Imagine a world where symbolic forms created by one inhabitant are instantaneously available to all other inhabitants; a place where "knowing others" means only that others know us, and we know them, through the images we all create about ourselves and our world, as we see it, feel it, and choose to make it available to a massive communication network, slavering and hungry for images to fill the capacity of its coaxial cables (Note 1).
Imagine this place that is so different from the society within which we nourish our middle-class souls, in which symbolic forms are not the property of a "cultured," technological, or economic elite, but rather are ubiquitous and multiplying like a giant cancer (or, conversely, unfolding like a huge and magnificent orchid), and available for instant transmission to the entire world.
Imagine a place where other cultures (in the anthropological sense) and culture (as digested at ladies' teas) are available to all; a place where almost anyone (some will be too young or too infirm, physically or mentally, ever to be involved) can produce verbal and visual images, where individuals or groups can edit, arrange, and rearrange the visualization of their outer and inner worlds, and a
place where these movies, TVs, or "tellies" (a marvelous word coined from television, and connoting the verb "to tell" so subtly as almost to be overlooked) can be instantaneously available to anyone who chooses to look.
What will the anthropologist, as the student of man and his cultures, do in this world? Imagine this place; for it is where we are at now. Let me review the situation in bald technological terms.
In 1850, information traveled at the speed of man, on foot; on an animal's back; or on a ship at sea. Men knew each other across time by the symbolic mediation of words and the interior images they created. A memory storage of a small portion of the earth, created by an even smaller percentage of persons, was laboriously collected in libraries. The look of things--a man, a god, a place--was fixed in visual images created by a small group of highly trained and talented men who painted pictures, carved statues, and illustrated books. A man could personally see but few things in the world. If he traveled, he could see only the people and places he actually passed through and looked at. Visual knowledge was limited by space and time. All else was known by the words of other men, by their descriptive power, and by the ability of readers and listeners to give body and image to the symbolic event of verbal interaction.
In 1850, information and the knowledge it created still traveled at about the same speed it had attained in 3000 B.C.
In 1900, words and all their magical symbolic fruits were traveling by radio waves at the speed of light--from 15 miles an hour to 186,000 miles a second in fifty years. Instantaneous communication was possible, and by the time of World War II most men on earth had potentially available to them everything sent out by radio wave. Men sat at home in New York City and twirled a dial, picking up broadcasts from Japan, from India, from Africa, from Germany, and from Russia. And in those places men also twirled dials and listened, knowing for the first time in history that potentially everyone could be listening at the same time to the words of a president proclaiming an infamous act on the part of Japan.
In 1905, the same year that Freud published Studies in Hysteria and suggested a new way of making inferences from the symbolic forms created in dreams, Thomas Edison invented the motion-picture camera.
Thus, at the beginning of the twentieth century, at the same time that man was given a new and revolutionary glimpse of inner "reality," the motion-picture camera came into being, hailed as the technology supreme, the machine that would finally allow man to capture the outer world, as it "really" was. For the first time in man's long
attempt at symbolizing and representing himself in his environment, it became possible to make an image that was, in Peirce's sense, not an icon--a visual resemblance of object reality--but an index. We no longer had to depend on the hand-eye skills of a few highly trained picture-makers who created images that resembled objects--more or less.
While the iconic sign of the hand-drawn image was always a resemblance, a similarity to the "real" world, the camera image was accepted as an indexical sign of it, a true mapping, a point-to-point correspondence with the reality before the camera. With indexical signs, we no longer had to doubt the individual notation systems of other cultures. All perspectives were "true," and the puzzles of Chinese perspective or Egyptian profiles and side views were understood as cultural creations reflecting a specific way of creating similarity or resemblance to the "real" world. The indexical sign achieved the status of reality-substitute; it became the base upon which visual imagery rested. We really believe that the camera image records the reality of places, people, and behavior.
By 1905, men had developed the ability to create symbolic forms in modes that had never before been possible. Men could "reproduce" their actual voices, and could send these voices, unaccompanied, all over the globe in such fractions of time as to appear instantaneous. Men could "reproduce" actual places and people by a technology that created indexical signs without the hand-eye coordination and skill of the graphic artist. One could produce images and sounds of anything in the world; one had only to be able to point a camera and a microphone at the world.
Three-quarters of a century ago, we learned to reproduce sound and to create indexical camera images. By 1930, we had learned to combine sounds and images to create talking pictures, and by 1940 we had learned how to make these images speed unaccompanied around the globe.
It is clear that we have learned to produce talking images, but it is not quite so clear why we use these images as we do, or how we ought to understand our use of them. We often tend to forget even the short history of moving pictures and to assume that the way we use movies now is the way they were always used, and further, that the way we think of movies now is the way they will always be. It might be argued that the fifty-year period between 1930 and 1980 will be considered an aberrant period in the history of the use of the moving/sound image.
Movies developed along a dual path: one direction can be clearly
seen as motivated initially by a naive ethnographic concern, and the other as motivated by a mythmaking, magic, and storytelling impulse.
It is of central importance to the thrust of this paper to understand the underlying and continuous influence of the ethnographic impulse in the development not only of the technology of film, but of the art as well.
The very first "movies" created in the Edison Laboratories were simple exercises in ethnographic description: a one-minute film of a sneeze, one minute of a lab assistant playing his violin, and another one-minute movie of two lab workers kissing. The brochure that Thomas Edison printed to describe his new invention had as its headline Recordings from Real Life. Lumiere in Paris also used the first movie camera invented in Europe to record the ritual behavior of everyday life: workers punching a time clock, workers walking through the factory gates, and Parisians rushing to get on a train at the Gare du Nord. Within several years, movies were being "manu- factured" on both sides of the Atlantic. These early films shown in the United States in storefronts called nickelodeons continued the ethnographic directions of Edison and Lumiere. Films with titles such as Washing the Baby, The Train Arrives at the Station, Cleaning the House, and Making the Bed were shocking, delighting, and often frightening to audiences. Early newspaper accounts and interviews with audience members emphasized that these new moving pictures were valued because "they were just like what people really did."
In Germany, in 1905, ethnographers going to the field carried with them a motion-picture camera--a new scientific instrument with which they could record for further study the behavior and rituals of the "primitive" peoples they observed. As a matter of fact, the very beginnings of the development of the motion-picture camera as we know it today stemmed from what Ray Birdwhistell has termed kinesics. Eadweard Muybridge, an engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad, was asked by Governor Leland Stanford of California to invent a way to settle a bet. Stanford, an owner of racing stables, had wagered a large sum of money on the assertion that a racehorse at a gallop had all four feet off the ground at the same time. Muybridge, who in addition to his engineering skills was interested in the biology of motion, developed a camera that would record the images of a racehorse in motion. It seemed natural, once Muybridge had invented his motion camera, for biologists and anatomists all over the world to consider it not as an artistic instrument but rather as another scientific tool for the recording and reproduction of visual events.
It seems inevitable that the first motion pictures were "intuitively" about culture, motion, and the ritual of everyday events. The real was available, was captured, and was made into data by motion picture film on a reel.
The other direction--that moving toward the creation of myth--started with the magic shows of Melies in Paris in 1902. This movement attempted to provide inexpensive theater. The movie was thought to be an extension of the stage, with more flexibility as to locations portrayed, but still dependent upon actors and playwrights. The period of moviemaking between 1920 and the present seemed to be dominated by the mythmakers and storytellers of the stage. What most people knew about the movies were the story films of Hollywood and the giant studios. The ethnographic impulse, however, continued increasingly to affect film theory and practice. The so-called documentary movement, developed in the Soviet Union as a political tool immediately after the revolution, matured through the documentary film boards of Britain and Canada until, in the late fifties and early sixties, the ethnographic films of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin of the Musee de l'Homme in Paris became the theoretical inspiration for France's "new wave." Today, even "fiction" films are designed with ethnographic theory in mind. The art of the film today in large part is concerned with the depiction of ethnographically valid imagery and symbols. The theorists of film in France, Britain, Poland, Italy, and lately in the United States are supporting their film theories and analyses, rightly or wrongly, with references to Levi-Strauss, de Saussure, Chomsky, Mead, and a host of other anthropologists and linguists.
The technology that made the "new film" possible--lightweight cameras and portable synchronous sound equipment--was developed originally to support ethnographic research in the field. Rouch and Morin, needing the ability to capture actual behavior with sound in the field, made it possible to do so. It was after seeing their Chronicle of a Summer that Truffaut and Godard realized what they could do with the ethnographic method.
While all this was happening in movie theaters, the home screen, through electronics and the television tube, was also being developed. After World War II, it became possible for millions to sit at home and watch moving pictures of events in any part of the world (and later the universe) as they occurred. With the advent of television, we thought not of listening to events, as with radio, but finally of watching them. The mediation of symbols through which our ontology is in large part created had finally encompassed the image.
Symbolic events could now be constructed to match face-to-face observation--or so it seemed.
While everyone can speak, however, not everyone could make movies or television. These forms demanded vast allocations of economic or technological resources beyond the reach of any but a new elite. And, further, movies and television seemed to have built-in limitations. Movies could not be seen at home: they were public events, rivaling theater. Custom decreed it that way, and "home movies" were not fully acceptable until after World War II. Television, however, had even more stringent limitations, set not by custom or economics but by physical law. While radio waves could broadcast multidirectionally and across the entire globe (given a large enough power source), television waves could broadcast only by line of sight--in straight lines, interfered with by tall buildings, mountains, and simple distance on the curvature of the earth. Television was also limited by the amount of the electromagnetic spectrum it consumed in broadcasting. It used up, as it were, much more of the air waves for its signal, and so the granting of licenses to broadcast originally limited the number of communication channels to twelve. And in order to safeguard the integrity of the signal, most localities used only alternating channels, limiting the channel space to six.
It seems "reasonable" under these conditions for societies to control the channels of communication. Control of scarce resources makes sense. With a technological limit of channel space, it seemed appropriate that a new elite, controlling the input devices of television channels, develop. After all, everyone could look without charge. The enlightened new elite fought for its "rights"--the right to show what they wanted, the freedom of speech to show what they felt important.
Technology in our culture seems almost like the mythic mountain climber who does what he does because "it's there." Television's limitations were not only technological. This limited broadcast ability also limited markets. A toothpaste ad broadcast on one side of a hill was unavailable to those who lived on the other side. Consumers could not be created and cultivated out of people who wanted to, but could not, tune in to the commercials.
A small group of entrepreneurs invented a solution. They would build a large antenna on the top of the hill, receiving the TV signal from its input source, and create another channel by wire, which would deliver the "message" into the home. People would pay for the wire--the channel--not the message.
This solution of creating another channel of wire to eliminate the inherent limitation of the TV broadcast signal was of such huge
import that hardly anyone involved saw what was at stake for the concept of culture. The greatest device for the accomplishment of cultural homogeneity was created to sell toothpaste. For, incredibly enough, wires were not licensed. Anyone--with enough money and political power, that is--could put up an antenna and send received signals by wire. These wires were owned privately and went into only such homes as paid for them or were chosen to have them. The TV broadcasters, that conglomerate elite of fighters for freedom of speech, were at first delighted by wire. Now people would pay to be able to receive their free signals. They were somewhat annoyed at not having a piece of the action--the rental fee for wire--but were basically so happy about the expanded audience market that they allowed the cable TV companies to live. After all, how many mountains are there, anyway?
Within five years, however, the cable TV companies had developed their technology to the point where one wire was able to carry up to twenty different signals, and it was clear that a wire could be built that would allow up to several hundred simultaneous signals. Suddenly the cable TV people, the Ford Foundation (an alliance of McGeorge Bundy, formerly of the White House, and Fred Friendly, formerly of CBS), Bell Telephone, and even Howard Hughes began to see the magnitude of the future.
This was the situation in 1960. TV broadcasting required incredible economic resources, but TV program origination required even more. Not only money but talent was scarce and hard to find. Imagine the state of the cable TV owner. He had a system that could broadcast (in effect) a hundred programs over the same channel (wire) at almost the same cost as broadcasting one program. No channel-space restriction, no geographical restriction, and no program-origination cost. With TV satellites, all signals from all over the world could, theoretically, be received by special ground stations and broadcast simultaneously on cable. The set-owner paid only for the wire, and the wire-owners vied to provide the set-owner with the greatest number of choices. The problem, as it is phrased in the trade, is one of "product": "Where the hell are we going to get enough product to fill up the cable?"
We are now past 1970. It is technologically feasible right now for a moving image with its accompanying sound to be broadcast from any place in our solar system and to be received in hundreds of millions, or even all homes attached to the wire--simultaneously. It is further possible for all homes to have their choice of hundreds of messages received simultaneously.
Cable TV, unlike radio and broadcast television, also has output control. When the astronauts broadcast from the moon, anyone can watch and listen. With cable, any single set or any group of sets can be switched on and off for particular messages. Total control of reception is therefore also possible.
That is the state of channel capacity and control of symbolic forms available to us right now.
What does this mean for the anthropologist concerned with the study of man and of his culture, conceived as almost infinitely diverse, hard to find and to understand in its diversity, disappearing with the onslaught of technology and urbanization, and basic to the development of a science of man?
With this background in mind, I would like now to describe some of the current problems and plans for the development of what communications technologists are calling the "wired planet." Then I shall try to project some of the very probable developments of the next ten to twenty years. And finally I would like to formulate some of the questions and problems that I see as crucial concerns for the field of anthropology, both in terms of how anthropologists of the future are to be trained and of the anthropological problems that will face the student of culture in the immediate future.
For the first sixty years of the age of the moving image, the production and control of these images were limited to small groups of men who controlled the vast economic resources thought to be necessary for the creation of moving pictures and television. In the first five or ten years after the invention of the motion-picture camera and projector, individual men with no previous training (where could they get it, in the beginning?) became the owners of movie cameras and the makers of moving pictures. For the next fifty years, a myth system was created, implying that only a special group of "artists," "communicators," and (later) "journalists" could, and should, have access to the making of motion pictures. But the young, brought up since World War II in a world in which the moving image was first a babysitter and second their window on the world, began in the late 1950s to demand to have this tool--along with the car--for their own use. All over the Western world, and particularly in the United States, young people began to demand that they be taught the use of the motion-picture camera, not to make "moving snapshots," which their parents made to show to their relatives and friends, but to make "movies"--stories about a world that they could call their own, in ways that were their own.
A few researchers began in the early 1960S to examine what would happen when young middle-class children, ages nine to
twelve, black teenage dropouts, ages ten to fifteen, and college students were taught the technology of the camera and allowed to use film to structure "stories" of their world in their way. John Adair and I taught Navajo Indians in their own community to use the motion picture camera (Worth and Adair 1970, 1972). They learned to make movies easily. One of our students, age twenty-three, taught her mother, age fifty-five (who spoke no English and said she had never seen a movie), to use a 16-mm. Bell and Howell triple-lens turret camera in three hours. Everyone who has worked with youngsters in our culture, or with members of other cultures, has reported that no one failed to learn the technology quickly, and that everyone asked seemed, at the very least, interested and most highly motivated. The most "primitive" man can learn to understand a picture or a movie in a very short time. The reports of primitive man's difficulties with movies are anecdotal and sparse, but these same reports confirm the speed (hours and, at the most, days) with which any men seem to adapt to symbolic communication through motion pictures. At a fundamental level, universals of visual communication come into play much more readily than those of verbal language. At the same time, we have found that peoples with differing cultures make movies differently. When given instruction only in the technology of the camera and film, they tend to structure their movies according to the rules of their particular language, culture, and myth forms, as in the case of the Navajo, and according to their social roles and cultural attitudes, as in the case of black and white youngsters in our society. In sum, it is not unreasonable to expect that anyone who has mastered enough technology to build his own house or tell his own story in words can learn in a very short time to use a movie camera. It is not unreasonable to expect that the New Guinea native, the American Indian, the Eskimo, the peoples of developing and developed states in Africa and Asia, as well as various segments of our own society, will soon be able to make moving pictures of the world as they see it and to structure these images in their own way to show us the stories they want to show each other, but which we may also oversee.
Right now, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, the Department of Community Medicine is training doctors and patients (on a limited scale) to make movies about health. The doctors are showing their idea of health, and the patients are showing theirs. This hospital is planning now to install cable TV in several housing projects and health centers, to institute the beginning of a "wired community" in East Harlem, where doctors and community members will have joint access to several channels through which they may "broadcast"
whatever they wish. Such projects are being thought of in communities throughout this country and in Europe, for health, for education, and of course for political control.
Let us imagine the planet Earth somehow managing to escape the horrors of ecological or atomic disaster for another twenty years. What will its people be like in their capacity to produce and live by visual communication? The large industrialized nations, both East and West, will have a majority of their households wired. Teaching, banking, newspapers, and most shopping will most certainly be done through the "tube," wired to computers and to special videophone outlets connected with the tube. We shall use libraries by video printout or just read off the tube in our studies.
Fidel Castro might provide for all of Cuba, or all of the planet, direct TV coverage of the newest methods for harvesting sugar, and of course the United States could (if it chose) broadcast the entire war in Vietnam continuously. The anthropologist in the field could easily broadcast his entire field experience (edited his way, of course), supplemented by films or simple continuous broadcast of the stream of behavior as seen by his informants, whom he would have trained to use the camera.
In general, men today need no longer depend on verbal reports of distant places and people. One can see them. One can see the man on the moon by television and see the Dani of New Guinea making war by film. Moreover, while hearing a Greek on radio may have evoked the response "It's Greek to me," it is harder, if not impossible, to see a man laugh, or weep, or die, and feel that he is a stranger. A man going about his day, planting, hunting, or simply sitting alone near a fire, is in a situation that speaking does not make available to us. Movies do.
It would seem that Malinowski's stricture that the function of the ethnographer was to see the native's culture from the native's own point of view could at last be achieved--literally, and not metaphorically.
What would such a world be like, and more importantly, what problems have we to set before our students now that will, at the least, not hinder them from coming to an understanding of an age in which man presents himself not in person but through the mediation of visual symbolic forms?
Although the problems that I see before us in this area can be divided into three groups--what I shall call the political, ethical, and theoretical areas--it should become clear that none of these categories can in actual practice be separated. It is only for convenience of articulation that I shall start with what seem to be theoretical questions
and go on to ethical problems, which are, in the long run, probably all political questions anyway.
By theoretical, in this paper, I mean theories and methods that will have to be developed and articulated in order to understand a world suffering from (or blessed with) the democratization of culture, a world, that is, where all cultures are potentially available to all people through this new visual symbolic mythmaking form.
Epistemological and ontological questions--how we know and what we know--have always been of concern to anthropologists and other students of man. Poetry, myth, stories, and tales have always been created and studied as a singularly important source of the world view mediated by symbolic forms. Language itself has been a central problem in anthropology. But this "language" that we have been mentioning refers only to a verbal output received through an auditory channel, the ear, taking visual form only in the anthropologist's transcription. Our own sense of epistemology and ontology is reflected in the fact that our language carries within it the notion that the mediating symbolic system is the word, so that we use the terms language (or grammar) to refer to any organized body of rules or structure in the symbolic domain. Speaking, however, is not limited to the aural mode and grammar alone. It is a multichannel, multimodal communicative system composed of sound, body movements, inter-personal distances, expressions, inflections, and contexts which grow more complex as our understanding becomes clearer. And even verbal language, with its accompanying body channels, is no longer the sole device by which we become familiar with the world removed from our immediate time and space.
We have passed that stage of anthropological methodology where, as in Boas's time, we had to prepare our students for hundreds of dreary hours of transcribing native ceremonies and speakers by hand. We are now at the point where the anthropologist must know how to teach others to tell him about themselves through movies and television, and further, where he must know how to analyze a completely new symbol system by which people will be creating new forms for old myths about themselves. In the past, the field of anthropology could get away with training visual illiterates to study verbal illiterates. It is now no longer possible for the student of culture to ignore the fact that people all over the world have learned, and will continue in great numbers to learn, how to use the visual symbolic mode. Anthropologists must begin to articulate the problems that will face us in trying to understand others when their point of view is known to us primarily through movies distributed by broadcast television and cable. How can we help our students and
future colleagues to overcome the inevitable tension between the world they will study and their own cultural backwardness in terms of a mass-distributed visual symbolic mode?
An ethnography of communication developed on the basis of verbal language alone cannot cope with man in an age of visual communication. It is necessary to develop theories and methods for describing and analyzing how men show each other who they are and how they are. Theories of vidistics (Note 2) must be developed to supplement linguistic and sociolinguistic theories, in order to describe, analyze, and understand how people who organize their films in different ways than we do are understood or not understood. Just as anthropologists in the field must learn the verbal language of the people they study (or find informants who know the anthropologist's language), so now must they begin to learn the visual "language" of the people they study.
This, however, raises further questions. All anthropologists speak at least one verbal language and report their work in at least one verbal language. The anthropologist is, however, most often "mute" (there is no word in English to refer to those who cannot make movies) in film. He cannot make films, and he certainly has not been trained to analyze them and to infer facts of culture from them.
In a world in which people of other cultures are being taught to make movies, in a world in which our own children are learning to make movies and are being increasingly acculturated and educated through film and television, can the anthropologist afford to remain a "blind mute"? Can a blind mute ever have anything to say to a person who respects visual "speaking" (Note 3) and whose culture demands social interaction through pictures?
I do not mean to imply here a McLuhanesque position that
words are out of style. I do not think the advent of mass-distributed visual symbolic forms will replace speaking or reading; on the contrary, I suspect that interest in visual symbolic forms will enhance interest in verbal and written forms. Once one learns to communicate well in one channel, one begins to find needs for further channels. It is significant that the interest in and development of films among the young took place spontaneously among those of our youth who were most educated and most literate. What I wish to emphasize is the need to expand our articulatory and analytic powers to cover many modes of symbolic interaction and communication. We have a tendency in academic life to continue examining and thinking only about inherited problems, rather than those problems and modes our children, our students, and even we ourselves pay most personal attention to.
What I am suggesting for anthropologists, as a first step, is the development of the capacity to articulate in motion pictures, as an artist, if possible, but primarily as a simple "speaker" in this new mode of communication. But anthropologists cannot rest with the "speaker of film" ability alone. The native speaker has no need to articulate his knowledge of how he knows to speak and to understand his language. The student of language and of culture must know more than how to speak; he must know how he knows to speak and how others speak. He must know how he puts visual events together to convey meaning through film, and how others do it. He must be able to analyze the way people communicate through movies, as well as to do so himself. He must, in fact, not only be taught to make movies as children, Navajos, and others all over the world will be taught; he must learn how to teach others and must formulate theories about what to teach others.
It is when we begin to think about the problem of teaching film and television to others that we must face a host of ethical problems which anthropology has never had to face before. In teaching people to read, we implicitly teach them what to read. When we teach people to speak--and the same is true of most people when they learn to speak--they also learn what to say, what not to say, and to whom and on what occasion to say it. The use of a mode of communication is not easily separable from the specific codes and rules about the content of that mode. Speaking is something that most people do anyway; anthropologists do not have to teach it. Film and television are not something that most people do--at this time. Someone has to teach it. Whoever teaches it will have a large and powerful impact upon the culture of the people using it and viewing it. If anthropology
is to study culture, it must begin to understand how the use of new communication forms affects it, how best to introduce a communications technology, and, I suppose, first and foremost, how to observe and to study this kind of situation.
Anthropology has always had a kind of doctor-patient relationship with the people it studies. As in the Hippocratic oath, the first premise has always been, "Do no harm to the people you study." In the past, it has been the case that one person, or at most a handful of people, have provided us with the information about many of the cultures of the world. Not only did our knowledge of Highland New Guinea, for example, depend on the observations of a few anthropologists and missionaries, but these same few, it was hoped, could be counted on to protect their informants in every way possible.
Carpenter (1971) reports in TV Guide that his own introduction of pictures in 1970 to people in New Guinea created vast changes in a short time. He reports that after the taking of pictures of a circumcision ritual, the people gave up the ritual and substituted pictures for it. He questions his own role in this matter and wonders if he himself had given enough thought to the change he unknowingly created (Note 4). This change was created, not by teaching people to make and to control their own visual symbolic forms, but merely by showing them pictures he had taken. How much greater might the change have been had he introduced into that culture the ability to make their own movies?
The problem cannot be solved by avoiding it. The anthropologist cannot "save" the people he works with by refusing to introduce motion pictures to them, for the simple reason that they will be introduced by others with methods and effects that are in many cases
known, but in large part unknown. The effects of commercial television and the aims of economic control and commodity advantage are quite clear. Up to now, political control has been largely a by-product of marketing tendencies and demands. With the advent of cable, and with a greater understanding of the possibilities of political control through television, political segments of all societies will begin to see the need for their own programs and procedures. The manipulation of the symbolic environment by elite groups in any society becomes a major focus for the study of culture.
Right now, the major television networks in the United States are giving away complete transmission facilities to developing nations all over the world--giving them away and training technicians to operate them so that these nations will develop a hunger for "product" to fill their air. That hunger is, and will continue to be, filled by American product sold "cheaply" to those who now have transmission facilities. Throughout the world, the air is being filled with reruns of "Bonanza" and ads for toothpaste, mouthwash, and vaginal deodorants. Should the anthropologist become the person who teaches the people he studies to present themselves in their way, or should he stand back and allow the democratization and subsequent homogenization of culture through "Bonanza" and commercials? If left unchecked, Bantu, Dani, and Vietnamese children, as well as our own, will be taught to consume culture and learning through thousands of "Sesame Streets," taught not that learning is a creative process in which they participate, but rather that learning is a consumer product like commercials.
If left unchecked, we, and perhaps other nations like us, will continue to sell the technology which produces visual symbolic forms, while at the same time teaching other peoples our uses only, our conceptions, our codes, our mythic and narrative forms. We will, with technology, enforce our notions of what is, what is important, and what is right. The questions that anthropologists have been struggling with (related to whether we, as anthropologists, should help the oppressed as well as the oppressor), whether we should take sides in questions of culture change or even culture destruction, assume new dimensions when transformed from physical to symbolic forms. While answers are not simple in this area, should we not consider the question of whether we who strive to learn about others should take some responsibility for helping others to learn about themselves? Should we not consider whether we have a responsibility, at the very least, to explain to those we study that new technologies of communication need not be used only in the ways of the technological societies that introduce them?
Further ethical problems exist. Some of our studies, in which we
compared films made by black, white, and Navajo young people, show clear differences in these groups' social organization around filmmaking, thematic choices of material and subject matter, and attitudes toward the use of film.
For example, from analysis of our current studies, it seems that blacks prefer to manipulate themselves as image, while whites prefer to manipulate the image of others, but rarely themselves.
Black teenagers want to be in the film; they want the film to be about themselves, and consider their important role and status in filmmaking to be the construction of the plot or story and the choice of themselves as actors. They fight over who will be in the film, but rarely over who will make the image, who will operate the camera. They seem to attach little importance or status to who will edit the film, and to consider it a chore to be gotten over with so that they themselves can appear on the screen. They will often leave the camera unattended, forgetting that someone has to run it.
By contrast, the white teenager almost never appears in his film. "It's not cool," he says. "It's unsophisticated." His film is about others. He competes with his peers in the film group for the role of camera man, director, or editor. Further, the films made by black groups involve behavior close to home and neighborhood, while the white teenager's films are often about the exotic, the distant, the faraway. He rarely shows his own block, his own home, or his own self.
Space does not permit a fuller examination here of the differences noted, but from our studies these differences seem not at all inconsistent with the predominant imperialist ideology of the white Western middle-class world. It is "reasonable" for whites to "capture" the image of others and to manipulate it to tell a story, to make a world based on symbolic events captured from far away and not of themselves. They then find status and pleasure in manipulating these events (often not even of people but of clouds, flowers, and "artistic" images of peeling paint, or crashing seas) to tell about themselves.
Anthropologists, too, are notorious for studying everyone but themselves. The "anthropological film," interestingly enough, has from its very inception always been defined as a film about others, exotic and far away. "Culture," in film, is frequently defined as in the National Geographic: strange rituals, exotic dances, and bare breasts. A study of anthropological films reviewed in the American Anthropologist shows that not one film reviewed was about us--always about how they live. Until the last few years, and then only rarely, when used in the classroom, anthropological films were always used to show us about "others."
Our own study of Navajo films shows clearly that what the Navajos show us about themselves in their films is very different from what an anthropologist shows in his. Even in a film about weaving, the Navajo concentrates the bulk of his film on things that are never seen in an anthropologist's film on the same subject (Worth and Adair 1970).
Can anthropologists in the future learn how to look at other cultures in ways different from the way "our" culture teaches us? Can we learn from the way others communicate themselves through film to think of the very term other cultures in new ways? Can we teach our students enough about this new mode of cultural communication so that they, perhaps, can develop insights that we do not have?
And what of the ethical problem posed by the very fact of our knowledge of different ways to organize and manipulate visual events on film? Should we teach others our way of conceiving the world on film? Should we, as anthropologists, as intellectuals, teach others to study and to reveal themselves when we do not? Should we teach them to go out and make movies of others as we do of them? And how should we teach other people to protect themselves from the onslaught of a wired planet? Or, if "onslaught" is too loaded a term, what is our responsibility to help them to understand a world in which their every act of living can be televised and viewed by a watching world?
In this context, I do not mean only people in other cultures far away. I am thinking of ourselves as well. Several years ago, during a student sit-in and strike at my own university, Pennsylvania, the student and faculty leaders were confronted with television cameras and documentary directors from both the commercial and educational stations. None of them had any idea of either their rights or their responsibilities, or the methods that they could use to control the images of themselves and their ideas that appeared on the air. Although they were aware of the fact that what they were doing could be manipulated and distorted by this process, they felt, and proved to be, helpless. A young faculty member, "sophisticated" and with a knowledge of the situation, was chosen by the striking group to narrate the final "documentary" that would appear on educational television. Although he would never allow anyone to write his books, he was manipulated by the technical crew in such a way that he actually recited their words, in their way. Few of us, in our culture or in others, know how to deal with the images that can be made of us and beamed to all corners of the earth.
It is now, as I have noted earlier, also possible for the anthropologist in the field to broadcast his view of another culture
directly from the field. Should he do it? And if so, how? What safeguards can there be, or should there be, on a wired planet? What should he show, or better yet, what should he not show?
One can project this problem further into the future and envision a world in which it would seem that the anthropologist need not go to the field at all. The doctor will soon see his patients on video phone and will have to see them face to face only in those rare instances when physical manipulation needs to be performed by him, rather than by a machine. The medical student will be able, by next year, to sit in his study cubicle and dial access on the tube to movies of any kind of health event he wants to learn about--from initial interviews for diagnostic purposes, or complete psychotherapy sessions, to examples of every rare disease and every surgical procedure performed. Not only will it be unnecessary to spend much time with patients; it is being planned to teach much of the medicine of the future this way.
Will it perhaps "make sense" to think of ethnographic field work as consisting of sitting in a study watching the movies that people make, or have made, of themselves and of others? Will this mean that the ethnography of the future will be concerned mainly with the view of others we get from the tube? Some anthropologists now feel that trusting the word of one individual who has observed a culture for a short period of time and reported his singular view of it is a slipshod way to go about studying culture. Already, anthropologists are installing TV cameras in homes and broadcasting the view of the "other" to their offices, where they watch what's going on on the tube and preserve what they feel is important on television tape. For years, many anthropologists have argued that studying how people live by merely looking or listening is too coarse and rough-grained a view. They have argued that only through repeated and close viewing of a motion-picture film of human behavior can certain aspects of behavior be studied. It seems time now to begin to clarify those aspects of human culture which can best be studied through film.
We need theories and values to help us clarify exactly what justification there is for intruding upon other people's lives in order to study them on film. It is not inconceivable that, in the same way that large segments of American Indian and Asian populations are even now refusing anthropologists entrance into their communities, most others will soon refuse to let us study them. Why should not others demand the right to learn the technology of film and television and to communicate with us as they wish, about what they wish, when they wish?
It might be that we shall be forced to know others only from the movies they choose to broadcast to us, or that, if they allow us to observe them, they will want a voice about what we show of them. At least until recently, the ethical question often could be blurred when it concerned a written scholarly report. Few read these reports, and the peoples studied did not know our verbal language (Note 5). With film, this argument no longer holds. It will be quite easy for others to view the filtns we make of them. Should we therefore show only that which another group wants us to show of them? Should we teach them not only to make their own films but to censor ours as well? The problem as I see it is: What reasons do we have not to insist that others have the right to control how we show them to the world? Questions such as these stem not so much from the problems of understanding the presentation of self in everyday life as from the presentation of self in symbolic life.
I have mentioned the possibility and the likelihood of a wired planet. I have also introduced the possibility that everyone can have access to input channels, but the probability that access will be freely given to all those capable and desirous of access to television is small. Access to channels of communication is too valuable to power elites, who are fast discovering that control of the symbolic environment is as important as control of the physical, biological, and social environments. The political problems that I would like now to touch upon stem directly from the theoretical and ethical questions I have posed. Essentially, they are questions of power and control. Whereas in earlier times, power and control were seen as being involved with natural and technological resources and with the control of labor and man's production from that labor, political power now seems to be tied more and more to the control of information.
Any of the arguments of the New Left in the social sciences would lead one inevitably to the realization that anthropologists must make a major effort to study the ways in which societies control the production and distribution of symbolic forms. Anthropologists have always been interested in these areas in terms of culture change
and, less frequently, in terms of cultural stability and the prevention of change. Change, stability, and repression are now intimately affected by the visual forms distributed by the mass media or by individual "tellers of tales" about themselves, such as I am proposing here.
Anthropologists have also always been involved with governments; they have always needed, and often sought, permission to go where they wanted to study. Frequently this permission had to be obtained, not from the people they studied, but rather from the imperialist powers that controlled those areas of the planet, or from other groups of elites that controlled areas and societies. The control of information has to a large extent always been in the hands of others and only in minute amounts in the hands of the anthropologist. From permission to go into a territory to funds to pay for field work, the anthropologist has never been totally in control of where he could get information. Frequently, to the dismay of some, and quite properly, in the view of others, papers and publications were censored for a variety of reasons.
With the advent of a wired planet, however, the problem of control becomes enormously greater. Children are being taught by television; funds have been, and are now, available for the production of "anthropological films" for teaching, from first grade to university level. The only group of professionals involved in the making and use of anthropological films who have no training at all in the making, analysis, or use of film are anthropologists. One can count on the fingers of both hands the anthropologists who are trained to study films, not as a record of some datum of culture, but as a datum of culture in its own right. I have stated elsewhere [chapter 2, above] that anthropological films seem to mean one thing to anthropologists and quite another to those interested in an ethnography of visual communication. To the anthropologist today, film is like the tape recorder or the pencil and notebook--a convenient way of assembling a record of data in the field, a memory aid, a device by which overt behavior can be studied microscopically and over and over again, as "real" behavior cannot. Film in this view is quite often thought of--falsely--as an objective record of what's out there.
To the person interested in vidistics or in an ethnography of visual communication, ethnographic or anthropological film cannot be defined by the film itself. A movie is a datum of culture in its own right, and every film can be an ethnographic or an anthropological film--if it is looked at anthropologically or ethnographically. The anthropologicalness of a film depends not on the film but on the mode of analysis of that film. It is becoming increasingly clear that the films members of other cultures make for any purpose can be studied to
tell us about that culture. Just as the study of kinship systems, myth, and other rituals and modes of living can be seen as helping to develop an understanding of universals and differences in culture, so must the free exchange of films by broadcast and wire be seen as an integral part of the study of culture.
But just as the anthropologist has been concerned with the prob- lem of culture change in the old ways--how it changed without him and how it changed because of him--he must now become concerned with the fact that culture will be changed because of the introduction of film and television on a wired planet.
Politically, many anthropologists have traditionally been categorized as "liberal." Today, many, particularly the younger ones, prefer to think of themselves as "radical." What could a radical position be in regard to the democratization of culture through the homogenization of symbolic forms? Should the radical anthropologist cry "Eureka!" at the thought that CBS will introduce film and television to every corner of the planet and that Howard Hughes Enterprises will control most of the input to cable TV in the United States (at the very least)? Should the radical anthropologist take a stance favoring the control by government of input facilities into every home? Should the democratization of culture be thought of as liberating, or as potentially regressive and reactionary?
In his report to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin presented a long section entitled "Nationalities and Language" (attributed to the linguist Margaret Schlauch, who had left the United States for Poland during the McCarthy purges). The "radical" wing of the party supported the position called in that report "the democratization of nationalities." They felt that the nationalities within the Soviet Union should be brought together under one language, one set of customs, and one way of life. Stalin took the "conservative" view. The report stressed the encouragement of individual nationalities, languages, and cus- toms within the framework of socialism.
It seems to me that the anthropologist today faces a somewhat similar problem (without the political power of my previous example, of course). Should he take what might be called the "conserva- tive" view--the view that tends to support the status quo (individual culture in all its diversity)--or should he take the "radical" view that tends to support cultural change, and technology, and what I have called the democratization of culture?
I have stated the problem too broadly, however, for the dichotomy is not quite so clear and is perhaps a false dichotomy altogether. It is a question, not of a battle between the status quo of diversity and the homogeneity of democratization, but rather of an interaction
between them. Just as the nature-culture question is falsely seen as a dichotomy rather than a dialectic, so can the previous question be seen as a dialectic between the existing culture of any people and the introduction of a technology enabling all of us to present ourselves to each other.
The problem, it seems to me, can also be seen as a dialectic of power, a struggle for skill and access to production and distribution technologies for the use of symbolic forms. If we are to study culture, we are inevitably involved in the study of the power relationships and control over mechanisms, messages, message-makers, and message-receivers.
But such a dialectic requires an understanding of the politicization of symbolic forms. It requires an ethnography of communication that has developed theories about the politics of the cultural changes that will be brought about by the ability of people to show themselves in their own way. It will require that anthropologists face the fact that they may soon not be allowed to study different cultures on their home grounds, that they must now think about whether they want to teach other people to present themselves and whether they want now to begin training themselves and their students to understand the visual presentations of others that they may be reduced to viewing on the tube in their studies.
Anthropologists must, in the coming power struggle over control of men's minds, develop an anthropology that can aid them in attempting to understand, and perhaps even to control by themselves, how men learn about one another through film. They must decide whether the images of their own culture that nurture them, on their children's, their students', and their very own television sets, are a proper concern for a new anthropology.
I have tried to present a picture of the planet Earth as it is today and as it is most likely to develop in the next few decades, concentrating on what I consider to be important anthropological problems of which most anthropologists are in large part unaware (Note 6).
If I were reinventing anthropology in the light of the problems presented here, I would have to invent one that could handle the questions I have barely been able to formulate fully. It would have to be an anthropology that would be equipped theoretically and methodologically to formulate the subtler problems I believe are implied in some of the data and argument I have presented. I would have to invent an anthropology that could deal with culture on a wired planet.
Kluckhohn suggested that anthropology was invented "as the search for oddments by eccentrics." I would like to suggest that we move on to the invention of an anthropological politics of symbolic form.
1. This paper is reprinted with permission from Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes and published by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. ©1972--Ed. Return.
2. "Vidistics is concerned, first, with the determination and codification of visual elements as used by the image-maker. Second, it is concerned with the determination of those rules of visual or pictorial symbolic forms by which a viewer infers meaning from cognitive representations and interactions of the elements in sequence and context. Vidistic 'rules,' in this sense, are thought of as a set describing the interaction of specified elements, operations on these elements, and inferences appropriately made from them in specified contexts" (Worth 1968). Return.
3. The frustration of not having a word for those who communicate through film, comparable to speaker, is great. I have resisted coining another jargon word for "speaker through movies," in the hope that the constant frustration of quotation marks and the ambiguity of the word speaker will jar on my readers' sensibilities as they do on mine and serve the rhetorical function of constantly reminding us of the fact that we are dealing with something that our verbal language and our culture have not learned to deal with adequately. Return.
4. Stephen L. Schensul (Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association 12, no. 3 [March 1971]) feels that
the intent of [Carpenter's] article in elucidating the effects of mass media upon our society by "experimenting" with a New Guinea group is obviously ridiculous and requires little comment. Further, current ethnographic data from the Sepik River region indicates neither the reported isolation nor the fearful reaction to technological innovations reported by Carpenter. The article contains little that is either conceptually or empirically valid.
But, the truth of Carpenter's statements aside, I find the nature of his "experiments" to be highly immoral and unethical and his description of the results at least ethnocentric, if not racist. His methods of developing rapport and the way in which he thrusts his electronic equipment on these pillagers makes Captain Cook look like a cultural relativist. [Emphasis added.]
The "truth" of Schensul's statements aside, his letter points up the highly charged atmosphere in which research dealing with television and people of other cultures is currently being discussed. I repeat that we know very little about what happens when we thrust, or even gently introduce, electronic media or other new symbolic forms to anybody in any context. Return.
5. Sofue (1971) writes: "Kloos has pointed out (Current Anthropology 10: 511) that 'publishing an item may be harmful to the people concerned, while not publishing is harmful to science.' I would like to see some discussion as to how we are to face this problem. It would be a help to have some concrete examples of cases in which publication was harmful to the informants or others. (Sun Chief, by L. W. Simmons, is probably one example.) The problem is very serious in Japan, where all villagers are literate and many have access to ethnographic publications through bookstores in nearby towns." Return.
6. In discussions of this paper with various colleagues, arguments were put forward regarding the probability of occurrence of the events described here. It was felt that other cultures would not, or could not, be made to participate in a wired planet such as I have described. It was argued that the dangers I try to predict are less real or less awful than I make out. The outcome, or the reliability, of these predictions is unfortunately empirical, and must await the future. Should it turn out, however, that we have prepared ourselves to deal with an anthropological politics of symbolic forms and the need is not as great as I have imagined, we will, I am afraid, still be ahead, for the understanding of the effects upon culture of a wired nation (our own) is an urgent matter right now--and one that we are not prepared to cope with at the present. Return.
Go to Introduction
Go to Chapter One
Go to Chapter Two
Go to Chapter Four
Go to Table of Contents
Go to Index
©1996 Tobia Worth. All Rights Reserved.