Author Archive
Childhood
Digital
Folk Beliefs
Game
Legends
Magic

Urban legend: Momo

Main Piece:

Informant: Oh my god Momo, can we please not talk about Momo oh god. Momo is this like, texting game that some of my friends play at school. You know what WhatsApp is? Yeah, so like, my friends will text this number and whoever is behind it will respond and ask them to do weird stuff. Like watch a scary movie with the lights off. Apparently the number once asked some girl to kill herself. I’ve never texted it so I’m not too sure. Yeah also the photo is this absurd picture of the ugliest doll you’ve ever seen.

Interviewer: Where did you hear about Momo?

Informant: At my high school.

Interviewer: What do you make of it?

Informant: The doll is terrifying. I try to not think about it that much.

Background: The informant is a freshman in high school here in Los Angeles. He just recently moved from Woodstock, NY, so I asked him if he’s learned about anything new since he started at a new school. This interview was recorded and I got his father to sign his release form.

Context: I had previously heard of the internet phenomena that is Momo and wanted to get the interpretation of someone within the its target audience. After doing some research on my own I was able to learn about the backstory regarding this piece of cyberlore. Allegedly, the Momo came about from a Spanish speaking Facebook group and evolved into the mainstream when it was introduced to the US in the summer of 2018. The WhatsApp number that children text asks them to complete a series of bizarre and dangerous tasks. Momo reached a tipping point when a 12 year-old girl was found dead shortly after messaging the number. Momo is represented by the same doll every time, which I have attached below. Interestingly enough, the Momo doll wasn’t created with the intention of its current function. The Momo sculpture was created by a Japanese company that makes props for horror movies. However, the sculpture is supposedly based off of the ubume, which is supposedly the spirit of women who die in childbirth.

Analysis: As digital technology has progressed, we are now coming face to face with an entirely new subsection of folklore. These pieces of cyberlore are incredibly viral and mainly target children on the internet. Slenderman was the first of its kind and Momo is an extension upon the principles which gave Slenderman its cult following. These pieces of cyberlore speak to the effectiveness of global communication in spreading folklore. Now we are able to communicate across the globe in a manner of seconds. This kind of cyberlore, contrasted with memes, serve to shock the consumer and play on the gullible nature of younger individuals.

 

momo

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations

USC High Dive: Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

Jumping off the high dive at the USC Aquatic Center before you graduate

Informant: Apparently you have to jump off the high dive before you graduate from USC. It’s in the aquatic center and it’s like 30 or 40 feet high in the air. You’re supposed to like go break in or something late at night and just go do it. I haven’t done it yet, though.

Background: The informant is a sophomore here at USC. This piece was recorded in person at her apartment. She has yet to jump off the high dive, neither have her friends. The informant said she had learned of this tradition even before arriving on campus freshman year. A potential roommate who she had met over Facebook had told her of this tradition. The informant was apathetic towards this tradition. It was clear that completion of this task was not on her to-do list.

Context: For every single college and university, there are a myriad of “before you graduate” traditions like this one. Some schools value these traditions more so than others. Going off this conversation, it seems as if this tradition isn’t taken very seriously.

Analysis: I am interested in the origin of this tradition. Immediately I was drawn to the very literal relationship between leaping off the high dive and “taking the leap” out of your comfort zone and into the working world. Personally I had not heard of this tradition before this conversation. Additionally, I can think of another reason for the development of this tradition. USC athletics is quite possibly what this school is known for. As such, the department has separated itself from the non-athlete student body. Regular students can not use the facilities managed by USC Athletics. Possibly, this tradition arose as a sort of reclamation act for non-athletes here at USC. In breaking into and using USC Athletic facilities without their knowledge, non-athletes could be taking a subtle jab at the department as a whole.

Customs
general
Gestures
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pre-game ritual: Goalies

 

Main Piece

Informant: Before every game starts, when I am in the crease, I’ll tap the right post with the handle of my stick and the left post with the blade end.

Background:  The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he plays goalie for the club hockey team and has been playing at a club level for well over a decade. He first learned of this superstition through his first goalie coach. He has done this act before every game he remembers playing in. For the informant, the act has become less superstition as he has gotten older. Still, the informant continues this ritual as it has become second nature in his mind. The interview took place over the phone and was recorded for transcription.

Context: The informant will do this act around 30 seconds before the game starts. The informant has been a committed teammate and goalie for the better portion of two decades.

Analysis: Sports are ripe with pre-game superstition and rituals, just like this one. Hockey goalies are especially habitual in the pre-game routines. Whether it be tapping the post with their stick, eating a certain meal or throwing up before the game (Yes, that one is true). However, this is not restricted to only hockey or goalies themselves. Players of all positions in all sports have their own specific pre-game rituals. (For a list a list of similar superstitions of professional athletes, please see Jeff Mclane’s 2008 article, For The Eagles, Superstition Is The Way (TCA Regional News)). Specific to this piece, I found the transition from superstitious behavior to second-nature for the informant interesting. While it might have started out as a superstitious pre-game ritual intended to bring good look for the upcoming game, it has since morphed into an acknowledgement of origin for the informant. The informant does not continue this ritual because he feels it will bring him good luck. He does so because he became the goalie he is today through tapping each post. When the informant continues this tradition, he is reminding himself of everything he has been through to get to where he is.

Adulthood
Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thai pre-wedding custom

Main Piece:

Informant: Here’s there’s this thing called a Sin Sod. It’s a price that the groom must pay the bride’s family before they can get married. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s actually kind of sweet! The bride’s family will usually gift it back at the wedding. It’s more of a formality than anything else. Money is a big part of Thai culture, so marrying up a wealth bracket is really uncommon, especially for guys. The Sin Sod is just like…confirmation that the groom is worthy of supporting the bride.

Background: The informant is second generation Thai. His parent’s came to America long before he was born. He is very familiar which Thai culture as he typically travels there at least once every year. The informant does not have any first-hand experience with this tradition. He learned of it through his classmates when spending a semester abroad in Bangkok. This conversation was recorded in person while in Thailand during a USC trip the two of us were on together.

Context: Having seen it first hand, Thai culture is incredibly fixated on the public perception of money and status. The wealth gap is incredibly drastic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, which is where we were. In addition, it is legally forbidden to speak ill of the royal family in Thailand. Status is trans-generational in the truest sense of the word in Thailand.

Analysis: When I went to Thailand, I had very little knowledge surrounding values of the culture. In experiencing it with no prior knowledge, I came to see Bangkok as one part extravagance and one part destitute. I remember seeing a lavish, 80 story apartment building and then looking at the surround neighborhood and seeing 10 people living where there should be 2. Off of this observation, I was not surprised to learn of this Thai marriage custom. While the idea of paying the bride’s family might seem archaic to our post modern ideas of gender, the informant relayed to me that this custom was less about the bride and more about the groom. The informant stated that this wasn’t a direct transaction but more so the bride’s family symbolically making the sure the groom is financially stable and able to take care of their daughter.

Customs
general
Initiations
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Figure Skating and Stuffed Animals

Main piece:

Interviewer: Can you think of any superstitions or rituals you had when you were figure skating?

Informant: Me? No I wasn’t superstitious at all. I remember other girls that would do stuff. Stuffed animals are a big part of skating culture. Some skaters have one singular stuffed animal that they carry everywhere, throughout their entire career. Sometimes when a skater performs really well at some event, fans will throw their animal onto the ice.

Background: The informant is my mother. She started skating at a very young age when she was growing up in Maine. For her, figure skating was an outlet from a rough home life. She learned of the significance of stuffed animals to figure skating through first-hand experience at her local ice rink. This interview was recorded in person when she came to visit me here at school.

Context: The informant remembers the symbolism of the stuffed animal through continued exposure to high-level figure skating, where it is common-place for fans to throw stuffed animals onto the ice after a successful routine is completed. However, the informant stated that the act of continually carrying around the same stuffed animal is hardly mentioned on TV broadcasts. I did some extra research into this and could not find any info regarding the continued possession of a singular stuffed animal. However, the practice of tossing a stuffed animal onto the ice is widely known, even among those not familiar with the sport of figure skating.

Analysis: I assume there is probably good reason for the relatively low notoriety of this piece of figure skating lore. For one, it is exclusive to high-level figure skaters who are performing in a competitive environment. As such, this tradition hasn’t permeated into the mainstream due to the difficult barriers-to-entry within the figure skating community. The informant stated that fellow skaters would treat their own stuffed animals “like they we’re diamond encrusted”. Off of that, I assume that high-level figure skaters are naturally protective of their totems. If the most prominent members of this community are reluctant to speak on this significance of the stuffed animal to the figure skater, it is difficult anyone to learn of this tradition. I was also curious to see if the informant could remember why one skater would pick a certain animal over another. The informant couldn’t remember exactly but thought the decision was based on personality. If you consider Figure Skating to be a form of artistic communication, which is the consensus, than the significance of the animal combined with the act of throwing stuffed animals on the ice in praise takes on a different meaning. The figure skater chooses a specific stuffed animal that aligns with her identity. When they are performing they are conveying their own identity through their art form, which is figure skating. If done successfully, the audience will then affirm the figure skater’s performance and identity by throwing the same stuffed animal onto the ice in an act of approval.

Customs
general
Initiations
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Naval Academy Wedding Tradition

Main Piece:

Informant: When a newly-married couple is walking out of the chapel for the first time they walk through two columns of Midshipmen holding their sabre’s up high. The lines are made up of members of the wedding party and officers in attendance. It’s four on each side of the two rows. The first two will lower their swords making like a gate. The married has to kiss in order for the each row to raise their swords and let them pass. When the couple gets to the last two Midshipmen with their swords lowered they kiss one more time. When they pass the last two one of the last two will slap the sword against the butt of the civilian spouse and say “Welcome to the Navy!”

 

Background: The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He first learned of this tradition through first-hand experience at the wedding of one of his closest friends at the academy. This interview was recorded over the phone. I asked the informant if he could recall any specific military traditions he has witnessed through informal mediums.

Context: The sabre is given to Midshipmen when they reach first class rank (the college equivalent of a senior). It is a point of pride amongst first class officers and is treated with the utmost care. The sabre arch is done right after the wedding ceremony finishes as the bride and groom leave the chapel. It is a highly-respected tradition and is always performed with punctuality.

Analysis: For most military members, the job can quickly become your life. Although the informant is a student, I have witnessed his transition into a full-fledged officer within the short span of four years. He holds the values and culture in the highest regard, much like his peers. In his words, “When you join the Navy you are making a lifelong commitment”. Well, some would also consider marriage to be a lifelong commitment. As I have experienced first-hand, the spouses of servicemen and women become an equal part of the military community they married into. As such, the tradition of the sabre arch is symbolic of that relationship. The spouse of the officer is committing to joining the military community around them. In return, through the sabre arch, the military community is grants the spouse acceptance. The cry, “Welcome to the Navy”, is confirmation of that acceptance.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk speech
Humor
Narrative
Old age

Call a Wambulance

Main Piece:

“You better call a Wambulance”

Translation: Don’t complain about pain unless you want to go to the hospital

Background: The informant is a senior here at USC. He is my next door neighbor and we conducted this interview in person at his apartment. He is from Manhattan Beach and has lived there for his entire life.

Context: I asked the informant if he knew of any “Dadisms”. Dadisms are usually puns, combining word play with a common saying to covey a new meaning. The informant learned of the saying through his own father saying it and has said this to me multiple times in casual conversation. The informant stated that he likes to use the phrase as it reminds him of his father. The informant said his father will make this joke in response to someone (usually within the family) complaining about getting a minor physical injury, such as stubbing one’s toe. The joke is meant to mean that the person injured should fight through the pain and not let it bother, per the informant.

Analysis: It seems Dads have their own folklore, as does every other social community. I found this piece intriguing because this is actually stated by my own father as well. My Dad will use the exact phrase in the same situation as the informant’s. I asked my father where he learned this phrase and he said he learned it from his own father. Clearly, these “isms” are trans-generational. Like the informant, I also use this joke in passing. And, like the informant, I also learned of and associate this saying with my father. For the more recent generation, I believe this phrase is repeatedly used as a way to continually tie us to our fathers. For the the older generation, I believe the continued use of this joke serves to solidify their own identity as fathers.

Childhood
Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

No Music Party Chant

Main Piece:

 Informant: It’s simple. It’s just like, if the music cuts out at a party, or if like, the speaker blows and there’s a long stretch of silence someone will stand up and start a “No Music” chant. It’s like, one person will clap three times and then the rest of the party will reply “No Music!” in rythm back. God. And that’ll keep going until someone has the music back on again.

Background:  The informant is a senior here at USC. He is my next door neighbor and we conducted this interview in person at his apartment. He is from Manhattan Beach and has lived there for his entire life. He is a social individual and has attended many parties throughout high school and college. He attended a large high school in Manhattan Beach.

Context: The informant learned of this chant/song when he experienced it first hand. Typically, this kind of chant is typical amongst high school “party” culture. The informant clearly didn’t have high praise for this piece of American high school party folklore. He had no idea when this chant came about, but was certain it had been along for much longer than he had been around.

Analysis: I specifically asked the informant whether or not he had experienced this chant in his own life. I was interested because in own hometown, whenever a situation like this would occur at a social gathering we would break out in a similar style chant. However, In my experience, the chant involved much more rhythm and was significantly more intricate. Another contrast is that I look back on this chant fondly, in comparison to the informant. This could potentially be because my school was much smaller in size and emphasized an arts-based education. This chant is folklore because it contains multiplicity and variation (Dundes) and is an example of artistic communication performed in small groups (Ben-Amos). While the informant’s chant is more simplistic, that could be due to the large nature of his high school. On the other hand, the chant I experienced could be a function of my high school emphasizing artistic performance, making my community more willing to indulge the dramatic nature of the chant.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Apples & Honey on Rosh Hashanah

Main Piece:

Informant: You have supposed to dip a slice of apple in some honey and eat it. It’s supposed to guarantee that you have a sweet year.

Interviewer: Do you remember when you learned about this?

Informant: It’s always been in my life. It’s not specific to our family, It’s a Jewish thing. Remember we’re Jewish? You know, it’s your grandmother’s thing though. She always made me and D— (The informant’s sister) eat the apple.

Interviewer: When is this performed?

Informant: Every Rosh Hashanah, before the meal starts.

Context:

The informant is my father, and he is describing a traditional Jewish ritual associated with Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday symbolizing the start of the Jewish New Year. The informant learned this tradition through their mother. At our family Rosh Hashanah dinners, dipping the apple in the honey is a formality. However, it wasn’t until I went to my first traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner that I realized this was a common Jewish practice. This conversation was transcribed from a recording of a phone call. He learned this tradition as a kid growing up in Los Angeles.

Analysis:

I think it’s interesting that this religious custom was passed down through familial relationships. Even more so, I didn’t associate this tradition with being distinctly Jewish until I was told so. For me, this was a tradition exclusive to my own family. For my Dad, this tradition tied him to Judaism. My father is not overly religious, so claiming a piece of religious folklore from someone like him. Even though he doesn’t place much value in religious symbols, he has never failed to perform this tradition on Rosh Hashanah. Possibly, it is the value he places in his mother that had shifted this Jewish tradition into a familial superstition.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Fraternity origin story

Main Piece:

Informant: Yeah I can tell you that. Does it matter if it actually happened or no ‘cause I’m not sure.

Interviewer: No

Informant: Okay, so the story is about this guy, Billy Bags. William Bagnard was his full name. When he was like around twenty he was drafted into World War II. He goes to Japan and eventually gets taken as a Prisoner of War (POW) by the army. When he’s there he goes through absolute hell. But Billy Bags is a tough guy so he eventually makes it through and comes back to the US after the war. The story goes…and I’m not positive…but the story goes that after the war he enrolled at USC. When he’s there he tries to join a fraternity, cause, like, he wanted to recapture the brotherhood or whatnot he found in the war. But when he joins he is disgusted by the act of hazing. Billy Bags had been through hell in Japan and like, for him he had seen how bad his experience as a POW was and didn’t want to ever put other people through anything similar. Billy Bags says, “screw this, brotherhood isn’t supposed to make you want to put your brothers through pain, I’m gonna start my own fraternity where we don’t haze.” Pretty much that’s the story we all tell each other, although we have no idea if it’s true or not.

Background:

            The informant is a friend of mine from high school who know goes to school here at USC. He is a sophomore, majoring in Business Administration and from Denver, Colorado. I asked him if he could re-tell me the story of how his fraternity was founded. The fraternity in question carries a strict ant-hazing policy that the members are incredibly proud of. This interview was conducted in person and recorded for transcription.

Context:

            The informant learned of this story through other members in his fraternity one night during his new member semester. He said, however, that no one formally “taught” him the story. Rather, the story is passed down through informal interaction. I have personally heard the informant talk fondly of this story previous to collecting this piece.

Analysis

            As best I can observe, the story of Billy Bags is an identifier for the members of the fraternity and provides commonality through a shared legacy. The informant was even doubtful of the validity of this legend, yet he still considers it a part of his own community’s history, regardless of the truth. In this way, the story of Billy Bags is a legend for the informant and his peers. Legends often provide causal reasoning for the laws of a given society/community. In this case, the legend of Billy Bags provides the fraternity with a tangible reason for its anti-hazing policy. The story of Billy Bags could be considered a myth in some cases. It is a creation tale that simultaneously establishes reasoning behind the fraternity’s belief system and traditions.

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