Hollywood Blockbusters: The Anthropology of Popular Movies

Hollywood Blockbusters: The Anthropology of Popular Movies

Hollywood Blockbusters: The Anthropology of Popular Movies

Hollywood Blockbusters: The Anthropology of Popular Movies

Synopsis

Why do Jaws, Field of Dreams, The Big Lebowski, and The Godfather remain strikingly popular in this age of fragmented audiences and ever-faster spin cycles? Hollywood Blockbusters argues that these films continue to captivate audiences because they play upon underlying tensions and problems in American culture, much like the myths that anthropologists study in non-Western contexts. In making this argument, the authors employ and extend anthropological theories about ritual, kinship, gift giving, power, egalitarianism, literacy, metalinguistics, stereotypes, and the mysteries of the Other. The results- original insights into modern film classics, American culture, and anthropological theory- will appeal to students of Film, Media, Anthropology, Sociology, and Cultural Studies.

Excerpt

At a time when just about everything, from the mundane to the spectacular, has been subjected to an anthropological lens, why have anthropologists been so cautious about extending their insights to popular Hollywood movies? and what might be the rewards of an approach to these movies that is unabashedly anthropological?

This book employs current anthropological concepts to illuminate American blockbuster movies, such as Field of Dreams, Jaws, and The Godfather. While most mass media suffer ever-faster spin cycles and increasingly fragmented audiences, these films have enjoyed remarkable, enduring popularity. They have become so deeply woven into the cultural fabric that lines from them—“If you build it, he will come”; “We’re gonna’ need a bigger boat”; “Make him an offer he can’t refuse”— have been incorporated into our everyday language. Clearly these films continue to fascinate and appeal to American audiences, making them tantamount to the myths and sacred narratives that anthropologists routinely study in other parts of the world. If anthropologists were to find a culture that spent as much energy on myths as Americans do on Hollywood movies—constantly watching and talking about them, gossiping about their heroes—they would create a cottage industry exclusively devoted to unpacking the meaning of those myths. Strangely, though, few anthropological studies have even considered Hollywood movies. We propose to do something about this.

Though scholars in film studies and cultural studies offer plenty of excellent interpretations of film texts, we believe that anthropology has something to add. in calling for anthropological readings, however, we are not trying to erect new disciplinary boundaries. in fact, we believe such boundaries impede the scholarly enterprise, and we intend to engage with the work of non-anthropologists in the pages that follow. Nonetheless, there are ways of approaching problems that still tend to be typical of anthropology: a focus on topics such as kinship, gift exchange, and ritual, and a comparative perspective on human societies, systems of meaning . . .

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