Sex and Money in Contemporary Legends
The mouse in the Coke bottle, the promiscuous cheerleader, the exploding Pop Rocks candy, the Kentucky Fried Rat. If the ballad and the fairy tale were the archetypal folklore forms of an earlier age, such contemporary legends constitute the preferred narrative genre of the late twentieth century. In Manufacturing Tales, award-winning folklorist Gary Alan Fine presents a major new theory of the creation and diffusion of contemporary legends in modern society.
While ballad and fairy tale arose in folk communities and spread through trade and migration, contemporary legends thrive in societies crosscut by varied communication channels and relatively open networks. By looking at the social-structural background, the performance context, the personality of the teller, and the content of the text, we gain insight into the formation, dissemination, and disappearance of these modern legends.
Fine identifies sex and money as key themes in contemporary legends, reflecting the public’s disguised attempts to deal with major contemporary preoccupations. From the AIDS crisis to fears of food contamination in restaurants, popular anxieties are reflected in folklore. As dramatic, moving, comic, and involving texts, contemporary legends build relationships among acquaintances and strangers; as depictions of the world that we face every day, they provide perspective on potential challenges; and as shared information, they elaborate a consensual understanding of reality.
Gary Alan Fine is professor and head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Georgia. He received the Opie Award for his book With the Boys: Little League Baseball and Preadolescent Culture.