March 2, 2010

Children's subversive songs

While browsing through the folklore section of the library stacks, my eyes fixed on the title: Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts. It's 200 pages of collections of "subversive" children's songs, arranged by theme, plus another 50 or so pages of footnotes for those with a more academic interest in the material. Definitely worth a read, partly for nostalgia, just in case (like me) you've forgotten this one:

Joy to the world,
The teacher's dead!
We barbecued her head.
What happened to the body?
We flushed it down the potty.
And round and round it goes,
And round and round it goes,
And round, and round,
And round it goes.

I actually had an easier time remembering those words to the tune than I did the words to the Christmas song, which I had to google to fully recall. (All I was sure of was "Let Earth receive her king" plus "And heaven and nature sing.")

And who could forget all of the extra verses to "Glory glory hallelujah / My teacher hit me with a ruler." It's a neat look into ones you've never heard, plus having them all assembled in one place lets you see patterns. For one thing, family members are entirely absent -- kids try to take down their friends, rivals, strangers, teachers, pop culture icons like Popeye and Barney, but really never their siblings or parents. Freud and John Hughes are responsible for exaggerating how intense conflict within families is. Sure it's there, but to most kids their siblings and parents are invisible and ignored, not hated and rebelled against.

The most recent data the authors collected was in 1994 at an elementary school, and these songs were still doing OK, although most entries were contributed by people who came of age in the mid-late-'50s through the '80s. Hardly any were from the '40s or earlier. I think that goes along with the "wild times vs. tame times" idea I've written about elsewhere on this blog. I wonder how many of these subversive songs an 8 year-old would know today. Children's response to larger social changes might not be so sensitive since they're not in fully social mode yet -- unlike adolescents and adults who are hyper-aware of what's going on. Still, my hunch is that these subversive songs -- especially the really strong, offensive, or gross ones -- aren't as popular among children today. As with the case of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall", I never heard them at my tutoring center.

Sounds like a good project for a folklorist or similar person to get to work on -- what's changed in the 15 years since, have these songs faded away just like all sorts of other wild bits of culture? Of course the humanities really went down the toilet for most of the '90s and 2000s, so there probably aren't too many people willing to do it. That crap seems to be on the way out, though, so maybe we'll find out some day.


  1. Do middle and high school girls still wear their football-player-boyfriend's jackets to signal that he is "theirs"?

    That used to be a little ritual back in my day that the girls used to convey status to each other, wearing their boyfriends jacket that had his name, jersey number, and even position embroidered on the back of it.

    They (the girls) also used to wrap yarn around their finger so they could wear his class ring on it.

    I wonder if they still do this.


    Thought out loud:
    Fathers are the conduit of culture. So, if we remove the father from the home or we undermine him legally, socially, and morally, we can use the media/educatocracy to instill a new culture in young people (a matriarichal hook-up culture). No wonder the left agitates for single motherhood via generous legal benefits and transfer payments. One can rid a populace of its unwanted patriarichal culture in this manner in a few generations.

  2. One I remember from my elementary school days:

    [sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic]

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school,
    We have tortured all the teachers and broke the Golden Rule
    We have marched into the office and hung the principal
    Our truth is marching on!

    Glory, glory hallelujah,
    Teacher hit me with a ruler
    I hit her over the head with a rotten tangerine
    Our truth is marching on!


  3. The version of that song I knew was:

    "Joy to the world
    teacher is dead
    shot in her the head.."

    And I can't remember the rest. We also had dirty christmas songs and dirty limericks, none of which I remember.

    Also, have you read Roald Dahl's 'revolting ryhmes'. I wonder if teachers still show that to their kids.

    - Breeze

  4. "Do middle and high school girls still wear their football-player-boyfriend's jackets to signal that he is "theirs"? "

    I don't know about that, but I do know that class rings have been dying off since roughly the mid-late '90s. Can't recall exactly the details, but I did a Lexis-Nexis search of that a few months ago.

    I know that hardly anyone got one when I was in high school in the late '90s. Girls didn't wear their boyfriends' jackets, but the cheerleaders did wear a football player's jersey when the game was approaching.

    Of course it could just be that girls today wear their boyfriends' hoodie instead of his football jacket, but I think even that is less likely. The atmosphere is a lot less sincere and sentimental in that way.


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