“In fourth grade, everyone knew about Bloody Mary showing up in bathrooms, and there were these creepy bathrooms down a super long hallway. The area was really shaded so they were pretty dark. We always were scared to go alone because they were so creepy. One day we were playing with the lights and turned them off and yelled “Bloody Mary” four times and then turned the lights back on. We saw a shadow staring behind us in the mirror. It was so, so scary. So we all ran out screaming and never went back in those bathrooms again. We always used the bathroom on the other side of campus.”
Context: The informant went to school in St. Helena, California, twenty minutes from Napa. She is female, and grew up in a small, close-knit community.
Interpretation: The Bloody Mary ghost story has been interpreted as a symbol of womanhood and menstruation, and this is an excellent example of how Bloody Mary is utilized as such. While the informant did not see the correlation, her story was exclusively prepubescent girls in a female bathroom. By facing the terrifying bathroom and summoning Bloody Mary, the informant and her friends symbolically opened the portal to female adulthood. Perhaps their avoidance of the aforementioned bathroom could further be seen as the fruitless attempt to avoid womanhood once the process of puberty has started. After seeing Bloody Mary, the participants are uncomfortable and scared, but also more knowledgable. The same can be said when a woman receives her first period. Furthermore, there is an obvious tie between the ‘bloody’ part of Bloody Mary and the blood tied to menstruation. For another interpretation of Bloody Mary, see the 2006 horror film directed by Richard Valentine.
“Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?
Ziehst du den Ring ab, ist dein Haus weg!”
“What do a woman and a hand grenade have in common?
When you take the ring off, your house is gone!”
Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this joke from classmates who were mostly male.
Interpretation: This is perhaps meant to be cautionary toward young men. It is based on the stereotype that women use men for money, and could perhaps make men more cautious when choosing a wife so that they do not have to worry about “taking the ring off.” It uses humor to make women and marriage threatening, which is a common occurrence in American stand-up comedy. Furthermore, it subtly warns against divorce, which could suggest to the audience that an unhappy marriage is better than a divorce.
“In high school, my friends and I were always playing The Game and messing with each other. Every time you think of The Game, you lose. So the only people always winning the game are the people who have never heard of it. I think that we liked the irony and parodoxical nature of The Game. Also, school was really boring and The Game never stops. It’s endless entertainment. Except it’s also so infuriating. Most of the time when you’re actively playing The Game, you’re just trying to remind your friends that it exists to make them lose. It’s a game you play for other people as much as yourself.”
Context: The informant went to high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and graduated in 2010. He learned this game online.
Interpretation: This game illustrates the idea that “ignorance is bliss.” The most successful players are those who do not know they are playing. It is also deeply ingrained in Internet culture, and is an excellent representation of the principle that people on the Internet do things “for the Lulz” alone rather than for some greater purpose. The goal of this game is to annoy one’s friends as much as it is to keep oneself from losing. Furthermore, it is an example of how games that start or spread mainly online can make their way into everyday life in-person.
“So, during class when I was younger, my friends and I would play this game called MASH. It’s called MASH because the first category of MASH is “Where will I live?” and MASH stands for “Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House.” But there are a ton of other categories, too. It’s basically just trying to predict your future. So we would write things like, “Who will I marry?” and “What will my job be?” For each category, there are four or five options. Then, once you’ve written it all down, whoever is making the chart draws a spiral until the person being MASHed tells them to stop. And then they count the number of vertical lines that the spiral makes. Then, you use that number and start crossing out options. So, if you have six lines, you cross out every sixth option until you have one option left in each category. Usually, you get to choose one option for each category, and the person making the chart can choose the other ones. So you end up with some really weird results. Also, the biggest category was definitely “Who will I marry?” because we usually put boys in our class as options and it was a huge secret. We would be super embarrassed if any of the boys saw what we were doing. And it would also be really disappointing if you got a boy who you didn’t like.”
Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany. She played this game with exclusively female classmates.
Interpretation: This can easily be viewed as an activity to groom young girls for a stereotypical life and a nuclear family. It also illustrates which lifestyle choices are desirable and acceptable, and which are not. It teaches young girls that a nuclear family with a successful job and a nice house are the best things to hope for in the future, whereas ending up with a less-than-ideal romantic partner and occupation are like losing the game of life. For another example of how MASH can be played, see the submission “M A S H = Mansion Apartment Shack House” by user ronniyoon in the USC Digital Folklore Archive.
“So we went on a scout trip near Bodega Bay, and the campfire talk was all about Bigfoot. Bigfoot is a huge hairy creature that lives in the woods. We kept arguing about whether he was real and whether he would come into a camp with a fire or not. So we all decided that the fire had to be big enough to scare him away. So, of course, you can imagine the size of the fire. The kids wanted to cut down trees and put them into the thing. This was also during the time of the Zodiac Killer, so we were even more paranoid and jumpy. We slept with the fire burning, and Bigfoot never bothered us. After that, I always made my campfires as big as possible because I was taught it would keep people safe from whatever is in the woods.”
Context: The informant grew up in Sacramento, and was a member of the Boy Scouts.
Interpretation: The act of making a campfire with fellow scouts is in itself a unifying activity, but claiming it is in defense against a common enemy strengthens the bond of the troop even more. Whether the threatening creature in the woods is Bigfoot or the Zodiac Killer, the thought distracts scouts from the much more tangible threat of nature itself. In fact, the troop arguably put themselves in more danger by creating a larger fire, but their fears were focused elsewhere. The parallels drawn between the Zodiac Killer and Bigfoot are particularly interesting. Both figures are predatory and shrouded in mystery, but they are viewed very differently by the public.
“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.
You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.
So when you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of newish,
The odds are, don’t look far – ‘cause they’re Jewish, too.
Amsterdam, Disneyland, Tel Aviv – oh, they’re miles apart,
But, when we light the candles on Sabbath eve, we share in the prayer in our hearts.”
Context: The informant went to a Jewish summer camp in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where one of the activities was to sit in a circle with a camp counselor who could play guitar and sing as a group. “My friends and I learned all of the lyrics to this song because we thought it was so funny and misguided. Actually, one of my friends wasn’t even Jewish, but he still sang the song with us. Whenever there was silence, one of us would start singing the song. It became this inside joke.”
Interpretation: This song appears light-hearted and unifying, but it encourages Jewish children to keep within their own religion. This could be in response to the notion that Jewish people are “going extinct,” so it is beneficial to introduce children to the idea of staying within one’s religion and passing on Jewish heritage. The song mentions that Jews are diverse and spread throughout the world, and tells children to look for other Jewish people in new situations rather than being open to all kinds of people. It is a declaration of Jewish pride and unity, but also a way of encouraging children to associate with (and eventually marry) other Jewish people.
“When I was growing up in a Jewish home near Philadelphia, whenever my sister or brother or I would get sick, our grandmother would make us chicken soup. It was referred to as “Jewish Penicillin,” even though it was just matzah ball soup or chicken noodle soup. My mother was convinced that it cured what ailed you. If you were sick, she probably wouldn’t take you to the doctor right away. She probably wouldn’t take you to the doctor for maybe five days. Only then would she admit that you were really sick and the Jewish penicillin hadn’t cured you because in my family, it was believed that was all you need when you’re sick.”
Context: The informant was raised in Cherry Hill, South New Jersey, which is minutes away from Philadelphia. She was raised in a Conservative/Masorti Jewish household. Both sides of her family are Jewish.
Interpretation: This illustrates the value of folk medicine in certain cultures. Jewish Penicillin was not only seen as a valid cure, but actually a preferable cure to traditional Western methods. It can also be seen as an act of embracing Jewish culture before American culture. The informant and most of her family see their Judaism as one of the foremost facets of their identity.
“Él que come y canta luego loco se levanta.”
“He who eats and sings later gets up crazy.”
Context: The informant’s father is from Zacatecas, Mexico, and still regularly visits his hometown. The informant is from St. Helena, California.
“My dad would say it when I sang at the table during dinner. I think he was scared I would choke to death during dinner. It was a precaution. You act like a maniac because you’re trying to stop choking. Especially if you’re one of those people who breathes through their mouth when they sing.”
Interpretation: I interpreted this proverb differently than my informant. I think this could be used to silence children and make them behave by presenting a threat. There is plenty of similar Mexican folklore that follows this idea, such as the creature el Cucuy, who haunts children when they disobey their parents. My informant claimed that “the entire Mexican population” is aware of el Cucuy, so it is not outlandish to think that a Mexican-American father was driven by the desire to quiet his child in addition to protecting the child from choking.
“Él que no trampa nunca avanza.”
“He who doesn’t cheat never advances.”
Context: The informant is an Uber driver in Los Angeles. He speaks Spanish and English fluently. His parents are both from Mexico.
“My Uber passenger from Mexico City told me this. He said that a lot of people in Mexico City believe this, but he was raised to be honest no matter what. He told me he thinks that a lot of people in Los Angeles think this way.”
Interpretation: This is illustrative of American values, where success and personal gain outweigh honesty and altruism. This could also speak to Narcoculture in Mexico, where money and success often come from crime, dishonesty, and trickery. Perhaps it draws similarities between these cultures and unifies people who are willing to find success regardless of the moral implications.