La mort en direct. Les snuff movies [Death "Live." Snuff Movies]. By Sarah Finger, with the collaboration of Kevin Boissezon. Documents. (Paris, Le Cherche Midi, 2001. Pp. 217.)
It is well-known that the proliferation of imitations, parodies, and hoaxes makes it problematic to decide on the reality of many phenomena in the realm of anomalies, as well as that of contemporary legend. The term "ostension," created by Umberto Eco and first used by Degh and Vazsonyi ("Does the Word 'Dog' Bite? Ostensive Action as a Means of Legend-Telling," Journal of Folklore Research 20, 1983:5-34), seems appropriate to summarize these copying and reproductive appropriations. The concept of "memes" also comes to mind, suggested by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976). My approach to the theme will be oblique, my examples successively touching on the frivolous and then focusing on the unpalatable: first Lovecraft's Necronomicon and then "snuff movies."
The Necronomicon, H.P. Lovecraft's best-known fictional manuscript, started to exist in the 1960s as a fictitious library catalog reference (located at Miskatonic University), then developed when hoax editions began appearing in the 1970s. Soon video games and web pages complicated and expanded the picture. Thus in July 2001, a wide "Necronomicon" web search (using Google) gave around 40,000 web pages, reduced to 9,000 with the exclusion of games, limitation to English, and recent (one-year) updating (see http://www.hplovecraft.com/creation/necron/). National libraries such as Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the Library of Congress, and the British Library each keep about four or five of these hoax books. Most of them are still on sale. Can the Necronomicon still be considered not to exist in 2001?
In 2001, French journalist Sarah Finger published La mort en direct. Les snuff movies [Death "Live." Snuff Movies]. This investigative book discusses the belief in snuff movies' existence that has been with us since the mid-1970s, when the first accusations put forward by anti-pornography crusaders appeared and generated unsuccessful investigations by the FBI. The existence of snuff movies is debated--and debunked--on most urban legend sites (for example, urbanlegends.com, urbanmyths.com, urbanlegendsabout.com, and totse.com/ en/conspiracy/institutional_analysis/ folklore.html--corresponding to the disappeared pioneer alt.folklore.urban). This "dark legend," which presents some...