Examples of Essay Questions on Films

Year of Living Dangerously

How do the movie characters Guy Hamilton [played by Mel Gibson], Jill Bryant [played by Sigourney Weaver] and Billy Kwan [played by Linda Hunt] express the tension between personal uses of media and public, commercial, and political uses?

 Slumdog Millionaire

What are some of the specific ways that globalization is represented in the movie Slumdog Millionaire?

 Exit Through the Gift Shop

In what ways is Banksy’s graffiti art a political and cultural commentary?


How does local radio inFortMacPherson, NWT as portrayed in the movie CBQM both reflect and create community?


In what ways does the movie Transfictions parallel the techniques and objectives of Theatre for Living as described by Director David Diamond in his class presentation. What sorts of concerns in the lives of transsexuals does the movie address?


Final Exam Example Questions

1. What changes do Walter Benjamin and Benedict Anderson argue have resulted from mass mechanical reproduction (of words in print as well as of images)?

(Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities.

Benjamin, Walter. 1936. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”.)

2. How does Brigit Meyer use ethnographic examples to argue for a natural relation between religion and media?

(Meyer, Brigit. 2010. “Mediation and Immediacy: Sensational Forms, Semiotic Ideologies and the Question of the Medium”. )

3. What comparisons can you draw between the dynamics of news reporting in India at the time of the Deepa Wehta Water controversy and the development of politically polarized television reporting  in the United States (for example Fox News, CNN political commentators, Rush Limbaugh, etc.)?

(Rao, Ursula. 2010. “Embedded/Embedding Media Practices and Cultural Production”. In Theorizing Media and Practice.)

3. How is the practice of graffiti and attendant discourses reflective of issues of class and property? Use examples from class readings, blogs or the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop to illustrate your argument.

(Rafferty, Pat. 1991. “Discourse on Difference”.

Dickinson, Maggie. 2008. “The Making of Space, Race and Place:New York City’s War on Grafitti, 1970-the Present”.

Banksy. 2010.Exit through the Gift Shop.)

4. How does community radio inAustraliaandFortMcPherson, NWT (Canada) reflect and create community?

(Fisher, Daniel. 2009. “Mediating Kinship: Country, Family, and Radio inNorthern Australia. Cultural Anthropology”.

Allen, Dennis (Director). 2010. CBQM.)

5. In what ways did the Nicaraguan television shows described in “Spectacles of Sexuality” fulfill the goals of the NGO that provided the funding? How was the show able to raise awareness of sexual issues despite the repressive political climate inNicaragua?

(Howe, Cymene. 2008. “Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism inNicaragua”)

6. What does Lila Abu-Lughod’s study of Egyptian melodramas reveal about the extent to which audiences absorb the meanings that the producers intended to convey? Give specific examples from her study. What does her study indicate about the constraints on meaning and the ability of media producers to impose their own messages on media consumers?

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2002. “Egyptian Melodrama—Technology of the Modern Subject?”)

7. Use evidence from Shimmering Screens, Jennifer Deger’s study of media use in an Australian Aboriginal Community, to evaluate James Weiner’s argument that indigenous use of media is inherently problematical because the media technologies and practices are products of “Western culture”.

(Deger, Jennifer. 2006. Shimmering Screens: Making Media in an Aboriginal Community

Weiner, James.1997. “Televisualist Anthropology: Representation, Aesthetics, Politics”)

8. How has European (and North American) photographic tradition maintained what Christopher Pinney terms depth, possession and exploitation, consequently affirming chronotopes? How have photographic conventions in other countries developed in different directions?

Pinney, Christopher. 2003. “Notes from the Surface of the Image”.)

9. Alex Golub argues that online video games increasingly appeal to players

because their sociality mimics real life. What social skills do players of World

of Warcraft and similar online multiplayer games have to master? What are the

implications of these games for the future of computer-based gaming? In what

ways are the effects of these games positive and in what ways are they negative (Be specific)? (Golub, Alex (2010) “Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding,

Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game”)



Being in the World of Warcraft

1)  Is Golub’s group/guild a legitimate source for the “world” of Warcraft, or perhaps more representative of a particular guild’s culture?
Is this “world” a society, or collection of such?
2) Golub says that a place needs to be disassociated with the idea of “real” space or locality. How, in your opinion, can space be defined if it’s not fixed in a locale?

3) The “adds” to the game such as Vent communication or the Threatmeter,”intrude on the graphical realism of the game” while enhancing the social aspects of the game. How does the gamer’s ability to transform this world through using add-ons or plugins affect the way this “world” is constructed? What about differences in language?

4) How is realness related to shared experience rather than sensory immersion?

5) A lot of debate in anthropology is around the fact that since you weren’t born into or raised in the society/community you’re observing you can never really fully understand them. But WOW is a community/culture you enter into at some point and Golub emphasizes that there are people from all walks of life (although seemingly limited in ethnicity in his guild)  and different genders that are playing this game. Discuss.

Doing Anthropology in Sound By: Steve Feld and Donald Bernice

Do ethnographies need “acoustemology ” or colloquially known as ‘sound’ to compliment cultural analysis? How?

What are the issues of recording background sounds of cultures for the purpose of analysis? Background as foreground

In what ways do we as a culture have selective listening? (Listening to earphones on bus etc.)

Does ethnography need to incorporate all of the senses? If so Why? How?

Does the inscription of a song provide sufficient material for cultural analysis? Is there room for sound and what more can it tell us about the culture?

Is the content or the context of a sound more important for an ethnographer?

For example: it’s important to understand that the tapes are listened to in context yet the content is less important because the story can change but the context is key



Notes from the Surface of the Image by Christopher Pinney

Discussion Questions:

1. Why do you think Indian and African photography has evolved into something that portrays the subject as they want to be seen (better than they are), rather than for what they are in reality?

2. In terms of documentary, how has European photographic tradition maintained depth, possession, and exploitation, consequently affirming chronotypes (i.e. time and space)?

3. How adequate is the metaphor for surface used in the article?

4. What is significant about the Yoruba gaze? How does the reciprocation of the gaze disembody and de-narrate?

5. Can we recognize a similar desire for images to represent a ‘better self’ than reality in Western photography?


Jennifer Deger – Culture and Complicities

Discussion Questions:

1. What issues arise when dominant cultures encourage indigenous cultures to preserve   themselves through media?  (i.e.: By educating them about media use?) Examples?

2.What do you think of anthropologists connecting closely with one informant?  Does their personal bias come into play?  How much of a culture does that represent

3.What is Culture and culture in Canada?

Additional Questions:

1.How does the transparent/casual tone of the paper affect how we read it?

2.How much of this revival of culture through media is real, and how much is imagined?

Deger, Jennifer
    2006  Culture and Complicities. In Shimmering Screens: Making Media in an Aboriginal
Pp. 1-33.  Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Group members: Sharleen Petigara,Kimiko Winston, Kate MacMillan, Alice Bardos, and Marina Subramaniam

Egyptian Melodrama—Technology of the Modern Subject? — Lila Abu-Lughod

Anthropology 378 – Anthropology of Media
Discussion Questions
Article: Egyptian Melodrama—Technology of the Modern Subject? – Lila Abu-Lughod
Group Members: Ashleigh Murphy, Elsa Chanez, Abigail Manuel, James C, Morgan Radbourne and Kayla Morley

Video Clips:
Egyptian Melodrama Drama: Al-Gama’a

Bold and Beautiful

Discussion Questions:

1. What is a melodrama? Are there similarities and differences seen in the video clips between the Egyptian melodramas described in Lila Abu-Lughod article compared to Western melodramas? If so, what are they?

2. The author notes Raymond William’s suggestion that Television has become so ingrained in our lives that it has led us to “see our own daily lives as dramas”(118).  Do you feel this is true?  Has the presence of narratives from Television, or even Movies, made you change your view of your life in a more dramatic way?  Do you believe you view your life differently because of the omnipresence of Television and Film dramas in our daily lives?  What ways do you believe you would view the world differently in absence of the dramas of Television and Film?

3. Lila Abu-Lughod states that melodramas can work on viewers in many ways, her focus being emotionality. Are there other ways in which melodramas can affect individuals lives? Or do melodramas not affect its audience?

4. Television drama in Egypt is seen not simply as entertainment but as a means to mold national community.  This seems to be in stark contrast to the agenda of the Western soaps which seem to possess little or no political or social agenda that is discernible.  Is capitalism (ie. the fear of losing advertiser’s support) the main obstacle to Western soaps involving more personal, political, and social messages like in the Egyptian Melodrama? Why are Western soaps so seemingly vacuous when it comes to content?

Additional Questions

1. Are there positive or negatives to putting programs based on religious/epic narratives on television? If so, what are they? Are there ways to avoid these positive or negative aspects?

In the article it talks about the epic of AbuZayd al-Hilali where the narrative poetry is portrayed differently compared to when it is put on TV. Does this take away from the legitimacy of the original? If so, how and why?

Please see the below video clip related to the epic of AbuZayd al-Hilali from the article.


This clip is in Spanish, but in the beginning of it it shows how the epic texts it old through song (i.e., another medium). It is interesting how the melodrama chooses to focus on the birth of the hero (only six lines in the original) and the drama that followed the birth. In the article, Lila Abu-Lughod argues that it is because of these features that this episode was one of the first of the series in order to draw people in.

Can we think about any religious stories that we are familiar with in North America that could be portrayed in the same way? Would some aspects of the melodrama need to be emphasized for people to be “drawn in”?

Please see the below video clip related to the birth of the baby at 10:43 into the clip from the Egyptian melodrama:

Labor Fantasies in Recessionary Japan (Lukacs) class discussion

Show clips from Shomuni and Sarariman Kintaro. 

1. What differences do you notice in the portrayal of the workplace and the worker in these two clips? 
2. Japanese television producers injected a social responsibility discourse into popular media by way of social-realist dramas. Do we see the same in North American television programming? Why or why not? Can you think of any notable examples of shows that reflect our own economic situation, currently or in the past?
3. In North America, do you think devices like mockery and parody are used as stand-ins for social responsibility discourse? What might this say about our culture?
(And…. if we have time:
4. The social responsibility discourse in media is not new, but it emerges in new ways context-dependently. Do you think Japanese workplace dramas reflect changing attitudes towards the “freeter” lifestyle, or is the other way around – lifestyles changing in response to what is on television?

5. Lukacs talks about the feminization of men as a reason why Shomuni is popular in the young male demographic. What do you think these shows are portraying about gender?)

Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua

Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua by Cymene Howe.

  1. In the article, Howe asserts that gay and lesbian characters do not match/relate to the perception of “real” gays & lesbians in the community. Assuming this is true, are these NGO funded television shows effective in their goal?
  2. Are there any such North American equivalents that are trying to promote social justice (as mentioned in the article)?
  3. Are gays and lesbians represented accurately on North American TV?

Discussion Question Feb 27th

1)      Do you believe it is  possible to understand film(s) created by another culture without a pre-existing understanding of that cultures norms and values?

2)      In what way has the introduction and use of film, diminished the social and cultural significance of history and memory amongst indigenous and Third World people? Do you think that it has diminished social and cultural significance amongst peoples in the Western world?


3)      Although we are able to obtain more information, subjectively, through the analysis of an image as opposed to reading a text, is it possible to fully understand an issue based on televisualist anthropology?