I chose to do my presentation on a series which was aired by National Geographic titled “Taboo.” It consisted on several seasons which entailed a myriad of topics which are considered taboo in our modern day society. The two topics I chose to report on were the “Food Taboos” and the “Voodoo Taboo.”
–The following links will provide episode one of a four part episode series for each topic.
Food Taboo Link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hERIwUCX9ZA&feature=related
Voodoo Taboo Link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RKxQaA8Lg0
Some other topics that National Geographic reported on in there Taboo series include the following:
- Human Sacrifice
- Body Modifications
- Rites of Passage
- Witch Craft
I hope some of these topics will trigger some form interest and provide an informative, entertaining way to enrich your lives with new and extremely interesting information. All of these episodes can be easily viewed on Youtube. I hope you will enjoy watching some of these episodes as much as I did, and leave with a newfound perspective on life and diversity.
Introduction to Taboo series says “The Forbidden, The Sinful, The taboo…” Forbidden and Sinful are both words that people commonly associate with the word Taboo, however, I believe the goal of these series is to create a sense of world-wide awareness and acceptance for cultural aspects that are not common in the United States. These episodes instill in viewers a stronger sense of open-mindedness and tolerance for things that are not “normal” to us. “Behaviors that divide cultures and inspire fear” “But our differences may be what make us all human” (and show an image of a smiling child when they say the word ´human´)
These episodes describe the nature of a taboo topic. National Geographic has picked over 10 topics considered to be taboo and they have chosen to make a kind of documentary about each topic. The episodes are usually filmed in foreign countries and they use locals from these foreign countries to represent the “characters” in their taboo episode. One common theme that essentially every episode had was a legitimate authority, such as an Anthropologist or a Psychologist, explain or justify the actions and behavior of the people engaging in these taboo activities. One of the things I thought was missing from these series was perhaps some form of statistics. For example, in the Voodoo episode that took place in Benin, it did mention at the beginning of the episode how many people were active and current practitioners of voodoo, but in the episode about food, statistics weren’t provided as to what percentage of citizens actually chose to engage in eating insects, vs. those who refuse to participate in this ancient food custom.
One interesting aspect that most if not all episodes seemed to have in common, was making the Taboo topic, whichever it was, not seem so Taboo, or perhaps, seem more understandable or relatable. For example, in the Voodoo episode, one of the members of a tribe in Benin Africa, sucks blood from a wound in a man’s head (believed to be a direct portal to a powerful spirit.) This action of sucking blood from someone’s head, or any body part for that matter can be disturbing and offensive to many viewers however, the anthropologist that was being interrogated for this particular episode compared the villagers´ choice to ingest blood, to a Catholic’s choice to also ingest blood when taking holy communion. The anthropologist said, “Blood is not a sinister factor that only has a role in religions like voodoo, blood plays a significant role in many religions, such as Catholicism. During communion, unless you are a hypocrite and don’t accept the tenants of your faith, true Catholics genuinely believe they are drinking the blood of Christ while they are engaging in communion, therefore, accepting that they are drinking human blood.” In the food episode, they compared the common and widespread practice of eating insects and dogs, to Americans eating cattle. In India, it would be unthinkable and a sin to eat a cow because cows are considered sacred animals, however, or beliefs as Americans aren’t the same and our main source of protein in the United States is cattle. However, in countries such as China where a dog is simply considered another source of protein such as a cow, and dogs are commonly sold in the market as a food source. Where in most parts of the world, especially the U.S. it would be unthinkable to eat a dog, in China, it is common and is viewed as an acceptable source of food. These Taboo episodes from National Geographic strive to make these comparisons, I believe, to create a sort of understanding from its viewers, a form of balance between what is considered normal and accepting for us, and what is considered normal and accepting for people of other countries, and to come to some sort of reasoning, or understanding as to why and how things are the way they are in other countries foreign to our own.
Analysis and Interpretation:
Significant patterns that emerged in these series, were the use of an authority figure, meaning, a university professor for example (someone highly educated about the subject) typically an anthropologist, or less common, but also used, a psychologist . These people represented legitimate sources that provided credible information to the viewers, and credible viewpoints and commentary about each episode, each ritual, each practice, each belief etc. I believe they also served as a medium between the common viewer, and the participants of the practice being analyzed. They helped to sort of ease the information which was being given to the viewer, softening the rough edges, and providing clarity.
Another common pattern was the appeal to your senses. Whether it be a sense of disgust, a sense of anger, a sense of fear or a sense of confusion, most of these episodes are likely to stir up certain strong emotions in its viewers, which creates some form of attachment or emotional investment in the episodes which makes it more intriguing to watch. One thing we all have in common no matter where we are from is our humanity. We are all human, and therefore share many of the same characteristics, however, life starts to become interesting when we meet people from other nations and other cultures who have different beliefs and different lifestyles as we do, which naturally is intriguing. We know we share the common factor of being human, therefore having strong emotions like, fear, happiness, pain, anger, pleasure etc. and despite however different we might seem, we are still able to connect to other people in some way, shape or form which takes me to my next common theme which is the use of:
Relatedness, and what I mean by this is the strategy of establishing common ground in order to create a sense of understanding. Viewers want to understand what they are seeing, however, this sense of understanding cannot be achieved if they cannot compare, or relate themselves and what they know and believe, to what they are viewing in the episode. Almost every episode provided some form of relation or common ground that the American public could easily attest to. If we are provided with an example of something we don’t know and aren’t familiar with, to an example of something we do know and are familiar with and clearly understand and accept, then it is easier for us to understand and be accepting of other cultures and beliefs, since our specific culture and beliefs can be just as taboo for other cultures, as their specific cultures and beliefs can be extremely taboo for us.
After watching a multitude of the Taboo series from National Geographic I can safely say that it seems like the more I see the less I know. This series was immensely informative, and very entertaining to watch. After watching several episodes, I feel I have become even more tolerant than I already was towards other cultures and other belief systems simply because it is fascinating to learn about our differences and essentially, our similarities, which after viewing these episodes from National Geographic, I learned that although what makes us all similar is displayed in various different ways, all of these forms of rituals, practices, our beliefs ultimately conjure the same meaning: our devotion and respect for life and its immense diversity.
I think the biggest form of engagement that I could do after viewing these episodes would be to keep advocating tolerance in my society and with my age group. People, especially people my age, tend to reject what they don’t know and aren’t familiar with, however, when you open your mind to the unknown and the uncommon, literally a whole new world can unfold before you, and the experience of fully immersing yourself in the unknown, is way worth the insignificant amount of fear and scrutiny you might encounter.