Informant (“A”) is a 19 year old, female from Rancho Santa Fe, California, and attends The University of Southern California. She is a Human Biology major. She is of European descent and her family includes her mother, father, and older brother who attends college in Texas. Informant has studied ballet for 17 years, including work in a professional company.
A: “…Now this one is going to sound really weird but recently there was a production of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ and there was this kinda offensive song sung in it.
This sort of got turned into a backstage chant, and like I’ve also heard other people do this too. We all huddle in and whisper this ‘We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage and burn, we’re gonna rape kill pillage and burn, eat the babies’. We say this multiple times getting louder each time until all of us are full on screaming it backstage. You know how people can like to scream vaguely offensive stuff, but its not that bad to us because we all know where it’s from. Then right before I go on stage I’ll do like a cross, you know the like Catholic one. I’m not really religious but I’ve been doing it for years. I think it started when I did a really hard solo and it had that cross in it. It basically tells me that I’ve done all I can and now I just have to perform. It’s another aspect of getting mentally ready, because so much of performing is about being physically but also mentally on your game.”
Analysis: The crossing seems to be a sort of parody of superstition. It may be an attempt to ‘use’ a previously accepted superstition in a socially accepted way or to comically parody their own use of superstition before the performance.
This backstage chant seems to be a sort of ‘trust building exercise’ that uses both humor and chanting to reinforce a sense of community. In high stress situations like ballet performances, such reinforcement likely serves to cater trust in other dancers, as the difference between an effective performance and a mishap could rely on other dancers.
The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. Although he graduated from a public high school, he attended a private Islamic elementary school until the third grade. He says there were Muslims of many backgrounds at the school, and one of his friends (who also happened to be of Pakistani descent) used to sing this as a joke during rehearsals for school programs. It is a partial parody of a once-popular song by the artist R. Kelly.
I believe i can die
I got shot by the FBI
My momma hit me with a chicken wing
All the way to Burger King
Analysis: The informant (and, according to him, his other friends and classmates) always thought the song was funny, both because “the original song was about how, you know, you can do anything if you try hard and believe in yourself, and like… not letting your fears get in the way of…getting your dreams or whatever. And then it’s like, oh, I got shot by the FBI and my mom hates me…So, that was funny;” and also that the friend in question was also a bit of a troublemaker, so the just the fact of him singing the rather inappropriate song when he was supposed to be singing a school song, “made it even funnier” to the informant.
From a more objective point of view, the elementary school attended by the informant was located in South Los Angeles, which has a high population of African-American residents. It is quite possible that this parody was learned from neighbors or friends who were African-American, as it seems to give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government. It’s also a very stark contrast between the original song’s message of hope and inspiration and this version’s obvious (justified) pessimism about American society. On the other hand, the second and third lines seem to include stereotypes about African Americans’ supposed fondness for fried chicken and fast-food and their strict parenting style.
An online search reveals that parodies of this song are common among African Americans from LA to Pittsburgh, revealing how far and wide the common anxieties of this minority group spreads.
My informant attended the University of Chicago during the 1940’s and early 1950’s, and was a member of the Zeta Beta Tau, or ZBT, fraternity. While fraternity life was different than it was at other universities and certainly is different now, they had one initiation ritual in particular that my informant remembers. After they had become fully admitted into the fraternity, the pledges had to put on a play where they got to parody the older members of the fraternity. Each older member had to be represented at least once during this play. Also instead of hazing rituals, the pledges had to do tasks around the house like cleaning and other chores.
Personally, I find it amazing that the USC Trojan Marching Band, or at least the alto saxophone section of the TMB, has this very same ritual. At the end of the Weekender trip, which is the away game against either Cal or Standford depending on the year, the freshman are tasked with putting on sketches about the older members of the band. Every older member must be represented at some point, which often means that some freshman must pull double duty and do two skits. The fact that a tradition so similar is still being practiced 60 years later tells me that this tradition is at least somewhat universal.
“I hate you, you hate me, let’s get together and kill Barney, with a bazooka, and a big ol’ machine gun, boom, boom, boom and Barney’s dead.”
This is a song sung in the same tune as the song from the Barney television show that used to go, “I love you, you love me, we are happy family, with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?” In a way it is a play on it and mocks the cherished children’s show, which is as classic as Sesame Street and Big Bird. However, this version is sung by slightly older children, such as the informant from Moorpark, CA, who are aware of more violent objects such as machine guns and bazookas. The informant learned of this version of the Barney song from her older brother who was in sixth grade and had learned it from his friends at school. She repeats it because she is at the age where she repeats everything her older brother does, no matter what it is, in order to impress the “grown ups” of how much she knows. She likes it because she is a very lyrical person and likes to sings rhymes and tunes in the car whenever the family travels.
This is a saying often restricted to children, generally those who have grown up in the 90’s when Barney was still quite popular, who have grown older and are capable of creating such a creative and mocking rhyme. I think that the kids retell it as a method of proving to other people and kids that they have grown up, almost a hierarchy among children. Since the older kids know the new and different rhyme, they can distinguish themselves from the “kiddies” and “babies” who still watch Barney, the friendly purple dinosaur. I think it is a sense of status that causes the children to spread this chant and they enjoy that feeling that they can be different from other students.
There are many versions of this mock barney song which can be found at http://www.amiright.com/parody/90s/barney0.shtml For example,
“I hate you, you hate me
Let’s get together and kill Barney
With tanks of water and acid he will drown
Barney escapes but he falls down”
To the tune of “Jingle Bells”
We will hear no more.
We have captured Butterballs
and nailed him to the floor.
Took his boots
and his loot
only left his socks.
We gave him a beach party
and dumped him off the docks
We will hear forever more
Now the Fat Man’s hauling toys
Across the ocean floor.
My informant learned this version of jingle bells from a friend of his in elementary school. He and the other “no talent brothers” sang a number of these songs throughout elementary school. This song is sung primarily at christmas time, especially in the car after a version of jingle bells is aired on the radio. The song originally demonstrated the children’s rebellion against parental influences as many children’s songs do. However, my father only introduced this song to my brother and I after we had entered high school, past the point that we would sing it ourselves, so now it reflects more his desire to show that he is still a child at heart.
The informant is a caucasian female in her 50s. She was born and raised in England. She, and her three siblings, were raised as orthodox jews. After university, the informant moved to Northern California for graduate school. She later moved to Los Angeles, where she now resides. The informant trained in school as a biologist, but switched to journalism and now works for a large newspaper. She is divorced with one child.
Parody of National Anthem:
The informant heard this parody from her father from a very early age. She would sing it with her siblings and friends. She would sing sometimes at the beginning of films, when the national anthem was played, or in morning assembly at school. The song is sung not in a mean way, but to poke fun at the institution of the monarchy, to show laughing disrespect.
God shave our gracious queen,
God shave our noble queen,
God shave our queen.
Don’t let her whiskers grow,
That wouldn’t be right you know.
God shave our gracious queen,
God shave our queen.
Analysis: This parody represents a certain attitude towards the British monarchy. The informant comes from a liberal academic middle class family. Such people are generally less inclined to be huge supporters of the monarchical institution. They would be likely to adopt an attitude of disrespect and defiance towards the crown. But the song is not spiteful or truly hurtful, projecting a more bemused, and perhaps even affectionate, attitude towards the monarchy, even while viewing it as an institution to make fun of. The parody also represents child folklore and the tendency to explore the forbidden and ridiculous. The children’s song deals with the idea of rebellion against state institution, in an extremely watered down version, by poking gentle fun at the Queen.
Christmas Carol Parodies:
The informant learned these two christmas carol parodies in grade school from her older brother, who learned it from friends. She would sing them with her siblings and friends whenever the tunes came on the radio or the carols were sung in morning assembly. The informant would sing the parodies at home to her parents, who were amused by the parodies.
We Three Kings Parody Lyrics:
We three kings of Orient are,
Tried to light a rubber cigar,
It was loaded and exploded,
Now we’re on yonder star,
Oh, oh, star of wonder, star of light,
Star that sets your pants alight,
Then proceeding through the ceiling,
Guided by thy perfect light.
Good King Wenceslas Parody Lyrics:
Good king Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of stephen,
Snowball hit him on the snout,
And made it all uneven,
Brightly shone his conk that night,
Though the pain was cruel,
‘Til the doctor came in sight,
Riding on a mule.
Analysis: These two parodies are interesting because they are pseudo-christmas carols being performed in an Orthodox Jewish household. The face that they are parodies probably contributes to their acceptance within the informant’s family: a parody implies poking fun at the subject, so it would have been more acceptable to sing in a household that did not celebrate than traditional secular carols. Also, the English schooling system requires the teaching of religion to all students. It would be impossible for her parents to prevent the informant’s exposure to Christianity, so a greater acceptance of pieces of Christian culture picked up would not be unexpected. These parodies are also part of the trend for children to subvert and push the boundaries of their expected existence. The carol parodies are a subversion of an established tradition, in this case even connected with religion, and use it to explore the ridiculous, rebellious, and off-limits. In We Three Kings, the parody refers not only to smoking and pants, which in Britain refers to underwear, but also alludes to violence with loaded and exploded. Good King Wenceslas picks up similar threads in exploring the physical violence in his nose being struck, but also rebellion by mocking a esteemed figure, designated as king.
Folk Song Parody:
The informant learned this song parody from her parents, who were both members of the Communist party in the late 40s, early 50s. They learned this song while at Communist meetings. The song itself is a parody on the English folk song Green grow the rushes, O. The informant learned this original version in school choir in grade school, along with other traditional songs. This Communist parody would be sung by the informant’s family most commonly during passover, after the dinner ceremony had concluded. The Passover meal would be concluded by singing traditional songs in Hebrew as well as folk songs added to the family canon along the years. The informant still sings this song at family passovers. The structure of the song, cumulative ascending counting, is similar to a Jewish song, who knows one, traditionally sung in hebrew at Passover. The informant herself does not remember all of the words. Her brothers do remember all of it, however, both being of a more political bent.
I’ll sing you one, O,
Red fly the banners, O,
What is your one, O,
One is worker’s unity and ever more shall be so,
I’ll sing you two, O,
Red fly the banners, O,
What is your two, O,
Two two the workers hands working for his living, O
One is worker’s unity and ever more shall be so
(The song’s structure carries on the same through each number up to 13. For each verse the relevant number is substituted into the lyrics. Each number sequence is repeated, with each verse getting longer and longer.)
Three three the rights of man (or the alternative wording – Three three bread, land, and peace)
Five for the years of the five year plan and four for the four years taken
(The song carries on up until 13, but the informant cannot recall the other number verses beyond here.)
Analysis: This song, while a parody, is more of a reinterpretation than a satire. The Communist party in Britain used a traditional folk tune, laying their own lyrics over it, to disseminate the ideas and ideals of the party. As a well known melody already, the reuse of the music would make the song easier to learn and remember. The use of ascending numbers and repetition probably also lends to the song’s ability to be easily learned. This pattern is quite common among folk music, such as the traditional Jewish song mentioned by the informant. The informant’s family’s habit of picking up songs such as this and incorporating them into the Passover ceremony is quite interesting. The family sings secular, even political, songs in a very religious setting. This indicates a fluid attitude towards the performance of religion, even within an orthodox family. It is an example of how identity can be established and reinforced through the use of folklore. In this case, the informant’s jewish identity and more liberal political bent are melded together through the performance of the song parody at Passover.
The informant says he learned the following proverb parody from social interaction at some point but doesnt remember exactly where:
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but only if you aim for the head.
The informant claims that he normally wouldnt perform the proverb parody unless someone else brought the proverb up first.
He thinks that the whole apple a day keeps the doctor away thing is dumb to begin with.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, the non-parodied version of the proverb, is part of the parameiological minimum for speakers of the English language. The informant did not specify why he felt that the proverb was foolish, but it may be because there is no nutritional reason to believe that eating an apple every day would keep the eater healthy. This version, which implies that throwing the apple at the doctor would be a more effective way of keeping him away, scoffs at the idea that eating an apple each day would have any great effect. Joe Schwarcz, the author of An Apple a Day: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Truths About the Foods We Eat, agrees: It is certainly possible to have a good diet and never eat apples, just as it is possible to gorge on apples and have a horrible diet (7). This proverb parody, like many others, serves as a vehicle for mocking traditional wisdom.
Schwarcz, Joe. An Apple a Day: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Truths About the Foods We Eat. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007.