Let's imagine: Gulliver's Travels and McDonald's restaurants

Two scenarios for cultural anthropology students

Can we learn something by trying to look at our own culture with an etic perspective?

These two scenarios call on us to suspend reality. We move into an almost science fiction mode. Force yourself to "think outside the box." In both instances you are asked to look at your culture from an "etic" -- or outsider's -- perspective.

Scenario #1

Remember Gulliver's Travels? Written in the early 1700's by Jonathan Swift, this delightful book (which was actually meant as social satire) recounts voyages to one strange place after another. The most well-known of those places is Lilliput where Gulliver is "captured" by a race of minuscule human beings, an event depicted in this antique advertisement by a thread company.

Gulliver's third voyage takes him to the flying island of Laputa. The inhabitants of that island speak a language that Gulliver does not know.

Suppose you were to travel with Gulliver to that flying island where you can communicate with people only by using objects that you are carrying with you. Suppose you could take only five things with you to "tell" people on Laputa about yourself.

What would those objects be? Once you've decided on them, write them on the chalkboard.

Drawing of Gulliver tied to the
ground by the diminiutive inhabitnats of Lilliput

Scenario #2

You are space travelers who have been beamed down to earth from the planet Pegasi. You don't know anything about life on planet earth but you have been instructed to carefully study what is going on and to report back your conclusions. When you were beamed down, you ended up in a McDonald's restaurant which you assume is typical for the entire planet.

A McDonald's restaurant has thus become an ethnographic "text" for you. Look for things which reveal something of cultural values and practices. From your observations of the following things in the restaurant, what might you conclude about life on the planet earth?

McDonald's iconic arches

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    -- Howard Culbertson

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