Fakelore, bowdlerized fairy tales and new American legends
November 20, 2014 11:42 AM   Subscribe

The term "fakelore" has one basic core definition: modern tales that are similar to true folklore, the stories and traditions of a culture or group. But there are a few different takes on what exactly fakelore is, from the anti-alcohol lessons inserted in the modified fairy tales re-written and illustrated by George Cruikshank, which earned Horatian satire from Charles Dickens, to Paul Bunyan (the Red River Lumber Company produced the most well-known material; full scans - but this hasn't kept people from giving him a grave marker) and Pecos Bill (Google books preview), who were created as for marketing purposes or to replicate traditional tall tales, and more recently 'so-called "multicultural folktale" picture books [that] are a popular means for teaching about other cultures, especially in the primary grades.'
posted by filthy light thief (23 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I heard a Frankenstein lives in this thread.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:54 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Say it ain't so, Joe Magarac.
posted by octothorpe at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2014


I heard a Frankenstein lives in this thread.

Do you mean Frankenstein, or his monster? This is an important clarification!


If you're looking for more illustrations and tales (re)told by Cruikshank, see
George Cruikshank's omnibus
, illustrated with one hundred engravings on steel and wood (1842). If nothing else, check out his spooky Jack-O' Lantern illustration, which accompanies a broadly moral tale, warning of vices and addictions of all sorts.

Fakelore was mentioned once before on MetaFilter, for an all-together appropriate post.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2014


Do you mean Frankenstein, or his monster? This is an important clarification!

I will just link to my previous comment on the topic.

By these standards, the modern Santa is an example of fakelore, glued together LIKE FRANKENSTEIN from various folk traditions in the service of capitalism.
posted by maxsparber at 12:05 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Do you mean Frankenstein, or his monster? This is an important clarification!

I really prefer the term "creature" which is used frequently in the book and lacks the negative connotations of "monster"; I think "monster" is unnecessarily judgmental which is also why I refer generally to the Loch Ness Creature. When we refer to "Frankenstein's Monster" we are making a moral judgment that, as a big fan of the book, I am loathe to make because I think it defines him solely in terms of the way his pusillanimous creator viewed him. He is a creation, and he might be monstrous, but by assigning this term to him as cavalierly as we do we miss a lot of the nuance of the book.

That said, I am also trying to reclaim "monster" for all the charming and delightful monsters out there. Cookie Monster is the face of my campaign.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:10 PM on November 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


Pedantry and word choice duly noted :)

Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill are the two best known examples of modern tall tales, along with the lesser knowns of iron-man Joe Magarac (sorry!), Old Stormalong, Febold Feboldson, Big Mose, Tony Beaver, Bowleg Bill, Whiskey Jack, Annie Christmas, Cordwood Pete, Antonine Barada, and Kemp Morgan (as pulled from Wikipedia), plus Santa and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer (from the Arcana wiki).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:29 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


The reasoning involved in distinguishing between real and fake lore seems...peculiar:

The element of misrepresentation is central; artists who draw on traditional stories in their work are not producing fakelore unless they claim that their creations are real folklore.

So, as long as you don't claim you're producing folklore, what you produce could be considered folklore.

There's obviously an important difference between verbal folklore, children's books, and advertising materials, but making the crucial distinction "real" vs. "fake" seems overly simplistic and preoccupied with purity.
posted by clockzero at 12:32 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


So basically, if you ever write down a folk tale it immediately becomes a greedy cash-grab and loses all its potency as a cultural touchstone. Got it.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:32 PM on November 20, 2014


I really prefer the term "creature" which is used frequently in the book and lacks the negative connotations of "monster"; I think "monster" is unnecessarily judgmental which is also why I refer generally to the Loch Ness Creature. When we refer to "Frankenstein's Monster" we are making a moral judgment that, as a big fan of the book, I am loathe to make because I think it defines him solely in terms of the way his pusillanimous creator viewed him. He is a creation, and he might be monstrous, but by assigning this term to him as cavalierly as we do we miss a lot of the nuance of the book.

That's an interesting point. I haven't read it in a while, so I don't remember, but do different characters or the narratorial voice vary in terms of whether they refer to the creation this way?
posted by clockzero at 12:34 PM on November 20, 2014


Perhaps, "Actually it's about ethics in folk tale publication"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:37 PM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Big Mose

Oh man, now you're in my wheelhouse. I wrote 50,000 words on Big Mose recently.
posted by maxsparber at 1:06 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


This does explain the uncomfortable feeling I used to get as as kid, looking at these Generically Native American stories foisted off on us but something off about them -- something overly processed and childish in the presentation that bothered me, though I was never able to verbalize what it was. I don't think, as an elementary school child, that feeling was exactly "discomfort with the patronizing white appropriation + mangling of Native American culture, which was simultaneously structured as something simplistic and completely of the past, while incidentally your teacher skips the chapter in the history book about the Trail of Tears but you read it on your own and wondered all year when you'd get to it, isn't that odd," seeing as I lacked the concepts and perspective for many of those things, but. I think I got the patronizing bit.
posted by automatic cabinet at 1:20 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Everything Disney touches.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:22 PM on November 20, 2014


I wonder - would they consider the work of Lady Gregory to be fakelore? Because on the one hand it fits (Anglo-Irish 20th Century gentry rewrites Gaelic pre-Christian myth), but on the other hand it was absolutely pivotal in crystallizing Irish cultural nationalism and touching off the Irish nationalist movement.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am actually weirdly disappointed about Paul Bunyan.
posted by PinkMoose at 4:54 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh man, now you're in my wheelhouse. I wrote 50,000 words on Big Mose recently.

Oh, you are my hero!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:33 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, fakelore is like astroturfing, only with cultural items. You present something as an "authentic traditional folk narrative" or whatever that has been circulated within folk groups as a grassroots thing. But the item you're talking about is something you or someone else invented that does not originate from actual folk tradition.

Plenty of actual, traditional folklore items become the basis of popular/normative culture texts/media. Like a traditional Type 510A Cinderella story (Ashenputtel) from the oral tradition being collected and re-told in writing by the Grimms or Perrault as a literary fairy tale and then that eventually being adapted by Disney, etc. Or Narayan producing a written retelling of Ramayana. The version of a folk-derived item that gets mass-distributed in fixed form for a generic audience is no longer technically folk culture, but it's not fake.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:35 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Where does lying to children fall along this spectrum. Especially about sea monsters and pets that can read minds? Because I may be a fakelorist.....
posted by fshgrl at 6:08 PM on November 20, 2014


I always knew Pecos Bill was bullshit.
posted by Sara C. at 7:13 PM on November 20, 2014


I wonder - would they consider the work of Lady Gregory to be fakelore?

I think Ossian (James McPherson) and Iolo Morgannwg would definitely be fakelore. In both cases, as with Lady Gregory, the goal was national identity as a political project. But those guys were inventing their traditions from whole cloth -- and in the case of old Iolo, using his role as the foremost Celtic literary historian of his time to provide cover for forging a set of primary sources to back it all up.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:04 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


would they consider the work of Lady Gregory to be fakelore

I think the discussion of fakelore only comes up when someone tries to pass something off as folklore, but it's a modern creation or modification. I'm not familiar with her work, or the source material, but An Irish Literature Reader: Poetry, Prose, Drama (Google books preview) likens her adaptations to Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory's compilation and modification of traditional tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table, where he interpreted existing French and English stories about these figures and added original material.

From this limited information, I think Lady Gregory's works may be borderline, depending on if she claims the works as her own, as in The Kiltartan History Book, or simply "arranged and put into English," as is claimed in Gods and Fighting Men.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:17 AM on November 21, 2014


Along with a lot of accomplished scholars in this field, I too think that many definitions attempting to differentiate "folk" from "fake" are spurious. Until recently there was a strong strain of purism that stipulated anything transmitted in any way electronically could not legitimately be folklore. But that ignored some of the most widely accepted elements of the definition of folklore. A central criterion in most definitions of folklore is that it is expressive culture shared by a community and adapted and further transmitted by members of that community. That definition pretty neatly excludes most ginned-up "multicultural" publishing, commercial storymaking, etc. , that has never existed in a shared context.

It's entirely possible, though, for something like Bunyan to pass from commercial contexts into actual folklore. All it takes is for someone to adapt and re-deploy that story in a folk context, like around a campfire or as a piece of communication between friends, a signifier. And all folklore was once authored; songs and stories never spring into being as emergent properties of communities, though authorship is often more complex than we have the tools to describe. Many surprising things have migrated into folk culture in this "reverse" way, becoming every bit as "authentic" as rootsier-seeming things, just as many things from folk culture have been adapted and amplified for commercial purposes. For instance, contra dance is seen as pretty folksy now but was historically (in the US) introduced and taught by professional teachers drawing from published, edited European dance texts whose authority derived from professionals in aristocratic settings.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


...My own opinion of Dorson is that he was a bit of a counterculture romantic purist who didn't like to admit that the origins of most folklore are quite complex and that the commercial and "authentic" are not so easily teased apart. It is less important for me to ascertain the "purity" level an observer assigns any given piece of lore than to watch how that meme functions in communities.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


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