updated 2:30 p.m. EST with two more links at the end of the post.

I was on campus until rather late last night and didn’t get a chance to update the list of articles critiquing and opposing the National Geographic Channel’s Nazi War Diggers, a proposed 4 part series which appeared to portray archaeology as treasure hunting and showed human remains being excavated in a grotesquely cavalier manner.

My previous link round-up posts are here: Nazi War Diggers: Part II and here: Nazi War Diggers: Part I.

There are some excellent articles that I’ll link to at the end of this post, but I’m going to start with the good news Tom Mashberg reported in the New York Times: “National Geographic Channel Pulls ‘Nazi War Diggers’ Series.”

It should be noted that the show does not appear to have officially been cancelled – it has been “postponed indefinitely,” which can mean a lot of things in the world of broadcast media and video on demand.

Still, it’s a positive sign and one that the National Geographic Channel should be given credit for, particularly in light of how firmly they seemed to be digging their heels in as recently as Friday.

I want to highlight a few sections of the article since it may be behind a paywall for some readers.

First, it’s important to note that the National Geographic Society did listen to the archaeologists affiliated with the society and acknowledged their concerns:

National Geographic Channel said Monday that it would “indefinitely” pull a planned television series on unearthing Nazi war graves after days of blistering criticism from archeologists and others who said the show handled the dead with macabre disrespect.

The channel said that after “consulting with colleagues” at the National Geographic Society, it would not broadcast the series, “Nazi War Diggers,” in May as scheduled “while questions raised in recent days regarding accusations about the program can be properly reviewed.” The show was to have been broadcast globally except in the United States.

Additionally, this section explaining that the Latvian War Museum opposed the show is important because inaccurate rumors about their involvement could have serious consequences for them in the future:

The channel said in its Friday statement that the Latvian government had approved the team’s work, which took place on Latvian and Polish soil. But the critics contacted the Latvian War Museum, which said in a statement that it had opposed the show.

National Geographic also said that none of the items dug up during filming would be sold but instead would be donated to war museums. The critics however found a posting on a military collectors’ online forum in which Mr. Gottlieb described locating a Latvian war helmet in June and preparing it for sale.

On to the links I intended to post yesterday, which raise many relevant questions and concerns and explain why NatGeo TV’s defensive arguments on Friday were so problematic.

I think these are vital reads regardless of the fate of the show because they get to a lot of larger issues that archaeologists, public historians, curators, and others face on a regular basis, particularly in the age of Infotainment and manufactured television “reality.”

Sam Hardy at Conflict Antiquities: ‘No trouble with customs.’ Perhaps trouble with repeatedly written confessions?

Alison Atkin at Deathsplanation: “On the Importance of Context.”

updates:
Andy Brockman at Heritage Daily: Springtime for Hitler and “Nazi War [Death Porn] Diggers”

Additionally, this letter from the Presidents of a number of major anthropological and archaeological professional organizations has been added to the American Anthropological Association site:

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), and the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) wish
to express our deep disappointment and grave concern about the upcoming National Geographic Channel
International’s (NGCI’s) show, Nazi War Diggers. Together, SAA, SHA, AIA, AAA, EAA, and EASA
represent more than 10,000 professional archaeologists and more than 600,000 individuals interested in
archaeology. Our members live and work in all parts of the world, including the areas ravaged by World
War II.

(read the rest of the letter here).

Yesterday, I posted about a new NatGeo TV show, Nazi War Diggers. The list of blog posts and open letters criticizing the show continues to grow.

Alison Atkin (Deathsplanation, doctoral researcher at The University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology) “Dear National Geographic Channel UK.” This post also contains a pdf of the letter the National Geographic Channel has sent out in response to the outcry.

Dr. Donna Yates (research fellow on the University of Glasgow’s Trafficking Culture project): “Nazi War Diggers: Looting war graves on TV.”

Paul Mullens (Archaeology and Material Culture, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis): “The Peep Show of Death: Televising Human Remains.”

Even as the National Geographic Channel scrambles to argue that everything will be fine once we see the context of the clip, they fail to acknowledge a key issue. As Mullens writes:

Shows that tear bottles and bullets out of archaeological context violate archaeological ethics because they make no effort to systematically interpret the material record and they quite often recover things simply for commercial benefit. Reducing human bodies to the same status as bottles to be trafficked online has consequential methodological, ethical, and moral implications alike.

Tom Mashberg’s New York Times article, “TV Series is criticized in handling of deceased,” will hopefully reach an audience beyond the bio/archaeology community. The National Geographic Channel is quoted in the article:

“Part of it is our fault because we released a clip completely out of context that was not representative of the show,” he said. “But I hope people will withhold judgment until the show starts.”

This raised many an eyebrow on twitter. The clip, which shows a group of men cavalierly scraping dirt away from human remains and prying a broken femur out of the ground in a manner that no amount of context will make acceptable. The article concludes:

One of the two metal-detecting specialists on the show, Kris Rodgers, said on Twitter that he agreed the show had been promoted with “a very bad clip.” In response to the outcry, however, he added: “Trust me. It was done properly.”

No. It clearly wasn’t.

Additionally, Archaeosoup has a special episode about the show. Although NatGeo TV has taken down the clip, you can see it in this episode.


Oh! Bodies and Academia is also collecting up links about the show: “Grave Robbing” on TV?”

That title sounds like the lead-in to a post about craptacular SyFy movies. Or maybe a political post about the rhetoric around the NeoLiberal military-industrial complex. Sadly, it’s about neither of those things. Nazi War Diggers is an upcoming 4-part series on National Geographic International. TV Wise announced it will begin airing on May 13th.


Nazi War Diggers, National Geographic Channel
Photo posted on Nazi War Diggers show site

NatGeoTV, which is owned by FOX and promoted as a partnership with the National Geographic Society, already airs an ethically-challenged show called Diggers. Despite critiques by professional associations such as the Society for American Archaeology, the show continues to air and is now in its third season.

The clip posted yesterday on the Nazi War Diggers website showed these self-professed metal detector enthusiasts digging up human remains from an unmarked Latvian grave. The clip has since been removed but the page remains and the publicity photos were still online as of this afternoon.

I’ve been rounding up blog posts about the show.

Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove (Powered by Osteons blog): “Who needs an osteologist, volume 11.”

John R. Roby (Digs and Docs): “We don’t need a TV show about looting Nazi battlefields.”

Archaeologist Paul Barford (Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues blog): “National Geographic use metal detectors, find new low.”

Conflict Antiquities: “urgent ethical and legal questions for National Geographic, ClearStory and their Nazi War Diggers.”

Alison Atkin of Deathsplanation summed up my feelings with an animated gif: “Nazi War Diggers.”

Archaeologist and TV producer Annelise Baer (Archaeologist for Hire blog): “Let’s talk more about Nazi War Diggers.”

I’ll add posts as I run across them.

Added March 28, 2014: Nazi War Diggers, part II.

Dr. Isis: On Waking Up From Your Fear of Academic Writing…

While directed at scientists, this post is applicable all academic creatures. Unless you’re a delicate flower & can’t handle profanity…in which case you should read this shit twice because you might actually need an extra dose of Dr. Isis’s character-building ass-kicking. Or not. Whatever. At the end of the day, only you can make you get your work done.

The Bechdel Test is (was) a hot conversation topic at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association (MAPACA) conference (last month, which is when I wrote this post I’m only now getting around to editing & posting).

In 1985, a strip from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic titled “The Rule” featured two women talking about going to the movies. One explains her criteria for choosing a movie: it has to have at least 2 female characters, those characters have to talk to one another, and that dialogue has to be about something other than a man.

Recently, four Swedish Theaters announced they’ll be applying the Bechdel Test to the movies they show and giving movies that pass an “A” rating.

Yesterday – on her blog and in interviews with other media outlets – Bechdel expressed discomfort with the dogmatic way her work is being used.

For a very long time, The Rule wasn’t a widespread cultural phenomenon – it was a thing women and gender studies scholars talked about in bars. Over the last decade, the Bechdel Test, as it’s now known, has became something akin to one of those weird conventional wisdom-y popular science phenomenon.

Now everyone thinks it’s a great tool for studying gender film, except most of the people who study gender and film.

To many (most) of the feminist lit and culture scholars I know, the Bechdel Test has gone from a thought-provoking conversation starter to a reductionist tool.

I like the idea of the Bechdel Test. It could be a great tool for opening up conversations about women in film and on television as subjects and not objects, but as a blunt instrument it’s a lousy lens through which to actually analyze the representation of power, discrimination, oppression, or ideology on-screen. Or to discuss gender in ways that aren’t hetero-normative and divided into a strict male-female dichotomy, for that matter.

The test doesn’t take into account semiotics, character development, context, or the very fact that film is a visual medium. That’s hard to quantify.

Stefan Solomon’s post, “What the Bechdel test doesn’t tell us about women on film,” includes several film clips that speak louder than words about these problems.

A few months ago I watched a brutal argument on facebook wherein a group of Bechdel Test devotees shamed a female friend who was defending her fandom of Firefly. I hadn’t realized until then how poorly the show does on the test.

Now, in all this talk of feminist movies and tv shows that fail or misogynistic ones that pass, I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t plenty of movies that fail for well-deserved reasons.

A few days ago, a Guardian article included some relevant statistics on the movie business in 2013:

Of the top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.

“Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office. It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie-making – writing, production, direction, and so on – are dominated by men, and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men,” Amy Bleakley, the study’s lead author, said in an email.

I can understand why people who don’t want to spend their time thinking about critical analysis like the Bechdel Test – it’s a checklist.

If. Then. So.

This debate about whether Black Swan passes the test illustrates the multiplicity of ways one can interpret the test itself. As I learned at breakfast this morning, when it was in theaters this was one of those movies people seemed to enjoy railing at film scholars about it to “prove” the worth of the test.

(I don’t have enough conference-coffee coursing through my system yet to recall some of the other fascinating examples that were discussed this morning. Sorry).

As an example of why gaze and context and on-screen action (and wardrobe!) matters, Solomon discusses Alien, the film that has become the gold standard:

Bechdel’s original comic strip ends on an interesting note. For the cartoon character speaking, the last movie that passed the test (circa 1985) was Ridley Scott’s Alien. In that film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the other female crew-member, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), discuss the film’s monster (thereby passing the Bechdel test).

But for those of us who know the film, we will also know that it is not dialogue, but the lack of dialogue that makes Alien such a haunting experience. Indeed, who really remembers the words that pass between Ripley and Lambert on board the Nostromo?

Feminist film critics have been far more interested in how we interpret the final scene, in which Ripley – the lead character and sole survivor – is reduced to her underwear.

In these last shots, the camera, which until now has moved in such a fascinating way through the corridors of the ship, seems to revert to old Hollywood habits, embarrassingly ogling Weaver’s body (or does it?)

The TV Tropes entry on the Bechdel Test suggests some ways to apply the test with more nuance.

The Bechdel Test has, strangely, become something that (well-meaning) people use to try to belittle feminist film scholars into believing we don’t know shit about…you know, the things we study, teach, and write about.

I wrote about ways to use the test for a zine years ago and we got a surprising barrage of criticism from readers who questioned my ability to “think scientifically” about film. This was before the test was particularly wide-spread – hence my surprise. I don’t have a copy of the article, but a friend and I continue to discuss the perception that to apply the Test is to “think scientifically.” It was a stunningly aggressive example of mansplaining, although at the time I didn’t have that word for it.

This is not to say that men have a monopoly on dogmatic Bechdel interpretations, but in that case in particular, it was a festival of mansplaining. There are plenty of female-identifying feminists who would argue it’s merits just as dogmatically.

(On a minor tangent: If I were to construct a scientific test for a social process, it would be to measure the inverse proportion between the amount of time someone rants about the value of their own education and authority and the amount of time they spend arguing that everyone else’s field is bullshit).

Media literacy is an important skill that I think anyone can acquire. It doesn’t require years of graduate school and I’m not trying to advance an elitist argument.

I’m mostly trying to explain why I get that pained look on my face every time a well-meaning person launches into, “I know for a fact that [brilliant feminist film X] is sexist because it fails the Bechdel Test. It’s science! I’m a chemist! I know these things!”

Nor am I arguing that only theorists get to interpret popular culture or are even right about their interpretations. They’re interpretations, after all. (You know, the kind of thing that the Bechdel Test can’t account for). Viewers feel deeply invested in popular culture. They have strong opinions and ideas. It’s what makes studying it so interesting.

What I am saying is that perhaps people who are passionate and devoted to the study of such things might just have a little insight now and then. And many of those people – myself included – strongly believe that the Bechdel test is a great place to start a conversation, but it’s just that: a conversation starter.

It’s understandable that questioning the Bechdel Test’s usefulness sends diehard proponents into a rage. Diehard proponents, on the other hand, should be happy – I’m told it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Yippee ki-yay, motherfuckers.

NSFW clip:

IMG_1561

My neighborhood gets pretty festive for Christmas, but I find the amount of time and money that goes into Halloween is staggering. Fun, but a bit crazy.

IMG_4992.JPG

I love Halloween and, admittedly, I require vigilant adult supervision in the Halloween aisles so that I don’t cart home every single novelty item pertaining to bones or mummies. Fortunately, I hate clutter so I’m generally able to resist all but the very coolest items.

Up until about 1984, folklorists considered Halloween the least commercial modern holiday.

Now, like an undead neoliberal dream, the American fear of strangers shambles forth anew each year to pick pockets and fill attics with orange & black plastic rubbermaid tubs packed with tombstones, black and orange tinsel, light strings, spiderwebs, fog machines, and decapitated rubber body parts. (As of 2006, Snopes reported that Halloween was still down in 6th place in terms of total holiday retail spending, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s a multi-billion-dollar holiday).

But let’s get to the candy-tampering legends, since that’s the actual topic of this post and the most likely factor for this orgy of Capitalism.

In 1970, the New York Times ran a lengthy article about Halloween sadism, extensively quoting an ultra-conservative psychiatrist named Reginald Steen, who spun an elaborate tale of potential sadism and candy tampering by people emboldened by what he considered the increasing over-permissiveness of modern society.

In 1975, Newsweek reported the unsubstantiated “fact” that several children had died and hundreds more had barely escaped injury from candy tampering by strangers.

They were almost sort of accurate, in that a child did die from eating poisoned candy. In Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, David Skal describes the 1974 murder of a young boy. Ronald O’Bryan put cyanide in pixie sticks, killed his young son, and collected the insurance money. At first he was a hero because he leapt into action and saved the other neighborhood children from eating the tainted candy. Which he had poisoned.

Dubbed the Candyman by the press, O’Bryan was tried and convicted in 1975.

The National Confectioners Association worked desperately with the FDA throughout the 70s and 80s to debunk this story but were unsuccessful. Candy manufacturers were unable to avoid a changeover to individually wrapped candy, which is more expensive to produce. Additionally, the emphasis on “safe” costumes” and decorations for group celebrations encourages people to spend more money on decorations, less money on candy.

Ironically, baking Halloween-themed treats (after purchasing the specially decorated cupcake supplies or cookie cutters or black icing) is wildly popular now. It seems like it would be a lot easier to poison a batch of cookies than to concoct a nefarious terrorist plot involving individually wrapped candy. After September 11th, there was apparently an upswing in parental fears about anthrax on candy –

Or to conceal a razorblade in an apple, an action that any sane person who’s ever seen an apple realizes is pretty much impossible. That’s not to say that no one has ever tried it (I can’t prove it didn’t happen) or that kids don’t attempt it for attention, concealing the damage to the apple’s skin by claiming they bit into it, but I just want to point out that it’s a pretty ridiculous idea.

In 1985, California State University sociologist Joel Best collaborated with folklorists to study these legends of anonymous Halloween sadists.

In “Razor Blade in the Apple,” (Social Problems, 32(5):488-499), Best reports they found a lot of localized hoaxes between 1959-1985, and some attention-seeking behavior from kids, but no evidence of strangers tampering with candy.

At a time when evangelical ministers were becoming regular cultural commentators on television talk shows, satanic and ritualized abuse panics were reported breathlessly on the nightly news, and people were growing concerned that increasing urbanization would lead to isolation and the breakdown of communities, Best concluded that protecting the children from this amorphous threat with a bold gesture once a year was a way to express fears about social change without taking radical action or working for real change in society.

According to Skal, the 1982 Tylenol poisonings in Chicago caused a temporary upswing in paranoia in the National media that had consequences for the way many products are packaged, but had surprisingly little lasting impact on Halloween.

Best agrees with Urban Legends and Folklore guru Jan Harold Brunvand that legends like this persist because they have a very general underlying message that can evolve as social conditions change. He concluded that the national media played very little role in keeping the legend alive. Local communities acted out their fears in their own ways.

Just yesterday, not wanting to let facts get in the way of a click-bait story about a possible case of candy-tampering, ABC news published a story that included this:

Tampering with Halloween candy became a problem in the late 1970s and early 1980s when police departments reported incidents of children finding blades, pins and pieces of glass in their candy.

The story concludes with this information:

Beginning in 1982, the National Confectioners Association maintained a Halloween Hotline in which law enforcement agencies could report incidents of tampering, and some hospitals X-rayed children’s candy for foreign objects.

Last year the NCA shut the hotline because “there is very little occurrence of tampering,” said spokeswoman Susan Smith. “Tampering is extremely rare, and we don’t even track it anymore because police just aren’t seeing it,” she said.

Oh, hey, look! (listen?) you can listen to NPR’s Robert Siegel interview Greg Best about candy tampering

updated to add this article I missed on the Smithsonian Magazine blog: Where Did the Fear of Poisoned Halloween Candy Come From?

I wanted to write a really great conclusion to this post, but now all I can think about is making grilled cheese bats, so instead here’s the trailer for a fun Halloween movie, Trick-r-Treat:

When I was a kid, our next door neighbors had a Hammond organ. They used to let me play it but their sheet music selection was pretty limited.

Very limited.

Let’s put it this way: if you ever form a Jim Croce cover band and need some funky organ breaks for “Time in a Bottle,” I’m your girl.

I have no idea how this post was supposed to end because I went down a rabbit hole for a while. I was linking to Jim Croce’s website and the front page link for “dinner reservations” was deeply confusing until I discovered it led to the Croce’s Restaurant site. Croce’s Restaurant is closing in December. It’s in San Diego, I bet Batty has been there.

I should really get back to lecture writing. Or watching shitty movies. Ooh, my lecture is on urban legends, so I could watch the movie Urban Legends and multitask!

No, actually, there shouldn’t.

There absolutely should not exist such a thing.

But if such a thing did exist, it would be fantastic to be able to raise pledges to do things like watch the double=feature I saw on HBO’s schedule on May 3rd: Glitter and Wrath of the Titans.

Glitter.

And Wrath of the Titans.

They aren’t exactly a double feature, they’re just on back to back.

Technically, there’s something on between them so they aren’t exactly back to back. But that’s still close proximity.

Too close.

Have you seen those movies? Sweet Cheezits.

But now, I must return to my final exam week study-break viewing: Prometheus, which seems to require a minor amount of paying attention, if only because it looks cool.

If you have a final research project proposal to write and you’ve been editing some drafts of blog posts about it that are helping you organize your thoughts and remember how the project developed, that doesn’t count as procrastination!

Watching a video of koala bears fighting, however, does qualify as procrastination. Just so we’re clear.

Creepy.

Back to my project proposal…and those blog posts…maybe I’ll even get one posted tonight or tomorrow.

As I hurtle towards the inevitable end of the semester, it’s a good time to polish up some of the drafts that have been piling up. Instant content, just add coffee.

Yes. Well.

In my Anthropological Research Design seminar this semester we’ve been, um, designing research. Specifically, ethnographic research. (As a biological anthropologist, this is not something I do often).

I knew I wanted to do something involving Floridians and alligators. I’d read Laura Ogden’s Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades and her scholarly articles on the cultural and political constructions of nature and the concept of ecosystems but I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. (Here’s an interview on the Anthropology and Environment Society blog with Ogden about the book – it’s fascinating).

I was flailing about on a Friday night in late February, knee-deep in a literature review, when I decided to take a brief twitter-break. That’s when I saw that uber-scienceblogger Brian Switek had tweeted this::

My fear of a world where apes evolved from men kicked into high gear and I quickly responded.

Later I discovered my Tivo, Overlord II, had been trying to give me nudges in the right direction all week:

planetapes

Amidst all this chatter, and the inevitable branching twitter conversations, I realized I was thinking too narrowly. Reading Ajay Gandhi’s ethnography, “Catch Me if You Can: Monkey capture in Delhi” was a turning point. My ideas were sound, but my theoretical model was all wrong. I don’t think that multispecies ethnography (see references at the end of the post) is really going to be The Next Big Thing, but the possible applications are intriguing.

So the moral of the story: Twitter is not always a waste of time and Tivo is your friend and it just wants to help. Also, beware the Ricardo Montalban Effect, which I still haven’t fully explained but intend to in the very near future. I thought I had an old post explaining it, but I was mistaken. I’ll fix that, but probably not until the semester is over.

In related news, Brian Switek’s new book, My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs, is waiting for you to buy it. It’s pretty great.

_______________
References

Fuentes, Agustin
2010 Naturalcultural encounters in Bali: monkeys, temples, tourists, and ethnoprimatology. Cultural Anthropology 25(4):600 – 624.

Gandhi, Ajay
2012 Catch me if you can: Monkey capture in Delhi. Ethnography (13): 43-56.

Kirksey, S. Eben and Stefan Helmreich
2010 The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography. Cultural Anthropology 25(4):545-576.

Ogden, Laura
2008 The Everglades Ecosystem and the Politics of Nature. American Anthropologist 110(1):21-32.