Culture Shifts, Playground Moves: Abstractions from the Concrete

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29 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 9 μήνες)

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Panel: “The Environment is the Composition:” Sites, Artifacts, and Structures of Feeling.”


(or, “Folklore as Applied Kandinski”)


Paper Title: “Culture Shifts, Playground Moves: Abstractions from the Concrete”

Anna Richman Beresin


It makes sens
e to use a visual artist like Kandinsky as our guide, as the literary textual
methodologies that used to be our models come from a time when only the text was analyzable.
If the composition is the environment, then our folklore study is no longer the te
xt, the item, the
song, the drama, but the interplay between art and culture, foreground and background, or in my
case, playground and background. The framework is the focus, not the isolated genre.

If the purpose of invoking Kandinsky is to animate t
he tension in the cultural
composition, let us take it one step further. Unlike painting which pleases us with our leaping
imagination in relation to its mastery, social science asks us to demonstrate our leaps for others to

follow. How to keep the lea
ps verifiable without sacrificing the animated pleasure of genuine
leaping? For the composition, like life, is in motion. Robert Farris Thompson pointed out that
African art can truly only be understood in motion, as its visual art is performative, and
its
performance art visually marked.(1974) Ray Birdwhistell outlined specific techniques of
analyzing movement for cultural norms within a closed framework, which has spawned
ethnographic video research and even animated illustration for the analysis of
culture in motion.
(Birdwhistell, 1970; Katz, 2000; Kita, 2003). Folklore in my subfield is less applied Kandinsky
than applied Chuck Jones.

The great challenge is how to incorporate four dimensional motion in two dimensional
paper. Many among us have

turned to the intersection of folklore and history and in its interplay
have found a methodological solution. Some like Brenda Farnell have turned to dance notation,


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Labanotation; some like Adam Kendon to his own Birdwhistell
-
like shorthand for the co
ding of
gesture in stylized storytelling. What follows is my attempt to follow both the historians and the
video ethnographers to capture one playground in motion, over time.

“Culture Shifts, Playground Moves” is the title of the larger work, punning on

the
physical movement within this one urban playground and how it itself moves over time, shifting
the patterns of gender, race, and class. It is a public working class school yard, a concrete slab
that looks like it could be from anywhere in Philadelph
ia. Shoes dangle from the phone wire
above its fences; gang graffiti washes in and out like waves on its walls. Iron grates brace the
windows, and several hundred children emerge to play for fifteen minutes at a time each day. A
desegregated school in

1991, half of the children were African American, half European
American. In 1999 the desegregation program was officially canceled by the School District
following a Supreme Court ruling, yet the numbers were fairly consistent by tradition. Among
the A
frican American children, many walked from middle income homes within the
neighborhood, while just as many were bused in from a poorer section of the city.

The current study analyses the folklore genres as its core, and through video analysis,
mapping exe
rcises, and interviews with hundreds of children and staff, tries to see how culture
shifts around and through children’s play. As Dundes wrote “Methodologically, it makes more
sense to examine microcosms, and from these examinations, one may have better

access to the
corresponding macrocosm.” (1989, p. 83)

In 1991, there were a dozen double dutch jump rope rhymes in the working class African
American girl’s active repertoire. Only the girls from the poorer neighborhood did double dutch,
or “rope” as th
ey termed it. The number one song: Big MAC, Fillet o FISHh, Quarter


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POUNDER, Frenchie FRIES, Icee COKE, Milk SHAKE, FOOT. Fillet o FISH, Quarter
POUNDER, Frenchie FRIES, Icee COKE, Milk SHAKE, BOUNCE . .”

The song, Tyrica said, was learned from their mot
hers “like they learned from their
mothers. We learned from them.” The text is a product of the marketing in Sunday circulars
made by the McDonalds’ corporation. McDonald’s was known as a corporate sponsor of double
dutch jump rope competitions and is

long associated with the marketing of singing games to
kids. The number two song was an improvisation game: “Challenge Challenge, 1, 2, 3, 4, ,5 ,6
,7 , 8, 9,10 Big MAC Fillet of FISH FOOT, and BOUNCE, and HOP. . .” This game fuses a
competition song wi
th the McDonald’s menu chant and was often followed by an older more
traditional blues rhyme. “Hey CONSOLATION, WHERE Have You Been, AROUND the
Corner, and BACK Again. . .”

In 1999, there were again a dozen rhymes in this subculture’s repertoire, and the

number
one rhyme was “Challenge Challenge/Big Mac.” A new favorite was more of a social
commentary. “Criminal MINDED, You’ve been BLINDED, Looking for the Right SHOE, YOU
can’t FIND it. MINE Costs MORE. YOURS Costs LESS. Mine FOOTlocker. Yours PAYless.

Do your FOOTSIES 1,2, and 3 and your HOPSIES 1,2, and 3.”

If we were to summarize the extent the commercial related texts appeared in spontaneous
chanting as compared to the entire number of songs recorded, the following emerges:

1992








1999


Big Ma
c

by itself






Big Mac
by itself

23/56 times







0 times


Challenge Challenge, Big Mac, Hey Consolation


Challenge/BM/HC


3/56









24/38 recordings



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Criminal Minded






Criminal Minded

0 times in 1991






5/38 in 1999











Totals i
n 1991


26/56 recordings had commercial content: approx. 46%

Totals in 1999


29/38 recordings had commercial content: approx. 76%


At the same time that there was a distillation of text themes to commercials, there was a
shift in the playing population
. In 1991, there were only three non African American girls who
played Big Mac. Two were one time unsuccessful jumpers who never attempted to actually play.

Only one, Heidi, was a consistent player in this African American genre, but she mostly turned
f
or her double dutch friends; as they say, “she had ends.” By 1999 there were many competent
middle class European American jumpers in double dutch, often in mixed race games with
working class African American girls, although it was still considered an Af
rican American
game.

Let us examine another genre: Suicide Handball. Suicide, sui, red butt, or Polish handball

is still a popular game in this neighborhood yard. Unlike Wall Ball, a simple throwing against
the wall and catching game, sui involves the pe
gging or “beaning” anyone who fumbles the ball.
Once the ball in inadvertently touched, you have to run to the wall, touch it, and shout “sui”.
Considered a game so rough, it was outlawed by the school in 1999, not that this stopped anyone.

In 1991 sui

was exclusively male. One attempt by a fourth grade girl named Tamisha
was never repeated. In 1999 not only were there mixed boy and girl games of Sui, but there were
even all girl Sui games; both recorded on a daily basis. 1999 Susie said,“We play S
ui AND Wall
Ball.” Mary countered,“This is only my second time playing!” Coed Sui was a hybrid of tag,
flirting, rough play, and handball. All girl games were calmer; there were two regular cliques


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who played serious all girl Sui games in 1999. But the
re was still a stigma, although proudly
worn, of being a girl Sui player. “We play cause we’re Tom Boys, at least me and Jen are.”

I asked the girls who tend to play Sui what they like to play during recess. Suzy said,“We
like to play hopscotch, basketbal
l, hide and seek, sui, wall ball.” I asked, “They guys let you play
basketball?” (Quickly, in chorus) “NO.” (Laughter)Violet says, “THEY play football, basketball,
chase the girls. I ask, “ What do the girls do?” Meg offers, “We started playin’ Sui, but

Mr. G.
took the ball away from us, sayin’ we can’t do that, cause people get bopped.” As they speak, the
armed security guard walks by. The girls stop and stare at him for a moment, and then continue
to play.

The boys ball games and the girls ball games

were almost always integrated racially. The

boys games were racially integrated in 1992, although each game had a different proportion of
black and white players, depending upon the friendship patterns. The change over time in hand
ball in terms of ge
nder was as great a shift as the change in race and class in jump rope. But
some genres, like sports, remained untouched. The folk games, in their flexibility were the sites
of social change.

The songs were distilled to a core set of corporate rhymes, ju
st as the rest of our culture
has become distilled to recognizable icons of power. (Ritzer, 1998, Cohen, 2003). The mobility
in girls’ games parallels women’s mobility in the larger world, both in its visibility and in its
limitations. Yet, it was all
framed by a school who saw physical movement as the enemy of
control. Ironically, by limiting children’s physical movement, the school limits social
movement as well. The question is whether this is intentional or not.