Why an Anthropologist Studied Hollywood
I SPENT A YEAR in Hollywood, from July 1946 to August 1947, a more normal year than those which followed. I went there to understand better the nature of our movies. My hypothesis was that the social system in which they are made significantly influences their content and meaning. A social system is a complex co-ordinated network of mutually adapted patterns and ideas which control or influence the activities of its members. My hypothesis is hardly original, although it has not been applied before to movies. All art, whether popular, folk or fine, is conditioned by its particular history and system of production. This is true for Pueblo Indian pottery, Renaissance painting, modern literature and jazz as well as for movies. These are a popular art concerned with telling a story. They differ from folk art in that while consumed by the folk, they are not made by them; and they are unlike the fine arts, since they are never the creation of one person. But although movies are made by many people in the setting of a big industry, certain individuals have power to strongly influence them, while others are relatively powerless.
My field techniques had some similarities to and some differences from those I had used on an island in the Southwest Pacific and elsewhere. As in other communities, I had to establish and maintain the same role: that of a detached scientist. While in Hollywood I was a part-time visiting professor of anthropology at the University of California in Los Angeles, a useful local sanction for this role. More important, however, was the absence of any desire on my part to find a job in the movie industry or to become a part