“I have a Master’s Degree in Folklore and Mythology.”
Comic Book Guy, The Simpsons. “Three Men and a Comic Book” Image courtesy of Simpson Crazy
I nearly choked when I heard Comic Book Guy utter that gem to Bart. My husband had a good laugh at my expense, too. You see, I have very similar degrees: BA & MA Humanities (focus on cultural anthropology, especially folklore). I think, though, that in this digital age, Comic Book Guy may have the last laugh. Folklore is alive and well and providing a way to connect with the people and world around us.
The beauty of the Arts is that it encourages us to look at the world through a variety of perspectives. Even though it’s been a while since I sat in a lecture hall, that tendency to analyze and connect dots has never quite left me. So, when the internet beckoned with its memes, stories and macro images, how could I resist? I wondered whether, in this digital age, folklore continues to be an important resource for modern storytellers.
Talk about folklore and most people think of Grimm tales or cultural dances. For sure, that’s all part of it, but, also so much more – past, present and future. Folklore is made up of the creative stuff (stories, myths, legends, music, dances, food, art techniques, language) that a group invents, adapts and uses. Its purpose is to help people find meaning and pass on important information about their culture. Historically, it’s existed primarily within the oral realm. People meet, talk and share what they know. But, the internet, because it’s so fluid and social, has also become the perfect conduit.
Trevor J. Blank, Assistant Professor of Communication at the State University of New York at Potsdam, in an interview with Digital Preservation suggests, “Contrary to popular belief, folklore is just as much, if not more, of an agent of the present as it is of the past.”
There is a ton of folklore all over the internet. Take, for example, the simple meme. A meme is basically any part of a culture that’s passed from person to person. It can be imitated or adapted. Memes are popular because they tell us something about ourselves. Check out the Hamster Dance (which continues to be shared and personalized). Hmm, what does that say about us?
You’ve probably come across other kinds of internet folklore perhaps without knowing what you were witnessing. The chain letter, for instance. In the old days, a letter would worm its way into our hands via snail mail. Now, it’s become a fixture on Facebook feeds and email. It could be an image of a child on a hospital bed, the caption reading something like: She only has six months to live! Corporate sponsors will donate 5 cents for every share! Other images you’ll see depict a four-leaf clover or dollar bills, and the promise of good news or money is offered. In each case, the instruction to the reader is to pass the post on to receive the reward or, if you don’t, suffer the unfortunate consequences.
Then there’s Slender Man.
Slender Man is … well … I’ll let the good people at Know Your Meme fill you in:
One camp of folklorists will tell you that Slender Man is fakelore because it was invented and recorded by a single person. That was my initial reaction, too. But now, I see it as a good example of how people can take something that speaks to them and alter it according to their own context. The original story may have been written by one person. But, it’s since grown legs (hee, hee). Those who hear it will often then turn around and re-tell it, adding their own creative touches, demonstrating how folklore continues to inform us and others about who we are.
And speaking about stories, I came across Comestibles’ Orange Barley Water, a great Roman recipe based on the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades.