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  • THROUGH THE LENS OF ANTHROPOLOGY: AN INTRODUCTION TO HUMAN EVOLUTION AND CULTURE22

    Some examples of applied anthropology in business are described in Chapter 8, including those of anthropologists working for General Motors. Many other well- known companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Intel, either have their own anthropologists on staff or hire anthropologists as consultants. Another example of applied anthropology is the work of Robin Nagle, a professor at New York University, who is also the anthropologist-in-residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation. Her focus is on the labor and infrastructure necessary to deal with garbage. She wrote an ethnography of the Department of Sanitation, called Picking Up (2013).

    BOX 1.4 Anthropology, Popular Culture, and News Media

    Anthropology has an interesting relationship with popular culture and news media. Anthropology and anthropologists are firmly embedded in popular culture, and popular culture is a topic of interest that anthropologists study. When it comes to anthropology in the news, however, there are some problems.

    Real anthropological work, featuring the work of real archaeologists, is often featured in semi-scholarly publications such as National Geographic.

    Anthropology has become firmly embedded in movies, television, and video games. Popular examples include the Indiana Jones series of movies and the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft video game and movie franchise.

    Anthropologists are occasionally involved in the creation of movies. Primatologist Michael Reid, for example, served as a consultant on ape behavior for the Hollywood production of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), and linguistic anthropologist Christine Schreyer created the Kryptonian language for the Superman movie Man of Steel (2013). Keeping with the theme of artificially created languages, Schreyer also stud- ies the community of contemporary speakers who have learned the Na’vi language created for the movie Avatar (2009).

    Sometimes anthropology is associated with popu- lar culture through its link with celebrities and politics. Ann Dunham and her work, for example, became popularized after the election of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States. Obama is the son of Dunham, who primarily prac- ticed applied anthropology in Indonesia. In 2014, Ashraf Ghani, who achieved his PhD and taught anthropology in the United States, was elected president of Afghanistan, a fact that became well known in mainstream media.

    Figure 1.9 INDIANA JONES Fictional anthropologists are embedded in popular culture, including movies, television, novels, comic books, and video games. One of the best-known fictional anthropologists is Indiana Jones. Credit: Courtesy of the Everett Collection

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    © University of Toronto Press 2019

  • 23CHAPTER 1: InTRoduCTIon: VIEwIng THE woRld THRougH THE lEns of AnTHRoPologY

    Anthropology can also be considered in the context of popular culture. Anthropologists study popular culture, and both anthropologists and the discipline of anthropology are firmly embedded in popular culture. Of all the fields, archaeology seems to get most of the attention in popular culture, with archaeologists commonly portrayed as adventurers and stories revolving around the past. Reports of discoveries of human fossils make their way into mainstream media quickly, and in recent years several success- ful television programs have been based on the work of forensic anthropologists. Box 1.4 considers both the study of popular culture and the portrayal of anthropology in it.

    Many anthropologists focus on popular culture as a scholarly area of interest. Anthropologist Shirley Fedorak (2009), for example, has authored a book called Pop Culture: The Culture of Everyday Life, in which she explores such topics as television, music, the Internet, folk and body art, sports, food, and wedding rituals through the lens of anthropology.

    Anthropological research and perspectives occa- sionally reach mainstream news media, but they are often filtered through journalists and reinforce historical stereotypes of the discipline. To provide some insight on how anthropology is portrayed in mainstream news media, anthropologist Hugh Gusterson (2013) researched mentions of anthropology in The New York Times. Among his findings, Gusterson discovered that rather than writing the stories themselves, anthropologists are most often mentioned in articles written by others. In other words, according to Gusterson, “They are ventriloquized to the public by report- ers who turn them into stories or use their quotes to enliven other stories.” Gusterson also observed that The New York Times overrepresented archae- ology and biological anthropology and that, in regard to cultural anthropology, “[j]ournalists help perpetuate a notion of anthropologists as guardians of the savage-slot.” Those who decide which anthropology-related pieces get published are evidently biased by their own perceptions and assumption of the discipline. Gusterson writes,

    “readers of The New York Times are left with a picture of anthropology as an enterprise in the salvage and preservation of marginal peoples or commentary on the fluffy bits of human behav- ior that don’t interest economists and political scientists” and “anthropologists are constructed in the public sphere as having little to say about some of the most urgent and pressing politi- cal and economic controversies of the day.” It is suggested that while economists and political scientists have been able to extend their exper- tise beyond the confines for which they were trained, and in some cases become general or public intellectuals, this hasn’t been the case for anthropologists who have been relegated to the marginal areas of interest. This is a shame, most anthropologists would probably agree, since anthropologists have much to offer in global debates about many significant issues includ- ing conflict, food security, gender, migration, refugees, sustainability, and more. The holis- tic, comparative, and evolutionary approaches of anthropology and the significant amount of anthropological research undertaken on these and other topics are valuable, but for many are underappreciated. Rather than relying on main- stream media to publicize their research and perspectives, however, some anthropologists are increasingly turning to social media, blogging, or writing columns for popular outlets such as NPR, Psychology Today, Forbes, Huffington Post, and The Guardian.

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    © University of Toronto Press 2019