When I tell most people that I am an anthropologist, the most common response is “ah… dinosaur bones. Fascinating.” But, as “Kerim points out”:/2005/06/21/no-shamans-here/ many focus on the Indiana Jones thing as well. This isn’t surprising. As a kid I loved Indiana Jones flicks as much as anyone else, but I never went into anthropology because of them (how that happened is a longer story!). But truth be told, I am genuinely shocked at how many anthropologists I know got into the business as a result of Indiana Jones — and if people were willing to admit it, the numbers would rise even higher.
In fact, I’ve even noticed a subsection of these Indiana Jones devotees who started doing archaeology, then realized the sociocultural types got to do all the ‘Indiana Jones type fieldwork’, and switched over the sociocultural anthropology. These poor sods are usually disappointed because in fact the intense community and general joie de vivre of digs is a lot more fun than disconsolately gnawing away at some lamp flaps in the west end of Enga province and contemplating another exciting round of delousing shampoo. Trust me.
In fact the Indiana Jones movies reflects very poorly on our discipline. Ever notice how the first film begins with him runing away after stealing an obviously sacred object from indigenous people? Or how the second features him selling human remains to a crimelord? And this is not to mention whole scenes that revolve around messages like “look at all the creepy food Indian people eat” or “South Asian spirituality consists of ripping the hearts out of peoples’ chests.” Or perhaps I’m being unfair? After all, we learn in Temple of Doom that there are ‘good villagers’ out there who are opressed by the evil aorta-excavators. GOOD THING THAT POWERFUL WHITE MAN IS AROUND TO PROTECT THE PASSIVE AND HELPLESS BROWN PEOPLE. How did they ever get along before we took them over? So no, in fact, sometimes people do not want their history and heritage excavated and hauled off to some museum in whichever country decided to take them over in the name of some ‘civilizing’ mission, thank you very much.
I think the Indiana Jones flicks are a classic example of incredibly successful, tightly-constructed popular cinema, and I love them as much as anybody else. But, pace Indiana Jones’s frequently intoned manta that “that belongs in a museum” sometimes things just don’t. God knows this. That’s why she made all those Nazis melt.