An urban legend is a modern story, approaching the myth and can borrow from all genres (story, horror, joke, etc.) and spreading by the mouth or other popular mediums (contemporary or not). It is also called a contemporary legend and approaches the rumor or the hoax. It mainly expresses fears and fixations, which distinguish it from an educational legend that spreads more in the pedagogy, and reassuring and romantic beliefs (Mozart effect, Brain Gym, “right brain” and “left brain”). As an oral tradition, taken into account its time resistance ability, it is an integral part of folklore.
The first sociological study of an urban legend is due to the French sociologist Edgar Morin (Edgar Morin. Rumor Orleans Paris. Le Seuil, 1969) so that France is often referred to by this term that in the Anglo-Saxon world is described as “urban legend.”
American sociologist Jan Harold Brunvand has, since the 1980s, applied to the popular stories circulating in the modern world academic theories and concepts established by folklorists in the traditional study of the legends most commonly associated with distant historical events or rural cultures.
Urban legends are often recycled, adapting to new times and places, and are translated from one language to another without apparent difficulty. These stories are often told as having reached “a friend of a friend.” Some are new, others are very old (like the legend of Beblenheim) and had already circulated by mail. All these legends are folklore; this is what differentiates it from rumors.
Most often, experts attribute the title so some exclusive stories that have the following characteristics:
- narrative form (a story, a structured narrative);
- an authentication method “by convening testimonials, guidance mode, the date and place, by the intervention of their own authority” (Berlioz);
- narrative features – the careful reading – decryption and interpretation of the world (especially in its confounding or worrying in the most disturbing aspects).
Urban legends are related to common places and ideas, in that they are shared by many people without being checked. They often have an extraordinary and / or mysterious character, but may be based on real facts, and in some areas may offer explanations “alternative” to official theses (disciplines developed outside of the experimental sciences as the ufology or cryptozoology can inspire urban legends, or conversely be inspired).
They often appear in the media, sometimes also spontaneously as a popular creation. In some cases, the distribution can be organized to handle the crowd (especially in politically sensitive areas: drugs, violence, morality, racism, etc. ), a story that can be invented in order to harm an individual, a company, an ethnic or religious group, a government, etc. In such sceario the topic of disinformation is launched, which goes far beyond the framework of the “legends” and other anecdotes.