NEWS RELEASE, 9/6/96
Folklore spawned by office technology is explored in new book by UC Berkeley professor
Berkeley -- They come hot off the Internet, fax machine or photocopier. Some make it onto office bulletin boards while others are secretly shared among co-workers. We find them funny, offensive or just plain stupid.
The cartoons, poems, sayings, parodies and other material that have made their way into the modern workplace are the subject of "Sometimes the Dragon Wins" (Syracuse University Press), the latest book by Alan Dundes, a University of California at Berkeley professor of anthropology and folklorist, and Carl R. Pagter, a corporate attorney.
In this fourth collaborative effort between Dundes and Pagter, this uncensored collection of modern office "photocopylore" covers a variety of topics, from the tame everyday work woes to more controversial ethnic and sexual jokes. Examples include the widely-circulated "Guide to Safe Fax" to the "What part of NO don't you understand?" sign often seen posted in office cubicles and reception areas.
According to the authors, the collected material in "Sometimes the Dragon Wins" proves that, rather than precipitating the demise of American folklore, technology has spawned a new generation of it.
"It's folklore by fax," said Dundes. "They are funny -- and sometimes not so funny -- commentaries on all of the issues and problems facing the modern world and the workplace. Modern technology allows them to be passed along mostly anonymously, so they get around faster and easier."
Dundes added that some of the material can "only be found in someone's bottom drawer, particularly the sexist and racist material," he said. "People have been fired from their jobs for passing out some of this stuff."
Dundes defended the inclusion of controversial material in his book, asserting that much of it is an inherent part of American urban folklore.
"There is a definite sexual compulsion that is part of our culture. And the differences between the sexes and various ethnic groups has long been the subject of jokes, however crude they may be," he explained.
"I was tired of being criticized by my colleagues for 'holding back' and leaving out the more risqué material. Scholarly presentation and analysis should not be so self-censored."
Much of the material in "Sometimes the Dragon Wins" has to do with workplace woes. Dundes said that as offices grow and become more bureaucratic, humor in the workplace has become increasingly important. He cited a recent statistic that showed one-quarter of American workers are dissatisfied with their jobs.
"In such instances, folklore serves as the one constant escape valve for the articulation of complaints," he said.
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