American Folklore and the Mass Media

American Folklore and the Mass Media

American Folklore and the Mass Media

American Folklore and the Mass Media


"This book shows how folklore- magic, miracles, and tales of enchanted princesses and genial giants- is still alive and well in the modern mass media.... contains a wealth of facts and observations with which to conjure." - Journal of Communication

"Dégh brings her decades of expertise in folk narrative to bear in this well-researched, provocative study of the interrelationship between traditional processes of folk narrative performances and modern mass media.... Highly recommended... " - Choice

"Spanning folk cultural developments as old as feudalism and as new as today's TV ad, -American Folklore and the Mass Media demonstrates how vital folklore remains, how often it absorbs- rather than being absorbed by- the most dramatic technological innovations and social realignments." - Carl Lindahl

"... all six essays are meaty and informative contributions to vital folkloric issues..." - Contemporary Legend


Few folklorists of our time have impressed me more than Rudolf Schenda. His profound knowledge of the cultural history of western civilization and his sober, no-nonsense evaluation of the social processes of folk‐ lore through the ages lack the euphoric enthusiasm and worshipful compassion for the folk that is so common in the works of professional folklorists. His pioneering approach to narratives and narration in the frames of the social communication of culture is far from romantic; it is a model for studying folklore in society. His approach is particularly attractive to students of folklore in the industrial age. Schenda never separated lore from the folk, nor did he speak of an independent and superior oral tradition. For him, the folk was never an idealized rural isolate unwittingly preserving national values but rather a collaborative product of negotiations between social classes. Implicitly, for Schenda, the folk are the common people constituting social, economic, occupational, and age subcategories that share a cultural tradition but at the same time are influenced by the consumer-oriented culture industry (Horkheimer and Adorno 1947). Folklore thus is the product of an ongoing historical process that consolidates the interaction of literary and oral, professional and nonprofessional, formal and informal, constructed and improvised creativity. With the advent of mass production—book printing and audiovisual reproduction—the earlier harmonious give and take between oral and nonoral folk‐ lore ceased to exist, and technical reproductivity (Benjamin 1963) dictated a different pace for folklore communication through new media.

Can we say that printed or electronically reproduced folklore, out of the normal context of traditional spinning rooms, firesides, and wayside inns, is not folklore? It retains all the criteria by which we judge what is folklore and what is not: it is socially relevant, based on tradition, and applied to current needs. As old wine in a new bottle, it appeals to a much larger population group than ever before, in fact, to a much broader array of diverse social groups than ever before. As we will demonstrate in this discussion, the phenomenon we identify as folklore permeates all society assisted by mass media; it is not ruled out as folklore simply because its bearers manipulate new instruments to fit the needs of modern consumers. Folklore blossoms and proliferates before our eyes as it emerges from new conditions more vigorously and forcefully, empowered with more authority and prestige, than ever before. Can we afford to retreat to the horse-and-buggy days, instead of wading . . .

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