The racial background of rumors/urban legends
March 2, 2002 4:39 AM   Subscribe

The racial background of rumors/urban legends (part 2 here) "When the target is a supposed corporate conspiracy, the white version tends to address alleged behavior that isn’t race-related. Meanwhile, "black rumors play on the belief in racial animus by the elites." The Snapple-funds-anti-abortionists story was spread mostly among whites; the Snapple-KKK rumor spread mostly among blacks."
posted by owillis (7 comments total)
It's interesting that the articles don't suggest the possibility of these stories being spread by competitors. Certainly 'dirty tricks' happen, and this would seem to be a very effective way of doing it - I believed the Tommy Hilfiger story for a very long time.

By the way, on Slate the stories seem to be pop-up free (1,2). And here's the obligatory link.
posted by Gaz at 4:54 AM on March 2, 2002

Pretty good article, I wish it were longer. I'm often a guest on radio shows to discuss urban legends, and there's a wide variety of corporation/government legends that always come up. Legends specifically in the African-American community tend to focus on incorporated racism because it happens- these stories work best when they address our own experiences, fears and curiosities. (It's interesting to note that in more personal legends, however, white ignorance and black generosity are major themes. Eddie Murphy and the nervous white woman in a Vegas elevator, for example.)

Corporate and governmental distrust breaks down along other "group" lines as well; X company gives money to Operation Rescue (pro-choice,) tampon manufacturers put asbestos in their tampons to promote bleeding (women,) Mountain Dew shrinks your testicles (men,) Red Bull gives you brain tumors (general health,) the government wants to charge us for each e-mail we send (Internet users,) Proctor & Gamble gives money to the Church of Satan (Christians.)

The key to a lasting, effective urban legend is how close to true it could be; obviously there was a universal distrust of Snapple, but as for what's specifically wrong with it depends on the audience- the more personal, the better. I think it's pretty interesting to examine the seed legend and its consequent mutations to make itself as relevant to as many people as possible.
posted by headspace at 6:01 AM on March 2, 2002

I need this book! Thanks, owillis!
Urban legends (and other folklore) have always fascinated me. For what it's worth, I've gotten both the "Kentucky Fried Rat" and the "mutated beakless chicken" versions. The "mutated beakless chicken" struck me as deliberate disinformation. The writing's VERY slick and professional. And I suspect the downsized employee who wrote it read Kornbluth and Pohl's THE SPACE MERCHANTS, because that's "Chicken Little" he/she describes.
posted by realjanetkagan at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2002

Demographic things like this always fascinate me. I saw an article some years back on the differences between black and white TV viewing--the Simpsons was the only show in the top ten that was on both lists. Seinfeld , for instance, was number 1 on the white viewers list but at the bottom for black viewers with only 3% of black households watching. I guess that puts you in the 3% Nation, owillis, you iconoclast, you. ;)
posted by y2karl at 12:28 PM on March 2, 2002

Welcome to Inappropriate Comment Theater...
posted by jpoulos at 1:59 PM on March 2, 2002

What was inappropriate?
posted by owillis at 2:20 PM on March 2, 2002

The urban legend that circulated most when I was young was the "eat Pop Rocks/drink a soda/explode" story, which all my freinds of all races believed unquestioningly until I tested it out.
Needless to say, I didn't explode. I just burped like a son-of-a-bitch for a couple hours.
There was also the rumor around my highschool that if you took three Advil and immediately smoked a Marlboro Light, you would catch a "wicked buzz." That one make the rounds anywhere else?
posted by jonmc at 3:34 PM on March 2, 2002

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