Week 1: Part 1: Angela Wheeler

Today’s program was the film Through These Eyes! an anthropological piece that focused on the MACOS project that was instituted in American elementary schools in the 1970s. MACOS, or Man: A Course of Study, was intended to show children cultures so far and different from their own, that the children would then be able to view and better understand their own selves and culture.

Beginning the film, this viewer was more prepared for a stronger focus on the subjects themselves, looking at the native Netsilik people and their culture, and a bit skeptical. The film was just under an hour and went back and forth from shots of the children in the classroom talking, the original film of the native people for the MACOS courses, then parents of the children, and finally shots of the filmmakers and cinematographers speaking out the film.

By the end of the hour, this viewer was disgusted to say the least. The film opened speaking about how important the social sciences are in regards to the development of children, adults, people as intellectual human beings. The time is set just after the Space Race and how America was vying to stake its claim in the world as a leader of tech. To make better rounded citizens, children needed to be taught about other cultures. It was easier to use the medium of film than transport classrooms full of elementary age children to Northern Canada, and thus the MACOS project was formed. The children were enthralled, parents horrified by the violent and less “civilized’ ways, similar to most introductions of new technology being tied to the rise of violence.

The true disgust and horror however did not arise from the ignorance of the parents, but the overbearing nature of the commentators. The dominant culture was prominently introduced by the film makers and cinematographers when the purpose of the MACOS project was to make “better humans’ or make the American populace “more human.’ This sets up a binary: us v. them, America v. the native cultures, our better, human culture v. their “other’ or lesser culture. It was saddening to see a true chance for cultural relativism be turned into what this viewer saw as a highly negatively produced, ethnographic piece.

When the screen went black and my thoughts began to swirl, I remember having a lot of anger at this dominant culture I am a part of. Similar to how mainstream culture directs our thoughts, what is thought to be cool, hip, or “in,’ goes far beyond our pop music and body image. It relates to how we view people on the street, the comments that are written up on different media platforms, the stereotypes that are bounded to the co-cultures: “It [culture] limits as well as liberates us;’ (Baran 14). Introducing media of this nature to children back in the 1970s leaves an impression — the parents were worried about the effect on the children, but what about the effect on the people of that film?