By Paco D. Taylor
In the classic monster movies of Japan, three islands located in the South Pacific are home to three of Tokyo's biggest threats: Giant Beast Gappa, Barugon and King Kong. In real life, these remote islands are home to some of the biggest threats to anthropology textbooks everywhere.
One of the best anthropology lessons that I ever learned came not by way of a classroom, but while I was watching Japanese "dai-kaiju" (giant monster) movies on television. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was the first of three movies that kick-started my learning curve by inspiring what may be the single-most profound question a movie has ever inspired me to ask:
Why the heck are so many people in this movie wearing afro wigs?
If you've never seen King Kong vs. Godzilla, the film opens with the owner of a drug company wracking his brain to come up with an attention grabbing pitch for a new ad campaign. At the same time that he's working on the campaign, a scientist tells him about a giant creature (King Kong) that is rumored to be living on Fauro, a small island in the South Pacific Ocean.
And everybody knows that in the world of Japanese advertising, nothing grabs peoples' attention like a giant monster does.
The company owner quickly makes arrangements to send two employees on an expedition to the jungles of Fauro. The men are charged with the task of capturing King Kong and bringing him back with them to Japan. In order to capture the beast, though, they must first gain the trust of Fauro's natives, who see the giant ape as an angry island god.
When Kong makes his way into the picture, he is promptly thrown into a skirmish with a giant octopus that has wandered ashore, probably attracted by the scent of a kava-like beverage the natives make from berries that only grow on Fauro. Kong uses some Judo moves, tosses some boulders, and sends the octopus packing. After that hearty workout, he quenches his thirst with a few pots of Fauro Island Punch, and pretty much gets a party started.
With the sound of tribal drums echoing into the night, dusky island girls in grass skirts and coconut bras shake and gyrate at Kong's feet. As the women dance around, they serenade Kong with a hypnotic chant that rock-a-bye-baby's the giant ape into a drunken slumber. Taking advantage of the situation, the company men have Kong tied to a giant raft and make way for Japan with their sedated captive...
The above is an excerpt from the 2.5 version of the "Monster Islands" article. It's actually still not finished, but I think I'm much further along with this one than any previous version -- And there are several previous versions. As mentioned in a previous post, the first attempts to write this started at least seven years ago.
With this piece, the hardest part has been finding a simple way to communicate complex concepts -- all within the confines of a brief article on anthropology. At the same time too, I've also wanted to come up with a more playful tone to take the place of the angry intellectual rant that this piece always turned into.
Finally, though, I think that I've found the way to simplify the subject and also show a sense of humor about it all. Though I'm still plenty pissed at both modern academia's and pop anthropology's silence on the subject matter, this current approach will be a "kindler" and "gentler" take.