Saturday, June 4, 2011

Folktales and Tradition

We don't grow up much on traditional tales anymore.

The old standbys, Goldilocks, Snow-White, Sleeping Beauty, we know them better from cartoons than from the actual, original stories. A lot is lost in the translation from Traditional Storytelling to modern rendition. The folklorist in me, who favors the old tales and ancient epics, laments the loss.

The folklorist in me also looks at the "new versions" and realizes that a new Tradition is being created for a new era, where reading, and especially reading for leisure, is taken for granted; where one doesn't need to travel miles and miles to see a show, but can call it up on one's TV at the press of a button.

It is bad or good? Better or worse? A folklorist doesn't pass judgment. It's for politicians and social activists. A folklorist observes: this is how it is. A folklorist may comment on the changes and the rise of new traditions, but a folklorist doesn't pass judgment.

How about the person who is also a folklorist? That person cannot be fully objective. Writers know that the emotional response will determine the choice of words, of rhythm, of other writing strategies that are mostly unconscious, even in non-fiction and in the spoken word.

Me, I prefer traditional tales. I teach about them, I share them whenever I can. It's my thing. However, I don't see the modernized versions as the product of evil manipulation. Like the old tales, the modern, televised, comic-ized, cartoonized tales based on old stories, are a Tradition in that is it shared by a group of people, and the sharing creates a bond of familiarity. It's not the village square anymore, where the Minstrel stops to sing about Saint George and the dragon.

It's TV, and then Social Media, and the function of the tale remains: to define a group, a community, those who are in the know and those who are not.

Consider this: an immigrant into the United States today will not feel truly at home in the larger American society until he becomes familiar with icons of pop culture. Not a fan, just familiar.

Everybody knows Bugs Bunny. And Disney. And if you're completely unaware of these two (as an example), then you will miss out on a lot of hints, references, and especially humor.

And that is Tradition: things that define a group and unifies it.

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