Folklore | Folklore in Video & Film
F205 | 2409 | Johnson


William Thoms conceived the term Folk Lore in 1846 to replace a pair
of terms current at the time: Popular Antiquities and Popular
Literature. Thoms suggested the new term because, among other
reasons, neither of the cur-rent phrases adequately described what
folklorists were interested in as a whole. Since the advent of modern
media, so many new ways have evolved to spread and reinforce folk
belief and other kinds of folklore, that a new term, Popular Culture,
has also been adopted to de-scribe these new forms. The difference
between folklore and popular culture is sometimes very difficult to
determine, if such a distinction can really be made at all. One such
difference seems to be that folklore forms exist in unstandardized
multiple variation, while forms of popular culture exhibit multiple
variation that is standardized. While topics that interest folklore
scholars appear on film and video, the presentation of such topics
are standardized (un-changed) in that they are “frozen” onto film.
This course will deal with a number of issues of folk belief and
worldview reinforced, debated, propagated, and spread by film and
video, and it will explore whether folklore is really altered by
standardization. Many traditional ideas are spread by cinema,
television, and video tapes in modern America. Samuel Coleridge
suggested in an essay in the late eighteenth century that readers be
asked to “suspend their disbelief” when reading fiction. It is
interesting that neither the documentary (exegesis) nor the drama
(diagesis) in Western worldview asks its viewer to suspend disbelief
about certain cherished ideas. Both forms are more related to belief
legends that fictional folktales, because even some dramas are cast
as reenactments of “true stories.” Moreover, there is a growing
number of television productions that are marketed as documentaries,
but are closer to what Michael Shermer calls entertainmentaries.
While these films and videos are presented as “truth,” clear and
critical reasoning are neglected and even ignored in their rhetoric.

This course will explore ways of critically viewing and examining
folklore in video and film. In spite of the powerful influence of
science on American worldview, many people still cling to beliefs
others think are illogical and unreasonable. Tools for critical
thinking will be explored in readings. A major goal of this class
will be to assist students to develop skills for thinking critically
about a wide variety of folk belief common in our times. Moreover, it
is hoped that they will also appreciate the great variety of folk
beliefs that exist in the world around them.