Shock Horror: Folklore of Disaster 4

SHOCK HORROR: The Folklore of Disaster


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© Warren Fahey

[page 4]

It is obvious that the Internet now plays a leading role in the circulation of urban myths, probably more so than newspapers. The best example of this would be the way the ‘Nostradamus Prophecy’ zipped around the world shortly after the World Trade Centre Towers collapse. It is frightening to consider how many email addresses this particular item generated which is a sign of our gullibility and also willingness to believe in such nonsense.

In the City of God there will be a great thunder.
Two brothers torn apart by Chaos
While the fortress endures
The great leader will succumb
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.

Nostradamus 1654

Well, for a start the famed French astrologist and physician died in 1566 and secondly he definitely didn’t write this quatrain. What is it about our society that we need to believe in such mysticism? Nostradamas, of course, has been responsible for some of the silliest predictions however the real guilty ones are the people who continually scramble to interpret his obscure quatrains to anything faintly resembling gloom including several attempts to predict the end of the world and especially as we turned the millennium.

The following urban myths are typical of those associated with the terrorist attacks on New York with contributors swearing black and blue that they are true. These items were collected in Australia from people who fervently passed them on as being true.

  “An Israeli friend recently informed me that their was a plan to combat Islamic terrorist attacks by burying criminals with a pig. Apparently the Islamic belief is that if ones’ body is buried with a pig (because they are considered unclean) their soul will go to hell. I did a little research into this subject matter and found it to be true. This got me thinking. If we put a baby pig on every airline flight then all suicide terrorists would abort their missions as they would not want their souls to go to hell. Additionally, if we drop shipped, oh say, 100,000 pigs into Afghanistan assault efforts may be more successful. Apparently Muslims dislike the very sight of pigs A LOT! They are also adamantly opposed to alcohol; thus we spike their water supply with a few thousands gallons of scotch, get them shit-faced and turn the pigs loose. The war would be over in a weekend.”

The pig story has some history. In 1911 General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing effectively discouraged Muslim uprisings in the Philippines by threatening to bury them with pigs. Once again we need to remind ourselves that not all Muslims are terrorists.

“Seems this New York guy left home for work on Sept. 11 at about 6am t go to his office in the World Trade Centre. When he got to Manhattan, he went to his girlfriend’s apartment in the Village, turned his cell phone> off, and thought of spending some good time with her. At about 11:00am, while still at her place, he turned his cell phone back on, and a second later it rang. He answered, and it was his wife who screamed at him,
“Where are you? I’ve been trying to call you for an hour. I’ve been worried sick about you!”
So he answered, “Where do you think I am? I’m in my office!”

One of the stories surrounding the aftermath of the World Trade Centre crash concerned their lottery. On the day of the attack both of New Jersey’s winning three-number lottery combinations included the numbers 5-8-7 that were the flight number of the doomed American Airline.

Here is a joke concerning the use of mobile telephones and is veiled as an urban myth:

 “I heard that the first plane crashed because everyone on board was using their mobile phones… those in-flight warnings are true! Apparently the second plane crashed when the pilot veered off course and slowed down so that everyone in the cockpit could have a good look at the first crash.”

The following item, although clearly not an urban myth, is disguised as a factual news report to gain a reinforced joke impact:

Subject: CNN BREAKING NEWS: common global cause…

The President of the United States has asked that we unite for a common global cause.
Since the hard-line Muslim Terrorists are opposed to the consumption of alcohol, and consider it a sin to see a naked woman that is not their wife, Friday at 12:00 Noon (local time) we are asking that every woman run out of their houses and places of work nude, and that the men should follow them with a beer in hand. This should help us to weed out the terrorists in our midst. The President of the United States appreciates your efforts.

Another virulent folklore item to be spread via email was the Wingding interpretation. Apparently Q33NY was supposed to be the flight number of the first of the crashed planes.

Email recipients were given the following instructions:

  1. Open Microsoft Word
  2. Type Q33NY in upper case letters
  3. Change the font size to 72
  4. Change the font to Wingdings

And this is what you get!

 disaster symbols

The images refer to an aeroplane aimed at two towers followed by the skull and crossbones and the Star of David. Rest assured this is pure coincidence and not some work of evil. Both the designers of Wingding and the Microsoft Corporation have issued press releases confirming that there has been no foul play.

One of the most entertaining emails to cover the September 11 attack was an item simply labeled ‘Numerology’ and attributes an interpretation from an individual named ‘Dave’. It is impossible to locate ‘Dave’ however this doesn’t prevent readers from sympathising with his sentiments of frustration. Once again, it makes you think: who the hell sits down and creates these things!

Subject: Numerology

Original Letter

The date of the attack: 9/11 – 9 + 1 + 1 = 11
September 11th is the 254th day of the year: 2 + 5 + 4 = 11
After September 11th there are 111 days left to the end of the year.
119 is the area code to Iraq/Iran and 1 + 1 + 9 = 11
Twin Towers – standing side by side, looks like the number 11
The first plane to hit the towers was Flight 11
State of New York – The 11th State added to the Union
New York City – 11 Letters
Afghanistan – 11 Letters
The Pentagon – 11 Letters
Ramzi Yousef – 11 Letters (convicted or orchestrating the attack at the WTC in 1993)
Flight 11 – 92 on board – 9 + 2 = 11
Flight 77 – 65 on board – 6 + 5 = 11

Dave’s response

Oh my God!  How worried should I be?
There are 11 letters in the name “David Pawson!”
I’m going into hiding NOW.
See you in a few weeks.

Wait a sec …  just realised “YOU CAN’T HIDE” also has 11 letters!
What am I gonna do?
Help me!
The terrorists are after me!  ME!  I can’t believe it!
Oh crap, there must be some place on the planet Earth I could hide!

But no …”PLANET EARTH” has 11 letters, too!

Maybe Nostradamus can help me.
But dare I trust him?
There are 11 letters in “NOSTRADAMUS.”

I know, the Red Cross can help.
No they can’t…
11 letters in “THE RED CROSS,” can’t trust them.

I would rely on self-defence, but “SELF DEFENCE” has 11 letters in it, too
Can someone help?

If so, send me email.
No! Don’t! SEND ME EMAIL has 11 letters!
Will this never end?
I’m going insane!
Eleven letters!!


I guess I’ll die alone, even though “I’LL DIE ALONE” has 11 letters…..

Oh my God, I just realised that America is doomed!
Our Independence Day is July 4th …  7/4 …  7+4=11!


PS.  “IT’S BULLSHIT” also has 11 letters.


As Andy Warhol declared ‘everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame’ and this is obviously Dave’s time for the cyberstage. This humorous email appears to have bounced right around the world thus reinforcing the underlying belief that much of what we read is hokum yet we still read them as if they were factual.