Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pop Anthropology in the Movies

Pop Anthropology: The Reverse | Savage Minds

by on September 13th, 2007

Is there an upsurge in pop culture representations of both anthropologists and anthropological topics taking place right now? A little ‘buzz’ around our discipline? Is anthropology hot–or not? Exhibit A: The Nanny Diaries. Scarlett Johansson plays a recent anthropology graduate who dreams of becoming an anthropologist (imagine!). Exhibit B: National Geographic’s Taboo, a program that promises to help us “understand seemingly shocking practices from around the world.” Exhibit C: “Meet the Natives,” a three-part documentary airing on British TV, about a group of Vanuatu men brought to the UK as “reverse anthropologists.” There is a lot to say individually about these different representations of anthropological themes in pop culture, and examples can be multiplied — I’m hoping SM’s enormous readership will provide further examples in comments. I think these ‘texts’ mostly play on the conceit of reflexive defamiliarization or ironic self-otherization. The putative “we” of the audience is invited to see itself as odd, as exotic, even as savage. This is perhaps merely a mainstreaming of a possibility inherent in the structure of anthropological knowledge, which has always promised to expose one’s own cultural conceits as arbitrary constructions. Yet, I suspect that many of these programs and pop culture texts thereby allow certain damaging stereotypes about other cultures to circulate by putting them in ironic quotation marks. I’m curious what people think about this stuff. Is there something a little different about newer iterations of pop culture “primitives” vis-a-vis older ones (e.g., the figure of the primitive in 20th century art)? What do you guys think? For discussion, Exhibit D: “Fierce People,” a new film: