Urban Legends Intro & Reading Assessment
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by Eric Bryan
| 11 Questions
PART 1: URBAN LEGEND CULTURAL ADMONITION LESSON
Watch the video clip below taken from the film Urban Legend. Pay careful attention in order to answer the following questions. If you need to, you may go back and watch segments of the video again.
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What is an urban legend as defined by the professor?
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The college professor discusses a cultural admonition to urban legends and uses the babysitter urban legend as an example. What is the definition of cultural admonition? (In other words, how would you describe it?)
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How believable are urban legends?  Should they be taken seriously? Explain.
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What is the cultural admonition of the story about the babysitter?  Explain.
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Explain the urban legend involving Pop Rocks and soda as depicted in the scene.
PART 2: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS
Watch the clip linked below from When a Stranger Calls (1979) and answer the questions that follow.
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What are the similarities between this scene and the one described by the professor in the previous film clip from Urban Legend?  Explain carefully.
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Do you think it’s an urban legend?  Is it still a common legend or would you say it’s outdated?  Explain.
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Would the technology we have today change the situation of the characters?  How so?
PART 3:
Directions: Read the urban legend below, debunked on snopes.com, and answer the questions that follow.
Gas Trick Upset
Claim: Service station customers are getting stuck by HIV-loaded syringes affixed to gas pump handles.
Status: False
Example: (collected via e-mail 2006)

My name is Captain Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Florida Police Department. I have been asked by state and local authorities to write this email in order to get the word out to car drivers of a very dangerous prank that is occurring in numerous states.

Some person or persons have been affixing hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pump handles. These needles appear to be infected with HIV positive blood. In the Jacksonville area alone there have been 17 cases of people being stuck by these needles over the past five months. We have verified reports of at least 12 others in various states around the country.

It is believed that these may be copycat incidents due to someone reading about the crimes or seeing them reported on the television. At this point no one has been arrested and catching the perpetrator(s) has become our top priority.

Shockingly, of the 17 people who were struck, eight have tested HIV positive and because of the nature of the disease, the others could test positive in a couple years.

Evidently the consumers go to fill their car with gas, and when picking up the pump handle get stuck with the infected needle. IT IS IMPERATIVE TO CAREFULLY CHECK THE HANDLE of the gas pump each time you use one. LOOK AT EVERY SURFACE YOUR HAND MAY TOUCH, INCLUDING UNDER THE HANDLE.

If you do find a needle affixed to one, immediately contact your local police department so they can collect the evidence.

PLEASE HELP US BY MAINTAINING VIGILANT AND BY FORWARDING THIS EMAIL TO ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO DRIVES. THE MORE PEOPLE WHO KNOW OF THIS THE BETTER PROTECTED WE CAN ALL BE.
Origins: This hoax urging caution when pumping gas appeared on the Internet in early June 2000. In common with other AIDS-infected needle scares (syringe attacks in movie houses and dance clubs and contaminated needles in payphone coin returns), it plays upon our fear of contracting this dread disease through the pursuit of ordinary and harmless activities.

There is no Abraham Sands with the Jacksonville Police Department—someone just invented a name to make this “warning” look authoritative. No newspaper stories from the city made any mention of Sands, which is unusual about a department’s spokesperson; Jacksonville is served by a sheriff’s office, not a police department. No news stories out of Florida confirm the email’s claim that 17 people had been injured. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta stated they were not aware of any cases where HIV had been transmitted by a needle-stick injury outside of a healthcare setting.

Although there have been a few isolated reports of copycat pranksters leaving needles in public places (including gas pumps) in the wake of this hoax (most recently in Tucson, Arizona, in March 2007), none of those incidents has involved a needle bearing any traces of HIV.
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What parts of this story make it fit with the term urban legend? (Use specific examples from the story to support your answer)
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Why is this story not a myth? (use specific examples from the story to support your answer)
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Pick two additional terms from the PowerPoint (and copied below) and show how they are depicted in this story (use specific examples from the story to support your answer.)
Apocryphal story - story with an unknown author and/or questionable origin or background.

Ostension - the process of someone unwittingly acting out or mimicking part or all of an urban legend that is already part of the body of lore.

Pseudo-ostension - someone deliberately acting out an urban legend (people secretly placing pins, needles, razors, etc. in Halloween candy).

Slacktivism - someone doing good for a political or social cause with little or no effort via the internet (i.e. - signing online petition, forwarding emails for “good” cause, getting involved in a campaign group on social media, etc.)
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