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Folklorist Alan Dundes dies in California

Wrote ‘Never Try to Teach a Pig to Sing’
/ Source: Reuters

Alan Dundes, one of the world’s leading scholars of folklore and social anthropology as well as a collector of jokes, has died at age 70, the University of California, Berkeley said Friday.

Dundes, who started teaching at Berkeley in 1963, mined all corners of life to chronicle contemporary folklore.

The 1991 book he co-authored “Never Try to Teach a Pig to Sing” looked at the jokes, cartoons and other writings that were reprinted by office copy machines, T-shirts and elsewhere for insights on contemporary American life.

Among the gems of popular wisdom he recorded in the book were workplace aphorisms such as “It’s difficult to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys.”

Dundes wrote a dozen books -- including “The Vampire: A Casebook” and many more articles. He edited volumes on Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood among others.

His “Into the End Zone for a Touchdown: A Psychoanalytic Consideration of American Football” sparked debate with its study of homoerotic influences in football.

Born in New York City in 1934, Dundes received a doctorate at Indiana University in folklore in 1962.

The University of California, Berkeley anthropology department said he collapsed where he had spent so much of his career -- before students while conducting a seminar on Wednesday afternoon. He died shortly afterward of apparent heart failure.

At a 2002 convocation to Berkeley students, Dundes advised them to think more about the present.

“My advice, for what it’s worth, take time to enjoy the present, savor the moment, take pleasure in ’now’ not worrying yourself to death about tomorrow,” he said. “Do realize that American culture seems to denigrate and demean the present in a never-ending push toward a future which may or may not ever materialize.”

Berkeley planned an informal memorial service Friday.