January 4, 2014

Another case of subversive children's culture disappearing

Kids these days don't sing subversive schoolyard songs anymore, something that is bizarre to the generations who grew up learning "Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts" and "Joy to the World, the Teacher's Dead." This is part of a broader pattern of the disappearance of folk culture in an age of cocooning. Folk culture requires face-to-face transmission, whether through language (songs) or gesture and body movement (games).

My mother and I just got done talking on video chat with my brother and his nearly 6 year-old son. Like most kindergarteners, he finds potty humor funny -- very funny. Yet his repertoire of fart noise techniques was surprisingly lacking. I thought that's just one of those things that everybody learns in grade school, but then I remembered the face-to-face nature of its transmission ("learning"). He knows the most basic one, blowing a raspberry with your tongue and lips, but that was it.

Let me emphasize how much he enjoys fart humor, so it's not for lack of appeal. This also shows how little the other boys at school know -- it would have spread like wildfire by now.

He didn't use the one where you bite your lower lip and push air up and out of one side of your mouth. Or cupping both palms over your mouth, with your fingertips near your earlobes, and blowing really hard. I showed him a hands-only one, where you have your two palms pressed together, with one row of inner knuckles in the palm of the other, and that row of fingertips under the other. It's like the praying gesture, only with one hand sliding down somewhat. You press really hard and pull away hard, and there you go. My brother showed him the more common one where your palms are perpendicular to each other, and your fingers are wrapped around the other hand, like shaking your own hand, and you push toward and apart.

Do you remember the one where you cup your palm under your armpit and begin flapping that arm? Or the variant on the "palms over mouth" one, where you use the inner elbow instead of your palms? These are only the handful that I can think of off the top of my head.

He had trouble with the hands-only ones, which might be a little hard to pull off at that age. But the striking thing from a folk culture perspective is that he wasn't even familiar with it, as though he were just biding time until his dexterity or grip strength or whatever would allow him to finally start doing it. Like most Millennials, he nearly went into a nuclear meltdown when he couldn't immediately master something that had been demonstrated for him to learn.

He had a little easier time with the hands-over-mouth one -- that pissed off my brother a little bit. I'd gotten around his over-parenting shield, and once you learn something like that, you don't forget it. That's why parents these days prevent any peer socialization while their kids are developing -- all those years of precision sculpting, ruined. Once their minds are more solidified and Bad Influences aren't so influential, then they can play together unsupervised in college.

Is my nephew going to keep using that technique to make fart noises for the rest of his life? Nope. That started to get old during middle school, when boys become more sensitive to how girls perceive them. This natural negative feedback, or damping mechanism, makes parental programming superfluous. In fact, I can't remember the last time I used any of those fart noise techniques spontaneously before demonstrating them today. And it wasn't because my parents began punishing me, because the schools initiated a Zero Tolerance policy on fart noises, or whatever. It just got old, and embarrassing when there were girls around.

But, in the minds of helicopter parents, children are blank slates and will just keep on doing something bad forever once they're exposed, as though they would have no internal changes that would correct it when it's time to, and as though there were no social dampening effects either. This example shows both forces at work: negative social feedback from girls, though only once boys' internal nature changes to value approval from girls.

Simple examples like this, no matter how mundane and profane, disprove the hysterical worldviews that most parents operate on these days. But worldviews come more from the zeitgeist than from reasoning or observation, and a cocooning period has a thing-oriented rather than people-oriented zeitgeist, as folks have less and less experience interacting with others. People-as-things leads to parenting-as-programming, which in turn leads to the isolation of children from anyone outside the nuclear family, who might un-program or re-program all the tireless labor of the parents. Social isolation then unravels the folk culture of children, which must be learned face-to-face.

And all of this just to assuage parental paranoia (which never gets assuaged, but would be even worse if their kids got to develop as autonomously as they did when they were growing up). Who cares if you've stunted the social lobe of your kid's brain, and wiped out a thriving folk culture that used to belong to children themselves? Once more we see how thoroughly hostile helicopter parenting is to communal cohesion and cultural continuity, as everyone and everything beyond the private nuclear household becomes an Outside Threat To Our Parenting.


  1. Do you remember "The Burning of our School"? It's taken from "Battle Hymm of the Republic" and was popular when I was in school.

  2. I hid behind the door
    With an M-64,
    And she ain't gonna teach no more!

  3. Did the kids at your school make up further variations on the location / weapon rhyme?

    I also heard:

    I hid up in the attic
    With a semi-automatic,
    And she ain't gonna teach no more!

    I met her on her porch
    With a flaming blow torch,
    And she ain't gonna teach no more!

    I met her at her bank
    With a loaded army tank,
    And she ain't gonna teach no more!

    It's harder than you'd think. Like, "How about 'hand grenade'? Where could you go that ends in 'ade'? Uh... 'arcade'?" Then you had to get the meter / scansion right, or it would sound forced.

    "I MET her IN th'ar-CADE with a... DA-da HAND gre-NADE... man, this is hard!"

  4. A Brit lyric in this vein, to the tune of "God Save the Queen":

    God save our gracious Queen
    Soak her in paraffin
    Set her alight...

    Forget the rest. Hymns were a great source. So "Stand up, stand up for Jesus" became "Sit down, sit down for Christ's sake..."

    Good times.

  5. More wording -

    And teacher ain't teachin' no more!

  6. Dude, this brings back childhood memories of first grade: On top of old smokie, all covered with blood
    I shot my poor teacher, with a .44 stud
    I went to her funeral, I went to her grave
    Instead of throwing flowers, I threw hand grenades
    Ten years later, she wasn't quite dead,
    so I took a bazooka, and blew off her head.

    I remember kids would sing this song on the bus to and from school and on field trips.

  7. Marijuana, marijuana,
    LSD, LSD-
    Scientists made it,
    Teachers take it,
    Why can't we;
    Why can't we.

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of our school;
    we have taken down the (something) we have broken all the rules;
    Something something-
    and we go marching on!

  8. you might appreciate this - NBCnews has an article on the crime decline, that in part buffers your theories:

    "Xbox effect: Dinner bells that summoned children from the great outdoors have long gone silent, and youths and young adults are spending more time on indoor pursuits involving high-definition TVs, gaming consoles and computers. That, say researchers, is having a positive impact on crime. Why? Fewer young people on the street mean fewer potential criminals and fewer targets for criminals.

    Potential criminals may also be spending more of their time stealing virtual cars or robbing virtual banks.

    Two college professors in Texas working with a researcher at the Center for European Economic Research released a study in 2011 showing violent video games such as "Grand Theft Auto" or "Call of Duty" could mitigate aggressive behavior and lead to a decrease in crime. The researchers called the phenomenon the "incapacitation effect." Translation: When you are at home playing video games, "You are not hanging out on street corners, in alleys or out with your buddies getting into trouble," said University of Texas, Arlinginton, Professor Michael R. Ward, one of the authors."

    "Home bodies: Conventional wisdom says that crime goes up when the economy turns down, but numerous studies have shown otherwise. That’s because while adversity breeds desperation, it also creates more supervision.

    Police and social scientists were watching closely for a possible spike in violent crime during the Great Recession that began in 2008, but it never materialized. That’s partly because more people were staying home because they lacked work, deterring criminals through their presence or quickly phoning police if they see suspicious behavior, the experts say. Other subtle social forces were at work as well. Since the 1990s, for example, Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys have consistently found that between 20 and 25 percent of the employed do some or all of their work at home. And a growing pool of retirees helps bolster the number of stay-at-home crime-stoppers."



  9. When I was a kid, the subversive songs didn't really start picking up until 10 or 11; there were very few of them, mostly about Barney and mostly (I'm guessing) copied from the internet. Captain Underpants and so on provided the techniques for fart noises; they weren't really handed down in person. Centralization/impersonalization of meme distribution, you know -- it's part of a broader pattern of things being communicated through the internet/television/books rather than in person. (Kids' politics seem to end up much closer to people in media than their parents. Church can't survive since it isn't centralized enough and it gets signaled against by what is centralized, though of course it doesn't help that the churches have mostly decided to suck.)

  10. I remember some of the Barney songs being passed around face-to-face:

    I love you,
    You love me,
    That's how we got HIV...

    I hate you,
    You hate me,
    Let's get together
    And kill Barney...

    These were mentioned in that 1994 book, Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts, that collected as many as it could (current and old).

  11. So you do remember that song. The version I heard was "a loaded 44," but it's all the same. I imagine the song fell out of favor after the Columbine shootings.

  12. It's not subversive, but schoolchildren use pig latin anymore?

  13. I don't think so. We tried to teach it to my nephew the Christmas of 2012. But in order to thrive and keep going, it's supposed to be something that children take part in with one another, not parroting it back from the parents (which won't be sustained).


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