance or interest.

2. Solid Construction--The database must be well-crafted and meticulously maintained.

3. Unknown Status--The database must be unknown or at least less well-known than its quality and interest merit.

This year's BUDDIE winner is ... (Do not skip ahead! Awards ceremonies require proper tension-building anticipation.) This year's BUDDIE winner is a monument to that part of human nature that craves the bizarre, that exults in the misfortunes and misdeeds of others, that wholeheartedly embraces schadenfreude. The winner is the Urban Legends Reference Pages!

Urban Legends on the Web

The Urban Legends Reference Pages (ULRP) is a vast reference compilation of amusing, embarrassing, horrible, and fantastic events that are weird enough to be intensely fascinating, yet just believable enough that we grant them credibility. (The URL is http://www.snopes2.com. "Snopes," of course, refers to the recurring family in Faulkner's works. Why Snopes? I have no idea.) We're all familiar with many classic urban legends: alligators in the sewers of New York, the woman who tried to dry her dog in the microwave, and the satanic meaning in the Proctor & Gamble symbol. None of these is true, but we so want to believe them that they've survived for decades in various forms, and everybody has heard of them.

ULRP recounts 1,500 urban legends, which represent the complete spectrum of human (and nonhuman and subhuman) experience. They are classified in 37 categories. Some categories, like Business, may seem pretty ordinary, but nevertheless provide several top-notch legends, like the one that Naugahyde is made from the skins of naugas, odd creatures native to Sumatra, or the true origin of Post-it notes. Some categories, like the one about animals, are predictably full of good legends, such as the story of the son who sends an expensive talking bird to his mother, who mistakes it for a game bird and eats it.

The tone ranges from the amusing, like the famous list of funny welfare-application statements, to the gut-wrenching in the Horrors category, with stories about the prisoner who used playing cards to kill himself and the golfer who died from chewing on a golf tee.

A few categories are narrow. Coca-Cola and Disney have each spawned numerous urban legends, including various uses of Coke for cleaning and claims of pornographic images embedded in Disney films. The broadest area, however, is sex and love, which has three different categories and dozens of individual legends, including terrible things that can happen to you if you cheat on your spouse, incredible ways of becoming pregnant, and embarrassing things that occur to couples in cars.

ULRP spans approximately the past 100 years--or very roughly the time period of modem media--from mass-market newspapers to the Internet. This is chiefly what distinguishes urban legends from classic legends, folklore, and superstitions, all of which have their origins in pre-modern-media times. …

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