Tag Archives: Central America

2012, the movie we love to hate

The second in a guest series about the “Mayan Apocalypse” predicted for Dec. 21, 2012.  The first post is here.

Last summer, I traveled to Philadelphia to visit the Penn Museum exhibit “Maya: the Lords of Time.” It was, as one might expect given the museum collection and the scholars involved, fantastic.  I want to comment on just the beginning of the exhibit, however. On entering, one is immediately greeted by a wall crowded with TV screens, all showing different clips of predicted disasters and people talking fearfully about the end of the world. The destruction, paranoia, and cacophony create a ambiance of chaos and uncertainty. Turning the corner, these images are replaced by widely spaced Mayan artifacts and stela. The effect is striking.  One moves from media-induced insanity to serenity, from endless disturbing jump-cuts to the well-lit, quiet contemplation of beautiful art. Continue reading

Breaking the Maya Code

I’m not a Mayanist, but maybe this means I’m more — rather than less — competent to endorse David Gruber’s LeBrun’s documentary Breaking The Maya Code. I read Michael Coe’s book of the same name years ago a few years back and enjoyed it, and the movie is even better — wonderful, in fact. If you have even a drop of geeky epigrapher in you, then you’ll love the interviews with well-known names dripping with enthusiasm over syllabaries. Even if you are not, the film does a great job of walking the viewer through a pretty detailed understanding of how Maya glyphs work. Along the way you get a pretty decent over view of classical Mayan culture and history as well.

What I liked best about the documentary beside its depth and elegance was the fact that it began with contemporary Mayan communities and discussed the history of colonialism they’d lived through as a segue to early Spanish explorers and the origins of Western attempts to understand Mayan culture. The movie then closes with indigenous communities working with researchers to teach the next generation of adorable Mayan children how to read and write glyphs, which is both very cute and a sterling example of how not to treat Mayans if they were ‘extinct’. Its rare in ‘ancient civilization’ documentaries to get this sort intelligent, responsible reportage.

The score by Yuval Ron is good too. Its a bit too long to show in class, but is streaming on Netflix, so it is not that hard to get ahold of so… enjoy!

Apocalypto Roundup

I haven’t seen Apocalypto yet, but there has been a lot of buzz on the blogosphere, so I thought I’d present some of the highlights.

Benjamin Zimmer at Language Log says:

Originally the buzz surrounding the film was mostly about Gibson’s choice to shoot the entire film in Mexico with local actors speaking Yucatec Maya. Now, of course, observers are more interested in speculating if the film will be dead-on-arrival at the box office thanks to Mel’s notorious anti-Semitic rant and DUI arrest last July. But linguistic issues are still getting some attention in the Apocalypto coverage, for instance in this Associated Press article describing the mixture of excitement and ambivalence among the Yucatec Maya community about a major Hollywood movie filmed in their indigenous language.

He then goes on to discuss the “foreboding Greek title,” after which he links to this post by John Lawler:
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The Latin American Left Today

Claudio Lomnitz, a professor of anthropology at Columbia University, has an excellent article in the Boston Review which explores the similarities and differences in the various new leftist governments in Latin America.

Today, the Latin American left is riddled by contradictions: it is a form of democratic politics that challenges some of the core precepts of liberal democracy; it is a rebellion against unbridled globalization that constantly risks falling back on nationalism and the developmental state; it seeks to strengthen state intervention and regulation but must rely on “flexible” forms of redistribution that it shares with neo-liberal parties; it seeks to produce alternative models of reality and development but is insufficiently invested in science, technology, and environmentalism.

I particularly liked his discussion of the various moments in historical memory which each of the new leaders has drawn upon as their moment of inspiration. The list of time periods alone gives a sense of these differences:

Bolivia, Venezuela, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Chile: 500 years, 200 years, 90 years, 80 years, 60 years, 40 years, 30 years.

Read the whole thing.

Neoliberalism in Anthropology

Rex’s recent post on “neoliberalism” sparked some good discussion, but much of it was focused on trying to define the term rather than understanding the phenomenon. In a comment Rex tried to refocus the discussion:

Let me try rephrasing: is this conjunction of stuff indicative of a moment (perhaps passed) in anthropology? And if so, why are these two well-known authors thinking about it now, given that (as many of the comments on this channel have indicated) ‘neoliberalism’ has probably been around for decades?

One way of examining the question is to use the excellent database provided by AnthroSource. While somewhat limited in scope, it should be able to reveal broad trends in the discipline. Accordingly, I searched for all articles (in the past 100 years) that used “neoliberalism” in the title. The total number of results was 25 articles, of which over half were published in the past three years! Eleven were published in just the past year and a half. I’d say that’s a trend! The oldest article dates to 1996. [NOTE: Some of these are book reviews, I didn’t see any reason to treat them separately. The full list is below the fold.]

In my own comments on Rex’s thread I suggested that one of the reasons for this trend might be a rethinking of “globalization” and “transnationalism” in which scholars are moving away from issues of consumption and trying to focus on the impact of the organizations responsible for global governance, such as the IMF and WTO.

Of particular importance is the so-called “Washington Consensus“, defined by Wikipedia as:

a set of policies promulgated by many neoliberal economists as a formula for promoting economic growth in many parts of Latin America and other parts of the world. The Washington Consensus policies propose to introduce various free market oriented economic reforms which are theoretically designed to make the target economy more like that of First World countries such as the United States.

The Washington Consensus is the target of sharp criticism by both individuals and groups, who claim that it is a way to funnel economic productivity from less developed Latin American countries to large multinational companies and their wealthy owners in advanced First World economies. As of 2005, several Latin American countries are led by socialist governments that openly oppose the Washington Consensus, and many more are ambivalent. Critics frequently cite the Argentine economic crisis of 1999-2002 as the case in point of why the Washington Consensus policies are flawed, as Argentina had previously implemented most of the Washington Consensus policies as directed.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that over half of the articles using the term have followed in the wake of the Argentina crisis and the rise of left-leaning governments in Latin America. Although some of them date from all the way back in the 1990s, over half of the list of AnthroSource articles are related to Latin America.
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