The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'anthropology'
Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber (of Debt: The First 5,000 Years and On Bullshit Jobs fame) writes in the Baffler about the evolution of business attire, and in particular, the paradox of the necktie:
No doubt, part of the objection to the tie is to the pure arbitrariness of the thing. A tie serves no function. It doesn’t hold your trousers up or keep you warm. But at the same time, it’s uncomfortable, so much so that putting it on does somehow feel like a gesture of submission, a reluctant pledge of allegiance to everything the suit is supposed to represent.
[t]he business suit derives not from aristocratic formal wear, but from hunting clothes—this is why fox-hunters, for instance, still wear something very much like one. Both uniforms are a kind of active wear, adopted by a class of people who wanted to define themselves through their actions. Actually, I suspect that the ultimate derivation of the business suit is from a suit of armor. The suit, after all, encases your body, covering as much of it as possible; what minimal openings to the world such clothes do afford—at your neck and sleeves—are bound tightly together by ties and cuff links. The contours of the body are thus obscured, in striking contrast with women’s formal wear, which, even in covering the body, constantly hints at revealing it, and particularly at revealing its most sexualized aspects. Skirts, even when they cover the lower half of the body completely, tend to form an open-ended cone whose apex is between the legs, and except in the most prudish times, there has been some gesture toward revealing the cleavage. It’s almost as if the staid uniformity of men’s attire is meant to efface individuality just as its design is meant to make the body itself invisible; women’s formal wear, on the other hand, makes the wearer both an individual and an object to be seen. Indeed, the conventions of higher-class fashion ensure that any woman wearing such an outfit is obliged to devote a good deal of time and energy to monitoring herself to make sure too much is not revealed and, more generally, to constantly thinking about what she looks like.
I suggest a simple formula: To express power through display is to say to those over whom one exercises it, “Behold, see how I have been treated. I have been treated this way because of who I am. Now you, too, must treat me this way.” Kings cover themselves with gold as a way of saying that you must cover them with gold as well. To refuse any such display, in contrast, is to say, “You simply have no idea what I am capable of.”As for the necktie, Graeber's theory as to its provenance is a somewhat Freudian one; essentially, the tie is a sort of symbolic, decorporealised codpiece:
Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head, chosen from among an almost infinite variety of other ties by an act of mental will? Hey, this would explain a lot—why men who wear bow ties are universally taken to be nerds, for example. True, a bow tie could be taken for a pair of testicles. But even so, bow ties are small, and they point in entirely the wrong direction. Mafiosi wear ties that are too fat and colorful; dissipated sophisticates wear thin ties; cowboys wear string ties that produce the effect you might expect from wearing a bow tie and a regular tie at the same time—ordinarily, this would be too unsubtle, but cowboys are mythic he-men who can get away with it. (James Bond can also get away with a bow tie, but then he’s basically just a giant penis anyway.)
A Canadian anthropologist has claimed that Apple fandom is, to all intents and purposes, a religion:
"A stranger observing one of the launches could probably be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into a religious revival meeting," Bell wrote to TechNewsDaily in an email. Bell now studies the culture of modern biomedical research, but before she got interested in scientists, she studied messianic religious movements in South Korea.
Even Apple's tradition of not broadcasting launches in real time is akin to a religious event, Bell said. (Today's event will be available live on Apple's website.) "Like many Sacred Ceremonies, the Apple Product Launch cannot be broadcast live," she wrote. "The Scribes/tech journalists act as Witness, testifying to the wonders they behold via live blog feeds."Kirsten Bell, of the University of British Columbia, is not the first academic to draw this conclusion; her assessment follows others, including that of US sociologist Pui-Yan Lam, who, more than a decade ago, called Mac fandom an “implicit religion”.
Bell later clarified her statement, saying that the comparison between Apple and religion is not exact, as few people would sincerely claim that Apple makes any attempt to give life meaning or explain humanity's purpose. However, she says that the metaphor does have some value:
Yet there are strong reasons people have long compared Apple culture to religion, Bell said. "They are selling something more than a product," she said. "When you look at the way they advertise their product, it's really about a more connected life." A better life is something many faiths promise, she said.Surely, though, the same thing could be said about any iconic brand, such as, say, Nike or Harley Davidson, as well as about popular musicians (remember Beatlemania, or even Lisztomania), sports teams (getting behind a team, through thick and thin, gives a lot of people a sense of identity and connectedness) or even films (witness parties forming around screenings of, say, The Big Lebowski or Rocky Horror Picture Show). Some people feel better when they caress the shiny surface of their Retina iPad, just as some people feel better with a platinum Rolex on their wrists or when chanting in unison with 10,000 other fans in a stadium, though from that to the sort of metaphysical transcendence of religion is a bit of a leap.
Some anonymous culture jammer visited Bristol Zoo and affixed to the outside of a visitors' café a plaque framing it as the "Human" enclosure, drily writing up the behaviours and characteristics of H. sapiens:
Of course, given the location of this prank, one does wonder whether or not it's the work of a certain local artist.
The human diet is very adaptable to regional crop varieties and personal taste, with some groups able to live almost exclusively on chipped potatoes and sugary drinks.
Groups of humans are often fed by unrelated individuals in exchange for tokens made of paper, metal and plastic -- behaviour which can frequently be seen inside this enclosure.
(via Boing Boing) ¶ 1
From a Graun article on drinking culture in Britain, the following tidbits:
The timelessness of our desire to get drunk has led anthropologists such as Kate Fox, director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, to speculate about the British character. She concluded that we are all suffering from a "congenital sociability disorder", a disease whose symptoms are akin to a kind of autism combined with agoraphobia. In plain talk, the British are uniquely buttoned up and starched stiff. Animal watcher Desmond Morris says that if we were monkeys we would be picking imaginary fleas out of each other's fur, in an act of "social grooming", a pretext for prolonging social encounters. Instead we have for centuries propped up the bar.
A national characteristic has been identified in numerous scientific trials. In one, British volunteers were plied with drinks, all purporting to be alcohol, half of which were placebos. Everyone became equally loud, crude and garrulous, the technically sober behaving identically to the genuinely drunk. Similar tests carried out on volunteers from Mediterranean countries found no such associations. Scientists concluded that British people invested alcohol with "magical disinhibiting powers".
I wonder how this experiment would have run in Australia.
The future is already here: it's just not evenly distributed: Companies have been hiring the service of cool hunters , who are sort of like upmarket yuppie anthropologists, to tell them what the trendy urban hipsters are doing, thinking and identifying with; the theory being that the twitchily hip urban fads of today will be the next big hit of tomorrow's mainstream; a view Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point put forward.
When not receiving facials or having their toes dipped in Bollinger Grande Cuvée, trendsetting teens claim to be experimenting with digital filmmaking, vintage computers and "geometric prints from the '60s and '70s." Mainstream teens say they're having sex, "rolling up my jeans" and "going to college." Asked about the "newest thing your friends are doing," the mainstreamers, in a sudden burst of Eisenhower-era conformity retrograde even by their standards, cited "getting married," "working on cars" and "going to nudie bars." Trendier types mentioned "freestyling" and "drunk bowling."
The cool-hunting consultancies, of course, charge hefty fees for these vital tips. (An annual subscription to the L Report will set you back $30k.) Mind you, they're now discovering a corollary to the Tipping Point hypothesis; namely, that most cutting-edge trends are too rarefied to trickle down to suburban mainstream consumers to the point of being marketable; leading to missteps such as marketing guarana-laced soft drinks and male makeup kits to the Wal-Mart crowd, with predictably underwhelming results. (via rebecca's pocket)