Posted by: rationalpsychic | Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Where is the modern folk tale?

Hi. I’ve been stinging over my self-imposed thralldom to my parents. They love me, they care enough to share their home while I am only able to get temporary work. In short, I currently don’t have the full-time work which would give me the velocity to escape their gravity well of food and shelter. (Soon…my beloved minions, soon.)

I’m working at developing some modern folk tales and would appreciate input. I’m curious about two matters: 1) Have you seen something you might call a modern folk tale? This should be more a more self-aware piece of writing than that of the urban legend variety. I realize that signs and signifiers are flying all over the place in such accounts. But I’m looking also for 2) a sense of what you think is missing in this area or places in popular culture, literature, movies, etc., where you think this subject is being addressed.

To give you some more thought-provoking material on the subject the following is quoted from a really good site I found, Modern Folktales. Their site, currently a shell, appears to have ambitious goals.

The following is quoted from their mission statement.

“…Over the course of the last 100 years, the common man has become the invisible man. His customs and traditions, as well as the stories he tells about himself, have been gradually stripped away. For the most part, today’s media leave him two options:

1. To sit passively and watch stories about characters who are richer than he is, more beautiful, and usually more educated. It is for these people that the American dream exists and the common man fulfills his social mission by watching them act out lives that are completely out of reach and which he has no realistic hope of ever obtaining.

2. The other option is to let himself be categorized as a Jerry Springer-like sub-human whose only hope in life is to not get caught cheating on his wife. Or, if he happens to be a little more money-driven, watch himself on so-called “reality shows” groveling in the most humiliating circumstances for some monetary prize.

There are many reasons why this state of affairs exists. But all of them can probably be traced back to the fact that a man who is strong in his identity and belief-systems, and is proud of them, is much harder to enslave than one who is not so fortunate. …”

I think that they point out some valuable observations. They may fall under the category of what is called alienation. But I think that an inability to tell stories about ourselves may point to a specific type of alienation. Here we are, surrounded by several varieties of media unavailable even forty years ago. Where has our story-telling ability gone? Or, has it only changed? Are YouTube sex videos and footage of guys having crotch-centered accidents while skateboarding the sum total of our ability to comment on ourselves? Or, more hopefully, is it just the shallow end of the folk tale pool?

I’m eager to hear your reactions and any ideas you might have for me. Thanks.



  1. Have they done an update on the fairy tales? You know – instead of Snow White can be a “queen” on coke, or Three Little Pigs about corrupt cops. Thought of doing it a few years back, maybe I’ll send you the ideas I started with. If I can find them.

    Enjoy home cooking while you can. And plan taking over the world!

  2. Yes, I think that the kind of fairy tale you mention is really weak satire. I think the folk tale should be transformative in the basic manner of taking our contemporary experience and showing it to us in a way you haven’t seen before. People are hungry for this kind of thing–not just in the US, but the modern world over.

    The novel is an avenue for doing this and I’m not suggesting that it’s a form we’re done with. I think of how flexible it is and how much I found Garcia Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude to be eye-opening.

    I just think that the novel I’ve started needs me to flex my writing muscles with a different set of weights first.

  3. That’s fair enough. Folktales started with some basic truths. Sometimes it was a true event and sometimes it was lessons “we” wanted to share with those who follow us. The challenge is to make the folktale about modern issues without writing it in a time-limiting way. Folktales lasted long because we could relate to the core message.

    Maybe start with that. Look at what are the core messages / inherent story of a few folktales. And then look around our world today and think if they still hold the same truth and whether there are new issues we need to face today.

    Or do you want to re-write the inherent meaning of the folktales in a modenr setting?

  4. hey, barrie, neil gaiman and joss whedon are the two pop culture gurus i like best, and both are deeply rooted in folktaledom, i think.

  5. I don’t know joss whedon. But neil gaiman’s “Coraline” gave me the creeps like Hansel and Gretel should give us the creeps. Testing a boy’s finger width to see if he’s ready for the oven. My goodness!

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