USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘student’

Two Directors on a Tour


This participant performed this story as if he was on a college tour, since he learned it in his training to become a tour guide.  

“I don’t really know it that well, but I’ll try. So this right here is the School of the Cinematic Arts courtyard, and here you’ll see two buildings: the George Lucas building and the Steven Spielberg building. Now, does anyone know who actually went to USC? …  It was actually George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg was actually denied from USC, legend has it, not once, not twice, but three times. And um, so uh, the reason why the building is here, you’re probably wondering why this building is here when he didn’t go here. Well, legend has it that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had a bet a long time ago, when Lucas was working on the first Star Was. The bet was, whoever’s movie did worse in the box office would have to donate to a building, or at least a large sum, to the others’ alma mater. So they agreed to this bet, blah blah blah, time goes on, and guess who’s movie did better? George Lucas’ because it was the first Star Wars. So Steven Spielberg, unfortunately, had to donate this building to George Lucas’ alma mater, which is the University of Southern California. Now we have two buildings at the School of the Cinematic Arts, well many buildings, but two facing each other the George Lucas building and the Steven Spielberg building.”



This legend is told on tours to prospective film students. The participant doesn’t know if it’s actually true, and prefaces the story on his tours by saying so. This would be told in the cinematic arts school, in the courtyard between the Spielberg and Lucas buildings. In my collection, it was performed while working in the office.


Background information

There are a lot of legends in the Tour Guide’s office, both that are brought up by the tour guides and brought up by guests. If you were to ask tour guides to tell you about the legend of the Lucas and Spielberg bet, you would probably hear 100 different versions.  Just like you might hear 100 different tours all together, each of us have nuanced performances of each of our informative tours.


Personal Analysis

This legend is interesting because of the dynamic between the tour guide and the guest. The guest comes to USC to get an informative experience that will aide them in their decision of what college to go to. While tour guides do not claim to know the true validity of this legend on their tours, it is still interesting in that it leaves an impression upon the student.

The tour guides also are taught these legends, either formally or informally, through their training to become a tour guide. So while the validity of the bet remains a mystery, its perpetuation year after year, through the teaching of new workers, gives the story credit in it of itself.


Student inadvertently solves never-before-solved math problems

My informant told me about a story she heard about a student waking up late and rushing to their final, then frantically trying to finish the three equations on the board. The first two weren’t so bad, but the third was difficult. He finally finished and turned it into the professor only to find out later the third was actually not part of the test. Instead, it was a problem that had as of yet been unsolved. He had figured it out, though. My informant likes it because she thinks it would be cool to accidentally become famous like that and because it relates to one of her favorite movies, Good Will Hunting, since the main character in it easily solves equations no else could.

I like how the story reflects how we believe what we hear; when we are told something is impossible, it will seem much harder in our mind. But when we think something is supposed to be solvable, it may be easier to figure out, even if it’s never been done before. Limitations we place on ourselves are often illusory.

I looked into the story and found that it is actually based in truth. In 1939, George Dantzig arrived late to his graduate statistics class and saw two problems on the board, not knowing they were examples of problems that had never been solved. He thought they were a homework assignment and was able to solve them. He found out the reality six weeks later when his teacher let him know and helped him publish a paper about one of the problems.

Annotation: Cottle, Richard, Ellis Johnson, and Roger Wets. “George B. Dantzig.” Notices of the AMS 54.3 (2007). Web. April 23 2012.

Folk speech

“코피” and Others — Korean-American Pun Jokes

My informant is a Korean student attending the University of Southern California. He lived in Korea until the fourth grade and then, for familial reasons, moved to the Bay Area, where he went to school until coming down to Southern California for college. When I asked him to tell me a Korean joke, he thought for a bit, laughed, and said, “Weird. I only know Korean-American ones now,” which is understandable considering he has not gone back to Korea in the past five years. Mostly pun jokes, they were composed of Korean and English and require an understanding of both languages for them to be even remotely funny. For instance:

What is a vampire’s favorite drink?
코피 (kopi)!

This is funny because 코피 in Korean means nosebleed, while the way it is pronounced, kopi, sounds a lot like the English word coffee. So while the real answer is nosebleed, kopi adds another dimension to it by making it sound like vampires like coffee. In this case, the audience would need to know English to understand the question, but also the Korean word for nosebleed, and understand that its humor comes from kopi‘s similarity to an English word–a complex, bilingual understanding.

Another example:

Which celebrity likes to hold the most luggage?
Jim Carrey!

Now this is one that, if you did not know better, you would think was an American joke because of the lack of Korean words. However, this is only funny because Jim (or jeem) in Korean means, more or less,  “luggage,” while Carrey just sounds like “carry.” Jim Carrey’s name in Korean-American terms then, could be seen as Luggage Carrey.

These jokes are deceivingly simple, actually requiring a pretty advanced understanding of both languages for them to be immediately funny, as they are supposed to be (my informant could not stop laughing while he told these jokes, while I stared at him blankly, especially the second one). In that way, it can be seen almost as a rite of passage, or a kind of test, for Korean-Americans. To be truly bilingual, to be truly Korean-American, is to be able to understand these kinds of jokes. The fact that these jokes exist at all, in fact, makes it clear that Korean-Americanism is its own culture–that Koreans living in America are not just displaced peoples, losing their culture to America, but an entirely new, emerging culture that thrives on its distinction from both Korea and America.



Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

BrownBo Formal – Allegheny College

I thought it would be interesting to ask students who went to school in very rural settings what they did for fun or any college festivals and parties they would have. My informant, who is on a sports team that forms a very tight knit community and serves as her primary group of friends, described to me a usual party held around Christmas time. It was started by the boys soccer team living in a particular house near campus eight years ago. Since then it has become a tradition.

The boys from the soccer teams and basketball teams traditionally ask the girls from the girls’ soccer team to the formal, which is really just a college drinking party. The reason why the boys from the soccer team asks the girls’ soccer team is because those are the people who come out to support their games and share the field with them, which in turn almost makes all of the lore surrounding their sport the very thing that draws them together.

Those who attend the formal wear cocktail attire, which is unique to this event. The reason why it is unique is because, as my informant told me, most of their parties are in very casual and warm clothing because of the small town atmosphere on campus. You have to be comfortable because everyone walks on the icy sidewalks during the winter, and the sports teams in general usually dress more casually than the rest of the student body at Allegheny College.


Dirty Joke – American

The informant says she heard the following joke from a student at the University of Southern California: “I heard this one on, um, a—a hiking trip I went on . . . and it was a nighttime hike and we were looking at the stars, and the guides were telling astronomy stories and stuff, but one of them, uh, he told this dirty physics joke.”

The joke follows: “It’s uh, based on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which, uh, I guess states something like, ‘If you know something—object’s position, then you can’t know its velocity and vice versa, if you know something’s velocity you can’t know its positions.’ So the joke is, uh, ‘Why was the physics, uh, the physics student, er, um, bad in bed? Because every time he found the right position he didn’t have the right velocity, and every time he had the right velocity he couldn’t find the right position.’”

The informant likes to retell this joke to people she knows are studying math.

She finds the joke funny because it makes light of a serious and unfortunate situation.

The joke is clearly intended for an educated audience; to understand the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, even with an explanation, requires some small knowledge of atomic structure. The Principle refers especially to electrons, which are so small that they’re hard to place. The telling of the joke might even be seen as somewhat of a status symbol—if you get the joke, you’re “in.” The joke of course has a terminus post quem of the proposal of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.