Why #AskDrPence Is the Best Thing on the Internet

Why #AskDrPence Is the Best Thing on the Internet March 26, 2016

I haven’t written much about internet folklore (maybe in an upcoming #FolkloreThursday post?), but let me briefly state this: folklore circulates on the internet, it’s not just limited to “oral tradition,” and digital/internet folklore is just as interesting to scholars as the really old stuff.

In case you haven’t seen it in the news, Indiana (where I currently reside) just passed one of the most restrictive abortion (and miscarriage) bills in the country, requiring an 18-hour waiting period between the decision to abort and the ability to do it; making illegal an abortion presumably based on the fetus’s gender, disability, or any abnormalities; and requiring providers to pay to cremate or bury fetal remains from every abortion or miscarriage, a cost that will likely trickle down to impact the people seeking abortion.

The local coverage on Nuvo is pretty thoroughly explains the bill and contains personal narratives (one of my fave folklore genres) from women who would be negatively impacted by it. It also contains screenshots of the initial response to the bill, including at least one quoting me.

However, if you want to see the digital folklore evolving, it’s happening over at the Twitter protest hashtag, #AskDrPence. A number of us hopped on board the hashtag between last night and this morning, in order to protest how our governor, who is not an MD, passed a bill that invades a pregnant women’s right to privacy, gets between her and her doctor, makes medical care less accessible and affordable, and is generally awful.

It’s digital folklore because there are jokes being made, traditions being established, and even parodies occurring (with the creation of a satirical @MikePenceOBYGN account topping the list). All in less than a 24-hour span!

I’ve gotta dash, but I wanted to make this blog post ASAP so that we can start documenting and having a conversation about this instance of digital folklore protesting a policy put into place for religious reasons. What do y’all think? Care to join the conversation over at the #AskDrPence hashtag?

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  • Hilary

    I think it would be ridiculous to ignore digital folklore. This is where people talk for themselves, and develop the shorthand language to express themselves as opposed to market driven advertising.

    I think online communities are fascinating, how they develop inside language, jokes, shorthand, and traditions via a media of only words, asynchronous in both time and space. I’m part of the LJF commentariat, and you should check out the Sunday regular Lesbian Duplex feature to see just that: tradions, long developed friendship and ideas, and linguistic conventions. Captain Awkward has something similar as people offer advise and support.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      You’re totally right – paying attention to digital folklore lets us tap into what the communities themselves are saying is relevant and interesting, rather than having a completely outsider perspective on it.

  • BeaverTales

    Brilliant post, Jeana. I sometimes get too caught up in the politics to see the forest for the trees from a human behaviorist’s perspective, but I think I’m finally starting to really understand the “Importance of “Digital Folklorism” in the wider world of Atheist Discourse. 🙂

    I can only imagine how most academic research in folklorism (or the study of other behavioral memes) is probably mainly focused on the establishment of longstanding linguistic and historical oral traditions and printed media Analyzing how written and oral traditions evolve from previously obscure origins is probably too difficult in most cases due to their antiquity…

    Any objective understanding of our human psychology from academic folklorism is limited not only by the antiquity of the analog sources, but possibly by poor curation techniques by your analog folklorist colleagues. I bet an understanding of brainwashing techniques from analog media from obscure origins is very difficult, despite good historical research by etymologists. The research into folklorism must perforce be forensic…….until Digital Folklorism came along, it can now be observational..

    As a neuroscientist, I can see how your research into the “folkloristic mind” would be applicable to making better hypotheses about how the human mind synthesizes new legends and memes…Digital folklorism is likely to become an important subject in the study of applied human psychology. That would be really important someday, if we ever academically wonder how religion warps (some) human minds.

    These patterns that you mention can be studied forensically in an electronic living laboratory like the Internet and simultaneously serve as a way to beta-test propaganda techniques, (for something useful, rather than fascism) and exploring new marketing techniques in a digital culture. I bet you’d agree that Religion is one of the most pervasive mind control techniques ever created….we might see new ones evolve as the world gets increasingly connected on digital media.

    And I think I learned 2 other things from your post:

    1. Traditions and memes don’t evolve from ‘thin air’ spontaneously, [like a viral video of Al Gore doing the Macarena at some political event–and the stereotype of the old “white guys can’t dance” comedy meme]

    2. Traditions can be developed ad hoc for political purposes [like your @MikePenceOBYGN story]

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Thank you for your thoughtful response! I’m in the process of writing a follow-up post for this week’s #FolkloreThursday series that’ll clarify a lot more about what digital folklore is, how we study is, and why it’s relevant.

      But basically, yes, digital folklore provides a testing case for things we’ve already studied and hypothesized about in folklore, linguistics, cultural anthropology, and related fields. Examining internet folklore shortens the time of transmission AND leaves a trail that we can access pretty easily when trying to document a given phenomenon, rather than having to track down disparate versions of, say, a given legend or ballad in archives, publications, field notes, and so on.

      Regarding your point about how traditions and memes don’t arise from thin air, we see this in all forms of folklore, really. One of my colleagues studies joke cycles about dictators, and has found that even dictators separated by decades and national boundaries are joked about using the same structures and punchlines! But studying internet folklore makes it even more apparent how this can happen.

  • BeaverTales

    I also believe your work will be historically relevant in ways few social scientists and/or psychologists could ever hope to see.

    Historically, anthropologists studying human evolution would love to know when mankind started passing down oral traditions. We can use folklore to see how propaganda techniques shaped minds when the printing press was invented. Now, lucky you, can find ways to study the way things developed at the dawn of the Internet age.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      The relationship between folklore and propaganda is a tricky one, and I don’t think I can do it justice in this comment… but yeah, even though propaganda is technically top-down and institutional (hence not officially something we’d call folklore), it definitely trickles into expressive culture and begins to exhibit variation in ways that would be interesting to folklorists. I’ll think about this some more and hopefully address it in a future post.

  • Pofarmer

    Not providing for abortions in the case of fetal abnormalities or birth defects seems like it has the potential to be particularly cruel.

    Thomas Jefferson had it right about religious tyrants and liberty.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      It does seem really cruel, which is part of why I’m so fired up about this issue.

  • WayneMan

    As a fellow Hoosier, I find Pence utterly disgusting. He and his Christian Shari law legislators just keep pulling the same crap. During his anti same sex marriage campaign, I sent him an email stating my dislike, and his reply actually contain scripture quotes. I knew then that any appeal for equality, fairness, or reason was hopeless. Then they pulled the RFRA fiasco, and straight up lied that this was not anti-LGBT law. The infamous RFRA signing photo showed a large crowd of well known anti-LGBT leaders, standing behind him with huge smiles on their faces. Now this anti-women’s rights abortion law. What is scary is that these clowns keep getting elected.

    • Jeana Jorgensen

      Wow, scripture quotes in an email from a politician? What happened to separation of church and state?!

      Thanks for your comment. It’s good to know there are other Hoosiers out there who value fairness and tolerance.