Saturday, August 08, 2020

Urban Legend of the Week

Lemmings Commit Mass Suicides by Jumping off of Cliffs


The phrase, "don't be a lemming" is often used similarly to "don't be a sheep". It's a derogatory, meaning, "don't just follow the heard without thinking for yourself". "Lemming", however, can have a worse connotation than "sheep", the idea being that lemmings ritualistically follow each other to their own deaths, off of cliffs, and into the sea. The irony here, is that lemmings don't actually do this. It could be said that someone who uses the phrase "don't be a lemming" is being a lemming, in that the phrase is based on an urban legend that isn't true.

There were studies done showing rapid declines in lemming populations. One hypothesis to this mystery, was that perhaps lemmings had some ingrained self destructive instinct. A Disney nature film called "White Wilderness" attempted to depict this, by staging lemming suicides. The film makers purchased lemmings, and filmed them forcedly falling into a river (supposedly the Arctic Sea). The narrator explained that the lemmings were following migratory instincts from an age where migrating in that direction would have once brought them to land, but now only leads to death by sea.

It is now known that lemmings do not in fact migrate off cliffs, as staged in this Disney video, but years of classrooms using this video as an educational video has left this idea ingrained in people's minds.

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