Urban legends can take on a certain power if they are repeated enough. If enough people pass along a story they heard about some guy who saw Bigfoot, or some teenagers going to a rainbow party, generally people can start to believe it. And once they reach that point, it’s hard for the cold, rational hand of science to overcome that belief, like how in spite of all the efforts to debunk the idea that Bush was behind 9/11, it just never really went away.
The same thing happens in other countries all the time. For instance, Koreans believe that if you sleep in a room with a running fan, you will die. Fan death: Not just a cool band name.
No one is really sure where the killer fan thing first started, but some trace it back to the 1930’s when fans were first introduced in Korea. For some reason the idea that they were dangerous and capable of causing symptoms like nerve damage and paralysis began spreading throughout the country. And while your average Korean has probably spent enough time around a fan to know that even after a particularly hot afternoon, he isn’t going to end up in a wheelchair, somehow the idea that it was sleeping with the fan on that was dangerous stuck around.
In fact, the idea is so accepted in Korea that all fans are sold with timers that will automatically shut them off after a certain period of time. This feature is seen as both desirable and necessary for safety by Korean consumers. And every summer sees a flurry of fan-death reports in the Korean media. Even the South Korean government got in on the fun, declaring in 2006 that fans were “a summer hazard.”
Now, in case all of this has you doubting your sanity, you can rest assured that no, fans absolutely cannot kill you. But this hasn’t convinced the public, and there are a number of popular explanations for how your tiny box fan could kill you in your sleep in the Korean imagination.
Some think that the fan pushes all of the available oxygen away from your face, causing you to suffocate under a cloud of carbon dioxide. Others think that it’s the fan’s electric motor which is filling the room with deadly gas. Finally, the more skeptical argue that while it’s absurd to suggest that a fan could kill you in the summer, it will absolutely murder the sh*t out of you in winter. Specifically by causing hypothermia.
Korean medical experts have been trying to tell everyone for years that there is absolutely no way that the nation’s fans are killing people. Many suggest that the reports of people found dead with a fan in the room are sensationalized cases of people dying from run-of-the-mill things like cardiac edemas or chronic alcoholism, with the presence of a fan in the room obviously being completely irrelevant.
Of course, they are totally right. Carbon dioxide from your breath would only be a danger if a room were totally airtight, which no room in anyone’s house is. Fans do not produce dangerous exhaust with their tiny electric motors. And finally, it’s hard to imagine someone dying of hypothermia from their fan. If they were so cold that they were actually close to freezing to death, most rational people would just turn the fan off.
Of course, as American’s have learned from the persistence of 9/11 truther-ism and anti-vaccination, once the horse of mass hysteria has left the barn, it’s a little late to try and close the door, and it looks like the conviction among Koreans that fan death is real is not going anywhere.