Academic journal article Western Folklore

Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies

Article excerpt

Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in Staged High School Drunk Driving Tragedies. By Montana Miller. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2012. Pp. xx + 160, foreword, illustrations, bibliography, index. $31.95 cloth, $25.95 e-book.)

Montana Miller's Playing Dead investigates the anti-drunkdriving folk drama "Every 15 Minutes" through a utilization of- and critical inquiry into-the theory of play. As Miller outlines in the second chapter, "Every 15 Minutes" (E15M) is part of the contemporary response to drinking and driving as a social problem. A two-day-long folk drama involving schools, law enforcement and the community, E15M uses staged accident scenes, mock deaths, public testimonials and other devices to change students' perceptions of drinking and driving.

One way to understand Miller's work is to recognize that contemporary folklore is defined by its concern with context, which has been made possible by the micronization and simplification of complex recording equipment as well as improved fieldwork techniques, to produce greater fidelity and accuracy in documenting and transcribing the totality of a folklore event. Because of her extensive fieldwork and attention to detail Miller's work is able to focus on the ambiguity, shifting modes of participation, meaning and paradoxical joys found through creating misery.

The work is efficiently organized and economical in presenting information, theories and debates. Chapter One introduces the reader to the general structure of El 5M, the chief focus of Miller's investigation and a brief introduction to folk drama, play and scene. Chapter Two outlines the history of anti-drunk-driving initiatives as well as competing theories of risk prevention. Miller's summation of competing theories and practices of behavioral modification is cursory and the work abandons any significant dialogue across disciplines early on. Certainly the focus on play frames is the intent of the book but the tight focus shelters the work from larger concerns Miller herself acknowledges: coercion within highschool settings; behavioural modification; inculcation of beliefs and values; efficacy of various programs. Much more successful is her discussion of the ideological and performative antecedents of "scare tactics," from the Highway Safety Foundation to Hellhouses and other "didactic rituals. …

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