Among the Interactive Media and Games Division at the University of Southern California, a strange joke occurs in which if one person utters the words (on purpose or to trigger this joke) “I’m just sayin’,” the rest of the IMGD students will all do a hacking, coughing, or vomiting impression.
My source J explained it as such:
J: When ever like a group of us are together one of us will go, “I’m just sayin’,” and then the rest of us will all go “HOUGH”.
Me: Do you know why?
J: I don’t know… I’ve heard its a combination of two YouTube videos but the actual source of where this joke started is completely unknown, but we all know that the joke is funny.
Its very interesting to me how each major at USC has its own culture. This is but one example of the types of jokes, proverbs, and legends that I’ve heard out of the IMGD major at USC. Despite being such a small group (30 students per class), the program is still able to develop its own forms of folklore specific to their major.
In recent years, Amazon has launched a produce called the Amazon Echo. The AI “personality” that the Echo conveys is even given a familial name, Alexa. The device is used to serve as a home assistive device, with the capabilities of setting timers, controlling lights, and even convey bits of folklore. Because Alexa has access to a massive database of different bits of information, the device can retell a joke it “heard” from someone else. I decided to test this and ask a device to tell me a joke. In return, I was told a joke that started out sounding like a historical fact (a function the Echo is often used for) and flipped my expectations by ending it with a pun.
My “interview” with my source and artificial storyteller, Alexa, went as follows:
Me: Alexa, tell me a joke.
Alexa: As the old story goes, someone sees a reflection of the moon and mistakes it for cheese… un-brie-lievable!
Due to the fact that this is a machine with no actual purpose other than to serve its users, I concluded that this source’s identity did not need to be kept anonymous. There is no legal obligations that a user needs to serve Alexa given that its personality is based off 1’s and 0’s, not actual emotions. I still find it extremely fascinating that this device is able to convey bits of folklore, just like a human can. I wanted to explore this concept and see what would happen. I felt like a joke was a good place to start. I’ve heard a version of this joke before but never told like this. I love the way it plays off the fact that it is a machine, in that it starts to convey the joke as a fact, much like it normally conveys facts, and then turns it around and ends with a punchline. This variation of the joke is a fun way in which modern technology can influence the world of folklore.
An individual in Los Gatos, California describes her family’s experiences with astrology while living in India. According to my source, her family strictly believed in the folk belief of astrology. The practice involves determining a person’s future based on the alignment of the stars and planets. My source recounts a story that was passed down to her about her grandmother taking both her children to an astrologer to discover their future. The real intention of their visit was to get information on the oldest son. Instead, the astrologist only commented on the younger daughter. When confronted about not talking about the son, the astrologer refused to reveal anything about his future. He continued on about the daughter claiming she had a bright future and was going to move away to a far off land. The family left the astrologer. When the older son was 18, he passed away. The daughter later went on to move to America and eventually brought in the main source of income for their family.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
Me: Could you give me an example of a time when astrology was practiced in your family?
A: Hmm… So when my mother was like 8 or 9 maybe 10 years old–In India they believe in astrology, right–so her mother took her and her brother to an astrologer and she really specifically wanted to look at her older son’s astrology map. The astrologer would not look at the oldest son, only looked at my mom. He kept saying she was going to move to a far away country, and she was gonna help the family out and bringing everyone there and their mom kept saying, “No what about the oldest son what about the oldest,” and he would not talk about him. So she kinda just blew it off and said, “okay whatever” and went away. On a later date… my mom’s oldest brother died. He was around 18 or 19. My mother did end up coming to this country.
I’ve seen astrology be practiced quite a bit in America. In those instances, however, horoscopes and predictions came via a publication such as a magazine or a post on social media. I find it very interesting that in Indian culture, astrology is conveyed via someone who studies individuals rather than a broad prediction of everyone born on a certain date. The fact that there are experts who specifically practice this one on one during appointments gives a much more authentic feel to the predictions being made rather than finding one in a publication.
An individual from Saratoga, California passes down the folk belief of ghost hauntings, a belief that has been present in her family for numerous generations. The belief comes via a family legend that was passed down to her. According to the legend, a distant relative was living in New York. The relative’s mother was living in California. The night that the mother passed away, despite being on the other side of the country, the relative was woken up suddenly in the middle of the night to find that the rocker that her mother had sat in for years began to rock. Supposedly, this was due to the soul of her mother clinging to the closest link between her and her daughter as a sign that she had passed but was still with her. This legend was passed down from generation to generation. My source continues to pass it on to her kids. Being an agnostic family, the legend is often viewed as confirmation that even when family members pass, the soul of each and every family member is still connected.
Half of this country believes in ghosts. Being convinced of their existence is nothing new. What I found interesting about this interaction is that rather than the ghosts being a vengeful spirit or a means of torturing the mortal world, the belief in ghosts was a means of reassurance in the everlasting bond family. Typically, ghost stories are cautionary tales or legends retold to startle other people. This, however, was a legend filled with optimism that despite passing away, your loved ones will always be present, giving hope to a family that does not practice any religion or faith with an after life.
An individual in Los Gatos, California takes part in the folk belief of precognition via dreams. According to the source, precognition is the ability to psychically receive visions of the future via dreams. In the example I was given, my source was visited by the soul of her dying father while she was asleep. In the vision, her father sat down with her and told her everything was going to be fine, that he was doing well, and that she had nothing to worry about. When she woke up, instead of feeling stressed out and agitated, she was relaxed and calm. She received a phone call that evening letting her know that her father was being checked out of the hospital, safe to go home.
My interview with my source, A, went as follows:
Me: So could you tell me about an example of a time you had a precognitive dream?
A: So um… my dad had been sick for two years and in the last few weeks he had been really sick, he had swelling all over his body and we weren’t really sure what was up with that, and I was supposed to go back and visit but I couldn’t because [my son] was sick and vomiting. So I didn’t feel comfortable bringing him or even exposing him with me. So I didn’t visit my dad. Then Sunday came and Sunday night I had this dream, in which my dad was telling me that everything was going to be okay that he was fine and that he was really happy. And so I woke up feeling very relieved about the whole thing and then later that evening my mother called to let me know that they were checking out of the hospital and that he’d made a miraculous recovery.
The belief is an interesting take on why we dream. At some point, I feel like most people have sought to make sense of why exactly they dream. For many, it’s the idea that we as humans can predict the future. It’s instances like these in which the belief is reinforced in someone. While correlation does not equate to causation, there is technically no evidence that what took place was not an occurrence of precognition.
For another view on this belief see: Aristoteles, and J.I. Beare. On Divination in Sleep. InteLexÂ®.