Modern saga

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Modern legends , even modern myths , urban legends (English: urban legends , urban myths , urban tales , contemporary legends ) related to old wives' tales and horror stories, are more or less bizarre anecdotes that verbally, now mostly also via e-mail or through social Networks (often as fake news or hoax ), and the source of which can usually no longer be traced. In rare cases, due to insufficient research, they are also distributed as news in one or more media ( newspaper duck ).

The protagonists of modern sagas are usually not known by name. It is often reported that the respective story happened to a friend of a credible acquaintance. This is where the English name “ FOAF tales ” comes from : “ Friend of a friend tales ”.


The term modern saga was introduced by Rolf Wilhelm Brednich , among others, as a term for a phenomenon that had previously been investigated in the English-speaking world by Linda Dégh and Jan Harold Brunvand as part of folklore research . Brunvand had used the expression Urban Legend for this in order to distinguish this type of story from the classic narrative forms that were located in the more rural milieu. In his 1981 book, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends & Their Meanings (The Lost Hitchhiker : American urban legends and their meaning) he used a collection of these stories to support two theses:

  1. Legends , legends , myths and folklore do not only occur in so-called primitive or traditional societies , and
  2. By examining such legends, one can learn a lot about urban and modern culture .

The term myth , which is often used, can be misunderstood ("myths" in the sense of myth research in the 18th and 19th centuries are tales of people and gods ). In most of the “urban myths” the divine or gods play no role, for example with the Montauk monster . Rather, it is about experiences that trigger prejudice and fear, which are typical or central within a social group and which should be made manageable by embedding them in stories that claim to be truthful. In this respect, modern sagas are structurally related to conspiracy theories : Both contribute to psychological relief and to coping with life by fitting incomprehensible processes, fear of the strange, perceptions of powerlessness and foreign determination into an orientation framework and thus giving them a meaning .

In modern narrative research, the term “saga” is preferred because both modern and traditional sagas (in contrast to fairy tales, for example ) make a claim to truth. As an alternative to this, other terms have been established, some of which take into account the phenomenon of the transmission of such legends. In addition to the FOAF mentioned , this is also nasty legends (“nasty legends”); this term refers to the often brutal , black-humored aspect of modern sagas.


Modernized folk tales

Some of the modern legends are centuries old, have been given a modern garb and appear credible again as an event of our time. They often have classic themes such as death, illness, war or madness.

Crime tales

They report or warn of the possible consequences of gullibility or carelessness. The protagonists are often criminals who are particularly smart / chutzpah , creativity or resourcefulness .

Revenge stories

Revenge is a common theme in Urban Legends. Stories of this type mostly describe actions that would be forbidden as vigilante justice in real life . They reflect the feeling that the legal system is not fair and that you are ultimately on your own. Usually they contain a clear sympathy for those who avenge themselves.

Fear stories

Fear stories, for example, reflect fears about technology that has become more and more sophisticated and obscure. They often deal with everyday devices which supposedly pose undreamt-of dangers - not only, but especially when used improperly. They are often attributed to people who are considered to be less adept at dealing with new things, such as: B. old ladies or naive young girls. These legends often exist in parallel as a joke (then without claim to truth and with a clearly formulated punch line ). A classic example is the pet in the microwave with the following court process.

The fear of being powerless or helpless at the mercy of opaque political or economic powers has given rise to numerous modern legends. They often describe alleged manipulations by the military or large US corporations. Examples are chemtrails , Eat-Popcorn-Drink-Cola-Study , Hängolin . These sagas are similar to (or are) conspiracy theories .

Numerous legends address fear of strangers . “The strangers” are social or ethnic minorities. There are numerous versions of stories about unsavory food additives (such as dog food or semen) in dishes from restaurants serving foreign cuisine. These legends are deliberately misused by some as a means of discrimination , exclusion and defamation of population groups. They are also told about fast food restaurants. There is also a warning against hybrid transgenic products, e.g. B. the flounder tomato . Reports launched by private individuals or small groups of animal rights activists on the Internet and in local newspapers have been widely distributed, warning urgent animal catchers for whom “foreigners” or “used clothes collectors” spy out possible prey.

There are also numerous legends that are set abroad and reflect fears of foreign customs and practices. Strange eating habits, thefts, missing travel companions or lynching innocent tourists are examples of this. Legends with dangerous exotic animals, dangerous insect bites etc. are also common (e.g. " The spider in the yucca palm ").

Say about folk species

A legend can also illustrate an alleged peculiarity of a people or another group. According to the Mariakaakje consultation , the Dutch Prime Minister invited the American Marshall Plan decision-makers to his modest private apartment after the Second World War , so that they got the impression that American money was in good hands in the Netherlands. Usually the actors in such sagas are nameless.

Famous modern sagas or legends and other examples

  • The story of a man on a business trip who was seduced by a woman and woke up the next morning to find that one of his kidneys had been removed by surgery .
  • The story that NASA had a special ballpoint pen called Space Pen developed for one million US dollars , which also works reliably in space under the conditions of weightlessness , while the Soviet Union used a pencil for the sake of simplicity . The ballpoint pen does exist and was also used by NASA, but they did not commission the development. The Soviet Union also used it and previously used grease pencils .
  • The crocodile in the New York sewer system made it to some children's books and film adaptations such as B. The Horror Alligator (1980).
  • There should have been people in the US who Halloween , distributed apples, in which were hidden razor blades to small children, see Poisoned candy at Halloween .
  • People were deliberately infected with the HIV virus by means of " AIDS injections" and received a slip of paper that read "Welcome to the club".
  • The spontaneous combustion of people
  • Allegedly, Apple took inspiration from the death of computer pioneer Alan Turing in 1976 when designing its logo, a bitten apple . He committed suicide in 1954 by means of a poisoned apple . This story was denied by Apple founder Steve Jobs . The logo designer at the time, Rob Janoff, called the story a wonderful urban legend .
  • An urban legend that is often circulated is that in top restaurants, trying your partner's plate would be punished by handing over a slip of paper with the text “Please don't come back!”.
  • In the People's Republic of Poland , the story of the “ black Volga ”, a car whose driver kidnaps small children in order to harvest their organs, spread.

Television broadcasts

There are television programs that deal with modern sagas. The two best known are probably the MythBusters and the Big Urban Myth Show . At Mythbusters mainly technical things are checked (“Is it really possible that someone was beheaded for jumping into a ceiling fan?”), At the Big Urban Myth Show , police and fire brigade files are often searched (“Really did someone switched on the cruise control in their mobile home and then went back to make a coffee? "). By the way, the answer to both questions is "no".

Institutions and people

There is a much-visited English-language Usenet - newsgroup called news: alt.folklore.urban (German offshoot: news: de.alt.folklore.urban-legends ), is discussed in this story. The FAQ for this newsgroup summarizes which of the stories are true and which are not, if this can be determined.

Another source is Virus Myths , another is the Darwin Awards , which each year highlight some stories as particularly questionable, while actually the confirmed stories are the central elements for the awards page. Various representatives of the skeptic movement , among other things, also deal with individual such issues, provided that they adequately meet their claim to serious evidence or refutability.

There are a number of well-known uncoverers of urban legends who have made a name for themselves by clearing up various legends:


Web links

Wikibooks: Encyclopedia of Popular Errors  - Study and Teaching Materials


  • Urban Legends Reference Pages
  • database of the TU Berlin about computer viruses that are not viruses, as well as other false reports and rumors
  • Information about urban legends and hoaxes
  • Collection of urban legends from all areas


Individual evidence

  1. Karl Hepfer: Conspiracy Theories. A philosophical critique of unreason . transcript, Bielefeld 2015, pp. 119–122.
  2. Ulli Kulke: The cat catchers are among us. Really? In: The world. February 4, 2014, (online) , accessed February 23, 2014.
  3. David Mikkelson: Kidney Theft ,, accessed March 25, 2018.
  4. ^ Jan Harold Brunvand : Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. ABC-CLIO, 2001, ISBN 1-57607-076-X , p. 227 f.
  5. ^ Ciara Curtin: Fact or Fiction ?: NASA Spent Millions to Develop a Pen that Would Write in Space, whereas the Soviet Cosmonauts Used a Pencil., accessed March 26, 2018.
  6. Steve Garbner: The Fisher Space , accessed March 26, 2018.
  7. Christina Steinlein: Stories with a scary factor., accessed on March 26, 2018.
  8. He [Steve Jobs] replied that he wished he had thought of that, but hadn't. In: Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs. 2011.
  9. Holden Frith: Unraveling the tale behind the Apple logo. CNN, October 7, 2011.
  10. Please don't come back! ,, accessed October 29, 2013.
  11. Please never honor us again ... ( Memento of the original from December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. La Vie defends itself against rumors ( Memento from November 26, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Wielka księga PRL. Edited by Marcin Kowalczyk. Super express, Warsaw 2018, ISBN 978-83-66012-23-3 , p. 16.
  14. Christoph Drösser: Right? The great book of modern legends, with illustrations by rat snail. Reinbek near Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-499-62628-9 .