I have run up against two uncomfortable situations within the last twenty four hours, both involving other Internet sites which will remain unnamed-and both involving the actual, historical reality of urban legends and mythologies.
I’m actually a fairly religious person-but it’s hard to separate the social science training that I have. I understand the mechanisms of religious thought, I just choose to gain the social benefits from the religious experience (stop me if I become too Durkheimian). However, being the Durkheimian I am, I can’t deny the historical reality that sits behind legends.
The first situation is one that Reddit has already commented on, and commented on better than I am. There is a certain very large, common, viral website that is running a ‘haunted houses’ segment for Halloween. One of the houses that gets mentioned is (supposedly) in Buffalo. Being that I write a Western New York paranormal column, and not recognizing the name, I did some digging and came up with nothing. Which is not surprising-since the haunting does not in fact exist. Does that really detract from the story? Well, it certainly complicates the issue. I’m all for fakelore-which interestingly connects this event to the next. However, being that there are plenty of atmospheric abandoned houses in Buffalo with an established paranormal legend attached to them, it begs the question why you wouldn’t just use one of them. Or just acknowledge that it’s an art project, and you just made up the story of [redacted].
The second situation was a site entitled something to the point of ‘the truth surrounding [redacted]’ and promised the ‘history’ of the, well, the gangly armed meme. While it touches on points that I think are probably actually valid-that the black suited image very well may be this era’s recycling of a very old image, it completely disregards the fact that we KNOW that this meme was made up. We have the paper trail. THE SITE THAT IT COMES FROM IS STILL FUNCTIONING AND EXCEPTIONALLY POPULAR. This is not some sort of folkloric baddy from somewhere else. The reality of it is not what you just spent 10+ paragraphs rather breathlessly telling us. If you want to ride that train-go right ahead, but you should probably at least acknowledge the Something Awful connection.
If you’ve read this blog for awhile you’ll know that I’m actually pretty serious about historical reality, as best as can be determined-I don’t actually think it detracts from anything. But what do we do when we want to buy into the myth more than the history? It’s not as though I have an answer, and I think that the best I can come up with is, as long as you understand that these are ideas coming out of somewhere else and don’t let them control your social thought too deeply-do as you will as long as you harm none.
Damn. Sorry guys, I promised you I wouldn’t go too Durkheimian on you.