Monday, July 16, 2012

A Remedy for Societal Discord: 5 American Fakelore Heroes

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 7:31 AM

Myths, folklore and heroes' tales are at their root contextually more than the just the sum of their parts. Fakelore differs from folklore in that fakelore is consciously manufactured yarning whereas folklore has a more organic genesis. Joseph Campbell, the eminent mythologist, comparative religion scholar and de facto philosopher, wrote extensively on folklore and hero's and is considered the foremost expert on the cultural roles myths play. In his seminal book “Hero with a Thousand Faces” Campbell elucidates how the tale of a hero is formed; “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” A hero's tale is single type of myth which conforms to one or more of the four functional types of myths Campbell defines.


The five American fakelore heroes which follow are examples of the “sociological” function which heroes' tales provide. The sociological function of heroes' tales is that they, in a broad sense, reinforce and justify a particular social or cultural stability. That mechanism of coalescence into an accepted social order through a mythological hero's tale is at the core of these five American fakelore examples. Each hero is an amalgamation of specific demographics which are reflected in the attributes of the heroes and their unique tribulations and triumphs. Curiously, these five American fakelore heroes emerged from the 19th century as America was reflecting inwardly on the effects of modernization and industrialization.

Naturally, the obvious question would be; which cultural and social catalysts are subconsciously at work now helping to shape future fakelore heroes' tales?

Paul Bunyan is the anthropomorphized concept of 19th century American continental expansion. He was depicted as a gigantic Lumberjack living and working in the America Northeast. He was aided in the deforestation of the Pacific Northwest by his colossal blue ox Babe.

John Henry is the embodiment of an allegory, namely man versus machine. It also has connotations of a general 19th century angst of modernization. It is perhaps also a tribute to the abolition of slavery because John Henry is ascribed to African decent. The fakelore of John Henry recounts his physical prowess during a railroad spike hammering competition with a steam engine machine. Ultimately, the machine wins out the competition.

Febold Feboldson is a conceptual hybrid of Old World water divination and Native American elemental magic. Febold Feboldson is erroneously label a Swede (Febold is not a Swedish name) and is said to have been a cloud-buster or rainmaker. Febold Feboldson's fakelore is indigenous to the corn belt and tornado alley, most notably Nebraska. Therefore, it's not surprising that the peoples manufactured a benevolent weather liaison.

Joe Magarac is an incarnation of the necessity to safeguard steel workers while discouraging them to unionize. Joe Magarac and his fakelore is relegated to the Pittsburg steel industry area. His last name is derived from the Slavic word for donkey; which was due in part to the fact that Pittsburg had a large Slavic immigrant population. Joe Magarac was born out of a an iron ore vein in the side of a mountain. He was said to be made of solid steel and was a simple man who lead rather spartan life. Joe Magarac became the patron saint of steel workers who would call on him for his altruistic protection amid the hazardous steel mill working conditions.

Captain Alfred Bulltop Stormalong is the nostalgic personification of a whaling culture in decline. Alfred Bulltop Stormalong is retold as fakelore in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts. The Captain is said to have been an enormous man who sailed on a ship so large that he had special hinged masts so as not to scrape the moon. The Kraken, of Norse Mythology, was a constant rival of the Captain until the fateful day that the Captain stirred up a massive eddy which swallowed the Kraken whole. Once thought to be a sailors tall-tale, the giant squid (Architeuthis dux) did occasionally surface as it was battling its arch enemy the Sperm Whale. The the mythologizing of the giant squid into the Kraken is analogous to the confusion between the unicorn and the narwal and mermaids and manatees.

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