It Came to Me in a Dream : Levi-Strauss & Tumblr


“It came to me in a dream,” may not be an acceptable citation in a research paper, but it can definitely be a source of some rather interesting conversation starters.  Conversations with my friends have led to some pretty out there discussions that leave us wondering how in the world we got there.  The best conversations usually start with “Hey guys, do you ever wonder…”

So here I ask you: “Hey guys, do you ever wonder what it would be like to read an ethnography by Levi-Strauss on the ‘People of Tumblr’?”  Seriously, think about it.

Claude Levi-Strauss was the founder of French Structuralism.  Like other idealists, Levi-Strauss believed that culture was a mental rather than physical construct.[1]  Levi-Strauss was heavily influenced by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and believed that language was an important part of culture.  He proposed that “the language that is spoken by one population is a reflection of the total culture of the population.”[2]   I have to agree with that sentiment when it refers to the speaking/writing patterns of my fellow fans.  We can hold entire conversations in public where we might as well be speaking a foreign language because the people around us have no idea what we’re saying.

“Members of the different Tumblr ‘fandoms’ often come together at formal meetings known as ‘Comic-Cons’ for the opportunity to meet celebrities along with people from other fandoms as well as their own from around the world.  The largest of these gatherings is held in San Diego…

…Each individual Tumblr ‘fandom’ has their own slang terms.  Their shared dialect of English can, at times, completely baffle outsiders.  Though many of the words are familiar, the context in which they are used changes their meaning drastically…

…Another example would be the word ‘ship.’ In fandom terms, the word does not refer to sea vessels.  A ‘ship’ refers a romantic relationship. When someone says that they ‘ship it’ the person in question believes that a relationship between the mentioned persons is a good idea. While in most cases these ‘ships’ are about fictional characters, they can also be about real people as well.  Many of the more popular ‘ships’ have specific names, such as Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), Destiel (Dean Winchester and Castiel), or BlackHawk (Black Widow and Hawkeye).  When a person has several ‘ships’ they are occasionally referred to as ‘an armada’…”


Well, go on then.  Tell me this ethnography wouldn’t be the most hilarious thing ever.  It would give Sass Master Horace Miner and his “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” a run for its money. (Seriously, someone has to write this. Please.)





[1] (Moberg 2013, 266)

[2] (Levi-Strauss 1957, 327)


Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1957. Linguistics and Anthropology.

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory. New York: Routledge.

2 thoughts on “It Came to Me in a Dream : Levi-Strauss & Tumblr

  1. and it’s not just Tumblr fandoms that have their own “code” for words that wouldn’t make sense to other people. I have a lot of crochet sites showing up on my facebook page and these ladies are using terms like frogging, WIP, HOTH, and c2c. Now I’ve been crocheting for a long time and I have never heard of these things before, so the first three I had to actually google to find out what they are talking about. Turns out that if you frog your project that just means you are unraveling it. So now if I make a mistake in something I’m working on and I have to pull stitches out I know that I am frogging. When someone posts a picture and says WIP I now know that it is their work in progress or if their picture says HOTH, I know they just finished it because it is hot of the hook. I was able to figure out the c2c, which is a new way of creating a blanket or graphgan and it means corner to corner. Instead of going straight across like most afghans you start in one corner and work your way up to the opposite corner. But I agree, I would like to see an ethnography on the fandoms, it sounds like it might be quite interesting.

  2. I would definitely read this. Back in high school we actually had one day a year when students would design classes to teach to other students. I signed up to be a student teacher twice at my time there and taught a fandom culture class. It was a ton of fun and both times I taught the whole entire class list was filled. At the time My Little Pony, Supernatural, and Dr. Who were the most popular at my school and boy did we have fun talking about some of the different terms each fandom used from brony to Destiel. I never had a reason to think back on those classes until now. I’m honestly surprised I haven’t seen a popular mock-ethnography or linguistic analysis of Tumblr culture yet.

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