Corps de l’article

Gabbert’s Winter Carnival in a Western Town blends the study of material culture, customary folklore, and verbal art into a single concise and seamless text, giving readers an accessible understanding of the dynamics and social processes within the winter carnival of McCall, Idaho. Focusing on the carnival’s ritual and festive qualities, as well as how such qualities reflect both local and global concerns, Gabbert invites the reader to better understand how a once-a-year festival influences the remaining days of the year. Through focusing on the informal, vernacular understanding of the festival, and positioning it in relation to wider community concerns, the author also demonstrates how membership and engagement with community is defined through festival.

Drawing upon an interdisciplinary approach, which she claims is necessary in the understanding of ritual and festival, Gabbert’s theoretical framework is written in a way that is neither overwhelming nor overstated. Discussions of scholarly concepts on topics such as community and ritual are solidly balanced with fieldwork observations and local narratives, and community knowledge is given the most prominent place. The introductory section of the book, a blend of local history and the overall history of winter carnivals throughout the world, clearly signifies the fluidity of community and the need for civic participation in community ritual. While striving to balance the local and global, Gabbert is realistic in her scope for the book; she does not hesitate to point out that her understanding of the Winter Carnival in McCall is limited to specific events.

The ambivalent attitude of McCall towards the Winter Carnival is a main part of the book’s first chapter, highlighting the meaning of its presence in the community. By focusing on vernacular interpretation of such activities as festival organizing, volunteering, and economic interdependence, Gabbert is eager to establish that Winter Carnival, and the processes that come with it, evoke very polarizing feelings among local residents. Negotiations of both self and community are very well-described in this chapter as being important to the study of carnival. The description of a “folk trickle-down economic theory,” which Gabbert refers to as “folk Reaganomics,” succeeds in creating a space for further work on how larger issues, such as economics, are interpreted at a vernacular level. In addition, vernacular conceptions of volunteerism and public participation make this chapter extremely useful for those interested in the organizational dynamics of community events.

The second chapter, “Sculpting Relationships,” focuses on how snow sculpting competitions, at the local and state level, evoke issues of citizenship and community at both official and unofficial levels. Focusing on the process of snow sculpting, as well as how local art evoked images of imagined community, Gabbert’s description of local and state competitions is well-organized and accessible to multiple audiences, including students. The bigger picture is well-presented here, as issues surrounding both tourism and outside economic forces are framed in relation to snow sculpting competitions. Overall, this chapter is a well-rounded study of material culture that clearly demonstrates how something as ephemeral as a snow sculpture can highlight the complexities of local social relations.

Gabbert’s examination of material culture continues into the third chapter, which focuses on issues of audience style among the Carnival’s parades. Focusing on how two different parades work together as a complementary pair, Gabbert not only demonstrates how audience is engaged within specific parades, but also shows how youth are incorporated into community ritual. A simultaneous study of custom and material culture, this chapter, with its frequent use of visuals and clear explanation of the concepts of style, is well-suited for incorporation into university folklore courses. The fourth chapter, with its discussion of how community history is locally created and recreated for the sake of shaping an image of play, would also fit well into a course discussion of tourism, as its engagement with identity and authenticity are important for understanding cultural production as a whole. Gabbert utilizes historical sources well in this chapter, bringing the reader to a better understanding of how winter carnivals reinforced both community and moral worldview.

The final chapter, rather than focusing on a combination of custom and material culture, synthesizes local material culture with verbal art through discussing how local legends about serpentine lake monsters are projected through Winter Carnival activities. By discussing legend’s incorporation into areas such as advertising, snow sculptures, and mass media, Gabbert successfully comes full circle in showing how the three major aspects of folklore- verbal, customary and material culture- can be manifested through carnivalesque behaviour.

Gabbert’s thought that “Community is not limited to a single idea or proposition, or even to the realm of ideas and propositions,” is clearly manifested within her book. By providing a well-rounded account of how Winter Carnival creates community while provoking multiple reactions, the author clearly shows how public participation is diverse, multivocal, and far from utopian. Scholars interested in community ritual and festival will benefit from the book’s multifaceted approach, while students at various levels will be able to draw ideas from the text, possibly by reflecting upon their own community’s practices. Gabbert’s personal reflections upon her own involvement in the Winter Carnival only further such engagement.