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Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Newslore is folklore that comments on and hinges on knowledge of current events. These expressions come in many forms: jokes, urban legends, digitally altered photographs, mock news stories, press releases or interoffice memoranda, parodies of songs, poems, political and commercial advertisements, movie previews and posters, still or animated cartoons, and short live-action films.

    InNewslore: Folklore on the Internet and in the News, author Russell Frank offers a snapshot of the items of newslore disseminated via the Internet that gained the widest currency around the turn of the millennium. Among the newsmakers lampooned in e-mails and on the Web were Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and such media celebrities as Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. The book also looks at the folk response to the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, as well as the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004.

    Frank analyzes this material by tracing each item back to the news story it refers to in search of clues as to what, exactly, the item reveals about the public's response. His argument throughout is that newslore is an extremely useful and revelatory gauge for public reaction to current events and an invaluable screen capture of the latest zeitgeist.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-929-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE Greetings from a Desk Chair Traveler
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION Tiny Revolutions
    (pp. 3-30)

    It was the first day of school and a new student named Suzuki, the son of a Japanese businessman, entered the fourth grade. The teacher said, “Let’s begin by reviewing some American history. Who said, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death’?”

    She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Suzuki’s. He answered, “Patrick Henry, 1775.”

    “Very good! Who said, ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’?”

    Again, no response except from Suzuki, “Abraham Lincoln, 1863.”

    The teacher snapped at the class, “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Suzuki, who...

  5. 1 Where Is the Humor? Anti-Hillary Jokes in the News
    (pp. 31-44)

    Just how indicative of public opinion are jokes? Judging from the number of Hillary Clinton jokes I had collected over the years, I predicted that the former first lady would not be elected president in 2008. (On the other hand, there were enough George W. Bush jokes out there before 2004 to suggest that voters were ready to send him back to Crawford—and we all know how that turned out.) I turned out to be right about Hillary, but much as I’d like to ascribe all this power to folklore, I must acknowledge that Barack Obama’s emergence as the...

  6. 2 I Could Throw All of You out the Window The Democrats
    (pp. 45-62)

    Bill Clinton’s was the first Internet presidency. Yet for all his talk about “building a bridge to the twenty-first century,” he and his supporters, including the famously Internet-savvy Al Gore, made far less use of the information superhighway than their detractors did. The irony here is that the Internet, which began as a tool for intragovernmental communication, wound up being used for political purposes much more quickly by government outsiders than by government insiders. American politics, one supposes, is a tradition-rich system, slow to adapt. Campaigns did not begin to realize the Internet’s potential as a mechanism for reaching voters...

  7. 3 When the Going Gets Tough Newslore of September 11
    (pp. 63-95)

    A premise of this book is that we can learn more about how “ordinary Americans” respond to national and world affairs from the mass e-mails they exchange than we can from the news media. In this chapter, I would like to illustrate this point via a chronological look at the e-mails I received in the days and week following the suicide attacks of September 11, 2001. The e-mails suggest that after a brief period of stunned and perhaps respectful silence in the aftermath of the attacks, cybercitizens resumed joking. Most of the jokes played it safe by targeting the Muslim...

  8. 4 Got Fish? Newslore of Hurricane Katrina
    (pp. 96-106)

    On September 12, 2005, a colleague down the hall forwarded an e-mail to me with the subject line “Got Fish?” (the subject line in the Urbanlegends. version is “Some people find good in EVERYTHING!!!!”). “Disgusting,” Ken Yednock commented in the body of the e-mail. “But funny.”

    What followed was a photograph of the two presidents Bush on what appears to be the deck of a sportfishing boat. George Bush the elder, smiling in cap and windbreaker, is holding a fishing rod. George Bush the younger, grinning in leather jacket and sunglasses, is holding a striped bass. That’s the foreground....

  9. 5 It Takes a Village Idiot Bushlore
    (pp. 107-127)

    Alan Dundes regarded jokes as “socially sanctioned outlets for expressing taboo ideas and subjects.”¹ Thus, he claimed, political jokes are far more plentiful in dictatorships than they are in democracies, where the press can openly lampoon political leaders in opinion columns and editorial cartoons. In America, Dundes found, instead of joking about politics, we joke about sex and race because those are the topics we feel least comfortable discussing openly.²

    Is Dundes’s claim, made in 1987, no longer true? In cyberspace, political jokes seem at least as plentiful as jokes about sex and race. Why should this be? Has our...

  10. 6 You Can’t Raffle Off a Dead Donkey Newslore of Commerce
    (pp. 128-150)

    The pervasive power of corporations has been a consistent theme in contemporary American folklore. In studies of the Kentucky Fried rat and other legends of foreign or harmful substances in our food and drink (feces in refried beans, mice in Coke bottles, sterility drugs in fried chicken), and of legends of companies with ties to sinister forces or ideologies (Procter and Gamble and devil worship; Tommy Hilfiger or Liz Claiborne or Reebok and racism), Gary Alan Fine¹ and Patricia Turner,² among others, have proposed that such tales of contamination and conspiracy express anxiety about how much control of what we...

  11. 7 Not–So–Heavenly Gates Newslore of the Digital Age
    (pp. 151-165)

    While others argue about the relative merits of Macs and PCs or complain that the machines could be a lot more user-friendly if the techies who designed them didn’t behave like members of a priesthood (this is a recurring theme of Walter Mossberg’s technology columns in theWall Street Journal), I confess I’m more the carnival gawker type when it comes to computers. The first time I cut and pasted on my old Kaypro, I thought it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to writing. I still think so. When I went from the glowing green characters on...

  12. 8 Diana’s Halo Newslore as Folk Media Criticism
    (pp. 166-188)

    During the fall of 2006, a community group invited me to give a talk at their February meeting. The topic was up to me, but they needed a title right away. Little did I know when I came up with “Is Contemporary Journalism as Bad as Everyone Says It Is?” that I would end up making my defense of the news media during the very week that the big story was the death of Anna Nicole Smith. My strategy that night was preemptive: I brought up the Anna Nicole problem before anyone else could, then mounted my defense as planned....

  13. CONCLUSION Attention Must Be Paid, but for How Much Longer?
    (pp. 189-196)

    When I started working on this book in the winter of 2006, I was surprised at how much old newslore was still kicking around. Bill and Hillary Clinton jokes, in particular, remained popular although his presidency was long past and her campaign for president had not yet begun. Jokes about the 2004 presidential candidates had not entirely supplanted jokes about the 2000 presidential candidates. Even jokes about many of the biggest newsmakers of the 1990s—O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, and others—persisted.

    Before I finished the first draft of this book in 2008, I felt obliged to...

  14. APPENDIX A A Week in the Life of My In-Box: A Newslore Miscellany
    (pp. 197-208)
  15. APPENDIX B Collecting and Analyzing Newslore
    (pp. 209-230)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 231-244)
    (pp. 245-254)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 255-268)