American Folklore is that folk tradition which has evolved on the North American continent since Europeans arrived in the 16th century. While it contains much in the way of Native American tradition, it should not be confused with the actual tribal beliefs of any real band, nation or community of native people. American Folklore, rather, is that strange fusing of European ideals of "civilization" with a European obsession with the "exotic" and the "savage." Anyway you slice it, American Folklore is essentially about immigrants and their misunderstanding of each other, and of the new landscape they found themselves conquering, and of the people that had already been there when the first "white men" arrived.
"Folklore" itself is a term rife with contradiction and confusion, and does little to accurately describe what it seeks to describe. The best way to characterize American Folklore is to say that it is comprised of those secular tales which, while possibly religious in nature in some cases, mostly conerned themselves with making mythic the mundane beliefs of an itinerant people. American Folklore is particularly interested in manufacturing a ready-made national identity for its disparate, multi-lingual, multi-cultural society. It seeks to create a big picture for the nation to rally around. It uses many tools, including false history, magical realism, satire and an almost maniacal obsession with the exoticism of "local color." Those tools can be deployed as a means of appealing to the "better angels" of the American conscience. But just as often, they can be abused for the agrandizement of a few at the expense of key groups within the whole. In many cases, both uses coexist in an interesting, beautiful, sickening and deadly "melting pot" of intentions.
Ultimately, American Folklore is a constant intertwining of the new and the old, the mechanical and the pastoral, the mundane and the miraculous, for no other purpose it seems than to fill up the space of a lazy afternoon.
Categories of American Folklore:
- Tall Men and their Tall Tales
- Songs and Games