Folklore | Folklore in Video & Film
F205 | 10395 | 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 current 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 describe 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.

Fulfills COAS Arts and Humanities, TOPICS