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Fakelore or pseudo-folklore is inauthentic, manufactured folklore presented as if it were genuinely traditional. Over the last several decades the term has generally fallen out of favor in the academic study of folklore because it places an unnecessary emphasis on origin (instead of ongoing practice) to determine authenticity. 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.[1]

The term fakelore was coined in 1950 by American folklorist Richard M. Dorson.[1] 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 S. 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.[2]

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.[3][4]


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".[5] Dorson complained that popularizers had sentimentalized folklore, stereotyping the people who created it as quaint and whimsical[1] – whereas the real thing was often "repetitive, clumsy, meaningless and obscene".[6] 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".[2] 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."[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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".[2] 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."[9] What was fakelore had become folklore again.

Examples of fakelore

American folk heroes

In addition to Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, Dorson identified the American folk hero Joe Magarac as fakelore.[2] 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.[10]

Other American folk heroes that have been called fakelore include Old Stormalong, Febold Feboldson,[2] Big Mose, Tony Beaver, Bowleg Bill, Whiskey Jack, Annie Christmas, Cordwood Pete, Antonine Barada, and Kemp Morgan.[11] Marshall Fishwick describes these largely literary figures as imitations of Paul Bunyan.[12]


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.[13] 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.[14]

Slender Man

An example in Internet culture is the Slender Man, an urban legend 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, it is most often described as abducting, stalking and traumatising people, particularly children.[15] Although the Slender Man was created by an individual, several scholars, including Jeffrey A. Tolbert and Andrew Peck, accept that it constitutes a form of folklore (and not fakelore) because of the ways in which it was taken up and circulated by other users.[16][17] Others have called it "the first great myth of the web".[18]

The Warriors of the Rainbow

Since the early 1970s, a legend of "Rainbow Warriors" has inspired some in the United States with a belief that the environmental movement fulfills a Native American prophecy. However, the origin of the "prophecy" is a 1962 book titled Warriors of the Rainbow by William Willoya and Vinson Brown from Naturegraph Publishers.[19][20][21]

While there are variations on the theme, especially as it has become popularized in Internet memes, the thread in all versions of the story is that a time of crisis will come to the Earth, that people of many races will come together to save the planet, and it is a Native American or First Nations prophecy.[20] Some versions of the story specifically state that this new tribe will inherit the ways of the Native Americans, or that native ways will die out to be replaced by the new ways of the "Rainbow" people.[22] Its roots lie in an evangelical Christian tract intended as a means of converting Native Americans to Christianity and encouraging them to give up their traditional cultures and religions.[20]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dorson, Richard M. (1977). American Folklore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 4. ISBN 0-226-15859-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Dorson (1977), 214–226.
  3. Newall, Venetia J. (1987). "The Adaptation of Folklore and Tradition (Folklorismus)". Folklore. 98 (2): 131–151. doi:10.1080/0015587x.1987.9716408. JSTOR 1259975.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Kendirbaeva, Gulnar (1994). "Folklore and Folklorism in Kazakhstan". Asian Folklore Studies. 53 (1): 97–123. doi:10.2307/1178561. JSTOR 1178561.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Dorson, Richard M. (1973). "Is Folklore a Discipline?". Folklore. 84 (3): 177–205. doi:10.1080/0015587x.1973.9716514. JSTOR 1259723.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Dorson, Richard M. (1963). "Current Folklore Theories". Current Anthropology. 4 (1): 101. doi:10.1086/200339. JSTOR 2739820.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Olson, Jon (1976). "Film Reviews". Western Folklore. 35 (3): 233–237. JSTOR 1498351.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> According to Newall, 133, the German folklorist Hermann Bausinger expressed a similar view.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Olson, 235.
  10. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, ed. Jan Harold Brunvand, Taylor & Francis, 1996, p. 1105
  12. Fishwick, Marshall W. (1959). "Sons of Paul: Folklore or Fakelore?". Western Folklore. 18 (4): 277–286. doi:10.2307/1497745. JSTOR 1497745.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Clifton, Chas (2006). Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America. AltaMira Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0759102026.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "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'"
  14. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 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.'"
  15. Gail Arlene De Vos (2012). What Happens Next?. ABC-CLIO. p. 162. ISBN 9781598846348.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Tolbert, Jeffrey A. (2013). "The sort of story that has you covering your mirrors":The Case of Slender Man" (PDF). Semiotic Review (2). Retrieved 13 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Peck, Andrew (2015). "Tall, Dark, and Loathsome: The Emergence of a Legend Cycle in the Digital Age". Journal of American Folklore. 128 (509). |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Digital Human: Tales". bbc.co.uk. 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Niman, Michael (1997). People of the Rainbow: Nomadic Utopia. University of Tennessee Press. pp. 136–137. ISBN 978-0870499890.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Interview with Michael Niman
  21. About Naturegraph
  22. Morton, Chris and Thomas, Ceri Louise (1998) The Mystery of the Crystal Skulls: A Real Life Detective Story of the Ancient World. Vermont, Bear & Company ISBN 978-1879181540.