My son Christopher graduates next month with a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology. I think that this happened because we made him a sandbox as a child, and he seemingly has not grown out of it, as most of us do after age 8. Only now he is more geeky. So instead of digging for plastic soldiers and banana peels in the sand, he looks for shards (pieces of pottery, I’m told), and sherds (pieces of glass) on Caribbean islands. And mostly what he really finds are really old chicken bones.
Completely consistent with archaeological geekiness are Christopher’s long disputations about archaeological ethics. This seems to be a hazard of the major, and includes rants against treasure hunters, mumbling about stratigraphic context, expressions about the need to involve locals in research, the nature of local museum collections, and the importance of being able to converse in local languages. And of course, as Durkheim might say, every chicken bone is sacred. This is fine, and I can relate. We sociologists too like to believe that we are important enough to harm someone, and therefore need ethics, just like doctors and soldiers. We are not as fascinated by chicken bones, but to each their own.
So at least until two weeks ago, Christopher seemingly was seemingly headed toward a standard academic career in boring archaeology, which as far as I can tell is not that different from being a young civil engineer, medical lab tech, or other standard fare. But then he confused us by insisting that for the graduation ceremony, his sister must provide him with a fedora to replace the mortarboard, and a whip. It turns out that like to many male graduates of archaeology, he thinks his degree and expertise in chicken bones makes him into some kind of Indiana Jones, rather than just another drudge. In fact, he deludes himself into believing he has a resemblance to this guy, even though his chief archaeological mentor is female professor specializing in (among other things) underwater archaeology a totally cool sub-discipline which Indiana Jones has never even attempted (can Indy even swim?). And anyway, what does Indy know about with sherds, shards, ethics, or chicken bones? Is Indiana Jones really that great of a role model for archaeologists?
So I asked a couple male archaeologists, about how I could cure Christopher of his Indiana Jones fetish. Oddly, they did not consider this a problem. In fact, they just looked at me quizzically, as if to say, why wouldn’t he be like Indiana Jones? The unspoken response was, “isn’t every archaeologist kind of like Indiana Jones—particularly the really cool part?” They will acknowledge that Indy as portrayed in the movies is a treasure hunter and a fraud, but they blame this on the writers, not Indy himself. Like Christopher, they fantasize that indeed, archaeology is just like the movies rather than the sandbox and the lab. And even when the film-maker makes bloopers, like asserting that Indy learned Aymara (or was it Quechua?) while riding with Pancho Villa, they blame the filmmaker and point out that Indy really really rode with Hiram Bingham. The fictional non-existent Indy never gets the blame. No, even archaeologists like Cindy Van Gilder blame poor Steven Spielberg, a mere film-maker, for the bloopers and politically incorrect story lines.
Out of frustration, I went to the Archaeological Institutes of America web-site. I figured they would have a dignified response to the claptrap of Indiana Jones “the archaeologist.” But no, there it got even worse. They elected Harrison Ford, an ACTOR, to the Board of Directors in 2009. They even gave him a major award—an occurrence that only one lonely and ignored archaelogical blogger, Dr. Tim McGuiness, has the good sense to protest.
So what is it about archaeology that makes them take the fictional Indiana Jones so seriously? After all, Ford played Han Solo in Star Wars, and was an outstandingly cool alpha male there too, but he was not elected to NASA’s board of directors. Agatha Christie was never given a special position at the British Home Affairs office because her characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple outdid Scotland Yard’s detectives. Nor do any criminal justice types assert that Dirty Harry was a good thing, “except for the part the writers got wrong.” Nor has the American Criminological Society given Clint Eastwood their highest honors
Nor is the Air Force going to give a medal to Tom Cruise and place him on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for acting in “Top Gun.” They have far more restraint than that. And hey, I know about such restraint, since I’m a sociologist, and we can legitimately claim America’s number one actor, none other than Ronald Reagan himself, as one of our very own (Sociology BA, class of 1932 Eureka College). Note we can even do this without resorting to Reagan’s FICTIONAL film work in his well-known movie, Bedtime for Bonzo, or in any other high profile role he may have had in Washington DC. Ronald Reagan is, by training, one of us! But, modestly, we sociologists for over 60 years resisted the temptation to elevate the world’s best-known actor to the Board of Directors of the American Sociological Association. ASA even resisted the obvious temptation to give Reagan a major award, preferring instead to attract the attention of the world through the elegance of our regression equations, and sophisticated interpretations of post-modern meaning. Why can’t the AIA in particular follow our dignified lead, and modestly admit that Indiana Jones is ONLY A MOVIE CHARACTER, just like Ronald Reagan was ONLY A MOVIE CHARACTER. (Ok, so maybe Reagan was more than a movie character—but Indy ain’t!)
None of the of course addresses the basic problem of how to deal with a Indiana Jones wannabe in the family. Is this some kind of permanent disorder? Or is it treatable? Perhaps someone out there in the Ethnography.com community has some advice to offer?