Review: “Body Ritual of the Nacirema”

May 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

“Body Ritual of the Nacirema” is a satirical anthropological analysis of typical American health habits. It is written from the viewpoint of an anthropologist belonging to a different society, with no real comprehension of American culture, and thus sees American health habits as bizarre and superstitious.

The analysis describes in detail many common American health practices, such as using the bathroom, taking medicine, and visiting doctors and dentists. However, the narrator has no insight into the logic behind these practices, assuming that they are a result of belief in superstition and magic. The tone and rhetoric of the analysis recalls early American anthropological studies of foreign cultures. Like early American studies, this analysis employs a condescending tone in describing the subjects, dismissing their lifestyle as extreme and ridiculous simply because it is unlike what the author is used to. The author also uses language similar to early anthropological studies that make cultural habits sound like exotic superstition, for example describing medicine cabinets as charm-boxes of magical potions, hospitals as temples, and doctors as medicine men. Common events such as shaving and dental procedures are attributed to masochistic and sadistic tendencies, intended to make American culture seem “primitive” or “uncivilized.”

Many Americans tend to view their own lifestyle as the most “correct” and others as “strange” or “uneducated.” Like the narrator, some Americans make false conclusions about a society without trying to understand the reasons for their actions. The author making the point that our culture may seem equally strange and senseless to others.  In a sense, he is telling Americans to shed our arrogance when exploring other cultures, and to keep our minds open and unbiased.


§ 2 Responses to Review: “Body Ritual of the Nacirema”

  • ethnolust says:

    Nice work here. There’s one thing that I’d like a challenge. You say that the writer of the article seems to be someone who doesn’t understand American culture. That may be the case, but I’d ask how much of the “normal” parts of American life really can be strange to people who do things differently.

    I really like that you point out the author’s seeming inability to understand the cultural context of these activities that he describes. As much as this article asks us to critique Miner’s descriptions of American life, I’d like for you to question normalcy itself.

  • Miriam says:

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You are currently reading Review: “Body Ritual of the Nacirema” at CA94: A Cultural Crash Course.


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