USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Pranking’
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Humor

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”

 

Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.

 

Context

“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.

 

Analysis

Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.

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Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Keeping the Workers in Line

I collected this piece of folklore from my dad during the first half of Spring Break, when we were visiting a friend. We had just finished dinner and were still sitting around the dining table, when we began to tell stories.


Script

Dad: “In the past the landlords used to own wineries, and they would put the wine to age, and the peasants, they used to go at night and steal the wine. So, they said… You know, they’re superstitious. They believe a lot of stuff, so at night the patrones (landlords) put the figure of el Diablo (the devil) in front of a light, like a candle or a lantern, and it project the face of el Diablo. And the peasants get scared, and all they run away, to scare them out of the wine, because Chileans, the peasants, they were very drunk, and alcoholic, the majority. They wanted to scare the peasants. My trabajadores (workers), I used to live on a farm, and my father had many campesinos (peasants) working for him. My father used to go have meetings in the attic, and he would carry chains. Big chains, like (makes noise of dragging chain), to scare them, and they used to run away from the place. They used to tell them that if they don’t behave, the ghosts show up and walk on the roof. But it was my father, hiding at night, passing the thing, making noises.

Me: “In other words, your father wasn’t superstitious?”

Dad: “No, no of course (not). Me too. He was the patrón, defending the patrones. You know I found myself doing exactly the same with my Mexican workers. I hired about twenty workers, and we put housing in Kona Kai, in Kona (in Hawaii), and I told them, ‘You know, you have to be careful, because if you misbehave, in this house, a woman was killed twenty years ago, you know, and she hang herself from this roof…’ You know, invent things. And they believe.”

Me: “Did they ever catch you?”

Dad: “Yeah, now we’re friends. But you know they were very astute. It’s like a practical joke you do on then and keep the secret for, until they found out.”

Background & Analysis

My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago. His father worked alongside the landlords of wineries, and they would perform these practical jokes to keep the workers in line. Learning from his father, my dad implemented this type of pranking with his workers on the coffee plantations he currently manages.

This means of keeping order, and determining who was trustworthy or not, via practical joking, was very clever. Also, my dad described that those who found out or were told, became in on the secret, and this is an example of the liminal theory, and those workers transitioned.

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