(First, some personal context: My dissertation topic will be on the phenomenon of inmate wildfire fighting. To prepare for this, I have four comprehensive exam topics that I’ll write in September, for which I’m preparing by reading tons of stuff about each topic. Two are relevant to this essay, and are probably why I am writing it to begin with. One comprehensive exam topic is called ‘Masculinity.’ The other is called ‘The Categorization of Criminals and Heroes.’)
About six months ago, I was on tumblr and saw that someone reblogged something from Hot and Busted. I clicked on the link and discovered that the website is an aggregation of hot guys’ (subjective to the owner of the website, I guess) mug shots. My friend, a fellow anthropologist, and I both noticed that the website mostly featured images of white males – the few black men were mostly celebrities, like Tyler the Creator and a historic mug shot of MLK Jr. We ruminated on it a little, were mildly disturbed by the existence of it, but concluded that at least the website’s owner was objectifying white criminality, rather than walk the much trodden black-guy-with-neck-tattoos-is-hot-because-he’s-bad territory. I noted that a lot of the dudes on this website had charges of drug possession, a few with other non-violent charges. A lot of them look stoned as hell in their mug shots. What I saw was mostly, on the spectrum of acceptable immorality, the type of crimes we can forgive.
A few days ago the mug shot of Jeremy Meeks went viral. As most people with the internet and/or TV know, he got caught in a multi-agency sting to arrest active gang members on weapons charges. After the Stockton Police Department Facebook page posted his mug shot (I could, and maybe should write an article just about this very action) and it garnered a viral-level amount of views and comments, the whole world had something – mostly pretty concise things like “dayuuummmn” or “ew no way” – to say about it. I suppose I’ll now include myself in that group.......
For the rest of the article, visit PopAnth and read on!
To the Editor,
One of the reasons Jared Diamond, the best-selling author of books like Guns, Germs, and Steel, gets anthropologists' feathers all ruffled is because he has the affinity to write about indigenous and native societies in rather romanticized, fossilized terms - to view them as proud yet homogenized groups who exist primarily as a tool of Western self-reflection, as a measuring stick of how far we have fallen from a (heavily mythologized) "pristine" past. This is, of course, a harmful fallacy, because as Wade Davis writes in his critical appraisal of Diamond's latest book, "Traditional societies do not exist to help us tweak our lives as we emulate a few of their cultural practices."
In this way, Diamond sets up a very problematic teleology in much of his work, a tidy (and untrue) progression from pristine --> damaged, noble savage --> ignoble civilian, that anthropologists have eschewed for quite a while now. In his pseudo-manifestos for social and environmental change, he paradoxically calls on his WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) readers to both mimic traditional societies' practices (which of course are infinitely more varied, complicated, managed, and modern than he makes them seem) - while also insisting we take it solely upon our western selves to actually do anything. Diamond writes, "We ourselves are the only ones who created our new lifestyles, so it's completely in our power to change them." I ask: who has this power to change? And what are we changing from? As much as he likes to speak of indigenous practices, is he not squarely setting his WEIRD readers in a distinct and action-oriented category from not just our ancestors, but from all the 'others' who don't fit in his acronym? Does he forget that many humans, indigenous or not, have very little power to change anything at all?
It seems to me that the 'we' Diamond calls upon to speak up and make change are a very small set of people, a very privileged group, while silencing many others, expecting them to perform simply as mythologized tropes for a largely determinist argument. After reading your magazine for five or so years, I fear that many of your articles operate on a similar premise: travel, em/immigration, and opportunities exist and are played out for the same 'we' as Diamond's. In many of your pieces, albeit not concerned with social and environmental change, the 'others' end up becoming, often subtly and with much panache, subjected to the same structural silence. In your declarations of jet-setting trends, new investment opportunities, and exotic and unexplored lands, everyone but the privileged ‘we’ are simple cultural mirrors to see ourselves in, in vain. I will touch on two articles that I find most problematic in this way: The Geopolitics of Name-dropping (March 2014), and more direly, The Intoxicating, Tradition-steeped Charm of New Orleans (October 2013).
Content-wise, in some paragraphs the Geopolitics opinion piece is interesting. Particularly, the author’s discussion of place-names (Bombay/Mumbai, Burma/Myanmar) highlights the complex meanings these titles hold for individuals who live there and identities that form there, often that go against pre-supposed geopolitical correctness. As the filmmaker Mira Nair states in the paragraph on Indian nationals referring to Mumbai as Bombay, “But for many — and I am one of them — the idea of the city lies in the word ‘Bombay.’” Unfortunately, this opinion piece is not primarily about the intersections between native national understandings of place-names and the projection of these names to the Western outsider. What this article is premised on is a trend – the latest and greatest jet-setters taking job positions or holding destination christenings (?!) in newly-formed, hard-to-pronounce places. Quotes from the author’s friends who live in these places are greatly outnumbered by phrases like “But besides bragging rights, there’s also a practical value to getting the names right,” or “Africa is not the only continent that presents rich opportunities for naming skirmishes.”
The author presents a story of a woman who became the envy of her friends by taking a job in the “newly minted” South Sudan, winning the “traveler’s triple crown” of going to “a city nobody had ever heard of, in a country that had formerly not existed, in a place nobody could point to on a map.” Not only is the author’s half-sentence historical trajectory of South Sudan incorrect (it was never controlled by Egypt), it was astonishingly trite. I cannot blame the author for her honest assessment, most likely coming from a place of personal experience, but the piece is emblematic of the privilege assumed of the magazine’s readership. A blasé trend-piece crystallizes otherness within a ‘triple crown’ of linguistic and symbolic purgatory: these places are unknown (why?), new (due to what?), and hard to pronounce (for whom?). These places are desired for their otherness, first and foremost. The historical, cultural, and ideological details are left behind.
After reading the Geopolitics article, I was immediately reminded of a piece I clipped out of October’s style magazine, one I’ve highlighted, used in class as a discussion-starter on race and development, and have thought about a lot since its publication. The article The Intoxicating, Tradition-steeped Charm of New Orleans is undoubtedly the most insensitive magazine piece I’ve read in a while, and was the original impetus for writing this letter. It is important for me to bring it up in relation to the point I’ve been making so far, because the charge of Romanticization-and-Homogenization-as-Structural-Violence does not only apply to places outside our borders. You have managed to commit this glossy violence at home.
I cannot go into too much detail without writing a term paper, so I will highlight a few pertinent examples. In fact, I can simply stick with the article description to support my point. Underneath the title of the article, it reads, “With its last-frontier appeal and magical mixed bag of culture, New Orleans is quietly luring a circle of expats, who find an evolving city that’s just the right amount of undone.” Frontier. Magical. Expats. Undone. Each word brings with it discursively symbolic force, each word provides the reader with a mental blueprint on which to build all other assumptions, even before the article has begun.
Having spent time doing anthropological fieldwork in southeast Louisiana, I must immediately question the intent behind the words in this adjective-filled article description. Can New Orleans be considered a ‘frontier,’ and if so, does a frontier not ultimately symbolize violence and subjugation? Is New Orleans magical because of its partial afro-Caribbean lineage, and if so, do we want to call those native to the area magical, as if we’ve never heard of the racist trope of the Magical Black Man? Do we call those who move to recently-devastated parts of our country expats (like we have done with Detroit in the recent past), and if so, how do we reconcile our pride in the city’s ‘resilience’ with the verbal designation of it being outside of the Polis, outside of proper citizenship? And, what about New Orleans is undone? Is it the storms, the Parish government corruption, the offshore oil industrial lobbying, the disaster-porn bus tours of the lower ninth ward? What makes something the right amount of undone – is it the moment in which ‘we’ are willing to risk our WEIRDness for socioeconomic gain, while perhaps willfully (and even gleefully, according to the article) perpetuating the centuries-long loss of ‘others’?
This is my first set of questions that I would have for the author of the article and the editor of this magazine, as they relate to the one sentence description, with the purpose of pointing out the problematic nature of articles of this type. That is, I ask these questions not because I want answers, but to demonstrate that they are unanswerable. It is not in the purview of a style magazine, nor is it in the purview of Jared Diamond (or any anthropologist) to provide answers or solutions to these wildly complicated issues. I do not believe it is unreasonable, however, to expect a magazine owned and published by the New York Times to write with an intention to subvert this form of normative violence. What I mean by this is: Places, and people, are not just mirrors to a mythic past or ideal future, they are not just destinations, nor are they so easily deemed just right. They exist in specific moments and epochs, they are experienced in places that ripple with action and meaning as multiple as they are unified. Moreover, they do not require your magazine’s readers, nor Jared Diamond’s WEIRDos, to exist, let alone be worthy of words on a page. Instead of calling these people and places what we need or what we could have, we must not call on them at all. We must let them speak.
I should state, as a type of conclusion, that I am not necessarily surprised at this trend I have noticed in your magazine, nor do I expect any fundamental change by writing this letter, as your readership (myself included) may come to expect a particular point of view. However, I hope that by at least raising the issue, you might become aware of the harm your language and imagery can bring, the inherent silencing of many groups in your printed words. Margaret Atwood once said, “A word after a word after a word is power.” Do not take your privilege lightly. Think deeply. Before you write your own, be open to listening to the words of others.
University of Arizona, Tucson
I was looking through some emails today and came across the very first "thick description" I wrote for an anthropology class when I was but a wee undergraduate at the U of A. For those who don't know, what we call thick description in anthropological writing is the act/process of being somewhere and simply taking it all in. So if you're somewhere doing research, it is important to recognize both who and what is around you - from the ground you're walking on, to the seat you're sitting in, to the clothes and shoes on (or off) the people around you, to the noises, and the smells, and the sensual world that envelops you. This anthropologist named Clifford Geertz (and others, too) said that this sort of "thick" description is important, because the social world can be thought of as a web of significance. Even something that seems unimportant may be the thing that makes the whole world tick. The assignment was to go somewhere and observe, with an anthropologist's eye, what was happening around us. I remember being really proud of this little piece of writing, even though this was before I understood that thick description wasn't supposed to include my personal opinions or assumptions. It still makes me happy, because I can remember sitting on the bus to the county jail (where I decided to do the assignment) and thinking, "If this is anthropology, I'm in."
Maybe I should not have done this. Maybe I shouldn’t have put on perfume, or worn this shirt. But I am here, so I might as well write. It’s running late, and a group grows larger around the designated stop for bus 23, destination Laos center. I will not ride this bus to its terminus; instead I will take it to a stop called “Silverlake/County Jail.”
At 11:53, 8 minutes later than scheduled, the bus comes. Getting off are people that look tired, maybe, or distraught. Or maybe they just look like they didn’t want to ride the bus this particular Saturday, and had to. I stand in a line of twenty or so people. Two men motion for me to go ahead of them. Both of these men are wearing Vietnam veteran caps. I nod, and take my place, waiting to board.
I choose to sit in the raised portion of the bus towards the back. These seats are not padded, and face towards each other. The reason escapes me as to why this portion is raised, but for all intents and purposes, it fits my needs. Four seats away from me, as well as directly across from me, two mothers hold infants close to them. The women are dressed in lace tops and tight jeans, and have no carriers or diaper bags. One has a bag full of magazines and soap from Walgreens. The infants are both asleep.
The seats are hard, and grey. As I look down at the lowered portion of the bus, I see another woman holding a Snapple bottle, with her eyes closed. She is wearing pink high heels and large, gold earrings. I imagine her earlobes will be sore later. The two Vietnam vets are gripping the poles of the bus, and when we leave the station and move quickly away from downtown Tucson, one of them holds his head and rocks slightly. Perhaps he is about to trigger. I rehearse my counseling bit in my head. I know I have jumped to conclusions, when rather suddenly, he pulls out a picture from a brown, faded leather wallet and shows it to a stranger. It is too far away to hear what they are saying. The photo is passed around to another man, then the woman with the pink heels and Snapple bottle. I wished I were down in the lowered portion of the bus so I could hear who this photographed child was. At the next stop, a woman and her school aged daughter board. This child runs to the veteran and kisses him, and sits on his lap. I believe it is the child in the picture. They were - the veteran, his daughter and his granddaughter - eventually to get out of bus at the jail. A Saturday family outing.
The scenery changes to a bilingual one. Just less than ten minutes have elapsed from downtown Tucson, and mesquite trees have given way to taquerias and vacant lots. There are mesquite trees here, too, I suppose, but they look different when their branches are intertwined with plastic bags blown up from the wind. A man and his two sons board the bus, talking car-talk. The man sits down in the seat beside me, blocking the view of one of the mothers with the sleeping child. The man points out car after car in the used lots we pass. The son asks what kind they are, and the father responds, listing obscure details of the model, the engine type, and the price of the transmission. How fast it goes, this type of thing. The children are far apart in age, it seems, with the elder son being sometime in high school, and the younger one being no older than 10. They stop talking when one of the infants on the bus begins to cry. Then the man looks over at me and says, “prison two days in a row, I guess its gotta be a bad week for me.” I’m not sure what to say, so I just say, “wow.” We passed a car lot that has signs in Spanish, some of which are translated to English. One of those translations reads ‘Got a Job? Get a Car HERE!’ The older son sees this, and asks his dad, “Dad, could you try and get a car there? Over there, dad?” The father doesn’t here his son’s quiet voice over the din of the bus engine.
I ask the father if the stop is coming up soon. It’s been about twenty minutes. He nods and asks whom I’m visiting. I feel foolish and voyeuristic and I say a friend. He smiles and puts his arm behind my seat, which I noticed earlier was riddled with stale pink gum. “I don’t bite,” he said, and I reassured him I wasn’t thinking that. In fact, I felt it was a gesture of mutual experience, or understanding. Both mothers and infants, along with now about 30 other people, are slowly standing. I follow suit, and when the bus stops, every single person exits. Not one remains. The photographed child holds her mother’s hand while they wait for the veteran grandfather to slowly descend the steps. I climb down to the high curb, and the car-knowledgeable father looks towards me, expecting me to walk with them. “You better hurry, its busy on Saturdays,” he says. I tell him I need to smoke a cigarette before I go in. I am a liar.
I cross the street, and wait for the northbound bus to come. Already, a woman is crying at the bus stop. I sit next to another Vietnam veteran. If public transportation is a microcosm of any given society, I have sorely misread my own. I ask him where he’s headed, and he says back home. He just visited a friend who got busted for violating his parole. We talk about how he got caught under an army tank for two and half days after being shot in the stomach twice in a place called ‘rock city’ in Vietnam. He told me how, when the hospital plane landed in the USA, students threw eggs and lettuce at him and told him to go back to Vietnam, you baby killer. He is in a wheel chair, one leg amputated and the other atrophied from disuse. His chest is barrel shaped and his breathing is heavy. He says the VA treats him well.
I sit in front of the weeping woman on the way home. The seats face in a different direction on this bus, forward, and more secluded. I wonder if Suntran does this on purpose, so people leaving jail would have more privacy. I doubt it. I wonder if the crying woman is thankful she does not have to face anyone during this. A man next to me is carrying a bag full of rolled white socks. I ask him what they are for, and he says they are for his brother. They didn’t let him take them to him, but they let him keep them. That doesn’t always happen, I guess.
This bus ride is more somber. Less crowded. There is much less anticipatory camaraderie. No pictures being passed around this time. The route is exactly the same as it was on the way to the jail. I sit close to the Veteran and I listen to his labored breath. His wheelchair allows him to recline, and he does so and closes his eyes. I wonder what the bus is like at 3 pm, when visitation hours end. The shocks on this bus are better than the first. The engine noise is always the same – loud. Loud enough to block out, for example, someone quietly crying.
When I get off the bus again downtown, a man is standing with his daughter, holding a pink foam crown that says happy birthday. The little girl is wearing a pink dress to match. I wonder if they will let him take the hat in to the visitation room. It seems to be for the little girl, so I hope they do.
-- September, 2007
I was staring at my bookshelf this morning, as I usually do in the early hours before I really open my eyes to the world outside of screens and lamp-lit rooms. This time, I was looking for a book. I had just read Margaret Atwood’s review of David Eggers’s new book The Circle, in which she determined that Eggers was writing about facebook, and this new social media world we live in, as a sort of prison. She situated Eggers’s new book within other literary prisons, of course Orwell’s 1984, but also Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim living in a glass cage always looked upon as an object, as an otherworldly animal by his alien captors. These types of prisons, she wrote, were all shot through with stares and machines, never hidden, maybe exalted, but always inescapable. Reading this, I had an inkling thought.
We anthropologists always talk, and talk and talk and talk, about Foucault’s panopticon, which as we know was actually Bentham’s idea first. You know, self governance by being watched and watching each other, all that jazz. It’s interesting, I thought, that even in a class I took called “Prison Nation Time” - taught by an academic who finds little value in Foucault and instead reads Bentham and Gramsci and Aristotle - even there we never really looked to any other written genre as a viable alternative to finding prisons, those cages in our literary midst.
We defined prison in an interesting way in that class, which I intend to mine for my dissertation - prison not as a “culture” or an “other” or even an actual place. Instead, we talked about prison as, for all intents and purposes, the abject requirement of the nation, the constitutive outside to the moral inside. It is, actually, not even distinguishable as “outside,” because for those who are locked up, getting out is never an option. Inside and outside, as a binary concept, is erased, while the deontology-as-necessary-for-ontology stays in tact. I haven’t yet figured out what neatly takes that analytic place, but I think it has something to do with folding up past and present, there and here, moral and immoral, into some kind of way more complicated thing.
So, OK, I thought. I have a penchant for Vonnegut, so when Atwood referenced him, I pulled down some of his books off the shelf. What about Vonnegut’s cages? He actually writes about this in Breakfast of Champions as well as Slaughterhouse. Vonnegut liked cages. Like this quote, about the bird in the gilded cage:
Then he thought about what Bill himself might want. It was easy to guess. “Bill,” he said, “I like you so much, and I am such a big shot in the Universe, that I will make your three biggest wishes come true.” He opened the door of the cage, something Bill couldn’t have done in a thousand years.
Bill flew over to the windowsill. He put his little shoulder against the glass. there was just one layer of glass between Bill and the great out-of-doors. Although Trough was in the storm window business, he had no storm windows on his own abode.
“Your second wish is about to come true,” said Trout, and he again did something which Bill could never have done. he opened the window. But the opening of the window was such an alarming business to the parakeet that he flew back to his cage and hopped inside.
Trout closed the door of the cage and latched it. “That’s the most intelligent use of three wishes I ever heard of,” he told the bird. “You made sure you’d still have something worth wishing for—to get out of the cage.”
There’s this trope that just keeps emerging in Vonnegut, the see-through cage, the freedom that seems there (it’s glass and zoo-like, in Slaughterhouse Five) but never actually is. And then there’s the matter of time and space as it relates to being trapped in them. Vonnegut has some stuff to say about that, too. From Slaughterhouse:
Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy’s wall told him that it helped them to keep going, too. It went like this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.” Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.
The serenity prayer’s a nice touch, Vonnegut, especially when we’re talking about prison here. But anyway. I could find a million quotes from Orwell, too, or Atwood, or LeGuin, or Gibson, or TS Eliot, or Borges or….
The prison isn’t new. The prison industrial complex, in fact, isn’t new. Nor is the panopticon actually the way people in prison conceive of their experience (probably because the idea never took off, officials opting instead for entire islands as penal colonies), though of course governmentality is there, it haunts us all. I guess all I’m saying is that I want to look at prison not just as Foucault does, not just as anthropologists or academics do. I want to see it as glass, as gilded, as all-seeing, as past and present and future all rolled up into one. I want to look to fiction, because as Margaret Atwood says in her review,
Social media is in part a performance, as is everything “social” that human beings do; but what happens when that brightly lit arena expands so much that there is no green room in which the mascara can be removed, no cluttered, imperfect back stage where we can be ‘“ourselves”? What happens to us if we must be “on” all the time? Then we’re in the twenty-four-hour glare of the supervised prison. To live entirely in public is a form of solitary confinement.
What happens when public becomes solitary, the prison becomes us, and we all become a little more monstrous?
For my paper on inmate firefighting programs as both the trap (neoliberalism’s refining spirit, governmentality’s pervasive reach) and the working of the trap (physical labor as personal transformation, friendship and becoming forged in risk), I’m using three different epigraphs. One for the introduction, the first section, and the second section. They are:
I like this as an intro, because as referenced in my earlier post about prisons as not just spaces but times, there is a futility in trying to change these things. But there may be room to move within them, on the edges of them.
This is setting up the section on prison work programs fitting nicely into the neoliberal mode of positive governmentality. That is, yay, work programs shape you into “productive” members of society, look at how you’ve paid for your sins! There’s so many quotes from inmates that can be interpreted as a straight forward performance of this neoliberalism in action.
I don’t just want to explain how prison work programs, and the people that do them, are enacting neoliberalism. That’s boring and easy and lazy. After recognizing this as a fact, I want to spend some time thinking about how the work done out on the fire lines may actually be transformative in a meaningful way for individuals who do it, it may serve as some kind of “becoming.” I like how Nabokov writes “captivatingly majestic,” I like the use of captive there, talking about a man who is sentenced to die the next day. In that book you can’t tell the difference between his dreams and reality, the oppression and the freedom, and that’s what I want to explore.
things about grad school that i haven't yet figured out that i hope to figure out soon, in order to hold onto my last remaining shreds of sanity and dignity:
1) when you have a job that requires you to work 10 hours a week, try to split this time into, say, 2 hours a day 5 days a week. this is better than not doing it at all for 2 weeks and then feeling guilty and working 2 consecutive 10 hour days in a row to appease your conscience.
2) drinking coffee for breakfast and lunch every day seems like a great idea most of the time, and can lead to others’ false impressions about how much you exercise or maybe how much you don’t eat donuts, but it can also be a fast track towards having paranoid delusions regarding how your dog keeps staring at you like that and what does he KNOW?!
3) every week, try to do at least 5% of your required readings. lindsey. 5%. come on. seriously.
4) do not, under any circumstances, mutter “that’s what she said” when a professor says something to you that includes the word ‘rough’ or ‘long.’ because then your professor WILL ask you what you just said, and you WILL have to pretend you are not a 15 year old boy.
5) if at all possible, try to squeeze in at least an hour a week to play mortal kombat on your sega genesis with someone who will let you transfer all of your suppressed rage and disillusionment onto Kano or Scorpion. tears will be shed. dropkicks will be administered. your playing partner must understand this.
B Rabbit, the fictional white rapper portrayed by the real-life white rapper Eminem in the movie 8 Mile, implored the crowd at the dingy, dimly lit club to put its hands in the air, a non-verbal sign of encouragement, belief. The crowd swayed and chanted to the pulse of the beat, seemingly entranced by the freestyle rap battle taking place on stage. B Rabbit, who had just withstood 45 seconds of racially degrading lyrics in spitting range from a black rapper named The Lotto, had taken the microphone and begun to rap. In the last seconds of his turn in the battle, he faced the engrossed audience and boastfully delivered the final lines:
You see how far them white jokes get you,
Boy’s like, “How’s Vanilla Ice gonna diss you?”
My motto? Fuck Lotto.
I’ll get them digits from your mother for a dollar tomorrow!
The crowd that had, beside the occasional release of smoke, held their collective breath as B Rabbit vied to win the rap battle, erupted. For the audience watching this final scene in 8 Mile, the message seemed clear: against all odds, the lower-class white male who had been discriminated against was able to persevere and succeed in, or even assimilate into, an arena of non-whiteness. In this club in south Detroit, it seems like colorblindness, or at least the defiance of racial categorization, had been achieved.
As this movie’s trajectory closely follows Eminem’s own, one might be satisfied with viewing his life history within the rubric described above. Eminem, who has been crowned the most talented rapper of his generation by a myriad of sources, seems to have achieved an untouchable level of success in a genre dominated by non-white performers and consumers. However, focusing on his monetary success gained from selling over eighty million albums since his debut in 1999 (CNN, Online) provides us with an incomplete image of a white body in a non-white zone. Eminem’s habitual contact with non-white practices and bodies, conveyed in the movie 8 Mile and in his live performances and lyrics, makes him both a success and an exemplar of “failed whiteness,” or a white body that has transgressed enough times to be ridiculed, shunned, and hated by many. Through the analysis of Eminem’s non-white practices, this paper aims to debunk the wide-held notion that he has risen above racial categorization to achieve success, instead arguing that Eminem demonstrates that white bodies who transgress can succeed, but only if they are made to be an example of what whiteness should not be.
"I had rented a truck when a previous ranch road dented the undercarriage of my small sedan. I hadn’t requested a truck, per se, but when I drove to my destination for the oral history I had scheduled, I was thankful for the vehicle I was equipped with. The monsoons had started, creating ditches in the eight mile dirt road that would have been impossible to cross otherwise. On the drive, I saw a group of cows wading in one of the larger puddles. The creatures seemed to not come across vehicles often – even creeping by at 5 miles per hour startled them, and they stared at me with wide, brown eyes as I drove past. After crossing a high ridge that provided a view south to the Mexico border and west to Baboquivari peak, I crossed one last cattle guard to find a small bunkhouse nestled in a bank of mesquite trees. When I pulled up to Buck’s house, he had just pulled up in an old pick up truck from the opposite direction. I stepped out of my car to introduce myself, but introductions proved unnecessary. Buck immediately informed me that he had thought about calling and cancelling our interview, but because he had initially agreed, he couldn’t go back on his word. He opened the door to his house and directed me towards the kitchen. The table was set with four place settings, and in the middle of the table sat a big bowl of ruby red apples. There was some sort of chili or stew simmering on the stove, but despite the aroma of the stew and the table prepared to dine, nothing was offered to me except a brief period of time to talk, before Buck had to be back out on the range. As we took our seats across the table from each other, I explained my project with him and gained his consent, only after he heard more about the project and confirmed my intentions. Buck’s insistence on not particularly wanting to talk, though he resolved to do it, was striking if not somewhat refreshing. His reticence belied his vast knowledge of the desert, and the ins and outs of ranching more broadly. He had determined, though, that his role on this ranch was not as a talker but as a worker – a ‘cowboy wrangler’ who took his job seriously, and took it alone."
- An example of the introduction to my little short stories on each of the ranchers and cowboys I interviewed this summer. After this opening paragraph setting the scene, the rest of the story essentially sums up the interview I did with whichever informant, focusing on the aspects they described as making up their daily work and what I consider the making of their social status - how they do things, and what that means for their self worth and value in the ranching community. After I do each of these stories (I picked 13 of the best), I will lay them out in front of me and start making connections. Who mentioned solitude as a key aspect of ranching? Who got what technology (helicopter roundups, ATVs) first, or who eschews technology all together? Who breaks horses, and who does paperwork? How does each aspect of ranch work break down standard notions of class (wealth, education, mobility), or reinforce them? How do these individuals see themselves as workers, as community members, as Arizonans?
ok. this is hard to process. first of all, whoever was the creative director behind this photo shoot needs to understand that not all prisoners have scabies, nor are they locked in a rat infested cell in a boat’s dungeon in the 18th century. secondly, drunk driving is a terrible thing, but i agree with previous comments about racist, prisonist (my new made up word), fear-driven, disgustingly insensitive ‘awareness’ campaigns like this one.
3 populations come to mind when i try to say what i need to say about this image, all populations of which i have had some contact with at their most vulnerable, and who i assume would be hurt by this advertisement: 1) sexual assault survivors, whose trauma should never be marginalized into a billboard, 2) former prisoners, who, i repeat, DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS (nor usually act like the ad suggests), and perhaps most importantly, 3) the aware, conscious public who has been mentally degraded by assuming it would buy into this not-even-stereotypical fear mongering campaign and this terrible, terrible attempt at public health.
i am now researching the makers of this advertisement and writing a letter. it will have big words, this letter, but not so big of words as to guarantee that the reader understands how mistaken they were in thinking they could get away with this, this great assault on all sorts of human dignity.
I was getting these two precious little hand-made drawings framed at a local framing store today (it only took me 4 months to get it done!). The guy who was doing the framing is a local legend - an artist in every sense of the word. We were having a wonderful conversation, and towards the end of my time in his shop I mentioned I was going to live down in Arivaca for the summer. He asked why and what I do, and I paused for a nano-second and then responded, “Oh, I’m an anthropologist. I’m going down there to do an oral history project on ranchers.” His reaction was a pleased gasp while clasping his hands together and smiling broadly. He went on to talk about how he minored in anthropology, had always loved it, read a book about the yanomamo tribe, et cetera et cetera.
When I uttered that sentence, it’s not so much his reaction that made me happy as was my realization. A lot of people seem to have run into anthropology at one point in their lives, and have realized that it really is a topic, in all its humanist glory, to be in love with. Since going to school, when people vocalize this love, often times I don’t agree. I think about the shitty grunt work and the mind-numbing tasks and the difficulty of being a student. When I say “I’m a graduate student in anthropology,” there isn’t much to love. When I say “I’m an anthropologist,” I can connect the dots. I can visualize a time in the not-so-distant (in cosmic vision, anyway) future when I am doing what I love, when I am acting out the mind-expanding fantasy I first had when taking anthropology classes - the type of fantasy all those other people had but never ventured further into the field to make real. From now on, I will say I am an anthropologist (or, if I really needs to be realistic, I will say I am an anthropologist in training). I am an anthropologist, god damnit. Without the degree (yet), without the TA-ing (yet), without reading the entire canon of Foucault and Marx and Gramsci (ugh, yet), I have everything that’s important to be one. I have the love - even if grad school tries to take it away.