Welcome to the ANTH 2100 Blog—Fall 2014!

Welcome to Anthropology2100, a cultural anthropology course blog for Fall 2014.

Anthropology 2100 was originally created by the undergraduate students and graduate student TAs of Professor Carole McGranahan’s Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course, Fall 2010 at the University of Colorado. The second version was the Fall 2013 ANTH 2100 course. We are now doing Round Three of this blog in the Fall 2014 semester.

This blog was designed so that students could read and engage others’ work, rather than solely writing for their professor or TAs.  Our goal is to create a space for discussion and debate outside of the classroom.

Over the course of this semester, students will write essays on three topics: food, love, and music.  Students will address these topics from anthropological perspectives, specifically using two different theories in each essay to gain a sense of how anthropological scholarship and argument unfolds.  Depending on what point in the semester the students write any given essay, the theories they are using might be a bit old-fashioned or might represent contemporary theories in cultural anthropology.  Either way, our intention is for students to learn anthropological theory by putting it into use.

(Don’t know much about anthropological theory? Check out our course Theory+Anthropology Wikipage, created by students in the 2010 version of this course.)

We will choose a handful of student essays to put up on Anthropology2100.  As part of their assignment, students are also required to participate in the blog through commenting on posted essays.  Everyone is invited to join in the conversation. Respectful, civil exchanges, questions, and disagreements are welcome; rude, snarky, and/or mean-spirited comments will be taken down.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to good intellectual conversation and anthropology!

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Video Games, Romance, and Entitlement

by Micah

The video game industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors of entertainment media. As the medium’s popularity increases, video games become more diverse, both in audience and in content. Game plots are no longer restricted to shooting enemy soldiers or running from ghosts. They can include the kind of writing that we tend to expect from books or movies. This includes love and romance. Although games address this in different ways, roleplaying games (RPGs) often allow the player’s avatar (the character controlled by the player) to engage in romances within the game, with various non-player characters. This aspect of roleplaying can enrich the game and create a more immersive experience, as well as simply being an enjoyable part of the RPG as a whole. However, RPG romances have created a great deal of controversy among producers and audiences, based around portrayals of sexuality, inclusion of same-sex romances in some games, and of course, sexist portrayals of women and bias against female players.
An anthropologist using feminist theory would probably focus on the gendered aspects of romance in video games. We could look at the way that romances are constructed in games. For example, in The Witcher, the player (controlling a male avatar) can have sexual encounters with many women in the game, and collect a card for each woman that he sleeps with. In Grand Theft Auto, players (again, controlling a male avatar) are rewarded with in-game bonuses and money for having sex with female prostitutes and then murdering them. Even fairly progressive RPGs like Mass Effect (in which you can choose your avatar’s gender) have some sexist aspects to the romances–such as a side-plot in which you can convince your female secretary to do a striptease for you. These are good examples of the male power fantasies that pervade many video games (yes, most video games are power fantasies, but this is different). They encourage the player to think about men and women in certain ways. Men are active–they are the usual protagonists–dominant and sometimes violent. Women are there for the sake of the man, often more objects than characters. It lends to the dehumanization of women when they are only there to serve the player sexually or to have violence performed on them.
Although there are other games that present romance in a much more equal or sensitive way, these sexist tropes are present in so many games that they cannot simply be brushed aside. And more equal romances present their own issues. Some people–particularly straight male players–become a bit sour when other demographics are catered to. Romances for straight women and gay players have caused controversy with straight men who see themselves as the target audience and believe that something they are entitled to is being taken from them. It ruins the male (macho) power fantasy when anybody besides them has power.
The idea of the power fantasy plays well into my next theory–practice theory. When we engage in video game romance, what is really happening? As I said earlier, almost all video games are power fantasies, and that is not necessarily a bad thing in entertainment. In the case of RPGs, they allow us to take part in the story in a way that non-interactive media (most books, movies, etc.) do not. It only becomes harmful when the power fantasy plays a part in oppression through the dehumanization of women or other marginalized groups. Who doesn’t want to be the hero of a story? Video games allow us to experience this. And romance is another part of that experience. Game mechanics let us play out sex and romance as we never could in real life–with do-overs, checkpoints, and guaranteed success. Of course this is not the same as real-life romance, but it is a way to make the game more immersive for many players.
Romance and love in video games can be en engaging and rewarding part of the player’s experience. It can also be yet another expression of sexism or other forms of discrimination in the entertainment industry, and occasionally lead to entitlement among the audience. Regardless, it is a part of video games that is likely here to stay, and will hopefully become better over time.

Posted in Love Essay (2014) | 26 Comments

Forbidden Love: Arranged Marriages and the Influence of Bollywood in Nepal

by Rylan

My friend and I are laughing about Hrithik Roshan’s most recent film, “Bollywood,” she declares, “the stories always portrays forbidden love. It talks about loving who you choose, but actually people in Nepal are still pretty traditional.” Before this moment it hadn’t occurred to me that my friend’s experience with love might be different than my own. Her family is from Nepal; she lives in the intertwined space of her family’s ideals and her own romantic hopes. She knows, all too well, how Bollywood can portray idealistic versions of romantic love that resist traditions of arranged marriage.
India’s film industry is one of the largest film industries in the world. Many of its films portray a clash between love marriages and arranged marriages. They have a similar theme where the parents, particularly the father, are unwilling to budge on their views of marriage. Their views are seen as rooted in tradition. These contradictions in ideas of romantic love often villanize the parents, as they become a pivotal obstacle in the plot. Eventually, the solution is found when the parents have a change of heart, accept the once unacceptable spouse into the family, and the family is reunited. Messages of the importance of family and a movement away from “traditional” viewpoints are salient in these plotlines. In Nepal, Bollywood films are very prominent and some of the most popular forms of entertainment.

In her ethnography, Invitations to Love: Literacy, Love Letters, and Social Change in Nepal,Laura Ahearn looks at love letters written in Junigau. Ahearn argues that literacy can give agency to women who are in an undesirable engagement that has been arranged by their family. Though this agency often fails to break off the engagement, it is used to express resistance to established structures of love while ultimately agreeing to comply with those same structures. In their discourse on love, Bollywood films show a similar resistance to arranged marriage that the love letters showed in Junigau. From a poststructuralist standpoint, Bollywood’s portrayal of romantic love is a resistance to ideas of arranged marriage. Simultaneously, Bollywood films thematically stress the importance of honoring the wishes of one’s family. They demonstrate two types of hierarchies people in Nepal contend with. Bollywood’s ethnocentric condemnation of traditional marriage practices is an example of external forces and global hierarchies trying to change traditional marriage practices in Nepal. Current power structures inside of Nepal stress the importance of family. Even though Bollywood characters resist traditional norms, subordination in the romantic choices of the individual is inevitable. These power structures are not easily maneuvered. They show hegemony within traditional practices of love under hierarchies that allocate more power to the family and while simultaneously feeding into global hierarchies in the ideologies of love.

For many, the importance of family desires overrides messages of romantic love portrayed by Bollywood. A practice theorist would look at Bollywood’s discourse on love as a contradiction to the way life is really lived. Though arranged marriages are far less common in Nepal than they once were, the actual practices of finding a spouse show that the family’s desires are an important factor in marriage. Acceptance of the family, like many Bollywood movies suggest, is the ultimate form of success. While Bollywood films often stress the autonomous choices of the main character, real life practices show the dilemmas someone faces when theirs and their family’s desires contradict one another.
While many people’s practices contradict Bollywood’s critique of arranged marriages, the continued presence of the Bollywood film industry in Nepal could be an important indicator of resistance against current practices of love.

Posted in Love Essay (2014) | 19 Comments

Japan’s Affection Economy

by Nevada

You’ve had a long day working in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, wouldn’t it be blissful to crawl into your significant other’s loving arms? But wait, somewhere in the hustle of the metro-life you didn’t prioritize a relationship. What’s one to do with a shortage of companionship and an excess of yen? Enter Soineya, a location where any patron can pay hourly to cuddle and/or nap with a variety of young women. This is Japan’s first venue for cuddling services, colloquially dubbed a ‘cuddle cafe’ by English media. More burgeoning establishments include Host Clubs and Hostess clubs, where men and women go to drink, chat and flirt with smartly dressed, extremely attractive hosts or hostesses. These establishments are dedicated to ravishing the patron with attention through the evening and not towards sexual encounters.
By using the Marxist understanding of economics as ‘the social manipulation of nature for economic ends’ we can gain insight into the cultural significance of the ‘cuddle cafe’. The cultural aspect of this phenomena comes into play when we examine cultural forces that generate its economic demand. This has to do with wage stagnation and traditional marriage-roles, and reflects the growing trend of young people avoiding marriage and relationships. Whilst wages have stagnated since the 1990’s housing prices have skyrocketed, leading men to believe that marrying will lower their resource base and quality of life. This is because there is strong societal pressure on women once they marry to only serve their husband and expected child and not to be employed. This creates a dynamic where men prefer not to increase their financial burden, any woman of ambition is repulsed by marriage. Because the cultural system has not created a desirable space for romance and human affection, market forces have created a non-committal economically driven system of their own.
Using poststructuralist theory we can analyze a darker sub-phenomena of host clubs and how they interact with the structural violence of human trafficking in Japan’s underbelly. In some cases host clubs are used as opportunistic traps to indebt Japanese women into sexual slavery. First-timer discounts at host clubs often dissuade new customers from the true cost of their patronage and encourage women to wrack up unpayable debts. At this point some establishments (it is unclear how many and unlikely the majority) will turn to loan-sharks or Yakuza connections, who will suggest and eventually imprison women into sex work to pay their debts. A further service host clubs may provide is that they may throw lavish parties for women when they pay off their debt, for which these women are given the extravagant bill thus ensuring their continued debt. This system belies the disciplinary power that is used to both take advantage of and to form new subject positions. The original host club takes advantage of a subject-position naive or romantic young lady and uses a predatory economic system to put these women into the subject-position indebted sex worker.
To Westerners, many products of Japanese and other asian cultures are exotified for their ‘strangeness’. Long chains of comments under articles on Japan’s new ‘cuddle cafe’ share a potent negative connotation, for example “ಠ_ಠ uh…ok, that’s weird.” “all i can say is WOW and EEEEWWW – and that menu – what the heck?????””Does the first person to laugh pay a forfeit?”. An interpretation of these businesses from western standards, however, does nothing to help understand the real meaning behind host and hostess clubs or the cuddle cafe. Instead we can ask, ‘How do Japanese view these phenomena?’, or, ‘What about life in Japan today makes these legitimate business models?”, rather than pushing them to arms length with a visceral interpretation of strangeness. In this way a reaction can be replaced by a real understanding.
1. http://theweek.com/article/index/254923/everything-you-need-to-know-about-japans-population-crisis

2. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/04/05/national/host-clubs-a-hotbed-of-human-trafficking/#.VGTsu_nF-Sp

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The Voice

By Chris S.

In the contemporary United States competitive television shows have received great enthusiasm. These competition shows include dancing, singing and talent shows. This essay focuses on the popular television show, NBC’s The Voice, from the lens of political economy theory and interpretive theory. The Voice is a show in which competitors perform in ‘Blind Auditions’ for judges who have their backs turned to the performer so they are only judging the voice of competitors.[1]

An anthropologist focusing on political economy would see The Voice as the exchange of values between the classes hidden behind the scenes. The main interaction in The Voice is seen in the exchange of entertainment for money. In the contemporary United States any form of talent, whether it is athleticism, vocal, artistic etc., is highly valued and there is in fact a price placed upon it. People pay their electrical and cable bills in order to receive channels such as The Voice for entertainment. Thus after receiving the money along with a large number of viewers, the producers of the show are able to continue producing more and more episodes. The second interaction is seen between the competitors themselves and the producers of the show. A competitor exchanges their time and effort by performing in order to have a chance to win the grand prize of a recording contract in return. It is in these economic exchanges that the values of U.S. society are expressed.

An interpretive anthropologist would view The Voice by looking at the deeper meanings the show brings to viewers’ attention.[2] An intriguing aspect of the show, which truly enraptures the audience, are the ‘Blind Auditions’. This means the judges who must pick a contestant have their backs to the competitors themselves. This act is meant to eliminate any form of preconceived judgments or biases a person may have, which could visually sway their decision in selecting a performer. This symbolizes the contemporary United States’ discrimination or judgment of social or biological differences an individual may or may not possess. The United States’ society is entirely focused on the image an individual portrays.  This obsession with image has been created and molded by publicity, which portray women and men in their ‘perfect’ states, as seen in; magazines, movies and news. The ‘Blind Auditions’ symbolize the need to look past social expectations and barriers in order to find the true individualistic beauty that a person possesses. By eliminating this barrier of judgment, The Voice provides an opportunity to those who have been rejected before based on bias and instead reveals the true talent a competitor may possess. The Voice expresses the contemporary United States ideals and values in the exchange of money for entertainment and the discrimination and judgment of those who differ from social expectations.

[1] “Like Us.” The Voice. McNulty Casting, Inc., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

[2] McGranahan, Carole. “Cultural Anth 2100.” Cultural Anth 2100. University of Colorado, Boulder. Lecture.

Posted in Music Essay (2014) | 35 Comments

Gender Inequality in Pop Culture

By Alex G.

The other night as I turned on my television, I came across a music video playing on MTV. Utterly shocked at the presentation of actual music on MTV, I watched the screen and listened. “The usual…” I thought, “money, naked girls, and cars”. These main aspects surrounded the hip-hop artist and flooded the screen. As the music raged on, a different state of shock fell upon me while studying what occurred on my TV. The constant display of inequality and hegemonic power made me uncomfortable and disrespected, yet this particular musical artist’s song sits at the top of the charts in the music industry.

From a Feminist Anthropologist’s perspective, the actions presented in this specific video I watched, along with many others, shows a complete imbalance between male and female gender roles. However, this behavior portrayed does not go unnoticed. In a song performed by the pop artist, P!nk, titled “Stupid Girls”, she states, “What happened to the dream of a girl president, She’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent”.  [1] This quote is particularly important because P!nk is inferring that women will aspire to be less because of the way other women are presented in the media they are exposed to. I feel the demeaning nature of the treatment of women by hip-hop artists is a problem and is a focal point of concern for many Feminist Anthropologists today.

According to Carole McGranahan, a post-structuralist anthropologist, post-structuralism focuses greatly on the existence of power within hegemonic relationships and existing hierarchical systems.[2] Throughout hip-hop music videos today, there is an immensely noticeable display of this power and dominance of the hip-hop artists, usually males, and the women presented in their videos. The women are most commonly displayed in a disrespectful manner, whether this is the minimal amount of clothing they are wearing or the actions they are performing. This is a form of power and hegemony, because these women are agreeing to their role in the videos while also being degraded or exploited for their bodies and sexuality. Post-structuralism and feminist anthropology are both interested in understanding the amount of honor or prestige achieved by the artists in the video for being surrounded by the women they are exploiting. The artist is considered authoritative and controlling over the females, and this often places the females on the same level of ownership as cars or money in the eyes of the artist and the viewers.

Through the constant exposure of inequality and power/control seen in popular hip-hop music videos in today’s culture, women are increasingly degraded and disrespected. This is a major topic of discussion for feminist anthropologists because of the imbalance of male and female gender roles, while also a main focus for post-structuralists because of the hegemonic nature of hip-hop artists and their treatment of women.

[1] “Stupid Girls.” Online video clip.
YouTube. YouTube, 29 Oct. 2009. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

[2] McGranahan, Carole. “Post-Structuralism.” University of Colorado at Boulder. Boulder, CO. 29 Oct 2014. Lecture.

Posted in Music Essay (2014) | 26 Comments

EDM and Ecstasy: The Popular Rise of a Genre and its Implications

By Casey C.

Electronic dance music (EDM) is a supergenre of music that includes club music, dance music, electro house, and other similar subgenres. The shorthanded, simplified summary of such music is synthesized music, normally played and created by DJs in clubs and at live shows, designed to stimulate the senses. The acronym “EDM” is relatively new, essentially coined in 2010 by marketers who wanted to a) draw a distinction between 1990s raves and “new” raves to appeal to the younger generation, and b) avoid the drug use stigmas that had been associated with raves since their inception – “EDM” was a new, fresh word, devoid of any connotations that might spook local police, parents, or club owners[1]. Unsurprisingly, the drug use – particularly that of ecstasy – is still hugely prevalent – and now much more noticeable due to the huge rising popularity of EDM. A poststructuralist and a structural-functionalist anthropologist might explain EDM culture in very different ways.

A poststructuralist like Michel Foucault, on one hand, believes that power is integral to the discussion of culture and anthropological study. Attendees at EDM concerts dress counter to what is considered “normal” in everyday society, often wearing little clothes and neon, glow-in-the-dark colors. The use of ecstasy is hugely prevalent, in more volume than any other drug and arguably in more volume that at shows for other music genres. These behaviors – the discourse of the EDM club – might be displays of resistance to the hegemony (in many attendees’ cases, the hegemon is likely just the set of values imposed on them by their parents). The poststructuralist would argue perhaps that in some way, the older generation’s rules and expectations are oppressive to the younger, and that EDM is one outlet for the younger to express their individuality, their “youngness,” et cetera. A corollary to this might be that in fact EDM is not resistance to the older generation’s hegemonic views at all; but rather an enactment of the hegemonic ideology among young people that drugs are normal and expected as a part of youth, that music and partying are integral parts of growing up, et cetera.

Contrarily, a structural-functionalist anthropologist like A.R. Radcliffe-Brown would argue that EDM culture was an integral cog in the Western societal machine. In this view, the rave would be a social institution with certain social norms (e.g., “at raves, we do ‘molly’”), which attendees must enact and uphold in order to maintain their social status and perform their roles. The motives for both a) attending the rave, and b) doing ecstasy while there, are nearly irrelevant to this model. An anthropologist like Radcliffe-Brown or Evans-Pritchard would simply say that it is one of young people’s functions in society to attend raves, and within the society of the rave, it is one of their functions to do drugs of some sort. While it is possible to analyze EDM culture and ecstasy use through the structural-functionalist lens, I would argue that the poststructuralist model offers a more enlightening perspective.

[1] http://www.factmag.com/2013/07/10/the-fact-dictionary-how-dubstep-juke-cloud-rap-and-many-more-got-their-names/6/. Accessed 12 November 2014.

Posted in Music Essay (2014) | 28 Comments

Gender Disparities and representations of Female Sexuality in Food Advertisements

by Chase

“I’d let you peak, but I don’t deliver what you’re hungry for.” These are the words of a cartoon woman in a delivery service advertisement. The advertisement is pasted to the ceiling of the bus I take home. The woman’s hair is long and blond, her eyes big and framed with dark lashes, her lips form a plush half smile, and she sports a short red dress that she hikes up to her hip. She stands next to a picture of a pizza and a foot-long sub. I take note, not because this depiction of a woman is unusual, but because of the advertisement’s intrusion into my daily commute. Advertisements such as this have become normative in American media and consequently they often go unnoticed. They compose a repertoire of images depicting half naked women next to the product their sexuality is intended to sell: food.

The fast food chain Carls Jr. markets their burgers with women washing cars simultaneously chomping down on a double cheeseburger, sauce dripping in places that they think deserves a close up. It is said that sex sells, but these food advertisements sell more than a product. They sell ideas. Food becomes a symbol of pleasure when it is placed next a hyper-sexualized woman. Women’s sexuality is depicted on the same plane as a cheap sub or a greasy pizza. The woman appears ready to be consumed and the result is a less than human representation.

To say that mass media’s representations of women speak for the entirety of American culture would overestimate their power, however their reoccurrence shows acceptance of their practices. The scrutiny of contemporary Feminist Theory[1] questions America’s acceptance of practices that sell women’s sexuality next to the five-dollar foot-long. It underscores the advertisements detrimental effects as part of a larger system of inequality. Though the effect of these advertisements is not a causative one, I argue that images depicting women as objects of pleasure, next to food products waiting to be consumed, feeds into a culture of acceptance for gender inequality. This inequality is perpetuated in pay disparities, in the prominence of violence against women in American society, and in every other realm where women are not seen as fully human. They are evidence of the gender hierarchies in American society.

American society (women included) continues this hegemonic cycle while simultaneously challenging it. Anthropological Practice Theory[2] questions how these advertisements have come to be seen as normal in everyday life. Their representations of women are accepted and supported by continued consumer support of their products. They are also challenged. For example people are “cutting the Carl’s” in a counter campaign that argues, “women are more than meat.”[3] Women’s dehumanization in food advertisements continues because of consumer participation and is simultaneously challenged by consumers choosing to boycott their products.

Food advertisements are visual representations of American practices that reinforce gender hierarchies. The normalcy of these practices in daily life shows acceptance of them, their rejection by many members of American society challenges their reinforcement of gender inequalities.

[1] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 8 October 2014.

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 6 October 2014.

[3] http://www.beautyredefined.net/cut-the-carls/, accessed the 9th of October, 2014.

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