become even more prevalent since the advent of the Internet and e-mail,
there is nothing new about these stories. But why do they work?
I think one of the main reasons we love urban legends is that, no matter
what our viewpoint, someone somewhere has an urban legend to support it.
If you're right-wing by nature, you can find all sorts of urban legends
that go into great detail about some of the evil exploits of those
horrid liberals. If you're left-wing by nature, you can find an equal
number of wonderful e-mails expounding on the nasty deeds of those
hateful conservatives. And of course if you're in the middle, you can
find support for the ill-will and threats to humanity of both sides.
Who forwards these things to you? You can almost always tell from the
messages themselves. A homophobe will forward you every piece of
anti-gay urban legend he or she can get their hands on, every statistic,
every detail, no matter how outrageous. A racist will deliberately pick
out anything he or she can get their paws on that displays someone of a
particular skin color or ethnicity in a bad light, while at the same
time ignoring all the other stuff that points out the equality, both
good and bad, of all races. A man-hating woman or a woman-hating man
will send you ruthless-man or idiot-woman stories, respectively. A
religious bigot, or a non-religious religion-hating bigot, for that matter, will send you everything he or she can find that proves
that all those devilish practitioners of that other religion, whatever
it may be, are out to get us (the good guys, whoever we represent). The
paranoid among us will send us every message talking about government
thought, financial, and media control. People in minorities who crave victimhood will find all manner of "proof" that "they're all out to get us". Of course all that happens in the above and other examples is that good people wind up looking bad, the guilty just get angrier and the innocent get hurt.
It all goes back to our selective believing of what we here. When we so
select based on an understanding of the situation, this is a good thing.
But when we select based on our leanings only, then we tend to
perpetuate those urban legends we like and poo-poo the others, which
someone somewhere else is probably busy perpetuating at that very moment. I believe the
perpetuation of urban legends is more of a reflection of our prejudices
and bigotry than anything else, in many cases. Of course, this doesn't
hold true for all urban legends. Some are just plain silly. Others are
clever ways for spammers to gain valid e-mail addresses. Some are
attempts by people who don't have a job to make money without trying.
And so on. But many urban legends are, I contend, expressions of
unhealthy stereotypes and prejudice.