Monday, November 2, 2015

Page 74: The naked surprise party

This popular urban legend—dating back to at least the 1920s—appears under a few different guises. One common variant involves the office secretary inviting her boss back to her place. He agrees, and when she goes to her bedroom “to get ready,” he assumes that his fantasy is finally going to come true, so he strips to prepare himself as well. The joke’s on him when she emerges from the bedroom with friends, neighbors and coworkers who had gathered for his surprise party.

In some versions of this legend, an amorous newly-engaged couple strip for action, believing they are home alone, only to be caught in the act by a surprise engagement party.

Henken (2002) discusses how the social transgression of this story escalated as the times have become more liberal. Thus, versions of the Surpriser Surprised story from the 1950s had a young lady offering her virginity to her paramour without knowing she was about to step into a surprise party. By the 1980s it had escalated to a pair of lovers being caught in flagrante. And by the 1990s the shock value had been cranked up even higher in the form of “a single woman [who] is caught by the surprisers when she appears nude, except for peanut butter spread on her genitals, and calling for her dog to come get his treat” (p. 261). Haken (2004) also points out that when the gender of the sexual transgressor changes, the outcome shifts from the male character simply being embarrassed to the female character losing her job and having to leave town…consistent with prevailing double standards in society.

A NASA artist's rendition of the Naked Surprise Party urban legend referred to in The Billionth Monkey.

For Further Reading

Anonymous. “Birthday Suited.” July 1, 2007. Snopes.com.

Jan Harold Brunvand, Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001, 430–1.

Elissa R. Henken. “Escalating Danger in Contemporary Legends.” Western Folklore, Autumn 2002, 61(3/4): 259–76.

Elissa R. Henken, “Gender Shifts in Contemporary Legend.” Western Folklore, Summer 2004, 63(3): 237–56.

William Hugh Jansen. “The Surpriser Surprised: A Modern Legend.” Folklore Forum 1973, 6: 1–24.

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