A friend posted this humorous take on the Superbowl to Facebook this morning, which introduced me to this nifty series Slate is doing. The idea is to write about current events in the US as if they had happened/ were happening in a foreign country– using the tropes and language that the US media often uses to represent foreign cultures and people.
It reminded me of “Body Ritual among the Nacierema“– Horace Miner’s tongue-in-cheek turnaround of the anthropological lens from the 1950s. That brief essay is meant to demonstrate how even the seemingly familiar can be made exotic– and thus, emphasizes the exoticizing language anthropologists use to talk about Native Americans. Another classic is “BabaKiueria“, a 1986 Australian mokumentary that uses role reversal to critique the patronizing tone that often creeps in to depictions of Australian aborigines. Both of these examples poke fun at academics (or quasi-academic, National Geographic-style documentaries) that pride themselves on being “politically correct” or somehow above the fray of discriminatory language.
Slate‘s take is different, however, in that it takes on The Media, and thus provides a more general analysis of the images of foreign cultures floating around our communicative sphere. If we’re being honest, that’s where most Americans get their news about The Other, anyway, not from anthropologists.
Beyond pointing out our own “weirdness”, the Slate series also examines the hypocrisy of our unequal gender, class, and race relations, how forces like globalization color our worldview, and the not-so-subtle sense of cultural superiority that underlies a lot of US writing (and perhaps thinking) about the rest of the world. In short, it’s doing what anthropologists claim to do.
I think it could be an engaging piece for students, prompting them to think critically about the information they see and read every day, and the effects of those photos and words on their own perceptions of the world.
Side note: just as I’m writing this, one of the non-anthro blogs I read has posted a very short piece about the Nacirema. Thanks, iO9.