USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘grade school’
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Song

Jingle Bells – Batman and Joker    (Sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”)

Batman’s in the kitchen,

Robin’s in the hall,

Joker’s in the bathroom,

Peeing on the wall!

O, jingle bells! Batman smells! Robin laid an egg,

The Batmobile lost a wheel and the joker got away!

My second cousin Zak Kolton told me that he learned this during grade school sometime.  As is customary with these sorts of rhymes, he could not remember when he specifically heard it, or from whom he had learned it from.  He has lived in the South Bay all his life, and attended a Lutheran elementary school, where he suspects he learned it.  He lamented the fact that he could not remember the entire song, as obviously this contains only a fragment covering the chorus and fragment of a verse.  He attributed this to the fact that he hadn’t sung it in years, and that his mother always got angry at him when he sang this as a child.  This was however more than I could recall, as I had no recollection of the verse section, with the chorus line sounding vaguely familiar.

This song demonstrates many characteristics of children’s rhymes, with a familiar tune and memorable imagery.  Both the verse section and the chorus illustrate elementary school age children’s fascination with bodily excrements.  In fact, the focal point of the first verse section is the fact that the villain Joker is in the bathroom “peeing on the wall.”  This is in itself quite puzzling; if he took the time to enter the bathroom, why would he pee on the wall instead of the toilet as he is supposed to?  Perhaps this verse hints a child’s simple desire to defy authority, merely for the sake of defying authority.  A child doesn’t want to defy authority on account of its difficulty or in order to prove a point; he simply wants to impose his will over that of the establishment.  In the same way, the image of the Joker peeing on the wall even though he is already in the bathroom carries this same idea.  Joker is not breaking the rules because he is forced to or because it is too inconvenient for him; he is breaking them simply because he wants to, because he feels like it.  This cavalier attitude of rebellion is something many young children harbor, and is illustrated in their rhymes.

The second image of excrement deals with Robin and his laying of an egg.  Besides the fact that the song now has both forms of human waste covered, this contains a simple symbol.  Although it is obviously a piece of poop, the song says that Robin “laid an egg.”  By not explicitly spelling it out, it gives first graders a chance to interpret this symbol for themselves.  When they all arrive at the same obvious conclusion, that this egg is in fact a piece of poop, they are instantly overwhelmed with excitement and pleasure.  I know this from firsthand knowledge; upon hearing this song, I remembered back when was young.  Probably sometime in grade school, I had recited this song to my little brother, who was two years younger than me.  With a great amount of smugness I then had confided that Robin didn’t really lay an egg, but pooped.  Because of me, I felt, my brother was now “in the know.”  My brother was also quite pleased with his enlightenment, and proceeded to tell every individual around him of his new knowledge.

This rhyme was created sometime after the creation of the Batman comic books.  Since Robin and the Joker are mentioned, this rhyme could have been created anytime after 1940.  If it was created when Zak and I heard it in the 1990’s, it was probably sparked by the heightened increase in the character of Batman as sparked the by movies Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), and Batman Forever (1995).

Game

Folk Game – American

In grade school there is one thing that all students usually have on their person: a pencil. These pencils come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and densities. Ira used to play a game called Pencil Breaks in grade school. The goal of the game was to break the pencil of your opponent completely in half using your own pencil. The pencil had to be broken completely in half. If it was simply splintered and not broken all the way in half the game continued.

The players take turns striking each other’s pencils until a victor is crowned or they call it quits, usually in order to make it to the next class. If a player misses the opposing pencil completely the opponent gets two strikes instead of one. If a player hits the opponent’s hands or fingers instead of the pencil, the opponent gets two strikes instead of one. Ira says there are a variety of techniques but the most important thing is not to snap your own pencil in half while attempting to torque it back far enough to do sufficient damage to your opponent’s pencil.

The best players are the ones that were patient as opposed to rash. Ira said that new players tended to think they needed tremendously powerful strikes and usually snapped their own pencils in half. He also noticed that the strongest pencils were those that were made in China. The pencils made in America were more flexible and ready to break. The Chinese pencils were more solid tended to break less frequently. Ira recalls how he would inspect a challenger’s pencil and when he saw it was made in China he knew he was in for a challenge. When he noticed they were made in America he would be much more extravagant in his strikes and generally less technical.

Some players had the same pencil that they had one multiple battles with. These pencils were dented up combat veterans that were ready to face and defeat any challenger. When one of these veteran pencils finally suffered a killing blow they would later be ritually retired and sometimes even buried.

Ira said the first time he played Pencil Breaks was in 6th grade. He remembers that it quickly became popular and eventually it was outlawed by the school administration, which quickly led to a rise in popularity for the game during that time. Some kids were so good that they would use regular pencils to battle mechanical pencils and still win. Ira says the game is a way to facilitate friendly competition between and amongst groups. It gives the kids a quick way to have fun under the watchful eyes of their teacher. By using an item as common as a pencil they were able to remain undetected for quite some time.

I think the use of pencils was a brilliant idea because it would be hard for someone to be suspicious of children with pencils, considering how common it was for student to have pencils. It can also be seen as a way of exerting power as well as gain stature among other peers. If the game is viewed from a Freudian perspective the pencils then become phallic symbols. By destroying your opponent’s pencil with your own you are saying that your manhood is superior to his.

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