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"I have a friend of a friend who brought home a dog from Mexico, then he shaved it. It turns out someone had stolen its kidney and replaced it with a Polaroid picture of my toothbrush up Richard Gere's ass. Go figure!"

This is a true story. Happened to a friend of a friend of mine...

An Urban Legend is a story told by a person as a true event. It is told as having happened locally, to a "friend of a friend", and is usually altered in the telling. The people at Snopes collect these critters.

They most often show up on television as the Case of the Week on Police Procedurals. Occasionally one can happen to one of the main characters on a drama or sitcom. There are a small but increasing number of shows dedicated to proving/disproving their basis in reality; the most popular of these is Myth Busters, followed closely by the cable series Penn and Teller Bullshit. They can sometimes even show up in newspapers as filler articles, you can recognize them as stories that sound too weird to be true that do not specify the names of the people involved or in what city they took place.

Often used to Scare'Em Straight, or just to tell a little bit of humour. (The Cabbage Patch Kids one, for example, was a joke.)

See Urban Legend of Zelda for examples concerning video games.

Examples of Urban Legends include:


Advertising

  • There was a widespread myth that "Mikey", the little kid from the Life cereal commercials ("He won't eat it! Mikey hates everything!") had died from trying out a deadly combination of Pop Rocks and Soda. As it turns out, no, the dude's still alive, and in his mid-40s today. In fact, Quaker Oats played on this urban legend in the early 2000s by reshooting the commercial with the now-grown-up original cast (and changing nothing else).

Anime & Manga

  • In the anime Baccano, the Mafia assassin Vino takes on the persona of the Rail Tracer, an urban legend about a monster that stalks trains.
    • Even better, Fridge Logic makes one realize that he is the one who started his own urban legend. Awesome.
  • Paranoia Agent concerns urban legends that are created and become increasingly real.
  • Urban legends are a major theme of Dennou Coil, particularly how everyone tends to interpret them differently. Questions such as "Just what are kirabugs/Illegals/Michiko, really?" are asked and answered many, many times over the course of the series, and everyone seems to have a different version.
  • In Serial Experiments Lain it seems that Internet memes start leaking into reality, resulting in alien sightings, and suchlike. Also things like ghosts and The Men in Black seem to actually exist, though in manner slightly different than the legends would indicate.
  • Episode 4 of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun features two Urban Legends. One of them is the undressing woman and the other one is a guy who can nullify anything. You get to see the first one, and the second one is obviously the hero of the whole series itself: Touma.
  • Durarara is in large part about these.
  • The manga Hanako and The Terror of Allegory deals with these.
  • The 90's OVA Gakkou No Yuurei (School Ghosts). Each episode consists of several spooky vignettes, which are allegedly based on real experiences.


Comic Books

  • The Big Book Of Urban Legends was a graphic novel anthology published in 1994, collecting 200 tales of "folklore for our times".


Film

  • In film, the movies Urban Legend and Urban Legends: Final Cut deal with serial killers who take inspiration from these.
    • The third film, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, actually has the urban legend committing the murders.
  • The Candyman series of movies, whose villain is based on the "Bloody Mary" legend.
  • The movie Dead Man On Campus has a plot dealing with the urban legend that you get straight A's in your college classes if your roommate commits suicide.
  • While many of the stories (especially the Cousin Walter stories) told by characters in Kevin Smith's movies may seem like urban legends, the only one that actually is based on one; Cousin Walter keeps getting cats stuck up his ass, in an attempt to get a gerbil out of there.
  • In Suicide Kings, one of the yuppie kidnappers tells one about the Retired Monster they're holding hostage, to stave off Lima Syndrome. It turns out to be true, except not as gruesome as the reality.
  • Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia starts off by presenting three urban legends as fact.
  • The film Grown Ups includes a scene based on the urine-detecting dye myth.
  • Urbania references many of these and is partially told as one.
  • There are urban legends in the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. For a long time, people thought that a crowned crane in the scene where Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man resume their journey was a guy hanging himself. You can blame the bad image quality and the small size of TV screens -- when the film was rerelased in 3D IMAX for its 75th anniversary in late 2013, the crane was very obvious.
    • And of course, most notably, the Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon soundtrack synching legend. Vigorously denied by the band, who have pointed out that the audio technology, necessary to make the film soundtrack and rock album synch this precisely with each other, didn't exist in 1973.
  • An urban legend is that the movie Three Men and A Baby has a ghost visible in a window in one scene. It's actually just a cardboard cut-out used for promos.
  • Kamen Rider Fourze states that the previous stories of all Kamen Riders before it have been passed down as these.

Literature

  • There is also a book called The Beheaded Freshman and Other Gruesome Tales. The lead tale (from the title) is about a freshman wanting to get into an elite club (I could be wrong, can't find the book at the moment) but the people blindfold him and kneel him down, saying they are going to behead him. They describe one raising the axe high over his head (the freshman thinks it is a prank) and then drop a cool washcloth on his neck. The freshman screams the moment the cool touches his neck (thinking it is cold steel) and collapses. Scared, the others call an ambulance; Seems the freshman had a heart problem that the others did not know and the fright caused a heart attack. Whoops!
  • Parodied in the Discworld novel Witches Abroad, which claims that, thanks to the Theory of Narrative Causality, not only do urban myths really happen, but they happen repeatedly. It also applies to fairy tale plots, which Nanny Ogg calls "rural myths" at one point.
  • In the second of the Never Deal with a Dragon trilogy of Shadowrun novels the protagonis Sam learns that generations of childhood belief in the fact that alligators live in sewers after being flushed has caused them to become an urban magical totem as well as a nature one.
  • Jan Harold Brunvand has written a series of books detailing urban legends, including The Vanishing Hitchhiker, The Choking Doberman and others.
  • The city of Chicago.
  • British writer Jeffery Archer often uses urban legends as the basis of a story (although he seems to believe they are true). His short story collection A Twist Of a Tale contains several, most notably a story based on "the killer in the back seat". (Otto of The Simpsons actually told Bart and Lisa a more convincing version.)
  • Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series moshes together urban legends with other bits of folklore for a pretty gruesome mix.
  • Legend has it that if you ask at SF conventions, you'll hear tale of some SF writer who created a book specifically to be as bad as possible. It turned out to be the exact opposite, since an entire cult of people sprung up around it demanding more, so he said "why the fuck not!" and made a career on it. Depending on who you ask this person was either John Norman (author of the Gor series) or Piers Anthony. If this is true or not is unknown but it's a well-known enough story that at least one book featured it as a foreword, and if you search the internet you'll find discussions of who the alleged writer is. And before someone asks: no, it is not nor has it ever been L. Ron Hubbard, nor Robert E. Howard (Conan's creator), nor is it Robert Heinlein. What sparse clues exist in the legend easily rule them out. General consensus does seem to point to Piers Anthony however, and his name comes up associated with it a lot.
  • Much of Barney's Version, a novel narrated by a man who slowly develops Alzheimer's as the book progresses, builds up the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Barney's best friend Boogie Moscovitch, with whose murder Barney is eventually charged. Throughout the book, Barney's status as a semi-Unreliable Narrator (both intentionally and unintentionally as the disease consumes his memories) keeps the events surrounding the incident shrouded in confusion. The final chapter, narrated by Barney's son Michael, reveals that Barney was, in fact, innocent - turns out poor Boogie fell victim to the classic dead-diver-in-the-forest legend whe he went for that swim!
  • Swedish writer Bengt af Klintberg wrote a book about common Swedish urban legends called Råttan i pizzan (the rat in the pizza). The book became so popular that Klintbergare is now an accepted synonym for an urban legend in Sweden.


Live Action TV

  • In CSI New York, the dress from a corpse manages to kill a bride on her wedding day.
    • In another episode, a college student killed his roommate so he could get an automatic 4.0 for the semester.
  • In the original CSI, the crew finds a scuba diver in a tree after a forest fire.
  • To complete the CSI trifecta, CSI: Miami has a man killed by his cell phone sparking an explosion of gas fumes. It was fumes in his lungs from gas siphoning, rather than a gas station, but the mechanics are the same.
  • Myth Busters, as noted above.
  • Weird U.S. and the travel-log books its based on.
  • Supernatural bases many of its episodes on urban legends.
    • In fact one episode had a monster that was literally created by the urban legend regarding him. As the urban legend changed (as manipulated by two ghost hunters' website) the creature's powers and weaknesses changed too.
    • Another episode of note is "Tall Tales", where one college campus starts experiencing a number of urban legends coming true at the same time. Turns out the janitor is a Trickster god.
    • The fifth season episode "I Believe the Children Are Our Future" also features urban legend-based deaths. The culprit in this episode is a little kid named Jesse, who believes these urban legends are true, and somehow makes them true. The Winchesters discover that the reason he can alter reality on a whim is because that he is actually The Antichrist, though he doesn't really want to be.
    • There was also an episode where a man died when he "ingested" dozens of razorblades "hidden" in the Halloween candy he'd been sneaking at night, but in actuality it was witchcraft and good timing for the themed effect.
  • An SCTV fake commercial features Eugene Levy as a fast-talking used car dealer showing off the specials on his lot, all subjects of urban legends - "a Cadillac! Great shape...the damn thing's full of cement!...maybe you're handy with a cold chisel? $500 as is - you pay the towing!"...or a Mustang found parked in Lovers Lane with the driver hanging over the roof - "there's scuff marks on the roof - a little rubbing compound, it's all behind ya! $700!" At the commercial's end he does a comical Double Take at a prosthetic hook hanging off a door handle.
  • The show Truth Or Scare on Discovery Kids existed entirely of promoting this trope. Because we all know that crop circles are real and the Tower of London is haunted, right? RIGHT?
  • Animal Planet's Lost Tapes does this with cryptozoology.
  • An episode of Law and Order ("Sonata for Solo Organ") started out with a man waking up on a park bench, and discovering he's missing a kidney.
    • Which some urban legend experts claim actually helped popularize the legend itself, which had been fairly obscure until then.
  • In an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent ("Art"), the killer of the week took advantage of an urban legend by killing her roommate and making it look like a suicide, thus entitling her to passing grades (not straight A's) in her final semester of art school.
  • The myth of waking up with an internal organ missing apparently survives well into the future, since Janeway and Chakotay discuss it on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
    • In fact, it actually happens in one episode, when Neelix's lungs are stolen by black market organ sellers. This was lampshaded during Janeway and Chakotay's conversation.
  • The "toothbrushes up their bums" UL was the basis of the joke at the end of one episode of The Vicar of Dibley.
  • The Spike TV "docu-fiction" series 1000WaysToDie features bizarre causes of death, most of them stemming from urban legends. These range from a vaginal embolism caused by a carrot dildo puncturing the vaginal wall and exploding breast implants to death by drinking acid instead of vodka.
  • Series/"Urban Legends" tells three of these in each episode, loosely tied together with the episode's theme, as well as two random 'mini-myths' before the commercial breaks. The viewer is asked to guess which legends are real and which aren't. At the end of the episode (and after the commercial breaks for the mini-myths) it is revealed who was telling the truth.
  • In an episode of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids TV series, one of Wayne's inventions brings an urban legends book to life via Hard Light holograms.
  • Food Network Challenge has done an Urban Legends Cake-making episode for Halloween.
  • Britta tells the ever-popular "hookman" story in the Community episode "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps", featuring Jeff as the boyfriend and herself as the girlfriend. The story is played onscreen exactly the way she tells it, so it contains a substantial amount of Buffy-Speak:

 Radio: In the news tonight, top story, an escaped convict from the asylum has escaped and he's mental and he's on the loose and stuff.

Britta as the girlfriend: Oh my god, that sounds dangerous!

Jeff as the boyfriend: I'm sure it's no biggie. But I am a horny man, so I'm only half present.

Radio: He was last seen in the woods and has a thingy for a hand, a hook-thing where his hand should be, you know what I mean.

  • The Drew Carey Show had an episode where Drew and Kate got "fake married" as part of an old dare. The night's celebrations get called off early when Kate develops a rash and gets short of breath. Turns out the wedding dress she bought from a secondhand store had formaldehyde in it.
  • On Justified Raylan comes across an Organ Theft ring and gets mocked for believing in an urban legend when he asks a nurse about. The criminals avoided most of the usual elements of the legend and stole kidneys from the corpses of recently deceased prison inmates. They had the prisoners' medical records so they knew which kidneys were healthy and one of them had professional training in transplant procedures.
    • The one time they do the 'cut out kidney in a motel room and leave the victim in the bathtub' routine it is a ruse perpetuated so they can blackmail the victim by pretending to hold his kidneys hostage. They just made a couple incisions and sutured them back up


Music

  • Ludo's "Lake Pontchartrain" features a young man telling the story of his two friends getting swallowed up in a very predatory context.
  • "The Little Girl" by Country Music legend John Michael Montgomery is a song based on an urban legend of a girl whose atheist alcoholic parents kill each other in a murder-suicide before she herself is sent to a home raised by Christian foster parents who teach her to attend church, and one day she sees that the man on the cross (Jesus) is the one who came down to help her during the night of the murder-suicide.
  • Eminem has a song called "Stan", about the title character discussing an urban legend about Phil Collins' song called "In the Air [1]" and the misinterpretation of the song's lyrics about drowning and not lending a hand.


New Media

  • The Darwin Awards has a major collection of urban legends, debunked Darwin Awards that are just too good (or popular) to delete.
  • Snopes is one of the best-known websites devoted to these, with true/false assessments.
  • The Slender Man Mythos is a memetically-spread loosely-defined canon of horror fiction that uses the general trappings of urban folklore (missing children in the woods, mysterious stalkers, and the fact that no two tellings of the same tale are exactly the same) to pretty creepy effect. It worked, too, considering how many people think it's true.
  • The Shiny Pidgy Story is both a meme and an urban legend of epic proportions.


Tabletop Games

  • In addition to an Urban Legends sourcebook that provides stats for Bloody Mary, dopplegangers, and sewer alligators, the New World of Darkness has Legends, a subset of slashers. They typically start off as Avengers, but then their hunt either spirals outward from a specific group to everyone resembling said group, or the rules of their hunt become so complex it turns into a myth. In the process, the Slasher becomes something akin to Freddy Krueger or Candyman. They have the power to gain strength by keeping close to the particulars of their myth, but find it hard to break their own rules.


Video Games

  • Persona 2, both parts, are about urban legends that start to mysteriously come true. Innocent Sin has this more as a central theme, although it is not absent from Eternal Punishment.
    • And Persona 4's plot is kicked off because of a urban legend of the Midnight Channel, where you see your soulmate if you look into an empty TV at midnight on a rainy day. Turns out, there's a bit more than that.
  • Polybius: The progenitor of all those "creepy/haunted vidya games" creepypasta stories found on the internet these days. Newer versions of the tale play it from a more supernatural angle than the Government Conspiracy implied in older tellings.


Webcomics

  • Kevin and Kell's equivalent to the 'missing kidney' urban legend is a rhino waking up in a bathtub to find that his horn (believed to be an aphrodisiac) is missing.
  • Xkcd, on the other hand, inverts the urban legend here.


Web Original


Western Animation

  • Freaky Stories, a somewhat obscure children's television show aired mainly in Canada during the 90s, is entirely built around this. It's also rife with Nightmare Fuel.
    • "It happened to a friend of a friend of mine" was their Catch Phrase, sometimes adding an extra "of a friend".
  • The Megas XLR episode "TV Dinner" has Coop and Jamie discussing the Pop Rocks/soda legend. Coop dismisses it, but it turns out to be true at the end of the episode.
  • A staple in early episodes of Hey Arnold.
  • In the first episode of The Venture Bros, Doctor Venture wakes up in Tijuana with two missing kidneys. His response to this? "Not again!" (followed by turning HELPeR into a dialysis machine).
    • Later in the same episode, he is nearly killed by a chupacabra. Brock explains: "Chupacabras. Mexico's full of 'em."
      • This also being a Brick Joke, as earlier in said episode, he taught a class exclaiming through scientific theory that a chupacabra couldn't exist.

 Rusty Venture: Now if you take the same math and apply it to the catholic church, something interesting happens...

  • In an episode of The Simpsons, "Special Edna", Bart nominates Ms. Krabappel for the Teacher of the Year Award, and tells in the video submitted to the judges that she deserves the award for surviving teaching him. The judges believed the mere existence of Bart was an urban legend, so they accept the nomination.
    • In an earlier episode, Homer is released from an asylum where he had been commited because they believed his stories about Bart were a symptom of paranoid psychosis. When Marge mentions Bart to the treating doctor, he realizes Bart is real and releases Homer immediately.
    • Bart creates his own legend about a man at the school who one day snapped and made a soup from the children's heads. The story included an Art Shift and was very effectively creepy. At the end, it turns out "Dark Stanly" was real...


Real Life

  • Truth in Television? Ronald Clark O'Bryan killed his son with poisoned Pixy Stix on Halloween 1974-- and slipped some of the poisoned candy into the bags of the boy's fellow trick-or-treaters to give the impression it was a Random Halloween Poisoner.
  • Snopes.com reports a number of urban legends as true (though they're still in a noticeable minority), including some rather unbelievable ones such as this seemingly farcical account, on which they comment: "The above-quoted tale about FBI agents trying to order pizza delivery to a psychiatric hospital is one of those pieces that serves to remind us that no matter how bizarre, far-fetched, or incredible a story may seem at first glance, it should never be entirely discounted without at least some effort being made to verify it."
  • Cracked has an ongoing series about urban legends that are true.

Notes

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