Is “Indiana Jones” a Psychological Hazard for Male Archaeologists?

     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 community has some advice to offer?

12 thoughts on “Is “Indiana Jones” a Psychological Hazard for Male Archaeologists?

  1. I did not know a BA in archaeology existed. I thought they were all BAs in anth, and you specialized later.

  2. Chris has a double major in History and Archaeology. His Archaeology major was created as an “independent” major by Christopher and his faculty.

    My experience in the US is that most archaeology is done through anthropology departments. In Europe it is often associated with History departments, or is a stand-alone program.

  3. In UK, it’s a stand-alone program in many universities. Or was when I did it in the early 90s. I sympathise with you, Tony, regarding a wannabe Dr Jones in your midst. Mercifully, I only had to work with them, no disrespect to your nearest and dearest, for whom I wish every success.

    Jones Syndrome is endemic in US faculties and I have worked with many. It seems to be an acceptable practice Stateside, and many Jonesites are very successful and respected. All were philanderers of the highest order, with the number of grad students receiving after-class supervision rising rapidly as the Jonesite enters middle age.

    In the UK, those who adopt this persona soon find themselves deeply unpopular. However, the true British archaeologist adopts the character of Stig of the Dump and derives status in inverse proportion to the number of baths per annum s/he takes. Long hair almost guarantees a permanent job, although there aren’t many of those. Leather elbow-patches ensure a professorship and are usually worn over corduroy.

    In the UK, colleagues’ opprobrium tends to temper the young archaeologist’s yen to dress up in leather hat and whip. In the US, I believe an assistant professorship almost requires it. I therefore conclude from my definitively unscientific personal observations as a recovering archaeologist that Jonesness is a hindrance in the UK but positively beneficial in the US. Whether it can or should be cured therefore depends largely where young ‘un intends to practice the dark arts of the trowel.

  4. I’ve found this more common among culture anths. in the US. My first intro. prof. joined the Merchant Marines when he was 15 during the Korean war and sailed all over the world. He had his certification as a sea Captain, and told us that if he didn’t show up one day, that that’s where he’d be. He talked about sailing with pirates near the Straights of Malaka, and adventures in Egypt. I was hooked. I dropped out of college and lived overseas with the Navy for 4 years, and came back ruined for a regular 9 to 5.
    I found that many of the people with me in the department were former military and couldn’t see themselves giving up the adventure. One of my friends told me that he got hooked from an anthro. that ran a small museum in Corpus Christi, Texas with all kinds of exotic stuff. The guy would show people healed bullet wounds from some adventures somewhere around the world.
    I have never personally seen a cultural prof. ever try to dispel this mystique, or refrain from regaling their own adventures, even if it was living in a refuge camp in Sierra Leone.
    I met one guy that has a steady gig at a firm that does environmental consulting, and only works in the US, and I was shocked. It was the first time I knew a cultural guy that didn’t mind getting stuck in the US only.

    I did find the archaeology profs. that I had rather stuffy, and more scientific. I think it’s funny that one of the quotes on the UT Austin anth. website homepage was Eminem’s line, “Please lord don’t let me be stuck in no regular job.”

  5. Wait a sec. Are you telling me that there really are no crystal skulls and the the Inca did not come from space aliens?

  6. Tim: Chris has a first job in Cologne, Germany, on an urban dig. Not sure how his Jonesness will fly there. Not sure either whether “Stig of the Dump” will work there, either–there is a fastidiousness in Germany which may not fly with such a role model. But I get your point. One thing I suspect that archaeologists in the US, UK, and Germany may share is a fondness for beer. Which is perhaps a subject for another blog.

    Sorry, Ryan, to disappoint you about you about the crystal skulls, and the space alien/Roswell thing. There is a really good movie review on this blog by Cindy Van Gilder (see link in my blog) about THAT part of the Indiana Jones phenomenon!

    Rick, cultural anthropologists and their unique “culture” are probably worth another blog, too. Perhaps I could relate it to the nature of deviance within the academy….

  7. Hey Tony,

    Ya, the “archaeological” aspects of the film were…disastrous. Too bad. It wouldn’t have taken much to make something at least kind of accurate and plausible. But instead they had to butcher the history and archaeology of the Americas to score some points for…well, I don’t know who. But when the film finally degraded into the silly plot about the crystal skulls and aliens that’s when I knew that Lucas had completely lost it. Oh well, I suppose it’s not his job to portray archaeology realistically, but he could at LEAST have avoided the whole space alien thing.

  8. Indeed, Jason, Reagan was a sociologist. He has the same degree as you do. Sorry to not let you in on this secret when you were in my classes, but as I wrote, we sociologists are indeed a modest lot!

  9. Chris told me that I got sherds and shards backwards. Sherds are pieces of pottery and shards are pieces of glass. As Steve Martin used to say Excuuuuuuuuuse Me!

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