Jones and Childe?

So I checked out the new Indiana Jones movie last night and was pleasantly surprised: the horrors of the Star Wars prequeldom were avoided, Shia Leboeuf (sp?) was great, and Cate Blanchett’s bangs exceeded even my fevered expectations. I also appreciated the revamped politics of the film, where mud-smeared, brown-skinned people are kept to a minimum, people make none-to-subtle allusions to McCarthyism and our own war on terror, and of course, this time he’s repatriating the artifact, right?

There was, however, one thing that I found odd — the scene where Jones tells a student to read V. Gordon Childe. Would a die-hard anticommunist really recommend a Marxist archaeologist to a student? And what would Jones — who spends most of the time in the field and seems narrowly focused on philology and case studies rather than grand theory — think of an archaeologist who was best known not for his fieldwork, but for high theory? And have the archaeology blogs already picked this one to pieces?


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

7 thoughts on “Jones and Childe?

  1. The point in the movie I actually had the biggest problem with was the idea that all of the pictograms and spoken native languages being referred to as Mayan – in Peru, in a movie about a supposedly Inca treasure.

  2. SPOILER ALERT – Hated the movie, but the biggest problem for me was referring to the aliens as the beings who created the temples, etc., not the aboriginal people. Seemed a bit racist/outlandish to me, yet spoke to the actual suppositions put forth by people who believe that the Inca people needed extra-terrestrial help to build their civilization. Besides the point mentioned by Elena above.

  3. I think the movie was supposed to be racist/outlandish. Indy is a rehashing of pulp fiction/adventure novels from the 30s – just about the most racist and outlandish genre ever created. But it’s a kind of racism that is so obvious and cartoonish that its effect as an ideological medium is likely diminished.

    I actually believe that the over-the-top depiction of “natives” and “aliens” etc.. neutralizes what would have been a more pernicious and insidious result if they had attempted to make a more ‘serious’ movie.

    But who am I to say, I also loved Cate Blanchett’s terrible Russian accent.

  4. Racism is so wonderfully kitsch, isn’t it?

    My biggest problem, however, was simply that the third act sucked. The first act was great and raised my expectations for the rest of the film, but by the third act I was looking at my watch. But I suppose if we are comparing it to the disaster that was Star Wars Episodes 1-3, then our expectations are already pretty low.

    @Elena: Don’t they say that the language of the pictograms is a dead language and that the archaeologists have to translate it via Maya which is what they know?

  5. It was hard for me to concentrate on the movie as a whole due to the bad use of details–Indy learned Quechua in Mexico?–but maybe that explains the Childe reference. Wasn’t he a bit of a diffusionist? I would have thought that if any ethnologist consulted on the script that the Mayans-in-Peru, Incas-in-Mexico stuff only stayed in due to a deliberate attempt to suggest diffusion. I’m probably reaching, of course.

    Details aside, I thought the biggest problems were the inclusion of the predictable long lost lover and unknown son cliches. Harrison Ford and Shia Leboeuf had great chemistry without the father/son stuff (which actually kind of turned the good chemistry into tired zingers) and Ford and Karen Allen had no discernible chemistry at all. They really should have cast Calista Flockhart. Karen Allen looked like she hadn’t acted in 25 years. (Has she?)

    Oh yeah, John Hurt was totally wasted.

    I liked that the “aliens” were from another dimension rather (?) than world. And Cate Blanchett had one of my new favorite movie lines ever–“You fight like a young man; eager to engage, quick to finish.”

  6. Rex, I thought of you the entire time I watched the movie. The entire Indiana Jones franchise has this amazing ability to toss out bits of really well researched cultural jargon and overall sense of a place (they pay their movie advisors well), yet concurrently manage to portray it all in the most racist way possible.

    The only bit that actually annoyed me though was indy’s blurting out of “I like Ike!” as his last words. I realize they are trying get a “look and feel”, but come on, would my last words if I had a gun pointed at me by foreign spies be “Gobama!”?

    (Well, maybe 20 years from now they’ll have movies about people duking it out with neocon terrorists trying to take over america)

  7. Someone named Jo Donaldson did the research for the film, including the archaelogical details. She’s not an archaeologist, however; she also researched Star Wars eppy 1 and 2, and Howard the Duck. []

    Cornelius Holtorf has written about the movie in the New Scientist; the URL is too long to post here, but you can easily find it in the 14 May edition.

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