Author Archive
Customs
Magic
Material

Pre-Test Ritual

Subject: Tradition. “Dress your best to test your best”.

Collection:

“Interviewer: Can you talk about going out to buy that dress my sophomore year of high school… the first time we ever did dress your best to test your best?

Interviewee: So, when I was growing up my mom would always take- when I was taking tests even through college… and buy me something to make me feel… uh… special. And to put me in the best state of mind for my tests. And then when Emerson was taking her first AP test we went out and got a dress and it’s her- was called her AP dress, from that day on… but like I- you- you started not wanting to- a dress, but like we would buy a shirt or some shorts or something. It was always like just dress up, get yourself in the best state of mind to take your test”.

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who first introduced her to this custom. She passed it down to her daughter when the tests being taken became significant. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This tradition was shared over dinner with her daughter and husband when talking about various traditions passed down through the women in our lives.

Analysis: While this custom appears indulgent, the principles behind it are simple and could be easily enacted without much pomp and circumstance. This tradition centers around the individual while simultaneously asserting a sense of belonging and responsibility within the family structure.

First, the specific action being performed, shopping and then wearing new clothes to the test, is designed to make the person taking the test feel good about themselves. By putting on the clothes, there is an attempt to feel in control of the situation, even though they may not be. This evokes a type of sympathetic magic in which the practitioner makes themselves physically appear and feel their best to then trigger the best possible results from the test. Hence, it is all about the success of the individual and an attempt to control an indeterminant outcome. Furthermore, the practitioner is physically changing their appearance to commemorate the event, an outward statement that the test is important and deserving of the highest levels of dedication.

Secondly, the build up to dressing your best to test your best presents an opportunity for mother and daughter to go out and perform a self-serving activity that is out of the normal. By performing a distinct activity and making the day a special occasion, an additional level of bonding is introduced. The positive feelings of the bonding trip are then commemorated by the apparel that is donned to make the tester feel confident and supported going into their test. It also simultaneously produces a sense of duty of child to parent, the parent has made an investment in the success of their child and so the child must perform well.

In this way, this ritual is not unlike wearing a pair of lucky socks before a basketball game. A physical item is applied to the body to produce a desired outcome; only in this case, it is the newness of the item that gives it its special powers.

Folk speech

Checking the Prop

Subject: The taboo. “Check the prop”.

Collection:

Interviewer: “Would you care to tell us a little about what it means to ‘check the prop’?”

Interviewee: “So… um… growing up water skiing… the old parents were always in a hurry when the kids were skiing to get up and get going, so they could get back to drinking their beer. Well… every morning, upon jumping in the water, us kids would proceed to take our time saying, “hit it…” by checking the prop. Which meant we were warming the water.”

His Wife: “Which means?”

Interviewee: “Taking a pee.”

Background Info: S. Taylor grew up in Southern California he grew up snow skiing, water skiing, motorcycle driving, jet skiing, playing volleyball, and racing cars. He first heard the expression as a kid from his parents and the other adults on trips to the river, the Salton Sea, and Canyon Lake. Today, S. Taylor lives in San Clemente, CA with his wife, Carol Taylor.

Context: This was story was shared at dinner while asking my father about unique sayings or practices he had with his buddies from his days of racing off-road in Mexico. This phrase was suggested to him by his wife after she incorrectly asked if the men who he raced with in Mexico would have to knock on wood if they were checking the prop. I inquired as to the meaning above. He still uses this phrase today if he needs to use the bathroom on a long road trip on the side of the road or otherwise in nature.

Analysis: The expression “checking the prop” is indicative of the cultural tradition to find coded ways of speaking about bodily functions. Talking about bodily excretions is typically frowned upon as a topic of civilized conversation and is largely seen as something private. “Checking the prop” tackles this issue. It, first and foremost, allowed the adults to talk about what they were doing with one another with the hopes that it would, at least for a little while, go over their children’s heads. Over time, as the children catch on, they begin using the phrase and it creates a sense of bonding between participants; learning to “check the prop” comes as a rite of passage. The expression also addresses the discomfort associated with going to the bathroom for children (often developed as child) and replaces it with humor.

The primary participants on the trips were fathers and their sons. The specific reference to a part of the boat, the prop, allows the men to bond with their sons through humor over a universal activity (urination) about these bonding excursions (water skiing). It developed out of a specific tradition and, even when removed from that environment, retains explicit reference to its roots. S. Taylor and his friends still use the phrase today and it calls upon those memories for them of their childhoods and the times their families spent together water skiing. While the phrase has been adopted by their children or wives, there is a reinforced exclusivity within the community who attended the trips. His family and friends would spend most of the summer out at the Salton Sea, composing large chunks of their life. To call upon these memories by using the phrase today reinforces belonging to a familial community. Furthermore, the prop, or propeller, is typically suspended out below a boat by a metal bar. This maritime appendage is, especially in this context, phallic in nature; the item itself suggesting and adding humor to the activity for the men.

It is counterintuitive that something usually kept private becomes thrown into the open as it is happening. However, on trips into nature, as these were, the rules are changed. People can urinate wherever they want with discretion, especially if they are in water or are a man. Escapes into nature are essentially an escape away from civilization and the constraints it puts on an individual. In this case, one way the men and boys decivilize themselves by drawing attention to these bodily functions and bonding over them.

For Further Readings: Extensive records of bathroom humor can be found at “http://www.jokes4us.com/dirtyjokes/toiletjokes.html”. Most of these are straightforward jokes containing a question as a punchline. They illustrate the phenomena of coping with discomfort through humor and laughter.

Customs
Kinesthetic

Team Cheer

Subject: A traditional cheer preceding my high school tennis team matches.

 

Collection: On the Dana Hills High School’s tennis team, we had a tradition before every tennis match to say the same cheer to boost our team’s confidence and to also psyche out our opposing team. In the traditional cheer, we first began by creating a small tipi on the court with all of our rackets so they’re standing balanced and bringing us all together. Our team captains lead us through the letters of our school’s mascot: dolphins. They shout “D-D-DOL” followed by the rest of the team’s recitation. Then, the team captains shout “P-P-PHIN”. We move through the spelling of DOLPHINS two more times and end with a loud “Go Dolphins!” and each reach for our own rackets and bring them once more together, held high in the air.

 

Background Info: C. Stuart is a freshman at the University of Southern California and is majoring in Screenwriting. She has played tennis all her life and was a part of Dana Hills High School tennis team all four years of school.

 

Context: A written transcript shared via email after assigned to share a piece of folk practice, belief, or informally passed down tradition with a classmate.

 

Analysis: Cheers, especially those performed by those participating in the sporting event, act as expressions of identity and allow for a sense of unity within a team. In this case, the assertion of one’s own identity depends on the existence of the “other” or the other team that clearly does not know the ritual or cheer. The fact that people in physical proximity are alienated then allow for an increased sense of belonging and essential exclusivity. This sense of belonging when combined with the creation of the “other” would be comforting in the face of an unsure outcome, such as an impending sporting match. Asserting one’s team identity also helps alleviate the pressure off one individual; if one person makes a mistake, the team makes the fall with them with the potential, depending on the sport, of another person picking up the slack or recovering the mistake. Therefore, a cheer is both a way of asserting a sense of belonging and soothing anxieties when facing an unsure result.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Vitamin C

Subject: Folk Medicine. EmergenC and ice cream.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So… I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately and like I feel like a cold might be coming on. Do you have any recommendations for which to proto push off this impending illness?

Interviewee: Ice cream and EmergenC… It totally keeps you from getting sick though. When you were in your junior year and I forced, well, uh, convinced you to take it every night before you went to sleep, you did not get sick and everybody else was. It’s true. And it’s more- it works better if you take it at night because you’re- it gives more time for your cells to absorb it.

Interviewer: That’s not how the body works…?

Interviewee: Yes! Because you’re- you’re not putting any more food in so you’re not like, your cells can take all the nutrients out of it. It’ll keep you healthy.”

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who both believed in the natural healing powers of alternative medicines. C. Taylor has worked at a chiropractor’s office and still receives frequent adjustments. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This story was shared over dinner with my mother and father. While she initially insisted she did not know any folklore, I prompted her with the hypothetical situation included above and received the answer I expected since this is how she treated all my colds growing up. While I had experienced her treatments, I had never asked her about her reasoning behind giving them. She started out using EmergenC in her adult life, but as a child, was forced to drink orange juice by her grandmother to keep from getting sick and to help fight off a cold once it had caught on.

Analysis: Vitamin C is a popular form of alternative medicine, used more in preventing illness than treating it. As the recipient of EmergenC in this story, I can say that while I did not get sick often while drinking it at home, since moving to college I have not continued drinking it and have only gotten sick twice. I think it is more likely that I am not very susceptible to illness in the first place, but perhaps the beverage did provide my system with the extra push it needed to make it through high school. However, when I return home, I always ask for a glass of EmergenC before I go to bed since, to me, it now carries connotations of home and the comforting feelings of being loved and cared for. I would venture to guess that maintaining the tradition of using vitamin C from her grandparents gives my mother a connection to the women who cared for her.

Health is a subject that scares many people since, when we are healthy, we often take it for granted and good health can be stripped from us at any second. It, therefore, makes sense that people turn to readily available products like EmergenC to practice having control over their health (also, orange juice, Vitamin C gummies, or immunity-boosting teas). Keeping the family healthy is of increased importance which manifests in the ritual of taking EmergenC every evening. It helps sooth anxieties of getting others sick by bringing a virus into the house and anxieties of ourselves losing our own good health. The idea of comforting oneself through these self-administered remedies is supported by my mom citing ice cream as having healing properties. Ice cream is satisfying and so when someone feels their worst physically, it makes sense that they would turn to a food that brings them happiness.

 

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Three Men in A Bar

Subject: Narrative joke.

Collection: “Alright, so, uh, one night these three friends you know they’re out-they’re out being buddies, they’re out drinking, going to bars. And uh, one bar, its late at night, they’re already pretty drunk, and they find a magical beer bottle and they are totally mind-fucked. There drunk, it’s a magical beer bottle behind a bar. Why were they there? I don’t know. They were peeing, throwing up, something. So, they find the magical beer bottle and there’s a genie inside of it. And the genie has the power to fulfill three wishes. Um so since there’s three friends, each friend gets one wish. So, uh, they do they’re business meaning the whole peeing and vomiting thing, and the wish making and when they each get what they want, they enter the bar. And, um, these guys, all the other bars they walked into earlier in the night, nobody noticed them, they’re kind of losers. But when they walk into this bar, um, they’re- everyone- they’re turning heads. Um, but they don’t mind. They’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re turning heads’. So, they sit down and one of them goes up for the first round of drinks. Ans the bartender sees this guy coming up and he’s like, ‘Oh snap, this is a very, very impressive man’. Um, he’s got uh like, uh these- ya know, he’s wearing a tuxedo, he’s got a gold monocle, he’s got an ivory cane with gold inlay engraved in like swirling patterns and on top of it, this huge pink diamond. And it’s so big, it’s like- you know that one that the British people stole from Africa. Like it’s bigger than that… But, like this pink diamond, gigantic. Um, an- and the tuxedo it looks so soft, and it looks so suave. It’s perfectly tailored. It’s sleek and plush, and to top it all off, he’s got a top hat. Um, so he’s just 100%, he’s like a caricature, he’s like the monopoly man, he’s like a gazillionaire. And um, and the bartender’s like, ‘This is cool but something’s off. What’s off about this guy?’. He knows something’s off, he can’t put it together, but he’s just like, ‘Alright, whatever’. So, uh, the guy reaches him, the bartender, and the bartender’s like trying to be impressive, you know. He wants to sound smart. So, he goes, ‘I couldn’t help but notice your fine array of accouterments’. And- and he goes, ‘Can I ask, what is the secret to your success?’. And you know, they guy just laughs, um and he explains that he was piss drunk, peeing in an alley, and found a magic beer bottle and wished to be the richest man in the world. And the bartender’s like, ‘Oh, alright that- that’s kind of disappointing. Um, I wanted to be rich but whatever’. Um, so the, the f-the guy takes his drinks, and you know, goes back to his table to share them with his friends. And, so the bartender is disappointed because he’s not going to be rich, but he knows he’s in for like some night, you know. And, he- he’s waiting for those other two friends to come up, because you know it’s not every day that you get three people… and um, and where was I, let’s see. He knows he’s in for a night. So, second friend, comes up. And the bartender sees, or rather doesn’t see that this other man is, also, very impressive. And what I mean by doesn’t see is that he’s just surrounded by women and the bartender cannot see him. But, like, he’s surrounded by women, that’s very impressive… Um, so the bartender just kind of like hands the three drinks into the crowd. And then somewhere from the crowd, money for three drinks comes back. And uh the bartender’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’. Um he doesn’t know what direction to talk in, so he just kind of yells and says, ‘I couldn’t help but notice the crowd’. And he doesn’t really expect the guy to hear him, and he doesn’t really expect a response, but very faintly, he hears, ‘I’m sure you have met my friend, the rich guy and that he explained what happened out back with the magical beer bottle. But did you ever wonder where all of his gold diggers were?’. And the bartender’s like ‘Ah-ha! That’s what was off about the rich guy, there were no gold diggers, like what was up with that?’. And the shouting man continues that his wish was to be the most attractive man in the world. Um, and the bartender was like, ‘Nice… Good shit’. Um, uh, so the crowd ya know starts to disperse as you know the life of the party’s going back to his seat. And the bartender’s like, ‘Alright, what a  couple wishes. Like I wonder what the third guy could’ve wished for. You know to like out do the other to. I- I hope I don’t get let down’. Um, and when the third friend finally comes up to get the third round of drinks, what the bartender saw was just nothing that anyone really could have expected. Um, you know, the bartender kind of noticed that like the first two friends, their wishes wer- were kind of obvious, you know. Like, if you dressed all rich, you wished to be rich. If you’re surrounded by women, you wished to be the most attractive man in the world. But the third guy, it- it was- not obvious at all, if you’re even in your right mind. Uh, and when the third guy comes, there’s no crowd about him, you know, but there’s this swagger in his step, as if the genie had fulfilled for him a combination of his two friends’ wishes, as if he were the richest and most attractive man in the world. Um, that was not the case. Uh, never the less, he was… still impressive. As impressive as the other guys, but not in the same way, it wa- it was kind of a negative sort of impressive, you know. The bartender’s kind of, he- he’s really appalled, but he’s also intrigued and overall, he’s just totally taken aback. He’s going, ‘I can’t even begin to imagine what had gone through this guy’s head, if he even had a head before, because now, what is this protrusion springing from his neck? I- uh, uh, it cannot be dared called a head, you know’. And the bartender decides maybe it’s best not to mention it at all until the guy reaches me which he did. And he orders his drinks, ultimately, casual like. And he’s trying to make small talk with the bartender as if there was just nothing up. It was just awkward because… he was never a cool guy to begin with. You know, when these guys found these beer bottle, they were like the three nerdiest guys, and he was the nerdiest out of all of them. So he’s just trying to chit-chat like there’s nothing up, he’s a terrible conversationalist, and he looks funny. Um, and the bartender jus- he can’t take it anymore. So, he goes, ‘Listen bub, you’re friends with those two guys who found the magical beer bottle, right’. And the guy goes, ‘Yeah, of course’. And the bartender screams, ‘Well what the hell did you wish for?!’. You know, he finally snaps, everyone in the bar turns, and looks because this bartender has lost his shit, he’s screaming at the man, um he- he’s even got a little voice crack in there It-it’s comedic, you know. This is a joke. Um, and he totally is off the wall because he cannot just, he can’t process this guy’s giant fuzzy orange head, he’s in total disbelief. Um, but you know the guy who’s being yelled at, he just totally remains calm and he says, ‘I wished for a giant fuzzy orange head, obviously’.”

Background Info: M. Takla is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He is from Foster City, CA.

Context: M. Takla told me this joke over dessert, sitting outside around dusk. I challenged him to a joke off, through which we both learned each other’s best narrative jokes. I then asked to record him telling this joke for my collection.

Analysis: This joke subverts the expectations for a typical punchline while employing traditional narrative elements on which the narrator is free to embellish. The build-up for the joke appears to be growing more and more extreme, which, in many way, it is. However, the absurdity of the joke (magic beer bottles, genies, and the gaudy fulfillment of the men’s wishes) comes to a head when the man reveals he wished for the giant fuzzy orange head. In a way, the story was so absurd that an even more absurd ending, or climax, is expected. The joke mocks itself and the genre of the typical tale by casually employing elements such as the Rule of Three and magic that are found in traditional tales. The combination of these factors lends the joke its success and aesthetic pleasure.

Humor
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Story of the Trids

Subject: Narrative joke.

Collection: “Uh, so this is… um, let’s see. So, long ago… long ago in a faraway kingdom, there lived a tribe of- of these druid like people. Um… you know, it’s yore, I guess. Um, and they live- lived, it’s this agrarian society, they’re very peaceful, uh, they don’t practice warfare um li-like of any kind, not even like with sticks or anything, you know. They’re just ve- very nice people uh pacifists, no violence. If you swing a punch, like that’s your- that’ it, you’re out of the society. You know, you’re gone. Um… and uh it’s almost a utopia just because of how peaceful it is, and, uh, and sustainable and everything. Except for one thing. All of their crops- they’re separated from their crops by a river. Um, on their side of the river, it’s not suitable for their crops. Um, but on the other side uh, it is. And the thing is, uh, they weren’t the best engineers so they only really managed to build a bridge in like one place. Uh, otherwise they would have to go way, like a couple miles away to like a calmer part of the stream, I mean river. Because it’s a little bit of a wild river. So, uh, so the- they really found that one perfect spot, and then the other good spots weren’t for a few miles, like in the other directions. Um, so they only built one bridge and the thought, like why would we- we need more than one bridge. Um… so and the other thing about these crops is um they’re very, very particular. They hav- they’re very sensitive, um you have to take care of them really well. You know, the right amount of water, the right amount of food, these people actually sang to their crops. Um, because, uh it-it helped the crops grow. Um, they were very talented musically. And um, oh I forgot to mention, these people are- they’re um, let’s see… yes, they are Jewish. Um, so, and they uh, they’re very talented musically so they’ve go- they have their own fiddler on-on the roof. That’s not the joke, don’t worry. Um, and uh, and yeah, these crops and um the fiddler would go and play to the crops as well. Um, not because that actually helps the crops as much as singing, um but um, just because they’re nice. They’re nice people. And these crops needed to be harvested at a particular time, uh otherwise they were terrible. Um, it’s kind of like, like you know avocados. Like how if… you buy an avocado, an- and it’s not ripe yet. And then it’s ripe for five seconds and then suddenly it’s- you’ve got to throw it in the trash. Or compost it. You got- composting is important. That’s actually a very important part of this society. That’s one of the- the core tenets of their sustainability program… Um, and um so yeah. It’s not exactly like an avocado, like you harvest them and then they’re ripe for a small amount of time. It’s that they have to be harvested at a perfect time. Um but that’s like, the avocado was just like the closest analogy I could come up with to help you understand because the particularity of these crops is a very important part of this story. Um, it’s- it’s you know, it’s one of the main character motives for this society, this group of people. So, I really want to hit home that just like an avocado, there’s a really small window where they’re good to go. And, uh, one day it’s harvest season and they’re like, ‘let’s go, let’s go. This is the window, let’s go get these crops’. Uh so, they all prepare to cross this bridge, when from under the bridge a troll jumps out and um they’re like, ‘what, we’ve never seen this troll before, where did you come from? Uh, and who are you? Uh, will you allow us to pass’. And the troll says, ‘no, this is my bridge. And none of you will pass’… and uh, and the troll says, ‘none of you will go back either’. And they go, uh, they go, ‘No, what does tha- what? We’re going to be stuck here forever?’. And uh the troll says, ‘No, I’m going to kick you into the river’. And they go, ‘What?’ [laughter]. And so, one by one he kicks all of them into the river. And they’re fine though. Uh, It’s a, you know, it’s a bit of a wild river, but they’re all okay, none of them have any broken bones or anything, because they just fall into the river and the river, it- it sweeps them pretty far away, you know. Because, like I said, the only good places for a bridge is where that place, and then like really far away, and they get swept all the way there. Many miles away. And they- they’re- they manage to get out of the river and they’re alright. They’re wet, they’re a little wet you know, it’s not fun… And uh, so all their clothes are cotton and cotton shrinks., is the problem. So, they’re worried about their clothes, and they’re worried about the crops, they just got sweeped down the river miles away, they’re running out of time for these very time-sensitive crops that need to be harvested. Otherwise, they won’t have any food. And they don’t know where this troll came from or why it’s there or why he’s kicking them or how to get around him. So, they go and they go, let’s try again. So, they go and they try again and the same exact thing happens. Again. Uh, and… threes are also a very important part of this story, because the rule of threes contributes very heavily to the comedic effect, um… But the other thing about the three is, uh, you know these people, they’re, uh, they’re called the Trids. Because they love the number three. And, uh, uh, uh the Trids. Um, so plenty of things are based off the number three. The fiddler, all the songs that he plays are- they’re in three. Like 1-2-3, 1-2-3. When the sing to the crops, it’s in three. Part of their sus- their sustainability program is actually a three-point program, and the composting is one of the three points. Um, and also, the- their sustainable fields are like organized into three sections. Um, so they’re big on threes… So, they go back and the second time, you know, the second time. And the third time, they’re like, ‘What can we do?’. So, they go back to the town, um, and they get the rabbi. And the rabbi, and they say, ‘Rabbi, there’s a troll on the bridge who won’t let us get to our crops’. So, he goes, ‘Oh my goodness! Uh, that’s why you guys aren’t back with the crops yet’. And they go, ‘Yeah! What do we do?’. And he goes, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with trolls before. Um, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll try talking to this guy’. You know. And so they go back again to the bridge. This time with the rabbi at the front. And, uh, the rabbi says, uh, to the troll, ‘Uh, I am the rabbi and these are my people the Trids, please let us pass. We have these very important time-sensitive crops’. And the troll says, ‘No, I’m going to kick you again’, And he starts kicking people. And the rabbi is like, ‘hold on, hold on, hold on! Stop kicking people’. And the trolls are like, the troll is like, ‘Okay, I’ll stop for like three seconds. And the rabbi says, ‘Please just tell me why you’re doing this’. Uh and the troll’s like, ‘No’. And, uh, so he starts kicking people again and the rabbi is like, ‘Come on. Hey, stop it! Stop it’. He ju- grabs the troll and starts shaking him and he’s like, ‘Why are you doing this’. And the troll is like, ‘Get off of me old man’. And uh, you know, he shimmies out of the rabbi’s grasp, the rabbi is pretty old you know. He- he’s not very strong. It’s- it’s -it’s not an even match-up. And finally, Uh… the rabbi… um… invokes God and says, ‘In the name of God, I command you to stop and tell me why you are kicking my people off the bridge’. And, uh, and he’s like, ‘Is it, you know, tha- is it a personal thing? Like, are you guarding the crops?  Like, I don’t understand’. And the troll goes, ‘Silly Rabbi, Kicks are for Trids’.

Background Info: M. Takla is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California pursuing a degree in Computer Engineering. He is from Foster City, CA.

Context: M. Takla told me this joke over dessert, sitting outside around dusk. I challenged him to a joke off, through which we both learned each other’s best narrative jokes. I then asked to record him telling this joke for my collection.

Analysis: This joke subverts the expectations for a typical punchline while employing traditional narrative elements on which the narrator is free to embellish. First, the narrator sets the story in days of “yore,” setting up the expectations that this will follow the formatting of a normal tale. Therefore, when the whole story leads to a joke, the subversion of the typical genre lends the joke its surprise and humor. Second, the story (rather openly) capitalizes on the tradition of tales to introduce an activity or patter three times before arriving at the punchline. By building to the punchline in this way, the joke comments on its dual roles as narrative and joke so that the genre of tale is mocked.

This joke also interacts with institutional and copyright culture, playing off the motto of Trix cereal brand: “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids”. Therefore, it can be determined that the joke emerged Terminus Post Quem the television and network advertising. Without these commercial systems, the aesthetics of mocking brand marketing would not have emerged. Furthermore, when hearing or telling the joke, the individual recalls their experiences with the cereal, usually from childhood, locating them within a group. The combination of these factors affords the joke its immediate humor and, then communicates further mocking of childhood elements such as the tale and Trix breakfast cereal.

For Further Research: For reference to the Trix marketing and commercials that popularized the phrase in the 1970’s and 1980’s, refer to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUIYYx2n1bI.

Folk speech
Humor

Spanish Language Word Play

Subject: Joke featuring a play on words.

Collection:

“Atrás te huele!”

“Interviewer: So, do you have any jokes that are particularly like crude, because I think those are the best one.

Interviewee: Oh… it’s like, my dad’d always tell this joke about how there’s a difference in like the arrangement of words. So, like you can say, uh, ‘huele a traste’. Like huele-a-taste, which is three words. Which means it smells like dishes versus ‘atrás te huele’. Which should be, it smells like dishes still, yes it should be. But, because if you like break up the word, if you break up the word it means you smell like ass… and it’s my fav.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate would frequently make mention of jokes her dad would tell involving funny rearrangements of words in her native Spanish. This is the crudest and her favorite. I asked her to recount this story for my collection.

Analysis: This joke garners its humor by subverting the expected to reveal a new, surprising, and rather crude meaning. The simplicity of this model is what lends the joke its success. Without garnish, the simple wordplay is clear and easy to pick up on. Furthermore, the crude language and insult involved in the joke increase its surprise since it is amazing to many people the power of language in that a slight change can create a whole new meaning. The simplicity of the word play marks it a clear “dad joke”.

Legends
Narrative

Mexican Legend of La Llorona

Subject: The Legend of La Llorona.

Collection:

“Interviewee: There’s two versions of this that I learned, and it always- it always ended up with the children in the river… So, basically, the one of them that I learned was that her- so, La Llorona was like really annoyed with her two kids, they kept on crying and she didn’t know how to deal with them so she drowned them in the river, right like She was just like annoyed and she like- she just lost her temper and like drowned them, essentially.

Um and then the other one was like her husband like left her, and um like she was left with the kids and every time like he visited like, or visited- not visited but like that he- that he saw her on the street, he was like with another woman or whatever. I know, classic story. Man leaves woman for another woman. And every time, he would like ignore her, and like just care about the children and ignore her. So, she felt like resentment for the children, so she drowned them in the river.

And for both of these stories, when she realized what she had done, she like searched and, uh, it was too late obviously, she threw them in the river… um… she threw them in the river and when she realized what had happened, it’d been too late, and she just like went around, for the rest of her life looking for her boys… Woah! I think they were boys. Yeah! That’s interesting. I think they were two boys. Um, looking for her kids. ‘Mis niños. Mis niños’. Yeah, that’s like the classis thing that they would say…

Interviewer: In what context would you hear them?

Interviewee: Always like in Spanish class… my parents didn’t really like, well I guess they did… I think there was a movie about it too. Um, and yeah, like in school and like other people would tell their version of the story. I don’t know where I first heard it… but the most recent one was always in high school. Like Spanish class, high school.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: This account was given to me by my roommate in a conversation late at night. I asked her to recount it for my records a week later.

Analysis: In Z. Cantú’s accounts of La Llorona, multiplicity and variation are explicitly visible since she gives the two most common legends associated with the figure that she has heard in her lifetime.

In the first account provided, La Llorona is depicted to be cold and murderous, the opposite of how mothers are typically portrayed in cultural models and how they are expected to behave. In the second, La Llorona’s motivations are more human; however, she is still subverting the traditional model of the mother in which the woman is caring and warm. The portrayl of La Llorona aligns more with the archetype of woman as a witch, as opposed to matron. This connotates her character with the histories of witches and unfeeling women, which then compounds upon the content of the legend, strengthening the three categories of women as slut, mother, and witch.

Furthermore, this legend supports traditional societal structures and morals by addressing the story primarily to children. At an early age, young girls are being exposed to good and bad models of womanhood. Their age compatibility to the children being killed would then augment fear and hatred of the woman’s behavior. It also can be used by adults to control their children by evoking the authority and fear of La Llorona. This reinforces family structures and perhaps even sends the message to children to be appreciative for their parents, as opposed to the unfeeling murderess.

Folk speech
Humor
Narrative
Proverbs

Quit While You’re Ahead

Subject: Folk speech. Humor.

Collection: “There once was a boy who was born with just a head. His parents were initially shocked at this but with the right medical treatment and enough time they got used to it. Every day he would wake up, and his mom would pick him up and put him on the windowsill so he could watch the other kids play outside. Every night the boy would pray and pray that he could just have arms so he could throw the ball around with his friends, and one day he woke up and had a fully connected torso with fully functioning arms. He woke up and yelled: “Mom!! Mom!!” His mom ran in the room and saw him and went to the dad’s closet to get him a shirt. She put the shirt on him then brought him out the front yard so he could play catch. However, the boy realized he couldn’t run around after the ball because he didn’t have legs, so he started to pray and pray that he could have legs so that he could run and play with the other kids. And one day, he woke up and had legs and shouted: “Mom!!” and his mom ran in and freaked out and grabbed him pants from his dad’s drawer. Then the boy ran out to go play with the other kids across the street, and as he was crossing the street, a car drove by a hit him, killing the boy instantly. The moral of the story is… quit while you’re ahead.”

Background Info: J. Ingraham is a freshman enrolled at Chapman University pursuing a Bachelor of the Fine Arts in Theater Performance. He attended Dana Hills High School and is still a permanent resident of Laguna Niguel, CA. The speaker first heard this story from his father who would frequently trick him and his sister into listening to the story again by saying, “Did I ever tell you the story about the kid who was born with just a head?”.

Context: I first heard this story in a car on a road trip to Big Bear, CA in December of 2016. It was relayed as friends jumped in to try to one up one another with their personal stories, and for general entertainment. I contacted the active bearer of this narrative upon being assigned the assignment to collect folk speech. The account of the story was given over email.

Analysis: This story begins with a long set up that creates the false expectation for the story to be a typical piece of narrative. However, it then breaks the genre’s mold with a final punch line which relies on the play on words. This subversion of genre adds to the surprise, causing the joke to be more humorous than if it had not had the preface.

In the narrative portion of the of the folk speech, the structure follows typical archetypes. The repetition in the story occurs three times; this follows the Western tradition of storytelling elements coming I threes. Multiples of threes appear frequently in Abrahamic religions; for example, the Holy Trinity or three days between death and resurrection. In this model the boy openly beseeches God for his desires which God delivers on. However, on the third repetition, the gift God has given him leads to his death. Not only does the content mock religion since it is God’s gift that lead the boy to his premature end, but also it subverts tradition.

The pun itself is a clever play on words. It takes a traditional English proverb and subverts it so its meaning becomes literal. It also physically embodies the meaning of the proverb in which the idea is that it is better to stop altogether if your endeavors are going well before something goes wrong. The harsh outcomes of not quitting in this situation reinforces the meaning of the traditional proverb while the absurdity comments on the potential for quitting to be equally foolish.

Customs
Narrative

Family Poetry Tradition

Subject:  Family tradition of Narrative Verse.

Collection:

“Are you ready?

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

 

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.

He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

 

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.

Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;

It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

 

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,

And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,

He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;

And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

 

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of groan:

“It’s the cursèd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.

Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

 

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, and I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

[at a bird] Oh yeah, there he goes!

He crouched…ah, let’s see…

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

 

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,

With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;

It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,

But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate these last remains.”

 

Ah… I’ll just skip a little…

The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

 

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;

It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a thrice it was called the “Alice May.”

And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;

And “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

 

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;

The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

 

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;

And the huskies howled, and the heavens scowled, and the wind began to blow.

It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;

And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

 

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;

But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.

I guess he’s cooked, it’s time I looked”; … and the door I opened wide.

 

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close the door.

It’s warm in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—

Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Background Info: B. Taylor is a long-time resident of San Clemente, CA where he raised his two sons and now resides with his wife. He holds undergraduate and pharmacy degrees from the University of Southern California.

Context: This video was taken of my grandfather reciting the poem on the banks of an Alaskan river. He frequently recites it at family gatherings and around the campfire on trips to Mexico, so I have personally heard a live telling of the poem multiple times. He learned the poem from his father who learned it from his father, and my father’s elder brother is the last person to have learned the poem purely through hearing it recited. Before my father’s family had tv or radio, their primary activity in the evenings was sharing narratives and poems. This is my grandfather’s favorite.

Analysis: The integration of the poem into our family’s traditions shows the interaction between the ways a piece of copyright material can be adopted and then modified. While members of the family subconsciously recognize the poem is from a book, it is thought of as now belonging to our family’s history. Furthermore, the slight changes in language and the omissions that have occurred over the years, make it distinct to our family’s oral traditions. In this way, the poem carries the weight, intellect, and history of those who came before me. In our family’s history, the Service poems were learned by the males in my family while women learned the biblical and romantic poetries. In this way, the memorization of the correct genre of verse is a rite of passage (since, once you learn the poem and can bear it, you now have authority in these family gatherings) and an assertion of one’s role within the family structure.

Furthermore, sharing the poem around a campfire is one of the key ways that the family bond is establish and then reinforced. One of the ironies of the poem is the setting in which my family shares it, compared to the content of the poem: a quest to find warmth, ending in a cremation. The poem beautifully captures the struggle of survival and human agency against uncontrollable natural elements (with the added element of the macabre). My family’s retention of the poem is contrary to the rapid spread of technology that has occurred since the book was published, it is a reminder of a time without television or cell phones where people connected to each other and the world around them. Especially today, our performance of the poem acts as resistance to the dominant cultural forces that threaten to eliminate the ways of life that the older members of my family hold dear.

Every telling is different, this wiggle room in the structure of the verse allows for the narrator to alter the poem to suit their dramatic vision. Depending on the teller, different characters have different voices, and certain moments become more poignant. It is through these retellings that the poem comes to life, and my family reconnects through actively displaying our ties to one another.

For Further Reading: The complete text of Robert W. Service’s poem can be found online at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45081/the-cremation-of-sam-mcgee. My grandfather owns an original copy of Service’s book The Spell of the Yukon published in 1907 from which the family first learned the poem.

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