PLANET IN MY POCKET
1996. Directed by Beverly Seckinger, Arizona State University.18 mins. VHS only. Distributed by B Seckinger, 4218 E Ware Road, Tucson, AZ 85711, USA.
TOPICS: Anthropology, Media, History, Colonialism
USES: U, G, A
In recent years anthropology has received criticism as a social science and perhaps this criticism is well deserved. Anthropology grew from the philosophies and ideologies of Social Darwinism and colonialism. Anthropology largely remains the study of other cultures and their differences. This focus established a scientific validity even while stereotyping others as strange, backward and barbarian. These stereotypes, especially expressed through modern pop culture, television and movies, mobilize attitudes about other cultures. Planet explores images and stereotypes Americans have come to hold as relative truth about `the other' by parodying tourism as pop anthropology.
After seeing a group of gaudily dressed tourists in a bubbling hot tub with painted natives dancing around them, we are introduced to Leonora Livingston Peabody, who is to be our travel guide and educator. The opening scene plays on stereotypes. Imagery of captured Europeans being boiled for hungry cannibals is a continuation of stereotypes commonly portrayed in movies and advertisements. The name of our tour guide also feeds on images of exploring missionary and archeological museums. After presenting Africa as a dark and difficult continent, we are taken to Mexico, whose ancient architecture was built by extraterrestrials and those darn Indians on `our land?'.
Many of the clips are from old movies and TV cartoons, such as savages dancing around the captured Europeans, sleeping Mexican mice, and stupefied Indians. These ethnocentric images, accompanied by Peabody's commentary, are laced with one stereotype after another. They shock the viewer into recognizing that these attitudes are prevalent within American society.
An interruption happens as we are watching our tour guide. There is a news flash in which the viewers are told to beware of Dr Carla Akeley, also known as Stitches, who is an anthropologist \ taxidermist and has escaped from an insane asylum. She may be continuing her collection for her Museum of Culture, comprised of six stuffed and costumed bodies found in her basement. The news cast then shows an interview with the "crazed anthropologist" who is suggesting that anthropologists study the women selling plastic jewelry at a rest stop near Phoenix (aspects of our own culture rather than another). The reporter then warns us of danger and a curfew has been suggested.
One of the tourists is taking pictures of other tourists, perhaps cataloging the strange behavior known as "purchasing frenzy". However, the camera is often pointed at the video camera indicating that you, as a viewer, are also worthy of study. As we continue on Peabody's tour, there is a scene where the group of tourists are shopping; actually almost every time we see them in the film they are shopping. However, the scene where they are purchasing world globes is especially significant. This scene explains the title of the film, Planet In My Pocket. It is analogous to attitudes of ownership American tourists often reveal. Peabody's commentary exemplifies this aspect when she says "I don't know why they don't speak English, after all, they're so close to America? This recurs when speaking of Native Americans living on "our land". The idea that everything is purchasable or obtainable is a major theme in Planet. Towards the end of the video our tour guide is bombarded by the globes and, in the next scene, a woman is driving down a highway in a big Cadillac. Do you recognize her? She is the anthropologist escaped from the asylum, disguised as a tourist taking pictures of tourists, and through very suggestive filming, the viewer realizes that Peabody has been stuffed into the trunk of the Cadillac and has been taken to a motel to be stuffed and costumed as another specimen in Dr Carla Akeley's Museum of World Culture. Although the body is never shown (other than as a pile of exhumed guts), the viewer recognizes Peabody as the apparent victim because of the type of hat she wore. However, we are getting the perspective as if the audience is looking out of Peabody's eyes, and the anthropologist is placing the hat on us. Seckinger uses this image to point directly at the viewers. The hat symbolizes the idea that we, the viewers, have created images of `Others' and, in the eyes of another, the images of our culture can also be constructed.
(Reviewed by Jennifer Gage, Michigan state University, 1998)