Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tribal Musings: Isaac Mizrahi Style

I used to pick my textbook for the Cultural Anthropology class by instantly rejecting all texts which operated on the band, tribe, chiefdom, state model of political organization. If the book was organized around that premise or with a chapter devoted soley to that....out it went. It is a bitch to cover.

Hey students: Here we have these concepts which we used to think had some validity but now we don't really think so but we did think so once and maybe in a broad sense they did but now they really don't or at least we don't think they have the power that the once did and they are often misapplied or just plain wrong, although in their misapplication reality was constructed, which we are continually re-constructing and...get the picture?

Best to avoid the whole thing. Except, you really can't because, invariably, within the first few weeks if not days of class, some student is going to use the word "tribe" and what do you do with that? Cause they just hate, hate, hate it when you try to tell them not to use certain words because the perceive that as "political correctness" and you lose a chunk of them as they roll their eyes at your liberal bias. Because, after all, they already know the way the world works and you need to stop messing that up for them.

Heck, even Isaac Mizrahi uses the word. I was watching the final showdown on The Fashion Show (which was no Project Runway-but that is another discussion) and contestant Reco was trying to explain the guiding influence for his final collection as being the Aztec, at least he made reference to being inspired by a "high priestess of the Aztec empire" (maybe he meant Merlin?) but then I swear he later added the Maya to the mix. Isaac, looking perplexed leaped in there to clarify Reco's vision. "Oh, tribal." Thank you, Isaac for clearing that up.

Well, there were feathers. And pyramid shapes.

Here is the slideshow of his collection. Don't say I don't aim to please.

Which I suppose argues for the need to have the same kind of lecture about "tribe" that you have about race: we sorta made this term up, but it doesn't really work, but we thought it did so now its part of culturally-constructed reality.

Now about that term "band"........

And if you really into the anaylsis of Bravo T.V. reality; I suppose you could have a discussion of James-Paul's post-modern inspiration of "indigenous people" in a "modern" context which he represents by hanging bones from his models' hair and including marsupial pouches since indigenous people need to carry fruit. Kid you not. You can view it here.


Anonymous said...

That "Hey students" paragraph is genius. I've had that conversation myself several times (although not about the concept of "tribes").

It is for this reason that I think it is necessary to talk about social constructionism at the beginning of my intro courses. It seems unnecessary and unrelated to the students (what the heck does religion have to do with how language works?), but it is necessary, for exactly the reasons you're pointing out here!

larry c wilson said...

It's best to admit that anthropologists and Social Darwinians messed this up so badly that it can't be undone and just deal with it.

Is it tribe, band, clan, ethnic group, nation, empire, state?

Pamthropologist said...

Me, too, Missives. And many still struggle with the notion throughout the semester. Such a me-centered, individual choice society we have.

"ethnic group" is the gloss for identity; the others are supposed to be levels of political organization; a structure and associated methodology for decision-making and allocations of power.