Many of us have at least once heard ancient legends about gods, fairies, giants, the creation of the world, the apocalypse, Ragnarok, and other similar stories. Originating from the times when people had no scientific methods of scrutinizing and comprehending the world around them, these myths and legends served as a way of explaining the mysterious phenomena (for the mind of an ancient person) surrounding them. What is lightning if not the manifestation of Zeus’ wrath? What is a rainbow if not a bridge to Asgard? How could all the diversity of nature appear if not created by the gods? Rather primitive in the beginning, these legends displayed the fear of an ancient individual in front of the unknown, and helped them cajole the forces of nature by worship, praying, and making sacrifices.
As societies developed, so did science, and gradually there were no more mysteries for an average person to be afraid of. Of course, scientists still do not know much about the Universe in view of its expanse, but for a regular Earth dweller, the world with its natural manifestations is no longer enigmatic. However, the fear of the unknown still remains; it has transformed, changed its form, and instead of fearing thunderstorms and darkness, people have created new fears: zombies, aliens, ghosts, and so on. Some of these fears are powerful enough to have become the new myths and legends of the modern technocratic age; instead of nature, they are now connected to urban environments, and reflect the deepest parts of modern people’s minds.
Perhaps the most famous urban legends are connected to alien abductions; there have been countless movies, books, documentaries, and stories dedicated to this subject, but probably one of the most credible and shocking is the story of Pier Zanfretta’s abduction by aliens; in fact, it is so realistic that it can hardly be called a legend. This man claimed to have been captured by aliens, and the descriptions he provided both in his clear thinking and under hypnosis are fascinatingly detailed and non-controversial. Zanfretta was a police officer on patrol in the Italian town of Torriglia. During the patrol, his car stopped dead; at the same time, he saw four strange lights in the garden behind the house, near where his car stopped. Thinking that it might be a crime in progress, Zanfretta rushed to the garden, when suddenly he felt a touch from behind; when the police officer turned his head, he saw “an enormous green, ugly, and frightful creature, with undulating skin, no less than ten feet tall.” Then the officer saw a triangular vessel taking off, and felt intense heat. He tried to reach the dispatcher via his radio, but the communication was almost immediately disrupted. A patrol group arrived an hour later; they found Zanfretta lying on the ground, with his clothes strangely warm (it was a cold December night outside); after waking up, Zanfretta could not recognize his colleagues, and did not seem to realize what was going on around him for a while. Later, he was questioned by the authorities, and hypnotized by Dr. Mauro Moretti (the video of this hypnosis session can be easily found on YouTube)—in both cases Zanfretta’s testimonies were detailed, logical, and non-controversial. So far, this case is considered to be one of the most credible and reliable in modern ufology (abovetopsecret.com).
Another urban legend that has become extremely popular throughout the recent decade is Slenderman—a tall, haggard man-like silhouette with disproportionately long arms and legs, who haunts and kills (or cripples) his victims. Slenderman is able to hide in plain sight, and once you notice him, with each glimpse in his direction, he will appear closer. Slenderman prefers to stalk wooded areas, because there he can easily blend in with the environment due to his proportions; when he finds a victim, he haunts them in their house, beginning to appear in dark doorways or TV screens. Slenderman mesmerizes the victim, making them walk right into his hands; according to another version of the legend, Slenderman is a sort of Sandman: he wakes a sleeping victim up and asks them a question. If answered properly, he only breaks the victim’s arms and legs; if not, the victim dies in torture. The feature regarding arms and legs probably refers to Slenderman’s own story: it is said that he was once a regular man, who was beaten, impaled, and had his limbs torn out of their sockets (playwithdeath.com). Regardless of the origins, Slenderman is probably one of the creepiest and the most popular urban legends nowadays.
The two stories above refer mostly to western culture. However, if we take a look at the East—Asia, in particular—we will find an enormous amount of authentic and frightening stories. For example, in Japan there is a legend of the so-called Kuchisake Onna (“kuchi” – mouth, “sake” – slit, “onna” – woman). It is said that she was once a samurai’s wife who cheated on her husband with another man. After learning of her betrayal, the samurai cut the woman’s mouth, making it twice as large than it should be. Since that time, the woman’s spirit haunts Japan; usually, Kuchisake Onna is depicted as a woman wearing a coat and a mask; when approaching her victim, she asks: “Am I pretty?” If the victim answers positively, the woman takes off her mask and asks the same question. If the answer this time is negative, she kills her victim—or, according to other versions of the story, cuts their mouth with a knife (Listverse.com).
Urban legends are much more numerous than those listed above. However, these are probably the most popular, widespread, and scary. Stories about being abducted by aliens are frightening, because knowing the size of the Universe, one can never be sure that aliens do not exist, or that their intentions are non-hostile; Slenderman is an example of a creepy wraith who dwells in big cities and surrounding forests, and perhaps a perfect embodiment of the unspoken fears that layer in our collective subconsciousness; as for Kuchisake Onna, she is an exotic Asian ghost, perhaps not too scary for westerners, but definitely frightening for Japanese people. Urban legends are likely to persist for centuries—unless all of the world’s mysteries are solved, and there is left nothing to be afraid of anymore.
- “Alien Abduction in Italy: The Sad Story of Pier Fortunato Zanfretta, Page 1.”AboveTopSecret.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.
- McEntire, Jen. “Urban Legends: The Terrible Legend of Slender Man.” Playwithdeath.com. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. .
- “10 Creepy Urban Legends from around the World.” Listverse. N.p., 07 July 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. .
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Writing an Expository Essay
Rage against the Mullah machine fumes in Iran, economy is wrecked, and health care reform is a rubbery roast of ripped tire on the road to political hell. Recent conversations, instead, managed to touch on the meaning of "urban literature."
As critics, observers and fans of Black literature lament the spread of "street lit" and "ghetto," "urban" creeps in as sophisticated semantic savior. Neo-soulish, post-modern buppie Blackness getting old: "urban." It's riddled with lack of perspective, peppered with cultural in-fighting and old fashioned racism.
Definition is crucial as recession hits shelves hard. Black and indy owned stores shut down, and dreamy brothers and sisters inspired by greatness to put pen to paper find sprawling strip mall chain retailers either unwilling or undone. Recent surveys suggest Black readers - skilled in the critical thought bigoted notions refuse to acknowledge - want variety, hence rumbles of an upheaval. Perturbed Black buyers rail on everything from absent creativity to the corruption of young Black minds. Same battle over "rap," the hollowness of "urban" tracks incorrectly designated as "hip hop" while the lyrical, analytic beauty of asphalt stanza is crushed by White teen fantasy shareholding 80 percent.
It swirls in an ugly soup of moral relativism and pop-cultural melee.
Turning the internalized racial component on its foul, flaky head, White authors write pretty gritty, true-to-life stuff, too. Chuck Palaihnuk, Stephen King and others venture down that path of poor-White-trashiness that's just as ghetto as - quoting this author's work - "... [the] distinct, funky sameness ... like that Logan corner with the 24-hour laundromat." So: what's the deal?
"Urban fiction," one could argue, is what it says - the "urban" experience ... which doesn't necessarily mean "Black." It's simply the expression of city existence, the DNA of that which is Gotham. And why Sex in the City or Friends isn't urban while The Wire is confounds the lettered soul. There's a quickness with which we commit cultural disembowelment when scoffing at the scent of anything "urban" if it produces Black experience, but something cool about it when gentrifying Caucasian yuppies can celebrate reverse suburban. Time to scrape the stench of classism and elitist self-hate off your shoes, folks. Plus, it's not like "ghetto" is our term, anyway. Black folks didn't coin it - and, there are just as many ghettos in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia as there are in Philly, New York, Chicago, LA and Oakland. But, ultimately, this is all state of mind, fam. "Free your mind," utters Morpheus, the legendary anti-mainstreamer "Matrix" trilogy antagonist. There's much truth in that statement.
Point is, we've been through this: Zora Neale Hurston got clowned and verbally lashed by the Harlem Renaissance crowd for using "dialect" - now, she's posthumously endowed as literary icon with movie deals. Yet, Mark Twain's poor White boy tales passed the ivory tower bar, while Charles Dickens can describe English steel ghettos in "Hard Times." But, Sha can't do it in "Harder?" Shannon Holmes can't paint it in "B'More Careful?" Urban fiction isn't some '90s concocted or half-conjectured figment of Black streetness - Chester Himes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Donald Goines all spit novel commentary on the urban experience in ways the mainstream rejected back then. Sure, we have an obligation to eliminate the stereotype (even though some who get snotty at Sista Souljah's "Coldest Winter Ever" find the racism in "True Blood's" Black male emasculation somewhat fun), but we also have an obligation to encourage creative expression. We have an obligation to share the American experience in its totality. I might not agree with all I'm seeing on the shelves, but is it my place to deprive the other's literary passion, especially if I didn't bother to read it?
As one fellow Black knight of the written word complained, it's not so much the spread of "street lit" - it's the way some convey it, authors more interested in "the most salacious book, the book that's more hood." Screwing literary immersion, some compete based on projected sales and street cred. And, true that cats need to get a bit more creative with the porn-teasing covers - anybody can get a digital and snap a curvy sister in Victoria's Secret. Still: folks are reading and writing. Isn't that enough in this dimension of lost conversational art? Alas, perhaps we're just cranky Generation X'ers married with kids and misty over 20th century relic. Literature, like everything else, evolves.
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