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I first heard about QAnon from someone I love who believes in Q. It was unsettling, to say the least, to listen to her tell me about a secret cabal of pedophiles made up of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities who are running a global child sex-trafficking ring. (What?!?!?!) The details were too horrible to be believed, but she believed them, and thousands of people do, although some doubts have been planted since an important part of Q’s predictions included never allowing Joe Biden to take the oath of office.
From that first frightening evening when I learned of Q, I have been trying to understand what sounded familiar about it. It was more than just the demonizing of Democrats and movie stars, although that was part of what put me on the path to figuring it out. It was the anonymous nature of it – “Q said.” No one knows who Q is. Q is probably several people. I’m not even sure Q followers care who Q is.
Light bulb moment: QAnon as folklore
Then the light bulb when off. QAnon is 2021’s urban legend gone out of control. The urban legend, the modern day version of folklore, is a story or series of stories, told as true, with horrifying elements, that confirm our moral standards or prejudices. Urban legends used to be circulated mostly orally, but today are spread largely by. . . you guessed it . . . social media. Sometimes the urban legend is told as if it “happened to a friend” to personalize it and add authenticity. Occasionally you’ll even find a bit of truth inside the urban legend, which makes it easier to believe.
The most common examples of urban legends are chain letters and “the call is coming from inside the house” stories, but there are more exotic urban legends. In one, a person gets a spider bite while vacationing in some far away location. When they get home, the spider bite bursts and baby spiders crawl out of their skin. Or the one about the young man who is seduced by a beautiful woman. The next morning he wakes up in a bathtub full of ice to find one of his kidneys has been removed. It’s not hard to miss the moral standard those horrifying details are reinforcing.
Now we move to the present with Q. We cannot confirm the information because we cannot identify Q. We have horrifying elements that confirm prejudices against Democrats and Hollywood. All of the elements of the urban legend are here. I am grateful to Professor Jan Brunvand from the University of Utah, who wrote the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends and taught three classes on folklore in which I was a student in the 1980’s. Forty years later, what I learned from Professor Brunvand has helped me to understand a very unsettling part of present day culture.
Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and the host of A Woman’s View on KSL NewsRadio. You can hear her weekday mornings on 102.7 FM and 1160 AM, as well as catch her talk show on Sundays.
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