Fakelore or pseudo-folklore is inauthentic, manufactured folklore presented as if it were genuinely traditional. The term can refer to new stories or songs made up, or to folklore that is reworked and modified for modern tastes. The element of misrepresentation is central; artists who draw on traditional stories in their work are not producing fakelore unless they claim that their creations are real folklore.
The term fakelore was coined in 1950 by American folklorist Richard M. Dorson. Dorson's examples included the fictional cowboy Pecos Bill, who was presented as a folk hero of the American West but was actually invented by the writer Edward J. O'Reilly in 1923. Dorson also regarded Paul Bunyan as fakelore. Although Bunyan originated as a character in traditional tales told by loggers in the Great Lakes region of North America, James Stevens, an ad writer working for the Red River Lumber Company, invented many of the stories about him that are known today. According to Dorson, advertisers and popularizers turned Bunyan into a "pseudo folk hero of twentieth-century mass culture" who bore little resemblance to the original.
Folklorismus, Anglicized to folklorism, also refers to the invention or adaptation of folklore. Unlike fakelore, however, folklorism is not necessarily misleading; it includes any use of a tradition outside the cultural context in which it was created. The term was first used in the early 1960s by German scholars, who were primarily interested in the use of folklore by the tourism industry. However, professional art based on folklore, TV commercials with fairy tale characters, and even academic studies of folklore are all forms of folklorism.
The term fakelore is often used by those who seek to expose or debunk it, including Dorson himself, who spoke of a "battle against fakelore". Dorson complained that popularizers had sentimentalized folklore, stereotyping the people who created it as quaint and whimsical – whereas the real thing was often "repetitive, clumsy, meaningless and obscene". He contrasted the genuine Paul Bunyan tales, which had been so full of technical logging terms that outsiders would find parts of them difficult to understand, with the commercialized versions, which sounded more like children's books. The original Paul Bunyan had been shrewd and sometimes ignoble; one story told how he cheated his men out of their pay. Mass culture provided a sanitized Bunyan with a "spirit of gargantuan whimsy [that] reflects no actual mood of lumberjacks". Daniel G. Hoffman said that Bunyan, a folk hero, had been turned into a mouthpiece for capitalists: "This is an example of the way in which a traditional symbol has been used to manipulate the minds of people who had nothing to do with its creation."
Others have argued that professionally created art and folklore are constantly influencing each other, and that this mutual influence should be studied rather than condemned. For example, Jon Olson, a professor of anthropology, reported that while growing up he heard Paul Bunyan stories that had originated as lumber company advertising. Dorson had seen the effect of print sources on orally transmitted Paul Bunyan stories as a form of cross-contamination that "hopelessly muddied the lore". For Olson, however, "the point is that I personally was exposed to Paul Bunyan in the genre of a living oral tradition, not of lumberjacks (of which there are precious few remaining), but of the present people of the area." What was fakelore had become folklore again.
Examples of fakelore
"Follow the Drinkin' Gourd"
Considered by many an authentic artifact of the Underground Railroad, the song "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd" is in fact of uncertain origin and was not published until 1928, sixty-three years after the end of slavery.
American folk heroes
In addition to Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, Dorson identified the American folk hero Joe Magarac as fakelore. Magarac, a fictional steelworker, first appeared in 1931 in a Scribner's Magazine story by the writer Owen Francis. He was a literal man of steel who made rails from molten metal with his bare hands; he refused an opportunity to marry in order to devote himself to working 24 hours a day, worked so hard that the mill had to shut down, and finally, in despair at enforced idleness, melted himself down in the mill's furnace in order to improve the quality of the steel. Francis said he heard this story from immigrant steelworkers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; he reported that they told him the word magarac was a compliment, then laughed and talked to each other in their own language, which he did not speak. The word actually means "jackass" in Serbo-Croatian. Since no trace of the existence of Joe Magarac stories prior to 1931 has been discovered, Francis's informants may have made the character up as a joke on him. In 1998, Gilley and Burnett reported "only tentative signs that the Magarac story has truly made a substantive transformation from 'fake-' into 'folklore'", but noted his importance as a local cultural icon.
Other American folk heroes that have been called fakelore include Old Stormalong, Febold Feboldson, Big Mose, Tony Beaver, Bowleg Bill, Whiskey Jack, Annie Christmas, Cordwood Pete, and Antonine Barada. Marshall Fishwick describes these largely literary figures as imitations of Paul Bunyan.
A number of Wiccan, Neopagan and even some "Traditionalist" or "Tribalist" groups have a history of spurious "Grandmother Stories" – usually involving initiation by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other elderly (and conveniently dead) relative who is said to have instructed them in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors. As this "secret wisdom" has almost always been traced to recent sources, or been quite obviously concocted even more recently, most proponents of these stories have eventually admitted they made them up. These "origin myths" are sometimes also referred to as "The Myth of the Wicca." In these cases, rather than a case of folklorists from outside the community calling the Wiccan stories "fakelore", phrases such as "Grandmother Stories" and "The Myth of the Wicca" have become synonyms and shorthand for a specific type of fakelore found within the communities in question.
An example of this in Internet culture is Slender Man or Slenderman, a fakelore tale created on June 10, 2009 by user Victor Surge on the Something Awful forums. Depicted as a tall thin man wearing a suit, with a blank, white and featureless face, he is most often described as abducting, stalking and traumatising people, particularly children. The Slender Man is the result of a contest launched on the Something Awful forums to edit photographs so that they contained "supernatural" entities.
Slender Man has been called "the first great myth of the web". While nearly everyone involved understands that Slender Man is not real, others have used the character in videos, stories, and even as a character in a video game.
- Dorson, Richard M. (1977). American Folklore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-226-15859-4.
- Dorson (1977), 214–226.
- Newall, Venetia J. (1987). "The Adaptation of Folklore and Tradition (Folklorismus)". Folklore 98 (2): 131–151. JSTOR 1259975.
- Kendirbaeva, Gulnar (1994). "Folklore and Folklorism in Kazakhstan". Asian Folklore Studies 53 (1): 97–123. doi:10.2307/1178561. JSTOR 1178561.
- Dorson, Richard M. (1973). "Is Folklore a Discipline?". Folklore 84 (3): 177–205. JSTOR 1259723.
- Dorson, Richard M. (1963). "Current Folklore Theories". Current Anthropology 4 (1): 101. doi:10.1086/200339. JSTOR 2739820.
- Ball, John; George Herzog, Thelma James, Louis C. Jones, Melville J. Herskovits, Wm. Hugh Jansen, Richard M. Dorson, Alvin W. Wolfe, Daniel G. Hoffman (1959). "Discussion from the Floor". Journal of American Folklore 72 (285): 233–241. doi:10.2307/538134. JSTOR 538134.
- Olson, Jon (1976). "Film Reviews". Western Folklore 35 (3): 233–237. JSTOR 1498351. According to Newall, 133, the German folklorist Hermann Bausinger expressed a similar view.
- Olson, 235.
- Breslow, Joel. Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History. http://www.followthedrinkinggourd.org/
- Gilley, Jennifer; Stephen Burnett (November 1998). "Deconstructing and Reconstructing Pittsburgh's Man of Steel: Reading Joe Magarac against the Context of the 20th-Century Steel Industry". The Journal of American Folklore 111 (442): 392–408. doi:10.2307/541047. JSTOR 541047.
- Fishwick, Marshall W. (1959). "Sons of Paul: Folklore or Fakelore?". Western Folklore 18 (4): 277–286. doi:10.2307/1497745. JSTOR 1497745.
- Clifton, Chas (2006). Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America. AltaMira Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0759102026. "The entirely spurious initiation-by-grandmother tale that Sanders spun for June Johns, an English journalist, in the 1960s gave birth to another bit of Pagan slang, 'the grandmother story'"
- Adler, Margot (1979). Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 94–5 (Sanders) p.78 (Anderson) p.83 (Gardner) p.87 (Fitch) p.90 (Pendderwen). ISBN 0-8070-3237-9. Author quotes Alex Sanders claim of initiation by grandmother as a child in 1933, yet the Alexandrian rituals, "so resemble the Gardnerian rituals [written in the 1940's] that Alex's story of their origin is often questioned." Victor Anderson of the Feri Tradition tells a similar story, but his rituals also seem largely based on Gardner's writings. Author adds: "Gardner, for whatever reasons, preferred to maintain the fiction that he was simply carrying on an older tradition. This fiction, wrote Aidan [Kelly] , has put modern Craft leaders 'into the uncomfortable position of having to maintain that stance also, despite the fact that doing so goes, I suspect, against both their common sense and better judgement.'" Quoting Ed Fitch, "I think all of us have matured somewhat. After a while you realize that if you've heard one story about an old grandmother, you've heard six or seven just like it." Quoting Gwydion Pendderwen, "Yes, I wrote a fantasy. It was a desire. It was something I wished would happen. Perhaps that's why there are so many of these fantasies running around in the Craft today, and people trying to convince other people that they're true. It is certainly so much more pleasant and 'magical' to say 'It happened this way,' instead of TWAT! 'I researched this. I wrote these rituals. I came up with this idea myself.'"
- Gail Arlene De Vos (2012). What Happens Next?. ABC-CLIO. p. 162. ISBN 9781598846348.
- Patrick Dane (2013). "Why Slenderman Works: The Internet Meme That Proves Our Need To Believe". whatculture.com. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
- "Digital Human: Tales". bbc.co.uk. 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-20.