Bye bye everybody


I cannot say I am sad (tomorrow at 10.00am I will finish my undergraduate studies!!!) but I feel a sense of loss, like everytime something I really enjoyed finishes. I will remember this course: first it introduced me to blogging, and then it gave me some ‘keys’ to unlock today’s situations.

I hope tomorrow the questions about the two weddings will not be too difficult, considering also that we do not have much time to write…

I think I will focus on the political significance of both. I will try to  analyze the place in British history the two wedding had and how the difference was expressed through the performance of the ritual. More than the symbols in theirselves I will examine the structure and the symbolism of the two performances.

Having said that, maybe the two questions will have nothing to do with all the above!!! And so… I will be in trouble.

Thanks to all the class bloggers for their interesting posts. It has been helpful to read your ideas and comments.

Wish you all the best

Fat and flabby


One question [even if it is not directly connected to rituals] for the people who read Irene Stengs article. On page 108 she dwells upon Hazes’ body appearence and how how this appearence contrasted with today’s parameters of fitness and ‘politically correct body’. Stengs says that through his self-destructive, addictive behaviour, Hazes stated his autonomy from mainstream culture. She ends the chapter saying that “his iconic status was partly based on being a counter-model, a proof that ‘fat and flabby’ can also be successful, even against all odds”.

Here is my question: could the same happen with a woman? Please do not answer Susan Boyle, as she is [sadly] just a sideshow freak that will last until someone will make money out of her. Hazes was something totally different.

There is one thing that came to my mind after we left the lecture today. It’s about the media coverage and the perception people have of a famous person. My opinion is that in the last few decades our society gave more and more importance to being famous. ‘Celebrity’ is a word that was not as popular as now when I was a child or a girl (in the sixties and the seventies). Celebrities have become another item that has been commoditized by our society, and the media are the channel through which they are sold. Thinking back to Hazes and Hillary’s funerals, I think the ‘celebrity’ component took a bigger part than the persona: think aboutthe way that both families and public ritualized their funerals. Would the partition of the ashes between the two wives or the tattoo with ink and ashes have happened if Hazes was just a plumber? Would the crowd show up in a rainy day to see just for a few seconds the funeral procession if Hillary was just a renowned athlete? Celebrities are part of our lives because they enter our houses and ‘talk’ to us, we ‘know’ everything about them, we ‘own’ them. What were Hazes and Hillary impersonating for the crowds? How their ‘celebrity’ side influenced their families in the choice of the funeral ritual? Celebrities are ‘ours’ also at the moment of their funeral. The ritual becomes a performance that must conform to popular demand. I am not so sure how happy would Hazes and Hillary be, if they could see their funerals from above…

Interesting lecture today. I really enjoyed how the wedding ritual has been framed. Through Ronaldo on ritual (‘it starts before it becomes visible’. And in the case of a wedding this is so true), then in listing a number of features that we are all well aware of, and then going to a theorical framework to explain the public and private function of the wedding ritual. I also enjoyed the two readings, even though I had mixed reactions. First of all because of writer’s attitude. I hope in saying this I am not simply influenced  by the fact that Argyrou is ‘native’ to the practice that he describes, whereas Goldstein-Gidoni is not. Anyway, to me it looked like the intention of the first reading was to actually scan how 1930s wedding practices in Cyprus could be examined according to the Van Gennep’s three parts scheme. Argyrou was also very good in making understand how social interplayed with private in that ritual and how the weddings are representitive of 1930s Cyprus’s lifestyle, ideologies and power relations. Most of all, Argyrou saw the change that occurred in the Cypriot wedding ritual as an important and delicate expression of changes in a society’s that has been affected by the relationship with Europe and the West.  The modern Japanese ‘wedding machine’ described by Goldstein-Gidon, on the other hand, sounded to me as a biased description made by an observer [from outside the culture] who is reporting according to his personal cultural values. I found quite derogatory the way in which a claimed distant and neutral account was in fact ridiculing the practice, the place, and the people involved. Many aspects of modern Japan may look like Dysneyland to a stranger. The relationship with the past, with native and imported ‘traditions’, old and new, is very different from the one of the West. It seemed to me that ‘A Day at the Kobe Princess Wedding Parlour’ had nothing to do with a “thick description”. I might be absolutely wrong, but I would love to hear the opinion of a Japanese…

I am very angry with myself. The only lecture I missed so far was the one on Ronaldo’s view of ritual’s meaning and I am realizing how important it was, also in view of our Anzac assignment. I must add that in my essay I focused on the emotional participation of the crowd… so no much more to say than ‘bugger’! Anyway, what I would like to talk about here is that I am enjoying very much the mix of theory+ account through videos and readings that is offered by ANTH213. It is probably the first anthropology course I am doing that presents this direct and continuous interaction. For me, in fact, it has been most important to study articles such as Turner’s or Moore’s or to go to every single lecture (but the one on Ronaldo!)  and then experiencing through class and personal interpretation of the videos what the scholars were trying to argue. This method is helping me because for example today, when I was leaving the lecture room and recollectingthe Hauka’s video that we just watched, I was thinking back to the meanings given to that ritual. I thought that for a number of reasons to me it had similarities with carnival, and I also thought how carnival has been used in many countries as an act of resistance to hegemonic power. I just had a look to our book of readings and I discovered that there is an article (that I confess I did not read) about the Hauka movement and that it was included in Week 4 readings about carnival. Wow!    I am a bit scared of the final test, but I reckon it will be an interesting challenge now that we were given some tools to scan a ritual.

Today is MayDay


I am back blogging after a bit of absence… (too busy with assignments and holidays, of course!).

After 6 years in NZ I have almost forgotten that today is Mayday. Reading Mach’s article about MayDay rituals in Poland made me smile, because, more or less in the same period, in my home country they had a completely different meaning and participation. Mach underlines how MayDay celebration has been taken over by Polish communist governments over the years to suit their political scope and to send a very constructed message to the people. At the same time he describes how, through Catholic Churches, Polish opposers to the regime were able to set up an alternative meaning to the same celebration. After WWII and until 1980s, Italy had the world’s largest Communist Party outside the communist countries. As you can imagine, the celebration of MayDay at that time was dominated by the C.P., the Unions, and other leftist organizations who were looking at communist countries – such as Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. – as examples of desirable societies. Red flags and communist symbols were displayed in the main street of each city, pep rallies reverberated in the squares. What I want to mean is that at a time when Polish people were dreaming about a country free from Soviet domination, a greatest number of Italians (as well as many French, Spanish, Germans etc) had a uthopian vision of communism and staged rituals that were meant to be celebrative and to honour it. But it would be superficial to think that it was just fool. What I like of anthropological approach to ritual is the scan of the many meaning’s layers behind any human celebration.

I enjoyed very much the reading of the second article about Bela Bartok’s funeral. Susan Gal is able to assess and uncover in a very interesting way the symbols, the ideology, and the meanings hidden behind that funeral ritual. I thought that – although she does not mention it – Bartok’s funeral could represent an example of  ‘invention of tradition’. Hungarian government was able in fact to play with the national identity theme for its scope. Gal demonstrates that because Bartok lived in Hungary only until 1940, well before most of the people at his funeral were born, because his music would be considered unacceptable by the majority of the people who participated at his funeral, because – with the exception of few intellectuals – nobody knew his name before the press campaign that preceded the funeral, Bela Bartok as a national symbol was really meaningless.

About Carnival


After watching the video on the German Carnival on Tuesday, I must admit that i thought “Jee, how scarse participation and fun there is in that carnival; it’s mainly about the re-enactment of historical or past events of the town, without direct involvment of the crowd: like they were just spectators….”. The Gilmore’s reading for this week helped me to understand that there are countless facets that carnivals may take according to the culture where they are performed.  I link here a few Youtube videos that probably better than me are able to show what I mean. They are taken from two main Italian carnivals: Viareggio and Venice. I think it is not hard to see how different they are. The carnival of Viareggio is mainly about a celebration of the town identity; the extraordinary ability of its craftmen is expressed through the creation of huge chariots, usually teasing political or public figures. The whole town also gathers at night for four weekends in four different suburbs where food and beverages (quite a lot of alchool!)  are offered and music is diffused around the streets. Almost everybody is in fancy dresses and go crazy dancing and singing. Venice is quite opposite: the incredibly sophisticated costumes and masks celebrate the grandeur of Venice past, underlying the sinful and pretty much sexual carachter hidden behind the beautiful palaces or in the little waterways. Of course nowaday both carnivals are a tourist enerprise too (like Palio di Siena), but I can tell you that both the people from Viareggio and Venice are crazy for their carnival, it’s like carnival is in their genes… This centuries long tradition is quite obviously a communal ritual to uphold town’s identity,diversity, and uniqueness. People from Viareggio are proud to be easy goers, in their history they were the best Mediterranean boatbuilders (they used to build the ships for English Royal Navy), used to deal and to mix up with strangers. Venice is totally different: for almost two centuries it has beenthe most powerful city of the Med, and besides that the town of mistery, of  ‘relaxed costumes’ and sins, opposed to a suffocating pressure from Roman Catholicism (don’t forget that Casanova was from Venice and he actually existed). So both carnivals today seem to affirm that “yes, of course, we are in 2009, citizens of the world; but we, people from Viareggio and Venice, are different. We have something special inside”. In both cases I agree with Gilmore when he says that Carnival “can create a moral unity through symbolic means among classes and sexes” and it is “a celebration not so much of anti-establishment feeling per se, in some undiluted form, but rather of ambivalence itself, of dualism, contraddiction, and mixed feelings”. Can you see that?

This week has been quite intense for me. Not only a lecture that has condensed so many basic concepts about liminality together with the introduction to secular rituals, but also a reading that I found I bit hard to ‘digest’ (Moore). In fact I normally feel a bit lost when anthropologists break down the analysis of a social practice in so many details. Having said that, I found very useful – and it helped me to clear ideas – how Moore  explains Turner’s definition of “structure/anti-structure”, as well as the differences between Durkheim’s ‘functionalist’ vision of religion and rituals from the ones that more modern scholars have. I think Moore will be helpful to keep in mind when writing the Report assignment about the the “collective ceremonies” we have chosen to describe. I think it is possible to scrutinize the situation we will describe with her list of secular ritual’s properties in mind  (Repetition/Acting/Special behavior/Order/Evocative style/Collective dimension). I have tried to do that when I was taking my notes at a medical centre on my second day of observation and … it made sense!

Last but not least: I also found the second reading (D. Rook) worthwhile. In a more accessible language (at least for me!) it views at the secular ritual from another point of observation and, more important, from a modern point of view. Rook’s breaking down of the ritual is different from Moore’s, and more approachable: because he is focused on consumers’ behavior, his lists of components of ritual’s elements, of ritual behavior typology and the ways to assess ritual’s vitality are described and explained in a way I could see myself or situations I have been part of. Taking in consideration everyday, and also private rituals allows to scan social interaction and to analyze how society sets a code for ‘doing things’. Rook says: “Ritual experience also illuminates the psycological depth, conflict, and fantasy components of everyday behavior”. In my opinion this is very true.

Well, this is all for now.

Originally I had another idea but it was too difficult for me to realize. I am glad to share it if someone else likes it:

to go into a court room and seat in the public. A trial could be considered a quite impressive theatrical ritual of modern days, could’t it?

For our first assignment I thought to the waiting room of my medical centre. Not a happy place, I know, but an interesting arena to observe human emotions I reckon. I’d love to know what you have chosen. Ciao everybody