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Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet by Russell Frank (review)
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Without question, the ubiquitous accessibility of the Internet and other computer-mediated communication technologies now prohibit most stories, jokes, or regional behaviors from remaining exclusive to their emic contexts. Many of the folkloric materials previously documented in face-to-face settings or via fax and photocopier are now emerging, circulating, and evolving in online contexts. But more importantly, the Internet medium has come to also generate new and unique forms of vernacular expression altogether. In Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet, folklorist and journalist Russell Frank skillfully chronicles the intersection of folklore, expressive communication, and symbolic interaction as it manifests in humorous forms on the World Wide Web from the turn of the millennium into the recent past.

Frank defines newslore as “folklore that comments on, and is therefore indecipherable without knowledge of, current events” (p. 7). As Frank explains, news stories are manufactured to present “all the news that’s fit to print”—a calculated viewpoint, at times playing on readers and viewers’ emotions along the way. In response, humorous newslore surfaces online as a kind of folk protest to the mass media’s reportage of a particular story; by creatively responding to current events through symbolic interaction, individuals gain a sense of empowerment over the mass media’s hegemonic presentation of the news while also processing their own emotions and perceptions. As a result, Frank argues, these creative expressions reveal a more accurate depiction of the values and worldviews of contemporary folk culture. Indeed, Frank sees the creative folk commentaries about the news as more salient and accurate indication of how ordinary Americans feel about a particular news event or ongoing story. The actual news itself is merely a launching point for vernacular expression, while the Internet manages to facilitate its dissemination; humor is the expressive vehicle of choice.

Frank begins with a fantastic introduction that manages to provide an overview of the important function and pervasiveness of humor online, particularly as it relates to social commentary on current events, as well as a brief history of the role of technology in the folkloristic discourse. From there, Frank examines political humor about Republicans and Democrats (especially Hillary Clinton) that circulated during the earlier, text-heavy communicative and symbolic expressive confines of the Web 1.0 era, such as forwarded e-mail and newsgroups. He transitions into the highly visualized nature of humor emanating from the folk responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina—namely user-manipulated, Photoshopped humor—as evidence of the growing preference for dynamic, interactive folkloric transmissions of the burgeoning Web 2.0 era. In particular, Frank’s expansive collection and analysis of 9/11 folklore and disaster humor is among the strongest material in the book.

Newslore winds down with an examination of “Bushlore,” in which Frank presents both textual and visual jokes about President George W. Bush collected throughout his presidency; online humor about commerce, including “list humor,” and a variety of humorous parodies of the formulaic presentation of the popular “Priceless” advertisement campaign by Master-Card; and a final analysis of other predominantly text-based humor collected and relating to turn-of-the-century events, such as the Y2K millennium bug, as well as a few recent news events. Overall, the materials covered in Newslore are predominantly text-oriented, save for Frank’s emphasis on visuality in 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and George W. Bush-related humor. Nevertheless, it is an impressive compilation of humorous texts from the mid-1990s into the mid-2000s. The lone drawback with Frank’s bombardment of various examples and salient folkloric material is that it yields more description and presentation rather than extended analysis and interpretation.

Frank’s journalistic background is evident throughout the course of Newslore.His writing is personable and highly accessible, and most of his chapters flow together seamlessly. Folklorists who are less familiar with past and current scholarly efforts to observe and analyze folklore on the Internet will likely find Frank’s research to be provocative, yet refreshingly enlightening, given the book’s cohesive narrative. Others may find some of the book foci to be somewhat antiquated in their purview. One of the greatest drawbacks to conducting and subsequently publishing research about folklore...



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