Talking Folklore in the Digital Age
July 2, 2014 6:45 PM   Subscribe

"When most people think of 'folklore,' they tend to think of fairy tales and urban legends. Trevor Blank thinks of photoshopped memes and dark humor." The Signal, a blog from the Library of Congress, has posted a two-part interview (part 2 is here) with Blank, who studies creepypastas, LOLs, demotivational posters, and other dynamics of "folk culture in the digital age."

Folk expression fights the power:
Blank: "Some crafty individuals soon realized that they could use [Amazon's] familiar format to write incredibly vivid product reviews that ruthlessly mocked certain items for sale, building narrative repertoires through collaborative engagement. The expressive patterns emblazoned in many of these faux reviews arose from their widespread performance and vernacular deliberation online. So, this creative arena was essentially born out of folk culture circumventing the institutional constraints and participation expectations imposed by Amazon, using the site’s official structure to stake out a means for vernacular expression to come through. Amazon is only one example of this back-and-forth, of course, but I’d say it demonstrates that folklore–as it has always done before–will find a way to rise above institutional constraints in the digital age. Identifying how that is accomplished is a particularly compelling aspect of studying contemporary folklore."
Need more discussion of digital folk culture? Listen to an interview with Blank and folklorist Lynne McNeill.

Blank is also the author of the prize-winning essay “Cheeky Behavior: The Meaning and Function of ‘Fartlore’ in Childhood Adolescence.” You can read it here (p. 61 of journal; p. 37 of .pdf).
posted by MonkeyToes (6 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if the Brothers Grimm ever contemplated inserting a fairy-tale about two brothers that roamed the countryside...
posted by sammyo at 7:00 PM on July 2, 2014

It's such a shame that Alan Dundes died so early in the internet age. I took his folklore class and enjoyed it very much (though my final project was pretty crappy - my apologies to the folklore archives), and I attended a commencement ceremony where he was the speaker; it was the best and funniest commencement speech I've ever heard.
posted by mogget at 7:13 PM on July 2, 2014

mogget, I was just skimming through Alan Dundes's "Here I Sit -- A Study of American Latrinalia" (.pdf).
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:27 PM on July 2, 2014

Since so much of internet folk culture is disseminated through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc..., I kind of wish that one (or more!) of these companies would get together with folklorists and ethnographers and whatever other social scientists to help get some better understanding of the transmission of folklore. They almost surely have all the necessary data, they just need the right people to look at it. Forget all that emotional manipulation nonsense, get on this instead.
posted by mhum at 7:34 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Excellent. Thank you!
posted by batfish at 9:25 PM on July 2, 2014

I like folklore and a lecture as much as the next graphic designer, but what a Prat!
"Since 2007, I’ve noticed definite shifts in how folklore and various elements of folk culture are created and transmitted online. For one, there has been a greater shift towards “visuality,” meaning that a greater part of the folkloric content we find in circulation online tends to have some kind of eye-catching component that renders it traditional in the context of vernacular expression."

A lot of squeek, but no mouse.
posted by xtian at 6:28 AM on July 3, 2014

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