Is Anthropology Really the Worst College Major?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in an interview in 2011 with the Sarasota Herald Tribune, that the state did not need any more anthropologists. According to Scott, no more tax dollars should be spent on educating “more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology.” Even though his daughter received an anthropology degree, he argued for a shift in state funding to science, technology, and math departments to support degrees “where people can get jobs.” His statements illicited response from Virginia Dominiguez, President of the American Anthropological Association, who sent Scott a personal letter. The anthropology community as a whole put up their defenses. At Beloit College, a small liberal arts school with a long history of excellence in the discipline, many would like to write off Scott’s statements as empty rhetoric. But the question remains: was Scott right?

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The Beloit Anthropology Department is definitely unique. The Logan Museum boasts over 215,000 objects from 123 countries and more than 480 cultural groups. Used as an open teaching space, the museum offers a venue for hands-on learning and investigation of the cultures studied in class. One student said that during a unit on early hominids, her Archaeology and Prehistory class observed the museum’s paintings to see how the portrayal of ancient human ancestors has changed through time. In addition to the museum, students have opportunity to do ethnographic research outside the classroom. Professors Lisa Anderson-Levy and Nancy Krusko are leading an ethnographic field school to Jamaica this May.

33980_10150799623184868_1940462699_nStudents in Beloit’s Logan Museum.

These initiatives appear to be successful in terms of gaining education beyond Beloit. The department’s website states that “more anthropology Ph.D.s earned their undergraduate degrees at Beloit than at any other four-year liberal arts college.” Just because the program produces Ph.D.s does not guarantee those Ph.D.s are making money. However, it does mean that anthropology graduates leaving Beloit are highly motivated and passionate about the discipline. Graduate schools across the country report high attrition rates for their anthropology programs because the degree takes so long to complete. The majority of programs can only graduate about half their students in eight years. Beloit’s graduate school success is indicative of their strong undergraduate program.

The question remains, is a doctorate in anthropology worth eight years and a $200,000 tuition bill? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the average anthropology major’s earnings are $54,230 per year. Forbes Magazine declared it the worst college major due to low earning potential. The stigma about a dismal salary exists even among the discipline’s ranks. Dr. Kylie Quave, professor of anthropology at Beloit said, “I wish someone had pulled me aside and told me about the lack of money in anthropology, but I don’t regret pursuing a degree in it.” Colleen Doyle, a senior anthropology major, said she chose the major because it encompassed a broad range of academic skills and interests. “I like the satisfaction of living off little money and I’m determined not to make a lot of it,” she said.

quave_webQuave doing research on the Inca in Peru.

Many of Quave’s peers from her graduate program do not currently have jobs and she feels lucky to have snagged her temporary professorship at Beloit. “I have one friend who opened a coffee shop because he couldn’t find anything else. Some people still don’t have jobs.” Even if graduates do not use their education working at a field site or in academia, they use their degree in other ways. Dr. Shannon Fie, another professor in the anthropology department, said “Job listings don’t list majors, they list qualifications, and anthropology majors are qualified for many things.” Quave said about her java-selling friend, “His background makes him a better business owner. He treats employees with more respect and awareness.”

Anthropology is not as useless a major as Scott professed. It may not make anyone a millionaire, but the BLS reported a 21% growth rate for jobs for anthropologists from the years 2010 to 2020. Above all, anthropology is a way of seeing the world that promotes ethical business practices and an understanding for all types of human beings. It’s a field of study that we cannot afford to ignore.

Anthropology and the Internet

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A Bleak and Harrowing Look into the Future

If you’re like me, then short films aren’t typically on your radar. They never seem to come to movie theaters, aren’t substantial enough to be shown on television, and many are animated, meaning there are no stars in them to grace the covers of glossy magazines while vacationing in Cabo. They draw almost no attention at all except for at artsy hipster-attracting film festivals, like the one recently held in Beloit. This festival was the reason I began my recent connoisseurship of short films. Motivated by guilt from not actually heading downtown to go see any short films, I holed up in my room to watch some of them.

By far my favorite was “Lucky Day Forever,” a 16-minute Polish film written, directed and designed by Alek Wasilewski. It’s hard to believe that such a concise product took five years to make. Up to this point in his career, Wasilewski worked with even shorter flash animations, comics, and photography. Many are disturbing like one animation called “Polsupah” in which a husband cuts his son’s head off as the wife watches and then the two have impromptu sex as their son’s blood spills on to the floor. This is definitely not the type of thing you want to watch in the library. Even if you’re alone at home, don’t watch it. It’s disturbing. Luckily, Wasilewski has toned things down a bit with “Lucky Day Forever,” perhaps in hopes to appeal to a broader audience and to allow his film to be watched in more libraries.

The film tells the story of a scum called Prole 514 in a rigid binary class system where he falls to the bottom due to his dark skin. His only pleasures are beer and the pornographic propaganda from the white world on his television. A bruised and battered love interest appears for Prole only to be quickly forgotten when he wins the “Great Lottery,” earning him his ticket to enter the pristine, elite, and white world of beings called “B’s” who live in perpetual fame, riches, and sensual ecstasy. However, we soon come to learn that even with his skyward-rocketing social trajectory, the outlook for Prole is decidedly bleak.

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Packed with blatant symbolism and surrealist parodies of the world we live in, “Lucky Day Forever” definitely requires more than one viewing. The most staunch attacks are aimed at racism, classism, and the powerful influence media has over the individual. Prole works in  glimmering silver mall where the tall B’s walk past him without even noticing his small dark presence. The TV shows only garrish MTV-like videos with celebrities telling a near comatose Prole that “Anyone can be a star.”

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In some ways the film lacks originality as the motif of a corrupted futuristic world are nothing new to art. In many ways, the plot and themes echo Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Wasilewski offers a different lens to look at the way our society may be headed. For one, the new medium of film provides an visually abrasive and powerful portrait of the a possible future. At the same time, the use of 2-D Flash animation allows Wasilewski to play with proportions and exaggerations to really drive home his themes of social inequality. Wasilewski’s Polish heritage adds another layer of meaning to the film’s commentary. The parallels of racial subjugation call to mind Poland’s history of subjugation at the hands of both Hitler and Stalin during World War II. Somewhat accordingly, the film palpitates with anger.

In all, the short is captivating with its weirdness. The cartoon characters are borderline pornographic which, even in 2-D stop animation, can be offputting. Yet it is precisely this perturbed fascination that keeps you watching as Prole’s life unravels while ascending to the top ranks of white society. The film gets at real issues that can be over-hashed to death by independent art projects, but it also applies a new and brazenly bold lens to tensions that we like to think have faded away. Wasilewski’s short drudges up this societal muck and the result is appropriately unsettling.

M-83 Ramps Up the Volume and Finesse

True to the band’s name, M-83’s sixth and double album Hurry Up We’re Dreaming transports you into a vast far-off galaxy and make you reluctant to return. Luckily, you don’t have to. Twenty-two tracks fill a solid hour of celestial stargazing amid blurred vocals and electronic emotion. The continuous synthetic vibes can be soothing or repetitive depending on your mood. Each track blends into the next providing a reserved but stimulating background for philosophizing, reading, sleeping, or exploring alternative states of consciousness. The lyrics and the melodies travel in circles with repeated phrases and tunes further wrapping you into the M-83 universe.

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This time around Anothony Gonzalez describes his move to Los Angeles after living in France for most of his life. Unlike previous endeavors, much of the album is a collaboration with many other artists including Zola Jesus’ vocalist Nika Roza Danilova. The album hums with the excitement and energy from this newness and experimentation.

Many songs like go without lyrics and many of those that are included are unintelligible in the name of shoegaze rock. But if you take the time to look up the lyrics, you will find a text that echoes the music it accompanies. The tracks come across as simultaneously wistful, serene, and expectant, trying to capture the entire range of human emotion. The songs tell stories of love, wonder, and the great experience of being human in a fleeting world. In the pop-infused “Steve McQueen,” Gonzalez sings, “The world is a goldmine/That will melt tomorrow.”

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Some of the best tracks are those that forego lyrics like “Where the Boats Go” and “When Will You Come Home.” These carry a meaningful weight despite the lack of human voice. They are carried instead by a wide range of instruments from saxophone to piano and acoustic guitar. Emotion is belied by the soaring strings and slap bass. Gonzalez stated that the album is “mainly about dreams, how every one is different, how you dream differently when you’re a kid, a teenager, or an adult.”

For the most part the album lives up to Gonzalez’ vision, effectively capturing an ambitious spectrum of emotion. The sheer number and variety of tracks with each flowing into, but at the same time very distinct, from the next. Longer songs of intense drums and upbeat tempo are coupled with their antitheses of short, sweeping and slow string interludes. The simple ballad structure of many of the songs is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel and Queen. However, M-83 steps into a new musical dimension by laying on the synth and minimizing vocals.

The double disks are supposed to compliment each other as “brother and sister” and in each, Gonzalez slowly builds anticipation with his trance-like style. The first disk is more reserved with subdued energy and the second acts as climax and fallout. In this way, the two work together to provide an arc of emotion that rises to a peak and then subsides with the closing outro. Although the album may be a little self-indulgent and long winded, it is an auditory space adventure that you won’t forget.

Productive Procrastination: The Art of Fueling Your Inner Study Machine

The Wisconsin wind howls outside, the bed is cozy and soft, and it takes an hour to exit your cocoon to use the bathroom. A quick phone check renders one missed call from Mom. Crap. It must be Sunday. If you just can’t muster the strength (or courage) to face that chemistry textbook, here are some productive ways to procrastinate on what needs to get done.

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1. Clean your room. It may sound lame, but if you blast the new Grizzly Bear album, and get down to it, then organizing that week’s clutter is a cleansing experience. Once everything is in its proper place, then focusing on other tasks will be easier.

Find new tunes to spice up your cleaning routine here.

2. Play a card game. Not only will it give you an excuse to hang with friends, but it requires significantly more mental activity than Facebook stalking your high school classmates. If you play for money, you could end up with a free Sunday dinner.

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3. Watch a TED talk. It may be part of the mindless internet bog, but it has many redeeming qualities pulling it out of the mire and into the productive realm. The site features talks from smart and engaging thinkers about what matters to them. Who knows? They could give you an idea for that paper due tomorrow.

Listen to these great talks by Steve Jobs, Brené Brown, and Andy Puddicombe.

4. Wander in Riverside Park. Despite what some claim, the city of Beloit is a beautiful place. If you make the effort to bundle up and venture off the campus you are bound to be rewarded by the sight of local fishermen, the calming flow of the Rock River, and the occasional slobbery but cute pit bull.

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5. Write a letter. Remember cousin Jack at U Madison whom the rest of your family disowned for smoking? That’s who you write to. Remember J.K. Rowling? Write to her too. Postsecret, your parents, Obama–just go for it. Everyone can use more snail mail in their life.

Watch this to learn how to fold your letters like a pro.

6. Make door art. Make it look better than your RA did. Grab some old magazines or last semester’s biology textbook. Make a collage and tape it up so people will know about the awesome person living inside.

Is your room one that people remember? If you want it to stand out for golf this Saturday night make sure you have more than this on your walls.

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7. Settle in at Bushel and Peck’s. Grab some books, your laptop, and plug into your iPod for the walk down. Once there, enjoy a just-sweet-enough latte served to you while sitting on a cozy couch by the fire. It’s almost like home!

Check out the menu here.

Leap out of bed, get crackin’ on the art of productive procrastination, and you’ll be refreshed and ready to do “real” work in no time.

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