Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 9

In my posting a few days ago for "The Horse Named Bill," I was considering the amount of adult content in folk songs deemed suitable for children. In his description of "Cock Robin," Alan Lomax sheds some light on the subject: "Of the two best-loved children's ballads in English, the first is the story of an animal wedding in which all the animal guests are killed and eaten [I assume he means "Froggie Went A-Courtin'"], the second begins at an inquest and goes on to a funeral; nor is this strange when one considers the blood-stained stanzas of the Anglo-American ballads beloved of adults. In our culture, children, like their parents, have a passionate relish for violence--in nursery rhymes, cowboy pictures, comic books, murder mysteries, etc. Oppressed, humiliated, denied, bullied, and talked down to by a race of strong giants, their fancies have naturally run to violence and death. In their dreams they have revenged themselves and in their nightmares they have been punished for their guilt thoughts." Whoa. "Cock Robin" is certainly morbid, and a little research shows it's been printed in hundreds of children's anthologies, nursery rhyme collections, and song books for kids. In light of all this, the contemporary tendency to mourn the bygone innocence of childhood--and to demonize video games, movies, and the internet for implanting violent images in kids' heads--seems like cultural amnesia. It's true that modern media violence is more extreme than the violence of this song, but the fascination is nothing new. I love the animal cosmos that this song creates, where each character has a set duty and approaches it with grim seriousness. In my American Animal Folksong Puppet Epic, "Cock Robin" will have a central role. 

And speaking of questionable entertainment for kids, take a look at Walt Disney's take on "Cock Robin":

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting the Disney link, Andy--Mae West with wings and a beak...trippy, not to mention very suggestive. A persuasive example of your point abt the changing cultural perceptions of the notion of "kid-friendly."

    It occurs to me that it's not just the lyrics, but the music (certainly your take on it) too that defies such notions. Funereal, pensive, pointed...a world away from Barney. XOXO