Taught by Associate Professor of Anthropology Amanda Weidman, offered Fall 2019.
What's Cool?: I’ve worked as an anthropologist in South India since the early 1990s. My interest in the region began with studying South Indian classical music. I became interested in the power of performance and the ways that boundaries are drawn between “high” and “popular” culture. I also watched lots of Tamil movies, which are made in “Kollywood,” one of several regional film industries in India that make movies in different Indian languages, beyond the Bollywood industry that many have heard of. For the last 10 years, I’ve been working on a project on the singers who record their voices for the song-and-dance sequences in these films, and who, though they don’t appear on screen, become celebrities in their own right.
Anthropology doesn’t make value-based distinctions between “high” and “low” culture—to an anthropologist, all forms of expressive culture are worth studying for what they can tell us about a society’s power structure and its aspirations. I hope students will come away from this course with tools for approaching performance and popular culture—not only in South Asia, but at home—as more than just entertainment.
Course Description: Though India’s “Bollywood” film industry may be the most widely known, the countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka) have produced varied and vibrant forms of popular culture, including cinema, theatrical and other forms of performance, music and visual culture. Approaching cinema and other audio-visual materials from an anthropological perspective, this course will examine performance and popular culture as crucial sites for the construction and negotiation of gendered identities and gender ideologies in these different national and regional contexts. The issues we will explore include: questions of agency, constraint, and identity in performance; the role of mass mediation in creating new masculinities and femininities; changing forms of celebrity and fandom; and the relationship between popular culture and larger national and sociopolitical identities.
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