I have a weakness for the horror film.
As a kid—and I mean a fairly young kid, no more than 9– my uncles used to drag me to see them at the theater…the only way my grandmother would allow them to go is if they took me with them. And because I was always a bit of a tomboy, I had to go and act like I was not scared. Of course, that’s how my fascination with being scared began.
When I look at the genre of horror films from the standpoint of folklore, it becomes even more interesting to me. So much of the thrill of horror is that it is based in folklore—urban legends, folk tales, supernatural and paranormal memorates, even religions (like voodoo and Catholicism) are all fodder for horror films. Many times, we are already familiar with the premise of the movie–the man with the hook in his bloody stump that terrorizes teenagers, the ghost that appears when you say their name in the mirror, the zombie, the vampire, the poltergeist, the haunted house, the demon—because they have appeared in our own communities through friend-of-friend retellings or personal memorates.
An interesting film, from a folklore standpoint, is Candyman, which is based on the short story “The Forbidden,” by Clive Barker. The protagonist in the film, Helen, is a graduate student studying the urban legend of the Candyman. As she traces the roots of the legend, and its possible meanings for the culture that perpetuates the tale, we are drawn deeper into the supernatural aspects of the film. The dialogue of the Candyman bears similarity to Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods, in that the Candyman, like the Gaiman’s gods, depends on the belief for survival. The Candyman kills so that he will not be forgotten, so that his name will be written on walls. He cites Helen’s disbelief in the legend as the reason for his most recent killing spree.
In the Candyman, we find elements of several popular urban legends combined. Candyman is summoned by saying his name 5 times, much the way Bloody Mary is rumored to be summoned. The initial tale regarding Candyman, is that he attacks a babysitter—a frequent theme in urban legends—with his hook for a hand—another frequent theme. In the course of her fieldwork, Helen finds candy that has been offered to Candyman that has razor blades embedded within it, which is a reference to other urban legends about tainted candy, which normally make their rounds at Halloween. Bees also figure into the Candyman tale, and bees frequently have folkloric associations, particularly in Celtic culture, of being messengers between the spirit world and our own.
Horror films, with their frequently supernatural or paranormal themes, use folk beliefs and folkloric components to draw us into the plot and make us suspend our disbelief. The familiarity of traditional culture helps us to form a connection with the plot and the characters, and in turn, the genre of horror transmits traditional culture. In many respects, horror has been a terribly underrated genre, just full to the brim of commentary on culture. What scares us is very telling of our culture. And there’s a reason that horror movies tend to become more popular as the economy tanks. People are scared, and rather than be scared that they aren’t going to be able to keep a roof over their heads, or food on their tables, they would rather externalize that fear and be afraid of the Candyman, or Michael Meyers, or Freddy, or Jason, or Ghostface (and Scream is a very sharp commentary.) The added bonus is that they get to leave those guys at the theater. Horror films and horror literature fill a vital need for catharsis in our culture.
This gallery contains 2 photos.
One of my professors, and a mentor in my Folk Studies program, Dr. Erika Brady, has a picture in her office. It is a lithograph of a smiling boy in a straw hat, sent to her by a young girl and her mother, after the young girl shared an “old hag” experience with the professor. […]
This is a poem that I originally was sort of, commissioned, to do. When my Grandmother had her 80th birthday, we had a huge party–complete with a program. We needed something to go on the back of the program, and so my mother said, “Why don’t you write something for your Granny?”
I always find it difficult to put into words the feelings about those closest to me. But I don’t think I could have described the way I see my grandmother any better than I did here. She is the one who taught me, from the very beginning, that women have to be strong to survive, and that love and duty are often so closely intertwined that they cannot be unbound from each other.
Her mettle tested
until she was as sharp and honed
as the shears that lopped off
her soft brown curls
fueled by pride,
keen as any razor.
Her hair boy-short
made it more important
to never be seen without lipstick.
By lean years and wars.
By plowing your life into the ground
beneath shiny sharp discs.
By the raising of six children—
five boys and a girl.
By the husband whose dying
took its sweet time.
By too much sun or too much rain on a crop,
or any of God’s other calamities
accidents that break your children irrevocably.
But her work-hardened hands
Held grandchildren as if they were eggs
As she sang them hymns and rocked them in her arms.
They soothed a dying husband’s dented and sunken brow.
They knotted themselves time and again as her son
lay beneath crisp white sheets,
his legs as useless as her tears.
Steel in the spine
makes bending difficult,
and she was not the kind of woman
who thought she was wrong.
One learns to keep distance
from the sharp side of a tongue.
Steel is formed
by melting iron and carbon.
Or is it
love and duty completely intertwined
and tried by fire?
I was recently able to interview Carlton Conner, a former funeral director, and licensed embalmer–for 53 years!
Mr. Conner has seen quite a few changes in funerals in South Central Kentucky over the years, and he certainly knows his stuff! He can tell you who has directed, and where each funeral home has been in Warren and the surrounding counties for the last 50 years. He discusses how embalming was once done in homes, and how changes in the billing practices of funeral homes has made them more professional.
It is amazing how many services the funeral home performs for the family when a loved one has died! From the pick up of the body, to embalming, to makeup and hair, all the way through digging and filling in the grave and delivering the flowers, including typing the guest registry for the family; it is truly a full-service profession.
Mr. Conner also discusses the changes that the popularization of cremation is making in the business, and his view of why cremation is becoming a more popular choice.
You can hear Mr. Carlton Conner’s interview here at Connor Interview.
This poem is about taking my “nephew” to the cemetery one Memorial Day many years ago to replace the flower arrangement on my grandfather’s tombstone. The tradition of decorating graves on Memorial Day is becoming less common, but in my family, at least, it is still part of the Memorial Day practice. Along with family picnics and ice cream.
We walk past stones
like a hillbilly’s teeth
others broken and stumpy,
sitting at wild angles where
the ground has shifted
from the turning over
of stubborn old men.
Moles have been working the landscape
so I warn him about the soft ground.
“Don’t turn an ankle,” I tell him softly.
“Can they hear us?”
the mounds of earth
“I think they turn
their hearing aides off.”
But his eyes,
black as the coal strip-mined
from the ridge behind us,
do not believe me.
We stuff the old flowers
in a Wal-Mart sack, and
I carefully arrange the new ones,
just as I had
the old man’s suit.
The flowers are more pliant.
He digs the bare earth
with the toe of his Nike.
“Why doesn’t the grass grow?”
was an ornery old cuss,” I say.
more than a little nervous—
and slips his hand in mine,
trying to look like
he’s doing it for me–
after all, he is seven.
“Come on,” I say,
and relieved, he runs for the car,
while I say goodbye.
Seat belts on, him in the back
away from the airbag, he asks,
“Are we going to make ice cream?”
I wipe my eyes
and smile in the rearview mirror.
“Of course,” I say.
“It’s Memorial Day.”
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Diana Goad, who is the Director of Goad Funeral Home in Scottsville, Kentucky. I approached Diana about being part of the Allen County Project that I am working on through school, and was so pleased that she was willing to take part. You can listen to the Goad Interview by clicking on this link.
Diana is an extremely busy woman, but just delightful to talk to, and her knowledge about her community and their practices related to funerals was really quite amazing. She is a competent businesswoman, quite articulate, and has more energy than most people I know, and she made for a delightful interview.
Because Scottsville is a small community, they seem to feel the death of each of their members more acutely than those of us from bigger cities. The kinds of memorial items they send to the family also deviate quite a bit from the traditional flowers sent in years past. Diana also discusses the reasons that people may choose cremation over a traditional burial, the process of removing a body from a private home, and the role that religion plays in the grieving process.
This poem is about a tomboy… and about how difficult it can be sometimes to not be the most feminine girl on the planet. There are definite folkloric links in the poem, in the description of the culture, in the identification with that culture, and quite simply, in the way that gender roles are transmitted in the poem.
I come from cars on blocks and the
brown yard underneath
fingernails stained black and
greasy handprints on a once white sink
where the bar of Ivory is gritty and gray
and fifty-five gallon drums of used motor oil
leave lovely leaky rainbows in puddles.
I fear nothing because I had to be stronger
and smarter and unwilling to cry in the face of
boys who wanted to be tougher than me.
So I gritted my teeth and picked up earthworms
and dangled spiders in the faces of other girls
who were not like me, who shrieked and
covered their pretty faces with their white hands.
I come from engines hanging from low tree limbs
in place of swings, fastened to
chains thick as your wrist.
I come from six ounce Cocolas in the ice chest
and a crate of returnable bottles in the floor.
I come from showing off the slicks
mounted in tubbed-out wheel wells
and bored over 454′s.
I come from a son who wanted a son
and found one in a daughter
I come from displacement, from disappointment
from falling asleep in my bed smelling paint fumes
and hearing hammers pound out dents, from
wishing I was wearing grease-stained jeans
instead of crinoline slips, pony-tails instead of
french twists, Castrol instead of Cover Girl.
I come from dirty hands and well-polished tools
the torque wrench, the ball-peen hammer,
the sanding block and the phillip’s screwdriver.
I come from red necks and tattoos on biceps
straining against valve cover bolts
When I was a girl, my daddy told me
I could be anything I wanted to be.
I told him I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to be like him.
“Anything,” he said, “but that.”
In an effort to get into the 21st century, and create a spot online to display my schoolwork, I’m starting a blog.
Now, in my former life, my undergraduate life, I was an English major, so I do a fair bit of writing, and I always have. Since I was always pretty good at doing it, I’ve been entrusted with teaching others how to do it, as I pursue a graduate degree in Folk Studies. I love teaching, I love writing, and I love hearing and telling stories. Folk Studies is the place where all that seems to come together for me.
I’m often asked exactly what it is that I study, and that isn’t as easy to answer as one might think. After all, even folklorists can’t seem to come up with a definition of exactly what folklore is. Basically, I study everything, because folklore is everywhere. Folklore, like everything else, is a matter of perspective.
When you go somewhere new, you watch people. You see how they interact with other people; how they talk, the phrases they use, the things they eat, the products they make, even the way they shake hands (or don’t shake hands) tells you something about who is an insider to that cultural group, and how you, as an outsider, can fit into that group. In order to learn these things that might make you part of the group, you don’t go to school, or find the rules written down somewhere in a law book. You learn from other people. You either watch them perform their rituals, or you listen to them tell their stories, or you look at the things they make. This is what we call the transmission of traditional culture–and traditional culture is what the folklorist studies. My primary interests are folklore in literature, supernatural folklore, and folk belief; but I’m also interested in folklore and medicine, and narrative forms of folklore.
Huh? I like to look at the way folklore is used in literature–how does Stephen King incorporate superstition into his stories, or how does Washington Irving use legend to make his writing more accessable and believeable? I’m interested in ghost stories and haunted places and what we really need to do if the zombie apocalypse occurs, and when we can expect it to happen. I’m interested in how people practice their faith, and exactly what things they believe that may or may not be taught from a traditional pulpit. I’m also interested in folk healing, which modern medicine may disregard, but still seems to work for those who practice it in the hills and hollars of my Kentucky home.
So, this is the introduction of diggablechick, my blog to talk about the wonderful world of traditional culture. I’m new to this, and I’m sure things will continue to change as I learn what I’m doing. But I gaurentee you will learn something as I learn something…so stick with me. We’re going places!