Modern anthropological studies are placing an ever growing amount of importance on mass media. This interest came about in large part as a reaction to the up rise of nationalism leading up to World War II, and the growth of mass communication and media. Since that time anthropology has shifted from the mere study of indigenous cultures into the study of nations, states, political ideologies, institutions, and all the instruments of nationalism.
1980s and World MusicAs the twentieth century came to a close the undeniable influence of mass media upon society and nationalism has made it a subject of great interest to anthropologists and Native communities alike. Anthropologists have begun to utilize the tools of mass media to further education and understanding across national and cultural lines. More significantly, access to mass media by Native populations has allowed for them to represent themselves through the dissemination of music, art and literature of their own designs independent of the anthropological disciplines. The knowledge, and primary sources that have historically been imparted through the discipline of anthropology can now be accessible to everyone and is no longer confined to universities and their text books.
Anthropologist Francisco Osorio of the University of Chile in his paper “Why Is Interest in Mass Media Anthropology Growing?” points out that both Anthropology and mass media “… have a common starting point in World War II.” Since the 1980’s which Osorio marks as the beginning of Modernity within anthropological studies, the study of mass media has been the focus along with science, capitalism and consumption.
The late 1980’s also bore the broad musical category “World Music” which has proven to be a lucrative commercial interest, as well as a strong medium to foster cross-cultural communication and a more profound interest in the social sciences.
World music is a broad genre that encompasses nationalist and regional music from all around the world. Most often it represents the musical styles of communities that in previous decades would only be heard by outsiders while on vacation, a safari or an anthropological field study. Styles such as Reggae, Blues, Celtic Music and Powwow drums represent just a small yet broad variation of the World Music genre. According to Carsten Wergan in “World Music: a medium for unity and difference?” World Music is often intended to communicate the identity of its regional culture to the outside world, to educate each other about their respective cultures through the medium of music. This has been successful through investments in quality production and mass distribution. It is by its nature a means to arouse an “anthropological” interest in its listeners.
Native Americans Take Control of Mass Media
In the past, when mass media was more restricted to an elite few, Native peoples were usually portrayed in the basest forms as stereotyped images of their cultures. But as mass distribution, through networks of independent record labels and the internet has become more accessible to every person, Native Musicians have begun to emerge from their formerly obscure shadows in the mass consciousness of Western society.
In 1989 Tom Bee formed Sound of America Records (SOAR) with the intention of distributing music made by Native Americans. According to his bio; “In 1995, Bee formed yet another company, SOAR Distribution LTD for the sole purpose of providing his clients with one-stop music from other independent labels and artists also producing Native American music.” Tom Bee was also the driving force behind convincing NARAS to create a Native American Grammy category*. Tom Bee has been such a significant influence and positive impact on Native American music that he has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, none the least are the Native American Music Awards (Nammy) for Producer of the Year in 1998 and the NAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. He was awarded a Grammy in 2004 for production of “Flying Free” by Black Eagle. Bee was also recognized for his many successes and his positive impact on native music when Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, New Mexico proclaimed July 27th, 2002 “Tom Bee Day.”
Tom Bee helped open the door and now Natives of various stripes have found their methods through more commercial avenues of music such as hip hop, rock and roll and alternative music to use mass media as a way to further the cause of their national identities and to demonstrate how corporate interests impact their lives. Shadowyze whose first album release was produced by Tom Bee uses South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation as the backdrop for the Native American Hip Hop video “BUMPY ROADS,” which conveys the struggles and obstacles of living in a lower economic bracket – something that truly does cross ethnic boundaries – but in the very culturally specific setting of a Lakota reservation. In this manner artists like Shadowyze, Litefoot and John Trudell have learned to use this medium of music to convey social messages and bridge cultural gaps, helping to portray the values and economic situation of indigenous cultures more accurately.
The Internet Provides a Higher Standard of Cultural Accuracy
The democratization of the internet changed everything in the media. Websites and blogs are created for little or no cost. Webmasters can form groups like the old webrings with similar interests and purposes linking to each other, creating a network accessible to the general public. Native communities have been using the internet to reach out to the world and enlighten them within the comfort of their own living room. Anthropological oriented sites such as media-anthropology.net or korubo.com are also easily accessed by thousands and potentially millions of people to provide education about indigenous concerns. Now the internet phenomenon has taken on a new shape with social media like facebook and twitter. Artists and musicians have free access to their own promotional site, and now unique, cultural and traditional music can be accessed by millions through their computer screen. These sites are also being more directly utilized to further the education of anthropological studies as groups such as the Amazon Conservation Team, founded by the renowned ethno-botanist Dr. Mark Plotkin sign up and seek “friends” with whom to network. It seems as technology advances pop culture, more accessible avenues are opened up for advancement in cultural awareness.
As this trend continues and people of different cultures become more aware and knowledgeable about other societies, a higher standard of cultural accuracy in the media increases. Fewer people are accepting the disingenuous images of the stereotyped savage that has been perpetuated for centuries in American cinema as more Americans become aware of different cultures through the easily accessible mass produced media and the internet. In this setting all people including Natives can use their own words, music and art to express their own values and views.
A New Era of Media is a New Era of Education
In previous decades anthropological resources could only be accessed through stodgy old books in expensive centers of education. Many of the experiences that were once confined to anthropological field work and class study can now be accessed by the whole of society through the faculties of mass media. As society gains more access to and education of anthropological experience through the media it becomes more sophisticated by its exposure to the disciplines theories. The ability to use film, music and internet capabilities allows people to potentially reach audiences in the millions. This is quite a difference compared to the mere hundreds that were previously fortunate enough to have contact with the books published and disseminated mostly within the confines of a university.
In the present era Anthropology does not have to be limited to text books. As mass communication helped bear nationalism in the twentieth century, anthropological theory became more concerned with national faculties such as the media. In the post-Vietnam War era United States mass distribution of music and video provided the means for an upsurge in nationalistic and culturally specific genres of music now called World Music to have a more international audience. With the sophistication of technology through the beginning of the twenty-first century and the advent of the internet, the music and arts of the diverse peoples of the Earth can be accessed by each other respectively with the click of a button or the flip of a switch. The old books of anthropological theories are no longer the sole guide to cultural awareness. We may for the first time in history be at a point where cross cultural rapport can be achieved on a massive scale through the free access of media throughout the globe.
*discontinued in 2012