Urban legends are tales that have been passed down through generations, often with a hint of truth to them. They can be frightening, intriguing, or even bizarre. Many of us have heard stories about a gang that offers a girl a choice between beng raped or having a facial scar in the form of a sick smile. In Japan, there’s a mythical bus or train car where girls are allegedly raped and molested by male passengers. In some parts of the US, there are tales of a psychotic killer who lurks in the backseats of cars and decapitates drivers with an ax. Some people have heard stories about an Islamic woman who killed her husband’s second wife with a scorpion hidden in the wedding dress. Additionally, there’s the highly secretive Global Conspiracy of the Bald, which only a select few know about. Whether or not these stories are true, urban legends have a way of captivating our imaginations and leaving a lasting impression.
Fear and anxiety within society, especially in response to specific technological or social advancements, can often give rise to urban legends. In Japan, for instance, the rise of trains and buses as popular modes of public transportation led to the widespread belief in the “pervert bus” myth. Similarly, a lack of comprehension about the social norms surrounding polygamous marriages sanctioned by Islam led to the creation of the “scorpion in the wedding dress” myth, fueled by fear, anxiety, and ignorance. These types of urban legends tend to endure even after the initial concerns have become irrelevant.
Everyday products can also be the source of urban legends. A popular myth involves weight loss pills that that were supposedly available through mail order in the late 1970s or early 1980s. These pills allegedly contained parasitic worms that would inhabit the stomach and promote weight loss. Despite the stories, there is no evidence that such a product ever existed. Another legend revolves around a car with extraordinary fuel efficiency. According to the tale, a couple drove the car for days without using much fuel, but it was promptly stolen by oil companies after they praised the manufacturer’s engine design.
Of course, performance anxiety and social anxiety have also produced a number of urban legends, particularly of the “conspiracy theory” form. For example, there are hundreds of people that believe they are unable to get ahead in their professional lives because of pressure applied by one secret society or another. In some ways, this is a subtle form of performance anxiety, with the people unable to accept their psychological inability to perform better and placing the blame on an unseen “hand.” A touch of social anxiety also pervades in a number of conspiracy theories when taken to excess, as people become afraid of social interaction for fear of coming into contact with agents of some socio-political super-cabal. Typically, the performance anxiety that inspires a person to hold these legends as reality come with other psychological disorders.
Social anxiety can also take root in some older societies, particularly in Europe, when urban legends about secret organizations generally have more credence with the masses. The European continent is traditionally home to a variety of secret societies, which have goals ranging from world domination to controlling the global marketplace. In some respects, social anxiety sets in when people who are mentally and socially unstable in the first place hear the stories and begin to construct elaborate and implausible stories to back up the legends. The end result is that one ends up with a person that, essentially, believes that group is “out to get them.” The only real variation tends to be what the group is, though the Illuminati, the Camarilla, the Knights Templar, the Vatican, the New World Order, and Satanic cults are among the more typical.
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