Tag Archives: taboo

The Pig Man

Text: “I actually got told this story while I was in the cabin–this was Cabin 2. The story is before it was Cabin 2, the place was a pig pen. Some guy came to the island and he killed one of the pigs, and he like carved out the pig’s head and made a mask-like thing, and like lived on the island and killed people on the low. It sounds pretty fried, but I lived in the cabin probably when I was like 10 years old, and I was told the story in a very scary way and I was sitting in my little bet like ‘dude, fuck, like this is crazy.’ In the moment this stuff is very scary. When you’re at this camp, you don’t really have your phone, so when the counselors tell this stuff that they’ve told a million times, they tell it very well and there’s no other authority to check the story against.”

Context: My informant, NR, told me this story while we sat together and played NHL while listening to house music and eating frozen yogurt. This was a pretty ideal storytelling setting. He first heard this story as a middle-school-aged camper at a sleepaway summer camp in New Hampshire, and was scared by it at the time. He interpreted the legend as the crux of a practical joke that counselors enjoyed playing on campers. 

Analysis: I believe NR’s legend bears elements of practical joking in that it is leveraged by an ingroup, the counselors, to display the ignorance of the outgroup, the campers. The legend’s employment of elements that could potentially exist add credibility to the horror factor and play upon the ignorance of youth to frighten children. NR also emphasized the credibility of the storytellers, emphasizing that he defaulted to believing their account because he lacked a method to investigate other possibilities without his phone. The Pig Man’s employment of the mask also creates a fear factor, as anyone wearing the head of a dead pig would appear frightening, certainly in American culture where people are far removed from the slaughter of animals and death of animals in general. This legend can tell us about summer camp culture, in which authority is valued as well as respect for the surrounding land, which is often unsupervised and can be dangerous for a wandering child. In that spirit, the legend also plays a cautionary role, encouraging campers to stay vigilant in nature–the closer a camper is to being alone in nature, the more the camper will think of the Pig Man and desire a return to safety. I additionally believe that the death aspect of the legend taps into the childhood interest in death as a taboo topic. 

Bloody Mary

Text: “I don’t know, I think I was like eight or something and my brothers and sisters are older than me so they would try to scare me and stuff–so my brother was like ‘oh, I dare you to do this,’ and as a kid that’s whatever. And so I went into the bathroom, and usually the whole thing is like ‘oh say Bloody Mary three times and it’ll pop up.’ I did it, nothing happened, and then I wasn’t as scared of it after that. I guess it’s just a legend.”

Context: My informant, KB, relayed this experience to me during allotted class time to share folklore. She explained that she heard the legend from her siblings when she was about eight years old, an era in which she was especially prone to being manipulated by her older siblings. It does not appear that she thought too deeply into the legend of Bloody Mary itself, but was instead more occupied with the pressure of the dare. She harbored more fear for Bloody Mary before her experience in the mirror, and walked away as less of a believer, perhaps initiating her transition from target audience to active bearer. 

Analysis: I interpret this legend of Bloody Mary as a test of courage for youth–until you work up the courage to face Bloody Mary in the mirror and find out that it is not real, you have not come of the age to actively bear the folklore and scare the next generation. Thus I view it as a rite of passage and bit of children’s folklore, passed down by older children to younger children in a practical joke format as a means of initiation (van Gennep). Within this scope, I believe my informant relayed a classic experience of youth in which she bore the burden of being a younger child in an older group and was forced to take a risk in order to obtain something the group desired, in this case knowledge. Ultimately, legends offer insights to how a certain group views the world–I see KB’s experience with this legend as an expression of her childhood, in which legends such as Bloody Mary can easily generate fear and are often forced upon the powerless or youngest in the group to explore. Her experience also connects to a child’s inexperience with the physical world, which could result in false beliefs about the feasibility of something like Bloody Mary being real. Further, paralleling Oring’s take on children’s folklore, the legend and its associated actions reflect the childhood urge to explore the forbidden, occult, or taboo, especially in rebellious sentiment. KB’s experience features this drive as well as the power dynamics of young children. 

Don’t Whistle in the Theater


HB is an American woman who has had 30 years of experience working in the theater industry, specifically in tech, props and production management.


HB goes on to describe why whistling in the theater is taboo:

“The first stage hands were sailors because theater requires a lot of rigging, there’s pulleys and ropes and things that have to go up and down. And the way sailors would communicate on old sailing ships was by whistling, they had some kind of code…. So in the theater when they would call cues, they would do so by whistling. So it’s bad luck to whistle in the theater because you might accidentally tell someone to drop a sandbag on your head!”

Even though stage hands now have headsets and other forms of communication and other ways to rig a stage, it is still considered to be taboo and bad luck to whistle in a theater


The fact that this is still practiced in modern times showcases thespians’ devotion to history, traditions and the past. The nature of theatrical shows is normally in tribute to past events, whether it be the writing of shows that are set in the past or the reproduction of plays that were written in the past. It makes sense that a common theme in the theatrical environment is to preserve old ways and traditions since it is a behavior that aligns with their goal to relive the past. 

Another taboo action in theater, that HB compared whistling too, is saying the name of a certain play inside of a theater, which is now nicknamed the Scottish Play. The real name of the play was the last name of some characters that killed many for power and were haunted by their actions. Saying this would result in someone dying in the theater. Some would joke around with this and take it more light-heartedly while some were very serious and even perform a curse reversing ritual of sorts if the name of the play was said.

Both of these taboo actions are centered around the power of the past and death or bodily harm. These actions were probably made taboo to emphasize the lesson of respecting old ways and the power of the past.

Don’t Step on the “B”

Informant KS is a 19 year-old USC freshman from San Jose, California.


It is a custom for students of a certain private, Catholic high school to avoid stepping on the logo of the school — a circular emblem with a “B” in the center which is printed on the ground — or risk being beat up by seniors.


KS attended a private, Catholic high school which was founded over 150 years ago.

KS: “I actually found out about this tradition when I was very young, maybe ten years old. I attended summer camps at the school, and ‘Don’t step on the ‘B” is one of the first things you learn about if you ever come to campus. The basic idea behind it is there’s a logo in the center of campus that has a ‘B.’ It’s a circular logo. And the rumor was that if you stepped on the ‘B’ and there were seniors nearby, they had full license to beat you up, since you disrespected the logo of the school. I’m not exactly sure if people do beat other people up over stepping on the ‘B’ given that I’ve never actually seen it happen. I’ve never seen a student step on the ‘B’ before, I’ve only seen an unsuspecting parent do it before, and nobody really had a reaction in that circumstance. I would say this custom is part of one of the many traditions that we have at the school that gives it a bit of character. I guess it ties into a greater respect for the logo and the institution.”


As an institution dating back over 150 years, the private high school which KS attended has accumulated its own folklore in the form of customs such as avoiding the “B.” Since its founding, the folklore developed among students and the growing alumni network served to develop a common culture and camaraderie surrounding those with the experience of attending the high school, which resulted in KS learning about the custom from a young age. While serving as one shared custom that builds camaraderie, the act of avoiding the “B” also further develops a sense of respect and reverence for an old institution. Older definitions of folklore — such as those utilized by German folklorists Johann Gottfried von Herder and the Brothers Grimm — tend to argue that folklore is a practice shared by the common folk and independent of the elite class, yet this custom operates on both levels — as a shared practice among students, and as a means of maintaining the legitimacy of an old institution.

Sexual Bases

Background: The informant works at a private school, where one of her jobs s running a class about drugs, alcohol, stress, and sex. This class is for freshmen in high school, so when she speaks about the students, this is who she’s referring to.

LR: So, the only thing, well, so, obviously I think it’s changed since I was growing up, so in my generation, when people talked about getting to first base, obviously that was kissing, you know, usually it meant that you french kissed which involves tongue as opposed to just pecking or whatever. So second base was like going up, so see the difference is, I think, in my generation it all referred to the female and now I think it actually somewhat refers to the males, which is kinda weird. So my understanding was second base was like you got felt up, like under your shirt. Third was like down your pants, and then fourth was all the way, you had sex. But, in more recent I guess connotations was like more towards guys. I mean I think first base is still like kissing or french kissing or whatever, but I think second base now, for whatever reason, is like hands, like giving somebody a hand job, and then third base is essentially giving a blow job and then fourth base is still going all the way. But again the reference point is different because it used to be about the female body and now somehow it’s become male centric?

Me: Do you have any idea when that change happened? And who did you hear about the change from?

LR: I mean I feel like just hearing the students talking or just from reading more current books, um, maybe like that sex book, that book that was like pink, I don’t know if it was called sex. Anyway, but I know that that was very common knowledge when I was growing up, like the bases, and the whole baseball reference.

Me: And when would you say you first hear about it? Like at what age?

LR: I would say probably junior high, like 7th-9th grade. Probably more like 8th, maybe, 8th grade.

Me: And when did, for you, people stop using the bases to talk about relationships?

LR: Oh I still think they talk about it, I think it’s the most common metaphor but I don’t think it’s necessarily relevant or–

Me: Yeah, no but when you were growing up like kind of between what ages was it used to talk about intimacy?

LR: Oh I’m sure I probably heard about it when I was like 12, 13, like early adolescence and then maybe, I mean, obviously by the time I’d graduated from high school, I mean I guess people still talked about it that way, but I don’t know maybe 18. Um and then honestly I didn’t think about it any more until my daughter was an adolescent and I think I just started hearing things again and I don’t know if it was from parents, I mean I guess I just heard it from, well having worked around and been around adolescents in middle and upper school, I think you just heard things, I think I just started hearing these different reference points. I feel like there was this generational switch.

Context of performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: I think personally that both are used, that the bases refer to both men and women and it just depends on who is talking. I’ve never used this, I don’t know that tons of people do, it seems to me that people are more straightforward. However, using euphermisms or metaphors are still a very common way to talk about sex mainly, phrases such as “scoring,” getting laid” or “going all the way.” It seems like what hasn’t changed is the age this takes place in–adolescence–which makes sense to me because sex is a kind of taboo during this period.