When I was an undergrad, I remember being assigned the classic article “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” by Horace Miner. The piece, published in 1956 in American Anthropologist, applies an anthropological lens to an odd culture singularly devoted to intense ritualistic “improvement” of the human body, which its members seemed to find disgusting in its natural state.
I thought of that article when Matt Cornell, of My Own Private Guantanamo, tweeted a link to the 1994 film Dunkles, Rätselhaftes Österreich, or Dark, Mysterious Austria (I’m not. The film, produced for Austria’s SBS-TV, pokes fun at the tone unfortunately common to many documentaries that attempt to explain the oh-so-bizarre customs and beliefs of non-Western societies. According to IMDb, “A team of the All African Television network wanders into the darkest regions of the Eastern Alps. They observe the habits and rituals of the natives and make not one, but two ethnological major break-through discoveries.”
At 5:40, we learn that the team has disproved the theory that Europeans are monogamous; starting at about 7:50, they describe the elaborate costumes and militaristic symbolism of clans of the Tyrol region of Austria; and at 15:00, there’s a great discussion of the curious obsession with “patently useless activities,” such as biking for no other purpose than biking itself:
Aside from the humorous commentary, it’s a great way of illustrating the sociological imagination, which requires us to step out of our own culture and try to look at it through the eyes of an outsider — and, as C. Wright Mills put it, to recapture the ability to be astonished by what we normally take for granted.
Kat — September 7, 2011
But... recently when this story broke: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/25/austrian-abused-mentally-ill-daughters
there was a lot of commentary on "what is wrong with Austrians"... which made me want to strangle someone. Hint: American men rape their daughters over years too.
So what I'm trying to say: While "we" (meaning White people) do this othering in a particular crass and disgusting manor with non-White people, it is also often done by cultural hegemon USA of other non-US nations. "We" (meaning everyone with a TV station) does this for every nation other than our own. (E.g. the US is always very 'cowboy', 'mall', 'fundamentalist Christian virginity parties', 'death penalty' on European TV, while shows on Germany e.g. show more dirndl then ever existed there and shows on the UK are all about bowler hats which almost no one actually wears.)
Amy — September 7, 2011
Reminds me a little bit of this (Body Ritual among the Nacirema): https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html?pagewanted=all
Jessie Winitzky — September 7, 2011
Dislocated polygamy. Genius.
Liz Scott — September 7, 2011
Lolz, i am glad that you posted this now. I just switched up my minor from Theater to Anthropology and i am taking all Athro classes this semester and next. this is a neat way to look at things and a great view to have while i study other cultures and what not. Also, i am about to leave fr a ethnography calss in a few
Emily — September 7, 2011
Love it. This reminds me of the Australian mokumentary BabaKiueria, made just prior to the bicentenary of White colonisation, which inverts the settler/Indigenous discourse. It's up on YouTube here.
christoph — September 8, 2011
In case you don't know there is a first part of this "documentary" that's far more popular, at least in Austria http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Das_Fest_des_Huhnes , it's also on youtube but only in german http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQshR1VR_Uo
Gwathwoman — September 8, 2011
Hilarious and a good flip on traditional
Link backlog « kjcoop.org — January 26, 2012
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