ONE WAY TO take the emotional temperature of a culture is to eavesdrop on its rumor mill. Gossip, legends, and rumors tend to revolve around our passions — the things we fear, the things we hate, the things we yearn for, the people and things that enthrall us. Last year was a case in point.
2008 saw the election of the first African-American President of the United States. It also saw an unprecedented degree of rumormongering about the relatively obscure Illinois senator who won that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama. The subtext of virtually all of these rumors was fear — fear of change, fear of the other, fear of the unknown. "Who is Barack Obama?" they seemed to demand. Why had most of us never heard of him before he ran for the presidency? What does he believe in? What's his secret agenda?
Sentiments of quite a different kind were aroused by Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a staunch conservative and gun rights advocate who also happened to be, as some observers crassly put it, "a babe." A forged likeness of Palin sporting an American flag bikini and a rifle was one of the most popular viral images of the year.
Folks were also captivated by images of a dog as tall as a horse. (They really were!) Interest continued in scurrilous, longstanding rumors about actress Jamie Lee Curtis's sexuality, as well as a decade-old chain email promising frequent forwarders a share of Bill Gates' riches. And it appears the only thing more terrifying to the average American than the alleged proliferation of a "zombifying" street drug called burundanga — Barack Obama aside, of course — is a nasty, hard-drive-destroying Internet worm masquerading as an e-card from Hallmark. It's the "WORST VIRUS EVER!" (Not really, but who'd bother forwarding an email about the second-worst virus ever?)
Here, in ascending order of popularity as measured by reader interest and overall Web traffic, are the Top 10 Urban Legends of 2008:
10. Burundanga Drug Warning
"In Katy, Texas a man came over and offered his services as a painter to a female putting gas in her car and left his card," begins this overwrought message. "She said no, but accepted his card out of kindness and got in the car. The man then got into a car driven by another gentleman. As the lady left the service station she saw the men following her. Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath. She tried to open the window and realized that the odor was on her hand; the same hand which accepted the card from the gentleman at the gas station." Read more...
9. Free Laptop from Ericsson!
"The Ericsson Company is distributing free computer laptops in an attempt to match Nokia that has already done so. Ericsson hopes to increase its popularity this way. For this reason, they are giving away the new WAP laptops. All you need to do to qualify is to send this mail to 8 people you know." Read more...
8. Barack Obama Is the Antichrist
Ignore at your own risk: "The Antichrist will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal.... the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything. Is it OBAMA??" Read more...