Jessica's Blog



The Avatar: Relating Anthropology to the General Public

This movie is extremely fascinating to me because of all the different ways I can relate it to anthropology.  More importantly however, is the fact that anthropology is so hard to relate to the general public.  I even have had a hard time trying to describe it to other college students who are more exposed to the field of study.  After I saw this movie I became so excited because I immediately saw its potential as a tool for relating anthropology to the general public. 

One way that this movie is relatable to anthropology is through analogy of our military using anthropologists in Iraq in the same way that the military uses the avatars in the movie (Anthropologists in the Military – A First-Hand Account by Jeff Bristol, David Price: Hollywood’s Human Terrain Avatars).  Honestly, the idea of misusing anthropologists can be carried even further than through the military.  The movie can be seen as a huge allegory showing the imperialistic past of western culture (Avatar: Evaluating the themes).   The oil companies have done the same thing in the Amazon to learn how to quail the indigenous peoples—the oil companies send anthropologists to learn how the indigenous think and what they want so they can get the oil.

The second, and most important, way that these two are relatable is the use of anthropological knowledge to improve the authenticity of the movie.  Cameron, who is a stickler for details, went in-depth in developing the culture and language of the indigenous peoples of Pandora.  In the article I read the author goes so far as to compare film makers to anthropologists.  For authenticity requires an in-depth knowledge of the basic details of a particular culture. Cameron had linguistic anthropologists to identify key sounds, foreign to western culture, of other languages were then incorporated in to a brand new language for the Na’vi to speak.  He used cultural anthropologists to replicate known tribal rituals into the Na’vi rituals.

One final note, something many people do not consider when watching such science fiction as Star Wars and Star Trek—or even Stargate—is if we have no knowledge of something then we cannot create something based off of that knowledge.  In other words, if we have no knowledge of an alien culture we cannot create an alien culture.  All any of these shows are doing is recreating known cultural behavior in a different way so that it can be seen as alien.  This too is a type of anthropology—the research of human culture.

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