Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

The impact of urban legends

Jenna Taylor

“Bloody Mary” repeated three times in the mirror, the tall, faceless man who lurks in the dark, the story of a man waking up with a missing kidney — urban legends have always been whispered to us. From a young age, we have been told stories about black-eyed children, the mysterious call received by a babysitter and hundreds of other stories that make our skin crawl. Urban legends surround us, and they can be anything from tales told on the school bus to internet stories. But why do stories like this spread, and why do they impact us so much?

The term “urban legend” has been popular since the 1980s, when Jan Harold Brunvand published his collection of urban legends and their meanings. When discussing the story of the vanishing hitchhiker, Harold wrote that the legend had evolved from older European stories about travelers riding horseback. With time, the story adopted more variations. With changes in the narrative, scenery and characters, the story has traveled far and wide, spreading by word of mouth to ears all around. 

Urban legends typically grow popular through storytelling. The speaker usually claims that such things happened to “a friend of a friend,” making the story something we want to believe. Because why would a friend lie? The peculiarities and suspense of an urban legend are what makes them spread. The more shocking yet realistic the story, the more we want to share it. Sometimes, urban legends are told to extend caution and sometimes, most times, they are simply good stories. Nowadays, instant communication has made it easier for urban legends to spread. For a long time, urban legend email chains were popular, and now such tales are told on social media with a few clicks. The continuous pattern of misinformation circulating on social media has made it easier for such stories to be shared, as many people take what they read and hear on the internet at face value, never second-guessing their feeds. 

What makes urban legends so captivating is that they contain elements from everyday life, such as walking through the woods, driving down a long road, looking into a mirror — the list is endless. There is something so haunting about the possibility that ordinary things could expose us to the terrors these legends speak of. As time passes, urban legends shift, retelling a modernized version of the story to newer audiences, making urban legends everlasting. 

Some stories we take more seriously than others because apart from entertainment, urban legends allow us to spread awareness and preach caution about the dangers hidden in everyday life. But there have been times when urban legends have been taken too seriously. 

In 2014, two girls attempted to brutally murder their best friend because of the urban legend of the Slender Man. The first time the name touched screens was in 2009, when two faked photos and ominous captions were posted about the Slender Man, suggesting that because of this evil character, people had gone missing. These two simple posts sparked an internet phenomenon, birthing lore, video games, movies and more about the mysterious creature. 

People began to believe the Slender Man was real and that he was a danger to society, specifically children. In 2013, when the story reached 12-year-olds Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, it forever changed many lives. After believing that the Slender Man was going to harm her family, Geyser proposed to Weier that to become servants or proxies to Slender Man, they would have to sacrifice their close friend. After plotting, the two young girls lured their 12-year-old friend, Payton Leutner into the woods and stabbed her 19 times. Although the girls were caught and Leutner survived, the story is not any less terrifying. 

It is important to be cautious when spreading stories, especially among children. Because urban legends like this one can quickly unfold into more elaborate, creative stories, our minds can wander into dark, scary places. Although most are not susceptible to becoming violent because of a story, urban legends can trigger deep, dark fears, impacting us deeply and oftentimes making us paranoid. 

Most people have been impacted by urban legends in one way or another, whether that be hearing a story and sharing it with a friend or stumbling upon a Creepypasta and not being able to sleep in the dark for days. Urban legends are not typical scary stories; they are spread with the notion that they are true and that they are something we should beware of. Urban legends must be spread with warning, as they can unravel more than we know. 

Urban legends can form innocently, sometimes with the simple intention of amusing friends and sometimes with the intention of evoking harmless fear. But as humans, we have a knack for taking scary stories and legends too seriously. Do not believe everything you hear, and remember to spread stories with caution. You never know what you could be stirring up in someone’s mind or how easy it can be to impact a person’s life forever. 

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About the Contributors
Luna Infante
Luna Infante, Assistant Opinion Editor
Luna (she/her) is a second-year student at UTSA, majoring in communications. Luna enjoys journalistic and creative writing. With communications, she plans on pursuing a career in journalism, hoping to one day be the editor-in-chief of a magazine. She has been with The Paisano since Fall 2022. Apart from writing, Luna’s interests include dancing, being around people, and hanging out with her cat, Arlo.
Jenna Taylor
Jenna Taylor, Magazine Editor
Hi! I am Jenna (she/her) and I am a senior communication major as well as the Magazine Editor for both of the Paisano's 2023 magazines. I love writing and graphic design and am grateful to spend my last year with my fellow editors and staff members!

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