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89 DOI: 10.7330/9780874219067.c005 Conclusion What Do I Do Now? So, what should you do with your new understanding of folklore now that you’ve (almost) finished this book? Class assignments aside, the knowledge and skills of a folklorist are (perhaps surprisingly) quite useful in the real world, so let’s consider some ways in which you might use them. One thing that most students discover upon learning the ins and outs of folklore is that they start seeing it everywhere. Stuff that simply never caught your eye before will suddenly jump to the front of your attention and you’ll be going, “Hey—is that folklore ?” This provides a great next step: start putting your new understanding of folklore to use identifying things as (or as not) folklore. You know how to go about it now—just remember the basic rules that folklore follows: it’s variable and it’s traditional. And don’t forget the second goal of a folklorist: not just finding but interpreting the folklore. While you’re out in the world discovering and identifying folklore, make sure you take the time to ponder what makes these kinds of cultural expressions unique and relevant, how they function in their cultural and social contexts, and what they mean to the people sharing them. If your coworker e-mails you an urban legend, take a moment (after the natural reaction of debating with your lunch pals whether or not it’s actually true) to consider what underlying social truth might be reflected in the story. When you hear a political joke at a party, pause in your laughter (or maybe keep laughing, just to maintain appearances) and think about what social function the joke teller intended the joke to have, and what the joke’s reception by the listeners communicated in return. At the next holiday celebration, when someone claims that the Jell-O salad wasn’t made the “right” way, take a Conclusion 90 moment to reflect on what it means to a family to have mutually agreed-upon “correct” versions of their traditional foods. In short, remember that thinking like a folklorist involves being both genuinely engaged in and consciously aware of your own cultural contexts—at the same time. You laugh at the joke, gasp at the legend, smile at the custom, and then you think about the meaning of those traditional forms within the group that shared them. It’s kind of like having X-ray vision1 —you’re seeing, reacting to, and participating in all the same things as the people around you, but you’re going a bit deeper, too, recognizing that there’s a whole world of shared understandings being symbolically communicated around us at all times. When this double awareness gains you an insight you’d otherwise have missed—when your awareness of the presence and significance of folklore allows you to engage more successfully with and appreciate the world around you—you’ll remember the single most important thing this book has told you: folklore rules. Note 1. That’s right, being a folklorist is like being a superhero. ...


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