LAUGHING AT FIRST CONTACT

Authors

  • PETER WOGAN

    1. Peter Wogan is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. His interest in the film First Contact—particularly PNG reactions to Australian technology—primarily stems from his research on indigenous perceptions of literacy in highland Ecuador.
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Abstract

This paper examines student perceptions of humor in the film First Contact. Based on previous critiques of cultural representations—namely, charges that some ethnographic films replicate stereotypes and that images of deified European explorers instantiate a “myth model”—the paper considers the possibility that laughter evoked by First Contact derives from the viewers’ sense of cultural superiority. For the most part, this interpretation is not confirmed. Instead, audience laughter is found to be based on incongruities in the interactions captured in the film. Using notions of incongruity, connections are drawn between humor, wonder, intellectual discovery, and cultural contact.

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