Monday, April 2, 2007

Folklore on the Web

If you do a basic Google search on "folklore," you will hit thousands of websites, many of which are published by amateur folklorists. The content and quality of these sites vary greatly (like all web material), but if the web is any indication, there is more than a casual interest in folklore at the moment.

The result of one of these searches was the discovery of "Home Town Tales," a public access cable television show dedicated to folklore and stories of unexplained or bizarre events across the nation. The voice over at the start of the show rattles off a number of folklore genres with the slogan, "We call them Hometown Tales, because every town has one."

The shows are all brief,about 6 minutes in length, and appear to be filmed with hand held cameras and edited with lots of special effects to make the creepy stories seem a wee bit creepier, darker, and mysterious.

The Hometown Tales creators definitely document community folklore, as the episode below, "The Legend of La Llorona" demonstrates. What is missing here is context, particularly the fact that the Santa Fe legends presented are not the only location of the La Llorona legend, that there are many variants of this tale and that it originated in Mexico.

Nevertheless, Hometown Tales is one example of amateur folklore, or as I prefer to refer to it, folklore collected by the folk. The broader question I would like to pose here is how should professional folklorists respond to folklore by the folk? There is a move within public sector folklore to train community member to collect their own folklore. That level of collaboration empowers communities to make decisions about their traditions regarding what should be collected and preserved, which is (I believe) the heart of folklore scholarship. We are collaborators; the material belongs to the people who produce it.

But what of the web-based collections? Some of these are not necessarily community based projects collected from local insiders. Similarly, a number of folklore books written by non-folklorists effectively divorce the content from its creators.

I encourage you to take a look at, and comment upon, the "Legend of La Llorona" presented here.


Jeanne said...

Hi Everyone,
I would like to post a response to the question: How should professional folklorists respond to folklore by the folk?
Perhaps there are a number of ways to respond but I think one of them might be to respond to the filmed version of “folklore by the folk” as if it were both a place and a performance venue, like a sleepover or camping trip etc.
The film is another performance venue, another “when” and “how,” that the folk have chosen for the telling of tales. We can hardly write something (even a research paper) without having a reader in mind and we can hardly tell a story without having a listener (viewer) in mind whether the viewer is present or not. It would be interesting for folklorists to interview the film makers to see what kind of audience they were aiming at, who they thought they were performing for – for example: were they thinking of drawing the interest of professional folklorists, were they preparing something that they imagined would be of interest locally, were they doing an assignment for some class they were taking, etc.? I’m sure they could imagine all-of-the-above but during the making of the film I wonder if the makers could point out which audience they were imagining at particular moments. It would be interesting to find out who accesses the filmed story and why they choose to view it (who shows up at the sleepover). Who were the interviewees and who were they told they would be telling the story for when they were interviewed? Why were they interviewed in the places we see them speaking from in the film?
The film is another kind of place for telling in a more complicated sense. We can’t think of the filmed-storyteller/viewer relationship in the same way we think of face-to-face storytelling relationships but I think the film does maintain a certain element of the story/listener relationship even in its filmed version. A story becomes a private viewing no matter how close or far away a listener is from others at the time of the telling. The film maintains, and maybe even accentuates, the paradox of being in the presence of people but also at a great distance from them – and in the presence of ghosts and all too close to them. The film viewed by someone alone at home shares an element of a story’s ability to get inside of a person. In some sense the ghost story accepts the visibility of the filming by trading the darkness that is part of the setting in a traditional telling for the aloneness of the viewer at the computer screen. Folklorists might be interested to explore what filmed versions of stories can reveal on the subject of how stories are adapting to the complexities of place in the modern world.

Kristina said...

I think I would relate something like this to storytelling more than to ethnography. Most storytellers will research several variants of a story they wish to tell and then pick and choose elements they wish to incorporate into their own version. This seems to be essentially what they've done on "Home Town Tales." They've selected bits and pieces of several La Llorona tales to construct the version they wish the audience to hear.