Sunday, November 16, 2008

First Contact Clip: A Short Visit with an Amazing and Highly Useable Documentary

LOL. It is Sunday night and I am giving exams tomorrow and Tuesday. I just got a panicked email from a student who has only just begun to try to deal with missing the class (some weeks ago) with the showing of the documentary First Contact. I give her credit, she managed to find a preview clip that had been recently posted on YouTube. So, I am passing on her find.

I love the documentary, it is packed full of teachable moments and having seen it what seems like an infinite number of times, I see something new each time. Here are some of our discussions:

I use it to illustrate the Theory of Unilineal Evolution, 19th century evolutionary thinking. The opening newsreel footage uses the language of that view in referencing the New Guinea people "shaking off the shackles of barbarism..on the path to civlization". I try to get them to discuss notions of "progress".

We then discuss how what plays out is a good example of theories of underdevelopment/world systems theory/dependency arguments. We discuss the capture of resources and labor and who earns profit and what that continues to mean today.

I have to address the issue of the value of shells versus gold and point out disclosure laws existing in the U.S. today. Since we live in Texas, I make an analogy to oil.

We always have a spirited discussion of the shooting incidents. I have read the companion book so I have a bit more info about the incident presented in the film. A lot of students these days want to shoot anyone with a spear but there are always enough others to help out with the debate.

I use this also as an example of what oral history is like and how "truth" of any incident is hard to come by in the interview process. Sometimes we can push the discussion higher, sometimes not.

I love to point out to them that in the shit-smelling scene the New Guinea Highlanders are using scientific method to test their theory about white people being spirits...nope, the observable world reveals that their shit sticks just like ours.....not spirits.

Once we see this film, it serves as an example for the rest of the, marriage, bridewealth, collectivistic/individualistic, Moka, commodities/possessions, and then some.

It reminds me, also, the good part of interacting with the "other"; the joy of being able to participate in the sharing of their history. It is a shame it cannot be done as equals. I have to think that it is still worth doing.

(BTW the follow-up pieces (like Joe's Neighbours), also, have previews posted as well.)

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