Monthly Archives: July 2008

It was Dr. Jones

It is not uncommon that people ask me how I ended up studying anthropology, and usually I just respond that it was my broad and undefined interest in all things social, cultural and human that led me in that direction. But that it is not the whole story.

I don’t think I was entirely aware of it at the time, but later, and now again with the release of the new film, I’ve come to realize that the Indiana Jones films have been quite the inspirational factor leading me towards anthropology.

Though Indy is an archaeologist, much of what he does is connect the strings between various cultures, languages and events across history and geography to uncover new and fascinating interpretations of the world – with lots of adventure, danger and romance to boot – so what’s not to like?

I liked the wealth of variety, the intricate scientific theories regarding these, but most of all, I liked the stories – not just the folklore and myths, but also their discovery and interpretation. Indiana Jones was all about that. To top this off, I was surprised to find out that it was none other than famed proto-anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski who helped inspire Indy’s choice of career.

So, it was with all of this luggage that I went to see the newest installment in the chronicles of the aging archaeologist, Dr. Jones and his visit to Crystal Skull country. In a short bulleted review:

The Good

  • It did have the proper Indiana Jones feel. The action sequences were clever and inventive, and there was a sufficient of the old comic spark in it.
  • Indy – has aged believably, and as dryly sarcastic as ever.
  • Mutt Williams – as a sidekick I thought he was okay. He had enough character to make him interesting and the age difference between Mutt and Indy was a good basis for comedy.
  • Irina Spalko – a good villain, she made the switch from Nazis to Commies work out alright. Unfortunately, she was given too little depth and too little time with Indy to develop properly.
  • Marion Ravenwood – a lot of heart and good fun. But again, there were too many distractions to allow time to give that relationship the depth it needed.

The Bad

  • The number of sidekicks – there were at least two sidekicks too many, and they stayed on for far too long with adding any depth of character or plot, offering only a little comic relief. Both Indy’s old army buddy and his crazy archaeologist friend could easily have been left out – they stole focus from the more interesting characters
  • The references to WWII – So Indy was a big war hero. We get it.
  • The political references – I suppose it’s a rule that any Hollywood film taking place in the 50s should have some sort of reference to McCarthyism. But it doesn’t really fit in Indiana Jones universe – at least not if it is done as clumsily as this. The film would like to turn Indy into a god-fearing patriot wrongly-accused. But hey, maybe he’s a pinko?

The Ugly (SPOILERS)

Doing (ethnographic) interviews

I found this video on ethnographic interviewing techniques and “getting people to talk” on the American Anthrodesign mailing list:


Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.

The film is made by a couple of design students at the Illinois Institute of Technology in order to give a set of interview pointers to designers wanting to conduct interviews as part of their user research. Among the interviewees are Dori Tunstall, an Associate Professor of Design Anthropology at University of Illinois at Chicago. She argues that the key to good interviewing comes from building rapport and building moments of openness between the interviewer and interviewee.

Getting people to feel comfortable talking to you, requires you as an interviewer “to be charming.” According to Tunstall, that requires a basic empathic involvement in what is being said and expressed: Being interested and building a natural flow of the conversation. In short, perhaps: Turning the interview into a conversation rather than an artificial interview situation. As the film does well to point out, the artificiality of the interview situation often shows whenever the interviewer isn’t really interested in what is being discussed, or is preoccupied with finding out specific information, or in the transitions between topics being discussed, as these often break the flow of the conversation.

As a film, I found it a bit too long, and not really very ethnographic: The interview by itself does not make it ‘ethnographic’. ‘Ethnographic’ is, as Tunstall does well to point out, rather the overall philosophical stance and empathic interest that guides your position as you consciously interpret and re-represent the interviewee’s point of view as best as you can.

Roskilde 2008

Another year, another summer, and another Roskilde Festival. This year the sunshine returned to the festival as I opened up my summer holidays by gorging myself with beautiful and surprising music.

I didn’t get to see and hear as music as usual, as earned my ticket working in a Smoothie bar for part of the festival, but I managed to her some good stuff all the same. Here were my favorites from each of the 4 days of the festival:

Thursday

  • Gossip – loads of fun with their energetic electro-punk. The lead singer is a charming girl with a great connection with the audience. Definitely worth a live show another time.
  • Radiohead – Dreamy stuff. I’m not a big Radiohead fan, but they played a good concert. I felt lifted up and carried away, and when the concert ended, it was like waking from long, heavy sleep.
  • Friday

  • Band of Horses – I haven’t really heard much of their stuff before, but it worked well and was very engaging rock music. The lead singer seemed eminently likable as he smiled at the crowd with his crooked smile.
  • Battles – I heard this from a couple of hundred yards away working in the Smoothie bar. And it sounded quite good from there. Apparently, Battles is an exponent of the Math Rock genre, which I’ve never heard of before. Apart from having a cool name, their music is quite symphonic at a distance, though a friend of mine who attended the concert said that it was a bit too noisy and disorganized up close.
  • Saturday

  • The Ting Tings – Fun and uncomplicated. The Tings Tings consists of a drummer and a singer who also plays the guitar. The tunes are catchy, the drumming is excellent and basically, they play joyous indie pop, which is well worth a listen.
  • José Gonzalez – Swedish singer/songwriter best known for his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” as featured in an advertisement with thousands of bouncy balls on a San Francisco hillside. His voice was very soothing for a mellow afternoon in the sunshine.
  • Lykke Li – another Swedish singer/songwriter whose melodic and sweetly formed pop is at once melancholic like summer rain and intoxicating like chilled white wine.
  • Saturday night was a night of nonstop dancing for me. From 11 pm to 4 am I oozed from dance scene to dance scene, mixing genres and tempi all through the night. First up was American Girl Talk, whom I’ve heard of from his appearance in the excellent Danish documentary Good Copy Bad Copy. He mixes and pitches all sorts of music together in a inferno of groovy music where you can recognize fragments just well enough so that you can sing a long while at completely different speeds and beats. It’s remix culture at its very best, and a great performance as well.

    From that point on, my night was positively balkanized between the amazing balkan horns and rhythms of the German band Shantel & Bucovina Club Orchestra, the Austrian DJ Dunkelbunt and an Albanian wedding party hosted by Fanfara Tirana. All three of these were amazing fun with irresistible rhythms and those clarinets playing dizzying, sizzling balkanbeat:

    And in between these bands I also managed to attend the Chemical Brothers show, which was a loud, flashy return to the big beat music I was a big fan of 10 years ago. The combination of all of this music made it a perfect Saturday night.

    A great way to kick-start my holidays!