Author Archive
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

CRC “Radiothon”

My friend lives in the Communications Residential College at Northwestern University.  This residential college houses communications freshmen and sophomores.  Every year the CRC would host a Radiothon and ask for pledges to donate to the American Heart Association.  The tradition was started in dedication to a student who lived in the dorm and died of arrhythmia in the 1980s.  Since its inception, the Radiothon has become a massive event for the members of the CRC, and it is carried out with a decent amount of publicity every year.

The radiothon lasts for 50 hours, and students are encouraged to stay up the entire time (my friend was unable to).  There are set programs that are carried out each year and passed down by each year of CRC residents, and there is room for customized programs that students submit.  The conditions for the custom programs is that they last for an hour, are entertaining, and can generate money for donations.

One of the most popular forms of the custom show encourages the residents of the dorm to donate money to see other residents do outrageous things.  For example, my friend’s friends donated to see her and another resident have a chocolate pudding fight.

An example of a hybridization between the fixed shows and the custom shows is the segment “That’s Stupid” during the Radiothon.  The tradition of “That’s Stupid” is passed down every year, and the framework is the same – pay money to have your friends do stupid things.  What exactly you can get your friends to do really depends.  My friend pitched in with other friends to donate $50 and have salsa poured on a fellow resident’s hair.

The tradition of the Radiothon acts as both a memorial and a celebration.  It’s a memorial to the student who died from arrhythmia and lived in the dorm.  Since both that student and the current residents major in communications, there is connection that the tradition plays on.  But it’s also a celebration of the present group of freshmen and sophomores who live in the CRC.  So on one hand it is mindful of the past – on the other hand, it is optimistic or celebratory of the present.  Sometimes, the Radiothon does extend to graduated classes of the CRC community – my friend said that alumni ocasionally call in to donate to the American Heart Foundation.  I feel that the use of technology allows for this potential expansion of the relevant community.

Folk speech
general
Humor

“It’s Greeley!” – Folk Saying

“It’s Greeley!”

The informant said that when he and his friends would smell horse manure in Boulder, they would say: “It’s Greeley!”  According to my friend, the city of Greeley would always be blamed in some form by Boulder residents when there is a scent of horse manure in the air.

The informant first heard a friend in middle school mention Greeley.  He started using the saying himself when the saying’s blaming of Greeley was confirmed – He visited Greeley and it smelled of the same scent as the wind that would occasionally sweep over Boulder.

Greeley is a city that is approximately 50 miles away from Boulder, and has a lot of stables and horses.  Sometimes the wind is strong enough to carry the scent of the horses and their manure to cities as far as Boulder.

When the informant started using the joke itself suggests that some knowledge of Greeley is essential to understanding the joke.  In fact, the informant did not know what his friend was talking about at first when he mentioned Greeley.

The saying relies on the audience’s knowledge of Colorado’s cities, particularly Greeley, in order to be humorous.  While not explicitly used to distinguish Colorado residents from outsiders, understanding of the joke would determine whether or not you live in/know of Colorado, or of the city of Greeley.

According to my friends, other cities in the area know of Greeley’s reputation as well.  He does not know if they talk about the city in the same way.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Panquake

My friend is currently a freshman at Northwestern University.  She is majoring in journalism, so she lives in the CRC (Communications Residential College) at the university.  The CRC primarily consists of freshman and sophomore communications majors.

Every year, the sophomores in CRC start hyping up an event called Panquake.  They usually do this a few weeks in advance of the event itself and keep the freshmen confused as to what Panquake actually is.  Often the references to the Panquake are nonsensical and mainly work to keep the freshmen curious.  This year, my friend said that the sophomores made a lot of posters with irrelevant film and TV quotes, ending with the  hashtag “#panquake.”  As the event drew near, the sophomores said to just be ready “with $10 and a sense of adventure.”

Panquake takes place late at night.  The sophomores of CRC bring the freshmen to Chicago’s “El” (Elevated rail) and ride it to an IHOP in Chicago.  It turns out that the Panquake itself is quite simple.  The sophomores take the freshmen to the IHOP and they sit down and eat pancakes.

My friend told me that after the meal, the sophomores walk the freshmen back instead of taking the “El.”  This walk goes through multiple parks and a graveyard and is supposed to be a bonding experience.  This year, however, my friend said that one of the students accidentally touched a stranger’s car, and the stranger became infuriated and threatened to harm the students.  For the sake of safety, the group took the “El” back to Northwestern instead.  However, since the walk is a very important part of the tradition, the sophomores promised the freshmen that they would take them through the route some other time, so they know where to take next year’s freshmen.

I think that this tradition acts as a rite of passage for new residents of the CRC dorm.  The trip to the IHOP and the walk back to campus is an expression of passing a liminal point – the freshmen are transitioning from freshmen initiated members of the residential college.  The entirety of the tradition and practice seems to be important – I found it telling that the sophomores insisted that they took the freshmen on the walking route at a later date, because this part of the tradition was essential.  I also find the practice of “over-hyping” it very interesting.  Perhaps it adds to the mystery and excitement of the event.  Perhaps the “sense of adventure”  espouses an attitude the sophomores want to instill in the freshmen – they want them to be unafraid to try new experiences.

Game

MASH

My sister told me that when she was young she played a game called MASH.  The game involves two people and requires a sheet of paper.  One person (who acts as a fortune-teller) sets up the sheet with the letters MASH on top.  M stands for Mansion, A stands for Apartment, S stands for Shack, and H stands for House.  The fortune-teller asks the other person, who is the main player, for the name of three boys or girls.  These are written on the left edge of the paper.  The fortune-teller then asks the player for three dream occupations and writes them down below the names of the boys and girls.  After that, the fortune teller asks for three dream vehicles and puts them under the list of occupations.  The fortune-teller asks the player for a number from 1 through 10.  They then write down the number in the center of the paper.  The fortune-teller takes this number and starts counting along the letters MASH, reversing direction every time they hit M or H on the end.  When the fortune-teller reaches the number, they cross out the letter they land on.  The process is repeated until one letter remains.  This letter indicates what sort of housing the player will have in the future.  The same counting method is used on the list of boys and girls to determine who the player is going to be married to.  Counting off on the list of occupations determines the future job, and counting off on the vehicles determines what the player is going to drive in the future.  When this information is obtained, the fortune-teller announces the results as such:
“So you’re going to live in a (x), and you’ll be married to (x), you’ll be working as a (x), driving a (x), and you’ll have (x) children!”

My sister learned this in primary school from other girls, and recalls obsessively playing it.  She thinks part of the appeal of MASH is that it seems to greatly simplify the future and put in the players’ hands.  She says that there are other variants she remembers as well.  In addition to the above information, sometimes the fortune-teller will also divine the marital status of the  player to the boy/girl selected through the counting process, by counting off a list involving such relationship statuses as “married, divorced, widowed, dating.”

I agree with my sister’s thoughts on the fortune-telling aspect of this game.  It’s a really simplified approach to telling the future.  It reminds me of fortune-tellers that children would make in order to answer all sorts of Yes/No questions through simple factors (like a number or color, depending on the format of the fortune-teller).  I find it interesting that this condenses the idea of futures and really gives the player agency (for example, you could pick 3 very expensive cars and 3 high-paying occupations and guarantee yourself a pretty positive future in this game).

Folk speech
Proverbs
Riddle

Lana sube, lana baja, el senor que la trabaja

“Lana sube, lana baja, el senor que la trabaja”

Translated: “Money rises, money falls, for the person who deals with money”

My friend heard this riddle from his grandmother on his mother’s side.  It is a riddle that is typically posed as a question, so the performer would add “Que es?”  at the end.

The riddle is usually said fairly quickly, as it functions primarily as a catch riddle.  The answer to the riddle is “lana baja.”  The riddle operates on the phrase “lana baja” because it sounds similar to “la navaja,” which is “the blade” in Spanish.  It is up to the listener to hear the riddle correctly and point out the misleading phrase.  If the listener can’t identify the catch in the riddle, the asker usually pokes fun at the listener.

My friend said that this riddle is part of a large group of riddles in Mexico that revolve around puns and catching the listener off guard.  He says that as far as he knows, this is one of the more popular riddles in that group.

The riddle can also act as a proverb, given as advice by the asker to the listener.

“Lana” in Spanish means “wool,” but it also can mean “money.”  My friend’s grandmother told him this riddle not only to try to catch him, but to pass down the lesson in the riddle as well.   The lesson is that whoever deals with money must also deal with its instability, its ability to go up and go down without much warning.  When the riddle refers to “el senor que la trabaja,” or the person who deals with money, it doesn’t refer to a specific profession that handles money.  Thus the lesson in the riddle carries pretty universally.

The informant said that this riddle has a shorter version that is purely a catch riddle.  He feels that this version is more popular with adults because it also offers advice to the listener.  The shorter version of the riddle does away with the proverb on money and uses the more literal meaning of “lana,” wool.

I heard this riddle shortly after the informant told me the shorter version.  I was very interested in how “lana” takes on a different meaning in this version and gives the riddle a second function.  It seems to me that in order for the catch riddles to be properly used and understood, the performer and listener have to be fluent in Spanish and understand intricacies of the language as well (such as informal meanings of words).

I’ve made an entry on the shorter version of this riddle, which can be found here:

http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=19262

Folk speech
general
Riddle

Lana sube, lana baja

My friend is a film student at the University of Southern California.  His mother’s side of the family is Mexican, and his father’s side of the family is Serbian.

My friend heard this riddle from a cousin 6 years ago during a New Year’s celebration.  The riddle is usually delievered as:
“Lana sube, lana baja.  Que es?”

Which translates to:

“Wool rises, wool falls.  What is it?”

He says that this riddle is supposed to be  asked very quickly in order to confuse the listener.  My friend remembers that his cousin asked the riddle very quickly and he wasn’t sure what she was asking for.

The central catch to the riddle is the pun on “lana baja.”  “Lana baja” sounds similar to “la navaja,” which means “the blade” in Spanish.  Because the riddle is delivered so quickly, the riddle could possibly sound like “Lana sube, la navaja.”

The proper answer to “Lana sube, lana baja.  Que es?”  is “Lana baja,” because that is where the potential confusion lies.  My friend says that there is a level of expectation for the recipient to answer correctly if the recipient is fluent in Spanish.  When the he was unable to provide an answer for the riddle the first time, his cousin laughed at him.
The riddle itself doesn’t have any inherent meaning – it functions primarily as a catch riddle that plays on the language.  However, my friend said that this is a shortened version of another rhyme.  He speculates that this version of the riddle is popular among children because it’s easy to remember and is catchy.

I agree with my friend’s interpretation of this riddle.  However, I think this version is more popular with children because it’s easier to remember and has a pretty straightforward function and meaning.  The other version of this riddle that the informant told me is used by older people, and can also be understood as a proverb.  This is why I think the longer version is more popular among adults, and the shorter version presented above is popular with children.  I also think that it might be perceived as more proper to use the proverbial version if you’re older than the person who you’re giving the riddle to.
The other version can be found on a separate post here:

http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=19268

Proverbs

Amor de lejos es amor de pendejos

My friend first heard this from her father.  The translation is “To love from afar is love for idiots.”

My friend initially interpreted this proverb as a criticism on being unable to act on emotions for another person.  To “love from afar,” as in, to love without actually confessing it to the person, is love for idiots.”  She’s learned, however, that the proverb is more often used in context of long-distance relationships.  So being geographically far from your significant other and choosing to continue to love them is foolish.  My friend doesn’t have a particular significance attached to this proverb, but she did think that it was rather interesting.

I agree with my friend’s understanding of the proverb, though I wonder if other people beyond her do think of the proverb in the same sense that she originally thought of it (with “love from afar” being similar to “love within the mind”).  I find it interesting that  this proverb discourages love if it’s from a distance.  It suggests that there is a belief that a relationship is only wise or legitimate if it’s grounded in physical reality.  I’m not entirely sure why that would be the case, but perhaps love was often presumed to be associated with marriage.  So a real relationship should be properly consummated, either through sex, marriage, or person-to-person interaction.

This proverb has also seemed to regain some significance with the advent of the internet.  Maybe the idea of a “long-distance relationship” through webcamming is still considered unwise by most people in this community.  If that’s the case, then this Mexican proverb affirms that the idea of physicality is essential to romantic relationships (as a college student in the United States, I hear comments about the futility of long-distance relationships often, and a proverb like this seems particularly fitting for that situation), and that this way of thinking is important to multiple cultures.

Customs
Material

The Rock (and other rocks) at Northwestern University

My friend at Northwestern University says there’s a tradition of painting particular rocks on campus.  There’s one massive rock at the center of a few campus buildings, and there are rocks scattered along the coast of Lake Michigan (Northwestern is situated along Lake Michigan).

The rock at the center of campus is often used to promote student organizations, and is known as “The Rock”.  My friend is not entirely sure how the tradition of painting The Rock began, but she knows the rules surrounding the rights to painting the rock.  Should a student organization want to paint the rock, they have to have at least one member guarding it for 24 hours straight.  After the 24 hour period has passed, the organization is allowed to paint anything they please on the rock.  Most of these paintings cover the entire rock and promote the organization itself.  Although the exact origins are unknown, my friend knows that The Rock’s been painted on for quite a long time (she hears many people joke “I swear it was way smaller before,” which hints at the number of times The Rock’s been painted over).   She has not guarded The Rock herself, but knows of friends who have stayed the night by The Rock on behalf of their groups.  Sometimes the progression of  The Rock’s multiple exteriors is documented on a bulletin board.  It’s a popular hangout spot (which I think is partially because of the traditions surrounding it) so it’s good advertising space for campus groups.  Part of becoming a Northwestern student is knowing where The Rock is on campus and knowing the ritual you must perform to win the rights to paint on it.

There are other rocks along the Lake Michigan shore that students can choose to paint.  People can personally reserve rocks but there are no guarantees the paintings will not be painted over.  People who paint the rocks are often couples or graduating students.  My friend and her friend have already looked for a rock and are planning to paint it as seniors.

I think that The Rock and the rocks along the lake are popular spots for painting because rocks are often thought of as enduring objects.  I’ve seen the rocks along the lake myself – these rocks still contain writing from people who have graduated several years ago.  The idea of “leaving your mark” on the college you go to is put in a very physical form through this tradition.

To paint The Rock and the other rocks is a sort of ‘initiation’ into being recognized as a Northwestern student.  Once you’ve been able to carry out these practices you’ve made your impact on the campus.

Legends
Narrative

La Llorona

My friend spent part of her childhood growing up in Mexico, and she would hear this story of La Llorona from other kids.

“La Llorona was a beautiful young woman, as every young woman is in stories, uh… who, like, married this man, and uh… had like beautiful children and… I don’t know, there were like six or something, and…then… he cheated on her, and she got super angry, and killed the kids by drowning them in a river.  And, uh, the legend goes that if you’re a bad child, or if you, like, don’t do something that you’re supposed to do, uh, when you’re a kid, like… the threat of La Llorona is that… um, she’ll come and like, steal you away or something, and there’s like, this legend that she’s still wandering around in riverbeds going like ‘mi secos, mi secos!’”

My friend didn’t believe in La Llorona as she grew up.  Her friends often did, however, and would cite the danger of being caught by La Llorona as reasons to not cause mischief.  I think there’s a different effect when kids tell the stories their parents tell.  I often think of stories such as this as cautionary tales created by parents to warn children to be on good behavior.  For my friend, hearing that other children believed in it made her think the stories were rather silly.  My friend points out that “La Llorona was a beautiful woman, as every young woman is in stories”… I think that she notices there’s a motif in which someone/something beautiful becomes spoiled.  And this ruination of somebody causes them to somehow haunt this world.  I do agree with her; I think La Llorona is not the only ghost story that involves ghosts somehow beginning beautiful and ending as abominations after their actions.  The ghost of La Llorona also hangs around riverbeds, which makes me believe that her existence as a ghost comes as a form of punishment for drowning her children.  It’s interesting that the story that my friend knows of does not really emphasize on the husband.  Instead of a tale of infidelity, La Llorona ends up as a ghost story about a homicidal mother that intends to scare children into compliance.  On the other hand, there might be something more about the husband in other versions – other than the elements my friend finds kind of silly or fascinating, she doesn’t remember too much of a specific narrative.

Gestures
Humor

Duct taping prank

My friend is a student at Cal Poly Pomona.  But when he was in high school he was in the marching band.  His high school’s marching band had a particularly strict sense of hierarchy, and so freshmen who were just joining the band were expected to “stay in their place.”  This is an account my friend told me, of a freshman who was particularly unruly and how upperclassmen retaliated during band camp, a week in which the band members train and get to know each other:

“There was this one kid, who, um… who was a freshman, and he was pretty much just a general asshole.  Um, he didn’t show up to practice, he’d cut in line past seniors to get to food and stuff like that, and… he was even worse to people who were, like, of his year.  And… yeah, so basically he’d go around stealing people’s stuff.  And so, one of the seniors were like… “So um,yeah, this is too far so we need to get back at him.”  So we took duct tape and we duct taped his sleeping bag… until there was more duct tape than actual sleeping bag.  And… yeah, basically it was like… justice.  But kind of like, vigilante justice or something like that.”

[“Do you feel that pranks like this kind of enforce the hierarchy you guys have? Like, if people fall out of line…”]

“Yeah, for sure, ‘cause generally if you are being really… arrogant, and, you know, just a general douchebag… we try to put you back in your place.”

My friend definitely thinks that this disproportionate retribution was effective in perpetuating the cultural hierarchy of his high school band.  The duct taping tradition in that particular community far predates my friend’s account.  He remembers it as one of the more common gestures used in disciplining freshmen.

There’s a certain discontinuity betweem the nature of the prank and the values it’s supposed to reinforce.  Band requires a lot of self-disicipline and respect of bandmates/directors, yet this prank is demeaning to the target.  I think this irony can be explained by the way band’s hierarchy works.  As my friend said, the targets of these pranks are usually unruly or arrogant freshmen.  So, as a form of reciporcity, the upperclassmen return acts of disrespect with more disrespect.  On the other hand, it seems likely that duct taping is something that amuses high schoolers because it demeans the target.  There’s a constant struggle of being “better,” and strict hierarchies like band help to reinforce that way of thinking.

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