Urban legends act as ‘social narratives’ in society

Michelle Marchante/News Director

Urban legends, including those of the University’s, may stem from society’s need for “shared stories,” according to a professor.

Rhona Trauvitch, a professor in the Department of English, feels that urban legends can be narrative teaching tools as society has historically relied on stories for answers.

“That’s how we understand anything that happens to us, through stories,” Trauvitch said.

While not a specialist on urban legends, Trauvitch teaches a class, Short Stories of Horror and the Weird, which focuses on stories that express inner fears crea

Truth or Scare Infographic about FIU

Infographic by Nicole Malanga/PantherNOW

tively. These stories range from the 1800s to present day, with the older stories having more of a supernatural element such as ghosts, witches and curses, she said, but shifts to strange and weird societal concerns the more modern the stories become.  But like all stories, including urban legends and ghost tales, they all have a message to convey.

“It goes back to asking ourselves ‘what is the purpose of having an urban myth or telling a story?’” Trauvitch said. “Are we trying to teach a les

son? What is our objective in telling the story? To share something? Is there an objective or are we just participating in art?”

And while people may like reading or watching horror films, they’re uncomfortable with the possibility of that horror happening to them in real life, which is why Trauvitch thinks people aren’t attracted to horror for its actual fear-factor, but because it makes them feel.

“I think we enjoy feeling intensely. We do not necessarily want to be shocked, but we do want to feel empathy, be entertained, experience something that’s not mundane. That we can feel so strongly, whether the feeling is pleasant or unpleasant… shows us that we have cognitive well-being…” Trauvitch said.

Urban legends also provide insight to urban and modern culture, according to “The Vanishing Hitchhike

r: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings,” a collection of legends and folklores published in 1981 by Jan Harold Brunvand, a University of Utah English professor who coined the term “urban legend.”

This cultural insight, according to Trauvitch, is apparent in the different creatures that can be found in some of the most classic horror stories, such as Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula. These creatures can sometimes be seen by the audience as a representation of something they recognize, whether it’s an incident, someone else or themselves.

But the most interesting things about stories, Trauvitch said, is their social impact.

How Fiction Crosses Into Reality is another course Trauvitch teaches where she focuses on fictional entities that have connected with audience members so much that they’ve become real in society, such as Harry Potter’s quidditch, Star Trek’s Klingon language, or Wonka Bars.

“I find it really interesting that we interact with these fictional entities even after the book is closed or the movie is finished,” she said. “The fiction impacts us so much that we still want to access it…[and] I think there’s a lot there about how we relate to narrative and how it’s a social kind of experience of narrative because all these interactions are social.”

The different legends found throughout the University, such as the power of the seal or the kissing bridge, according to Trauvitch, are also examples of this social narrative.

The legend goes that if a student steps on the FIU seal in front of GC, they will not graduate on time unless they walk backwards behind the seal, and any couple that kisses on the kissing bridge is sealed to be married unless one of them throws the other into the lake.

“This is a way to allow us to feel that we are part of the FIU community because we have these shared stories we all know about or have heard something about. We’re so different…yet we have these shared ideas…”

 

Photo by Nicole Malanga/PantherNOW

About the Author

Michelle Marchante
Michelle Marchante is the 2018-2019 Editor-in-Chief of PantherNOW. Majoring in broadcast journalism, she lives and breathes web, print, radio and TV news 24/7. You can connect with her on Twitter @TweetMichelleM

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