Avatar, pop culture, anthropology, ethic
| Avatar, pop culture, anthropology, ethic
Avatar(阿凡达), pop culture, anthropology, ethic
981 文化人类学专题 982 | 06 元月, 2010 00:01
最近最卖座的片子Avatar(阿凡达), 一方面有处理"原始"社会, 一方面在片中有像是人类学家担任帝国将军顾问的情节. 有一些关于这些事情的讨论:
Avatar(阿凡達), pop culture, anthropology, ethic
981 文化人類學專題 982 | 06 元月, 2010 00:01
最近最賣座的片子Avatar(阿凡達), 一方面有處理"原始"社會, 一方面在片中有像是人類學家擔任帝國將軍顧問的情節. 有一些關於這些事情的討論:
A World All Their Own
By Nancy Lutkehaus on December 24, 2009 7:59 AM
USC College anthropology professor Nancy Lutkehaus
Filmmakers are storytellers, but they are also architects and anthropologists. They must create whole worlds in which their stories can unfold. And the worlds they create must be coherent and believable, be they a representation of our own society or an entirely new universe.
Few filmmakers, however, have had the time or resources to do so with such attention to detail as James Cameron, director of such blockbusters as Titanic, Aliens and the Terminator films.
During the summer of 2008, I briefly experienced this aspect of Cameron when his associate, producer Jon Landau (a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts) contacted me. Cameron wanted to consult with an anthropologist who had worked with so-called “primitive” tribal groups about his film project Avatar.
Intrigued, I arranged to go to their studios — a sprawling network of offices, rooms crammed with computer monitors and electronic equipment, and a cavernous sound stage housed in a former airplane hangar, part of a complex near Playa del Rey where industrialist Howard Hughes constructed his Spruce Goose airplane.
There I met Landau, a short, affable man dressed casually in a Hawaiian shirt and jeans. He proceeded to tell me about the film, Cameron’s sci-fi adventure set on the imaginary planet of Pandora some time in the distant future. One aspect of the project especially caught my attention. Early on, Cameron had hired Paul Frommer, a linguist from USC, to create an entirely new language to be spoken by the Na’vi people, the inhabitants of Pandora.
Frommer, who earned his doctorate in linguistics from USC College and is now professor of clinical management communication in the USC Marshall School of Business, told me that Cameron had come to him with a few Polynesian-sounding words he may have picked up in New Zealand. He asked Frommer to incorporate these into a new language — complete with its own phonetic system, morphology and vocabulary — for the Na’vi to speak.
Since Cameron envisioned the Na’vi to be a sci-fi version (9 feet tall, incredibly skinny and blue-skinned) of the so-called “primitive” tribes anthropologists once studied in places like Africa and Papua New Guinea (where I had done fieldwork), Frommer said he created a language for them that was “spiced” with what to most westerners’ ears would sound like “exotic elements,” such as ejectives and velar nasals.
On my second visit to the studios, I met Cameron, a tall, sandy-haired man not given to small talk. He also had hired L.A.-based choreographer Lula Washington, renowned for her work that incorporates elements of African dance and music. She was choreographing several of the ritual ceremonies performed by the Na’vi. As Cameron, Washington and I discussed aspects of the Avatar script, such as the coming-of-age ceremony that the film’s protagonist, Jake Sully, undergoes, it became apparent to me that Cameron was thoroughly familiar with much basic anthropology and had read widely about non-Western religious beliefs and practices.
When I finally viewed the complete film, it made sense to me why Cameron was interested in talking with an anthropologist who specialized in non-Western tribal societies. He is not only obsessed with details but also, not surprisingly, fascinated with expertise — both his own and that of others — especially when it bears directly on his own projects. Cameron is like a collector of fine art who sees himself as a connoisseur, and my function was less that of a dealer who brings rare objects to the collector, but rather that of a curator whose expertise provides the imprimatur of authenticity.
The lush primal world of Pandora and the exotic culture of the Na’vi revealed in the film include many of the basic elements of what used to be called “primitive” societies — animism, a coming-of-age ceremony and test of manhood, a religion based on a supreme (maternal) tree spirit. It is truly a 21st-century elegy to a lost world — as well as Cameron’s warning to our own.
Nancy Lutkehaus is professor of anthropology, gender studies and political science, and chair-elect for the Department of Anthropology at USC College.
Going Native Hollywood's Human Terrain Avatars
By DAVID PRICE
This week, as James Cameron's 3D cinematic science fiction saga dominates the American box office, and tie-in products permeate fast food franchises and toy stores, it is worth noting an interesting bit of cultural leakage tying our own real militarized state to Cameron's virtual world of Avatar.
Avatar is set in a world where the needs of corporate military units align against the interests of indigenous blue humanoids long inhabiting a planet with mineral resources desired by the high tech militarized invaders. The exploitation of native peoples to capture valuable resources is a story obviously older than Hollywood, and much older than the discipline of anthropology itself; though the last century and a half has found anthropologists' field research used in recurrent instances to make indigenous populations vulnerable to exploitation in ways reminiscent of Avatar.
Avatar draws on classic sci-fi themes in which individuals break through barriers of exoticness, to accept alien others in their own terms as equals, not as species to be conquered and exploited, and to turn against the exploitive mission of their own culture. These sorts of relationships, where invaders learn about those they'd conquer and come to understand them in ways that shake their loyalties permeate fiction, history and anthropology. Films like Local Hero, Little Big Man, Dersu Uzala, or even the musical The Music Man use themes where outsider exploitive adventurists trying to abuse local customs are seduced by their contact with these cultures. These are themes of a sort of boomeranging cultural relativism gone wild.
Fans of Avatar are understandably being moved by the story's romantic anthropological message favoring the rights of people to not have their culture weaponized against them by would be foreign conquerors, occupiers and betrayers. It is worth noting some of the obvious the parallels between these elements in this virtual film world, and those found in our world of real bullets and anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 2007, the occupying U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTT), complete with HTT "social scientists" using anthropological-ish methods and theories to ease the conquest and occupation of these lands. HTT has no avatared-humans; just supposed "social scientists" who embed with battalions working to reduce friction so that the military can get on with its mission without interference from local populations. For most anthropologists these HTT programs are an outrageous abuse of anthropology, and earlier this month a lengthy report by a commission of the American Anthropological Association (of which I was a member and report co-author) concluded that the Human Terrain program crossed all sorts of ethical, political and methodological lines, finding that:
"when ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment - all characteristic factors of the HTT concept and its application - it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology."
The American Anthropological Association's executive board found Human Terrain to be a "mistaken form of anthropology". But even with these harsh findings, the Obama administration's call for increased counterinsurgency will increase demands for such non-anthropological uses of ethnography for pacification.
There are other anthropological connections to Avatar. James Cameron used University of Southern California anthropologist, Nancy Lutkehaus, as a consultant on the film. I recently wrote Lutkehaus to see if her role in consulting for Cameron had included adding information on how anthropologists have historically, or presently, aided the suppression of native uprisings; but Lutkehaus wrote me that her consultation had nothing to do with these plot elements, her expertise drew upon her fieldwork in Papua New Guinea to consult with choreographer, Lula Washington, who designed scenes depicting a gorgeous coming-of-age-ritual depicted in the film.
Among the more interesting parallels between Avatar and Human Terrain Systems is the way that the video logs that the avatar-ethnographers were required to record were quietly sifted-through by military strategists interested in finding vulnerability to exploit among the local populous. Last week a story in Time magazine quoted Human Terrain Team social scientist in training Ben Wintersteen admitting that in battlefield situations ""there's definitely an intense pressure on the brigade staff to encourage anthropologists to give up the subject..There's no way to know when people are violating ethical guidelines on the field;" and the AAA's recent report found that "Reports from HTTs are circulated to all elements of the military, including intelligence assets, both in the field and stateside." Like the HTT counterparts, the Avatar teams openly talked about trying to win the "hearts, mind, and trust" of the local population (a population that the military derisively called "blue monkeys") that the military was simply interested in moving or killing. And most significantly, the members of the avatar unit had a naive understanding of the sort of role they could conceivably play in directing the sort of military action that would inevitably occur. Sigourney Weaver's character, the chain-smoking, pose striking, tough talking Avatar Terrain Team chief social scientist, Grace Augustine, displayed the same sort of unrealistic understanding of what would be done with her research that appears in the seemingly endless Human Terrain friendly features appearing in newspapers and magazines.
Past wars found anthropologists working much more successfully as insurgents, rather than counterinsurgents: in World War II it was Edmund Leach leading an armed insurgent gang in Burma, Charlton Coon training terrorists in North African, Tom Harrisson arming native insurgents in Sarawak. These episodes found anthropologists aligned with the (momentary) interests of the people they studied (but also aligned with the interests of their own nation states), not subjugating them in occupation and suppressing their efforts for liberation as misshapen forms of ethnography like Human Terrain.
Anthropologically informed counterinsurgency efforts like the Human Terrain program are fundamentally flawed for several reasons. One measure of the extent that these programs come to understand and empathize with the culture and motivations of the people they study might be the occurrence of militarized ethnographers "going native" in ways parallel to the plot of Avatar. If Human Terrain Teams employed anthropologists who came to live with and freely interact with and empathize with occupied populations, I suppose you would eventually find some rogue anthropologists standing up to their masters in the field. But so far mostly what we find with the Human Terrain "social scientists" is a revolving cadre of well paid misfits with marginal training in the social sciences who do not understand or reject normative anthropological notions of research ethics, who rotate out and come home with misgivings about the program and what they accomplished.
On the big screen the transformation of fictional counterinsurgent avatar-anthropologists into insurgents siding with the blue skinned Na'vi endears the avatars to the audience, yet off the screen in our world, this same audience is regularly bombarded by media campaigns designed to endear HTT social scientists embedded with the military to an audience of the American people. The engineered inversions of audience sympathies for anthropologists resisting a military invasion in fiction, and pro-military-anthropologists in nonfiction is easily accomplished because the fictional world of a distant future is not pollinated with the forces of nationalism and jingoistic patriotism that permeate our world; a world where anything aligned with militarism is championed over the understanding of others (for reasons other than conquest).
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