I am not going off to the annual American Anthropological Association meetings until Friday, and then only for a day. In fact, I have not been to the meetings in years. We are a two-anthropologist family (a dangerous enterprise) and it always seemed more important that my husband go and keep us his contacts since he had the tenured position and I simply floated from one temporary teaching job to the next. Now, don’t get all gender-pissed at me: I can uphold my feminist credential against any onslaught but the fact is, we under-employed anthropologists have to pick and choose how we spend our non-existent conference dollars and how we exercise our minor status. The meetings, quite simply, just make me feel bad when I see so many happily employed anthropologists in one place.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t miss the session at 10:15 that Faye Ginsburg is chairing tomorrow (Friday): EXPLORING THE “BOUNDARIES” OF EXPRESSIVE MEDIA IN ANTHROPOLOGY. This is what I do (I think), in my research and my classes and it will be worthwhile hearing how other people are doing this. The fact is, way too much anthropology for me has become one of two things: an attempt to quantify everything and emulate the hard sciences, or a noble but I think misdirected effort to cozy-up to social work. My research involves talking to people (easy to quantify: today I talked to 10 people) and listen as they tell me how they think their world works. But I don’t feel the need to step in and fix their world or help them see how they can change it. If that condemns me as more of an observer rather than a participant, so be it.

Take offense if you will, but I love applying “old-fashioned” anthropological concepts (worldview, “the Other,” mythology, symbolism, ritual, categorization…) to the most contemporary topics: participatory fan culture, Hollywood blockbusters, and weird everyday stuff like 2012. And this is where the bedwetting comes in. 2012 (the movie) is worthwhile if only as an excuse to really really wreck Los Angeles this time. I saw, with true awe, my old house uplifted on a chunk of expensive realestate and plunged into the sea. The stuff of mythology.

Besides the quiche fiasco I described in my previous blog, there is a framing story that deserves mention. John Cusack plays a divorced dad who picks up his kids for a camping trip. His ex-wife hands him a tote bag that contains “Pull-Ups” (big kid diapers) for his daughter who still wets her bed. This was done in whispers, a shameful thing.

Now what this kid goes through in the next two hours would make anyone wet their pants but she remains fairly calm, protected by a series of heavy-handed symbolic hats. It is not until the end that she announces that she does not need the “Pull-Ups” anymore, thanks dad. I swear, that is the line the movie ends on. Makes you wanna scream, “It’s a damned good thing, kid, because that factory is probably lava-encrusted by now.” Is this the best story we can come up with about what is important at the end/ends of the world (of anthropology?). Maybe it’s a good thing the diaper factory is gone. Maybe we will learn to “Depend” less on the things that make us ashamed to put on our symbolic hats and face the apocalypse.

Advertisements

The greatest threat to the future of humankind has been revealed. It is quiche. Again. You remember  the social threats of quiche, don’t you? In the 1980s, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” was a satirical book about masculinity and what makes a real man easily identifiable was that he didn’t eat girly foods like quiche. Manly men ate red meat. Most of those manly beef-eaters are now probably dead, but that is another story. “Real men don’t eat quiche” was a cultural truism at the time and it was easy to identify the wimpy, effeminate, maybe-gay men like actor Alan Alda and talk show host Phil Donahue, and any man who was sensitive and kind. They were the men who ate quiche. In the 2000s they were metrosexuals. Who knows where they are hiding today.

I have a handmade sign in my office that I picked up off the floor at a professional wrestling match  from the same time period. I was studying wrestling and the Wild Samoans were a fascinating team: big burly guys who were supposedly semi-primitive fellows from Samoa. Not under any circumstances were they guys you would want to cross. The discarded fan’s sign read, “Samoans  eat quiche.” It was the ultimate insult of the time  and I hope the guy ran after he waved that sign.

So, when I heard in the new movie 2012 that quiche was once again the threat that this time would cause the earth to upheave and humans to build new arks complete with giraffes and rich Middle Easterners, I should not have been surprised. But of all the wacky things that this wacky movie pronounces, it is the renewal of the fear of quiche (and bedwetting, but more on that later) that was the most disconcerting.

I am using pronounce literally here. In the beginning of the movie, a television journalist is reporting on the suicides that have just taken place at Tikal (pronounced, oddly, “tickle”), an ancient site of the Maya civilization. This mass suicide is due to the predictions of the end of the world that would take place on December 21, 2012. The source of the predictions is supposedly the “Mayan Quiche calendar.” The word Quiche is pronounced “keesh” like the egg pie. So for the next two hours and 30 minutes I am thinking about girly brunch food raining down on an unsuspecting world.

There has been plenty of debunking of the 2012 predictions and most of them do a good job of explaining that like all calendars the Maya one is cyclical and has beginnings and ending that are marked but not that result in the world melting into its core. So, I will tackle here instead the language used in 2012. First, I love disaster movies and it is hard to rile me while I am watching floods and earth fissures and ash storms devour human beings. But 2012 is not honest to its form. The best disaster movies are carefully researched “what if” scenarios and a big part of making “what if” worlds believable is getting the language right.

So quiche, that sort-of-French dish that is an egg and custard and cheese pie, is pronounced “keesh.” It is not a dish of the Maya, ancient or otherwise. The word the reporter in 2012 mispronounced and that the movie misunderstood is Quiché (with an accent) and pronouced keech-chay. The Quiché (or K’iché’) are one one of several Maya people who still live in Mexico and Central America. You will notice I said “Maya” and not “Mayan.” The people are called Maya, singular and plural. The civilization is called “Maya” and the calendar is a “Maya” calendar. The term “Mayan” is not a generic adjective. “Mayan” is generally restricted to the languages of these people: “Mayan” to refer collectively to the languages of all the Maya people, K’iché’ Mayan to refer to the specific language of the K’iché’ people. How hard would it have been to call up an expert on the ancient Maya culture to find this out?

Most people, of course, didn’t get annoyed by this and spent the rest of the movie watching people fall into abyss after abyss as the world fulfilled the ancient quiche’s prediction. I pictured a bubbling crusted pie opening a slit (like Harry Potter’s sorting hat) and proclaiming the end of the world, with male quiche-eaters the first to go. By the way, there was not one Maya person depicted in the film so clearly this prediction was not coming from the Maya people but from the brunch food that had apparently escaped from the 1980s.

Mayan Quiche.  Serve it at your next “girly-man” event.