In ancient time humans used to have tales and myths, which reflected their beliefs and lifestyles. They helped describe the structure of the Universe and the mundane life, which was determined by universal laws. Although in modern time life changed, people still need legends to explore the main problems and fears that are hidden in the collective unconscious. In this sense, urban legends are part of modern mythology, which uses a mixture of real, imaginary and exaggerated evidence in order to cope with the major challenges that society poses and to adapt to the rapid changes of conditions.
It looks quite obvious that today’s frantic pace of life and numerous changes are not comfortable to everyone. Innovations can be frightening as society is conservative by nature, which helps secure stability. Creating urban legends are a healthy technique of psychological adaption to the unknown, which is unpredictable. Thus, such tales are a form of behavior conduct, which have its moral message: what actions one has to avoid so as not to get into trouble. Like in ancient times, legends help structure reality and make it more comprehensible. Besides, a legend usually reveals the tensions that exist in society between different groups of people.
In order to analyze a typical structure and message that the modern folklore has it is worth considering one of the legends in a detail. The above mentioned clash between different social groups is well illustrated by the following legend. An elderly woman is sitting in her Mercedes near the mall, waiting for a young driver to free the parking space for her. She drove round several times to find for a free place but with no luck. It takes time because the youngster loads a lot of purchases into his car slowly, but the lady is quite patient. When he finishes, she is disappointed because he is not going anywhere. All other parking places are occupied, so she addresses him with the request of a parking place. However, he answers arrogantly: “Sorry, lady, that’s how it is when you’re young and quick” (Barber 131). In return, the angry lady crashes his Escort from behind saying “That’s how it is when you’re old and rich” (131).
The above described urban legend is compelling for analysis because it has several dimensions: economic, gender, age, psychological and technological ones. This tale is remarkable because it is quite realistic in terms of emotions and the situation described. There is historical evidence of social experience, which can be elicited from it. First of all, the issue of parking space lack is understandable and appealing for the audience. In its oral variant, the situation is described quite eloquently, stressing that the lady had to circle around for a dozen of time hopelessly. It is obvious that the background of the story is people’s attitude to cars as a necessity and cult. Cars are objects that characterize people’s belonging to a certain group, which is revealed in the story by naming the exact models of cars that participate in the incident. It is remarkable that exceedingly little information is provided about the two people accept their car data, which means that it is crucial. Driving habits have become a criterion to determine a human being and their way of interaction with other people.
The models of cars mentioned above are suggestive about the two people’s background to the extent that listeners should understand without additional explanations. There are steady associations, which exist in the public mind with certain models of cars. Thus, the Mercedes is clearly a symbol of tradition, welfare and conservatism, while the Escort is a symbol of mobility and adventure. Based on the country and region, the models of the cars can vary to preserve only the initial message about the class and mindset gap between the old lady and the young man. This urban legend belongs to “road rage” type, which is clearly a popular social issue irrespective of where it is told. In the best traditions, the narrator usually suggests that it happened to either an acquaintance or an acquaintance’s acquaintance. This makes the story sound more realistic, besides the realistic setting that it has.
When analyzing this story, it is worth considering its potential narrator and potential listeners. In fact, it is possible to say that the audience is quite broad, and it is, in fact, the majority of drivers of both genders. It is a central conclusion that the audience’s sympathy is with the woman, which does not mean at all the social rank of her admirers is the same. Indeed, there is no reason to say that only wealthy and elderly Mercedes owners share the lady’s feelings. On the contrary, it looks like they are mostly lower and middle class. Thus, the uniting element is not at all her social status but her challenges. The audience has the following features in common with the woman. Firstly, they are also indignant about the absence of parking places and about people who monopolize them. Secondly, they are people who are irritated by young and arrogant drivers, who are reckless on the roads. Finally, it is still possible to say that these people are not teenagers but are rather middle-aged ones, who do not share the adventurous attitude to life.
There are other social aspects that can be discussed based on the tale. Thus, it is clear that it describes a victory of a woman over a man, which is quite suggestive. In the story, the woman is mightier, wealthier and more experienced than the man. The gender aspect is essential because otherwise there might be a version between two males. In this sense, it would reflect a traditional competition between males for dominance. The domination of a woman is relatively new element that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. On the one hand, it reflects the radical social trends of women’s liberation; on the other hand, it exposes women’s discontent that is compensated by this story.
It is true that an urban legend can be a compensation of hidden impulses and desires, which are hard to be realized in real life. For instance, it would not be a secret to claim that many drivers think about revenge to their peer drivers for all sorts of unacceptable behavior. However, as people are mostly reasonable, few dare fulfill this wish. However, the laws, according to which the subconscious works, say that desires do not disappear. Hence, there is a limited number of ways that can be a way out: desires are other suppressed, or implemented, or sublimated. Therefore, in the context of psychoanalysis, urban legends can be a way of dealing with desires, and they usually pick up those, which are typical for many people. The young man’s punishment in the tale is a realized desire of the public. Now, it is intriguing to consider why exactly a wealthy woman takes revenge. A possible reason can be that most people cannot just afford to act in the way she does, as they have to pay for her revenge in monetary terms. Hence, the creators of the legend attribute to the character those traits that are helpful in achieving their goals. In this context, urban legends are similar to fairy tales where characters have magical objects that make them stronger as compared to their enemies.
An aspect that can be also discussed based on the above tale is the clash between generations. The trend of the recent decades is that the younger generation is more mobile, more flexible and adaptable to changes. As a result, they win and thus make the older generation feel insecure in many ways. The urban legend about the young and old driver is an illustration of this clash and is an attempt to resolve it in favor of the older generation. The young man is cheeky and self-confident, as he takes place and is not ready to compromise. However, the lady as a representative of another generation is not satisfied by the situation and takes revenge. It is intriguing that she acts in an unexpected way, thus breaking the pattern of older people’s passivity. In fact, she chooses the form of behavior, which is typically expected from her opponent, thus fighting him with his own arms.
In conclusion, it is worth saying that urban legends are an essential layer of culture, which reflects the basic patterns of people’s life. These tales perform several functions that structure reality and mark a person’s place in society. These include warning against danger, exposure of fears, compensation of desires and adaptation to change. The above mentioned urban legend is an example of how this form of modern folklore can reflect the key challenges and tensions that life poses. It reveals social, psychological, gender and economic aspects that concern people. Urban legends, thus, can be treated as priceless sources of information about the values and patterns of behavior that a certain social group has.