“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day that you celebrate Independence Day and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like, not a lot, but maybe one out of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”
The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.
This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.
What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.
The informant is a new professional in post-secondary administration. He lives in New Zealand, but he is originally from Apple Valley, California and went to university at the University of California, Irvine, where he was involved in student affairs and studied computer science. His background is Italian and Polish, and he has 3 older siblings.
This piece describes a tradition passed along at UCI’s Orientation, where staff members take new students on unofficial midnight tours and introduce them to lesser known UCI traditions, including the Infinity Fountain.
“So at UCI we have something called Infinity Fountain, so it’s just this fountain that’s on campus and it’s the most recognizable one on campus and easiest to access cause it’s big enough for people to like, get into. And it’s called Infinity Fountain because when the water falls it looks like an infinity symbol. Um, so at our Orientation program, it’s called SPOP, and it’s a two day orientation program, so overnight, there’s usually something—so, the official program ends at like 10, but then everyone is all on the same hall for the night and so they hang out really late and there’s activities that are kind of traditions passed on. But this is one that kind of transcends that.
So after that, people usually don’t want to go to bed and so they’ll tell like ghosts stories or whatever but then there’s like a “Midnight Tour” so people just go out and the SPOP staffers will show the new students around about kind of lesser known things at UCI that you wouldn’t get on a normal campus tour. So we talk about Darth Vader Point and Torture Garden and, um, all these other types of things that are at UCI. And so one thing that a lot of people do, not everyone, but a lot of people get into Infinity Fountain, just cause getting into Infinity Fountain is something everyone at UCI should do because it’s really really fun. So what my SPOP staffer told me is that you need to start off at UCI like in Infinity Fountain, and then you also, like this is the first time you get in this is the start of your time at UCI, and then when you graduate you need to get into the fountain. And so I did that.
That’s what my staffer told me, so when I was a staffer for two years, I didn’t take all the groups on midnight tours because I was tired, but I took a couple of groups out and I took them to Infinity Fountain and told them to get in and told them, “This is the start of your time at UCI, now finish it also in the fountain as well.” So that’s something and I don’t know if it’s something all of UCI did, but that’s definitely something that someone told me and he probably told others.”
This is both an occupational tradition and a more general campus tradition. These midnight tours are not official parts of UCI’s Orientation, but it’s something that returning “staffers” teach to new staffers, as well as something that many staffers would have experienced at their own Orientation. “Midnight” implies a kind of taboo, as it’s at night, after the sun has gone down and the official university-endorsed programming is over. These kinds of tours must be given under the cover of darkness.
The midnight tours describe “unofficial” UCI locations. In telling new students about these places, staffers teach new students how to be “insiders” in the campus culture—the tours contain things that they would not be able to find online or in guidebooks or on a university sponsored campus tour. Locations such as Darth Vader Point and Torture Garden are the students’ names for these locations, not official names. As a result, they can only be learned from current students, which begins the transition from outsider to insider. The staffers further establish the new students as insiders when they enter Infinity Fountain. The actual process of entering the water at the start of their college experience bears an interesting resemblance to baptism.
Original Script: “Okay, so when I moved to Milford, Pennsylvania, I didn’t know anyone! Besides mom and Chuck, and we all know just how fun that could be. Anyways, I had been going to DV for a couple of months and had made some really awesome friends. But they told me about this legend at the school, how this one kid died from a seizure in the hallways and you can hear locker slams, and water dripping in the hallway at night (apparently he was on the swim team). But it was weird because apparently he had epilepsy, but the school didn’t know about it…I don’t know the whole story doesn’t make sense. But I really wanted to see if the legend was true because I’m really into that stuff and also a lot of people have heard the ghost at the school. Anyways, because I was swim team manager, I had a key to the school for early morning practices. But of course, my friends and I thought it was a good idea to go at night to see if it was true. So I told mom that I was sleeping over at my friend, Jess’s, house. And Jess told her mom the same. So we met up with our other friends outside the school, I honestly have no idea how they were able to sneak out…but apparently they do it all the time. Anyways, we used my key to get into the school, we weren’t worried about cameras or anything because that school is so cheap, we live in the middle of nowhere! Trust me, they are not too worried about security. But, we walked into the school, me, Jess, Katie, our friend Nate and Josh.
First of all, it was already creepy to begin with. I mean the school is old! So it gives off creep vibes. In the first fifteen minutes, there was nothing and we started getting board wandering up and down the halls. But, in the next few minutes. I have never been so terrified in my life. We were at the really old part of the school. A part that hasn’t been rebuilt in such a long time, and all of a sudden we heard dripping, and almost if wet people were hitting the tile, then we heard lockers slam shut! Safe enough to stay, we didn’t stick around longer than that. We ran out of the school and Jess drove me back to my house. I stuck up into my room and barley slept that night and when I came down the next morning, mom was surprised to see me out of bed! She asked what I was doing home so early and I told her it was because of swim team practice this morning! Hahaha, it was really funny because when I got to the school, I totally forgot that we didn’t lock the door behind us! So, I definitely thought we were going to get caught. But, when I walked up to the Swim team supervisor, she looked me down and was like, ‘Jenna…when I got to the school the door was open!’ I knew I had been caught, but then she said, ‘I guess Noah forgot to close up after afternoon practice yesterday, so I guess you are the only one with the key now!’ I was trying so hard not to laugh as Noah kept protesting that he didn’t forget! I never said anything after that, and now I will literally be late to all my classes because I refuse to walk through the old part of the school again!”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jenna grew up in Chandler, Arizona with her family. About two years ago, she moved across country with her mother and now lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. Jenna loves stuff about ghosts, and she is always willing to see if the legends are true. She has gone on a many legend quests but have yet to hold them true until this one. She is now a senior in high school and eighteen years old and plans to go to California in the fall.
Context of the Performance: Sneaking into a school at night
Thoughts about the piece: This interviewee happened to be my younger sister, whom I am very close with. She had told me the story the day after it happened. Though, I interviewed her again because I thought it would be perfect to that of a category of a legend quest. This story, as seemingly innocence as it was, speaks volumes in relative terms to Jenna’s belief system. Jenna has always been interested in the supernatural, but has never experienced anything that has seemed to be true. (I conducted an interview with her based off of the legend of Bloody Mary, she tried the ritual and nothing had happened that was seemingly supernatural, please see that article for reference). However, this being the first, “supernatural,” thing Jenna has experienced, gives this story a specific edge.
Firstly, this story does fall under the category of a “legend quest” because it is a quest of a high school student to see if the legend of the ghost at Desert Valley High School is true. Furthermore, the ghost story adheres to the category of a legend, something that can (or has) happened in the real world. Secondly, the fact that this legend scared Jenna, that there was happenings of the unknown (i.e. the watery footsteps, the slamming lockers, etc.), signifies that this story held some significance to it. It might have been the social environment Jenna was in. For example, the fact that everyone believed in the legend or it could have been because of the building Jenna and her friends were in was an old building—it could even have been a combination of the two. Thus, it is interesting that this legend quest can also transform into a memorate. In a follow up with Jenna, she had told me that she had shared the story with her other friends that week—friends that believe in the legend as well—and her friends approved that it must have been the ghost of the boy.
Interestingly, this legend quest can also fit into the category of inanition into a group of sorts. Jenna was new at her school, she had mentioned in the story that “everybody” has heard the ghost, and she might of wanted to fit into the new social environment. So, experiencing such a legend quest with a group of friends already part of the Delaware Valley High School, made Jenna ‘fit in’ more with the group, it initiated her as part of the Delaware Valley High School students.
The informant, a 22-year-old college student, is a member of a PanHellenic sorority. The informant is my sister, and while chatting at home over spring break I asked her if she would be willing to tell me any of the rituals that were performed at her sorority events. She refused to tell on the grounds that they are all highly confidential and she has been sworn to secrecy. After a moment of silence, she said that she would be willing to describe a secret tradition of her ex-boyfriend’s fraternity, because she felt no obligation to keep it secret for him any longer.
“He’s in SAE, and they have this saying that all of the brothers constantly use in secret. It’s ‘Phi Alpha,’ and it means ‘Brighter from Obscurity.’ Usually they just say it means ‘Under the Sun’ because that’s easier to understand. It has something to do with being close to God. Members of the fraternity say it to one another under their breath as a greeting or when saying goodbye. Sometimes they also say it in place of ‘I’m serious’ or ‘this is actually true.’ Like, if one guy is telling a story and his brothers don’t believe him, he’ll say ‘Phi alpha’ so that they do. Only brothers are supposed to know what it is, I was just around so much that they accidentally said it in front of me and [my ex-boyfriend] told me what it means.”
This Greek phrase intended to be shared among fraternity members in secret serves to place emphasis on the deep-rooted connection that is meant to be formed between two men as a result of their shared Greek affiliation. I asked the informant whether pledges—new members of the fraternity who had not yet been initiated—knew of the phrase and she said that they don’t. Therefore, acquiring knowledge of what the phrase is, when to use it, and what it means is a part of one’s initiation into the fraternity. It is a special privilege granted only to those who have endured several months of probationary membership, and serves as a way of asserting one’s status within the fraternity. I asked the informant what the significance of being close to God is for the members, and she replied that there really was none. The fraternity has no religious affiliation, but rather the idea of being close to God serves more as a way of encouraging members of the fraternity to take responsibility for their actions, by implying that some greater power is watching over them and ensuring that they represent the fraternity appropriately. I have always heard that a plethora of secret handshakes, rituals, and traditions exist within Greek organizations, and the depth of meaning associated with the simple saying “Phi Alpha” makes me wonder just how intricate many of these other forms of folklore are that I am unaware of.
The informant is a 95-year old man who grew up in Davenport, right near downtown with his parents and two brothers. His father came over from Russia and owned a grocery store in Davenport. He now lives in Skokie, IL with his wife and caretaker. He has three sons and 9 grandchildren.
Informant: “In Hebrew school they liked to play tricks on teachers. The tricks were different but they always happened. In my Hebrew school we always used to pull pranks if a substitute teacher came. The school was getting all new desks. The new desks were in the basement of the temple. They didn’t bolt them down to the cement floor, they just had them loose. When the substitute teacher went to go to the toilet, all the other guys in the class (there must have been 20 of us) moved their desks way back. And I was not going to participate in it, that kind of tomfoolery. So I kept my desk right where it was. He comes back, he’s from English this teacher, and you know he has thee gray gloves. He comes back in and sees sall the rest of them all the way back and sees me by myself up front and he looks around and tells me to come up to the front, “come up here and get your punishment.” He hit me across the face with his gloves.”
This story reflects the insider/outsider mentality that is often involved in pranking. Pulling pranks on substitute teachers is a way of bringing closer together the pranksters (the students in the class) and in a sense, is the students’ way of demonstrating their power. It could also be seen as a sort of initiation right for new teachers, or for substitute teachers, into the class. Practical jokes create a situation and distract from a lesson, something students are often very keen on doing.
My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.
“So during a long day of a run—Melissa and I would hate it—and really count down our ten miles until we could go eat at La Barca. And finally when we were done we were rewarded with two-three margaritas, chips and salsa, and a grande colossal burrito and surprisingly we would wake up and run ten times faster. A couple times we averaged a 6:33 mile for 8 miles consecutively so, every time before we had a hard workout the next day we would prep at La Barca before…and it worked pretty well this past summer! And so I guess its just tradition now kind of, with me and her and the other girls who run with us sometimes.”
Analysis: This example of acquired folklore demonstrates how superstition and repetition can create a ritual. My informant believed that there was an undeniable tie between her performance while running and the consumption of several margaritas and Mexican food at La Barca restaurant prior to her hard workouts the next day. The initial improvement of her mile time gave her “proof” that her ritual/ceremony before her rough workouts was successful which prompted her repeating the ritual and spreading what she had learned with her other running buddies until it became a tradition within their group to partake in drinks and Mexican food before workouts. This piece of folklore also serves a social purpose and a means of bringing people together and strengthening bonds between friends, as well as marking a distinct trait or practice within this specific running group.
My informant is a USC student and member of a sorority at the University. She is bi-racial of black and Caucasian ancestry.
“Usually towards the end of the school year there are these things called pinnings, and it happens when a senior guy in a fraternity and a senior girl in a sorority have a ceremony of the guy “pinning” the girl—with a pin—which signifies their love being bigger than his brotherhood with his fraternity, as he sticks his pin on her chest over her heart.”
Analysis: This ceremony is one that only takes place within Greek life, and as such the tradition is passed down verbally and visually within the Greek community. My informant wasn’t aware of the ceremony until she joined a sorority and witnessed it happen to one of her friends. The pinning ceremony is one that reflects a declaration of love and devotion for a boy for a girl, which is incredibly significant within male greek life as a guy’s fraternal “brothers” are (up until that point) the most important people in his life. A more Freudian explanation for the ceremony may be a means of the boy making it known to everyone that he is engaging in sexual intercourse with the girl of his choice, by sticking his “pin” onto her.
My informant is a USC student and member of a sorority at the University. She is bi-racial of black and Caucasian ancestry.
“In my sorority we have Monday night dinners every Monday night and all the girls are required to go, and then afterwards we have these sorority meetings to talk about things we need to do that week or what’s up for the next week, stuff like that. A persona chef comes and cooks and everyone is required to be there. You just don’t miss. You don’t.”
Analysis: The prevalence of Monday night dinner within sorority culture signifies a collective bond between the girls in the sorority to one another and to their house. I think that its interesting that there is an unspoken law that everyone has to be at Monday night dinner. When I asked if someone could miss she just replied that you “just don’t”. Although there isn’t a spoken reason for it, all of the girls know and accept that it is unacceptable to simply “miss” Monday night dinner. The rituals within sorority houses on occasion are reminiscent of cult behavior, where many people follow a doctrine or a ritual not because there is a justified reasoning behind it, but because everyone else is doing it, or the leader has said that it needs to be done, which can seem slightly off putting for people who are not immersed in of familiar with sorority culture or values.
“I don’t know how long it’s been in practice, but like every time like we wear pins, like a pledge pin on the right side [of your chest] when you’re pledging and then you put it on the left when you have been initiated. So, ‘cause the left side is your heart, so like the service pin is more on your heart like, you’re like in. Um, and then during the initiation ceremony we like light candles for each, kind of characteristic we talk about, um, and then we also, when people are ushered in to the initiation ceremony they’re, they have to close their eyes and not look and they get in a line with hand on shoulder, like in lines of maybe ten people and then someone leads them who’s an active member already to lead them to the place of the initiation. And then once they’re all there, um, they can open their eyes and then they, everybody says their name in order and they say the oath repeating after the person leading the ceremony. Um, let’s see. That happens once when you find out you’re gonna become a pledge and that happens another time when you’re initiated to become an active member. The pledging period is, like, a semester long, basically . . . It just seems like it’s always been done that way and so, when I experienced it as a pledge, it’s how I also experienced it as an active, like it, it feels like it’s always been that way.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies biology and is currently applying to medical schools. This interview took place in the new Annenberg building when I was having a conversation with another friend about superstition and the informant started to volunteer information about the rituals that have taken place in her life. She is a part of the campus service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, or APO and has been for all four years she has been at USC. APO is co-ed and is somewhat culturally removed from USC’s other Greek life. It states its principle values are “leadership, friendship, and service” and the members of this service fraternity are supposed to embody those values in their everyday lives.
This ceremony is clearly a liminal moment that has been ritualized. It is a way for new members to join the fraternity on a consistent basis while knowing that they have the approval of the active members. Essentially, it is a way of very clearly establishing who is a part of the frat, who is not, and who is in the process of joining. I thought it was interesting that the informant interpreted the movement of the service pin from the right side to the left side as having to do with the left side being where your heart is. Part of me believes this interpretation is influenced by her studying biology and the human anatomy currently being the most important area of study in her life, while the other part thinks this is probably the original symbolic meaning of the movement. Having the pin on the right side of your chest makes it merely a form of decoration, at most an acknowledgment that you are interested in being a part of this organization. However, as soon as you move it to the left side of your chest, it is a statement that the organization is a big part of your life as it is next to one of your most vital organs.
The repetition of the initiation ceremony is important, as it gives the active members and pledges a period to adjust to the change in the community. It is noteworthy that the active members light a candle for each “characteristic” that an APO member should embody, i.e. leadership, friendship, and service, as this means three candles are lit and three is an important symbolic number in American culture. I think the reasoning behind making the pledges close their eyes when they are led to the ceremony has more to do with symbolism than it does with keeping the location of the ceremony a secret. The pledges are going to find out where the ceremony is as soon as they open their eyes, so there is really no reason to think that keeping the location a secret is an important part of the ritual. Rather, I think it has to do with the fact that when the pledges close their eyes they are in a location that represents their lives before APO, and when they open them they are somewhere that represents the their new lives with this fraternity. This action also increases the suspense and sacredness of this ritual. That an active member leads the lines of pledges into the ceremony shows the approval of the existing members of APO and is an important step in making this outgroup a part of the in-group.