This year I’m presenting with the Medieval Section of the American Folklore Society. I’m investigating the relationship between the medieval tale of Saint Andrew and the Three Questions, in which Andrew saves a bishop’s soul from the devil disguised as a maiden by answering his three riddles. Andrew’s answer to the devil’s last question, “What is the distance between heaven and earth,” isn’t even a real answer, but an acknowledgement of his ignorance: “You would know, because you fell that distance!” I have found analogues of this tale present in modern folktales, including one collected by the Grimms. But more interesting are the ways that the riddle contest is used in medieval religious legends in different contexts. In my paper, I sketch out some of the ways in which the riddle contest moves between different genres and accomplishes different narrative goals.
My panel information is below:
Claiming Authority, Resisting the Devil: How Lay Appropriations Shaped Medieval and Early Modern Traditions
Fredericka Schmadel, “An Uppity Street Nun’s Quest for God”
Steve Stanzak, “Sacred and Secular Narratives: How Saints and Soldiers Decipher the Devil’s Riddles”
Charlotte Artese, “’They Will Not Intercept My Tale’: Oral and Classical Traditions in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus”
Dan Terkla, “The Duchy of Cornwall and Hereford Mappaemundi: Heritage, Patronage, and Commemoration”
I’ve been plunging the depths of YouTube for suitable data to use for my latest research on children’s folklore on the internet. I’m looking at how Yo Momma Jokes on the internet differ from typical ritual insults, such as the Dozens tradition researched by folklorists and linguists in the 1960s and 1970s. Contemporary ritual insults are more playful than competitive, and the focus is more often on the play framework created rather than the content of the insults. I’ll be presenting the results of this research at the American Folklore Society annual meeting in late October. I’m nearly done with the data collection portion and decided to post some of my favorite videos as a sneak preview of my presentation:
Joke Hits too Close to Home: This video is interesting because the two participants construct a play framework suitable for ritual insults, but one girl breaks the rules by using an insult that is true to life and hits too close to home. Of course, this entire interaction is fabricated. The play frame is still in effect, although the girls pretend it’s not.
SO IS YO MOMMA!: This video comments on the relative simplicity of some ritual insults. The boy here is able to take advantage of this simplicity by constructing a ritual insult as a response to every statement. This creates a situation in which the ritual is inappropriate in a certain context, breaking the play framework. Of course, once again this break is fabricated, and is reestablished by the other participant to humorous effect.
when brothers fight 3: This video is funny because the play framework constructed for verbal dueling is so obviously fabricated as the two participants are identical twins! They obviously have the same mother, so the purpose of the verbal duel is not victory, but rather the play itself.
These are just a sampling of the videos I’ve collected, and I’ve only scratched the surface of this joke cycle on YouTube. I’ve got many hours of analysis ahead of me!
My paper proposal on YouTube yo’ momma jokes has been accepted for the AFS 2009 annual meeting at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho. I present on Thursday, October 22, 2009. My panel schedule is below:
Cultural Implications for Children in Place and Play
(Sponsored by the Children’s Folklore Section)
Jacqueline S. Thursby, chair
3:45 Jacqueline S. Thursby (Brigham Young University), Boiseko Ikastola: Boise’s Basque Language Immersion Preschool
4:15 Steve Stanzak (Indiana University), Manipulating Play Frames: The Yo’ Momma Joke Cycle on YouTube
4:45 Irene Chagall (Independent) and Cecilia Riddell (California State University, Dominguez Hills; Pasadena City College; emerita), Will the Real Sally Walker Please Stand Up?
5:15 Kathryn A. McCormick (Independent), Let Them Play: Puppet Play