The end of the semester is upon us once again and so naturally, procrastination has begun to distract me from studying. Instead of changing my procrastination habits to stop watching Netflix and to work harder, I decided to work smarter. While streaming Netflix and trying to find something to watch, I decided on Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove. To my surprise and relief, I found that the characters fit well within the framework of what Fredrik Barth advocates for, called Transactionalism. Unlike British Structural Functionalists like Radcliffe-Brown, who see the people within a society as having a shared moral census, Transactionalism views social behaviors as transactions between individuals who are all pursuing their own self interest. Fredrik Barth believes that people are guided by their own wants and desires, not exactly following the rules of the society. New social rules are constructed by people for their own benefit. In that respect, Barth sees that what British Structural Functionalists see as deviant is actually normal. Additionally for Barth, the explanation of behavior in Transactionalism gives us a way to analyze things that a British Structural Functionalist could not. We can notice the variability of behavior, viewing how people can act manipulative and even break cultural rules instead of just obeying them. A key part to Transactionalism is that there is no equilibrium in society and there is a continuous change occurring, this change allows for strategic behavior from members of the society. Lastly, Barth assumes that each person in an exchange are receiving equal value from the interaction. This exchange and value from the interaction being called a prestation (any tangible or social reward from one person to another).
The first character that fits Transactionalism is Kuzco. Throughout the majority of the film, he is concerned with his own self interest and does not think about society as a whole whatsoever. He is only working toward his own benefit. For example, Kuzco has a man named Pancha, from the village, meet him at Kuzco’s palace to speak to him about the land Pancha lives on. This conversation between Kuzco and Pancha is directed towards Kuzco’s self interest of building a pool, Kuzcotopia, on that land and destroying village homes in the process. As for Pancha in this situation, he acts in his own interest trying to get Kuzco to not build Kuzcotopia where his home currently resides. Their interaction continues through the film. Once Kuzco is stranded with Pancha, Kuzco agrees to not build his pool where Pancha’s home is and Pancha agrees to help him back to the palace. Now, through a bit of manipulation on both their parts, they receive equal value from their interaction, Kuzco gets home and Pancha gets to keep his home from being turned into Kuzcotopia.
Throughout the film we also see Yzma acting towards her own self interest. The very first scene we see her in, she is acting as the Emperor, sitting in Kuzco’s throne and conversing with ‘mere peasants’, as she calls them. Kuzco fires her and to get revenge, she plans on killing him but her assistant, Kronk, screws up the poison and ends up turning Kuzco into a llama. The interactions between Yzma and Kronk are transactionalist because they are both taking part for their own self interests and receive equal value from the exchange. Yzma needs the help of Kronk because he is the strength behind her plans, and Kronk gains the respect from Yzma in the interaction. Another self interest that Kronk works towards is getting Yzma to like his spinach puff recipe.
However, seeing that Yzma tells Kronk she has never liked his spinach puffs, it kind of goes against Barth’s statement that everyone receives the same value out of the interaction. Nevertheless, there are many instances in The Emperor’s New Groove where there are similarities to Transactionalism. In conclusion, the motives of Kuzco, Pancha, Yzma, and Kronk can be well explained using Barth and Transactionalism.
Just for fun…
Why did Fredrik Barth cross the road? For his own personal self interest, and it didn’t hurt that there was a Train ‘Pre’station on the other side.