Ivan Brady, Ph.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus

brady@oswego.edu 

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NOTES ON VIDEOS, FILMS

(1) "2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY"
This Arthur C. Clarke - Stanley Kubrick production broke new ground in science fiction films. Like much of the best literary science fiction, this classic from the 1960's is about ideas. As such it has retained much of its power to move, provoke, and inspire over the years.

A few million years ago (the film has it at two million), a group of primitive man-apes are portrayed as struggling for survival in a harsh, barren landscape. Without warning, a tall black slab appears. It is utterly alien. It exerts a mysterious influence on its discoverers. The glimmerings of crude intelligence appear when weapons are born of bone. The bone phases into a bone-shaped nucelar-powered space ship -- representing a mere fragment of cosmic time. Our segment -- the "Dawn of Man" sequence -- ends here but the film continues. Touched by the sun for the first time in eons, the monolith screeches a powerful radio signal into space and then falls silent forever. Onboard the space ship Discovery, a human crew, unaware of the monolith's signal, and HAL, a self-aware computer, who knows the truth, are woven in a web of destiny. HAL murders all but one of the crew (Dave Bowman), who must then try to "murder" HAL. Humanity is regained by violence. In orbit around Jupiter, Bowman encounters and enters the monolith, passing through a dazzling vortex of twisted time and space, only to emerge in a hotel room, where he lives out the rest of his mortal life. Quickly a mysterious transformation begins....the moment of death arrives: Bowman is reborn as a Starchild. The astral voyager returns to the blue planet Earth.

The film is wonderful in its entirety and I suggest that you make your way to the local video store and rent a copy for a complete viewing. Our class focus lies with the brief "Dawn of Man" sequence. What makes it so interesting? Is it a story about you? In what respect? Do you normally see yourself in the long run of human ancestors? What do you need to know to make sense of the story? How can we judge its accuracy? When do we speculate? When do we compare the film with concrete facts? And what facts might those be? We need systematic thinking to organize and sort our experiences. We need to learn the art of asking the right question. We also need to remember that this production was created primarily to entertain. Scrutinizing it for good or bad science, for bias and prejudice, or for just plain silliness, defeats much of the original purpose -- what, in> literary terms, we call "the pleasure of the text." In a larger sense, this is a story that captures you, that draws you in, puts a lump in your chest, and may (if it strikes you just right) change your life. All good art aims for that. For our purposes, the film should be viewed more as an "art-i-fact." It tells us much about the makers and their society -- their views of themselves, their aspirations, and their conclusions about human prospects in general. Why doesn't every artifact speak clearly to us about the same things? How does archaeology attempt to fill in the gaps in information from ancient tools and ancient sites? This course will give you some tips. We also want to know more. Accounts of human evolution usually feature four important episodes: terrestriality -- a shift from the trees to the ground; bipedalism ‹ the acquisition of upright posture; encephalization -- the development of the brain, intelligence, and language; and, civilization -- the emergence of technology, morals, and society (see Misia Landau, Narratives of Human Evolution, 1991:7). How are these episodes represented in "2001"? Are they reasonably accurate as portrayed? How do you know? What information do you need to be able to make an intelligent anthropololgical interpretation of these problems as presented in the film?

What else might we pursue to some advantage? The black obelisk (the monolith) invokes the curiosity of the creatures that find it. Surely we can relate to that. It symbolizes the unknown in life -- the puzzle of strange artifacts, of material seemingly beyond our ken (like this course on the first day?). Other sub-themes of special interest to us include tool development and use -- bony leftovers from "the tearing of the flesh" in meals of meat can be thrown as weapons and modified for other uses as well. Did human violence evolve as a system of self-defense? Or was it more opportunitistic and offensive in the quest for food and the possibility of triumphing over rivals? Or some knowable combination of both? Bones and stones figure importantly in the early development of human tool manufacture. How do they relate to the evolution of weapons? Language is> another foregrounded element in this sequence. How does it relate to the evolution of tools? The film moves from an incredible silence on an African plain to grunting and squatting in groups to elaborately evolved communication in outer space. What happened in between? How old is a word? Where did the music in the space sequences ("The Blue Danube") come from in the long run? And what about the body shapes of the creatures, the food consumption patterns, the competition between groups, the implied evolution of social groups from ape to angel, and the development of advanced intelligence itself? This little sequence packs a story on it all. How will you use it?

(2) "BAMBI MEETS GODZILLA "

["Those who control the symbols, control us" -- Alfred Korzybski, 1933.]

This short film is a classic piece of American pop culture (like "2001,"> also from the 1960's -- a time when the Vietnam war and civil unrest were very much in the news). Why do we care if Bambi dies? Is Godzilla really a bad guy? What does our reaction to such things tell us about our relationships with other animals and the ways we portray them in thought and deed? About our attitudes toward authority and violence? Could the truly ancient idea of the "tearing of the flesh" in the animal hunt and ritual sacrifice have any bearing on our modern interpretation of this film? How is that related to the statement that we are all "culturally-constructed, symbol-using beings"? And to the problems of representation in primate ethology?

The "Bambi syndrome" is an important part of the interpretive context of this film for us. As the stereotypic deer, Bambi symbolizes all those things we associate with deer, including doe-eyed innocence, wilderness, and the natural order. Walt Disney's film Bambi has had a profound impact on American attitudes toward wildlife, nature, and hunting. Many people complain about the hunters killing such symbols. The hunters complain that the "animal rights" activists are full of overblown sentiment, among other things. The hunters are right about one thing: for all its saccharine sweetness and childish whimsy, Disney's film is probably the most effective piece of antihunting propaganda ever made (see Matt Cartmill, "The Bambi Syndrome," Natural History 6:6-12, 1993).

(3) "SHOCK OF THE OTHER"
Paul Gauguin asked in his famous 1897 painting, "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" In doing so he expressed anxiety about the future of the modern world. These three basic questions recur throughout the Millennium series and this course. The program emphasizes the need for us to learn how the Western world's desire to remake other societies, especially tribal societies, into its own image has robbed us of their gifts. A tribal society is "A small-scale, pre-industrial society with its own language, culture and territory, living in comparative isolation and managing its affairs without the centralized authority of the state." They are the "Others" in the sense that an "Other" is any culture foreign to us. The main problem addressed by this series is to figure out what can we learn from "Others."

In the present video, host David Maybury-Lewis begins the series with a visit to his Xavante "brother" whom he first met 30 years before in central Brazil. We are asked to understand the need to protect other cultures that are threatened by industrial expansion and to find a balance between cultural diversity and our desire to be like one another. As an extension of the same themes, the Millennium series team then journeys deep into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon where they seek to unravel the mystery of a small tribe called the Mascho-Piro who have chosen to remain hidden from the outside world. Through scenes of the decimation of the tropical rain forests, interviews with threatened indigenous peoples, and the narrator¹s reflections on the discovery of the Americas and other historical events, we can discover why so much is at stake when modern industrialism meets the tribal world.


There is much to be learned here; much to be questioned; more to be studied. Reflecting on Christopher Columbus¹s journey to the New World, Maybury-Lewis asks: "Do we have to make other societies over in the image of our own?" What would it be like if everyone in the classroom were exactly alike? How can we begin to foster respect for differences as well as similarities? Furthermore, judging from your experience in this course as well as what is presented in this program, what are the roles and duties of an anthropologist? What are some of the challenges and dilemmas an anthropologist must face? Some of them are obviously ethical in nature. Why not study the Mascho-Piro whether they (or the government agencies that control access to them) like it or not? We could argue that our study will help to protect them from the crush of the industrial world. Where is the irony in that? Clue: like it or not, WE are agents for the industrial world. That is our cultural background. How can studying people change them?

(4) "A MAN CALLED BEE"
Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon recounts some the difficulties and strategies of his fieldwork among the Yanomamö of Southern Venezuela and Northern Brazil's.

(5) "DISCOVERING HUMAN LANGUAGE: COLORLESS GREEN IDEAS"
A colorful and entertaining introduction to some the fundamentals and complexities of language. Does the expression, "colorless green ideas," make any sense? How? Why?

(6) "AN ECOLOGY OF MIND"
This episode of the Millennium Series contrasts relationships that different societies have to the environment. How does nature fit into our lives? All societies survive by manipulating nature. But while tribal cultures seek harmony with nature, Western societies try to control it, often with devastating consequences. In this program you will learn how the Makuna of Colombia pass their sophisticated ecological awareness from generation to generation through complex myths and rituals. You will see how some tribal peoples' views contrast with the evolutionary ideas handed down to the modern world from the Bible and from 19th century Darwinian theory. You will also meet a gardener, Heather Apple, who exemplifies the new attitudes Western cultures will need to ensure humanity's survival on the Earth. She laments that we have lost sight of the bridge between culture and agriculture -- that we view fruits and vegetables as separate from ourselves rather than as living things. How do we seen culture and agriculture closely linked for the Gabra? The Makuna? How do they differ from farmers in the United States? At the end of this episode, David Maybury-Lewis asks us to develop a new myth about the interdependence between our environment and ourselves. If students were to adopt this belief, how would it change their daily lives? What do you think your city or town would be like if everyone believed that they were a part of the land?

(7) "A POOR MAN SHAMES US ALL"
This video emphasizes the point that traditional societies calculate wealth in terms of social ties; a rich person is someone who can call on a lot of other people and know that they will respond. Modern Western society, by contrast, calculates wealth in terms of possessions. An economy of things seems to be replacing an economy of people. Our Western views of wealth and economic needs have created a society of strangers in the midst of material riches, while tribal cultures such as the Weyewa of Indonesia and the Gabra of Kenya create economies of dependency on others and measure wealth through people, not possessions. Social relations are at stake in every transaction entered into in these tribal groups. In one example of that, a man called Boru learns from his father that "a poor man shames us all." How does Western society view the poor? What about the homeless person who is shown digging through the trash? Does modern American society believe that homeless persons are responsible for each other? Or are people simply responsible for themselves? Another part of the video shows an advertising man from Pepsi who says that he helps people create wants and needs. Reflect on the "things" in your lives. What is the difference between "wanting" and "needing" something? What are the "things" in your lives that you can do without? How does this knowledge affect your ability to understand tribal societies? They both want and need things, and frequently produce for both. And yet they don't seem to be caught up in our system of "endless wants pursued through limited means."

(8) "STRANGE RELATIONS"
How do we balance our personal desires for romance with our societal need
for stable marriages? "Strange Relations" explores how marriages in tribal societies from the valleys of Nepal and the plains of Niger challenge Western ideas and sensibilities yet are moral in the tribal world. Through scenes of a Toronto couple's marriage, it explores the uncertainties that characterize marriages in Western societies. In the video we travel to Provence, France, to learn how Western attitudes toward love and marriage were changed in the Middle Ages. Our society believes today that love should be the basis for marriage, out of which we create the family. Tribal societies consider love too unstable as a basis for marriage and see marriages as continuing families, not creating them. People are born into families and their families will continue after they die. The video shows us that courtship and marriage are defined by culture, and that there are many different forms of family throughout the world. For example, the Nyinba of Nepal have polyandrous mariages (see your textbook for definitions of marriage) because there is too little arable land to share among brothers if each were to start his own family. Why is "marrying for love" in some cultures impractical? What do different family structures reveal about other cultural values? Furthermore, we may not realize that many of our beliefs and customs are reinforced through the stories and myths we are told in our childhoods. The Nyinba have a myth which discourages passionate love. What stories do we have that encourage our fantasies of romantic love? (Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the the Beast, Romeo and Juliet.)

(9) "MISTAKEN IDENTITY"
This video asks the following questions and gives you some answers at the same time: Who are you? Where does your individual identity begin and end? While Western societies strive to answer these questions through a biological view -- conception, birth, adolescence, maturity, and death ‹ tribal cultures define identity by the myths and rituals of their society, by the people who rear them ("kinsmen" and "relatives"), and by an organic continuum to which they belong. The video explores these views of life and death and our place in each through scenes taken from the family life of an abortion counselor in Canada, a boy's initiation into manhood in a Brazilian Xavante tribe, a high school girl's attempted suicide, and an Indonesian Sumbanese tribesman's relationship to his dead relatives. A major point of contrast between "our" Western society and the tribal societies studied includes the concept of "social fabric" -- the web of symbols, meanings, social relationships, material things, politics, economics, institutions, and opportunities through which our lives unfold.

The "social fabric" of tribal societies seems to incorporate the individual person into a powerfully supportive and demanding network of relatives and personal behaviors appropriate to group concerns, while that of "our" Western society is much more impersonal, defined and controlled more by institutions than personal networks of families, etc. Our system also regularly leaves certain individuals adrift in society -- homeless, claimless, bereft of the resources needed to re-enter a productive and sociable life; and it fosters alienation in other forms that tribal societies find completely unacceptable -- indeed, in forms that they may see as threatening to all meaningful social order. What makes us different from our tribal cousins? How do we calculate our identities as individuals? As members of social groups? What does our attitude toward the past have to do with that?

A major point made explicitly in "Mistaken Identity" should be clear to you: cultures that stress individualism over cooperation will define certain values differently. Attitudes toward the past are only part of it. The ways people conceptualize and actualize freedom is another interesting example. The Xavante, Paulo, says of his cultural legacy: "One path for all, yet each must walk it in his own way." Is that your view, too? A "good American" view, perhaps? Why or why not? Apply the same mental exercise to "success," "courage," and "happiness." These things are not the same for everyone or every society. Why not?

Some additional insight into the problems of identity construction can be gained by looking at the social and cultural contexts of reproduction itself. How do we name, legalize, incorporate, abandon, accept, reject, or nurture (among other possibilities) our babies in the long run? Babies carry it all. They become the activators of culture. They put society into motion as they grow and the hope is always that they will reproduce us in biology and culture -- the stuff that "matters" to us -- forever. We are thus keenly interested in what happens to this material of our own making. Every society has rules and expectations governing parent-child relations; every society makes something special out of this heart of the reproductive system; every society has an explicitly calculated view of how kinship systems "work" (how babies are "made," etc.) and how people will be expected to behave as participants in these systems (more "identity construction"). As it happens, failed kinship threatens every form of life. Adaptation and survival for whole cultural systems are put on the line when a society, for whatever reasons, can no longer reproduce itself.

You should be able to discuss these issues intelligently as a result of: (a) reading the asssignments in Ferraro on enculturation, socialization, and personality formation; (b) watching the "Mistaken Identity" video; (c) listening to the lecture in class on the "social fabric" of our lives and its influence on the problems of individual identity formation in our society; and, above all else, (d) thinking about these subjects as they apply to you and your own life.

(10) "TIGHTROPE OF POWER"
How do tribal societies maintain social order and harmony without the vast legal and governmental institutions that we rely on? This video invites viewers to contrast the Western forms of state to the tribal practice of democracy through consensus. It travels to Canada to witness the struggles of the Objibwa-Cree and Mohawk tribes against the Canadian federal government. Understanding their visions of the world can help us refine our
definitions of democracy, pluralism, and the state. We must ask in this context, What is a state? A nation? This program explores the relationship between states and nations, and raises further questions about tolerance and consensus in that framework. We can say from what is both shown and implied here that a nation is a group of people with a strong cultural and political identity derived from a sense of common history. A state, as you know from your readings so far, is a political entity with recognized boundaries subject to the authority of a central government. How does the idea of a "melting pot," i.e., a society in which immigrants are expected to abandon their original cultures and adopt the culture of their new country, enter here? Does taking away one¹s language take away one's culture? To take away culture is to take away power. What does the video say about that problem in particular?

(11) "TOUCHING THE TIMELESS"
Perhaps many individuals within modern society grasp onto religion in order to gain a sense of wholeness and meaning in their lives. Tribal peoples fill their lives with meaning through a deeply rooted spirituality that connects them to the gods, the ancestors, and the earth. But, in that context, what does it mean to find one's place in the cosmos? What in particular are the different ways that Western societies and tribal cultures seek to elevate their lives from the ordinary world into the extraordinary? This video accompanies the Huichol people of Mexico on their annual pilgrimage to collect peyote, the sacred food of the gods, and it visits the house of a Navajo medicine man who invites the spirits into his world through sand painting, chanting, and "walking in beauty." Both cases show a blending of the tribal and the modern world. The Huichols make part of their pilgrimage by truck where once they walked on foot for 45 days. Chalio -- "born a Huichol, made a Catholic," as he says of himself -- is personally torn between the two worlds, that is, between the Christian beliefs he has learned and the traditional Huichol customs with which he was raised. Are there other ways that modern objects can be brought into traditional life without changing one¹s values and beliefs? What are other ways that the traditional and the modern can learn from each other and work together? And what of the 86 year old Navajo medicine man who reinvents the world everyday through thought, word, and action? What does his curing ceremony say about a relationship of state of mutual dependence between people, the earth, and the spiritual world? Is his cultural system of beliefs and practices less torn than Chalio¹s? Is it more of a compartmentalized "island" in the modern world? What is the potential for "sacrilege" or misuse of the sacred in each case? You will need to know what is (or can be) sacred and how it can be respected in each case to answer this last question properly.

(12) "INVENTING REALITY"
Modern society tries to describe how things happen through science. Traditional societies are often interested more in why they happen and here our science frequently does not have the answers. Traditional approaches often complement or parallel modern science in powerful ways. Tribal societies may not always be able to describe how something happens in terms that satisfy modern interests such as those of science, but they may be able to explain the why's with great rationality and detail. Using this information to maintain and reclaim balance and harmony within themselves and their surroundings is crucial for tribal societies. In that connection, we can ask along with the video if our modern needs for certainty and objectivity in our lives have closed off the seemingly magical influence of the natural world that tribal societies recognize. Is there in fact a balance to strike? Wisdom to be gained by learning how to listen again, how to see anew? This video revisits the Huichol Indians of central Mexico to witness a Mexican doctor and a tribal shaman battling an epidemic of a rare strain of deadly measles. How does their relationship and understanding of each other challenge some of your stereotypes about remote or isolated societies? The camera moves to a cancer treatment center in Canada for contrast and a review of the same questions. Finally, we visit the wilderness of Australia to ask the larger question: Is reality something we shape, as the Australian Aborigines believe, or does it shape us?

(13) "THE FIRST STORYTELLERS"
Several parts of your readings in Ferraro come to bear on this video (e.g., art, myth, religion, social order, and politics). Campbell discusses the importance of our relationship to animals, accepting death as rebirth in the myth of the buffalo and the story of Christ, the rites of passage from one stage of physical and social development to another for individuals in primitive societies, the role of mystical shamans, and the decline of ritual in today's society. He argues further that "ancient myths were designed to harmonize the mind and the body." He says that "The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things the body does not want. The myths and the rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the way of life in accord with the way nature dictates."

This is a rather narrow view of myth (not to mention the ambiguity of what exactly nature "dictates" to our culturally molded species) ‹ it is a useful interpretation, but limited and certainly not above criticism. In other places, Campbell provides at least six different explanations of the function of myth: (1) to justify society; (2) to integrate human beings with society; (3) to integrate human beings with the natural and supernatural world; (4) to explain the nature of the world and our place in it; (5) to convey socially produced signals which allow us to adjust to life crises; and (6) to convey messages from what he identifies (following Jung) as the "collective unconscious" of all human beings. He is exactly right, however, when he talks about rituals as the enactments of myths, thereby linking myths to religion. But what about the "myth of the American frontier; the myth of Aryan supremacy? Campbell also counts as myths many themes and ideologies that do not involve the supernatural. Are these myths also associated with particular rituals? Does it make any sense to speak of "secular ritual" in this context? And how does art figure into all of this? Certainly there is entertainment value in ritual, including storytelling. And symbols are always manipulated for psychological effects. Can they be manipulated for political effects as well? Korzybski once said that "Those who control the symbols, control us" (see "Bambi..." above). Does storytelling, in the form of myths, help to maintain or restore order in society? How old is storytelling anyway? Does the material expression in art and ritual of abstract ideas about the nature of the world and our place in it have any simultaneously religious and political effects? Yes. But how?

Your task, should you choose to accept it before this paper self-destructs, is to put these pieces of information together in a sensible way and draw some conclusions about the interconnectedness of art, politics, and religion -- in modern and ancient societies. How does the Campbell video illustrate (or fail to illustrate) your conclusions? Your ideas about storytelling in general? Some related material will appear on the final examination.

(14) "THE ART OF LIVING"
While Western society relegates aesthetics to specialists, in tribal cultures, where they have no word that is equivalent to the Western concept of "art" or "artist," views of life and death are traditionally expressed in everyday dances, sculptures, and paintings. In this video, we travel with David Maybury-Lewis to the Wodaabe tribe of Niger and the Dogon people of Mali to witness the ways they celebrate life and death with acts of beauty and grace. We also meet a North American artist who shows us his way of connecting his art to the meaning of life and death.

The lesson -- at least a primary one here -- is that modern society separates art and daily life, while tribal societies fuse them. To a tribal culture, art can be as simple as the presentation of a meal or the posture of a warrior. It can also be bound up complexly with myth, religion, and political concerns. Rites of passage -- events such as puberty, marriage, and death -- are given great significance through the ritual functions that accompany them in the tribal world. The concern is generally with the place of individuals in society and the place of society in the wider world of other peoples, animals, spirits, places, and things. That is the stuff of life and of living on the planet. It needs to be celebrated and marked symbolically. In that connection, the Dogon say that "Death makes life precious...Death is the wind of life." What does this mean? In what ways do you think the people in this episode live life to its fullest? By contrast, Maybury-Lewis suggests that Western culture tries to deny death by removing all examples of mortality. Do you think that assumption is true? We dye our hair, get face lifts, and value youthful beauty. And speaking of beauty, when is it art? Note that every culture has its own definition of beauty. How does our culture define beauty? Long ago, heavy women were considered more desirable than slender women and a pale complexion was more preferable than being tan. What are other ways the Western standard of beauty has changed? Is it the same for men and women? If art can be considered as creative and imaginative cultural expression through a range of activities and objects, is the way we make ourselves beautiful an art form? Is it the only art form that is truly integrated in the everyday expressions of modern societies?

(15) "AT THE THRESHOLD"

Conclusion of the Millennium Series.


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 Last Updated 11/3/08