Wednesday, April 25, 2007
I'm sitting in the Phoenix "Sky Harbor" airport waiting for my now-delayed flight to Austin. Bored, I decided to thumb through the SAA schedule of presentations to see what I am going to be seeing over the next few days. It is certainly a mixed back of stuff. While there are some interesting titles (such as the papers int shell temper symposium organized by Evan Peacock and Jim Feathers) as well as those in my own symposia (of course!), I have to say there are far too many presentations that just make me shake my head. A couple of examples: Miguel Aguilera—Maya Skeletal Semen: Emerging from the White-Bone Snake Richard Hingley—Ancestors and Spirits in Later Prehistoric Britain Linda Brown—The Agency of Stones and Bones: Hunting Shrines around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Perhaps there is more to these papers than the titles indicate. I guess I shouldn't judge. But, come on - semen and spirits?
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Semen and Spirits! Sex, death, and the afterlife! What better way to create a sellable "product" in archaeology that the public will want to consume. Mel Gibson will be first in line.
One might think... but this is a fickle way of going about doing archaeology and means that we effectively become entertainment rather than science. This means we need to get rid of NSF for archaeology and peer review and put in a Nielson ratings systems (maybe we do seasonal "pilots" to test "profitable" archaeology). We also need to hire fiction writers who can do this better than us.
This is, of course, a lame way to generate "value" and effectively dooms archaeology as a discipline. In a later post, one can see the effect this has on the public who are beginning to see archaeology as "silly."
My comment was tongue-in-cheek, of course. However, Archaeology does need to do a better job of marketing itself, I think. We've got great stories to tell, and as you state in your later post, something unique to contribute that nobody else can. Problem is, people like Mel Gibson get hold of that information and twist it in strange ways that the public consumes and assumes is an authentic and accurate portrayal of prehistory. As a discipline we could maybe stop people from giving papers about "semen and spirits" at professional conferences, but I think the damage they do is small (as long as the discipline doesn't reward and encourage such behavior such that it spirals out of control and comes to dominate). The bigger issue is how to influence how archaeology and prehistory are portrayed by people like Mel Gibson, Steven Spielberg, and other producers of mass culture. Crying and screaming that the product sucks isn't going ingratiate archaeologists to those producers either or to encourage them to produce a more scientifically accurate product. And I don't think they are going to stop producing. Do we need Hollywood lobbyists (now, where's Jack Abramoff when you need him)? If so, let the corruption begin!
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