Folk Culture and Modernity

Posted by: | March 3, 2009 | Comments Off on Folk Culture and Modernity

To begin, I feel I should say what a few other people have said in regards to the quantity of reading for this week; this was ENTIRELY too much reading for one week.  While I found both pieces extremely interesting and valuable, it was a struggle to complete both in the space of a week without really compromising the time I allot to read for other courses.  That said…

While I really enjoyed both readings, I found the Taussig piece to be particularly insightful and relevant to the course.  I feel that both articles heavily emphasized our previously stated course-themes of power struggle and the dynamics of power in shaping popular culture–these dynamics are most obvious in the Mexican murals discussed by Campbell which traditionally were meant to incorporate aspects of high and low culture and present them in a forum accessible to the general public (I found the mention of our good friend Vasconcelos’ role in mural painting to be very interesting…).  As Campbell explains, muralism has gradually become more of a medium of “the people” or the lower classes utilized as a form of expression to articulate power relations between themselves and the state.  This article immediately brought to mind the murals of the Zapatistas of Chiapas–a very popular form of public artistic expression which I was surprised he did not mention.  These murals are utilized not only to publicly define and portray the EZLN’s struggle against the Mexican state, but also to portray community values and the group’s history.  It is for this reason that many of these murals are painted on the walls of EZLN schools with the intent of inculcating students with a common history and set of values.  I’m glad that we covered Mexican muralism (despite the author’s omission of the Chiapan/Oaxacan murals) because it may be the most concrete example of contemporary Latin American “popular culture” we’ve covered in the course so far.

In regards to Taussig’s article, I found it extremely challenging initally, but some background reading about the author gave a little insight into what I feel may be his intent with the Spirit Queen.  According to a few blurbs I managed to come across, Taussig’s academic project is aimed to utilize Anthropology’s constant study of the fictionalized “other” to reflect upon Western culture and critique it.  It seems that Taussig regards ethnographic/anthropological study as a way of comparing Western culture to its alternatives and using this comparative study as a self-reflexive process for anthropologists (and perhaps all academics).  We can perhaps see traces of this in his piece “The Spirit Queen” in the constant refrain “Oil out, cars, ammo and videotapes in.”  This refrain reminds us of our own preconceptions about areas like Colombia as a location of the “Other”–a place distinctly separate and different from “North American” culture and a place with which we engage in political and cultural power struggles through trade, the media, etc.  So while this piece is full of a million diverse examples of power struggles within Colombia as well as many artefacts of “popular culture,” it also reminds us of our place within that cultural power struggle and how we contribute to the shaping of foreign cultures as well as our own.


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