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#12 Cultural imaginaries, deepfake videos, hatred in anth, & social dissociation: this month on TFS
This month, Ian (1:12) asks how we should engage when people describe their culture one way, but our observations of their behavior don’t match those descriptions. What is a “culture,” Ian asks, if its members don’t adhere to it? As Julia argues, “what people say is just as important in their cultural imaginary of who they are as what they do.” Ian mentions his blog post about kasti: find it at https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2018/01/25/searching-for-home-plate-in-indonesia/
Next, special guest Stephanie Betz (5:50) brings up “deepfakes,” the new technology that enables video to be manipulated so convincingly that it’s hard to distinguish fake clips from real ones. Besides the obvious application (porn), the technology has potential for advertising, art, blackmail, and bringing about nuclear war. Deepfakes, she says, “further confound the relationship between image and reality.” When any fictitious word or action becomes possible to create on video, it’s the plausible that becomes political.
Steph is a digital anthropologist and PhD student at ANU, and the president of the Australian Network of Student Anthropologists. You can find some of her work on her Academia page: http://anu-au.academia.edu/StephanieBetz.
Simon (11:27) brings up the problem of extreme emotions, and particularly hatred, for the ethnographer. He asks, does hate need to dissipate before analysis is possible? “We often talk about hate as an emotion that clouds one’s vision, and the aim of anthropology I think has always been to make clearer social relations.” As Steph argues, “there’s a reason we inhabit these places in the same way as our informants, and that’s so we can use the full breadth of our humanity in order to understand and analyze and interpret the situation.”
Last, Julia (16:56) considers Steph’s work with video game players against her own work with schizophrenia patients, and the common thread of dissociation, when the sense of self temporarily dissolves. “How might fictional characters or avatars which temporarily result in a loss or diversion of who we are, how might this help or hinder us to be with other people in real life?” Steph describes ways that immersion in familiar stories, combined with distancing tactics such as gender-flipped avatars, allows some players to incorporate traumatic events into their personas, with profound affects on their “real-world" sociality.
Ataria, Y. (2018) Mindfulness and Trauma: Some Striking Similarities. Anthropology of Consciousness, 29(1), pp.44-56.
Baudrillard, Jean (1994) Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.
Hage, Ghassan (2009) "Hating Israel in the Field: On Ethnography and Political Emotions." Anthropological Theory, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 59-79.
Snodgrass, J.G., Lacy, M.G., Dengah, H.F., Fagan, J. and Most, D.E. (2011) Magical flight and monstrous stress: Technologies of absorption and mental wellness in Azeroth. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, 35(1), pp.26-62.
This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the schools of Culture, History, and Language and Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Show notes by Ian Pollock
KEYWORDS: culture, anthropology, ethnography, deepfakes, emotion, self, video games, dissociation