Quick announcements: first of all soz for the late posting, see point three, second I went skydiving Wednesday (SPOILER ALERT I survived) and third, related to the first, the posting steam might get a bit tenuous over the next few weeks because next Sunday 2nd July I fly back to the states. This week and next, I’m trying to sort out my summer and see people before we go to the four winds. Then the next day I’m back it’s 4th July besides which, that first week might be a bit of an adjustment period all whilst seeing friends and family. All this whilst sorting out my living and working situations. I will post about skydiving with pictures (got a super sweet black t-shirt AND a sticker to boot) at some point.
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I will keep updates coming. I’m getting some new equipment when I get back to the states including a new laptop. I’m hoping to start a monthly podcast by September and a fin and louie animated cartoon by December all depending on how long it takes for the dust to settle.
I watch a lot of cartoons. I like adult cartoons like Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman and I like youtube channels like Psych2Go and Grickle (if you haven’t seen any grickle stuff, you are in for a seriously strange treat). However the majority of cartoons I watch, I’ve noticed, are less comedies and more educational which is a trend that I am personally very pleased with. Tonight I’m sharing with you one of those educational cartoon channels:
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With ‘MERCUA DAY (4th July) around the corner I figured it might be interesting to look at the playlist “American Folk Heroes – 2016”
- The Mythology of America 7m23s
“The USA is pretty unique in its youth. It lacks the deep mythological background many other countries have developed, but that doesn’t mean the early Americans didn’t tell stories. In fact, their fiction is some of the most self-aware we’ve ever seen. So let’s talk about the “mythology” of America and what it means to the country today.” (source: description)
- 5 Heroes of American Legend 10m12s
“Some of our favorite American folk heroes, a few of them lesser-known, a few of them on adverts across the country, and all of them reflective in some way of the unique zeitgeist of a newly-developed country.” (source: description)
- “A Good Laugh” — Original Short Story 21m01s
“In this story we create our own modern American folk hero!
But heroes aren’t always everything they promise, and ideas can always be killed…” (source: description)
First thing I noticed when writing this piece was that Tale Foundry uses “Roboto” font which is a nice touch.
- The Mythology of America: I like the idea of presenting a subject “American Mythology”, which this video does, then sharing some examples (the next video), then submitting an original story with in the genre of the subject presented (the final video). I like the animation style, reminds me of Hellenistic pottery and terracotta
. I like that this video challenges “The Frontier Thesis” about American Mythology and how it’s not reflective of modern american cultural psychology and speculates that hacktivist groups like Anonymous have become modern day folk legends. What’s also interesting is that they postulate about conspiracy theories being folk legend and that social media allows us to create an
online persona of who we want, as in we can become the folk hero we want to be. I’m personally not convinced that conspiracy theories count towards folklore (I will come back to this in my closing thoughts) but examining the role social media plays in crafting the modern folk legend is a theme that we will revisit in the third video.
- 5 Folk Heroes of American Legend: I like that this video presents a spectrum of folk legends. The are presented in the following order: #5 Johnny Appleseed, #4 Pecos Bill, #3 Paul Bunyan, #2 High John the Conqueror, and #1 John Henry. The way I read the legends between the video and my own research is like this:
Johnny Appleseed – A scrappy young man who exploited a frontier law to claim a bunch of land and sell it back for extra money, that law having to do with planting 50 apple trees on a plot of land. After making his money he retires and becomes increasingly religious and in a need of catharsis to atone for how he made his riches he became a sort of traveling priest who gave sermons and planted trees,
went vegetarian, and became a vocal animal rights activist. The last few years of his life are what he’s remembered for which can be interpreted as spin especially if the apple orchards he was planting, which grew bitter cider apples used for brewing hard cider by the way, were being used to produce and sell hard cider. In the case of marketing it makes perfect sense to “clean up ol’ Johnny Appleseed’s reputation by ignoring his early life and emphasizing the later life stuff”. Otherwise maybe it was a family and community which wanted to remember his later more charitable years.
Pecos Bill – A character invented by a soldier of fortune turned writer Tex O’Reilly in 1917. The inspiration for Pecos Bill, understanding O’Reilly’s background, is quite clear being “the ultimate cowboy who chased all the Mexican bandits out of Texas and then went to Mexico to go find more” (and chase them where?!). Tex O’Reilly fought in many wars himself including the Spanish–American War, the Philippine–American War, the Boxer Rebellion, he fought with Pancho Villa in Mexico, and served as an international policeman in Shanghai which gives insight into where O’Reilly’s “ultimate frontier justice warrior” came from but the authenticity of Pecos Bill being a “folk legend” is called into question by Tale Foundry. For my own reasons which I will expand on in the closing thoughts, I agree that Pecos Bill is not strictly a Folk Legend.
Paul Bunyan – This is a logging hero that lumberjacks created via the oral tradition. Paul Bunyan has become a cultural icon devoid of his previous identity traits sans his extremely large stature and equally large appetite frequently being showcased as a icon for pancake houses. This hollow legacy is sad as Tale Foundry notes but it seems fitting in that Paul Bunyan seems to be a legend created as someone who is just big to be powerful rather than having a true purpose which I argue doesn’t entirely qualify Bunyan as a Folk Legend.
High John the Conqueror – The idea of this story is a Prince from Africa was enslaved and brought to America where he would eventually outsmart his masters and escape helping other slaves along the way. He eventually fell in love with the Devil’s daughter and they went back to Africa.
John Henry – A railroad/terraforming hero who was said to be the best and fastest railway tunnel digger around until steam engine technology came around. However in a battle against obsolescence he challenged a steam engine to a race to bore a tunnel through a mountain. John Henry won but immediately died and with him died the age of unassisted labor.
- “A Good Laugh” original story by Ben this story seems to pose itself in the tradition of the American Folk Legend by presenting to us a narrator, Brandon, who is a journalist investigating a mysterious “legendary” viral media figure, “The Harlequin”. Brandon’s role as detective in this noir style story reflects a curious generation, us millennials; Brandon’s “straight man”, all work and very serious about it, persona is silhouetted against the eccentric and, literally, colourful Harlequin who represents anonymous viral media commentators who manifest in pranks and modern pieces of social art, from replacing the ammo in a gun with jelly beans to making signs reading “Quack Lives Matter”. She represents the troll, the edgelord, the chaotic counterpart to the Social Justice Warrior.
As the story progresses and comes to a climax, the narrator is changed by involuntarily participating and then witnessing the effects of The Harlequin’s newest gag and realising the absurdity of people who take life so very seriously whilst at the same time realising he himself is one of those who takes life very seriously. The Harlequin betrays her humanity for a brief moment towards the end in a way of exposing “the lady behind the mask”, however given that the masque is tattooed on separation of the persona and the person seems near impossible, she reveals to the narrator that she is human just like him and permits Brandon to write the story about The Harlequin. The implications of the Harlequin mask being permanently tattooed to her face as a representation of character does have disturbing implications with the ending when she mentions that the publishing of the story will martyr her character but she’s okay with that because everyone will move on anyway.
Both the ideas of the masque and the jester/entertainer providing the self-reflective role for society reminds me of the Blank on Blank interview with Robin Williams which I wrote about last week and could be a possible inspiration for the character.
From watching these videos and conducting a bit of extra research, I’ve come to a conclusion about what constitutes an American Folk Hero and how that differs from an American Legend. I believe a folktale requires the following three characteristics:
- Authenticity – story is a reflection of the storyteller(s) but also a reflection of their cross section of society
- Moral – has a message that manifests as a collective cultural concern
- Empathy – no matter how big the characters get, they have to be human and accessable
Taking these 3 criteria and checking them against the 5 American Folk Legends presented in video two, I created the “Mythology Spectrum”
I would argue that High John and John Henry are the only two “true folk heroes” on this list because both are from authentic sources (slaves from Africa creating an African slave-escapee Hero; Railroad workers creating a Machine like Man who represents the collective anxieties of obsolescence in the face of developing steam technology), both have morals (High John was a criticism of slavery and American Society; John Henry does win the race against the Machine but dies afterwards representing a possible acceptance of the inevitability of change and the repercussions of said change), and both have empathetic characters (High John was a mere man and fellow slave; John Henry was a man who despite his incredible endurance and strength is still capable of dying).
Whilst the other 3 stories fail one or more of these categories: Johnny Appleseed is Empathic in that it was based on a real man and it’s somewhat moral with Johnny’s animal rights activism but it’s more of a cover up story (lacks authenticity) of his younger life. Pecos Bill was written by a guy who was a soldier rather than an actual ranch hand cowboy which comprises authenticity, the moral is lacking if at all present and likely left out in favour sheer of entertainment value, and just like Superman from the early comics he’s not an emphatic character: he’s an overpowered super-being who is incapable of defeat. Then Paul Bunyan is similar to Pecos Bill in that it seems to lack a moral and empathy because the desire seems to be more for a character which can make a good (deus ex) machina for fun stories but Paul Bunyan’s origin is authentic though, stemming from lumberjack culture.
I believe that “A Good Laugh” qualifies as a folk tale and the two characters both represent the duality of the modern day folk hero. Both Brandon and The Harlequin come from a place of authenticity in that both are artistic commentators, one a comedic activist whilst the other a journalistic writer, which I can guess is something that the author can relate to being a writer himself. Both Brandon and The Harlequin represent a moral in that Brandon plays the skeptic and serious about it character who interrogates which he doesn’t understand, The Harlequin, to find out that The Harlequin views her role in society to play the troll or the edgelord but not for no reason but to shake people up with comedy as a reminder not to take everything so seriously. These two characters compliment each other in that society needs both: the outside commentator who can be martyred and the inside shaper who can interpret and analyse the flood of information that comes at us via the internet and it’s prosthetics appendages (phones, computers, tablets, all the screens). Finally both characters are empathetic. From the beginning we can relate with Brandon because he, like the audience, doesn’t really know much about his mysterious interview subject and so we learn along with him about this figure.
Then towards the end when The Harlequin reveals her humanity and reminds us that it’s good to laugh sometimes but there are also times to take things seriously and that too much of either results in a system which cannot be sustained. Then on another layer they’re both relatable because we get a sense from both that regardless of their respective ages (he comments on her youth, he doesn’t mention his age but from his conservative attitude it would not be a huge stretch to believe he represents an older and slightly out of touch character) they’re both trying to forge an identity and make a difference in an age of unprecedented potential for visibility just like so many of us millenials trying to make sense of the world in any little way we can.