...and the absurdities of ethnographic film as representational meaning.

This ‘intentionally controversial’ video was inspired by visual-anthropological scholar-emeritus Jay Ruby.  Ruby’s work informs much of mine here in Cultural Farming.  Ruby has seen this video, and has categorized it in scatological terms... verifying this form of ethnographic surrealism truer still to an original surrealist intent.

Frank Zappa, most likely, would not be fond of most ethnographical film... including my attempts at pedagogical mash-up.  But I believe if he had to choose, he’d rather watch Zapook than Nanook.  But this, too, is silly speculation.

Robert J. Flaherty launched Nanook of the North: A Story of Life and Love in the Actual Arctic (1922) into household/academic celebrity.  However, much of his film was staged, rehearsed, and edited for effect.  This of course continues routinely today.  But importantly, even where contemporary anthropology filmmakers make concerted efforts tocapture life as is’ on film, it is the camera and its imaging techniques that speak, before the anthropologist or her subjects.  Curiously, even our most influential (surreal?) anthropologists sometimes willfully deny a camera’s power.  Fifty years after Nanook (and 40 years before Zapook), our continuing failures to capture ‘reality’ were certainly never lost on Zappa. 

...and so, while this (YouTube) boy in his bedroom, broadcasting himself globally over the internet, vainly struggles to gain authoritative legitimacy in cultural critique, we are struck by the very same ineptitudes displayed within Flaherty’s film.  Neither tells us much about ‘life or love’ - rather both are demonstrations of how our realities are absurdly (mis)represented via our cameras - that then launch an intellectual(?) cascade of absurdist interpretation.

Many others have spoofed Nanook or themselves on YouTube.  I have collected some of these mediations here to build a montage chorus to which Zappa is again our (logical/absurd) conductor. 


Barbash, I. & Taylor, L. (1997). Cross-cultural filmaking: A handbook for making documentary and ethnographic films and videos. Berkeley: University of California Press (page 6).


Zapook of the North    2008  (13:45)