Alan Dundes bares the folklore of the bear
23 August 2002
Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations
considering the implications of a bear of a day or anguishing
over which bear-related storybook to buy for your child,
Alan Dundes, UC Berkeley professor of anthropology and
folklore, says the lure of the bear is complex.
no further, he suggested, than examing the term applied
to current negative stock market conditions in the United
fear of bears is signaled by the use of the folk speech
of Wall Street and the stock market," Dundes said.
"A bear market, as opposed to a bull market, is what
we're in now - and we're not happy about it."
Yet, generally the bear is seen as an endearing creature,
said Dundes, author of numerous books on folklore. Folklore
makes the bear a hostile but gentle figure, as in "The
Three Bears", who pose no real threat to Goldilocks.
And "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" also is
fairly harmless, said Dundes, just before heading off
for a week as the faculty speaker at UC Berkeley's "Lair
of the Bear" Sierra camp for alumni.
"The bear, especially when it stands, has some humanoid
aspects, but its fierceness is tempered with its endearing
looks," said Dundes. For example, he said, the Captain
Kangaroo television program for children featured a dancing
bear as a totally domesticated and friendly creature.
And the "teddy bear" named for Theodore (Teddy)
Roosevelt is a cuddly children's doll.
"Wizard of Oz" fans recall the chanting of
"Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" as Dorothy
and her crew skipped down the Yellow Brick Road. This
balanced the idea of the wild bear with the playful mocking
of a child, Dundes said.
The old English sport of bear-baiting - using dogs to
attack bears until the big animals died - and locking
bears up in zoos reflect a darker side of humans' intrigue
about bears, he said. These practices reflect a metaphor
of the subjugation of nature by culture or civilization.
"My own take on zoos in general is that we have
wild animals, signifying id or animal desires but under
the control of the superego or society," Dundes said.
"Until recently, in zoos, the animals were in cages
or behind bars like human prisoners even though they committed
no crime. The thrill, in part, of going to the circus
or the zoo is to see wild animals being humanized, forced
to dance or wear human clothing. So rather than we humans
being permitted to act out our animal drives, we force
animals to act like humans! It is sublimation at its best