Tag Archives: liminal period

Funeral Headbands


H is a pre-med Biology major at USC who grew up in Vancouver, Washington. His parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam.


H: “For funerals, you have to visit every day for the first week after the funeral and then once a week for seven weeks. And then, on the hundredth day since the funeral, everybody comes back to the temple. It’s like, the biggest day for them (the dead). You pray for them, wish them well at the temple. The hundredth day is when you have everybody together and you have a big feast. You have these white headbands that you wear and on the hundredth day, they chop off the headband.”


Since H was raised in a Viet-American household, he and his family’s celebration of weddings is similar to an Irish wake funeral, but also adds cultural specificity to Viet customs. For example, it is common in Irish funerals to throw a party on the deceased’s behalf, not only as a celebration of the deceased when they were alive but as a re-engineering of the domineering sorrow of a funeral. H’s feast on the hundredth day pays homage to the one who died without inviting negative emotions into the celebration of the individual.

Funerals are a liminal space, as Von Gennup puts it, lingering between the stages of life and death in a person’s existence on Earth. Rather than using funerals as a chance to mourn, H and Irish funeral traditions connect with members of their community and pray for safety into the next part of existing for the dead. This acceptance of death, the massive respect and commitment to the dead after the funeral, seems cultural, as does the white headbands and time. There is an acceptance of death as time marches on, not a denying of it. Rather, H’s family seems to come to terms that nothing can get in the way of death but glimmers for an appreciation of life and the one the once dead led.

Limerick: “Monkey and a Baboon Sitting in the Grass”

Main Piece: 

“Uh… Here’s one. Monkey and a baboon sitting in the grass. Monkey stuck his finger up the baboon’s ass. The baboon said ‘Monkey, damn your soul! Get your finger out of my asshole!’”


My informant learned this from his step-grandfather when they were bonding as part of the joining of two families. My informant presented it as a situation where the performer of this limerick recites it to a single person in a setting where it would normally be inappropriate- for example, over the dinner table. This would provoke groans or laughs from other listeners. The reciter apparently could be called on again to tell new people the same limerick. 

When asked the meaning of this limerick, my informant responded:

“There is absolutely no meaning to this. And I would say this if it occurred to me and I was hanging around my friends and thought ‘Hey, y’all want to hear something funny?’”

Thoughts:While my informant took a nihilistic view of this limerick, this seemed mostly based on the lyrics. While the lyrics seems predominantly intended to shock and amuse, the context and audience response to this limerick points towards another purpose. The first thing that stuck out to me was that this limerick was part of an early bonding between two separate family units. This means it may serve as a benevolent version of wedding or funeral pranks. This could serve to break the tension of liminality as two families undergo a transition. I doubt that this is always the purpose of the limerick, but the interesting bisecting of the audience does make me think this is something of a welcome. According to my informant, one person- a new person -is receiving the recitation while others moan and grandpa doing his normal thing. This singles a person out as someone who now knows the limerick and welcomes them into the same group as the rest of the audience. In the situations that my informant put forward, this seems like a piece of humor that functions as a bridge over liminality. Further evidence of this interpretation is the tendency to call on the reciter to serve their role again when another new person is present. 

Trojan Marching Band: Old Navy, A Drumline Tradition

Background: The Trojan Marching Band is known as Hollywood’s Band for its many, many appearances in tv, movies, and advertisements. They have appeared in shows like Glee and Scrubs, movies like Forrest Gump, and programs like the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards. Through these connections, the band has also taken part in various events for companies around the world. In 2014, Gap Inc. hired the TMB drumline to perform for the grand opening of their largest Old Navy store in Shanghai, China. The informant, CN, relays this story how he was told it.

Main Piece: Because the Trojan Marching Band has a particular brand and logo, most companies won’t want to pay for the rights for those or have the band’s uniform tied to their advertisements. CN tells me that most companies have them simply cover up their TMB logos with tape, wear their harnesses, or wear something entirely different. For the Old Navy performance, Gap Inc. supplied the drumline with specially made covers meant to go over both the uniform and harness that would blend in and bear the Old Navy logo instead of the TMB one (Pictures can be found Here). 

Drumline members in Shanghai playing for the Old Navy gig in 2014. Note that the Old Navy covers are over the drum harnesses, and seem to blend into the uniform.

After the gig, CN said that the drumline got to keep some of those covers, but that they didn’t have anything to do with them. That is until a member of the drumline had the idea to use one of the remaining Old Navy vests as a form of punishment for freshmen. At the start of Saturday morning rehearsals, which is at 7:34am, whoever is the last freshman cymbal player to arrive has to wear Old Navy for the entire Saturday morning practice. As time went on, Old Navy got dirtier and dirtier, but no one ever washed it. Now, CN says that the drumline still uses the Old Navy tradition to give incentive for freshman cymbal players to show up as early as possible. The cymbals often receive the most freshmen out of any subsection of the drumline, so it’s important to the upperclassmen to make sure the freshmen have a reason to show up on time. Certainly, wearing a dirty, smelly vest over your clothes early in on a Saturday morning can’t be enjoyable, so freshmen have to learn to plan ahead to avoid it.

Context: Old Navy is a piece of the TMB’s history in that it marked a drumline trip to China for a big advertisement gig, but it also appears regularly through the Old Navy tradition. Every Saturday from 7:34am to 10:00am the TMB practices, even on game days, and punctuality is paramount for these early morning rehearsals.

Thoughts: I believe that Old Navy is used primarily for humiliation to teach freshmen “to be early is to be on time.” By CN’s account, the smell isn’t really that bad and the thick cover can help to prevent a new cymbal player from accidentally pinching their skin and clothes between the cymbals. Humiliation as a driving force can push freshmen to wake up earlier than their peers and spark a sort of competition of punctuality. 

Annotation: Band Bangs the Drums in Shanghai https://studentaffairs.usc.edu/usc-band-bangs-the-drums-in-shanghai/ 

Trojan Marching Band: Band Names

Context: Initiates in the Trojan Marching Band all receive a special nickname known as a “Band Name.” Traditions surrounding band names vary by sections. Some sections, like the drumline, name all of their initiates by the end of the first two weeks, others wait until the end of the semester, and most sections name throughout the semester whenever they come up. Band names can be chosen for just about anything that the section finds humorous about the initiate, and they’re often puns that combine multiple aspects of that person. 

Main Piece: My informant, CN, told me the story of his name, “Tiny Dancer”. When he was a freshman, used to make small dance movements when he talked as a way of gesticulating. At one point, one of his classmates decided to quit the line by not showing up to a practice. When another member pressed him on where that classmate went, he recounts that he said “She’s *gone. Like, she’s not coming *back”  (with gesticulations at every *), but the drill instructor didn’t understand what he meant. His upperclassmen thought this was funny, so in reference to an Elton John song, they named him Tiny Dancer. 

There’s also a sort of ritual about how naming becomes official. CN told me that, when the upperclassmen have decided to name you, they take your lanyard that holds your printed name and band logo. That night, they flip it to the blank side and draw a picture to represent your name, and the next day after sectional practice ends they will keep everyone back. They call the initiate to the front of the group, and say something like “Due to constant dancing on the field with tiny dance moves and wearing different kinds of sunglasses, the drummer formally known as CN shall henceforth and forever be known as Tiny Dancer.” The exact phrase “The [player] formally known as [parent given name] shall henceforth and forever be known as [band name]” is consistently used to mark the transition from non-band member to band member. 

Band names are not only the mark of induction into the band, but they’re also legitimate nicknames. CN tells me that most of his friends in the band call him “Tiny” instead of his parent given first name, and those friends often introduce him to others as Tiny. In CN’s words “Band names become a part of our identity…” and when his band friends call him by his first name it feels off. As a way of cementing band names into the band member’s identity, even when the band name doesn’t stick as a functioning nickname, whenever someone says something that references someone’s band name, they “take a lap” (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Camp Traditions).

Thoughts: Nicknames are a common and simple form of folklore, especially when the nicknames are tied to a liminal, or transitional, periods. Traditions involving nicknames of initiates often mark a level of acceptance into a group. This is just as true in the Trojan Marching Band, where members in their first year in the band receive a band name. I believe that the concept of band names is both interesting and consistent with previous analysis that humor is often a medium for liminal periods. By accepting a band name that jokes about an aspect of one’s personality, one can be better accepted into the group because they’ll know more about the humor that group expects from them. From the perspective of the TMB, band names can function as a sort of alternate identity that links everyone in the band to something greater. Where once there were a few hundred instrument-playing students, there are now a few hundred band members, and that distinction is made in part through band names, among other traditions.

Trojan Marching Band: Band Camp Traditions

“Con”-text: Band Camp is a week or week and a half period before the start of classes where initiates to the Trojan Marching Band will learn the ropes of the TMB’s instruments, marching, and perhaps most importantly traditions. Informant CN, a member of the TMB and previous section leader, discusses many of the traditions that used throughout Band Camp and the ensuing football season.

Main Piece: The following is a list of traditions, for which the individual contexts will be provided below:

  1. Whenever the drill instructor or band director says “Conquest,” “Concept,” “Consequence,” or any other word beginning with “con,” members of the band will repeat back “Con~quest.” They extend and emphasize the “con” for dramatic effect or humor.
  2. Whenever the drill instructor or band director says “You” at the beginning of their sentence, the band will interrupt them by finishing with “S, C, Trojans!” sometimes throwing up the Fight On hand sign. 
  3. Whenever the drill instructor says “Check,” the drumline will make soft noises with their instruments. Snares, quads, and basses will swap their sticks over their drums and cymbals play a small zing. Notably, freshman cymbal players are not allowed to “check” with their cymbals.
  4. Whenever any school other than USC is mentioned, the band screams back “Sucks!”
  5. During Rivalry Week with UCLA, whenever the drill instructor or band director says “UCLA” or “Tusk”, the quad drummers begin playing Tusk, and oftentimes the band joins in and interrupts the speaker. 
  6. If any freshman asks a question, especially during band camp or if the question has been answered before, they will be told “Figure it out Freshman.”
  7. During Band Camp, Freshman are only allowed to refer to their upperclassmen by their band names, and in many sections they are required to learn all of the band names and parent given names of their section, as well as how they got those band names (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Names).
  8. Whenever the drill instructor or band director says anything that accidentally references a band members’ name, they have to “take a lap”, meaning that they run around their section of the band or even the entire band. When this happens outside of practice, band members will walk around the chair they were sitting in or simply twirl their finger to represent taking a lap.
  9. At the end of Saturday’s game day practice, the band director gives a prediction of the score, accompanied by a drumroll from the drumline. 

CN says that some of these traditions continue throughout the year, but they’re really ingrained into the freshmen during band camp. For the origin, CN said that some of the call and response traditions started fairly recently. Nobody knows exactly who started it, but now everybody does it (the example was “con”quest). “It means nothing but you can find yourself doing it all the time. The traditions are just wired in at band camp.”

Thoughts: The beginning of a liminal period can sometimes be seen as a time for “weeding out” those in a group of initiates who might not be committed to the organization while at the same time impressing upon the initiates the procedures and traditions that will unify them. I believe that Band Camp is an example of this combination of tradition teaching and weeding out. Band Camp takes place in the hot LA heat, and it requires new members to constantly prove themselves to upperclassmen in an attempt to be accepted. The traditions that restrict Freshmen behaviors aren’t necessarily meant to humiliate them, but rather to adjust them to Band culture. As for the call and response traditions, those often serve to give the band members a reason to pay attention to every word the drill instructors say, so the tradition is likely allowed to continue even if some members may be making fun of their instructors by it.