There are the courses that I hope I never have to teach, and then there are the courses that no one would ever LET me teach. It can easily envisage a time when a conjunction of sabbaticals and illnesses will force me to fake my way through Intro Physical Anthropology, despite the fact that I have never taken a physical anthro course in my entire life. But when will The Powers That Be let me run with some of these?
Anthropology of Professional Wrestling
This is a topics students know and care about. There is a large literature on the topic starting with Roland Barth’s essay to the more recent “Steel Chair to the Head”:http://www.dukeupress.edu/books.php3?isbn=3438-0. What better way to explore gender roles, the body, and performativity? We could even have a lab section featuring suflexes and the Camel Clutch. But no, they will never let me teach it.
First Contact — For Reals
There is a large literature on colonial encounters and first contact — in fact this is one of my areas of speciality. But how about When The Aliens Land? Admittedly there was an ‘Anthro and Sci Fi’ moment that resulted in the “Anthropology Through Science Fiction”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000AY0TVQ/qid=1128739722/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl14/104-0327787-9330300?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 reader and a few other pieces (including one wonderful kitschy volume with a contribution from Sol Tax!). But once ‘far-out’ faded away and it was clear NASA was not right around the corner from developing a warp drive, interest faded out (although some people, like Ben Finney, are still thinking it over. WHY? I am fascinated by First Contact novels that probe the limits of humanity and intercultural understanding. And after all, what will we do WHEN THEY ACTUALLY LAND? I think it would be great to have a class where you could read by both First Contact (by Connolly and Anderson) and First Contract (by Greg Costikyan). But no, they will not let me teach it.
Cohen and Kahuna: Hierarchy and Taboo in Comparative Perspective
I’ve always been fascinated with Polynesian notions of taboo (or, as we say in Hawai’i Nei, kapu) and various Jewish systems of taboo — especially the ones that are no longer practiced today (when was the last time you smashed a clay vessel because it was pasuch?) And just in general it’s an aesthetically pleasing juxtaposition. But alas, no one is interested in talking about blood and semen and food prohibitions the way they used to be. Someday, perhaps, this sort of thing will come back into fashion. But let’s facti it, they will never let me teach it.
I have actually done a reading course with one of my professors on this one, so I practically already have a syllabus ready. We regularly talk about ‘commodified’ relationships or life under capitalism as being less ‘meaningful’ than more supposedly robust and authentic face-to-face subsistence communities. There is also a large literature on one night stands, the short con, and so forth. Finally there is (again) the literature on culture contact. Why not do a whole course on what it means to have a relationship (or just interact with them) when you barely know them at all? We could start with Silent Trade, move on to 80s ennui (perhaps watch Better Off Dead or something), do something on the sex trade, or anonymity more generally. You could even through in ‘first contact’ or do some stuff on identity on screen. But because this is just a great topic rather than a clearly slotted ‘theoretical’ or ‘ethnographic’ course, they will never let me teach it.
Any good academic can take a good idea and turn it into a something that requires a reading list, but no matter how flexible your university is — for instance, mine has allowed me to teach a course of Virtual Worlds — there just comes a time when they don’t let you go there. It’s too bad, since my “Coffee and Gin: A Historical Anthropology” course is all ready to go…