It Came to Me in a Dream : Levi-Strauss & Tumblr


“It came to me in a dream,” may not be an acceptable citation in a research paper, but it can definitely be a source of some rather interesting conversation starters.  Conversations with my friends have led to some pretty out there discussions that leave us wondering how in the world we got there.  The best conversations usually start with “Hey guys, do you ever wonder…”

So here I ask you: “Hey guys, do you ever wonder what it would be like to read an ethnography by Levi-Strauss on the ‘People of Tumblr’?”  Seriously, think about it.

Claude Levi-Strauss was the founder of French Structuralism.  Like other idealists, Levi-Strauss believed that culture was a mental rather than physical construct.[1]  Levi-Strauss was heavily influenced by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and believed that language was an important part of culture.  He proposed that “the language that is spoken by one population is a reflection of the total culture of the population.”[2]   I have to agree with that sentiment when it refers to the speaking/writing patterns of my fellow fans.  We can hold entire conversations in public where we might as well be speaking a foreign language because the people around us have no idea what we’re saying.

“Members of the different Tumblr ‘fandoms’ often come together at formal meetings known as ‘Comic-Cons’ for the opportunity to meet celebrities along with people from other fandoms as well as their own from around the world.  The largest of these gatherings is held in San Diego…

…Each individual Tumblr ‘fandom’ has their own slang terms.  Their shared dialect of English can, at times, completely baffle outsiders.  Though many of the words are familiar, the context in which they are used changes their meaning drastically…

…Another example would be the word ‘ship.’ In fandom terms, the word does not refer to sea vessels.  A ‘ship’ refers a romantic relationship. When someone says that they ‘ship it’ the person in question believes that a relationship between the mentioned persons is a good idea. While in most cases these ‘ships’ are about fictional characters, they can also be about real people as well.  Many of the more popular ‘ships’ have specific names, such as Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), Destiel (Dean Winchester and Castiel), or BlackHawk (Black Widow and Hawkeye).  When a person has several ‘ships’ they are occasionally referred to as ‘an armada’…”


Well, go on then.  Tell me this ethnography wouldn’t be the most hilarious thing ever.  It would give Sass Master Horace Miner and his “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” a run for its money. (Seriously, someone has to write this. Please.)





[1] (Moberg 2013, 266)

[2] (Levi-Strauss 1957, 327)


Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1957. Linguistics and Anthropology.

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory. New York: Routledge.

19th Century Evolutionism

Darwin in Pop Culture


darwin book signing

Unlike most academics of times gone by, Darwin is alive and well in Pop Culture today.  He makes himself at home on the internet through memes, demotivational posters, and the absolutely hilarious Darwin Awards.  Even if they never studied the Theory of Evolution in school, most people have a least a passing familiarity with it, and when it is mentioned Darwin is the name that most people associate with it.


survival of the dumbest

Memes are everywhere.  They appear on nearly every social media site.  They can be found taped to office doors and breakroom walls.  Memes are used as a way of sharing an ‘in-joke’ with complete strangers on the internet.  What the “Darwin Facepalm” lacks in popularity he makes up for with sass.


natural selectionI like my memes as much as the next gal, but I find demotivational posters to be much more entertaining.  The best Darwin-themed demotivational posters I’ve found involve the Darwin Awards.  There’s the cliché of ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ and a demotivational poster can tell a short story.


darwin award nose drill

Don’t deny it – we all like to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude from time to time.  One of my favorite ways to do so is by visiting the Darwin Awards website. (http://www.darwinawards.com) The site describes the Awards as “Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool – by removing themselves from it.”  The awards are bestowed upon men and women whose stupidity got them killed.  There are also ‘Dis-Honorable Mentions’ given to ‘At-Risk Survivors.’  Natural selection isn’t as much “survival of the fittest” as it is “the ability of the fittest to darwin award gunreproduce successfully.”  With that in mind, it is unfortunate that the Darwin Awards don’t always help the process of natural selection because some of the ‘winners’ had children before receiving their Award.





flying spaghetti monsterAnother accidental contribution of Charles Darwin to Pop Culture today was the formation of a new religion.  For a while, in the early 2000’s there was talk about teaching “Intelligent Design” in biology classes instead of evolution.  In response, Bobby Henderson wrote a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education saying that if they were going to teach children about Intelligent Design, then it would only be fair if they were taught about the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  The letter was obviously satirical and meant to discourage the teaching of religious vs scientific theories, but in the way that all things on the internet happen, it went viral.  Members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster refer to themselves as ‘Pastafarians,’ and the religion is recognized in the Netherlands and New Zealand.

{For more information: (www.venganza.org) or (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster#Internet_phenomenon)}

Image Citations (In Order):







Darwin in Pop Culture


Independent Invention & Cultural Diffusion

Edward Tylor – author of the first anthropology textbook, Oxford professor, and “armchair anthropologist” – asked how similarities between cultures could be explained when the cultures in question came from different regions.[1] To answer his own question, Tylor came up with two theories that could do so; ‘independent invention’ and ‘cultural diffusion.’[2]

Independent invention explains cultural parallels by saying that when humans, regardless of their cultural or geographical origins, are faced with a similar set of circumstances they will come up with comparable solutions.[3]  Tylor called this the “psychic unity of mankind.”[4] The overall concept runs along the lines of the cliché ‘great minds think alike.’ (Thank goodness they also think differently though, or life would be very boring.) When explaining independent invention Tylor used the example of stone tools including the “knife, saw, scraper, awl, needle, spear and arrowhead”[5] to make his point. (pun intended)

The other side of the coin is cultural diffusion.  The cultural diffusion theory believes that while independent invention can account for some of the similarities cultures share, the majority of them are the result of different ideas, religions, languages, myths, traditions, and other aspects of culture being passed from one group of people to the next like germs during flu season.  One example that I can think of off the top of my head is the Romans.  Their mythology is almost the same as the Greeks, but with different names.  The Romans had a vast empire, and wouldn’t you know it; they left behind variants of their language which we now group together and call the “Romance Languages.”

A good example of both theories at work can be found in the Nova documentary I watched recently in my North American Archaeology class.  One of the main focuses of the program was the “Clovis Point” that North America is known for.  As Tylor himself noted, projectile points are something that has been used across most cultures.  What makes the ‘Clovis Point’ an ‘independent invention’ is how it is unique to North America, and was, therefore, most likely invented here.[6]

The Clovis point itself originated at the Gault Site in central Texas.[7]  There is a huge deposit of chert there that the people of the time used to make stone tools.[8]  What makes the Clovis point so interesting from the cultural diffusion point of view is how far from ‘home’ at the Gault Site the Clovis point traveled.  What really stuck out to me when connecting the reading from our Anthropological Theory class to the video from my North American Archaeology class together was something the narrator said.

“There’s even evidence of trade networks between Clovis people at different sites across the continent. It’s not uncommon to find Clovis points hundreds of miles from the source of the original rock. And different bands of Clovis people probably traded more than just tools; they may have been exchanging potential spouses.”[9]

So in conclusion… I found Tylor’s theories of independent invention and cultural diffusion super interesting.



Engaging Anthropological Theory: A Social and Political History. Moberg, Mark. Published in 2013.

AMERICA’S STONE AGE EXPLORERS http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3116_stoneage.html

[1] Moberg, p. 118

[2] Moberg, p. 119

[3] Moberg, p. 119

[4] Moberg, p. 120

[5] Moberg, p. 119

[6] NOVA transcript

[7] NOVA transcript

[8] NOVA transcript

[9] NOVA transcript