The Anecdote as a Symbolic Expression of the Social and Cultural Milieu of Journalists
Blache, Martha, Folklore
This paper analyses two anecdotes that circulate within the occupational group of newspaper journalists in Argentina. The analysis takes into account the strong interrelationship existing between the narrative and the social and cultural life of this group. I draw on a performance-centred approach which allows the possibility of examining some of the formal and generic characteristics of anecdotes. It also reveals aspects of prime importance in the everyday work of journalists, such as the risks they run and the tricks they resort to in order to obtain the news.
Among the different genres of folk narrative, the anecdote has attracted comparatively little attention. This led the well-known American folklorist Archer Taylor to call it a "neglected genre" (Taylor 1970). Till then, the anecdote had remained almost ignored by most scholars, who were seduced by the attractions of other types of narratives such as fairytales and legends.
In this paper, I will analyse anecdotes recurrent among newspaper journalists in Argentina, taking into account functional and generic considerations as well as the strong interrelationship between the narrative itself and the social and cultural life of the occupational group it circulates in. To accomplish the analysis, I use a performance-centred approach inspired by Richard Bauman's article "Hell, yes, but not that young" (Bauman 1986, 55-77). As Bauman points out in another essay, this approach goes far beyond the study of the way in which language is used in the construction of a textual item (Bauman 1977). It represents a transformation of the basic and referential uses of language within what Erving Goffman calls an "interpretive frame" (Goffman 1974).
According to this approach, context--be it textual, situational, social or societal (Bausinger 1994)--has a predominant role, since the narrators, their narrative and their audience are all related as components of a unique continuum. Contexts are mediating agents that relate the text to the narrators' world, at the same time providing clues for the interpretation of symbols, ideas, beliefs and knowledge (Ben Amos 1993, 212). From this perspective, the communicative process taking place between the narrator and his/her audience is crucial This process highlights the devices used by the participants in a narrative event to adapt a story to the situation in which it emerges and to the receptivity of the participants in the storytelling event. In this way, it shows the dynamics of tradition as well as the metacommunicative resources brought into play.
From a corpus of anecdotes I collected from Argentinian journalists, I have selected two which belong to the type known as historical or legendary anecdotes--although, it must be said, a classification of the folklore genre in question has not been fully agreed upon yet. Some folklorists have defined anecdotes as part of a type related to jokes (Aarne-Thompson 1987, 254),(1) while others have placed them with personal experience narratives such as memorates and chronicates (Gwyndaf 1984). But, however they are classified, anecdotes are short stories, presumably veridical, generally centred on a single episode and on a single scene revolving around personalities or local figures. Often they are directly connected with some incident considered worthy of being narrated. According to Bauman, anecdotes "tend to be heavily dialogic in construction, often culminating in a kind of punch line, a striking, especially reportable statement rendered in direct discourse. That is to say, quoted speech is a significant stylistic feature of the genre" (Bauman 1986, 55).
While interviewing journalists,(2) I repeatedly came across personal experience narratives and anecdotes about a distressing episode in Argentina's history that took place during the presidential term of Dr Arturo Illia. For many years, Illia had practised as a medical doctor in a small provincial town, Cruz del Eje; later he held several political positions. He took office as President of Argentina on 12 October 1963 supposedly for a period of six years, as stipulated by the constitution in force at that moment. However, he was not able to complete his term of office because he was deposed by the armed forces.
Enough has been written about this incident, particularly from a political perspective, but it should be mentioned here that there are documents which show that those who conspired to displace him publicly admitted their error afterwards. Some of the sources of information I have consulted (Sanchez 1983, 162-7; Historia del Radicalismo 1983, 593-601; Verone 1985, 75-7) provide what Bausinger calls the "societal context" that gave rise to the anecdotes I focus on here.
On the night of 27 June 1966, knowing in advance about the coup d'etat the military was planning, Illia was in his office at the Pink House (Government House), accompanied by members of his cabinet, legislators, relatives and friends. Breaking into the assembly, three army commanders announced that, by resolution of the National Army, Illia had been removed from his post, and demanded he should leave government premises. Illia refused and a long wait ensued. Meanwhile, the rebel army took possession of radio and TV stations, the National Congress was occupied, and provincial governments fell under military control. The President's refusal to relinquish his position was met with an ultimatum received at daybreak. In the meantime, members of the Federal Police Infantry Guard broke into the presidential room, bearing arms. Displaced by force, Illia was taken from the Pink House early on the morning of 28 June. Shortly afterwards, the violence originally directed against the President …
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Publication information: Article title: The Anecdote as a Symbolic Expression of the Social and Cultural Milieu of Journalists. Contributors: Blache, Martha - Author. Journal title: Folklore. Publication date: Annual 1999. Page number: 49. © 1998 Folklore Society. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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