Anthropologists therefore can conclude (as did Montague and Morais) that football provides for Americans, as the cockfight does for the Balinese, a small-scale rendering of a concept (status in the case of the Balinese; success in the American case) that is too complex to be directly comprehended. Football is compelling because it is a vivid demonstration of the validity of the value of success as well as a dramatic set of instructions on how to attain it. Consequently, the audience for a football game is led to believe that if the rules that govern the world of football are equated with those of the business world, then the principles that govern success on the football field must also apply in the world of work. That is, if hard work, dedication, submission to authority, and teamwork lead to success in a game, they will lead to success in real life. The rules by which success is won in football can also be applied to win success in the real world.
Of course, football is also a game that people enjoy. Analyzing it should not reduce our enjoyment of it but rather heighten our fascination with it. By looking at football from the same perspective as Geertz viewed the cockfight, we should gain an understanding of why the meaning carried by the game is important. Although understanding the cockfight heightens our appreciation of the football game, it also helps us to see similarities between Americans and Balinese. If you were shocked by the cockfight, seeing the similarities to football should lessen that shock while also making football seem just a bit more exotic. An Anthropologist Looks at a “Happy Meal” Nothing is too mundane to provide some insights into the culture of which it is a part. Take the Happy Meal advertised by one of the many fast-food establishments in the United States. It usually consists of a hamburger, french fries, a cola drink, and a plastic toy—often a Barbie doll or a Hot Wheels car or something related to a current popular movie. What can we learn about the culture of the United States by looking beyond the taken-for-granted quality of this meal? Among other things, we can get some idea of American demographic and ecological patterns, agricultural and industrial history, and gender roles. Why, for example, is meat the center of the meal? Most cultures have diets centered on some complex carbohydrate—rice, wheat, manioc, yams, taro—or something made from these— bread, pasta, tortillas, and so on. It is the spice, vegetables, meat, or fish that when added to these foods give cuisine its distinctive taste. But meat and fish are generally at the edge, not the center, of the meal. Why is beef the main ingredient rather than some other meat, such as pork? Anthropologists Marvin Harris and Eric Ross note that one advantage of beef was its suitability for the outdoor grill, which became more popular as people moved from cities into suburbs.
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- Spring '16