The primary motifs in Tale Type 2033 and 20C can be found in various forms of our culture and history. Henny Penny’s infamous phrase “the sky is falling!” has become an icon for jumping the gun. It’s a commonly used phrase most often associated with a silly chicken who overreacts to a random event and thinks the world will end.

Apocalypticism is a term used to describe the hysterical belief that death and destruction are imminent. Given our understanding of The Grimm’s Fairytales and the original folktales that inspired them, it isn’t a far stretch that “Chicken Little” might also include morbid topics of death and paranoia. The history of the world is littered with examples of organizations and institutions shouting “the sky is falling!” in some sense. It is not a surprise that historically, folktales would reflect these parts of society as well.

Currently, if you do a search engine query for the phrase, you’ll notice a great deal of media references to it, especially in conjunction with groups advocating against global warming. The most common allusion to Chicken Little these days is as a critical metaphor for environmental extremists and global warming alarmists.

It’s not so hard even in contemporary culture to find examples of how easily hysteria is created. Urban myths are spread and believed with the same fervor as prophecies of doom. Most of them are unfounded, some of them are based on small truths, but the tale of Chicken Little should attest to how even small half truths can grow to be very large in the wrong hands. It’s true, Chicken Little was hit on the head by something falling. Something that fell from the direction of the sky and Chicken Little would be a very succcessful chain letter if she existed in byte form. Indeed the advancement of technology has aided in the spread and propagation of urban myths. There isn’t an email user who hasn’t received a forward warning them that if they didn’t forward to 10 other people they would be cursed with bad luck for seven years. Everyone has at least forwarded this type of email once. At some point you can’t help but think that it’s better to send it “just in case” and you try to think of people who won’t mind that you’ve sent them a forward, passing on the inconvenient burden of bad luck. It’s just one forward, but the contribution to the cumulative process is enormous! Think about the role each animal plays in Henny Penny or The Timid Hare and the Flight of the Beasts and you may just change your mind about some things. I know I did!

Visit this site to read a timeline of doomsday sayers and examples of mass hysteria in history.

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2 Responses to “Doomsday Culture & Urban Myths”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Can you tell me about where you got your motif numbers 20c and 2033 from. I am a graduate student and need some help finding where you got that. I couldn’t find it on the Thompson list.

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