“Fake News” from the Journal of American Folklore, Part 3

This is the third installment of our blog series exploring the articles in the special issue on “Fake News” from the Journal of American Folklore(vol. 131, no. 522). The issue will be available on JSTOR and in print in mid-October. Check this blog in the coming weeks for frequent posts by some of the folklorists who examined the concept of fake news in their 2017 AFS conference presentations and contributed to the special issue of the Journal of American Folklore.

The Bowling Green Massacre
By: Timothy Evans

Usually academic writing (mine, at least) is the end product of research. The Bowling Green Massacre, however, was something I “lived through.” My article is as much a memoir as an analytical piece. For several weeks in February 2017, the “massacre” was a major topic of conversation in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I have lived and worked as a folklore professor for nineteen years. It dominated both social media and the local news cycle. It became a major topic of discussion in the classroom. To have the community I live in become the target of “fake news” was at once surreal and enlightening.

Philip K. Dick, a novelist whose work in many ways predicted the phenomenon of “fake news,” commented that “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Daily life continued in Bowling Green, a community which has had a large population of immigrants and refugees for many years, with never a terrorist attack. The obvious absurdity of the massacre claim was a source of humor and creative inspiration, manifesting in memes, faux survivor stories, songs, and celebrations.

My article is largely an account of my own experiences with the “massacre” and that of my Bowling Green neighbors, especially the playful and artful counter-narratives that interest me as a folklorist. I hope that others will write or collect accounts of direct experiences with “fake news.” When we are deluged with “alternative facts” coming from politicians, the media, multinational corporations, religious authorities, or from our social media “friends,” it is easy to feel helpless. One solution to this, perhaps, is to focus on the concrete realities of our everyday lives, on our stories, and on the humor and imagination which are so often the way we tell truth to power.

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