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157 CHAPTER SEVEN Deranged Psychopaths andVictimsWho Go Insane: Visibility and Invisibility in the Depiction of Mental Health and Illness in Contemporary Legend —Diane E. Goldstein Some years ago, when collecting legends concerning HIV/AIDS, I became intrigued by a minor pattern that I observed in those narratives. One of the narratives that I collected extensively ended with the coda or punchline, “Welcome to the World of AIDS.” The following text, collected in Newfoundland in 2000, is typical of the narrative: This girl needed a break and decided to go to Florida for a month or two holiday , I think.While she was there she met a man, who seemed to be . . . the man of her dreams. He had money, he treated her like gold and he gave her everything she wanted. She fell in love with him and . . . during the last night there they slept together. The next day he brought her to the airport for her return to St. John’s. He gave her a small gift-wrapped box and told her not to open it until she got home. They . . . said goodbye and she left, hoping that they would someday be married and the gift would be an [engagement] ring. The suspense was killing her and . . . she decided to open the gift on the plane. It was a small coffin with a piece of paper saying,“Welcome to the World of AIDS.” (Goldstein 2004:101) In this (at that time) popular story, a woman or a man meets someone, has sex with that person, and receives a gift with the “welcome” message hidden inside or discovers the message written in lipstick or blood on the bathroom Diane E. Goldstein 158 mirror. Generally, Welcome to the World of AIDS legends and their similar counterparts conclude with the message informing the man or woman that he or she may have been infected with the virus.1 I would estimate that 30 percent of the eight hundred versions I collected simply ended, much like the version offered above,with the tag line and no further elaboration.Another 30 percent or so ended with the protagonist testing HIV positive.Of the remaining 40 percent,about half indicated that the individual died a day or two later, which is in itself interesting for what it might say about general knowledge of the disease’s progression. But the most intriguing part was the remaining 20 percent of the narratives. In these stories, a different coda follows the young woman receiving the message. The woman, finding out that her new true love has infected her with HIV,“goes crazy.” In some of these stories, the narrator indicated,“She saw the note and that was it, she lost it. They had to cart her away.” Others said,“She read the message and she was never the same again. She’s in the Waterford Hospital now.” The majority of the narratives simply noted her collapse, indicating, as did one narrator,“She went crazy, right then and there, absolutely mad.” What intrigued me about these stories was the suggestion that the loss of one’s sanity or “going crazy,” as the narrators put it, was an equivalent horror or perhaps even a superior horror, to a potentially terminal illness. I felt as I read these stories that their message was that the loss of one’s sanity was, in fact, a fate worse than death.2 These stories stayed in the back of my mind for a long time, but after a while I began to notice the insanity coda cropping up occasionally in a variety of other contemporary legends—all of them horror stories, and in each case the normal climax, the unspeakable horror of the boyfriend’s death3 or the castrated boy,4 is followed by one further horror, the girlfriend or the boy’s mother going crazy. This is not to say that the insanity coda is widespread,and in fact,description of any aftermath or set of consequences resulting from legendary events is relatively rare. Gary Alan Fine (1992) notes in his study of the Kentucky Fried Rat legend that only 13 percent of the narratives describe the harmful effects of the legend’s complicating action. The example he gives of those that do mention the aftermath of the events, however, looks surprisingly familiar: My sister told me that her friend told her that a lady went to Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was out in the car eating it and...


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