Thursday, July 28, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Farts, folktales, and feminism

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

Today we talk about ancient tales about women farting.

This is not a joke, so much so that the folktale type I am talking about has its own number: ATU 1453**** (those are not four tiny farts, those are asterisks for a sub-type, thank you very much). It is commonly known as "The Flatulent Girl," but the type also has a fancy Latin name, Puella Pedens, which means the same, but sounds more scientific, because it's Latin.
This story exists in many traditions around the world, but in vastly different versions, and with vastly different morals. Some folklorists posit that it is of Eastern origin, because it exists in the Birbal tale cycle of India.
Whatever the case, it is worth talking about.

Here is the gist:

A man (or a party of men) arrives at a house to propose to a girl. While they are there, the girl lets out a fart, which absolutely scandalizes the guests, and they leave immediately. After this, the story can take two turns: One, "this is why women should never fart" - and Two, which is obviously why I am talking about this today.
In Option Two (several Hungarian versions), the mother is so embarrassed by her daughter's mistake that she bribes the men with a length of home-made linen to not tell anyone. When his daughter finds out that they are walking away with the linen that she made with hard work, she runs after them, takes it back, tells them off, and marches home. The "tells them off" part is especially entertaining, and it can take various forms, such as:

"You take your groom, I'll take my linen. And you can go find a house where nobody farts!"
"Guess what: I farted a lot more than this while I made an entire length of linen with my own hands!"
"I farted because my father's house has good food. Does yours?"

In one version, the men feel ashamed, admit that the girl is clever, and propose anyway. In another, the storyteller concludes "she had more brains than her mother." In the third, the "clever girl" never marries, but the story notes that she was unjustly judged for "one mistake."
All of these versions of the story have been collected from female storytellers, by the way.

While many versions of this tale type fall under your typical run-of-the-mill "women-policing" category, the ones mentioned above carry a very important feminist message: That there is a bias in people when they compare a woman's behavior (and bodily functions) to the worth of her work. "Real" women, according to society, don't fart, don't burp, don't sweat, don't grow hair, and bleed blue. Watching to make sure they adhere to these rules come before actually paying attention to what they are working on, what they are saying, or what their personality is like. It is so important that a girl's shoulders should be covered that she is sent home from an educational institution, placing "propriety" above knowledge (because clearly no one has seen a naked shoulder before). When women in the media are meticulously criticized for their looks and their etiquette instead of what they stand for, we have a problem.
Sure, accidentally having bodily functions in front of guests is not good etiquette - but neither does it make a woman unlovable, undesirable, or worthy of eternal damnation.

And it is definitely not worth losing a perfectly good length of linen.
(SCAdians, can I get an amen?)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Meanwhile in Spain, television history is STILL happening

I will keep saying this until my head explodes: WATCH. THIS. SHOW.

A lot of things happened since I last blogged about El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time), Spain's new hit TV show:
- The second season concluded, with 13 stellar episodes
- A book was published, containing 3 additional episodes from the second season (because transmedia storytelling is a thing)
- The rights for the show have been bought/optioned by several other countries, including China, Portugal, and France

They also broke out the wigs
By the second season, the show has found its footing and its audience - not that the first one wasn't amazing, but this time, every single episode delivered quality TV that you rarely ever see, especially when it comes to historical topics. The show navigates between entertainment, historical authenticity, emotional impact (without crossing over to melodrama), and presents an admirable sobriety when it comes to facing Spain's own history with all its ups AND downs. 

Here are some things that I absolutely loved this season (with minor spoilers):

26 episodes into a show, the main characters, who have been working for the Ministry and traveling in time for years, still have problems adjusting to the modern era, and their own sentiments and values still show at odd places. For example, Amelia, the team's history-savvy, early feminist leader fights for women's rights at every turn, BUT since she comes from the 19th century, sentences like "only women can be kleptomaniacs, it is in their nature" still fall out of her mouth occasionally. Alonso, our 16th century softie of a soldier, gets told halfway through Season 2 that maybe he should start bathing (even though he's just mastered the microwave). Pacino, the new guy on the team from the 1980s, is as amazed by modern technology as the medieval guy is (and the 19th century lady explains to him what a flash drive is). The show is FULL of small details like this, highlighting that these characters, time travelers as they may be, still have ingrained habits and values that can't just be flushed out from one day to the next.
A 19th century lady, Diego Velazquez, and a 16th century soldier
watch Terminator 2

Evil Americans trying to buy the
manuscript of Don Quixote
2. The Americans are evil - and have bad accents
Okay, so I don't think Americans are evil, but GOD IT IS REFRESHING to watch a show where a (badly done) American accent means that someone is an evil businessman who wants to make time travel into a source of wealth. The show takes several hilarious jabs at Americans and their knowledge of European history; and I am pretty sure that having a Spanish actors portray J. Edgar Hoover and Charlton Heston is one of these intentional jabs... Why hire a native speaker if one of our actors can do a passable accent, riiiiight?

3. The ministry works about as well as any ministry would
Disaster is usually only avoided because the people working there are bending the rules into pretzels - otherwise, the Ministry has some serious issues with its logistics. It is not perfectly equipped with high tech, or operating in complete secrecy. Things leak all the time, and they have to scramble to mitigate the situations; funding is cut all over the place, and they don't have enough agents to cover all their bases, which repeatedly leads to security breaches and administrative problems. The new boss they get knows nothing about history, but has 3 online degrees... All in all, they take at least as many jabs at their own administration as they do at the Americans.
They even get audited by the IRS. And spend an episode doing paperwork. (And still make it exciting)

There are entirely too many guns in this  "Ministry of Public Transport"

4. They definitely had more budget this season
Still not as much as HBO, obviously, but they ventured into larger concepts, compared to Season 1. We saw larger sets, more costumes, more extras, war camps, castles, and even part of New York City in the 1920s...

5. They go into WHAT IF stories and alternate history
New this season, we actually see the modern world change a couple of times due to historical events being altered. Some of them are minor, while the season finale delivers a whole alternate world - excellently done and heartbreaking at the same time. I don't want to spoil it, but I'll tell you that it was an amazingly well done episode, and it put our GOOD protagonists through internal struggles between their own privilege and the suffering of others. If you do alternate history, this is how you do it.

+1. Hungary was briefly featured!
Okay, so only Hungarians are gonna get excited about this, but the characters briefly visited Hungary at the end of the 19th century - and, unlike the American characters, the actress speaking Hungarian in this episode had no accent at all. And was singing an actual Hungarian song. It was perfect.

All in all, Season 2 presents El Ministerio del Tiempo at the height of its potential. It is entertaining, educational, exciting, and LOVABLE. And it shows no sign of slowing down. I can't wait to see what they come up with for Season 3.
(They still owe me some Romans. Apart from the ones they locked into the bathroom during inspection, that is.)

Eat both your hearts out, Doctor.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Teaching consent through fairy tales

Today is Folklore Thursday on social media! If you want to find out more, follow this link, or click on the #FolkloreThursday hashtag on Twitter! Hosted by @FolkloreThursday.

There have been a lot of discussion lately about consent and fairy tales - mostly focusing on Sleeping Beauty, and whether or not it is a good message to kiss a sleeping girl (or, as in the case of Sun, Moon, and Talia, to have sex with an unconscious woman) (spoiler alert, it's not). The more I read about it the more I started to wonder about finding fairy tales that do teach consent - or have symbolic elements that can be used to do so.
Well, I have been reading Hungarian folktales from Ung county (historically northeastern Hungary, currently split between Slovakia and the Ukraine), and I found a moment in one of them that explains the concept of consent perfectly.

The story is a classic fairy tale type, about the golden apples (pears) that mysteriously disappear every night, and the youngest prince that discovers that they are being stolen by fairies-turned-birds. He falls in love with the fairy queen, but she can't stay with him; the young prince (in this case named Árgyélus) sets out to find her.
Things get interesting (and relevant) when he finally gets to the fairy palace at the end of the world:

He was almost there when the middle sister [of the fairy queen Ilona] told her:
"Árgyélus is here!"
"Are you sure?" Ilona asked.
"Sure! As sure as we are here right now. Shall we let him in?" she asked.
"No, we shall not, until he tells us where they came from and who they are looking for."
When the prince knocked, the girl said:
"Come on in, the door is open!"
But the horse [the magic horse of the prince] told him:
"Wait, don't rush in!"
He waited, and then knocked again. Ilona said:
"The door is open."
But she didn't open the door, and the horse said:
"Let's wait until they open the door themselves."
The prince said:
"Open the door for me!"
Ilona then came out and said:
"You can come in, the door is open."

The magic horse (a táltos - the same word we use for shaman) acts as the prince's guide and conscience in these tales. He is the one that warns him not to rush, not to break through the door - to wait until the princess opens it herself. The first time he knocks, someone else (the sister) tries to give consent for her, stating the door is open; the second time Ilona states the door is open, but does not invite him in. He waits until she opens the door herself, and asks him, out loud, to enter.

This is the definition of "yes means yes," people.

I wanted to share this little tidbit because it is a motif that can be inserted into most stories; it is a small moment, but it has a very clear message, without shedding the symbolism of fairy tales. All folktales are build of smaller building blocks, recurring motifs; this is a less common one, but it can be very useful, without sounding forced or didactic.

Feel free to take it and run with it!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

MythOff Budapest - The Myth of Champions

What can you do when you find out that the date you set for the summer MythOff also happens to be the date of a semi-final for the European Football Championship?
You organize a football-themed MythOff.

The third ever MythOff Budapest managed to be innovative for a number of reasons. First off, we had a new venue, a nice bar-slash-event-space, which managed to host most of our 60+ (!!!) listeners. Once again, we outgrew the venue. Not that we are complaining. We also had a new storyteller joining us, a new theme, 80% new audience, and a new-found appreciation for our listeners who all pitched in to help us cover the venue fee. All in all, MythOff was fresh, exciting, and very successful.

Here is how the rounds went down:

Round 1: Game of Myths
In this round we told myths from the two countries that played in the semi-final that night. We only found out for sure the Sunday before; it was an added challenge for the storytellers to pick and rehearse their myths in time. 
Germanic mythology: Representing the German team, Szilvia Varga-Fogarasi told a piece from the Nibelungenlied, where Siegfried was dividing a pile of treasure between two Dwarves, and realized that it is hard to be the judge in the middle of a family feud.
Celtic/Christian mythology: Since the other team was France, it took me some time to figure out what to tell. I settled for the Breton legend of Saint Hervé, partly because it is definitely a part of Christian mythology, partly because it definitely has pre-Christian Celtic roots... and partly because I could not pass up the blind bard with the tame wolf.
Voting question: "If you had to choose between Siegfried's judgment and the blind bard, to select a referee for the Championship finals, which one would you go with?"
People voted for the blind referee.

Round 2: Consolation Myths
This round included myths from countries that were already out of the running for football champion - as a form of honorable mention to their participation, and to showcase how awesome their stories are.
Southern Slavic mythology: Our new storyteller, Júlia Lovranits, brought us an intriguing, old Slavic myth that she pieced together from various Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian sources. It was a flood-and-creation myth, and had connections to current folk beliefs and traditions; she even brought a cow bell to chase away bad spirits (we also used the cow bell to herd people back to their places after the break).
Norse mythology: Sometimes, even in the MythOff lineup, we get some classics everybody loves. This time it was the story of Thor dressing up as a bride to get his hammer back from the Jötuns. Maja Bumberák told the original text straight from the Poetic Edda, and brought out beautifully the humor hiding in the words...
Voting question: "If a museum only had one space left for the Night of the Museums exhibit, which item should they display, Thor's wedding veil, or Kurent's human-creating sweat drops?"
People decided they definitely wanted Thor's wedding veil on display.

Round 3: Play and Competition
In order to incorporate a broader theme into the evening, we designed a round of myths that had something to do with contests, balls, or the enjoyment of play. Out last two storytellers picked their own stories based on these motifs, rather than by culture.
Mayan mythology: László Gregus told us the myth of the Hero-Twins who played a ball game against the Lords of the Dead. It had everything a good mythical sport even requires: Beheading, heart sacrifice, burning alive, rivers of blood, and, of course, a happy ending...
Greek mythology: And, to end on the Classics, the last storyteller of the evening, Enikő Nagy, told us the story of Atalanta and the golden apples. She is a very elegant and graceful teller, perfect fit for a love story, and she even managed to tie us back to the very first MythOff we had...
Voting question: "If the Hero-Twins had to play a game of modern-day football against Atalanta and her husband, which pair would win?"
The game was a close call; 33 to 29 the Hero-Twins came out victorious.

The Prizes: Following the football theme of the evening, I created special prizes: Three teams of "button football", each one featuring 11 pictures of gods and goddesses as the players of the team. There was a team of Egyptian deities, a team of Greeks, and a team of Norse mythology. Button football is kind of a classic game in Hungary, and the small plastic buttons are dirt cheap; we adhered to the spirit of MythOff by putting fun over expenses.

All in all, it was a great night of myths and fun. I'm curious to see what we'll come up with next...