What do presidential candidate Barack Obama and Snapple Iced Tea have in common? Patricia Turner, professor of African American and African studies at the University of California, Davis, will discuss that question in a presentation at the American Folklore Society in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 23.
Turner, whose research focuses on urban legends and conspiracy theories, notes that Snapple had to grapple with two false rumors when it became a sensation in 1993. According to one, the company had ties to pro-life extremists. According to the other, it was owned by the Ku Klux Klan. Similarly, Obama has had to confront false rumors that he is Muslim, refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag and exchanges terrorist hand signals with his wife.
Snapple and Obama share several other characteristics that Turner has found to fuel rumors: an unusual name; unconventional promotion strategies; and instant, unprecedented product appeal. Added together, Turner says, these factors can spark a popular backlash that manifests itself in the spread of unsubstantiated hearsay.
Turner is the author of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture" and co-author of "Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America."
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