Monday, November 9, 2009

Scary urban legends fail internet test

DURING the recent Halloween gathering, someone asked what had happened to our urban legends.

You know, the tales that seem to have a life of their own, turning up now and then to take our attention away from our dreary existence and provide a topic of conversation at the coffeeshops between friends and even strangers, regardless of age, creed or skin colour.

Some of these stories came from folklore.

For instance, those concerning neighbourhood ghouls and ghosts such as “pontinak”, “t oyo l ” and “han - tu raya”, while others originated from anecdotes told by our elders and peers.

Many were also hoaxes created to fool the gullible, and sometimes, told out of spite.

Those who grew up in the Klang Valley in the ’70s would remember the story of the Batu Tiga lady who apparently took the life of a Good Samar itan.

According to one version of the story, a young motorcyclist stopped to offer a lift to a lady at a bus stop as he passed by the stretch one late night.

She asked to borrow his jacket because she was feeling cold and said she would return it the next day.

The following day, when the man returned to the spot he had dropped her off, he had a shock.

The village he thought he saw last night was a graveyard — and his denim jacket was hung on one of the gravestones.

He died several days later.

It was said that his soul had been taken by the lady ghost who returned to haunt the spot where she had been fatally knocked down by a motorcyclist.

No one knew how the tale started.

Some say it was spun out of mischief to frighten the girls who worked nightshifts at the factories in Batu Tiga.

Over the years, however, as Batu Tiga lost its prominence as the main industrial estate in the Klang Valley, the tale died with it.

But not all such tales disappear over time.

Heard about the one that says you should not consume alcohol and eat durians at the same time? I first heard it in the late ’70s but someone said it started much earlier.

Apparently, several people were found dead foaming at the mouth after having a beer-drinking-cumdurian party.

Till today, the tale will be circulated every durian season as fruit sellers will tell their customers to avoid washing down the durian with liquor.

Even if you survived, they say, you would be blind.

Since not many people, except the foolhardy, would test the validity of the claim, the urban legend continues to make its rounds at durian parties—not to create mischief but perhaps as a warning against overindulgence.

While most urban legends were rooted in horror, others were hoaxe s.

Do you remember the one about a worker of a beverage company who fell into a mixing silo and died while she was adding cola syrup? By the time her remains were recovered, thousands of bottles of the soft drink had been shipped out.

The tale made its rounds in the late ’70s and the brand’s image suffered because public relations was still in its infancy at the time and crisismanagement virtually unheard of.

Later, someone explained that a worker who was sacked from the company had spun the story out of spite.

Another said a business rival had perpetuated the tale to gain a bigger market share.

I later found out that a more likely source would be an adaptation of a Western hoax of a brewery worker who had fallen into a vat of beer.

It was probably Malaysianised by the more widely travelled among us.

Today, with the Internet at our fingertips, myths are easily debunked and the origins of urban legends demystified.

Neither stands a chance against Google.

By the way, did you receive an email from a telephone company urging you to quickly forward the message to eight close friends and you will be given a free laptop for participating in its viral marketing effort?

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