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Urban legends: spiders in your beehive

Have you ever spied on Sasquatch or ogled Ogopogo? Do you ponder the buried treasure on Oak Island or sob over suicidal lemmings? You're not alone. Canada is full of stories about elusive monsters, legendary loot, mystical creatures and contemporary lore. Join CBC Archives as we take a trip across this land of legends.

Even if they don't know the name for them, everyone has heard -- and probably repeated -- urban legends. These are the cautionary tales of modern life: stories about alligators in the sewer, deep-fried fast-food rats, and madmen who call from the telephone upstairs. The events these tales describe are rarely real, but their familiar settings make them believable. In this clip from CBC Radio's Ideas, a legend about spiders in a girl's beehive hairdo makes the rounds. 
• Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, who has researched and compiled urban legends in several books and a newspaper column, describes them as "true stories that are too good to be true." 

• According to Brunvand, what makes a story an urban legend is not whether it's true or false. What's more important to folklorists is that the story spreads by word of mouth and that the details vary from one version to the next.

• Nobody knows where the term "urban legend" comes from. 

• Folklorists have been studying urban legends for about 50 years. 

• Canadian folklorist Phil Tilney appeared on CBC Radio's Morningside in 1980 to discuss more urban legends.

• Many legends are cautionary tales about new technologies. When microwave ovens first became popular, a legend began to circulate about an elderly woman who, accustomed to drying her wet dog in a conventional oven, tried drying the dog in the microwave instead. Kaboom! 

• Another tale warned against tanning beds by discussing a bridesmaid-to-be who spent too much time tanning and cooked her insides. The story was the inspiration for the title of Brunvand's book Curses! Broiled Again!

• Other legends betray a suspicion of corporations. When Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to "KFC," stories emerged to explain the change. Among them was a rumour that the company bred mutant four-legged chickens for its restaurants, and the government refused to allow them to use the word "chicken."
Medium: Radio
Program: IDEAS
Broadcast Date: March 25, 1987
Guest(s): David Buchan, Joanne Corbeil
Interviewer: Matthew Church
Duration: 11:21

Last updated: March 13, 2012

Page consulted on January 29, 2014

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