Janeček Petr

International Society for
Contemporar y Legend Research,
26th International Conference,
Dublin, Ireland, July 7 – 9, 2008.
Contemporary legends, rumors, gossip
and other ephemeral forms of folk narratives
typical for postmodern society represent
one of the most interesting issues
of contemporary social sciences. Since
the 1980s, when these fictional narratives
told as true were “discovered” by
U.S. folklorists, their study attracted not
only specialists in folk narratives, but
also cultural anthropologists, sociologists,
literary historians, media researchers
and scholars from other disciplines.
The vanguard of the study of these narratives
has always been represented by the
International Society for Contemporary
Legend Research (ISCLR). This scientific
society, founded in 1988 in Sheffield, UK,
originated from (now almost legendary)
Sheffield theoretical and terminological
seminars organized by British folklorist
Gillian Bennett and Canadian folklorist
Paul Smith. It was the ISCLR that coined
the now standard term for these narratives
“contemporary legend” (instead of
urban legend and urban myth preferred
by media and popular culture) and it
was the ISCLR publications – the journal
Contemporary Legend and the newsletter
FOAFTale News – which are now
regarded as standard research tools for
anyone interested in contemporary oral
tradition. The most important part of the
ISCLR activity is its annual international
conferences, held in North America and
Europe. The last, 26th ISCLR conference,
titled Perspectives on Contemporary Legend,
was held in Dublin, Ireland, July 7-9,
2008, with more than twenty active participants
from the fields of folkloristics,
cultural anthropology, psychology, literary
history and media and cultural studies.
The majority of the presentations
were devoted to well–documented case
studies of actual legend traditions; the
most interesting ones were Contemporary
Legends Are Ephemeral: What Was
Really Told About the Hatchet–Lady At
Red Rocks, Colorado by Michael J. Preston
(University of Colorado, USA), The
Search for Winnie the Puma. Wild Animals
in Civilized Environment by Theo
Meder (Meertens Institute, The Netherlands),
Japanese Ghost Lore by Gunella
Thorgeirsdottir (University of Sheffield,
UK) and Collecting Student Lore in Göttingen:
Expectations and Results by Christine
Shojaei Kawan (Enzyklopädie des
Märchens, Germany). Two special sections
were devoted to historical narratives;
these included papers on various
local guises of traditional folkloric character:
Spring-heeled Jack – Unmasking
Spring-heeled Jack: A Case Study of
a 19th Century Ghost Panic by David
Clarke (Sheffield Halam University, UK)
and Urban Maniac Or Resistance Fighter?
Rumours And Legends About the Spring
Man by Petr Janeček (National Museum,
Czech Republic), and interesting sociocultural
interpretation of Soviet post-
WWII cannibalism narratives in The
Legend of the Sausage Factory: Post-
War Images of Violence and Evil by Eda
Kalmre (Estonian Literary Museum,
Estonia). One interesting section touched
on economical exploitation of folk beliefs
by mercantile corporations – e.g., the
so-called Spikeys and date-rape drug test
strips utilizing the false belief in drink
spiking in clubs and discotheques (Crime
Legends in Different Media by Peter
Burger, Leiden University, The Netherlands)
or sleeping gas alarms inspired by
false public scare of gas attacks directed
against tourist in caravans, trucks and
trains (Gassed and Robbed by Sandy
Hobbs and Seonaid Anderson, University
of the West of Scotland, UK). The issue
of deliberate utilization of folk beliefs
was also touched on in other papers, the
most interesting ones being Contemporary
Legend: A Fundamentally Political
Act by Bill Ellis (Pennsylvania State University,
USA), interpreting political use of
rumors in official U.S. propaganda during
the Gulf and Iraq Wars, and Man Disposes,
God Discloses: Legend of the Levees
by Carl Lindahl (University of Houston,
USA), interpreting African–
American
rumors about deliberate flooding of lowincome
neighborhoods of New Orleans
during the hurricane Katrina disaster
in order to save rich “white” neighborhoods.
Mechanisms of planting false
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r e p o r t s
beliefs in the media and wider cultural
systems were subjects of other interesting
papers – What Else is Black, White
and Read All Over: Legends That Sounds
Like News in a journalistic interpretation
of Russell Frank (Pennsylvania State
University, USA) and an anthropological
interpretation in Contemporary Legend
and Cultural Proscriptions by Mark
Glazer (The University of Texas–Pan
American, USA). In comparison with
earlier conferences, there was a slight
shortage of purely psychological papers,
one interesting exemption being Classifying
Contemporary Legend By Their Psychological
Function: A New Look by David
Main (University of West of Scotland,
UK). The twenty-sixth international
conference of the ISCLR showed again
that investigation of contemporary legend
is far from the scientific fad typical
of the 1980s and 1990s, but still attracts
more international scholars from various
fields, most notably anthropology
and media studies, and from a still-growing
number of countries (represented not
only by “traditional” English-speaking
countries, but also Western European
countries like Germany or the Netherlands
and Eastern European countries
like the Czech Republic and Estonia). Let
us hope that the next conference held in
Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada in 2009,
will present similarly interesting issues
and topics.
Petr Janeček

Vydání: 10, 2008, 2