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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 2, June 1963

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Vol. XIX, No. 2, June, 1963

Alan Dundes

THE MODERN MASS MEDIA of communication have had an enormous effect upon American folklore. Folktales and folksongs may be diffused over the entire country in a matter of minutes as the result of one recitation, particularly if that recitation happens to be part ot a nationwide television program In time, this may tend to make American folklore more uniform in all parts of the country through diminishing the amount of individual variation that would be caused by longer chains of human transmission and, at the same time, by appreciably reducing regional differences. However, the importance of the contemporary mass media does not rest sirriply in greater and speedier diffusion of some of the traditional materials. The mass media also provide the bases for the formation of new folkloie.

Anyone interested in folklore origins who seriously doubts that the formation of folklore is a continuous process should examine the considerable body of oral tradition containing either direct or indirect references to well-known products advertised by the mass media. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find printed texts of this material because much of this material, like most American oral humor, includes elements which are culturally defined as obscene. Nevertheless, the fact that advertising humor is found in many of the predominant forms of contemporary American folklore, namely, moron jokes, humorous or depraved definitions, shaggy dog stories, and sick jokes, makes it worthy of the notice of professional folklorists.

The names of pioducts, advertising slogans and musical commercials are carefully contrived to make the public remember and buy particular products. Advertising men do not necessarily expect the public to retain the slogans and jingles permanently. In fact, slogans are often changed by sponsors and advertising experts regardless of the assimilation of an earlier slogan into oral tradition. The point is that although these commercial inventions are produced only for a limited objective, they often become folklore or a point of departure for jokes and other oral humor. No doubt the stylistic features of the commercials (e.g., rhyme and alliteration) and their widespread repetition by radio, television, magazines, newspapers, and billboards account, in part, for the extent of their influence upon American jokelore.

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