27 May 2008


I saw a particularly gruesome and vulgar episode of South Park that raised the bar on brilliant satire. The episode was about Britney Spears and was a commentary on celebrity obsession culture in the US media today. Britney is stalked throughout the episode and blows off the top 90% of her head. For the rest of the episode she is hustled around by a 4th grader (tongue loose) to escape te glare of the media. Nevertheless, not only does the media but an entre group of people finds Britney and shines the spotlight so bright that she collapses and dies. A conspiracy is revealed in the end in which US culture is compared to Mesoamerican cultures in which human sacrafice was done peridoically. It is said that we breed these helpless (hapless?) celebrities solely to destroy them in the end and maintain order.

What I find brilliant about thsi episode is not only the brillaint commentary about how obsessed with celebrity lives we are, but the comparison to human sacrafice. The creaters disregard any notion of political correctness and call out the hideous aspects of our culture in an explicit way.

This kind of look at our culture opens the door for a self-reflexive analysis that exposes our own culture as bare as it can get. It draws connections. Suddenly we see our own ways of life compared to something that we might consider both immoral and gruesome and savage.

This came to mind earlier this evening as I read a refreshing blog about the raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints in Texas. Most are quick to make judgements about polygamy and "cults," but are these things we define as wacko notions really so different from our own? The idea of mongamy in the US is fairly debunked. Serial monagamy at best, we might say. The fact is we change partners often and often commit to several at a time (even while enveloped in this sacred institution that is "marriage"). Placing celebrities on a giant public pedistal (TV) and watching their fall is tantamount to human sacrafice. We regulalry mutilate our bodies by injecting poison into our face and chopping up are breasts to conform to culturally accepted norms of beauty. Yet we are disgusted by female circumcision. We are quick to judge Muslim religious states, yet refuse to see the strong and often violent influence of Christianity in our own political and national actions. Plenty of various states are criticized for human rights violations while we practice state-sanctioned murder (death penalty anyone?) on a daily basis.

Who is more savage?

What do we need for the future? Money, success, a democrat in the White House? No. Hope? Ha!

Perspective. We don't need to discard our ideals and practice my level of moral relativism, but we do need perspective. A perspective to understand context and continuity.

02 May 2008

Misanthropy, Anti-Intellectualism and the State of Things

As this academic year comes to a close in a frenzy of emotion and ideas and worries and hope, few things can prove as therapeutic as some good old fashioned dissenting (that and an hour long run without regards to pace that has left me sore and literally running from a thunderstorm).

Is it ironic to live and breath anthropology, yet abound in misanthropy? Humanity. Ur doin' it wrong! My days, of late, are bipolar swings from hope and camaraderie matched by despair and feeling lost in the deteriorating state of the world. I can't handle the media any longer. From the attitudes towards the church that was raided to the fact that the 2008 campaign is focusing on a man, Wright, who has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Time's 100 came out recently. Is it any surprise that Brad Pit and Angelina Jolie appear on the list alongside the Dali Lama? Is it any wonder that TV and movie celebrities appear on the "Heroes and Pioneers" list and that there is a section devoted to artists and entertainers? Not to say that art and music aren't important things in life, but that we attribute equal levels of influence to Barak Obama, George W. Bush, Lorne Michaels and Bruce Springstien boggles my mind.

Maybe I read too much into these things. But that's what anthropologists do, we treat the media and seemingly insignificant and harmless things as valid artifacts, symbols dependent on hegemonic systems of understanding and value. With the unrelenting presence of mass media and communication it is no surprise that Lorne Michaels wields as much influence if not more than, say, Vladimir Putin. But seeing that these two men operate within (what I would consider) completely separate spheres of reality, I am worried that we form our view of the world with shady boundaries between what we see on TV and what is going on abroad.

Separation of church and state (HA!)? Let's try separation of TV and reality first.

Anthropologists have interesting perspectives, a perspective that seems strangely lost on many (for it is not difficult to obtain). We are no better than anyone else; there are systems of belief and value that I cannot escape which influence how despondent I come off from day to day. However, what I witness from many of my peers all around is saddening.

Anti-intellectualism is very real. This is not an attack on "stupid" people or religious minded folk. Educations vary widely across the nation and I have no problem with religion and faith so long as it is accompanied with as little arrogance as possible. No, this is an attack on actions. Everyday people refuse to open their minds even an inch to explore something new. We are so entrenched in what is American and Moral and Traditional that we are closed to expansion. Now, things that are new (and often confusing) are not seen as opportunities to learn and understand (were they ever?) but are simply seen as threats to our very existence and being. Everyday people refuse to make up their own minds and instead heed the calls of TV anchors, "analysts" and rich celebrities.

I'm having difficulties communicating exactly what I mean; perhaps I have grown weary from my wild run. I'll just say how I came to think of this misanthropy. As I consider my future in archaeology, I must look to graduate school. Much of my looking is dependent on the fact that I want to leave the Midwest. Climate and landscape have driven me to the breaking point. My research into archaeological theory has shown me that archaeology in the US, as with all "American" things, seems to operate in a sort of vacuum. I had an epiphany. I need to get the hell out of this country and work with academics abroad. I am by no means naive and have traveled abroad for brief and extended periods, but leaving the country for grad school brings me to another level.

I have joked about Canada and fleeing there like the hippies of yore, driven out by a draft that never came to be for our generation. But, in my epiphany, Canada became a logical idea. The type of archaeology I want to study is found in this geographic location. This option is very much on the table and appeals to me.

Then I wondered if I really am being driven out. Certainly, my generation shares many things with the flower children of the 60s and 70s. Indeed, I am positive that we are entrenched in the same Cold War ideology. We've got the war, we've got the injustice and we've got the idiots in Washington. We're missing the draft. But, I am realizing now (having found myself in many uncomfortable spots like the Creationist Museum in Kentucky) that I am not welcome in the country.

This world we have created within the United States, one driven by greed and money and religion and self-riteousness has pushed me too far. Here I am, a young man with a great group of friends and a wonderful supportive family (and a hell of a lot of potential?), distrusting humanity. It's not right. Whilst navigating our world as one does nowadays through Facebook and CNN and "the tubes" I am angered and frustrated.

I see hope though, despite my dismal outlooks presented here, deep down inside of me I am an optimist, a humanist that knows there's potential. My hope now is that I can find my higher higher education abroad and flourish in an environment that embraces intellectualism and embraces the opportunities and challenges of the world today.

Will I come back? What will the climate of US philosophy look like in 10 years? Am I abandoning my country in its time of need? I'm not sure. Will I become another statistic of brain drain? I don't know. I probably won't find a way to change the world, I just hope that I will be able to find a place in it.