The Top Three Things I Have Not Been Blogging About

3. The New Lead Singer of the Band Journey

I intended to call this one “World Systems Cinderella,” and in it I would have recounted the story of how Arnel Pineda, onetime street performer in the Philippines, was chosen to be the new lead singer for the rock band Journey.  He was discovered, they say, on Youtube, performing with his ’80s cover band and rocking out like nobody’s business.  Does this story represent a triumphant democratization of fame?  The truly talented will rise to the top and be plucked from obscurity and swept to their global destiny?  I really don’t know!  Some friends and I traveled to see the band on their recent tour, and it really was a great show.  It was different from any amphitheater rock show I have ever been to: for example, middle-aged Filipino women were disproportionately represented in the audience – hooting and hollering for Arnel, carrying posters, dancing with glee, and singing along with every word.  It was a super-fun evening and Arnel was brilliant.  His voice was truly soaring, very Steve Perry, but with its own crystal-clear tone.  During the ballads, his face contorted in soulful ecstasy; during the anthems, he was exuberant and powerfully leaped around the stage.  He was engaging and charming – a golden, glowing presence in front of the other members of the band – who appeared to be a posse of waxy, static, (LATE) middle-aged white dudes twice his size.  They looked pleased and proud, and dare I say, a little bemused.  (Or was I projecting?)  Arnel’s fans were fervent.  An audience member was heard agreeing with her friend that Arnel was so cute, she “just wanted to tuck him into [her] eco-bag” and take him home with her (this is San Francisco, after all, we fantasize about bringing home our eye-candy in appropriate packaging).  In an instance of cultural confusion, the phrase, “We love lumpia!”** flashed across the big screen during the break (audience members can text their comments to see them on the giant display).  Asked a Euro-American friend, “Who’s lumpia?” Giggle, giggle.  Oh, globalization!  Oh, technology!  On your benign days you do create some humorous juxtapositions…

**Lumpia are a delicious Filipino food that resemble an eggroll.

2. Same – Sex Marriage Rights and California’s Proposition 8

This summer I actually wrote a blog entry about marriage.  Thanks to the Supreme Court of California, I had just had the pleasure of performing a legal marriage for two wonderful women friends.  It inspired me to want to go public with my own blueprint for a better system, one in which there is no such thing as civil marriage.  We just let it be a completely religious/spiritual union, and instead allow all adult Americans to chose one person to be a legal partner.  These legal partners would have financial, insurance, medical rights together, but could be any relationship – your grandmother, your brother, your adult child, your college roommate, or your sweetie.  You’d file papers and have a variety of legal rights vis-a-vis each other, rights that have traditionally been reserved for husband and wife.  We should all get to have a life partner, regardless of whether we feel like having sex with him/her.  Now don’t jump down my throat – I haven’t ironed out all of the details, and in the end, that’s why I never posted the blog I was working on.  I just think that with paternity (and maternity, if necessary) being determined through scientific means, legally responsible parenting would be pretty much the same without civil marriage, as would divorce settlements – palimony, etc. have made the marriage papers irrelevant.  Declare your commitment to God, or whomever you please, leave the state out of it. Until that day, marriage is a critical right, however.  Tomorrow, Californians will go to the polls and among the many propositions they will vote on is Proposition 8, designed to overturn the same-sex marriage rights upheld as constitutional by the state supreme court.  I will vote no and then come home and bite my fingernails down to the nub as I watch the election returns.  Please, oh please, let all of those hours and sections of Anthro 1 taught all over the state pay off!!  If Proposition 8 is defeated, I will give contemporary anthropology some of the credit, and if it passes and same-sex marriage rights are revoked, I will vow to redouble my efforts to teach for the appreciation of human difference.  There have been some powerful ads on both sides of the Prop. 8 debate, and I would tell you about them – but remember, the gimmick for this list is that it is the things that I have not been blogging about…

1. Any and All Things Sarah Palin

Talk about a made for blogging babe.  On the one hand, commentary on her political presence could have been a full-time job, and then some. On the other hand, Tina Fey so nailed her that most of the rest of us felt safe in taking the last few months off.  Honest to god, it was like Tina stepped up to the plate and called out to the rest of us, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this one,” and hit it out of the park.  I have chosen to address only one of the many things I have not been blogging about when it comes to Ms Palin – the inane idea that women don’t like her because she does not toe the feminist line – that is, *cough*, that somehow she is a maverick feminist, *double cough*.  Such a maverick, a reverse double maverick a-la McCain on SNL, that she is just plain not a feminist, you might say.  OR you might even say that nobody cares whether she calls herself a feminist or not, or whether other feminists call her a feminist or not…because I simply do not share MANY of her opinions and values. Good lord, people, male/female, black/white, short/tall, don’t like her because she is a completely unqualified vice presidential candidate.  She has dubious ideas about dinosaurs, sex-education, funding for sexual assault victims, and foreign policy, to say the least.  Apparently there were some folks in the Republican party that thought that the fact that we both have wombs and know how to use them would create an instant bond.  I do like her hair.  I think she has worn some very nice suits.  Her glasses are cute, and they really suit her face.  I’d vote for her to get her own reality show – Alaska is a very popular venue for such things, there is plenty of family drama to capture, and interesting careers.  Maybe one of the younger Palins can sing?

And just like that I would have so much more to not blog about.

Wake Up and Smell the (Fair-trade) Coffee

While I find your particular conflation of “liberal,” “Marxist,” and “academic anthropologist” delightfully mid-century, (although probably going to garner you a D on the final exam), Mark, I have let it slide long enough. I’ve got news for you, in the United States, you ARE a left-leaning anthropologist, and there’s little you can do about it. Why? Because the way that the political lines are drawn in this country and the terms “left” and “right” are defined, you fall squarely to the left and so does nearly every anthropologist in the country. (Oh, drat! Shouldn’t there be some discipline that studies the way that people get categorized into groups against their will? Someone should totally get on that! Any takers? Mark?)

In this country, if you accept the idea that traditionally described racial categories are a social construction and not a biological reality, you’re a liberal. If your eyes roll when you hear that medical insurance covers Viagra because it treats a medical condition, while birth control pills should be purchased with the patient’s own dime because they represent a life-style choice, you’re a lefty. And apparently, if you believe that there are historical structures related to the nature of our economic system that work not only to create socioeconomic classes but preserve them intact for generations, you’re a Marxist.

Are we the most left-leaning discipline in the academy? Does it matter?! We are one of the only (if not the only) disciplines that rests on assumptions about humankind that are classified as liberal in this country (you know, like evolution and human rights). If you accept the central tenet of American anthropology, cultural relativism, not only are you a liberal in this country, you are likely a bleeding heart liberal. The very nature of the enterprise of contemporary anthropology — to understand human diversity, to place value on difference, to eschew meta-narratives, to challenge the status quo and the naturalization of cultural traditions, etc. — are hallmarks of what people in this country call liberal.

I’ve been an anthropologist for a little over 20 years now, and learned my trade in your bastions of “liberalism,” and have never met anyone who fits your stereotype of the academic anthropologist — especially the part where you seem to keep confusing communism and Marxism. Don’t even get me started with the way you throw post-modernism around. (Maybe someone should have paid a little more attention in the classroom if he was planning on using these words later on.) And if we have reached the point where “caring about the oppressed” makes either a discipline or a person fundamentally flawed, well then, we liberals have alot more educating to do, don’t we?

So, Mark, I think it IS true that you, along with virtually all of your anthropological kin are left-leaning when you stand on the American political landscape. You are correct, however, about one major factor that makes it difficult to classify you as a liberal by American standards (and no, I am not talking about the Pentagon funding): you are incredibly comfortable with the inflammatory, over-generalizing, “truthiness” that characterizes the rhetoric of the most vocal members of the American right.

The devil is in the details, they say, and lord knows, neither one of you would be caught talking to that commie bastard. Accuracy – be damned.

Indiana Jones and the Myth of the Moundbuilders (Big Time Spoiler Alert)

The hat. The whip. That crooked, knowing smile. For Indy fans, any excuse to be in the big-screen presence of their idol is a cause for celebration. Yes, as an archaeologist who was a teenager in the late 80’s, of course I have a soft spot for Henry Jones, Jr., but for the record, I have never, ever been tempted to purchase a fedora, and it takes more than the mere mention of the word “archaeology” to sell me on a movie.

In Lucas & Spielberg’s latest collaboration there were plenty of small pleasures for the archaeologically inclined. For example, there is a hilarious scene where Indy crashes through the university library on a motorcycle, and then a student, without so much as blinking at his unusual entry, approaches him to ask a question, the reply to which is the advice to read V. Gordon Childe. (If that’s not hilarious to you, skip ahead to the next paragraph). We also see Dr. Jones in the classroom lecturing on the famous European site Skara Brae. And, of course, there are the usual sets with funky, cool ruins – I particularly admired the locking/unlocking mechanism on one of the temple doors.

My crowd (two other anthropology professors, myself and a bunch of archaeology students) laughed even harder at the references to life in the academy. See the example above, and feel a professor’s incredulity at how certain students will plague you with questions in any setting – the grocery store, the ladies room, a funeral… Additionally, after a particularly intense action scene, Indy’s young sidekick says to him, “I thought you were a teacher!” This time the reply is, “I am (hesitation), part-time.” This was greeted with howls of amusement in our part of the theater. We gasped in horror, however, when the Dean comes to tell Indy that he has been let go (over a Cold War controversy) and agitated whispers ran up and down the rows: “Omigod! Doesn’t he have tenure?! WTF!”

Another area of satisfaction for long-term followers of the franchise will be the relationship between Indiana and his long-lost love Marion Ravenwood. Kudos to Lucas-Speilberg for bringing back this character and letting her be impetuous, charming, assertive, and competent, all while looking her age. She gets to be a mom too, shouting advice to her son about his fencing technique as he battles a Soviet agent in a ridiculously “unlikely setting.” When asked if he hasn’t had plenty of women since they had parted (Indy chickened out a week before their wedding), Indy replies, “Yeah, and they all had the same problem, none of them were you.” Awwwww. Yay! He realizes that her smart-ass, take-no-prisoners, give-as-good-as-you-get attitude is exactly what he wants in his life and it is impossible not to feel a great sense of righteous balance restored to the universe when they marry at the end.

Now, one eyebrow went up the first time that the words Mesoamerica and then “in Peru” came in quick succession. It came back down a hair when Indy speaks to a local near Nazca and tells his sidekick that the language is “Quechua – a pre-Inkan language.” This trust was ultimately betrayed when the movie’s writers, however, bought into one of the oldest and most offensive of the myths colonizers told about the cultures of the New World: their accomplishments came from being taught by more advanced outsiders. Sigh. So painful. So racist. So unnecessary. That’s right, this movie (complete with a nod to Roswell) explicitly suggests that the peoples of the Americas were taught the skills of agriculture and irrigation by aliens.

This patently offensive idea undermines the accomplishments of New World civilizations and, frankly, is disturbingly hard to kill. Over the last 500 years Europeans and Americans have sought nearly any explanation for the complexity of native cultures in the Americas. Possible influences have been sought in a lost tribe from Israel, European wanderers, and even Atlantis. In the twentieth century extremely popular versions of this vein of thinking have included the idea that the Olmec civilization developed under the influence of priest-kings who came from ancient Egypt, and of course, Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, in which ancient cultures around the world are given inspiration and innovation by aliens.

One of the pieces of evidence that is most commonly cited in this less than rigorous scholarship is the presence of pyramids all over the world. If a pyramid is broadly defined as a building that is wider at the bottom and tapers to the top, it is hardly a mystery as to why this structure would be common. Any small child with a block set will tell you that it is very difficult to make the top wider than the bottom. Ditto for sandcastles. More compelling than my ad hoc engineering arguments, however, is the steady accretion of knowledge from around the world of local, indigenous culture histories. Thousands of archaeologists, working on thousands of sites, analyzing millions of artifacts have allowed us to see that pyramid building in Egypt, for example, is a process, developed out of long-standing traditions related to tombs. In Mesopotamia, pyramids are temples, with their own long trajectory of development that can be traced in the archaeological record.

In the New World, there is clear evidence in Mesoamerica and South America (which is where Peru is by the way, Indy) of the indigenous development of pyramid building traditions. Similarly, in North America, the largest, pyramid-shaped earthen structures of the Mississippian period do not appear suddenly, with no precedent, rather they are part of a long tradition of earth mound building that stretches over thousands of years into the Archaic period in eastern North America. There is absolutely no reason to revert to theories of alien intervention unless you are predisposed to think of Native Americans as dull, lazy, conservative people who lack the initiative, creativity, cleverness, and cultural complexity to be responsible for the archaeological remains we can empirically document in their homelands.

It is precisely these narratives of inherent inferiority that fueled (and later justified) colonial seizures of land, genocide, and the continued oppression of native peoples in the Americas. As long as there are lingering doubts in the public’s mind as to the worth of these first peoples and their cultures, the magnitude of the destruction wrought by Europeans on these continents is downplayed and eased in the dominant culture’s consciousness. Shame on you, Lucas & Spielberg, for fanning those flames! Would it have been so hard for the crystal skulls in the Indiana story to be an indigenous technology? The Soviets could still have been looking for them because of their legendary power. There still could have been an awesome climax in which the temple of the lost city was destroyed because the final skull had been returned.

Ironically, the few times that we hear Indy lecturing or talking to students he seems to be discussing diffusionism. At one point he even tells the students that they will be discussing migration versus exodus next. Maybe this was the archaeological consultant on the movie’s way of crying for help…

*******************************************************************

To read more about these issues in North America try The Mound Builders, by Robert Silverberg, 1986. Or even Cynthia L. Van Gilder and Douglas K. Charles, 2003. “Archaeology as Cultural Encounter: The Legacy of Hopewell,” in Method, Theory, and Practice in Contemporary Archaeology.

Everything I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Anthropology Class

‘Tis the season for academic rites of passage and for many of us to say goodbye to the students who have been our intellectual companions for the past four years. Here are some of the (mostly) lighthearted thoughts I shared with my graduating anthropology majors and minors at our department reception this week. *Please note that this was an outline and I elaborated each point with ad-libbed examples from the classes we had shared and with local community examples that would make no sense to outsiders. Also, please see my post below, entitled, “Cindy’s Top Ten Things Anthropologists Should Not Do When They Are Drunk,” if you are seeking more practical advice.

It is a very emotional thing for me to stand up here and think about this group of seniors leaving. So many of you have meant so much to me over the last years. It’s hard to imagine that I will not continue to see your faces in the hallway, in my office, and smiling at me in class.

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer you five examples of what I’ve learned form anthropology that I apply in my daily life.

First: generalized reciprocity rules. As in, it kicks butt. The most successful, longest running, least conflict-ridden societies we know of in human history operated on the principles of reciprocity. Use this insight to form networks, to create bonds, to build community and accomplish goals. Now, keep in mind that the trick to successful reciprocity is in choosing your partners wisely. If you live your life like this, it will come back to you. It’s anthropological karma.

Next, when the emic and etic interpretations of something do not align, there are important things to be learned. I do believe that an appreciation of the fact that emic and etic perspectives can at times be contradictory and yet both true in important ways is a fundamental characteristic of thoughtful, complex anthropology. I also believe this disconnect is always a sign to dig deeper. An example might be when you read something in the paper that seems at odds with your experience of the world. I can’t tell you which of the two is going to be “more right,” “more often,” only that you should pay attention when they don’t match.

Third, cultural relativism does not mean the abdication of opinion. Oh, they will try to convince you that it does. Those people out there who invented the term “political correctness,” will try to tell you that it means “anything goes;” that if you accept cultural relativism you have to accept wife beating, widow burning, and pedophilia as interesting cultural practices that are not the same as your own. It does not; they are wrong. They are twisting the concept for their own purposes – don’t let them. Cultural relativism is about context, insight, and suspension of judgment until a deeper understanding is achieved.

Symbolic capital or cultural capital is key. Every culture and sub-culture out there has its own rules and rewards. Ask yourself, what do these people value? Do I share these values? It is not a level playing field out there. You have an advantage: an advantage in terms of your bachelor’s degree, which is prestigious cultural capital in mainstream American culture. And, of course, most importantly in your outstanding choice of anthropology as the cornerstone of that education! What will you do with that advantage?

And finally, of course, the most famous anthropological insight of all: bone sticks to your tongue. Actually, I’m still not sure what to make of this last one. Like so many things in life, I just know it’s true. Perhaps someday one of you will come to understand its significance and return to explain it – and then the teacher will become the student.

Margaret Mead once said that American culture unfairly and arbitrarily teaches its members that fun is for childhood, work is for middle age, and regret for our twilight years. Of herself, she commented, “My great secret is that I was wise enough to never grow up, while fooling most people into believing I had.” So, go, have fun, work hard, accept regret when it comes, and then get back to the business of having fun and working hard.

I love you all! Congratulations!

Cindy’s Top Ten Things Anthropologists Should NOT Do When They Are Drunk

10. Operate heavy machinery (for those of you who are looking for a loophole – this not only includes pick-up trucks, but also flot machines, all remote sensing equipment, AND tape recorders)

9. Call your ex and read your CV over the phone

8. Pinch the silver-back male while he’s sleeping just to see what happens

7. Head back to the site to finish that delicate burial excavation while you’ve “never felt better”

6. Take the hominin ancestor skulls out for a good old-fashioned game of bocce

5. Find out if you really can calibrate those radiocarbon dates in your sleep

4. Tell students fieldschool stories (I’m sorry, but you know it’s true)

3. Send crazed email to complete strangers whose research totally bugs you

2. Anything involving the words Dean, Provost, President, Chancellor, CEO, Principal Investigator, OR minor

1. Call your informants and tell them what you really think of their mother (or sister, father, cousin, puberty customs, cuisine, etc.)