Ideas for a brighter future for all

Tell me a story: Folklore, fact and fantasy

"…the question isn’t whether or not something is real but when is it real and for whom."

When I was twelve or thirteen, the kids at school used to whisper about the Toy House, a lone weatherboard dwelling at the end of a cul-de-sac, hidden deep within an industrial estate. Picture the front yard, they’d say: its soil dry and red, clumps of hedge along the front boundary. Straggly trees dot one side of the garden, then grow haphazardly around the dead-end. And amid the boughs of those trees you’ll find fluffy toys, maybe a hundred of them, strung up with rope. Some toys dangle from a limb, others by a noose around the neck. If you go to the house, they’d say, the man who lives there will lurk inside, watching you while you survey the toys – waiting until you’ve found one to liberate from torture. With your arms reaching and your back turned, you won’t see him spring out to snatch you.

Folk stories like this have been a part of human life since we began communicating some 100,000 years ago. And they’re not simply historical – folklore is alive now, evolving in contemporary cultures day by day. Whether whispered in the playground, shared over cups of tea or recited around a campfire, folk stories help us to make sense of the world and each other, to understand where we’ve come from and where we’d rather be now. We pass folk stories between generations, first orally and now via multiple channels, and through this telling we create identities, establish patterns of behaviour, delineate right from wrong. Whether they tap into fear, excitement, longing or some other emotion, folk stories exploit the feelings that create or sever communal ties. And in this way they set expectations –determine how we do things round here.

Folklore, then, is the expressive life of a community. While its definitional nuances and level of authoritativeness differ from culture to culture, complicated further by its presence online, folklore is typically defined in contrast to institutional knowledge, or what we habitually label official knowledge. It’s not high or elite art. It’s not scientific or anthropological study. It’s not a product of commercial or popular culture. Rather, we understand folklore as non-

institutional or vernacular knowledge, knowledge about the world that we learn from participating in a community. Folklore can bestow upon us everyday beauty, like the wish silently uttered before blowing out birthday candles, and it can be deployed to resist or reframe our understandings of dominant power structures.

To read the rest of this article, please go to Griffith Review 79: Counterfeit Culture


Martine KropkowskiMartine Kropkowski is a writer and alumnus of Griffith University. Martine is currently a HDR candidate at The University of Queensland. Her research examines folklore practice in the online space, including the narrative techniques that communities employ to generate and communicate conspiracy rhetoric.


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