Download Living Folklore, 2nd Edition: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions PDF

TitleLiving Folklore, 2nd Edition: An Introduction to the Study of People and Their Traditions
File Size2.2 MB
Total Pages344
Table of Contents
1. Folklore
2. Groups
3. Tradition
4. Ritual
5. Performance
6. Approaches to Interpreting Folklore
7. Fieldwork and Ethnography
8. Examples of Folklore Projects
9. Suggestions for Activities and Projects
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Living Folklore

Page 172



economic power, and class distinctions as serious topics, certainly. Many of
these assumptions are connected with the esoteric and exoteric elements of
group identity and expression we discussed earlier. Unfortunately, folklore can
have negative connotations mixed in with art, humor, and playfulness; folklore
unifies a group and reinforces identity, but not all of a group’s shared character-
istics are necessarily positive. Some folklore reinforces uncomfortable stereo-
types and attitudes that are so deeply entrenched we don’t even recognize that
they are part of the worldview of a group.

We are not saying that all folklore like this is inherently bad or always leads to
such conclusions; nor are we suggesting that we should not study such texts or
groups. All aspects of folklore are legitimate topics of study. But we do need to be
aware that we express ideas about others through our folklore and we do, in part,
define ourselves by those ideas. Folklore helps us form and express identity in
the midst of an always complex, sometimes confusing, social context, in which
our sense of who we are is frequently questioned and challenged. Some of the
negative elements of folklore are part of this confusing, shifting social palette.
Understanding the potentially negative elements in folklore allows us to analyze
dynamics within and among groups, recognize the interplay of contextual influ-
ences, be aware of our own biases, and engage in more honest scholarly discus-
sions. Astute folklorists incorporate their awareness of these complex challenges
into their discussions, don’t shy away from them, and deal with them openly.

Example: Performers that Transcend Roles and Rules

Simply being a performer of folklore may define someone as having an
expanded role within a group, and performers often transcend limiting roles
within their communities through their artistic roles. By pushing limits, per-
formers can change their own status in a group. A familiar example of the ways
performing folklore can change the power dynamic in a group is the case of a
high school class clown. Frequently, the class clown is a person who is not con-
sidered popular in the usual sense of attractiveness, athletic skill, or economic
status. The class clown makes just the right sarcastic remark during the world’s
most boring math class or teases the football star at lunch, somehow managing
not to get beat up too badly. The clown tests the limits of what is acceptable by
being funny or acting out in wild behavior what the rest of the group might not
dare to try. While the clown may not be popular—that is, may never be elected
class president or date the richest kid in school—he or she, at least while per-
forming, changes status. No longer dismissed as a geek, a nerd, or a brain, by
virtue of performing goofy imitations or telling a silly joke, the clown plays an
accepted, perhaps valued, role in the group.

Page 173



The class clown is an example of an important character in folklore studies:
the trickster. Tricksters appear in the tales of many cultures, and their presence
helps to illustrate how folklore performances and performers can challenge or
even overturn existing social systems and structures. Some well-known exam-
ples of tricksters are Coyote, who appears in many Native American stories;
Anansi the spider, who is central in much West African and Jamaican folklore;
and Hermes, messenger to the gods in ancient Greek tales, who was also known
for his ability to trick the gods. A couple of frequently discussed tricksters from
popular culture are the American cartoon figures of the Road Runner and Bugs
Bunny. Bugs sometimes gets into trouble and may be fooled occasionally but
almost always manages to escape or triumph in the end, a major feature of trick-
ster tales. No doubt you have encountered other tricksters in many familiar texts.
What is most important to know about tricksters is that they constantly break
rules, test the limits of authority, and push the boundaries of what is acceptable
or even possible in society. Tricksters’ antics are entertaining—we laugh at their
mistakes and the way they fool or confuse others, and in the process we may learn
to see ourselves and our societies more clearly.

In one Native American Coyote tale, for example, Coyote meets a young boy
who is searching for a whip-poor-will he has been listening to, so he can watch
it sing. Jealous of the boy’s preference for the bird’s song over his own, Coyote
asks the boy to listen to his howl and tell him how he likes it. The boy covers
his ears, says he still prefers the whip-poor-will, and sets off again in search of
the bird. Coyote slyly offers to lead the boy there by a shortcut. The boy agrees,
but then Coyote leads him over rough ground, where the boy falls in brush and
trips in gopher holes. They reach the whip-poor-will’s location, but by then it
is morning, the boy is scratched and bruised (not to mention humiliated when
he realizes he has been tricked), and both the whip-poor-will and Coyote are
gone. The boy must make his way back home alone, having missed the whip-
poor-will entirely. Coyote lies to the boy, fools him, allows him to get hurt, and
then leaves him alone far from home—certainly not acceptable things to do to
a child—all in the interest of teaching a lesson and getting revenge. Years later,
when he is more mature, the boy realizes Coyote taught him important les-
sons—one of them, to watch out for tricksters like Coyote (see Magoulick 2000
for a discussion of the preceding tale).

Trickster tales like the Coyote story above are prime examples of the way
that performances and performers of folklore can subvert or challenge social
norms. Trickster performances in the tales playfully and irreverently break
taboos or violate rules. Likewise, performing in and listening to performances
of trickster tales may act as an entertaining escape valve that allows performers

Page 343

tradition(s) , 4, 5, 11, 38–42, 45, 46, 69–97, 99,
104, 105, 107, 163–38, 220, 293–95, 305, 307,
309, 310

transcription, 211, 213, 220–22, 301, 312

trickster, 156–58, 162–63, 251

Tuleja, Tad, 43, 89

variant, variant(s), 7, 24, 114, 137, 195, 309

verbal folklore, 2, 5, 6, 12, 13, 17–20, 22–27, 46,
52, 53, 55, 62, 63, 70, 76, 80, 81, 88, 92, 99,

102, 127, 132, 136, 138, 143–46, 158, 159, 164,
168–70, 173, 180, 183, 186–92, 196, 230, 250,
306, 308, 309, 312

vernacular, 6, 7, 26, 65, 87, 118, 188, 199, 201,
210, 220, 309, 311

vernacular religion, 65

Wilgus, D. K., 26

worldview, 31, 62, 63, 143, 155, 198, 231, 303

Similer Documents