Dr. Lynne McNeil (Utah State University) gave the William A. Wilson Folklore Archives Founder’s Lecture on Monday, January 30, 2023.
Responsible Folkloristics at the Intersection of “Public” and “Popular”
The recording of the lecture will soon be available on the BYU Library’s Digital Collections webpage.
The discipline of Folklore Studies has long struggled with “popularizers” of folklore–professionals and (as is more often the case) amateurs who bring the “stuff” of folklore (typically without academic analysis or context) to the general public in often sensationalist and simplified ways. Folklorists are understandably irritated by this; there is enough of a triviality barrier to our discipline without any additional trivializing by uninformed non-folklorists. Unfortunately, academics are not always the most engaging personalities, and deep academic rigor doesn’t always make for good entertainment. As Richard Dorson once pointed out, the best transcriptions of legends are those done with “no attempt to appeal to the general reader.” But is it really that difficult to bring folklore–thriving as it does on aesthetic appeal and communicative utility for everyday people–to general audiences? Stith Thompson bemoaned back in 1949 that most people “receive their ideas as to the nature of folklore” from popularizers, but in truth, most people–entirely appropriately–learn about folklore from each other. It is the documentation and analysis–what folklorists do with folklore–that is being misrepresented, not so much the folklore itself. And in fact, academia does produce engaging personalities; the discipline of Folklore Studies in Utah alone has involved many. The greater challenge comes in how to simplify the discipline in a way that retains rigor while still entertaining a broad population, one that typically has no idea that Folkloristics is even a field of study. This lecture will address my own (at times dubious) attempts to bridge the divide between the academic and the popular presentation of folklore.
Dorson, Richard. 1971. How Shall We Rewrite Charles M. Skinner Today? American Folk Legend, ed. Wayland Hand. Berkeley: U of California Press: 87-88.
Thompson, Stith. 1949. The Future of Folklore Research in the United States. Proceedings of the American Philological Society 93.3: 244-247.
Dr. Lynne S. McNeil is an associate professor of folklore in the English Department at Utah State University and serves as the Chair of the Folklore Program. Her research interests include legend, belief, fandom, the supernatural, and digital culture. She is the author of the popular textbook Folklore Rules (2013), and is the co-editor of Slender Man is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet (2018), Legend Tripping: A Contemporary Legend Casebook (2018), and This is the Plate: Utah Food Traditions (2020). Her work has also been published in several journals, including The Journal of American Folklore, Folklore Fellows Communications, Western Folklore, Contemporary Legend, and in numerous edited collections. Dr. McNeill is a regular cast member on the Travel Channel’s Paranormal Caught on Camera and makes regular appearances on other national television, radio, and podcast programs. She is currently working on a book project, Real Virtuality: Serial Collaboration and the Small Worldview, that addresses the intersection between offline folk culture and online networks.
Learn more on the Brigham Young website. (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked page for event registration)
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