I’ve come across an interesting page from an Indiana University Anthropology professor, Richard Wilk. Wilk collects instances of Western consumer goods in tribal contexts, tawdry replicas of indigenous art, idiotic products catering to silly human desires and preposterous ads. As a person who has experience working in both museums and ad agencies, I can appreciate the crossover between the two. There’s something toxic about these products, no matter what materials they are made of. A ridiculous ad that refuses to disintegrate in public consciousness, a pair of artificial testicles for a dog that will forever remain in a mental landfield, and a Singapore-made “True American Taste” McCoffee that screams phony. What do museums preserve: something good and fragile that we, as humans, are afraid to lose, or something utterly caustic that we’re upset about, want to keep under our control and give it at least a semblance of authenticity? What do advertising agencies promote: a great product that people absolutely need to have around (but haven’t they already found out about it from friends?) or a poor product that needs to be salvaged from the wrath of God?
Richard Wilk’s sphere of academic interest encompasses Mesoamerica, American Southwest, economic anthropology, media studies, human ecology and consumer culture.