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Film in the classroom
h [electronic resource] :
toward a more effective pedagogy /
by Jonathan Godwin.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2003.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 130 pages.
ABSTRACT: The postmodern critique has effectively called on anthropologists to reevaluate ethnographic authority when representing others. However, what is often found lacking in this criticism is an exploration of the ways in which audiences interpret anthropological knowledge. One crucial area that can be easily researched is audience reception of film in introductory anthropology classes. As professors of anthropology increasingly rely on film for illustrating anthropological concepts, we must have an understanding of how this medium is interpreted by student audiences. Film's ability to convey complex information without additional contextualization has yet to be substantiated and previous research has indicated that visual communication's messages may easily be misinterpreted by audiences. Furthermore, there is evidence that films, if used improperly, may perpetuate students' negative impressions of cultures other than their own. Finally, any research into audience reception of film in the classroom must consider the factors outside the class that shape an audience's interpretations of films. The research presented in this thesis looks at the use of film in teaching introductory classes at USF. The goal is to connect the students' interpretations of films to the contextual factors of the classroom as well as considering the larger influence that the surrounding media culture in everyday life has on the interpretation of film in the classroom. In this way, the research strives to offer recommendations that may improve the effectiveness of using film when teaching introductory anthropology classes.
Adviser: Bird, S. Elizabeth
x Applied Anthropology
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Film in the Classroom: Toward a More Effective Pedagogy by Jonathan Godwin A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: S. Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D. Brent Weisman, Ph.D. Jonathan Gayles, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 21, 2003 Keywords: film, audience, semiotics, representation, media, Copyright 2003, Jonathan Godwin
Acknowledgements First, I would like to thank my parents fo r their incredible and constant support, both financially and spiritually, especially throughout my entire academic career. I simply cannot imagine where I would be right now with out the unbelievable help they always have given so selfle ssly. Secondly, I want to thank Dr. Tim Wallace at North Carolina State University for being the right person at the right time in my life. Tim introduced me to anthropology, now a lifelong pursuit, at I time when I had little direction in life. I owe my career to his enthusiasm for what he teaches as well as his tireless effort s to bring students to actually experience anthropology in the field. I thank him for giving me all the opportunities with the field school in Costa Rica, presenting papers at confer ences, and generally for an unimaginable patience with me over the years and most of all for being a goodhearted, enjoyable friend throughout it all. I would never be writing these words if not for him. Thanks Tim. And th anks to Jon Carter for being endlessly available to discuss and develop ideas, another person to whom I owe so much. In Tampa, I firstly want to thank Dr. Bird for all of her support. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with her on this project and learned so much along the way. I fear I might not have ever finished the Masters program without her help. When I felt I had nothing worth researching, Dr. Bi rd encouraged my ideas and helped me bring to fruition a thesis pr oject on a topic I felt excite d about researching. And again because she is someone with whom I worked, I also have to thank her for her patience. Thanks also to the thesis committee members Dr. Brent Weisman and Dr. Jonathan Gayles for their time, effo rt and support with this project. They have both been very encouraging thro ughout my entire career at USF and they deserve special recognition fo r that. Also, thanks in no small way to the Center for 21st Century Teaching Excellence. And finally, I would like to use this space to thank the other people in Tampa that have touched my life. I have truly learned from you all and I sincerely wish you the best that life has to offer.
i Table of Contents Abstract iii Chapter One: Introduction 1 First Encounters 1 Research Questions and Goals 4 The Internship 10 Conclusion 14 Chapter Two: The Audience in Theoretical Context 16 Beyond The Crisis of Representation 16 Who Is the Audience Anyway? 20 Is there a text in the film? 25 The Reader and the Text, Or the Reader in The Text? 32 Conclusion 44 Chapter Three: Methods and Results 46 Toward An Ethnography of Audiences 46 Methodology 48 Classroom Observations 52 The Focus Groups 55 Regarding the Hypothesis: Context Is Everything, Almost 56 Film Style and Audience Reception 70 Recommendations: Rethinking Context As A Presen tation Strategy 81 The Importance of Post-Film Discussions 87 Conclusion 89 Chapter Four: Conclusion: The Audience and the Media Ecology 91 The Classroom Environment 91 What the Professors Are Saying 94 Why the Media Ecology 98 The Media Ecology and the Student Audience 100 What the Surveys Say 102 Conclusion 113
ii References Cited 122 Books, Articles, and Websites 122 Films 125
iii Film in the Classroom: Towa rd a More Effective Pedagogy Jonathan Godwin ABSTRACT The postmodern critique has effectively called on anthropologists to reevaluate ethnographic authority when representing others. However, what is often found lacking in this criticism is an exploration of the ways in which audiences interpret anthropological knowledge. One crucial area th at can be easily researched is audience reception of film in introductory anthropology classes. As professors of anthropology increasingly rely on film for illustrating anthropological concepts, we must have an understanding of how this medium is interpre ted by student audiences. Films ability to convey complex information without additi onal contextualizati on has yet to be substantiated and previous research has i ndicated that visual communication's messages may easily be misinterpreted by audiences. Furt hermore, there is evidence that films, if used improperly, may perpetuate students ne gative impressions of cultures other than their own. Finally, any research into audien ce reception of film in the classroom must consider the factors outside the class that shap e an audiences interp retations of films. The research presented in this thesis looks at the use of film in teaching introductory classes at USF. The goal is to connect th e students' interpretations of films to the contextual factors of the classroom as well as considering the larger influence that the surrounding media culture in everyday life has on the interpretati on of film in the classroom. In this way, the research strive s to offer recommendations that may improve the effectiveness of using film when teaching introductory anthropology classes.
1 Chapter One Introduction First Encounters As usual, I overestimated the time it would take to ride my bike from my apartment to the campus, so I arrived at the wh ite brick building ten minutes early. Inside the fluorescent lights seemed bright. I suppose this was due to the f act that the sun had already begun to set in the early even ing Tampa sky. Quite a few students had congregated in the hall and were waiting for ad mittance into the classr oom. I took a seat on an empty wooden bench. Shortly thereafter, I realized the professor must have arrived because the students started moving through the door and into classroom. I decided to wait and be the last to enter. I thought that would be best since I was only visiting for the evening, although in retrospect it probably made no difference at all. I had received permission to watch a film with the students as a preliminary ethnographic component to my Masters internship. When I walked th rough the rather typical campus hallway with its white linoleum tiles and painted white walls towards the classroom at the far west end of the building, I was taken aback by the sh eer expanse upon entering the room. I felt like I had just walked into the future. Th e room was like a giant oval-shaped spaceship conference room. I decided to walk all the wa y to the back and then over to the opposite
2 side of the classroom. This would give me a feel for the spaceship qualities of the room as well as provide me with a vantage point in which I might observe most of the students. I realized walking along the backside of th e room that it has been equipped with a very nice projector and speaker system. It soon became apparent that this entire system including the lights could be operated with a touch screen from a rather mundane looking podium, which only served to reinforce the sp aceship analogy I was developing. When all was settled in I would guess that some 200 or so students were in attendance. After a brief lecture the professor introduced the film to be seen. It was a documentary film about race and skin color. This video is extr emely important, the pr ofessor said. It is the best movie you will see all semester. At first, once the movie began and the lights were dimmed, the students seemed to pay clos e attention. However, during the course of the movie, which was not much longer than 30 minutes, I noticed a growing restlessness. I noticed a couple sitting together. The guy had on Tommy Hilfiger blue jeans and a colorful Hilfiger knit shirt and was playing with a cell phone. Then I noticed several people getting up to leave. It appeared that th ey did not do this duri ng the lecture. I felt relieved that they were at least courteous enough to sit still while the professor spoke. However, I wondered to myself, Why were th ese students getting up to leave during the middle of this film? Hadnt the professor just said it was the most important film they would be watching all semester?!? This was the first time I walked into a classroom to ethnographically observe the use of film as pedagogical device. Howeve r, upon numerous other excursions into the class as field site I watched as countless students arose from their seats and walked out of
3 the class in the middle of both films and lectures Of course I had my ideas as to why this was happening but I asked both friends and professors what they thought. Its just the culture of rudeness. Its the media generation. The quality of students being admitted to the university is going down. These are a few of the more common re sponses I received. Regardless of the reason, something is going on in the American un iversity classroom and what ever it is, it is getting more prevalent. I remember si tting through classes as an undergraduate and watching students leave and thinking, Yeah, well see whos getting an A on the next exam. And every time I did get an A I fe lt a little vindication for sitting through all those classes in their entirety. Yet, afte r observing several sections of undergraduate anthropology classes and having asked seve ral professors who almost unanimously confirmed this, I have confidence when I sa y that the number of students getting up and leaving is growing. However, this is not what I set out to researc h, although I will return to some of the questions it raises about a media generation. I originally began observing classes as part of a pr oject I designed with Dr. Elizabeth Bird in the anthropology department at USF. Several scholars of visual anthropology have written about the use of film in anthropolo gys pedagogy, suggesting that oftentimes an unnoticed yet prevalent o ccurrence is that stude nts view films but do not interpret the film as either the filmma ker or the professor probably intended. If indeed this is the case, it may be a seri ous problem, especially for anthropology. Anthropology is traditionally the discipline that introduces undergraduates to their first experience with an academic treatment of cu ltural diversity throughout the world. And I will venture to say that introductory anthropo logy classes are often the first time many
4 students encounter people like the Yanomamo snorting hallucinogenic drugs or the !Kung talking with their famously exoti c language. Undoubtedly, these films are intended to teach students about diversity. But what if the students do not see it so openmindedly? Would we not want to address this issue? Yet films depicting these various exotic cultures are routinely used, quite unproblematically, to teach undergraduates about other cultures. What if these films end up reinforci ng negative stereotypes of the cultures they present? What if students l eave the classroom denouncing what they have experienced despite anthropologys long-held tr adition of teaching cultural relativity? My research set out the discover answers to these questions I have been raising. I wanted to see to what extent professors here at USF are relying on film to teach introductory anthropology classes. I also wa nted to see how student s were reacting to the films, that is, if they felt film added to the experience of learning anthropology. And finally, and most importantly, I wanted to s ee if students were interpreting the messages from the films the way professors showing them intended them to be interpreted. Therefore in the following chapters I will expl ore the concept of audience participation in the construction of meaning when viewing film s. I will examine some of the relevant literature. Also, I will discuss my res earch findings based on my own reception study and offer recommendations based upon those data. Research Questions and Goals The main focus of this thesis can be mo st succinctly described as an audience reception study of film in introductory anthr opology classes at USF. A growing number
5 of scholars in various fields such as lite rary criticism, philosophy, mass communications, education and now anthropology ar e interested in audience re ception. The challenge that understanding audience reception poses for anthropology is not simply a matter of theoretical interest, it also has major imp lications for teaching anthropology, which is really the crux of the ma tter for my research. The crisis of representation in anth ropology has, in my opinion, successfully argued for a widespread need to reevaluate the authorship of an thropological knowledge in texts, filmic or written. However, ther e exists another aspect of representing others that has been almost completely unexplor ed by anthropology: evaluating the actual reception of anthropological knowledge. A few anthropologists such as Jay Ruby (1995, 2000) and Wilton Martnez (1992, 1996) have exp licitly called on us to learn how films are actually received, and have provided sound evidence for further resear ching the area. I am proposing that anthropology heed the call by focusing on students reception of anthropology in undergraduate classes, in part icular their reception of films. Reception of film in the classroom is a practical a pplication of reception studies for anthropology that also contributes to imp roving not only our critique of anthropological knowledge, but provides valuable insight for improving our pedagogy. I am convinced that this is one of th e more pressing problems facing anthropology as the discipline continues to strive for re levance after 100 years of existence. The discipline, having spent a good d eal of effort rethinking au thorship when representing other cultures should move beyond simply focu sing on representation and presentation to consider reception. In this thesis I explore the issues raised by Ruby (1995, 2000) and Martnez (1992, 1996) that argue for building upon the crisis of representation to
6 consider the multitude of ways viewers ma y interpret the messages of anthropological knowledge. If we struggle as anthropologist s over the crisis of representation while student audiences interpret th e messages in ethnographies and films in ways that are contradictory to anthropological standards of cultural relativity then our job is incomplete, and we have failed in our impe rative to ethically represent others. In this I thesis argue that self-reflexive anthropology must consider the actual perspective of audiences. Th e classroom becomes not only a place to teach anthropology but a field site as well. Ther e is a culture of teaching that must be analyzed to determine its effectiveness. The research goal is narrowly focused on the use of film and specifically interested in learning how a udiences of students in terpret information presented by films. This fi eld location contains anthropology s largest and arguably most important audience. The underg raduate introductory class teaches li terally hundreds of students every semester. At the time of writing there ar e five sections of ANT 2000, Introduction to Anthropology, each having around 200 students. This audience is particularly crucial for anthropologists, not only because of its sheer number, but also because the goal of such classes is to share essential anthropological concepts with large numbers of students. For instance, if there are literally hundreds more people every semester at USF who have begun to incorporate the perspective of cultural relativity into their daily lives based on an introductory class in anthropology, would these not then be better citizens to at least some degree? Furthermore, although cultural relativity has always been crucial for humanity, perhaps it is even more so today, when we live in times where cultures and religions are cast in stereotypical fashion in the mass medi a. Would we not wa nt more students to
7 bring some cultural awareness to their interpretation of world politics at this start of the 21st century? And what of holism, on which anthropology places such a great emphasis? Would we not want more students to see worl d events from a more holistic perspective, which is often lacking in mass medias coverage of the worl d? If students pass through the introductory classes and do not have these messages conveyed to them or if they have only a cursory understanding of cultural rela tivism and holism, th en it is truly an opportunity lost in my opinion. I realize th at in reality every student who encounters anthropology will not be as inspired as we would wish. But is that any reason not to maximize the number of students leaving ANT 2000 with cultural relativism and holism a part of their university experien ce and understanding of the world? Therefore, I believe the first step is to evaluate how well students interpret films used to teach introductory anth ropology. Martnez wr ites of this priority, the need to understand how students interpret films, when he explains: Like all spectators, students read films guided by their own conventionalized knowledge of what is good, believable, interesting, or boring. Whereas it is difficult to assess how introductory courses affect students subjectiv ity and interpretive conventions in the long run, by analyzing viewers sets of expectations, preferences and affective valuations of films and represented subjects we can add to our understanding of the interpretative strategies students use to construct anthropological knowledge (1992: 142). If we take Martnezs word then professors have no guarantee that students will simply relate to anthropological concepts in the films they experience as interesting or boring because it is difficult to assess. However, there is no reason to simply accept that films can practically stand on their own for conveying messages based on pure speculation.
8 Furthermore, research has demonstrated that audiences are quite likely to misinterpret films intended meanings. Fo r example consider the concept of classic ethnographic films, such as The Ax Fight (1975), in which representation of the Yanomamo culture, likely foreign to most first-semester undergraduates, can be quite startling to an uninitiated audience. These films are a rich source of aberrant readings by those who do not match the model reader in scribed in the text, as Martnez explains (1992: 136). In other words, these films are intended to challenge Western culture, the filmmakers probably made these classic films with the idea that a scholarly audience, quite knowledgeable of anthropo logical concepts such as cultural relativity would be watching them. These films by design ch allenge the viewers cultural beliefs, understandings, values, etc. which is ind eed a major goal of cultural anthropology. However, the inexperienced audience ma y easily begin stereotyping the Yanomamo culture as primitive. Professors presenting films of other exotic cultures would want to be aware that ill-prepared audiences may be inclined toward an ethnocentric interpretation of the film. I realize that many professors may not us e classic films when teaching and they may argue that the newer, more up-to-date films are not as troublesome for students misinterpretations. However, the danger ex ists whenever student s are watching films depicting the exotic other that has Third and Fourth world people, as Ruby (1995) says. To put it a bit crudely, anthropologists study partia lly clothed brown and black people who live far away from their audien ce for which the dominant models for interpretation of these exotic others in the U.S. are th e noble savag e suggesting the Other exists in an Eden, like paradise of ecological balan ce and the ignoble savage as a
9 brute, barbarous, simpleton in need of Western knowledge and governance (Ruby 1995: 196). Clearly, neither of these are authentic realities and neither are desirable for undergraduates to think about th e cultures of the world. But there is some truth in the folk models that Ruby describes and these ma y be applied to modern, up-to-date films as easily as the classic ethnographic films, which I will describe in more detail when discussing the use of film in my own re search. And again as Martnez argues: The argument at stake here is to move beyond stop-gap techniques and instrumental notions of pedagogy. We need to move from damage-control strategies of contextualization to critical consideration of non-speciali zed viewers, to debating educational strategies, to seriously considering students sp ectatorial positionings and interpretations, and to examine students readings as they mirror the politics of first wo rld anthropological representation (1996: 78). I appreciate Martnezs radi cal stance when it comes to pedagogy. It is simply not enough to place films in context of a brief le cture and simply assume that students are reading the film as it is in tended to be read, or inte rpreted. We must know what students positionings and interpretations are if we are to deal with it in the classroom. And this thesis research is aimed at we ighing in on the students perspective in introductory classes here at USF. Finally, some may argue that their teach ing does not focus entirely on the exotic other especially in an applied anthr opology program with more of an emphasis on showing anthropology as a problem solving discipline, not an academic exercise that merely exposes students to wildly different cu ltures. However, in the field of reception studies, there is ample evidence of negative in terpretations that can occur regardless of any level of exoticism or culturally challe nging content. Stuart Hall (1980), in a seminal article on what he calls encoding/ decoding, clearly explains how any film,
10 television show, documentary, or, in th e example he gives, a newscast is a communicative event because it is not raw footage but rather a televisual discourse with messages that are encoded by the pr oducers or creators of the films and then decoded by readers of this televisual text. I will discuss this in more detail in my review of relevant literature but the point is this: there is always a chance that audiences may interpret these televisual discourses differently from the way the producer intended. It is necessary to move beyond speculation over audiences reactions, readings, decoding, or interpretations of films and find out from the audience how they actually interpreted the films. This thesis research relies on the belief that anthropologi sts must take heed that films are necessarily problema tic illustrations of information. Students may be watching films but interpreting the messages in ways that contradicts our anthropological, culturally relative sensibilities. Thus the issue has especially serious implications considering how many hundreds of students, quite inexperienced with anthropology, are exposed to films every semester at USF, which is exactly where I began my research into the matter. The Internship The program in Applied Anthropology at USF requires that students develop an internship, typically in an ag ency in the surrounding community. However, my research interest focused on how student audiences pl ay an active role in the construction of meaning while watching films. Therefore, it only made sense to adapt the internship
11 model to undergraduate ANT 2000 Introduction to Anthropology classes offered at USF. In this way the anthropology department se rved as the institutional setting for the internship where my research would ev aluate the uses of film in teaching. In the spring of 2003 I spent my internship working with th ree large classes with close to 200 students in each and two smaller classes with around 30 students in each. I decided to focus on the specific class, ANT 2000, because this is the class that is most likely to serve as a students first and often only exposure to anthropology. ANT 2000 is charged with the task of providing a general overview of all four sub-disciplines to an audience of younger undergraduate students, often in their firs t semester at the university. This introductor y environment of ANT 2000 lends itself to my research project because of this very fact that audiences in these classes are relatively unexposed to anthropological concepts. Students in ANT 2000 are typically fulfilling a credit for some major other than anthr opology, and therefore, have no reason a priori to identify with anthropology except as a class they need to make a passing grade. It is these students opinions that I feel needed the most urgent attention from the internship because it is also in this class th at the largest numbers of students pass through. They come into the class for a semester a nd then move on, perhaps never to think much about anthropology again. What were their impressions of anthropology in this brief encounter? This question seems to me far more pertinent to answer than something like, How well do students who already wish to major in say, cultu ral anthropology, enjoy watching the movies they are shown? I want ed to find out how the masses of students in ANT 2000, many uninterested in anthropology as a career, interpret films.
12 Also, I believe that if I can learn so mething about how students in ANT 2000 are relating to the films, then I can learn someth ing about how they rela te to the class in general. My reasoning follows the idea th at if I find an overwhelming number of students enjoying the films and relating anthropo logical concepts to the films, then they are enjoying the class. App lied anthropology is oftentimes e xplicitly concerned with how well a program is being carried out from the perspective on the ground. In this way, I wanted to see if the program of ANT 2000 Introduction to Anthropology is meeting its goals which are described in the USF catalog as: The cross-cultural study of the hu man species in biological and so cial perspective. Surveys the four major branches of anthropology: physical anthropology (human biology), archaeology (the analysis of the prehistoric and historic remains of human cultures), anthropological linguistics (the analysis of language in its cultural context), and cultural anthropology (the cross-cultural study of peoples living in the world today, be they in tribal, peasant, or urban societies). On the other hand, if I find a disconnect between the films, the anthropological knowledge they are intended to convey, and the students interpretation, then I feel I can say with some accuracy that ANT 2000 is not serving its purpose and therefore needs to be addressed. This of course begs the que stion, Why focus on films? Why not simply research the effectiveness of the class? I have chosen to focus on film simply because I am interested in visual anthropology. I happen to believ e that as a result of resear ching student interpretation of film in ANT 2000 I can say something about the students reaction to ANT 2000 in general. Furthermore, I am focusing speci fically on the use of film as a pedagogical device, not as an entertainment. I am opera ting under the assumption that professors use films, not to simply entertain the classes, but to illustrate the an thropological concepts
13 that have been read and talked about. I ha ve spoken with several professors of ANT 2000 about their use of film and I discuss this topic in detail in Chapter Four. For now I would like to make the point that I feel there is a widespread belief that films are coherent wholes, created by professional anthropologists and filmmakers that stand on their own. However, there is reason to believe that a student audience, despite being exposed to anthropology through the class and savvy to the conventions of documentary films, nevertheless walks out of the class misunders tanding or ignoring the messages that the professors intended the film to convey. Even if one does not accept the hypothesis, I think it is at least worth investigating the i ssue. I am simply arguing that there may be such a phenomenon where all too often films are considered adept at conveying the messages to students but if st udents are interpreting those me ssages in ways contradictory to the films intentions, it is a matter that would be of inte rest to professors of ANT 2000. The internship made use of a variety of methods (see Chap ter Three for details) in order to arrive at some conclusions as to how student audiences interpret films. To begin with I conducted observations in numerous classes when films were shown. Also, I conducted a focus group research component wh ere six small groups of students watched the same film. Three of the six groups were given a pre-film lecture, while the other three groups were simply told they would be watching film. Afterwards, I led focus group discussions to determine if there would be a difference between the two sets of focus groups (see Chapter Three for results). I also, conducted a survey in three of the classes that asked students about their experiences with film And finally, I interviewed several professors in the USF anthropology de partment to get their perspectives; the details of these findings are di scussed in Chapter Four.
14 Conclusion I began this research with the intenti on of replicating the work of Martnez (1992). I wanted to pose the questions about audience interpretation of film that his study raises to determine the effec tiveness of teaching introductory anthropology with film. However, in working on this project I have come to believe that beyond any problems of audience interpretation in the classroom, there are also important issues of teaching with film that reach well outside of the class, which first became apparent as I observed students behavior while watchi ng films. It is a clich to say that we are increasingly becoming a media saturated culture, yet this re ality poses serious questions for professors teaching with film. Students are increasin gly entering the class influenced by the enculturation of a wide-spread media environment where information about the world is imparted through television, which is an ente rtainment driven medium, and entertainment is derived from film and video games. I think this enculturation raises important considerations for anthropologists asking quest ions about the effectiveness of teaching with film. In this way, I hope my research moves beyond the groundwork of Martnez (1992), of simply understanding th e use of film in the classroom. I want to look at audience reception in the classroom and ma ke recommendations aimed at improving the pedagogy. However, I have come to believe that we must move on to examine the effects the media outside of the classroom when tryi ng to understand students interpretations of films. Students raised in media saturated environments may be heavily influenced by
15 these media in which case they bring this cultu ral baggage to their in terpretations of films in the classroom. This baggage may have seri ous implications in what is at stake when using films to teach in such ways as how professors present films, what films are presented, and ultimately whether or not film is even an effective teaching tool for introductory anthropology if students interp retations are so heav ily influenced by the media culture outside the class. The first step in understanding the complex ities of students interpretations of films is to look to the literature that discu sses how information is interpreted. Over the years, theorists from several fields such as communications, philos ophy, literary criticism and anthropology have been contributing to a couple of crucial areas involved in audience reception. First there is the issue of the audience. Th is is a concept that has not remained static over the years. Also, the con cept of audience reception or the role of the reader may be understood in a variety of wa ys. And finally, it is important that an anthropology of audience reception is relate d to other anthropological concerns such as the crisis of representation. Therefore, in the next sec tion I will discus some of the relevant theories that have been developed by scholars in va rious fields th at pertain to audience reception of knowledge.
16 Chapter Two The Audience in Theoretical Context Beyond the Crisis of Representation Over the course of the tw entieth century, anthropology established itself as the one scholarly discipline able to make distant, exotic cultures intelligible to American European audiences. During th is period a particular form of authority was createdan authority both scientifically validated a nd based on unique personal experience, James Clifford explains (1988: 26). However, by the latter part of the twentieth century, this authority began to unravel at the seams; anthropological authority began to appear unstable as scholars began worrying about thei r authority when representing others in written ethnographic accounts. The 1980s and 1990s began a time of ferv ent reevaluation in many fields of academics, anthropology included, where rethinking the authority of American and European academia was seen as essential for disciplines like anthr opology to survive and maintain relevance. Anthropology as Cultural Critique by George Marcus and Michael Fischer (1999) and Writing Culture by Clifford and George Ma rcus (1986) heralded what has become the crisis of re presentation spurring widesp read reexamination of the written products of anthropology: ethnography. This crisis of re presentation is one where objectivity and facts are being cha llenged by subjectivity and points of view
17 and when looking at anthropological authority, there is an increased need to acknowledge the ethnographic I as well as the native s point of view (Crawford 1992: 72). Anthropologists of the late 20th century became aware of the need for current scholars to account for the fact that ethnogr aphy has been almost exclusively conducted by affluent Westerners in co lonial and now postcolonial si tuations. As a result, the narrative structure of twentie th century ethnography has co me under close scrutiny as anthropologists feel they must address the biases inherent in traditional ethnography. As Clifford explains, early ethnographic writing es tablished authority through the use of the lone ethnographers voice. However, current critics are encouraging multiple points of view in ethnographic writing as a means to include the voices of those the ethnography seeks to represent on par w ith the ethnographer (1986: 15) This emphasis on polyphony with the natives point of view being incorporated as an equal voice in ethnographic writing marks a major theoreti cal shift for anthropology. However, as Marcus and Fischer (19 99) argue in Anthropology as Cultural Critique the history of anthropology, along with science and the humanities, has always been subject to the shifting currents of cha nging paradigms. For example, anthropology changed from a nineteenth century grand vision of an anthropo logical scien ce of Man to a twentieth-century inte nsive and distinctive discip line reorganized around the ethnographic method with a much more spec ific purpose: representation of cultural reality in which the participant-observe r/ethnographer imparts knowledge through the ethnography. And as the critique of anth ropology points out, th e twentieth-century scientific representation of culture was built upon what would be known as anthropologys cornerstone: holismwhat it m eans to provide a full picture of a closely
18 observed way of life. However, the aut hority which anthropo logists assumed in presenting cultures, the authority upon whic h holism is founded, has for some time now been subjected to a serious critique and re vision, culminating in the 1980s and 1990s, and continuing to this day (Mar cus and Fischer 1999: 22). According to some, however, this cri sis of representati on in mainstream anthropology was predated in the field of visual anthropology. Although reflexivity, subjectivity, authenticity and the need to listen to indigenous voices have been discussed in ethnographic and documentary film -making for at least thirty years, this seems to have had very little impact on the more recent discussions of ethnographic writing, wrote Peter Ian Crawford, lame nting a lack of communication amongst anthropologists of visual and written stripes (1992: 72). Pe rhaps the fact that visual anthropology earlier focused on the politics of representation is due to the starkness of representing others when th ey are captured on film as opposed to written in words. Nevertheless, all anthropologists may want to be nefit from exploring th e politics of visual representation, exactly because of the stark nature of visual forms of communication. In other words, if the problematic aspects of representation are la id bare in visual communication, then coming to terms with the po litics of visual representation of others offers valuable insight that can inform all forms of anthropological representation. The fact self-reflexive anthropology ha s ethnographers turn ing their gaze upon themselves when writing about exotic cultures in order to reexamine anthropologys production of knowledge, which is nothing new in the twenty-first cen tury. However, I discuss critical anthropology here not to rehash the well-known crisis of ethnographic authority but rather because it has served as the r oots for much of the current
19 anthropological thinking about audience reception. As Ruby (1995) explains in his seminal article The Viewer Viewed, any fu rther critique of anthropology must move beyond written forms of anthropological know ledge to include pictorial communication such as film, and must also resear ch how knowledge is interpreted. The interpretation of meaning as an area of interest is often occupied by literary theorists, however, a handful of anthropologi sts are now incorporating this perspective into their view of critical anthropology. Pe rhaps most famous are a couple of articles by Martnez (1992, 1996) presenting research he conducted with undergraduate anthropology classes watching ethnographic films, which suggests that students who view these films may actually experience a re inforcement of preconc eived stereotypes of other cultures as backward, uncivilized and savage, as opposed to the anthropology professors stated intention of having students critically as sess their own ethnocentrisms and realizing the importance of cultural relativity. Thus th e crisis of representation occurs not only with the writing of et hnographic knowledge but upon its reception as well. As Roland Barthes so elegantly explains: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hith erto said, the author. The read er is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed w ithout any of them being lost; a texts unity lies not in its origin but in its destination (1977: 148). Theorists such as Barthes have been cri tiqued, however, becaus e it is often left unexplained who exactly this reader is upon wh ich a texts unity lies. This is why scholars such as Ruby (1995, 2000) and Ma rtnez (1992, 1996) are calling for visual anthropologists to build upon thes e theories with the assumpti on that a film is interpreted
20 as a filmic text much in the same way a writ ten text is interpreted by a reader. Also, as Barthes (1977) says the texts unity lies with the reader. Ye t is this the same unity, are these the same concepts the author or film maker had in mind when creating the text? Questions like this have prompted Ruby (1995, 2000) and Martnez (1992, 1996) to argue that anthropologists should conduct actual st udies with people watching film to find out empirically how they interpre t films messages. Furthe rmore, judging by Martnezs (1992) findings there is no reason to assume, a priori, that students will receive the intended illustrations of anthropological concepts when viewing films. Who is the Audience Anyway? However, before I can move from disc ussing the critique of anthropological knowledge to the role of the in terpreter in the construction of meaning, there are a couple of preliminary considerations worth noting. Fi rstly, there is the quest ion of what exactly is an audience anyway? There is a history of researching audiences and I should situate my research with undergraduate anthropology classes accordingly. As Elizabeth Bird explains, During the late 1980s, a flurry of scholarly activity eff ectively dismantled the idea that there really can be an audience out there waiti ng to be studied (2003: 3). This is in large part a response to the histor y of audience studies where the audience was viewed in very simplistic and unrealistic terms. Denis McQuail discusses audience research history: The word audience has long been familiar as the collective term for receivers in the simple sequential model of the mass communication process (source, channel, message, receiver, effect) that was deployed by pioneers in the field of media research) Nevertheless, beyond common
21 usage, there is much room for differences of meaning, misunderstandings, and theoretical conflicts. The problems surrounding the concept stem mainly from the fact that a single and simple word is being applied to an increasingly diverse and complex reality, open to alternative and competing theoretical fo rmulations (1997: 1). McQuail (1997) is correctly illustrating th e need to problematize the audience concept when doing research. For example, to say one is researching the American audience is a terrible overgene ralization of the people one is interested in studying and it does not even begin to address the diverse cultu ral, social, economic, or political realities that exist in this country, which all may play a role in an audiences constituents, not to mention their interpretations. My research al so suffers from this overgeneralization in some ways as I have simply defined my audience as undergraduate students taking ANT 2000 Introduction to Anthropology. There is a fa irly good variety of students that could be enrolled in this class, although attendi ng a university connotes certain social and cultural categorization. I chose to make no dis tinctions as to my audience other than the one rule of being enrolled in ANT 2000 b ecause my study was concerned with this audience regardless of who actually is taking th e class. In other words, whoever happens to be taking ANT 2000 at USF in the year 2003 is my audience because I am strictly interested in how films are interprete d for the purposes of this class. Some audience researchers have focu sed on differences among audiences according to demographic or ethnic categories, but this was not my primary concern (for example, my main research question was not something like Are males more likely to be ethnocentric than females in ANT 2000). However, I think it is important to make explicit the problems with early audience research because ther e are still pitfalls that I
22 would like to avoid when conceiving of the audience. Shaun Moores has described these deficiencies of previous mass co mmunications audience research: Ever since the emergence of industries for large-scale production and distribution of cultural goods, academics have asked about the effects of those products on consumers. The earliest efforts to provide an answer led to an understandi ng of audiences as a mass that was passively subject to ideological manipulation or moral d ecay (depending on which side of the political spectrum the critique of mass culture cam from) (1993: 5). Early research, it appears, leaned towa rd a behaviorist slant when it came to theorizing the audience. As an anthropologist I am particular ly offended at the notion of conceiving of audiences with such passivity, considering the emphasis that is placed on collaborating with our informants as partners in the ethnographic ente rprise. I think this outdated audience model is contradictory to the humanistic nature of anthropology. In any event, the conception of the passive a udience did not endure. Once cultural critics started thinking in terms of se miotics, particularly in the 1970s, they began to theorize the audience differently. There are many studies as I will point out below, that focus on the role of the reader, which places a gr eat emphasis on audience s actively interpreting information, thus playing an essential role in the construction of meaning that a text possesses. Also, the concept of the reader is associated with a particular school of thought in communications studies. Moores goes on to say that: Cultural theorists drew on semiotics and began to talk about the message as a text, as a complex and structured arrangement of signs rather th an an empty vehicle for the transmission of information or opinion. In this jargon, receivers became readers. They were seen to be involved inand for a number of analysts, constituted bya construction of meaning (1993: 6)
23 This is a major step away for the overl y simplistic idea that the audiences are passive receivers that res pond to media as a stimulus. Nevertheless, even though this active reader is an improvement on the beha viorist-like passive receiver, the early theorizing is still left wanting because the reader is oftentimes still conceived an idealized reader, an imaginary person in the mind of the critic. The next step was to develop ethnographic research with actual audiences as Moor es (1993) explains in his discussion of the history of audience research. I consider my research ethnographic in na ture, since I am more interested in conceiving of the audience I researched as informants in the traditional anthropological sense rather than the passive receivers of older mass communications. By working directly with the audience as informants or collaborators, I seek to transcend the problem of imagining audiences, as well as move be yond the limitations of traditional, closedended mass communication effects research. Also, as Moores (1993) has pointed out there is considerable debate over audience research as social scientists have become increasingly interested. And Moores (1993) has summarized this great debate over wh at constitutes an audience with thinkers on one side arguing that all audiences are fictions imagined by institutions or researchers looking into them. On the other hand, as Moores descri bes, there are those who, while sympathetic to the audience as ficti on perspective, argue th at nevertheless we should differentiate between audiences as a di scursive construct and the social world of actual audiences (Moores 1993: 2). The latter is of particular interest to anthropologists because the ethnographic perspective concep tualizes media audiencehood as a lived experience by focusing on the medias multiple significances in varied contexts of
24 reception (Moores 1993: 3). I feel this echoe s the debate over the behaviorists passive audiences versus the audience empowered as co nstructors of meaning. To say that the audience is a fiction seems logi cal when you are talking about a wide swath of people, as in the example I gave above of the Ameri can audience. However, if one were to actually approach the audience members and di scuss their reactions they then become actual audiences: real people with real reactions that are knowa ble if we make the effort to ask them. And as was the case with my research, I certain ly could not have spoken to every person taking the class. Yet, I did seek to talk with every student that participated in my research project so I know how every si ngle one of these stude nts felt, or at least how they expressed their reactions to the film we watched. As Moores (1993) has also added, some anthropologists would argue with this loose notion of ethnography arguing that si mply doing focus groups vulgarizes the concept of participant ob servation. However, I feel that in relation to previous research with imagined audiences, there is a way to move beyond, toward research that is ethnographic in nature that will be the most effective way to get th e natives point of view, short of research th at involves immersion into ongoi ng participation in daily media activities that in most cases is impractic al (for further discus sion, see Bird 2003). The experience of watching films in cont rolled environments in groups like the class is in fact quite different from the passive experience of everyday media consumption such as movie theaters where the audience members are usually strangers, which raises interesting questions in itself. Therefore, by conceiving of the student audience as community rather than an crow d of anonymous strangers, my aim was to gather at the very least some insight about how this par ticular group of people produces
25 meaning from watching films and at best I hope d the research could express some insight into our general culture use of visual media as we move more and more toward a world dominated by visual communica tion. For example, I was discussing my project with a neighbor who is an undergraduate in sociology at USF. He to ld me that he never reads books and when I was incredulous as to this coming from a sociology student he exclaimed, Why read the book when you can watch the movie? which brings me to the next issue, which concerns the nature of written versus filmic texts. Is there a text in the film? There has been a great deal of theorizing, es pecially in literary criticism about the active audience and written texts that a pplies to my area of interest: audience construction of meaning. However, for the purpose of my research is it safe to say that films and written texts are interpreted in the similar ways? Or, in other words are theories developed about the reader and the wr itten text valid for filmic texts as well? Certainly, films and books are different forms of communication in many ways. These two forms of communication each have benef its and deficiencies. For my research purposes, I will argue that in some cases it is instructive to explore some of the classic theories of readers reactions even though they were formulated about the written text explicitly. In fact I think this w ill eventually reinforce my argument there are significant differences between the written and filmic text which lead me ultimately to the conclusion that written texts lend themse lves to better repres entations of complex ideas than visual, which I will also explor e in greater detail in a Chapter Four.
26 Representation, one might argue as has Kirsten Hastrup (1992), faces serious differences for the reader when compari ng between visual and written forms of communication. For example, she relates an illuminating example in her article Anthropological Visions: Some Notes on Vi sual and Textual Au thority. Hastrup (1992), while doing fieldwork in Iceland, hear d about a local agricu ltural custom that involved only males from the community whic h meant she was left uninvited. However, her enthusiasm as an ethnographer was r ecognized by the community and she was eventually admitted. The custom was an a nnual ritual involving the comparison of sheep (rams to be exact) and she effectively describe s the metaphors of male sexuality that were prevalent, perhaps most evidenced in the co mparison of the rams genital size, which the men did by hand. She describes how the air was so thick with male sexuality that she felt the need to leave the custom early, on her on volition, because she was so uncomfortable and embarrassed. However, she had snapped nu merous pictures with a camera that she was sure would capture the atmosphere. Un fortunately, when the photos were developed she realized they were quite mundane pictures of the ritual captur ing nothing but a bunch of men standing around in rubber boots with so me rams. As it turned out, the intense atmosphere that she felt was not something th at could be captured by film, it could not be seen, and therefore visual communication would be a poor medium to rely on for communicating this ethnographic experien ce. She goes on to say, A comparison between my grey pictures of horned rams a nd Icelandic men in rubber boots and the story about my experience immediately suggests that the difference between a photographic and written record is analogous to the differe nce between thin and thick descriptions
27 (referring to Clifford Geertz s (1973) famous article in The Interpretation of Cultures ) (Hastrup 1992: 10). Hastrup (1992) builds her argument effectiv ely in favor of the written text. She explains how words are necessary to provide the thick descrip tion to photographys thin because the visual captures what she calls forms (referring to the images) which are culturally meaningless without context. In the picture, the emphasis is necessarily on form, to which we then add meaning. By contrast, writing is essentially formless in itself, and meaning is created through the text, not by the textual substance (Hastrup 1992: 10). The visual and the written are bot h texts in the sense that they convey information to the reader but their textual s ubstance is different. The visual text is not as well equipped to explain complex soci al and cultural phenom ena without a written (or spoken) text to accompany it. In this way the adage a picture is worth a thousand words is turned on its head and a pictures ethnographic or semiotic meaning is enriched greatly by any accompanying words; a picture does not speak for itself as well as the adage would have it. Of course Hastrup (1992) is talking specifically a bout still photography while film, movies, documentaries, etc. normally make use of moving pictures, words, and sounds to impart information. Furthermore, m oving pictures, or for th at matter a series of still photographs, can tell a story through edit ing and juxtaposition. In Soviet montage editing a series of unrelated images are comm only juxtaposed to create a message greater than the sum of its parts. For example, in an undergraduate film class I took some years ago we watched Eisensteins famous film Battleship Potemkin (1925). After watching the film I thought it was certainly interesti ng, but only after the professor explained the
28 significance of the images did the film have an impact. The famous scene where there is a series of three lions shown in rapid succession is a prime example. The first statue is of a lion lying down, the second is a very sim ilar looking lion half way standing and the third shows another very similar lion fully arise n. The professor explai ned that the lion is a symbol of the Russian people and the series of images edited together symbolized the rising up of the people. Only with words di d this imagery have a profound impact on my understanding of what Eisenstein did with film. The pictures told a story through juxtaposition but relied on the additional words to make co mplete sense. Perhaps, one might argue still that there are certain stor ies that are so widely known culturally that everyone surely knows them so well that they can be told through visual imagery. I am reminded of the famous stained glass windows in so many churches that tell the story of Jesus. Yes, we can see the images and trace the events of a mans life told through visual communication but it is only by having heard or read about Je sus that the events take on their full significance culturally. Also, take Hastrups example of the Icela ndic ritual that she used to explain how the photography was thin description. If someone uninitiated to the ritual saw the photographs, they would be, as Halstrup said, simply photos of some type of all male agricultural event. On the other hand if someone who has been to many of the rituals encounters the photos, then the visual represen tations will likely c onjure all the intense feelings Hastrup described that were associated with participating in the ritual. The gulf between understanding a photographi c record of a cultural even t to the untrained eye is best overcome with written or spoken text th at explains what is taking place. Thus the visual text has its own logic, as Hastrup explains, The picture may invoke the memory
29 of the space for the person who experienced, bu t it cannot revel its texture or essence to outsiders Certainly, films in may ways medi ate between images and texts, but they remain focused on place, as understood here (1992: 11). Crawford (1992), a visual anthropologist writing in the same edited volume of essays as Hastrup (1992), offers a counter ar gument to that discussed above. Crawford (1992) explains that writing and film are bot h discursive practices where an author or filmmaker seeks to communicate representati ons of concepts, be it through words, pictures or a combination thereof, so that a text can, in certain circumstances, be broadly defined in a way that it makes little di fference if it is written or filmic. For example, he states: Although it is acknowledged that the word pro ceeded the text and the photographic image the film, one of the main objectives is to demonstrate that film as well as text exist neither as pure image nor as pure word and hen ce to caste doubt on the frequent treatment of these phenomena as if they did (Crawford 1992: 66). Although I tend to lean strongly toward Ha strups (1992) argument, that visual representation is seriously dependent on cont extualization, I think it is important to consider Crawford (1992) as well, especially in the context of researching students interpretations of film in pedagogical sett ings. For one, in th e class it is commonly assumed that films are simply another way of presenting information for students. Based on my research I have found that most profe ssors feel films offer students a valuable alternative to written and spoken information. In other words, in the context of the class, film is commonly understood unproblematicly as an alternative source of information to the written text. And I will cert ainly concede that to some extent there is truth in this.
30 However, even Crawford is aware that ther e is a difference between written and filmic text when he argues for what he calls the word/image juxtaposition: In order to be intelligible and explanatory (or articul ate) film has to distance itself from its intrinsic presence established by the images insistence on being there. Writing on the other hand, wrestles with its intrinsic absence in attempts to diminish the imposed distance between itself and the Other and hence convey a sensuous unde rstanding of what being there is like (1992: 70). And compare this to the quote from Hastr up when she writes, In the picture, the emphasis is necessarily on form, to which we then add meaning. By contrast, writing is essentially formless in itself, and meaning is created through the text, not by the textual substance (1992: 10)? Is not Crawfords (1992) concept of bei ng there actually a whitewashing of the problem Hastrup (1992) id entifies as images without a context? Certainly, images show a reader in an instan t what it may take a good deal of writing to describe. But do these hypothetical images conv ey the sounds, the feel ing of the air, all that accompanies really being there? Images such as the photos Hastrup (1992) described as showing the evidence that she was indeed at the Icelandic male r itual did not have the sense of being there that Crawford (1992) talks about. Instea d, Hastrup (1992) felt only words could create a textual experience th at places a reader in the ritual. I will certainly agree that photos or films of the r itual would serve to e nhance the text, but in my opinion the written indeed provides a t hick description that is necessary for ethnography. I do realize this is arguable; however, I am c hoosing to come down on the side of Hastrup, in favor of words for the t hick description and in favor of writing for conveying complex information such as cultural representation.
31 Furthermore, I am concerned that imag es without the prope r written or spoken verbal texts are ripe for misinterpretati ons. Certainly, most films used to teach anthropology have some sort of narration, conv ersations, interview, subtitle or what have you, which accompany the images but are th ese enough to mediate the multitude of possible interpretations students could have? Also, that many professors accept films, video, or documentaries as perfectly intellig ible in their own right may give way to improper presentation in that professors unwittingly leave students to their own interpretations assuming they will get the intended message of the film, when students may actually be making up all sorts of diffe rent readings that could fruitfully be addressed in class. I feel that our unques tioning acceptance of films authority and our belief that visual communication has a greater ability to put us there is a danger given the unstable nature of readers constructions of meaning and it is my belief that the visual is poor at t hick description. This is not to say that the written text is not unstable as well. Indeed, many of the classic theories of the reader dealt primarily with the written. Therefore, I feel in this way we must look back to the now classic theo ries of readers. Then we can move on to look at audiences, in particular the students I wo rked with at USF, to gain insight as to how current student audiences may interpret the filmic texts presente d as part of their academic curricula.
32 The Reader and the Text, Or the Reader in the Text? To begin with, I will look at Umberto Ec o (1979), who has been described as one of the most influential thinkers for investig ating audience reception because his work has illustrated how the text positions the reader i n and by it, discussing how semantics as well as the audiences competence, knowledge and ideologies affect the relationships that arise between the addresser and the addr essee when a reader interacts with a text (Martnez 1992: 135). This type of theory helps shed light on the importance of understanding the relationships readers have with texts, which will prove useful when extrapolated to the re lationship between classr oom audiences and film. Eco (1979) explains his theory through th e concept of the model reader, which is indispensable to grasp for any inves tigation into audience reception. The model reader is a concept in which the author has thus to foresee a model of the possible reader supposedly able to deal interpretativ ely with the expressions in the same way as the author deals generatively with them (Eco 1979: 7). In other words, the model reader is where the author has preconc eived (or not as in some case s) what type of audience will be interpreting the text. He re Eco (1979) introduces his co ncepts of the closed and open texts where he explains how some authors create texts with a specific audience in mind while others pay no attention to the matter. As Eco explains Those texts that obsessively aim at arousing a pr ecise response on the part of more or less empirical readers are in fact open to any possible aberrant decoding. A text so immoderately open to every possible interpretation will be called a closed one (1979:8).
33 This sounds a bit paradoxical that a closed text would be in fa ct open to every possible interpretation; neverthe less, this is how Eco (1979) c onstructs his ideas. As he further explains, he gives the example of S uperman comics whereby the story is rigidly structured to invoke certain emotions in the reader (such as fear, suspense, triumph over conquering ones enemies etc.) in every way ex cept for consideration of the reader. Superman is the type of text of which Eco is referring when he di scusses closed texts where the author has paid very little atten tion to what audience will be interpreting the text: They seem to be speaking to everyone. Better, they presuppose an average reader resulting from a merely intuitive sociological speculationin the same way an advertisement chooses its possible audience. It is enough for these texts to be interpreted by readers referring to other conventions or oriented by other presuppositions, and the result is incredibly disappointing for the saga of Superman it is clear that [it] can give rise to th e most unforeseeable interp retations, at least at the ideological level (Eco 1979: 8). In this case, the closed text is one th at is written in a way to produce a specific reaction with a specific audience (in the case of Superman a seemingly average reader is presupposed, if a supposed reader can be dete rmined at all). The closed texts for Eco (1979) are the ones however, that are open to the most possible inte rpretations creating a situation that can lean to what he calls aberrant interpretations. Conversely, open texts are characteri zed by what Eco (1979) describes as a maze like structure. In which you cannot use the text as you want, but only as the text wants you to use it, because however open [the text] be, it ca nnot afford whatever interpretation (Eco 1979: 9). Thus Superman being a closed text could be open to any interpretation because the author has not stru ctured the story with a specific audience in mind therefore the comic can be read as an entertaining allegory about high school life
34 for a teenager or a text rich with symbolism to a Freudian scholar. Contrarily, the open text is not as available to di ffering interpretations for Eco ( 1979). He explains this with the novel Ulysses (an open text for Eco) one can extrapolate the profile of a good Ulysses reader from the text itself, because the pragmatic process of interpretation is not an empirical accident independent of the text qua text, but is a structural element of its generative process (1979: 9). Despite Ecos (1979) convolut ed theoretical developm ent, I think this has implications for using films to illustrate other cultures in undergraduate classes. For example, for anthropologists the stakes ma y be seen as quite high when it comes to teaching with film because the chance that a reader (undergraduate audience member) will receive a message that the author or prof essor did not intend for the text to provide could create problems for the interpretation of intended anthropologi cal messages. In other words, films may be s hown with the intention of breaking down ethnocentrism only to be misinterpreted with an aberrant reading that creates a greater level of hostility to the other culture depicted in the film. However, before discussing some of the practical problems with audience reception in the classr oom, it would be helpful to explain this phenomenon, differing reader in terpretation of texts, by fi rst looking at Halls (1980) discussion in his famous essay on encoding/decoding. Hall (1980) explains how audiences r eceive what he calls communicative exchanges by discussing te levision newscasts. These communicative exchanges are considered by Hall (1980) to be televisual discourses because television stations do not broadcast raw historical events. As Hall explains, paradoxically, the event must become a story before it can become a communicative event and it is this message
35 form that is necessary for the event to pass from source to receiver (1980 : 129). There are many factors in this produc tion stage, Hall (1980) concedes, of the newscast that affects the events appearance such as histor ically defined technologies and ideologies. But ultimately it is the rules of language that shape an event that is to be broadcast. At a certain stage in the process of producing a televisual story the communicative event is subject to encoded messages in the form of a meaningful discourse and the discursive rules of language (Hall 1980: 130). Then the message can have an effect on the audience as the storys encoded mess ages are decoded. Hall explains: In a determinate moment the structure employ s a code and yields a message: at another determinate moment the message, via its decodings, issues into the structure of social practices. We are now fully aware that this re-entry into the practices of au dience reception and use cannot be understood in simple behavioral terms (1980 130). Now, this raises interes ting speculations about teachi ng anthropology with films. For example, consider the film as an encoded, meaningful discourse produced by anthropologists (or othe r researchers) and filmmakers. Films are not usually raw footage but are narratives that are enc oded. When professors show films in class to illustrate the curricula, they are interpreted, or d ecoded. Following Halls (1980) ideas, whatever messages the audience decoded will become part of the social practice. In other words, the message an audience member receives from a film, regardless if it is contrary to the filmmakers intent, becomes, in reality, the messa ge the viewer takes away from the film. However, as I mentioned earlier, this is not happening in a vacuum. The students bring with them cultural baggage for their decoding of films. Martnez (1992) frames this in terms of hegemonic ideologies that students may have toward the other, which
36 recalls the politics of representation when pres enting films of others where in intention in anthropology is often to expose students to a different way of life. Indeed, as Ruby explains: The goal of all anthropo logical communication is to make view ers or readers aware/self-conscious and uncomfortable with their ethnocentrism. In other words, the general purpose of an anthropological communication is to alter the relationship between ourselves and the other (1995: 195). However, considering the various ways te xts can be interprete d or decoded, what happens when an audience of undergraduate stud ents watch a film presenting ways of life that are meant to make audience members uncomfortably aware of their ethnocentricities? Again, according to Mart nez (1992), there are some serious possible pitfalls for audience misinterpretation of ethnogr aphic film. He cites a key part of Halls (1980) encoding/decoding argument concer ning misunderstanding of messages. Martnez explains that: Hall proposes that readers appropriate the meanings that best fit as imaginary solutions to their own socially experienced contradictions, answers that confirm their sense of self, truth, rightfulness, and oppose or negate those that challenge their ideological formations and identities (1992: 148). In other words, when readers of encoded messages come across messages that challenge their beliefs, worldview, ideology, etc. they may be likely to either misinterpret the message to fit with their beliefs or they may disapprove (dismiss as crazy, for example) what they see as socially or psychologically unsound or wrong. Another way to conceive of audience reception has been postulated by Sol Worth (1981) in his semiotics of film. I think he provides another exam ple worth noting that
37 will help illuminate the process of audience interpretation of visu al communication. He proposes a way of understanding how film co mmunicates messages to audiences mainly through semiotics. Therefore, the focus is on signs, which are defined simply as the part of a film that stands for something (W orth and Gross 1981: 42). However, before understanding the importance of signs in film it is important to begin with what Worth (1981) calls a feeling-concern which is what he believe motivates a person to want to communicate in the first place. As he explai ns, This feeling-concern, then, this concern to communicate something, which many psychologists feel is almost a basic human drive, is most often vague, amorphous, a nd internalized (Worth and Gross 1981: 41). Therefore, he is talking about something like the raw historical ev ent that Hall (1980) discusses, except the emphasis here is on human emotion or a human need to communicate. Also, similar to Hall (1980), Worth ( 1981) discusses how this raw or unintellectualized emotion must be transfor med for communication purposes. With the decision to communicate, a sender must develop a story-organism an organic unit whose basic function is to provide a vehicle that will carry or embody the feeling-concern he explains (Worth and Gross 1981: 41). The story-organism is the next step after something has motivated a need to communicate. It involves the belief-disbelief system that humans have when they are conceiving of information they want to communicate. The story-organism is the orga nization into a system of those beliefs and feelings that a person accepts as true and related to his fe eling-concern, Worth explains (Worth and Gross 1981: 42). This is the part of the process that Ha ll (1980) described as encoding. Worth (1981) on the other hand expl ains it as an organism created by a
38 person who wishes to communicate certain messages. The story-organisms construction may depend upon certain social conventions; much like classic Hollywood cinema depends upon widely known conven tions such as c onflict resolution. The next step in Worths (1981) argument is what he calls the image-event, which is the actual showing/vi ewing of a film itself. Hall (1980) conceived of the image-event as a discourse, whereas Worth sees it as film communication or the transmission of a signal, received primarily through visual receptors, coded as signs, which we treat as messa ges by inferring meaning or content from them. The film will be said to communicate to the extent to which the viewer infers what the maker implies (Worth and Gross 1981: 43). So, of course not all viewers will unders tand all the signs in a given film. Consider the case of a person that has never seen or hear d of film before. They would have a most difficult time interpreting the images they are seeing and may even believe a commonly assumed fictional sign is in fact reality, for example, that someone in a horror movie is really being murdered. And at the other extreme, an audience steeped in the area of film or literary criticism will likely understand a good deal of even the most subtle signs the filmmaker intended when creating the story-organism. Worth (1981) describes the perfect inte rpretative process where the audience receives the exact message the messages creat or intended. The feeling-concern is passed on by story-organism, then through the stag e of image-event (film) and on to the receivers to be conceived as the exact f eeling-concern that motivated the need to communicate in the first place (feeling-concern story-organism image-event storyorganism feeling-concern). However, as Worth (1981) explains, both of these extreme
39 scenarios are unlikely: where on the one ha nd an audience will totally misunderstand the image-event believing fiction to be reality (or vice versa) for example and on the other hand where an audience will experience the f eeling-concern exactly as the creator of the story-organism experienced it. It is more likely that the viewer of a film understands something, or even a great deal but not all, of the concepts in the storyorganism or in our case film, and they will be able to infer meaning from the signs they understand. As Worth explains however, There may be a wide range of inference open to [the viewer], [they] may look for aest hetic meaning only, or cognitive meaning only, or a combination of the two (Worth and Gr oss 1981: 48). Also, of course different viewers are going to infer different things, similar to the argument put forth by Hall (1980) with different decoding of messages. In fact as Worth (1981: 49) argues, Most film communication is not th e perfect correspond ence between the feeling-concern, the story-organism, and the image-events they dictate The film is, as he says, an imperfect vehicle to communicate the feeling-concern (original, or raw message, belief, event, et c). The semiotic approach simply provides another way to conceive how a reality (raw historical event, feeling-concern) is transformed into a communicative event (f ilm) and then interp reted by an audience (receiver, decoder). This process is fraught with possible distortions from its original source. Now, when we view how critical anthropology highlights problems of representation in light of Wort hs (1981) semiotics of film we see that a great deal of emphasis has been placed on only half of the process: the original story-organism or the text (film or written). The semiotics of film approach put forth by Worth (1981)
40 allows us to see that there is an entire ot her half of the process of communication in the receiving of text that must be grappled with if we are to worry at all about issues of representation. It seems futile to spend su ch a great deal of energy on ethnographic authorship in texts without a ny consideration to the decodi ng and reading of the messages in ethnography. And furthermore, as Ruby (1995) has explained in his article The Viewer Viewed, the use of films in the controlled environment of the classroom provides a great opportunity to e xplore these issues and bring us a better understanding of how audiences participate in c onstructing meaning in the text s (written or filmic) they experience. Finally, there is one more perspective de serving of a place in this discussion of theories pertaining to audience reception. Ja net Staiger (1992) offers an innovative approach to what she calls r eception studies in her book In terpreting Films: Studies in the Historical reception of American Cinema At first, one might assume this book simply surveys how films have been receiv ed throughout history and indeed it does. However, she also offers an alternative appr oach to thinking about reception that differs slightly from what has provided by the theori es outlined thus far. Although, I should note that Staiger is not conducting fieldwork or he rself engaging with audiences. Rather, she is discussing a theoretical approach to a udience reception, then she goes on to examine how audiences in the past have reacted to cer tain films drawing on archival research such as news paper articles and past film critic ism. Nevertheless, I think her theoretical perspective is compelling for an anthropology of audience reception. In explaining the value of reception studies she says
41 reception studies does not attempt to construct a generalized, systematic explanation of how individuals might have comprehended texts, and possibly someday will, but rather how they actually understood them. Additionally, and cons equently, reception studie s criticizes the notion of the ideal reader as ahistorical (Staiger 1992: 8). Compare this position to ethnography, wh ich has always focused on describing what has actually taken (or is taking) place. Also, I think most anthropologists would agree with the criticism of a non-historical view of audi ence reception. Marcus and Fischer (1999), for instance, argue that ethnography must be able to capture more accurately the historic contex t of its subjects. The importance of Staigers (1992) perspective, I think, is that it allows us to see how prev ious approaches to audience reception do not take into account the contex t, and I assume most anthropologists would agree that context is invaluable. Staiger summarizes the three basic categorie s of theories of the reader which are: text-activated, reader-activat ed, and context-activated. Text-activated theories assume or imply that the text controls or provides information for the readers routine, although perhaps learned, activitie s. Only the texts vary, and, hence the model tends to stress the features of the text that supposedly produce readers responses. The dynamic of the experience is text activated. Because of this, the stress in di scussion is for text-activated theories is answering two corollary questions: what are the specific features of the text? What will the ideal or competent read er do when encountering those features? (Staiger 1992: 36). This is precisely the type of theory Eco (1992) is operating under when he proposes the model reader. Recall how he presumes that a good d eal of the semiotic activity arises out of the interaction between the addresser, or aut hor, and the addressee, or reader. Nevertheless, text-activated theo rists are beneficial b ecause they suggest the complexity of the interpretative act, they gi ve reception studies the ability to comprehend
42 variation in historical readi ng, and finally they indicate text ual factors that might promote possible contradiction and ambiguity for read ers (Staiger 1992: 37). Certainly, this has implications for using film to teach anthropology. Films, such as the Yanomamo series because of their content may increase the chance of audience members negative interpretations. Indeed, Ma rtnez (1992: 137) writes of how students in his research interacted with films texts saying that stude nts fill not only the thematic blank but also the texts horizon in abe rrant ways a significant numbe r of students interpreted the film-makers intention in The Ax Fight (1975) as one of representing the level of extreme violence of a corrupted and barbaric society. Clearly, Martnez (1992) is attributing the students negative interpre tation of the Yanomamo as ignoble savages as being due the nature of the films text. He is eff ectively employing what St aigers (1992) calls the text-activated theories. Nevertheless, these theories are lacking, therefore, we should not rely solely on this perspective. Also, some scholars have critiqued the text -activated theories because they do not adequately address the role of the reader. For example, even though Ecos (1979) theory of the reader appears to be empowering the interpreter with the ability to construct meaning from a text, the reader is not neces sarily an actual reader. Where textactivated theories focus on features of texts and the effects they produce, reader-activated theories examine features of readers and t hose features consequences for the reading experience (Staiger 1992: 43). While the text-a ctivated theories are illustrative in many ways for an anthropological analysis of a udience reception, the reader-activated approach is also, appealing because of the agency it lends to the audience members. However, As Staiger (1992: 45) explains there are negativ e and positive aspects with these theories:
43 Despite my reservation that current reader-ac tivated theories tend to reposit unfortunate generalizations about its groups of readers, what reader-activated theories do offer is an important emphasis on the power of the individualwithin his or her circumstancesto appropriate (or surrender to) a text. Reader-activated theo ries lend themselves to the ethnographic analysis with the emphasis on individuals autonomy for interpre ting tests. The text -activated theories commit violence towards the reader with a textual determinism of sorts. There is a third and final alternative: c ontext-activated theories. This approach offers the most valuable lens in which I might bring my research into focus. Obviously, context is the primary focus for this perspectiv e. Staiger (1992: 45) explains that this means that historical circumstances become central to the account, the corollary question is, What contextual f actors account for the interpreta tion? This perspective is in line with an ethnography of audience reception because it a llows for textual and reader factors yet it includes the context in which the audience experiences the text. As an anthropologist interested in the thick description, a context-activated approach provides the proper framework. As Staiger (1992: 45) sa ys, One context that counts a great deal for any reading is the context of the communicat ion act. Indeed, my research explicitly explored the notion of context. In my research, I devoted much in the way of understanding how a lecture contextualizing a film would impact students interpretations of film, in which the results of this will be de tailed in the next chapter, however, for now I simply wish to point out the context-activated nature of my approach to this research. Furthermore, Staiger (1992) takes issue w ith much of the model of decoding texts proposed by Hall (1980). She does not argue the material nature of texts but she counters
44 that readers do not just decode hegemoni c texts; readers are complex historical individuals capable of acting wi thin the contradictions of th eir own construction as selves and as reading selves (Staiger 1992: 48). Her point demonstrates a flaw in my research because I assumed that context would be so important that simple investigation would reveal palpable results. However, duri ng my research I began to see my hypothesis unravel and I believe this occurred because of the complex nature humans possess when it comes to interpretation of texts. Th ere are so many factors that any simple, straightforward approach will necessaril y be found lacking because Readers are developed historically, and the interpretative event occurs at the intersection of multiple determinations (Staiger 1992: 48). When exam ining the readers responses, I wish to tackle these multiple determinations that are crucial in understanding the context in which students interpret film in anthropology cl asses. In much recent audience research, context has come to the fore, with considerable discussion of factors such as gender, race, age, and social interactions around media c onsumption (Bird 2003). Yet little research has focused on artificial contexts, such as the classroom, and almost none has taken into account the cultural baggage that stud ents bring with them to the classroom. Conclusion Simply taking a text-activated approach or a context-activated approach alone will not provide a complete picture. I hope that in my analysis there is an amalgamation of these crucial theories for understanding the dynamics of audience reception. In doing this, I hope to convey my belief that a stude nt audience can not be generalized. The
45 students comprising ANT 2000 at USF are apt to interpret a film in almost any number of ways. Professors of anthropology teaching with film need to become more aware of this. At the same time, understanding how audiences actually interpret films will provide valuable information that may positively influe nce our methods and styles of future film presentation. Therefore, I will now turn to examining how the audience members in my research, the students in ANT 2000, interpreted the use of film for introductory anthropology classes.
46 Chapter Three Methods and Results Toward An Ethnography of Audiences This chapter will discuss the findings of my research into the student reception of films at USF. I take an ethnographic appr oach for this reception study, which I defend although though I did no t live with a community or liv e in peoples homes and watch them watch film. The ethnographic approach is crucial. As Bird e xplains, media studies are beginning to emerge from a period of dilemma: The text-based response studies are seen as inad equate in capturing the kaleidoscopic quality of our media culture; if we cannot define our audience is it effectively impossible to study it? Furthermore, the postmodernist crisis in anthropological representation (Clifford and Marcus 1986) left many uncertain about whether it is even valid to attempt to speak for the other, making ethnography itself problematic (2003: 4) The elusive nature of an audience illust rates the irrelevance of the text-based approaches for audience reception studies. However, moving beyond imagined readers into ethnographies of audiences is no less pr oblematic when consid ering the crisis in ethnographic authority that Clifford (1988) and others have discussed at length. Yet, as Bird describes, there is a new generation of media rese archers approaching audience research through a multi-faceted approach: Essentially, this interdisciplinary third gene ration approach acknowledges the very real problems associated with trying to separate text/audience from the culture in which they are
47 embedded, yet also accepts that it may be perfec tly valid to enter the discussion through one particular genre or medium Thus the goal must be to contextualize and to draw connections between media/audience and th e larger culture (2003: 5). Therefore, I base my assertion, th at through several methodologies I can understand ethnographically how student audi ences interpret messages presented in classroom film. Rather than worrying about producing a pure ethnography in the strictest traditional sense, I might conduct resear ch that is ethnographic in nature that can indeed say something not only about how students interpret films but how their interpretations are connected with the larg er media culture in the United States by researching with a variety of methods that do es not necessarily include following students around observing their patterns of media c onsumption. As Bird goes on to say: Classic ethnographic fieldwork may not be an appropriate method for studying dispersed media audiences, at least for the ethnographer wo rking alone And so we should not agonize unnecessarily about pure holism as a goal. Few anthropologists study complete, self-contained societies anymore (if they ever did), but write ethnographies that explore specific questions and issues (2003: 7) Indeed, this thesis aims to explore the specific question of how students interpret films and draw connections with how th ese interpretations are shaped by their experiences with media in their everyday liv es. In order to accomplish this, I did not simply pass out a survey afte r students saw a film. I entered the class to observe, conducted detailed focus groups, did a survey of several classes, and spoke with department faculty members who have ta ught ANT 2000, with a goal of developing a multi-faceted understanding of the classroom film experience. This variety of methods aimed to descri be how students are in terpreting the films they encounter and to find out if there is a disconnect between what professors want
48 students to learn and what stud ents actually learned. And if there is need for concern, then what might we do to make films more effective? I beli eve that each method provides information that lends itself specifically to certain as pects of audience reception. However, in this chapter I will focus on th e classroom observations and the focus groups in order to understand how students interprete d films. The next chapter will attempt to analyze the forces that shape student a udience reception by looking at the larger framework of media in general, in which I dr aw from the faculty interviews and survey data. I will now turn to analyzing what I learned by sitting in the classroom and by talking with students with th e aim of forging a more eff ective pedagogical use of film. Methodology I felt that by looking at the issues from multiple perspectives was important for learning something accurate about students und erstanding of films, and my internship was designed in just such a way. I began this quest to answer quest ions about students understanding of film by entering the classroom as an observer. This was modeled on the classic ethnographic participantobservation model. I wanted to watch the film with the students by paying careful attention to several factors such as the cl assroom environment, the professors presentation style, and the students overall reac tions. This is a traditional method that allowed for the explor atory portion of my research. It also had an unintended benefit for the next stage of my research: focus groups. When I conducted focus groups, the students recogni zed that I had been sitting in class as the professors announced my arrival when I started the observation. This helped build
49 rapport, I believe, because the students knew th at I had sat through many of the movies as well. For example, one student talking about a film shown in class, made reference to the fact that I had been there too, which I th ink helped ease conversation when I conducted the focus groups. The focus groups were crucial as a way to obtain rich, first-hand data of how students respond to a particular film as we ll as provide a forum where I could discuss their perspective of film in the classroom. For this, I set up an experiment of sorts with six small focus groups of no less than four st udents and no more than eight. All of the students were offered small amounts of extra credit for participating. Each group watched the same film, Yo Soy Hechicero (1996), which is a relatively recent documentary of a Santera practitioner from Cuba who has relocat ed his practice to suburban New Jersey. The companion website to the film describes it in this way: Yo Soy Hechicero views the subject on its own terms. It captures the intensity and confusion of the producers' own experience as welcomed outsiders at a variety of spirit possessions, animal sacrifices, love advice, healing, ancient songs and chants, and mythic storytelling, as well as everyday events that surround the ritual (http://wwwhechicero.com). I felt this film worked well because it is a contemporary work. Also, the film makes use of innovative film techniques a nd subtitles as opposed to overdubbing. For example, there is no narration, no commentar y by filmmakers or experts, rather the information is imparted through editing of scenes of Santera practices in a backyard barn built especially for that purpose interspersed with the owner and practitioner, Eduardo, talking to the camera about his life experiences with Santera The contemporary style of the film avoids the problems encountered with older films that seem dated stylistically.
50 Students will often react to such films ne gatively purely on the grounds that they are clearly old-fashioned. Another point of interest is that the title of the film is translated as I Am a Sorcerer, which I feel has serious connotations of the occult in our culture. In fact, this matter has been disputed by reviews who argue that Eduardo is more accurately described as a traditional healer. An article pr esented on Yo Soy Hechicero s companion web site explains: Never mind that the producers employ the term "cult" which outside anthropological literature has pe jorative connotations, and then goes on to say, The title of the video itself delivers up a healthy dose of exoticization: "Yo soy hechicero" could be translated, "I am a traditional healer" or "I am an herbalist/diviner" (www.hechicero.com). Therefore, I saw that there is a strong possibility that students, without the proper unders tanding of Santera, could easily dismiss what they see as occult, or in other words they may see wh at Eduardo doing as not part of a viable religion. I suppose I should also mention that ther e are numerous scenes with Eduardo consuming copious amounts of rum and teari ng the heads off of doves and there is one particularly memorable moment where we find him sucking th e blood out of the neck of a freshly decapitated duck, so I felt this film satisfied the criteria of challenging any audience on matters of cultural relativity. Th erefore, I hypothesized that those students who watched the film in the context of Santer a as a well-known practice, coupled with a little background information abou t the characters they were about to see drawn from a lecture before the film, would be far less likely to react negativ ely to Eduardo, his sacrificial performances, spirit possession, and world of exotica. Pe r this hypothesis, Dr.
51 Bird did me the favor of presenting a brief lect ure on the film and Sant era for three of the six groups. Conversely, I thought students who were simply told that they would be watching a film so we could talk about it later, before being thrust into the experience of viewing Eduardo gulping rum and spraying it from his mouth about the room while decapitating birds would result in a backla sh by the students towards Santera, thus proving my point that context is everything and that lectures and film discussions are a surefire way to anticipate and neutralize ne gative stereotyping when the students view cultural practices outside their realms of familiarity. I recorded the conversations so that I could later transc ribe all that was said. Unfortunately I lost the recording of focus gr oup number three due most likely to an error with the technology. I must have missed a mi crophone switch or a wire must have been unconnected. This is a focus group in which Dr. Bird participated, which was fortunate in that she and I were able to discuss wh at happened, however the data will be sadly missed, since it turned out this was perhaps our most interesting group. Even though the group received a contextualizing lecture, they were quite resi stant to the film and it would have been good to have the transcript as there were some memorable quotes. Nonetheless, I attempt to use as much data as I can from this gr oup in my discussion of the results, drawing from fiel d notes I wrote down once I rea lized the recording was lost. In the following sections I will discuss the data collected through observation and focus groups. This portion of the research ai ms to provide a detailed, first-hand account of student audience reception of film in ANT 2000. Ultimately, the analysis will illuminate problems that exist with the current use of film in the class, such as the need to provide a context before and after a film is presented as well as the importance of
52 choosing films that will maximize student re ception of anthropological concepts. Then, drawing on this analysis, I will propose several strategies for overcoming these problem areas that directly relate to context and film choice. Classroom Observations The observation component of my research simply aimed to gather data in an exploratory fashion. I entere d the classroom to observe the culture of film as a pedagogical aid. I took detailed notes about how films were presented and incorporated into the lectures. Several patterns in the us e of films began to develop that are worth a brief discussion. The presentation of films varied consider ably, but all suffered from a lack of contextualization in one way or another. On one extreme there were numerous cases where the class was simply told they would be watching a film before the lights went out and the film began. This is particularly unfor tunate considering that without a context for a film there is no guard agai nst students having negative in terpretations of the messages of the film. As the literatu re review points out, a film ma y guide a reader along to draw certain conclusion but there is no guarantee about how the audience may read it. As Hall (1980) demonstrated a film tells a story that the students in ANT 2000 may not decode in accordance with the professors or the filmmakers intentions The further importance of pre-film lectures will be revealed in the discussion of the focus groups. Also, there I found a pattern where the film is reserved until the second half of class so that even if there is a small disc ussion before the film, there is no discussion
53 afterward, which I believe is even more problematic. In my focus groups I believe many students formulated opinions during the discussi on that they had not fully realized simply having watched the film, as several indicated by thanking me after the group exercise. Finally, there was the very unf ortunate combination of no di scussion before or after the lecture. While rare, this scenario poses seri ous problems for film as a pedagogical tool. Another problem I encountered was the po ssibility that certain films would be shown in which the professor was not familiar or had not previewed the film. There were examples when the professor freely admitted to me before class that they hoped the film would be good but they had not yet seen it. Beyond the fact that this eliminates any possibility of a proper contextua lization for the film, it is also flippant and disregarding of a critical use of films. A cr itical use of film calls for pr ofessors to thoughtfully handpick films that illustrate concepts that have al ready been introduced. Showing students films that the professor has not yet s een, is rooted in th e belief that films have an ability to stand on their own for conveyance of informa tion, a nave assumption that flies in the face of the research on audience response. However, there were many positive examples as well. Oftentimes, there were introductions where the professor pointed out eith er important topics in the film or certain parts of the film to look for illustrations of concepts that were discussed in class. However, it became clear that films must be followed up with some type of activity, which in large classes of over 100 students beco mes very difficult. Therefore, it would be misguided to lay blame on the professors entirely. Another positive technique was evidenced in how one professo r would stop the video periodica lly to interject a comment. This served the purpose of illustrating concepts which of course may help in the battle
54 against negative interpre tations. It also, by my observat ion, served to jar the students attentions back to the film if some had begun to lose interest. Anot her benefit to stopping the film is that is serves as a reminder that the film in the classroom is an educational aid, not entertainment. In our culture, movies and television are often not paused so that friends and family can discuss the conten t they are watching. However, stopping the film, in my opinion is a positive reminder of the films significance in the classroom. Also, several professors inco rporated activities into the curricula that were based on the information in the films. Another st rategy that I witnesse d is the use of study questions passed out prior to the films screening. There were blank spaces where the students are to fill in answers as the film proceeds. This is a good technique that encourages a more active viewing of the film Also, after the film, the professor would go over answers to the questions. In anothe r example, the professor had the students conduct an experiment over the weekend where they were asked to take an item from a friend, put it on display at their own house th en call the friend and announce to them the item had been taken, before inviting the frie nd over to see the display. On the day I watched the film the professor led a di scussion asking about how the students experiments went. Then a film was shown th at talked about the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This was an ingenious way to engage the students in the material because they may have made thei r friends angry or had another memorable experience which encouraged their involveme nt with the film, and reinforced the information in the film. However, the professors are not solely responsible for adequate use of film in teaching. Students must do their part by paying attention during films. This area raised
55 the most compelling questions as I continued to observe the classes. As I mentioned in Chapter One, I documented a noticeably large number of students l eaving class in the middle of the film. In a large class when the lights are low, and there is a sense of anonymity, I suppose the temptation to scoot out ea rly is irresistible for many students. I also witnessed much talking, laughing, passi ng notes and sleeping. There were quite a few incidences in one class where students w ould laugh at the exotic others in some of the documentary films depicting places such as Africa. It is also in teresting to note that some students in the focus groups complain ed about the laught er, denouncing it as immature. While, laughter is common, it in fact does represent an unfortunate interpretation of, or resistance the films intention, which may be compounded by social interaction among the students. On the other hand it is unreasonable to expect none of the students to laugh at behavior they have never seen in th eir lives or express a grossedout ugh! when an animal carcass is being di smembered. One professor said he always reminds them that they may get grossed out by what they see but they also probably eat fast food which involved sla ughtering of animals. For a more in-depth look at how students interact with the films I will now turn to discussing the focus groups. The Focus Groups The focus groups all took place in SOC 37 which is the anthropology conference room in the basement of the social sciences building on the campus of the University of South Florida. The room is well suited fo r the exercise because it is equipped with conference tables positioned in a large square in the center of the room and large,
56 comfortable conference chairs. All focus groups were held in this room. In each group the film was shown, and then I allowed the students to have time to jot down their impressions before launching into a discussion of the film. Rather than go through each of the focus groups in turn, in detail, I want to use certain groups to illustrate several different important concepts that I believe the data indicate about the na ture of film as an educational tool for teaching undergraduate anthropology. Therefore I will outline the important insights into audien ce reception that I believe emerged and draw from the groups appropriately to demonstrate how th ey played out in our discussions. Regarding the Hypothesis: Context is Everything, Almost The first insight that became apparent is the fact that the research hypothesis which stated that those groups that received a lecture woul d display greater cultural relativity did not hold entirely. There is evidence in the data of a complicated web of opinions from the focus group discussions, of tentimes contradictory to the hypothesis, and other times complementary to the hypothesis. This complicated nature of the focus group responses is perhaps the most unique unexpected and perplexing observation I have made throughout the research and I will try and characterize what I consider to be the important lessons that this complex of differing readings te lls us about teaching anthropology with films. At the outset, things looked good fo r the hypothesis: that lecturing and contextualizing films plays a key role in how student audiences will construct meaning. Focus group one which was also the first group to receive the contextu alizing lecture, as
57 hypothesized, consisted of students who displa yed a good deal of cu ltural relativity in their interpretation of the film. Indeed, this group turned out to be a model example of the hypothesis. I should note that the group wa s relatively small, consisting of two men and two women, with no one personality necessarily dominating the discussion. The discussion began by simply asking the students for their impressions to get data on their initial read ings of the film. This gave st udents an opportunity to state their opinions without having been influenced by mu ch discussion, thus I hoped to get a purer reflection of student interpre tations. Some were obviously squeamish about the animal sacrifice: you know you always hear about sacrificing you know thousands of years ago with you know pagan you know um religions but this one its just its present day its like people are still practicing it, and they still believe in that and that you know thats great but um I just thought you know them cutting off the heads of animals and dri nking the blood I mean thats, yeah uh This student at first has trouble finding words when describing her interpretation of the sacrifices. However, when probed as to how it made her feel to see the animals killed she responded in this way: I mean if thats their belief they truly believe thats gonna help them and you know it might have helped them but we dont know. I mean after one guy was saying how it helped him it like gave him like a relief and just like it just helped him out so much so I mean if thats their religion they truly believe in that you know it could be the best thing for them. Thats good as long as it gets them out of whatever their trouble is, thats great. While this student is not condoning Santera nor describing it in the most positive of ways, she is not condemning it either. A nother student goes even further to display cultural relativity when he says:
58 I feel that like from a western perspective we, we re just, were not comfortable with it... We dont really celebrate death we kinda like mourn death. And esp ecially stuff like leather or for like food purposes like when you go to the grocery store and stuff like that like when you find something like when you receive something from a restaurant or from anything it looks nothing like from what it came from. And we have a tendency of like kinda separating the two and so you know we call that chicken but we dont kinda asso ciate that as like the rooster or the hen And I kinda find that like if we were to be of a different like if we were from a like from the other side of the world, or from you know not necessarily from North America but from South America or somewhere else, you might have a different inte rpretation because you und erstand. You know? You make that, that connection is more obvious than it is for us. Is this not a textbook example of deployi ng cultural relativity when interpreting cultural practices different from those with wh ich one is familiar? The students in focus group one went on to discuss how in American culture we eat chicken all the time but we get uncomfortable when we see the birds be ing killed and linking it to a perspective of culturally relativity as this student remarks: And, and all of us sit here and like we, we shove chicken and beef down our face but when someone, when an animal is killed in front of you its like a big thing but to them its not because its just like us going to church and reading bible. Not that I go to church, but Im just saying you know, for example. And its strange to us just because its different, but people, like Americans, may think its strange, oh its so rcery, its witchcraft, its, but th ats because I think that were ignorant to it and we dont actually look at it as, hey maybe this is just something different than ours, not wrong actually. You know? Another student also linked the Santera religious rituals with rituals in Christianity and proclaimed a belief that, as an American, she supports freedom to practice religion no matter what, as evidenced in this remark: Its similar to, you know, a lot of things, you know, you believe in just like Catholics. They believe in, you know ash, you know, all this, you know, lent and all that stuff and uh practices and it, its just its normal like as an American like I think its great that we can practice different religions in America. And Im not saying its wrong I think its cool that people can sit there an practice a religion comfortably and not really hide it, especially that, but I think its you know
59 unique and its neat to learn a different, totally different religion than what were use to seeing as, as Americans I think. So what accounts for these interpretations of the film? The hypothesis followed that the lecture, by providing a context, would increase the am ount of cultural relativity in students interpretations which seems to have made a difference as this student makes clear commenting on the impor tance of having a context: I think like Im not really, not really, sure if I re member but like if youre gonna show a film its good to go into great detail before you actually show the film so you kinda understand whats going on in the film. Cause pretty much if you get the notes and stuff after the film then you kinda like you miss stuff. But if you receive it before then you can under, put that to a visual, you can understand the words to a visual Here there is a clear appreciation on the pa rt of the student for having received the contextualizing lecture. As he demonstrates with this commen t it is quite practical from a students perspective to have a lecture prior to watching th e film because the student may be directed to focus on what the professor th inks is important. It is a guide for the students in how to interpret the films. Also, the students will incor porate the lecture into their interpretation of the film. As this st udent stated describing a particular scene: I think you told us that the guy and the wife were going there b ecause he was bea ting her. But nowhere did they really say that in the film, but we already knew that b ecause you told us, so it kinda gave us a better understanding, I think The film did not make certain information explicit, therefore, having a context to draw on he was able to interpre t the film more completely. On the other hand, there are also the occas ions when students who did not receive a contextualizing lecture did i ndeed have negative interpreta tions of the film, which is
60 also in line with the hypothesi s. For example, in one focus group, when asked to explain their first impression s one student said, Um like when it showed the guy, every time I saw the leader, whoever he was, he was dri nking, like, Bacardi and stuff so it made him look every time he was performing something he was drinking and I dont know if thats normally the case or not so Responding to this comment another student aimed a negative critique at Sant era to by saying this: I dont know that I believe that it actually works or if its just more of a brainwashing thing, where if youre really that messed up that you, you get to that point where youll try anything and if you believe something will work and you tell yourself that it will work that much that you just, it seems to happen for you. In this case, there is lit tle evidence of cultural relativity in her comment. She is not only suggesting that Eduardo is brainwash ing the people who pr actice Santera with him, she also blames the followers for their actions. The student, in my opinion, fails to consider the larger context in which these pe ople in the film are ope rating. Perhaps, the man to whom she refers with the injured leg can not afford hospital care even if he wished to receive it. Furthermore, the student e xpresses an ethnocentric perspective that all people hold Western medicine to be the best way of dealing with injury and illness. I would argue that she is demonstrating a negati ve interpretation of the film. The purpose of the film, according to its companion website is to give an unusually intimate look at a community full of tumult, not just econo mic and physical, but spiritual as well, (www.hechicero.com). Therefore, the website does not speak condemningly of the community but empathetic with the spiritual practice and its followers. Of course, the students interpretation of the film is understandable because having been given no
61 lecture or any other contextualizing material th e student is naturally going to draw on her own cultural understanding, which would prescribe hospital care for a serious leg injury. Focus group two, not having received a lecture, indeed expressed negative opinions of the film, as well. Yet nowhere on the films companion website does it say the film is intended for audiences to dislike or think ill of the material presented in the film. In fact as the webs ite states of the film: Colleges and universities have added this video to their collections for classroom and research use by students and faculty in a number of disciplin es, including anthropology, film, African studies, ethnomusicology, sociology, art history, religion, Latin American studies, and modern languages (www.hechicero.com). I also feel this negative interpretation of the film appears to unfold across the focus groups in a peculiar way that offers interesting insight as to how students constructed their interpretation of the film. A pattern seem ed to develop in the groups that did not receive a lecture who, when asked to give their fist impressions, usually gave brief, negative comments about the film. Fo r example, focus group four in the discussion above began with students saying things lik e this: That guy was whacked out of his mind. Another student immediately spoke up and said, Um I cant see it being something Id follow I didnt um I dont know And another student said, I think the movie, I dont know anything about [Santer ] but I think the movie made it look kinda negative. Also, consider focus group six, which did not receive a lecture or context either and here again the st udents started off the discussi on in a very similar pattern described above, immediately launching strong statements. The following statements were made by different students of focu s group six going around the table expressing
62 their first impressions: It wa s kinda scary.; Yeah it was qu ite disturbing. I mean he was on crack!; Some of the stuff like, a certain kinda oil will cure certain kinda things, seemed kinda weird to me.; I think its true, like I think that he can get himself to be in that state of mind, like I, I dont condone it, I dont like it These students, who did not receive a context for the film, produced at the very outset ne gative opinions of the film, especially its main character Eduardo. Notice how in both cases they make very brief negative statements about the film. On the other hand focus group two deviates from the pattern because these students did not receive a contextualizi ng lecture either yet this is the first impression that offered: I thought it was interesting to see what a sorcerer was, but like I thought it was more like, I thought it was more like you know, how you see on TV or cartoons, or more like magic or something invisible? Rather than just like cleansing somebody with animals and stuff. Perhaps, this refutes my argument that those groups with no prior lecture began by simply offering brief negative statements. Nevertheless, I think th is impression of the film also falls into the category of negative interpretations. Also, I am not arguing that any of these patterns should be considered ri gidly because essentially we are dealing with peoples opinions upon which so many unknowable variables may depend. However, contrast the above examples w ith the beginning of the first focus group in which Dr. Bird gave a lecture cont extualizing both Santera and the film: Vulnerability definitely takes over. Being vulnerab le to whatever it is your belief is like takes over um. The belief system of what you have. Like if youre going through rough times which all these people that they interviewed as to why theyre doing the sacrifices um they all have been through hardships and they need something to get past that. Which I think any religion is like that not just Santeria. I mean in my like Ive uh gone to Christian, different Christianity groups and its
63 all the same. S thats what Ive seen in evangelism even, its almost exactly like this. So thats what I noticed definitely out of watching the movie. Rather than blurt out specul ations revolving around illicit street drugs and insanity as first impressions, this stude nt began the focus group discussion with what I consider to be an empathetic, thoughtful reflection on the film. The next student in this focus group made this comment: I agree. Like everyone with their religion, with their, theyre gonna go there for help for spiritual guidance and this stuff. Its different from wh at Catholicism is? Is that the word? Um I thought it was interesting to see the Santeria but I also thought it was kinda disturbing how they you know sacrificed animals and stuff like that. And thats you know I you know if thats their belief yeah but you know. The sacrificing is just a little Therefore, it is not just the one st udent who began with a complex, more culturally relative inte rpretation, rather that is simply the way this group approached the discussion after viewing the film. I believe that the contextualizi ng discussion played a role in mediating the students opinions. I also believe that simply popping the video in the VCR saying, Okay, we will be watching a m ovie and afterwards we are going to talk about it leaves students to formulate opi nions drawing solely from their prior knowledge. Indeed what else have they to draw from if the professor does not provide context through lecture and discussion? So in this way the hypothesis holds. Furthermore, consider an example from focus group five in which there was a contextualizing lecture. The discussion began in this way: I dont know, because a lot of times, I think he might have been drunk a little bit like sometimes because when they were jut interviewing him and he wasnt doing any of the religious ceremony or anything he was like, his eyes were droopy and he was just like he seemed like he was drunk. Thats just what I got out of it.
64 Of course, I realize that this may be seen as a negative interpretation of the film. However the next student remarked by saying: Well, yeah there was a lot of alco hol used but then again in a lot of religions you know, different religions they use a lot of, what do you want to call it? Mind uh mood altering substance like native Americans will starve and fast for what is it? five days before they go to sunwalk or sundance uh they also use peyote um its just it, its almost like its somethin to help em make the transition to what they want to do .yeah. I think there is a real difference between the way focus groups who have received a contextualizing lecture and those who have not began our discussions. This may be a subtle point but I believe it i llustrates something about audien ce interpretations of film. I believe lectures and context gi ve the students something to think about when they watch the films. They are able to draw connectio ns between the context they are given and the film. And I believe this is why when aske d what is your first impression? students who have been given a context begin with longer, more complex ideas and those students who have not been given a context may be more likely to draw conc lusions like, Hes on crack! Yet, at the same time, I believe peoples opinions of film s and the construction of meaning is more complicated than simply having a lecture to contextualize a film. I would like to complicate ma tters here by introducing how I believe some of the data show more complex research findings than the hypothesis anticipated. As the discussions in the focus groups continued, I be gan to realize there ar e many variables that may decide how people will interpret films and construct meaning. For example, the student from focus group four discussed a bove whom initially denounced what she saw as simply brainwashing expressed this opinion much later in the conversation:
65 Im all about choosing your own religion and you know everything like that but I just dont like the animal aspect of it, I dont think its right. I mean I sit there and I have to deal with animals everyday that are abused by people and you k now rehabbing them and its like why are these people here theres laws against that they dont ne ed to be doing that, it makes me angry, it pisses me off, I dont agree with it at all. She expresses that she does not logically disagree with their right to practice religion. However, this student has also, in my opinion, revealed valuable information about her personality that may play a major role in her interpretation of the film. Because her job is working to help animals, there is a good chance that no amount of contextualizing and discussion will adequately offset her negative opinion of the film, which depicts killing of animals. I think it is very important to not discount that every individual will have countless personal qualities that decide how they will interpret a film. Also, there are students such as the on e who at the beginni ng of the discussion said of Eduardo that he was whacked out of his mind! He later made this comment in the discussion about Eduardos Santera prac tice: The thing is though, like they said before, he built the house out in the yard or whatever away from the family so hes not like exposing the family to it and stuff, he, hes kinda doing it in his own privacy, so I mean In this case, the student who denoun ced what he saw as crazy at the outset, now through discussion, has drawn more complicat ed conclusions. Indeed, the student is defending Eduardos right to practice Santera referring to a scene in the film which shows how some of the family members dislike the practices at their home. If I had shown the students the film, then passed out a survey asking them what they thought, I might have gotten the negative responses I hypothesized. However, through discussion,
66 as we all talked about the film, I believe the students thought th rough their impressions and displayed more complicated opinions. Then again there is focus group three, which offers further compelling evidence that may add to the complexity of the hypot hesis. Unfortunately, the audio failed to record the focus group so I am not able to quote verbatim as with the other groups. However, I will draw some generalizations fr om this group that I feel are accurate and help demonstrate the complicated nature of th e research findings. In focus group three, once again Dr. Bird gave a cont extualizing lecture, and thus we believed that this group would respond similarly to focus group one. This focus group responded in a way that could not have been more negative toward th e film. This begs the question, What went wrong? First of all, I feel that the context of this group was significantly different from group number one. Group three was slightly larg er with six students. I think we made a mistake by allowing them to sit spread around the conference tables in the room which did not promote group cohesion. For groups following this group I made sure I moved the tables around after the film and had all the students a nd myself sit around one table rather than being spread around the room. Al so, I think the factor of group dynamics was important. In the focus group number one, I believe all of the students had relaxed personalities. There was not one student who sought to be the funniest or most controversial. And there was a general attitude that it was ok if you accepted what was displayed in Yo Soy Hecheciro (1996). However, in focus group three all the stude nts sat spread around the room. I feel they did not connect with one another and t hus were more intimidated about expressing
67 their opinions. Also, there was one student who displayed extreme opinions. He was particularly resistant to the film and when asked to make comments on what sort of impression he had immediately after watching it he said something to the effect of, It makes me proud to be American. Another st udent tried to defend Santera as simply another religion, saying that she had traveled to Africa and experienced many varied belief systems and this film was simply depic ting another religion. The hostile students rebuttal squashed any notion of cultural relativ ity when he countered with something very much like, I dont care to learn about other religions. I would not go to Africa to learn about them and I do not care to watch movies about them. Needless to say Dr. Bird and I found the responses he was giving difficult to navigate. When we tried to question other students no one cared to talk, but instead sa id things like, I don t know, or I just dont have an opinion. Most of the remark s focused on how crazy Eduardo is and that he is a drunk and a frau d brainwashing people. Employing the context-activated approach discussed earlier, I feel that not only the context of the room played a role in shaping opinions. There is also the larger political context in the world that may ha ve a profound impact when interpreting a film about other cultures. For example, when asked why he was taking anthropology, the student who felt American pride remarked that he thought it would be interesting, adding that he was in the class by his own voliti on. This contradicts the commonsense notion that any student so resistant to learning about other cultures would only be situated in an anthropology class because of a university requirement. But the point I wish to make here concer ns the larger context in which we were watching this film. This student, in the cl ass by choice, also discussed how he would
68 rather not sit through many of the films in hi s anthropology class because he just wanted to get home and relax and watch TV instead of those films about other cultures. I think it is important to note that in April 2003, TV was offering continuous coverage of the United States invasion of Iraq. There was a he ightened sense of American pride as part of the public discourse in the news, from the American flags framing the screens of cable news talking heads to the unprecedented embe dded reporters sending video footage of the American troops traversing the desert in Oper ation Iraqi Freedom. I am not suggesting that this groups opinions can simply be re duced to the fact that the mass media preprogrammed these students to be resistan t to cultural practices as somehow unAmerican. Indeed, the hostil ity of this group is an anom aly in relation to the other groups, and in fact, I believe the inter-group dynamics played a much stronger role in shaping the opinions. However, I am saying th at we should consider the larger political climate and world events because I think st udents may pull from these as resources in forming their opinions. This is a topic I will address in greater detail in Chapter Four, but for now I think it is importan t as a consideration in the young mans reluctance to accept as legitimate cultural practices that do not re semble his own. Furthermore, in the context of this particular focus group, I felt his dom inant personality set a tone that did not encourage open discussion, and thus I am not ev en certain I got an accurate read of the groups opinion. Nevertheless, I would say th at group number three, contrary to our hypothesis, did not display increased signs of cultural relativity, in spite of receiving a contextualizing lecture.
69 Furthermore, to make matters even more complicated there is the case of focus group number four. This group did not receive a contextualizing lecture. However, the students interpretations offer da ta that muddle my hypothesis to an even greater degree. Certainly, there were plenty of negati ve opinions expressed toward Yo Soy Hecheciro (1996) and Eduardos legitimacy as a spir itual leader but there was not a clear overall opinion expressed by this group. For ex ample when asked at the opening to talk about first impressions one student remarked: Um, well a lot of the aspects obviously were different, sacrificing and such but I did notice that it had similarities with Christianity such as baptizi ng, praying, and the name of the father, son, and holy ghost and talking about saints. Then, another student spoke up saying: I dont know how you could relate Christianity to that because its nothing like Christianity but they always refer to like God and the holy spirit an d all that I dont, I dont understand how they can relate em because theyre so totally different. A striking difference between this group a nd group number three is that at the outset debate flowed freely. Again, I will poin t out that in this group I had the entire group sit around one table rather than spread out. I believe this creates a more intimate atmosphere where the students feel freer to expre ss opinions. Furthermore this was the largest group, which I would think may intimida te students who are afraid to speak out as well as discourage an intimate setting, yet nevertheless in this case the conversation flowed noticeably better than gr oup three. Consider this exch ange also at the outset of the focus group:
70 I dont know that I believe that it actually works or if its just more of a brainwashing thing, where if youre really that messed up that you, you get to that point where youll try anything and if you believe something will work and you tell yourself that it will work that much that you just, it seems to happen for you. Then another student immediatel y counters with this statement: But at the same time if it makes you feel better it makes you feel better whether its mental or physical or you know as long as youre not anybody else or hurting yourself if you think you feel better then thats all that matters. In this group, from the very beginning there is no taboo on differing opinions. There is not an atmosphere of hostility that was clearly prev alent in focus group three. Even though these two groups were taking place in the same larger context in April of 2003 with America at war, this group did dot in troduce nationalism in th eir critique of the film. Perhaps, the larger context is not so important? Or, perhaps the larger context is only important if the environment of the fo cus group does not provide an alternative to discourse from the mass media. Perhaps, having the students sit closely encouraged general discussion so that tropes from the media were unnecessary for them to draw upon when debating and they focused more on what each other were saying. Regardless, there was a marked difference in the way these diffe rent focus groups interacted that was not always in accord with the hypothe sis; there can be no mistake about that fact that focus group three turned the hypothesi s completely on its head. Film Style and Audience Reception Much of the discussion above has focuse d on the context of the film, which the hypothesis stated would be influential. While I still believe providing context is
71 important to the reception of a film, I think ther e is another factor that plays a role as well when searching for an explanation of various audience interpretations. I also felt from the beginning that it would be important to look at the stylistic di fferences between Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) and other films the students ha d been watching in their classes. Oftentimes, the films used to teach anthropol ogy are the documentarystyle films with the ubiquitous narrations that are so commonly s een on television as well as in countless classrooms. The style of Yo Soy Hechicero (1996), differs because the story is told without narration and mainly by editing, wh ich creates a heightened sense of being there and allows for a more thick descrip tion than old-style, narrated documentaries provide. Therefore, I also hypothesized that the students would respond more positively to this style and I believe they did as is expressed by this st udent from focus group one: I liked it because youre not getting the directors perspective, youre getting the act, the guy, the, his, his story. Hes telling you; its not the dir ectors like telling what he sees Youre actually seeing whats actually happening. You know what I mean? Like, in other things you dont even hear any of the other people talking you just hear the, like you said, the narrator go on. Like, we dont want to hear the narrator go on. I mean we dont want to hear the narrator we want to see whats actually going on... This student raises one of the most im portant issues surrounding the concept of film style affecting an audi ences reaction, that in usi ng a film like this, you lose the narration that contextualizes th roughout film. This may cause a sense of discomfort for some teaching with film who may believe th e narration is necessary for films to be instructive. However, I believe students a ssociate the narrator-style with an outdated and boring mode of filmmaking. Furthermore, in a more innovative-style film that does not use narration, the stud ents are more engaged and in my opinion respond more positively which is evidenced in the students remarks above. I will concede that when showing a
72 film like Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) it perhaps calls on the professor to prepare a lecture and discuss the film but I would argue that the students depend on these to occur regardless. Consider what this stud ent says when comparing Yo Soy Hecheciro (1996) with an older film on a similar topic watc hed as part of his regular class: I think if [the professor] integrated this with the notes instead of like the [other] film that we watched the people would have liked it a lot more. Because I dont, I dont think a lot of the kids got a real understanding because they, we didnt care because we cant understand whats going on so were just like ok whatever this isnt inte resting. But this was a lot more modern, it was right in you face, youre gonna pay attention to it you know what I mean? The students, who are not going to be engaged simply because the film clearly explains what is taking place, may be so disengaged with a film whose style they do not like that its message is lost on them al most entirely. Indeed, Yo Soy Hecheciro (1996) is a film that begins in media res without any form of narrati on or context provided by the filmmakers so that one would think that st udents may be confused. Yet the students in this group liked the experiment al, non-narrator style so much more in comparison to other films they have seen. Now I would like to look at what anothe r focus group had to say on the topic to demonstrate further my belief that students resp ond better to more experimental films. I would like to examine focus group two which did not receive any remarks to prepare them for the film. I simply told them, okay, were going to watch a film and then we will talk about it afterwards. During our discussion I asked the students what they thought about the filmmaking style in Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) and here is the exchange that followed:
73 The person that was filming did a very good job showing everything They gave you a pretty close look at his face and whatever he was doing. Im not sure, you know some kids dont want to see that, but you know they did a good job, it would be a great thing to show in class, its just a little long though. Then, another student added: I actually kinda think it was better because it made me concentrate more on what the people were saying what they were actually saying and focused on the actual events specific things that they said. This last comment is coming from a stude nt that had no prior warning that they would be watching a film with animal sacrif ice and there was no na rration to explain the exotic behavior yet still this student felt the information wa s conveyed well. Of course, the reality of peoples opinions is not so ri gid and easy to define. Consider what this student from the same group had to say when discussing the films style. At first he seemed to approve of the films information: From what little I know about Santera I think it s a good way to show what Santera is Just because like what we learned, wh at we learned about it was that it was what was the word you said, syncratic? That you know that it came from Africa and like just how they had the like little guy at the booth kind of explained it they we re not allowed to I forgot what he said they were not allowed to do something so they made it look like that was their god they named it that. So that, it just kind of helped illustrate it, I guess or show like what really what they do. However, later in the discussion, he e xpressed a different opinion when he had this to say: Yeah, I think it makes you have to pay more attention to whats going on but then again like you know thats good and bad just because you could pay attention to it and think you know whats happening when really you know maybe you dont maybe youre viewing it differently than what is actually happening you know or something you know. So maybe a narrator would be good in that perspective that could actually tell you whats really happening, so
74 Therefore, it would be inaccurate to argue that the focus groups revealed across the board an appreciation for this style of filmmaking. However, I believe most of the students appeared to enjoy the way the film presented its material. Witness this students comments in our discussion in focus group four in which there was also no lecture given prior to viewing the film: Um well the other movie we watched was um rather boring you know? So I, it was, um, cause it was just, you could just, the narrator would just talk about this is, what this guy is doing and now hes doing this now hes doing that. This you actually just saw Normally I hate subtitles like because sometimes you cant keep up or youre trying to get and especially with such a large class to its kinda hard to hear so I am sure s ubtitles would be more beneficial, but I liked it better with subtitles. This student, while apprehensive about Eduardo describes how the films style captivated his interest. Often as anthropol ogists we are worried about the politics of representation especially with older ethnographic texts and f ilms where the exoticism of other cultures is emphasized in an Orienta list fashion. However, nowadays, showing these older films may be more harmful than ever for teaching anthropology simply because students may very well be sleeping through most of them and not even addressing the messages that the films c onvey. The fact that Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) has no narrator and is told onl y through editing and first-pers on interviews with subtitles (for a non-Spanish speaking audience), one ma y think this type of film would lose students attentions. Yet I continua lly heard responses such as this: It was really informative. It was really informat ive. It was really interesting too, it was just creepy It was just like in your f ace, I mean like in the first scen e where you know it just throws it right at you from the get go, I mean it just kinda catches you off guard and then you get into it a little bit and just start to see what its all about and I mean, personally, I though the guy was nuts but I mean youre I mean I agree entirely that youre entitled to your own religion, and if thats what youre into, thats what youre into.
75 The innovative editing technique catches th e students attentions to such a high degree that it appears many do not mind the subtit les at all. In the media world that we all live in with incr easing technological i nnovation in filmmaking, one would think that students might resist the idea of reading subtitles. However, as this student explains of the more innovative style of Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) the subtitles may actually be seen as beneficial to the students interpretation of the film: I think if it had a narrator it would have taken aw ay from the film because the narrator probably would have impressed his opinions upon us, you know. And I think that by just showing it its letting us form our own opinions about what we saw, so they tried tied be objective I think in the film. Then another student later added: Yeah, because it doesnt really pull any punches, it shows you exac tly what, what goes on there and ah you know even though its disturbing some of the things they do, itd still keep peoples attention. This final comment is essential for unders tanding the effectiveness of a film like Yo Soy Hechicero (1996). One might thi nk that a film offering no context and depicting animal sacrifice among other r itual activities such as exces sive drunkenness and spirit possession would raise the h ackles of anthropologists wo rried about exoticism in presenting films to undergraduates that challenge students ethnocentr icities. However, these focus groups suggest something different. Perhaps, because of the fact that students felt engaged in the film, it helped offset any negative or stereotyping interpretations that often happen when films challenge student s long-held beliefs about culturally appropriate behavior.
76 If indeed it is the case that undergradu ate student audiences are more engaged with a film like Yo So Hechicero (1996) it could have important implications for understanding how audiences in terpret different types of films. One of the most surprising findings of the rese arch is how many students from focus groups that did not receive lectures enjoyed the films. As this student says: Um I thought it was actually very interesting um, um, its, it was hard to watch sometimes to see all the rituals and stuff but um it, it definitely kept my attention and it kept giving you like little facts and showing just little different things that they use yeah This same student a few minutes late r has this to say about Santera: Um like all of the all of the rituals Im guessing God their Gods gave to them but I dont, I dont see that as a way of worshiping them their God, I feel like its supposed to be for relationship type things with God Um where youre praying to um only specifically to him instead of asking him for everything. In this case, the student enjoying the film style for giving you like little facts is also a film about which she can make judgments of the information that is conveyed through the film. Although, her st and is not one of extreme cu ltural relativity, it is clear that she has thoughtfully interp reted messages from the film about Santera and made judgments. This is a much different situ ation than simply decoding messages either correctly or erroneously where older comm unications theories would have audience members simply reacting to the films narrat ive content. This suggest a more complex understanding of audience interpretation wh ere students opinions depend less on how clear and factual information appears, but ra ther how engaging a film is by its cinematic style. And I think this is evidence of one profound way professors can overcome students having negative interpretations of film s, which is to choose films that engage the
77 audience because while all the students above did not agree with practice of Santera, they did find the film interesting, which m eans they thought about it, which is a success for the purposes of teaching students about diverse religious belie fs in anthropology classes. Again, here is what a student from focus group four had to say about the matter: Well, its just so weird, and so like out there that its just kinda keeps you interested, like Oh whats gonna happen next you know. I mean it will keep peoples attention no mater what people think of it, whether they get Oh this is so cool, Im gonna go do it or O my gosh what the heck is going on, theyll watch it. This is exactly the point. No matter wh at students think about the material in a film moralistically, they are goi ng to respond more positively to an engaging film. I have to wonder what a follow up experiment usi ng a classic film such as one from the Yanomamo series would reveal about students opinions. Fortunately Martnez (1992) has written abou t this topic in his research findings. He explains that during the course of rese arch and teaching he found that, the use of films as illustrations of factual knowledge, and a selection of closed texts, are more likely to reinforce students role as blind believers in univocal and authoritative representations (153). In th e focus groups that I conducted I cannot say that the students appeared to be blind believers as Mart nez (1992) says but rath er simply much less interested in the older, narrator-style films th at are used as illustrations of factual knowledge. This factual knowledge is almost always imparted by an academic or other such specialist. Student s see this technique for what it is: a device to make the information sound authoritative but this doe s not guarantee that the students will accept
78 the knowledge in their interpre tations. A student from th e focus groups addressed the narrator issue directly: And another thing is like um usually like whenever you watch like a film like on anything. Usually its like they jump between like the narrator will, the narrators sitting down like at his desk and hes totally talking to you about this thing and then they jump to little clips here and there or theyll play you the little sound bite you know of whats going on. With this, this was like nonstop it was the practitioner, it was what he wa s doing and there wasnt no dubbing there was nothing so pretty much like what you heard what was, what was going and like they captioned certain things but I mean you uh depending on if you understood or not you can also interpret what other people are saying or what hes you know like word for word you know what hes saying rather than kinda like going by whatever they dub over or you know. Therefore, narration does not necessarily m ean that the information in a film is conveyed clearly and accurately to students. In fact, I woul d actually argue that in many cases the narrator-guided films may turn students off to such a degree that interpretation is not even taking place unless students are do ing so while they are sleeping through the films because they are so bored. Students expressed an adverse reaction to the older films and it is not just the narrator that trigge rs such negative fee lings. Consider what this mans comments reveal comparing Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) with an older film on voodoo: Yeah. I think it wouldve been very helpful ah the one film clip we had was like way out of date ah I mean some of it was black and white. I dont know if it was shot intentionally that way, but its like Ok, black and whites on, what do we gotta catch up on reading here. You know? The older film may trigger an immediately negative response, in this students case apparently black and while film is a signal to catch up on hi s reading during the films. Therefore, using out of date f ilms may create not so much a problem of misreading, incorrectly decoding a film, or ha ving a negative interpretation but of not
79 reading, decoding, or interpreting at all be cause students immediately recognize an outof-date film as opposed to something new. This student from focus group four explains his feelings: I think they should up date a lot of the movies because a lot of them are from the like 60s and stuff and like a lot of things have changed since then and its a little less interesting when theyre older I mean if things are newer the graphics are newer, not that graphics have a big part in it but I mean even if theyre newer you ll be like oh its a newer video awesome. This particular student happens to be a freshman; therefore one may argue that the younger students must be catered to simply because they have been raised on entertainment, a concept I will address directly in the next chapter. However, it is worth noting that even older students, such as this man who I would guess is in his late 40s, are resistant to films that appear out-of-date as he explained: I understand that theres a budget involved and all this, but some of the movies like the black and white stuff. Ok, replace it. Theres got to be something out there. I mean at least in the military every ten years we had to re-update our equipment, dont you guys too!?! Um the Jane Goodall monkey stuff is probably been aired on TV six or seven times I can remember watching it overseas on the government channels because its Jane Goodall and its chimpanzees. You know? You wanna get out in the woods and see if they really do do this, you know? Um, and there, theres been other people that have worked with chimps that have verified her works why cant we see what they did? You know? That kind of stuff other than you, youve got the movies this is what you got we gotta operate within in the budget I understand that but it almost would seem like it would be beneficial to the university to try to bring it into current stuff. Here, we do not have a student that simply wants to be better entertained, this is an honest plea for better films. I will argue in the next chapter that I do feel students attention spans are shorter as we are all mo re and more influenced by the media in our lives, however, if students simply are not even watching the older-style films, then their use in teaching anthropology at the very le ast needs to be examined. As Martnez explains:
80 Teaching approaches that combin e interpretive and reflexive an thropology with contemporary post-colonial history, incorporating critical theory and a more diverse selection of films (including reflexive, critical, and experiment al films) are more likely to result in open, elaborated and reflexive readings. Such openness tends to be both situated in and evocative of self-empowering, identificatory and pleasurable viewing experiences. Recognizing that pleasure can be either a teaching resource (as a productive and interpretive activity) or detrimental to learning (as selfgratification and escapism), instructors might do well to capitalize on the openness of more pleasurable representations, especially in introduc tory courses and early in the semester and work toward transforming passive and escapist pleasure into creative , reflexive, and critical pleasure. (1992: 153-154). This would explain why students in th e focus groups that did not receive a contextualizing lecture may ha ve expressed negative opinions about sacrifice and spirit possession but at the same time expressed interest in Yo Soy Hechicero (1996). The students may have felt empowered, as Martn ez (1992) suggests, depending on the film style. Even though they were watching animal sacrifice, which is normally offensive to American undergraduate sensibilities, they we re so engaged in the film that a positive interpretation resulted despite the exotic imagery. As applied anthropologists have widely recognized, collaboration is a key to sustainability with any type of project or undertaking. Is teaching introductory anthropology not a very similar enterprise wh ere the students are our collaborators? As so many applied anthropologists have demonstr ated if a group of people do not feel that they are collaborators or if they feel they ha ve no part in the deci sion making process of a project, no matter what it is, th en the people will not take it upon themselves to care very much about a projects sustainability. I f eel the same can be applied to film in the classroom. When students are not part of th e decision making process in the construction of meaning they will not take it upon themselves to care very much about a film they are watching. The older, narrator-guided, predic table, formulaic, documentary-style films do
81 not invite student collaboration or particip ation, therefore, the information these films impart is not sustainable. On the other ha nd, innovative, experiment al, up-to-date films create a heightened sense of immediacy th at the students cannot help but find some interest in. Yo So Hechicero (1996) is told through the editing and Eduardo speaking directly to the camera. There is no narra tor telling the audience what is happening, Eduardo is telling them what is happening hi mself. Then the film juxtaposes various rituals and the followers of E duardo talking to the camera about Santera. In this way the film leaves interpretation to the students, th ey are allowed to formulate their own opinion as the film progresses so in the end they ha ve a positive experience even when the film disgusted them at times because they feel th ey are participants simply by watching a film that leaves much of the interpretative work up to them. Recommendations: Rethinking Context as a Presentation Strategy I realize that there are many impediments that professors face when it comes to finding the most experimental films. Furt hermore, I do not believe that older films should be disregarded. In fact I believe they are essential. As Martnez (1992) suggests above, perhaps the experimental films work at their best at the beginning of the semester to captivate the students attention before s howing some of the classic films that have played such a key role in the development of anthropology. Nevert heless, there is an important strategy that Martnez (1992) suggest s for showing older or less experimental films that may heighten the students positive reception as well as a preferred interpretation (employing cultural relativity) of the anthropological messages: provide a
82 context for the film. As Martnez explains of the importance of context for films, The crisis of representati on in the pedagogical pr actice ethnographic film is at least in part, a crisis of contextua lization (1992: 154). I would exte nd this to include not simply ethnographic films as Martnez (1992) says, bu t any film, video or film clip used in teaching anthropology. I also realize that there are many complica tions that figure into any given lecture of anthropology such as time constraints in cl asses and deadlines for covering topics that must be met by semesters end. However, taki ng the time to give a clear contextualizing lecture before showing a film and then follo wing the film with an activity of some kind such as a discussion is indispensable for a mo re effective use of film in the classroom. To some this may be stating the obvious. And furthermore, the complicated focus group results regarding the hypothesi s that a lecture would clearl y mediate a students negative interpretations of a film may not serve to clarify the need for pr oviding contextualizing material. Yet, I asked the focus groups if th ere is any way the presentation of films in their anthropology classes could be improved and the answers were almost unanimously in favor of better contextualization. For ex ample in the first focus group, in which the students responded to the pre-film lecture wi th a positive film inte rpretation, one student said: and then you seem like more interested because youre explained who and like Oh ok this sounds kinda you know interesting to kinda like learn about and watch a movie for like 45 minutes but you like throw it on its just like whats going on here. But you gave us like a really good background of the movie, and thats like oh that sounds interesting, lets watch it and This student is contrasting the experi ence of watching a film for which prior information has been given and one in which the film is just started without any context.
83 As the student makes clear, not having contex t gives them no guidance as to why they are watching the film. When students do not clearly understand why they are watching a particular film in the first place, they ha ve essentially no reason to pay attention. Therefore, it should not be left entirely up to the films narration to explain the significance of the film, which may cause stude nts to stop paying attention all together. Instead, professors need to be aware of the importance students place on having a context for the film. Consider what this st udent in focus group two had to say: Well [the professor] presents it at the end of the class really and [the professor] makes it seem like [they] just want to throw something in there too its not like its an important thing for [them], I mean I dont want to criticize I agree that it should be shown at the beginning like a piece of the class time its important its not just thrown in at the end and everyone leaves because people walk out and sometimes when [they] play movies and I think its bad. Certainly, this is only one students co mment, yet it reflects what I heard many times about how the video is just popped in, wh ich this student attributes to an increase in students leaving early, a clear sign that there is no enthusiasm for the film. Also, I realize that there are many reasons that may c ontribute to students leaving class, many of which are out of the professors hands. Yet presenting films with good background information, I feel sure, will not increase the number of students walking out and it only serves to enhance the experience of those students who remain in class until films are finished. Beyond the problem of students walking out, there is also the issue of how the students interpret films when there is no c ontext given. As Stua rt Hall (1980) and the other theorists of audience decoding and interp retation have demonstrat ed there is always a chance for misunderstanding a films intenti on. For example, films in anthropology are
84 often used to illustrate other cultures and ways of life quite different from most American university students. Of course anthropology demands that other cultures be understood through the concept of cultural relativity, however, when stud ents view other cultures on film and develop negative opinions or draw on stereotypical images of other cultures anthropologists would consider this a misinterpretation. I believe that films presented without a contextualizing lectur e or material of some kind greatly increases the chances of student audience interpreti ng another culture in a nega tive way. Consider this students comments: Well, I think that if you didnt know anything about the religion you would just look at them and say theyre crazy, like just you know watching this guy transform into something completely different as to what he is actual as a person is just Just looking at it blindsided youre just like Thats weird, thats not something you see everyd ay, but ..um...thats what they believe, and if thats what the believe and it helps them out more power to them (laughs). This makes sense, when students in introduc tory classes see cultures they perceive to be exotic it may not be thei r inclination to resort to cultu ral relativity when they are interpreting the film. Ruby explains this phenomenon when he says, When the producers intended message conflicts w ith the viewers worldvie w, it is the viewers attributions that will most likely dominate. Vi ewers therefore construct a meaning that may be contrary to the producers intentions, Ruby then goes on to give a concrete example of ways oppositional readings are encouraged and he says , This oppositional reading is facilitated by in two ways: gatekeepers such as film programmers or teachers can place the film in a context that encourages a reading contrary to the one intended by the producer or the knowledge and values of the viewer may be sufficiently contrary to the producers as to thwart the producer (2000: 185). I am arguing that professors of anthropol ogy may create a contex t that facilitates negative interpretations of other cultures prec isely because no context was provided. In other words, students may indeed have knowledge or values contrary to the other cultures
85 or practices such as Sant era in Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) and as the student said, without prior knowledge one may view the animal sacrif ices as crazy. As Ruby points out: I must point out what I regard as the most serious problem facing ethnographic filmmakers and anthropologists who wish to use film to teach when they contemplate audiences. There is an apparent chasm between the intentions of anyone who attempts to communicate anthropological knowledge and the interpretative folk models used to understand difference by people in the United States Mainstream U.S. middle-class culture provides two film models when contemplating exotic culturesthe noble savage and the ignoble savage. (2000: 186) I realize that Ruby (2000) employs the image of the savage to illustrate how the other has been perceived in anthropology and persists in popular culture, the mass media, and even in current anthropology and documentary films. However, I think by savage we need to be clear that this concept also applies to films like Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) where Eduardo may be negatively perceived as a cult figure practicing a backwards religion in a New Jersey backyard shed, so we are not talking simply about tribal peoples in a foreign land. Furthermore, my research indicates that students opinions of films are quite complicated and to say that they would ei ther see a film as noble or ignoble savages is a bit oversimplif ied from my understanding. I believe that students can view films like Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) and see the main character as both the noble and the ignoble savage, sometimes both at the same time. Of course, I also realize I need to addr ess the fact that many teaching with film may feel they do a good job at providing a c ontext, yet I heard many times that the students felt they needed more. As this student explained: [They] normally explain what [theyre] gonna do or [they] give us the notes and then watch we watch the movie. So we kinda have an idea what were gonna be watching. [they] dont explain exactly what
86 This student admits that the professor ha s indeed attempted to contextualize the film but something is left wanting. I observe d many variations of film presentations by professors during the course of my resear ch. While there were numerous times when there was no context given, there were also many times when the professor did give a good presentation before the film pointing out the important as pects. So what leads to these contradictory data? Why is a lecture prior to showing a film not always enough to drive the point of the film home for some students? Martnez (1992) again points out there may be something else at work here. He discusses the need to contextualize films but he also points out that this may simply not be enough. In other words, even though stude nts may be getting contextual information it may be lost on them once the film has been viewed. For example he relates this telling bit of information concerning previous research presented in a 1973 paper the Yanomamo on paper and on film: In their research, Hearne and DeVore provided extensive contextualization of Yanomamo culture through study guides, books, the complete film series, and extensive lecture presentations, yet their students still reacted by resorting to hegemonic stereotyping of the Yanomamo This evidence points to the importance of framing films as representational means: we need to inform students about the specific textual strategies th at ethnographic films use to communicate and the power they have to prestructure interpretations (Martnez 1992: 154). I think Martnez is correct, except I would again generalize his comments to include the need to discuss how all films used to teach repr esent reality. However, all professors cannot be savvy to literary theory, post-structurali sm, theories of the role of the reader nor would many even want to stud y these topics. Furthermore, if simply
87 providing a context for films is not always qui te enough there needs to be other strategies that professors may utilize to enhance a films effectiveness. The Importance of Post-Film Discussions Drawing from the focus group data I believe one practice professors might adopt, if it is not too obvious as a solution, is to fo llow the film up with some sort of discussion or in-class activity. This student from fo cus group four made one of the comments that helped bring to my attention the need to follow up films with a good discussion as the student explains: Sometimes the video brings up questions that you didnt have before in the lecture and if you dont discuss it afterward then you just kinda forget about it and never learn anything more about it. Another student expressed a similar sentiment: I think if we did it at the beginning of class first, wed have something more to talk about instead of you know watch this video and then leave you know and forget about it. This last point that this student makes, I believe is crucial, th at once students leave class they may forget about the film. Not to discourage giving out of class assignments related to films, but I feel that the students need to discuss the film while it is fresh in their minds. Simply allowing the students to leave class once a film is finished operates on the belief that a films message will be quickly and completely interpreted by the
88 students as the film is being watched. And th is also leaves it entire ly up to the students whether or not they wish to refl ect any further on the matter. However, my research suggests that it may not be the case that students formulate meanings so quickly. As I discussed earlier, the students opinions seemed to develop as the focus groups progressed. Furthermore, if students do not decode films messages or misunderstand the purpose of a film, even when contextual material had been provided prior to the film, a follow-up discussion may he lp to clarify the information presented in the film. For example this student in a focu s group that did not rece ive a lecture prior to seeing Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) made this remark: Well, I dont know this is the first time I ever even seen the religion, so, I dont know if its right or wrong, so I guess you can teach by it. Another student from another focus group that also did not receive any opening lecture had this to say on the topic: Yeah, you have to have some discussion like were doing. Its insightful, you know, to hear other peoples ideas about the same thing and it makes you think about things that you didnt think about when you were watching actually As this students comments suggest, insight did not happen in a flash, but rather through interaction with the focu s group. Therefore, one idea, es pecially in large classes, would be to simulate the focus groups and ha ve the students break off into small groups after seeing the film and discuss the material. I realize this is not ideal as it would be in a smaller class where the professor may engage students after the f ilm by having the entire class discuss the film as one large focus group, but unfortunately the la rger classes do not
89 appear to be going away any time soon. Nevert heless, I believe in this case anything is better than nothing and allowing students to walk out of class w ithout discussing a film they have just seen may be just as if th ey never saw the film in the first place. The concept of post-film discussions to solidify stude nts opinions, interpretations, and ideas is not unprecedented. It may very well be that all information, not just films in anthropology classes, has a much more profound impact if the information is shared with other people so that meaning may emerge in a socially participatory manner. Bird (2003) discusses how the cultural impact of news lies less in the immediate response of i ndividuals to specific news texts, and more in the development of the story through discussion and incorporation into everyday life. In the same way, the meaning of the film em erges and develops through the interaction among focus group membersor by extens ion, among members of a class and their teacher. Conclusion In this chapter I have presented the resear ch findings about the culture of film in the classroom. I have tried, wh ere necessary, to link the use of film to related topics such as the crisis of representati on and the role of the reader which were discussed in the literature review. Drawing on the data obtained through classroom observation, interviews with departmental faculty, and working with six focus groups in a reception study of my own I have discu ssed the major issues, as I s ee them, that face professors who wish to teach introductory classes with vi sual media. The first research conclusion I
90 began to draw from the focus groups is that the hypothesis which stat ed that groups that experience a contextualizing lecture prior to watching a film will show greater cultural relativity than groups that watc h the same film without a le cture. While this hypothesis held true partly, the results were complic ated reflecting what I believe to be the complicated nature of audience reception. Researchers may never fully understand precisely how audiences construct meaning but there are some important areas in which research may bri ng to light. I feel one important factor that shapes an audiences reception is th e style of the film that is shown. Besides using more up-to-date f ilms, students may actually respond more positively to a more experimental style films as well. The case of Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) in the focus groups provides compelli ng insight from the students that they enjoyed this film much more than older narrator-style films despite the fact that they oftentimes disagreed with what was depicted in the film. Finally, I feel other concerns for audi ence reception center around the context as well as individuals personal experiences. Professors cannot c ontrol for audiences personal experiences but the c onditions of a films presenta tion may be altered through proper contextual lectures prio r to showing films as well as conducting discussions after a film has been seen. Contextu alization may help to mediate students negative stereotypes of other cultures as well as pr ovide them with a chance to re flect of the information thus increasing the effectiveness of using film as an introductory anthropology teaching tool.
91 Chapter Four Conclusion: The Audience and the Media Ecology Imagine a cinema which is not dominated by the dollar; a cinema industry where one mans pocket is not filled at other peoples ex pense; which is not for the pockets of two or three people, but for the heads and hearts of 150 million people. Every motion picture affects heads and hearts, but as a rule moti on pictures are not produced especially for heads and hearts. Most motion pictures are tu rned out for the bene fit of two or three pockets; only incidentally do they affect the heads and hearts of millions. Sergei Eisenstein 1925 Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisem ents, to love and hate what ot hers love and hate, belong to this category of false needs. Herbert Marcuse 1964 The Classroom Environment The university classroom provides a unique environment in American society for the use of film or video. In American popular culture, visual media such as film and television are typically understood as forms of entertainment. They serve as a means to relax or escape the rigors of daily life. Te levision is commonly used to unwind after a day of work. Films are shown in cinemas and on television almost always in the form of fictitious, fun entertainment. Whether it is a comedy, a romantic drama or a horror flick, film is not culturally understood as the venue for serious, academic, informational understanding of the world.
92 However, anthropology classes often make use of film in a strikingly different way. Of course, professors present ethnographi c or documentary films, which they feel students will enjoy because they provide diversion from lecture while still being informational. Indeed, professors are ofte n well aware of films association with pleasure. However, I am equally sure that most professors of anthropology hope that students glean something valuable from the f ilms that are shown, that the students will view these films with a more critical eye than they would a Hollywood blockbuster. And very often professors take measures to en sure this by holding stude nts accountable for the information presented in films. Bird (personal communication) has described this condition as the captured audience where stude nts feel they must pay attention to the films because they may be tested on the material covered. But I have begun to wonder about the gap between the use of films in popular culture and the use of films in anthropology cl asses. Professors do not usually provide seminars on how to watch films differently than they are used in popular culture. Therefore, this begs the question: how will student audiences relate to films used in anthropology classes when they have viewing patterns so contradict ory to that which is required in the classroom? In my research I intervie wed faculty members in the department of anthropology who have either taught or are teaching ANT 2000 in order to understand how they articulated the use of film. I felt that by get ting an idea of the values the professors place on film, I can then move on to looking at how st udents relate to film in the classroom and thereby demonstrate whether or not film is being used effectively in relation to
93 anthropological knowledge or demonstrate that popular culture make s the use of film problematic for teaching anthropology. The previous chapter demonstrated some of the ways students relate to films in the classroom by examining the focus group da ta but that information focused very specifically on how students related to the par ticular film that we watched. In this chapter, I want to examine how students relate to film in a wider context by considering the influence that popular culture may be having on audience reception of film. Therefore, I will discuss what I learned about the professors use of film based on my interviews. Then I will turn to examining the students reaction. Rather than continue to draw on the focus groups, I will turn to data obtained through a survey, which I think, due to the nature of the questions asked and the larger number of student opinions, is the best source of data for this discussion. The survey provides answers to how the students perceived the use of film throughout the semest er which I believe lends itself to the task of attempting an assessment of whether or not the professors intended use of film is properly understood by the stud ent audiences. Also, as I mentioned, I interviewed many professors in the anthropology department. I feel this data doveta ils nicely with the survey data to get an overall picture of the la rger forces from societ y that affect student reception of film in the classroom. I distributed approximately 300 surveys in two of the large classes and in one of the smaller ones. The main purpose of this method was to get a measure of the students attitude towards not only the films they saw throughout the semester, but also how well they felt the films conveyed knowledge about othe r cultures. I asked them to respond to open-ended questions such as Which films/ videos did you either like best, or thought
94 were most effective? as well as asking whic h films the students did not like. Also I asked question such as Did you find viewing othe r cultures on film to be: i) Interesting, ii) Boring, iii) Disturbing, iv) Strange? and yes/no questions such as, Do you feel the films were well integrated? I employed th e survey method so that I could have a measure of any interesting occurrences such as if an overwhelming proportion of the students were disturbed or interested wh en viewing filmic repr esentations of other cultures or if the films were generally understood to be well received. Finally, I felt it might be useful to compare across the differe nt sections of ANT 2000, not so much as to see if any professors were not using film effectively but rather to compare the large classes to the small. Also, I interviewed some of the faculty in the anthropology department in order to gain their perspective. Ruby (1995, 2000) has cited the many difficulties professors have with locating films and getting copies to show in the classr oom, therefore I wanted to discover from the professors perspective, what it is like to show film s as part of a class curricula. Furthermore, I assume that there will be varying degrees placed on the use of film when teaching and I wanted some way to gage this climate within the department, especially for teaching the in troductory class ANT 2000 class. What the Professors Are Saying The interviews I conducted with anth ropology professors revealed several recurrent themes of how they understand the use of film in the classroom. To begin with, every professor teaching ANT 2000 makes use of film. Almost all of the professors
95 described an underlying philosophy of film as a good way to show the students other cultures. There was one prof essor however, who explained that there was no philosophy behind the use of film in th eir teaching. This professo r, while denying any underlying philosophy (which of course is a philosophy in itself) nevertheless expressed that film is simply effective for teaching ANT 2000. Howeve r, this professor also expressed that the more advanced a course is, the less imperative is the need to use film to teach. When pressed as to why this is the case, a clear answer was not provided. The professor said that more advanced students do need film when being taught and nothing more. This opinion is an outlier from my interview data as other professors expressed clearly the underlying values they draw upon when using film to teach. The general perception amongst professors is that students may read about other cultures and students may be lectured to a bout other cultures but being shown films allows the students to actually see the othe r cultures. Underlying this theme is the concept that the filmic represen tations create a sense of being there that other forms of communication lack. One professor talked about the film The Nuer (1971) in which they described the opening segment of the film th at has cows mooing in the misty landscape so that students are somehow cast into the e xperience of being with the Nuer in a way that reading about or hearing a bout the Nuer cannot accomplish. Another professor further explained how film lends itself to teaching anthropology. This professor explained how anthropology is a comparative study and that film provides the ability to bring in the sights and sounds of many different places as an advantage. This professor explained th at films can illustrate certain concepts, what they called the ethnographic propositions whic h can be illustrated by using film. For
96 example, the professor discussed how student s may read about rituals that illustrate redistribution of resources but through films, the students may actually see the rituals carried out. One example the professor ga ve is that of lect uring about economic anthropology and how a film actually s hows a ceremony of redistribution where the students can actually see the concept taking pl ace. Again, this demonstrates the concept that film provides a sense of immediacy that reading or listening al one cannot provide. Another related theme that emerged is the idea of knowing th e film well before using it to teach. The data on this subject varied. As I me ntioned in the discussion on classroom observations I heard more than once a professor mention almost nonchalantly that they were using a film which they had not seen. However, during my interviews almost all of the professors would not cons ider using a film in which they were not familiar. Therefore, I think this phenomenon va ries from professor to professor but based on all my research data I would venture to say that most of the time professors are familiar with the films they use. The reasoning behind this seemed to st em more from practical reasons than philosophical. One professor discussed the pos sibility that a film may contain a very shocking scene and if the film were to be us ed it would be embarrassing to have shown it to students. Also, most professors expressed the need to connect a f ilm to the lectures. Two professors explained how film is very si milarly integrated into their curricula. For example if a class is taught two days a w eek, the first day will be introducing a topic through lecture. Then the second day of the w eek will be used for a film to illustrate the topic for the week. One of the professors also provides a study guide with questions that the students must answer during the film. Then after the film there is a discussion of the
97 questions. Also, this professor discussed how the film will be paused to point out certain relevant or important concepts as they are being illustra ted with the film. Another professor discussed the fact that not everyone will understand the film but in order to maximize the students connection with the f ilm the professor likes to be sure the students understand why it is being shown. By connecting with the film the professor explained that they want to be sure the students understand the connections the film has to the lecture and the topic of the week. Therefore, knowing a film is prerequisite to making sure that students know why the film is being shown, in order to stop a film and explain the concepts, a professor must know a film and on order to li nk lecture topics to films the professor must also know the film. All of the professors expressed positive experiences with the use of film. Of course, there was the one interview where th e professor did not seem to have a clear reason for using films other than the fact that undergraduates in introductory classes like them. I think it is safe to say then, that at least all professors using films think that the students like them. One of the professors e xplained how their use of film has changed over time. At first film was simply used as a way to fill up class time, an enjoyable one at that. However, for this professor, film s are becoming an increasingly powerful tool that allows students to unde rstand concepts that are bei ng taught. This professor explained that films are very carefully select ed and none of the older, classic films are shown but an emphasis is placed on the most current films, except in rare exceptional cases where an older film is simply the best. Th is professor thinks it is important that the students see how the film and th e topics relate to their lives. In order to achieve this connection for students, the professor will use small clips from popular, Hollywood films
98 or television situation comedies to illustrate a concept. The professor explained also that humor can be a valuable asset when trying to hook the students in to the topic because without being hooked the students will not be as interested in learning. There are a couple of underlying presuppositi ons that I believe these professors are expressing when they discuss their use of fi lm. One is that film is the best way to actually show students other cultures, that f ilmic representations will make a culture or a concept real as soon as the students see it on screen. The other is that films are fun, entertaining ways to convey information. If students are raised in American culture to enjoy film as entertainment, then it makes sense to appeal to the students by showing films that make learning entertaining a nd furthermore, the more entertaining the presentation of information, the more the students will learn. In the following, I will attempt to analyze data obtained from the ANT 2000 classes as well as look at what some specialists that analyze the media have writ ten about popular culture medias effects on students who enter the classroom in order to discuss these presuppositions about teaching with film. Why the Media Ecology In the writing of this project, I have begun to focus on what has been called the media ecology, which the Media Ecology A ssociation (MEA) explains as, the study of media environments, the idea that tec hnology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leadi ng role in human affairs (www.mediaecology.org). I think this appro ach is essential as I attempt to forge an understanding of
99 how professors, films and stude nts intersect in the classroom There is a growing body of literature in the field of medi a ecology which is discussed on the MEA website. One of the foremost publications in the MEAs list is Neil Postmans Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), which both explains the pe rspective (under the guise of media epistemology) and uses it to critique the role of television in contemporary American culture (www.media-ecology.org/mecology/read inglist.html). In his book Postman (1985) writes that the best things on television are its j unk which he believes is not really all that problematic, yet he says th at, television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations (16). Granted, Postman is talking about how Americans watch television in general, but does his admonition not raise serious questions about the use of film in teaching anthropology? One might argue that yes, indeed Post man (1985) may be correct, when television shows try to present important hi storical, political, or social events there is the danger of trivialization, but in the classroom more schol arly films are shown or film is used in a more thoughtful way. However, I am proposing that the way television and film is used as entertainment in American popular culture seriously affects how students interpret any film that is shown to them in class no ma tter how contextualized it may be. I am arguing that because of the rise of a culture of entert ainment manifest mostly in the visual media, students have become increasingly demanding th at their education be entertaining, which comes at a cost. One might argue that te aching now must present material in more entertaining ways as students are increasingly participating in the culture of entertainment offered through television, films, and video ga mes. This complicates the ability to
100 present complex educational material without a resulting backlash by the students if they perceive the information to be too boring or too dry. Professors now face a crucial ethical question in the classroom: In pr esenting information through films do they comply with students desire to have less complex, entertaining information or do they challenge the status quo by either not using film or using film in a way that challenges its use in popular American culture, no doubt creati ng resentment in the audiences? While I do not feel there is a clear answ er to the question, it is an issue I believe anthropologists teaching with film should consider. I hope this research may in a small way contribute to our understanding of the media culture in the United States and how it affects the role film plays in teaching. The Media Ecology and the Student Audience In Amusing Ourselves to Death Neil Postman (1985: 145) de scribes that we are in an educational crisis as the printed words importance decreases alongside an increase in the speed of light electronics. This is no different than the crisis in education that occurred many years before when the oral communication of knowledge gave way to the printed word, Postman points out, though we are in a crisis nonethele ss as he explains: One is entirely justified in saying that the major educational enterprise now being undertaken in the United States is not happening in its classrooms but in the home, in front of the television set, and under the jurisdiction not of school administers and teachers but of network executives and entertainers (1985: 154).
101 Students growing up in the clichd media saturated universe ar e being trained in how they prefer their information pr esented, according to Postman (1985), by corporations that run tele vision programming. Douglas Kellner (2003) echoes this sentiment when he writes, Media culture al so provides models for everyday life that replicate high-consumption ideals and pers onalities and sell consumer commodity pleasures, solutions to their problems, new technologies, and novel forms of identity (2003: vii). In other words, the mass media in the form of advertis ing, television, films, and computers shape the way we perform our everyday lives. Both Kellner (2003) and Postman (1985) are worried about the effects that consumerism can have on various outlets in society, education included. The m odel of consumerism that manifests itself in flashing across the countless te levision and cinema screens and that whizzes by as billboards affect the way we view the world. And ultimately our education system becomes part of late capitalisms purview as so many Americans are growing up learning to consume commodities. Also, I believe we are moving more and more toward a world where educational information must be presented in a form th at student audiences consume the information in ways similar to the consumption patters pr acticed in the wider American culture. As Postman wrote almost 20 years ago, We know that Sesame Street encourages children to love school only if school is like Sesame Street. Whic h is to say, we now know that Sesame Street undermines what the traditional idea of school, which even though Postman is in many ways critical of the educat ion system, this new alternative is not seen as an improvement (1985 143). I think it is now pretty much safe to say that consumer
102 capitalism encourages students to love education only if it resembles consumer capitalism. Again I will invoke Postman s ideas from almost two decades ago: Teachers, from primary grades through college, are increasing the visual stimulation of their lessons; are reducing the amount of exposition their students must cope with; are relying less on reading and writing assignments; an d are reluctantly concluding that the principal means by which student interest may be engaged is entertainment (1985: 148-9). I would venture to say that almo st 20 years after Postman wrote these words teaching involves even more use of tec hnology and visual communi cation. Therefore, the status quo in teaching is not to resist the model of consumerism and entertainment but rather to present information in ways sim ilar to those found on television sets in the students homes. The question to ask then is: Is this new pattern in education good, bad or simply different? What the Surveys Say In looking for answers in the data I find it best to consult the surveys that asked students about their film experiences. When I passed out these survey s I expected that I would find that certain groups of students did not like learning about other cultures because I knew before hand that many st udents where not in ANT 2000 for any other reason except as a requirement. I surveyed tw o large classes and one small class. In one of the large classes for example I found that out of 129 responses, 91 of the students, or 70%, were taking the class as a requirement However out of 118 responses 85% found viewing other cultures interesting, out of 127 responses 44% said that films are important, and 16% said films are essential. These numbers are only compelling in that I
103 was somewhat surprised at the overall posit ive assessment that students had concerning ANT 2000. However, I found much more interes ting data in the student s qualitative answers to the question Which film/v ideo shown this semester di d you like least, or found least effective? There was no pattern of responses that even has a chance at being statistically significant. Nevertheless I found patterns that I think speak to the influences of the media ecology on audience reception of films in class. Before I continue I would like to relate an experience I had early in my research to preface the qualitative survey data. Seve ral months ago, along with one of the small classes during the observation port ion of my research, I sat in on a particular film that I did not think would have any relevance except to add somewhat pointlessly to my field notes. The film being shown wa s Evolution and Human Equality (1987), which is a video featuring simply a lecture of Ste phen Jay Gould debunking early scientific validation of racism. I enjoyed the film si mply because Gould very effectively debunks racism. He illustrates how, throughout history, science has objectified indigenous populations to scientifically validate their inferiority. However, when the professor presenting the film asked the students what they thought about the f ilm one student liked it but many of the students in the class reacted negatively to the film. Several students raised their hands afterward to say that th e professor seemed arrogant and hid behind jargon in his lecture. In my notes I wrote that Then, [the professor] asked what was shocking about the film. One young man compla ined that the lecture Gould gave was disorganized and simply a way to show off his vocabulary. I coul d not believe what I was hearing. I thought the lecture was extr emely well organized and full of up-to-date
104 scientific information showing how biased science has been in the past and debunked racism so effectively because it was packed with valuable information. I assumed that this class must be an anomaly, that these st udents must be particul arly resistant to the film. Then months later I started looking over the surveys and found that another class had screened the film and noticed a large percen t of the students disliked it as well. Out of 135 responses 44 said they did not like th is same film Evolution and Human Equality (1987). Looking back at the small class, out of 28 surveys there were 10 that did not like the Gould lecture too, an even greater portion. So how does this relate to the media ecology? I believe that because Evolution and Human Equality (1987) is nothing more than a lecture the students are overwhelmingl y disapproving of the film. I believe that the very fact that there is no entertainment value in this video, which means that students have an almost knee-jerk negative interpretation of the film. Perhaps it is because when a film is shown student audiences expect entertainment and when a film is not entertaining there are negative readings? One student responding to the question as to which film was least liked wrote, I cant remember the title, but the guy in the vide o stood there and talked the entire time. In explaining why, she disliked it, the student wrote, The simple fact that the camera was focused on him the entire time and all he did was talk. Then answering a question as to what the main point or message was th e student wrote, I hone stly couldnt tell you, I dont remember. Another stude nt wrote of the film that it is Not an interesting film, Dont want to watch a lecture on television, woul d rather hear lecture from professor. I
105 think this student raises a legitim ate critique of the film that n eeds to be considered. It is understandable that watching a taped lecture may call attention to the fact that a live lecture would be more effective. This st udent also wrote in response to the question about the films main message that it is abou t Race and its political uses of the past; how the concept has been misused. Therefore, th e student obviously paid careful attention to the film and has offered a legitimate criti que which demonstrates that teaching with Evolution and Human Equality (1987) may indeed need a preface to help the students understand why this lecture is being used as opposed to si mply having the professor of ANT 2000 give the lecture. However, I f ound another critique of the film where a student wrote It was excruc iatingly boring, you could put hi s words or main points on paper rather than showing the video which I find hard to disagree with in some ways. Most of the complaints focused on how boring th e film seemed. So there were really two camps of complaints: the ones that thought a live lecture or reading an article would have been better than watching a te levised lecture and the ones that flat out thought the lecture video was boring. Most of the response fell into the latter camp. I would like to list several of the responses as to Why did you disl ike it/not find it effective? Please explain in as much detail as you can. He just lectured, hard to pay atte ntion to for the period of time. Nothing happened except for one guy ta lkingyou cant pay attention. It was boring and I do not want to watch a video of a lecture in a lecture class Long, boring It was boring and I kinda fell asleep during the film.
106 I seem to block out lectur es at times when I dont fi nd the subject interesting. It was one man just talking for two hours It was boring and the man who spoke put me to sleep Found it to be boring Boring!! SO VERY BORING It was boring, it just went on and on It was a monotone lecture on screen It was just like a lecture no entertainment value And finally, here is a res ponse to the question about which film was least liked: Jay Gould or something like that He was just talkin nonsense To begin with, the film is 42 mi nutes. And I would also like to provide the summary from the USF libraries online catalog: Using paleontology, evolutionary biology, genetics, history of science and social history as his tools, Gould tells the fascinating story of how racial differences have been misunderstood by scientists from preDarwinian da ys to the present and used to justify oppression, exploitation and persecution. He describes how new genetic research methods confirm the African origins of homo sapiens and the biological equality of the races. He concludes with a plea for students to understand the tremendous social and political power of scientific work, and scientists' responsibility to humankind (http://www.lib.usf.edu/). In other words, this is a very provocative lecture for an undergraduate anthropology class, yet the students detest th e video and because it so very boring that 42 minutes seems like two hours as one student e xplained. Many of the students simply could not make sense of the lecture so that when they responded, they did not know what
107 the main message of the film was. There is no doubt many did not know the message simply because they fell asleep. Also, it is telling what films the students did like. Many reported a positive experience with the film American Tongues (1987). This is a film that juxtaposes different dialects from across the United Stat es in a humorous way to demonstrate the vast differences in speech patterns. The st udents positive experien ce with the film is undoubtedly due to the entertainment value th e film has to offer. Also, many students enjoyed the film Killing Us Softly 3 (2000). I should point out that Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) is also a film in which a lecture is given by a speaker Jean Kilbourne. This may raise questions as to why students enjoy th is lecture video over the Gould film. However, I believe that the variab le of gender has a grea t deal to do with a preference to the enjoyment of Killing Us Softly 3 (2000). Of the respondents that said they liked Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) there were 15 males and 42 females. On the other hand, those respondents that liked American Tongues (1987) there were 16 males and 21 females. There is an overwhelming differe nce between the genders in those who liked Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) as opposed to the rather si milar numbers of males and female that reported liking American Tongues (1987). Also, of the students that reportedly did not like the Gould (1987) film, 13 were male a nd 34 were female. Of those females that did not like the Gould (1987) film 16 of them said Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) was their favorite. While these numbers are not astound ing, I think there is a pattern where the females in the class did not like the Gould ( 1987) lecture yet, on the other hand, they did like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000). The obvious conclusion to draw here is that Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) is a film that females in the au dience can relate with because it exposes
108 the sexist stereotyping used in advertis ing towards women where women are often degraded in advertising as animals and obj ects, therefore the women in the audience relate to its message. In order to prove her point, Kilbourne (2000) uses many up-to-date pictures from magazine ads and tells jokes wh ile making her points. This is a film that the female audience members can directly re late to where as th e Gould (1987) lecture comes across as a stuffy, old, male professo r going on and on about race and science with a few outdated photos as aids. I should say I do believe this to be an accurate assessment of the positive response to Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) and it provides ample reasons for caution when using the Gould ( 1987) lecture and definitely po ints to reasons to use the Kilbourne (2000) film when teaching. I would like to list several of the reasons why students like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) as I think they furt her illuminate the issue: Male: I found it effective due to it s use of humor to convey the message Female Killing Us Softly made you thin k about what the media was really doing Female: It discussed a taboo topic w hose influence is o ften underplayed and disregarded Female: I liked this movie because I could actually relate to it a little bit Female: Its more recent and funny. It applies directly to us and is nt like a text book Female: She kept me entertained for the entire video Male: Because it took everyday thi ngs and brought it into perspective Male: It was effective because it had co medic value which stim ulated educational process Female: It was funny and entertains while explaining about gender roles
109 Female: It was interesting and applied to our world today There is an overwhelmingly positive response to Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) because of two main reasons: it applies to the students directly and all the while is entertaining. There is absolu tely nothing wrong with these pers pectives. I think they are valid, correct assessments of the film. Also, I applaud the male respondents that seriously considered the message Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) sought to convey because during another classroom screening of the film I sat in the back of the class observing many males cracking very offensive sexist j okes about the ads Kilbourne (2000) used to illustrate her point. Or as one survey dem onstrates, sometimes the male students are not as sensitive to the important issues raised in Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) as we would like. One male wrote of the film he liked best, I liked the feminist marketing video because it was so damn ridiculous to watch this wome n interpret ads however she wanted to. You want to know why girls are in ads and naked? Because naked girls are sexy and everyone likes to see them, thats it. I feel certain that many of the females sitting in the audience would beg to differ with this young mans opinion, as would I. This raises an issue that I believe we need to keep in mind about the way Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) presents its argument that I think we need to acce pt with a certain amount of caution. First, I want to say, I am very plea sed at the positive response to Killing Us Softly 3 (2000). It is a fine film and we need more like it to get important messages across to students in undergraduate classes. However, I want to point out that the messages in Goulds (1987) lecture are of no less impor tance to American society as he deals explicitly with the history of racism. Howeve r, his messages were almost completely lost
110 on the students because he did not tell any j okes and he did not have slick editing with slick magazine ads to help convey his messa ges. One might argue that if a speaker wishes to make a video lecture and have it a ffect student audiences then they should heed these warning signs and follow Kilbournes (2000) example not Goulds (1987). And I agree that this is perhaps the only way to get messages across really effectively to students these days, with humor and entertainm ent. But we must ask ourselves at what cost do we achieve effectiveness? Are we not simply playing into the paradigm of consumerism where students can only proces s information that comes in short, funny sound bytes? I am not suggesting we make our students suffer through the Gould (1987) lecture if they do not relate to it, as this will only create resentment. However, a film like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) is not only quick-witted, yet inform ative (of course it is these things) but it is grounded in complex, well thought out, fe minist theory. At best a film like this will inspire students to look into reading the feminist literature from which so many of the ideas in Kilbournes (2000) lecture draw upon. At worst there are students like the young man who poked fun of the films message in a very sexist way. And furthermore, there is in some way a problem with the r easons that so many students liked the film: they could relate to it. Thats great, so metimes. But anthropology is not always about what we can relate to but rater what we cannot relate to. Anthropology classes are supposed to challenge students to some exte nt on matters of cultural relativity and showing films like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000), while challenging some students on issues related to our own culture does nothing to ch allenge ethnocentric beliefs about cultures other than American society, a trap that an thropologists teaching with film may want to
111 avoid. And what of the middle path, where students see a film like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000), gain some insight, are challenged to so me extent, but never se ek out the literature or think much more of the film except that it was one of the more interesting ones imposed on them during the class? Is this an acceptable or desirable outcome? I think not. When professors show film s simply hoping students will be satisfied for the duration of the film and leave it at th at, they are simply further encouraging the model of consuming information the way tele vision in the wider culture would have us consume information: in a brief, entertaining ti me blocks so that we can then move on to the next episode. I think the issue that I am attempting to raise will become clear if we compare it to what Neil Postman (1985) says about how television is changing the way audiences prefer their information to be presented. He describes the use of the phrase Now this, which he explains is used in many radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see (Postman 1985: 99). However, he feels that this c oncept has far reaching, negative consequences for American society. He explains that the Now this gives rise to a mode of discourse where we are presented not only with fragmented news but news without context, without serious consequences, wit hout value, and theref ore without essential seriousness; that is to say news as pure entertainment (P ostman 1985: 100). If we accept that this is a valid point, then all professo rs face the question as to whether or not we show films that play into this Now this model where students wi ll be entertained and write positive reviews of the film as with Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) or have them watch Gould (1987) speaking with no entertainment va lue because his lecture does not have the
112 Now this quality that Kilbour ne (2000) makes use of when her film constantly cuts to slick magazine ads. Indeed, Kilbourne (2000) has taken a lesson from the advertising she critiques and she presents he r information making optimum us e of entertainment. The ethical question we must ask is: Is this accep table? Please do not misunderstand me here. I am indeed saying that Kilbourne s (2000) lecture is just as important as Goulds (1987). However, by making such optimum use of th e television style editing and quick-wit, Kilbournes (2000) lecture is i nherently justifying this as not only an appropriate means, but the preferable means in which to convey information. It does not challenge students attentions by asking them to sit through extended, unentertaining, complex speech in order to arrive at a more informed opinion on a topic such as racism or sexism, nor does it challenge them to seriously consider a cultu re other than their own. I am not saying there is a right or wrong answer to the question. I am simply saying that it is a real ethical dilemma that is faced every time we chose a film to show in class, we must choose whether we address the issue or not I would like to end on words by Postman that I think are extremely importa nt when weighing this issue: And, so we move rapidly into an information environment which may rightly be called trivial pursuit. As the game of that name uses facts as a source of amusement, so do our sources of news. It has been demonstrated many times that a culture can survive misinformation and false opinion. It has not yet been demonstrated whether a culture can survive if it takes the measure of the world in twenty-two minutes. Or if the value of its news is determined by the number of laughs it provides (1985: 113). Again, I am not suggesting that there is a clear answer to the ethical dilemma that I believe is involved in teaching with film. However, I lean toward Postmans (1985) argument that we must be extremely cau tious about this emerging culture of
113 entertainment, especially with the consequences it may have for our ability to understand information about the world. I feel that the example of the students differing reactions to the Gould (1987) lecture a nd the Kilbourne (2000) lect ure demonstrate much of Postmans (1985) argument. We are entering an era where information about the world is expressed in quick televi sual flashes which may have serious consequences for our society because humans have never before existed in a world where information is conveyed so quickly. And I believe that profe ssors must be aware that when they show a film they are likely either challenging this emerging pattern of conveying information or condoning it, rarely is a film shown that woul d be considered neutral in the debate. Therefore, I am simply calli ng for an awareness of these issues surrounding the use of film in the classroom. I think the best first step is to discuss the pros and cons so that we might elucidate some of the complexities that teaching with film implies and the perhaps we may arrive at more informed uses of film in the future. Conclusion In conclusion to this chapter I would like to consider how Postmans (1985) warning applies to the ANT 2000 classroom use of film. Interviews with professors revealed that many are turning toward the use of entertaining films, even resorting to clips from Hollywood films, to illustrate their messages to student audiences. While this may be effective in that stude nts leaving classroom have en joyed what they learned we have to ask about the cost this presentation of information may have because it does not equip the students with skills to think critic ally about the way news and information is
114 presented in the mass media. Indeed, usi ng entertainment to teach is complicit in encouraging the need for information to be funny and brief. As discussed above many of the female students related with Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) because it directly applied to their lives. This is not a ba d thing in itself. In fact professors of anthropology should learn from it and use more films of this styl e because it is always good to have students connect with films. However, professors need to be aware that they are en couraging the model of information presentation that discourages long, complex, unentertain ing presentation of knowledge. And as Postman (1985) warns us this may have powerful consequences for our society. It is not bad that sometimes in formation is presented as entertainment but it may be very dangerous if information can only be presented as entertainment. The most valuable tool a professor provides a class is th e ability to think cri tically about the world around them. If we present films like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) without also, at other times, challenging students need to be en tertained and discussing with students why entertainment is not always the best way to convey information, then we are not allowing them to reap the benefits of absorbing complex, difficult to understand information, which I think is integral to developing strong critical thinking skills. Or as according to Postman (1985: 148), The consequences of this reorientation are to be observed not only in the decline of potency of the classroom, but paradoxically, in the refashioning of the classroom into a place where both teaching and learning are intended to be vastly amusing activities. The reality of this warn ing was driven home to me in an interview with a faculty member who, in no ambiguous te rms stated that over the years they had dumbed down their lectures. I hope that th is research will in so me small way tease out
115 the questions that I believe all professors teaching ANT 2000 must ask themselves. There is no right or wrong answer but I believe we can all benefit simply by acknowledging the role of mass me dia on student audiences the next time a syllabus is made and films are chosen for the semester. Furthermore, films like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) appeal to students so well because as the students indicated in the surveys, they related to the films message. The film showed them a new take on our own American culture, which of course is a goal of anthropo logy. But anthropology also explicitly seeks to teach us about ourselves by looking at very different cultures that are oftentimes hard for us to comprehend. Yet Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) does not offer this challenge to our cultural relativity that is essential in anth ropology, which only further demonstrates the need to use this type of film with discretion. Several semesters ago when I took Dr. Alvin Wolfes social networks class at USF he said something almost in passing that continues to resonate. It was something to the effect that once he starte d seeing the world thr ough the lens of social networks, all he can see now are the social networks. I can sa y the same for me about how we are shaped by the media. Once I have begun to apply my understanding of anthropology to the medias influence, all I can see is the medias influence. This is why I believe that we must move beyond simply an audience research of misreading messages. We must consider the myriad of ways that students interpret films. We must understand the ways students minds have been shaped by years of television. I now believe that professors must always ask how films can be inte rpreted and work to achieve positive interpretations. Of course those who us e films should include all the recommendations that Martnez (1992) and the focus group data provide such as strong contextualization.
116 However, it is now my belief that every teach er faces an ethical dilemma in the class room whether they want to admit it or not. There must be a choice: should we work with the way students have been shaped by te levision by making education entertaining, thus being complicit in going along with the way te levision has shaped the way we learn, or should we use the classroom as one small pl ace in society that challenges the dominant television paradigm? Of course, challenging students by presenting information that is decidedly complex and unentertaining runs seri ous risks especially wh en the merits of a class depend upon student evaluations. Perh aps there is a third option, a middle path, which seeks to win students over at times w ith entertaining film presentations and then challenging them on other occasions while making ample use of the recommendations made in Chapter Three such as providing am ple context and post-film discussions but showing films like the Gould (1987) that are more difficult to interpret. In conclusion, I would like to consider how this research is situated in the larger frame of anthropology. I think it can be easy to dismiss the post-modernist critique of anthropology as something of years past, where scholars such as Clifford once posed what may years later seem like obvious or at least quite commonplace questions such as: Who has the authority to speak for a groups id entity or authenticity ?, or, What are the essential elements and boundaries of culture? (1988: 8). Yet I think these questions take on a new relevance for an anthr opological analysis of media. In writing about this proj ect, I have begun to focus more and more on what has been called the media ecology, which th e Media Ecology Association explains as, the study of media environments, the idea that technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication pl ay a leading role in human affairs
117 (www.media-ecology.org). The point that I woul d like to emphasize here is that students constituting classroom audiences are more and more influenced by the media ecology that surrounds them. Cliffords (1988) questioning of ethnographic authority, the question of who has the right to speak for ot hers, and where we draw the boundaries of a culture, need to be re-examined in terms of how the application of media in the classroom attempt to communicate certain messages in th e face of the immense di fficulties involved in doing so, as revealed in this project. One might very simply ask whether the application of film, either et hnographic or informational, is not in itself a form of representation with its own po litical stakespolitical stakes of no less importance than those of the original author or director. I invoke C lifford (1988) here as a way of beginning to tease out these complexities, and as well to remind us that whereas the postmodernist chic seems to have come and gone, its critique has nonetheless left us with difficult, enduring, and useful questions. In closing, I would like to quote a recent exchange on an Internet discussion thread from one of the ANT 2000 classes. St udents were asked to discuss the ways in which primatology relates to anthropology, citin g any websites, articles or documentaries they had seen outside of cl ass. One student writes: I think it is important that people realize that as humans we are almost exactly like primates. By studying them we can learn so much more about ourselves. The movie Congo had a gorilla in it and she had a device that allowed her to talk, wh ich shows that primates can think on the same level that humans do. I think this quote ni cely illustrates the problem pos ed to anthropological authority in the media ecology. One might see that anthropology is in competition for representational authority, as students are increasingly raised in media-saturated
118 environments where Hollywood, the Discove ry Channel, and National Geographic heavily influence the students interpre tation of anthropolog ical knowledge. Therefore, when students enter ANT 2000 at USF to be presented with film, they often relate it to what they have previously learned from cultural representations in the wider, mainstream media. It will be an im perative to attempt to understand this culture and where its boundaries lie, because it seems for the students there is not always a clear demarcation between the media ecology of th e wider United States, and that of the classroom. As another student respondi ng to the comment about the film Congo based on Michael Crichtons novel added: I am not very well educated on the study of primates but I have heard that primates and humans are very much alike many times before. Being able to study primates may give us a better understanding of ourselves and past primates which eventually evolved into humans. I watched Planet of the Apes which was a movie where prim ates had evolved and were able to walk erect and speak. This movie could relate to anthropology. We should develop some awareness of the powerful forces that media outside the classroom can have, and thus reconsider th e essential questions that Clifford (1988) raises. We are again and again confronted with the prospect th at nothing guarantees a priori anthropological authority, which, of course, is not always a bad thing. However, unlike the breakdown in ethnographic authority that Clifford (1988) celebrates, where other cultures and minority voices are increa singly speaking for and about themselves, nowadays it would seem Hollywood is increasi ngly speaking for us all, and through us all, as some students unconsciously demons trate. This raises questions about the reception of anthropological knowledge of wh ich anthropologists teaching with film should be aware. The films chosen for teac hing need to be ones that will maximize
119 effective audience reception as was the case with Yo Soy Hechicero (1996) and Killing Us Softly 3 (2000). However, these films do not speak for themselves, and so it is a responsibility of the profe ssor to contextualize the f ilm for the audience. Furthermore, I do not feel that these conc lusions are restricted to these types of films dealing strictly with social aspects of culture. As Hall (1980) demonstrated any film may be misinterpreted by an audience simp ly because it is told in a narrative that conforms to the rules of language, which are always open to various readings. Therefore, I feel that whethe r a film is archaeological, historical, biological, cultural anthropology or even television and non-academic films is not at issue in this research. As it turned out for this research, films that offered the most compelling information of audience interpretation happened to be focus on social phenomena. However, I believe the conclusions of this research apply to any type of film use in the classroom for any of the sub-disciplines in anthropology. In this way I hope this study will be useful for all who teach ANT 2000 at USF. Also, I feel that my research set ou t to demonstrate what Martnez (1992) discovered, that classic, narrator-style films ar e no less in need of contextualization. In fact students negative evaluation of these films use calls on professors to at least contextualize why that particular film is bei ng used and at most to abandon their use in introductory classes altogether. Yet, I have attempted to mo ve beyond this critique: that film in the classroom may produce negative im pressions of other cultures. I push my analysis of teaching with film to include fact ors outside of the class that affect students interpretation of films. Information and entertainment are increasingly derived from television, video games and films where, as some argue, we are existing in a media
120 ecology. This perspective of media ecol ogy helps illuminate the fact that student audiences in ANT 2000 are in creasingly affected by the media environment which surrounds us all. However, the media affects students reception of films in subtle ways that is not always as obvious. Critics such as Postman (1985) provide a crucial perspective when evaluating the us e of films like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) where these films are very effective for conveying messages to the students. However, the film styles that may be so effective are oftentimes the sa me film styles that are used in the wider media which discourage long, complex argumen tation in favor of short, television commercial style presentation of informati on. We must find a balance because as Postman (1985) argues, only presenting en tertaining information will not challenge students and therefore will not provide them w ith the tools or critical thinking necessary to analyze the world around them which I thi nk is the most important lesson that ANT 2000 should strive to achieve. The most powerful tool teachers ha ve to navigate the complexities of teaching ANT 2000 with film are those provided by cont extualization. Presenting films such as the Gould (1987) lecture with no context will result in many negativ e readings of the films because students resist its lack of entertainment. This does not mean that the Gould (1987) film or similarly styled films should not be used. In fact they may provide a needed alternative to the slick, entertaining f ilms. However, if misused these films will only turn students away from the messages anthropology has to offer. Therefore, we must also use films like Killing Us Softly 3 (2000) whose brilliance is that it is entertaining as well as informational and provocative. And finally, all of this demonstrates the further need to contextuali ze films we use in teaching. We should make
121 explicit how these films are connected to an thropology, allowing for discussions that will ensure that students viewing these films connect them with the wider context of anthropological knowledge, not the mass media.
122 References Cited Books, Articles, and Websites Barthes, Roland 1977 Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang. Bird, Elizabeth 2003 The Audience in Everyday Life: Li ving in the Media World. New York: Routledge. Eco, Umberto 1979 The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Eisenstein, Sergei 1968 Film Essays and a Lecture. Pr inceton: Princeton University Press. Clifford, James 1988 The Predicament of Culture: Twen tieth-Century Ethnogra phy, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Clifford, James and George E. Marcus 1986 Writing Culture: The poetics and Polit ics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press. Crawford, Peter Ian 1992 Film As Discourse: The Inven tion of Anthropolog ical Realities. In Film as Ethnography Peter Ian Crawford and Da vid Turton, eds. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
123 Crichton, Michael 1980 Congo. New York: Knoph. Geertz, Clifford 1973 Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Hall, Stuart 1980 Encoding/decoding. In Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79. London: Hutchinson. Hastrup, Kirsten 1992 Anthropological Visions: Some No tes on Visual and Textual Authority. In Film as Ethnography Peter Ian Crawford and David Turton, eds. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Kellner, Douglas 2003 Media Spectacle. London: Routledge. Marcus, George E. and Michael M.J. Fischer 1999 Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences, Second Ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Marcuse, Herbert 1964 One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press. Martnez, Wilton 1992 Who Constructs Anthropological Knowledge? Toward a Theory of Ethnography Film Spectatorship. In Film as Ethnography Peter Ian Crawford and David Turton, eds. Ma nchester: Manchester University Press 1996 Deconstructing the Viewer: From Ethnogr aphy of the Visual to Critique of the Occult. In The Construction of The Viewer Peter I. Crawford and Sigurjon Baldur Hafsteinsson, eds. Intervention Press. McQuail, Denis 1996 Audience Analysis. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
124 The Media Ecology Association (MEA) Electronic Document, http://www.media-ecology.org/ Moores, Shaun 1992 Interpreting Audiences: The Ethnography of Media Consumption. London: Sage Publications. Postman, Neil 1985 Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Viking Press. Ruby, Jay 1995 The Viewer Viewed: The Reception of Ethnographic Film. In The Construction of The Viewer Peter I. Crawford and Sigurjon Baldur Hafsteinsson, eds. Hjbjerg, Denmark: Intervention Press. 1999 Picturing Culture: Explorations of Film and Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Staiger, Janet 1992 Interpreting Films: Studies in The Hi storical Reception of American Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Stanford, Ron and Ivn Drufovka 1996 Yo Soy Hechicero. Electron ic Document, http://www.hechicero.com Worth, Sol and Larry Gross 1981 Studying Visual Comm unication. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.
125 Films Alvarez, Louis and Andrew Kolker 1987 American Tongues. 56 min. The Center. New York. Asch, Timothy and Napoleon A. Chagnon 1975 The Ax Fight. 30 min. Documentar y Educational Resources. Watertown, MA. Gardner, Robert 1971 The Nuer. 73 min. McGraw-Hill Films. Del Mar, CA. Gould, Stephen Jay 1987 Evolution and Human Equalit y. 42 min. Insight Video. Cambridge. Kilbourne, Jean 2000 Killing Us Softly 3. 34 min. Media Education Foundation. North Hampton, MA. Marshall, Frank 1995 Congo 1hr. 49 min. Paramount Pictures. United States. Stanford, Ron and Ivn Drufovka 1996 Yo Soy Hechicero. 48 min. Drufovka/Stanford. United States.