Day 705: Legends Of Urbania

originally published December 5, 2013

The beauty of the Internet Age is how information – or more entertainingly, misinformation – oozes like honey-sludge, coating the globe in a glossy sheen of non-truths and insidious punks. Mischievous urban legends have been inspiring tizzies for as long as there have been folks around to lend their ears, but email and social media are like kerosene-swamped kindling, spreading the flames of tall tales from send-click to send-click in triple-time.

Those who have been burned by generous Nigerian princes or some such costly buffoonery are no doubt tuned in to the deceptive nature of online ‘info’. But I am still baffled on a regular basis how many people are unaware of or the Museum of Hoaxes, two sites that are invaluable for cramming that valuable hiccup of pause between reading and believing.

Below I’ve included a half-dozen urban legends, often relayed in hushed tones around a high school cafeteria table or an office email circle. You probably know them, and if you’ve done your homework you probably know how much fiction has been shoveled atop any grain of actual fact that might be contained therein. But in case you haven’t tried to debunk ‘em, now’s your chance to learn the truth.

Which is taken from the internet, so… well surely you can trust me, right?

McDonald’s Operates A Shadow Company To Fool Us

McDonald’s is an easy target. We know it’s bad for us, but eventually the tales of unsaturated fats and unfathomable calories get a little stale, which is why the company has had to deny using eyeballs in their burgers and chicken feathers in their shakes. The phrase “100% Pure Beef” has been slapped on McDonald’s containers since they were made out of crunchy McStyrofoam. So if we know faulty advertising is an easy crime for the FDA to snag, what if the phrase wasn’t bogus but simply misleading? What if they simply purchased their filler-infused beef from a company called “100% Pure Beef”?

Well sure, that’s a loophole. And it’s one that the Federal Trade Commission would slap down with nary a giggle if it were actually happening. There is no company by that name, or if there is they aren’t slipping knock-off patties to fast food joints. Now that bit about McD’s using ammonium hydroxide in their burgers? That one was true, though they claim they have discontinued the practice.

Just to be safe, find yourself a Fuddruckers and have a decent burger.

Aliens Marvel At Our Big Wall

The Great Wall of China is not visible from space, even if you squint. Maybe it is if you consider low Earth orbit to be ‘space’, if the conditions are perfect, and if you have visual acuity roughly eight times greater than the normal person. The thing is long as all hell, but just like that ad for the Mega-Inchenator Pump you ordered out of the back of Hustler when you were 22 never told you, it’s all about the thickness.

The sprawling People’s House, the second-largest building in the world and the nexus of Romanian government, was spotted from space in 2004. And NASA has a great photo of the pyramids at Giza on their site, snapped from the ISS. But for the most part you’ll be looking at city lights, night-slicing roadways and stuff that stands out from the ground around it from up there. Remember, the Great Wall doesn’t have a paint job to help us discern it from the dirt. Perhaps a kick-ass racing stripe is in order.

Genesis Drummer Exacts Weird Revenge

Apart from containing one of the most bombastic drum fills in rock music history, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” is also the stuff of legend. The story goes that young Phil watched one of his friends fall through the ice and drown. He was too far away to help, but there was some schmuck standing within life-saving distance who chose not to lend a hand. Phil tracked the guy down years later, got him a front-row ticket to one of his shows, then smacked the spotlight of accusation on the guy and sang right to him.

Great story. And it fits eerily with the lyrics. But it’s complete crap – Phil was going through a bitter divorce when he wrote the song, so person he wrote, “If you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand” to was his ex-wife. Kind of makes more sense, really.

Chicken Embryos Sync Up With The Sun

Did you know that if you tried to balance an egg during the spring equinox, precisely at the moment the sun passed zero-degrees longitude, it would stay standing? This is one urban legend that is actually true.

It’s also true that if you show up to the egg-balancing party a minute late your egg will still stand. It has nothing to do with the placement of the sun or the Earth’s gravitational field or ancient pagan hoodoo – eggs have imperfections, and those physical deformities will often allow you to prop one up on its ass-end. You haven’t conquered astronomy, you’ve simply balanced a thing on a table. Congratulations.

Beware The Foretold Coming Of Franco-Satan

The massive glass pyramid at the Louvre can be seen as an eyesore or a triumph of architecture. Or, if your brain salivates at the thought of a thick, juicy conspiracy, a mechanism of Satan. In the official Louvre brochure from 1989, when the pyramid was completed, it twice mentions that there are 666 panes of glass around the shape’s metal skeleton. Clearly this is hard evidence that the French government stands firmly behind its commitment to the devil and his machinations.

Except, even if there were 666 panes of glass in the damn thing that would still be an idiotic conclusion. And there aren’t. Those same brochures also cite 672 as the actual number of panes, and a simple count of the actual pyramid will reveal 673 as the winning total. A big thank-you to Dan “Da Vinci Code” Brown for perpetuating this urban legend, and crediting President Mitterrand as having requested the satanic number of panes when the thing was being built.

I’d foolishly hoped people would be aware that the book is fiction, and that Tom Hanks was not ‘appearing in a documentary’ as Robert Langdon.

Coconuts: Nature’s Slapstick Killer

Beginning in the 1980’s, stories of as many as 150 people dying every year from coconuts falling from trees spread its misinformed flames all across the tropics. The Shark Research Institute has helped this one along, using the statistic to point out that more people die every year from gravity-inspired coconuts than from shark attacks. The actual story that started this rumor, penned by Dr. Peter Barss in the Journal of Trauma in 1984, cited falling coconuts as dangerous, but as the cause of only one fatality in the year studied.

One. As in, 149 less than 150. Talk about rounding up.

That said, coconuts falling from trees can still mess up your day and park you in the hospital. And yes, they can even kill you. A US Marine who was fresh from the shit in Guadalcanal during some of 1943’s harshest fighting was having a nap the day before he was to ship home when a coconut fell on him and killed him. In 2010 a six-week-old girl was killed by a coconut while she was sitting in her mother’s lap in India during a religious ceremony. Even Keith Richards was hospitalized after a coconut smacked him in the skull in 2006.

Actually, no. He fell out of a tree whilst climbing to retrieve unfallen coconuts, but the press mis-reported it. Goes to show you, don’t believe everything you read.

Unless you read it here.

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