Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

‘The Hobbit’: An Analysis of Popular Media Portrayal of Homo floresiensis

‘The Hobbit’: An Analysis of Popular Media Portrayal of Homo floresiensis

Nicole Lopinski

The purpose of this research is to analyze the discourse of popular media outlets on the presentation of Homo floresiensis. Since the initial publication of this unique find in 2004, both the media and academia almost immediately dubbed it “the hobbit”. The remains of this short statured individual began a debate over how exactly to interpret the finding. The already unique hominin then had another unique problem to deal with: the myth of the Indonesian Islands of the ‘wild man’ or Ebu gogo. With this in mind, this study looks at popular newspapers and videos online ranging from documentaries to specials from scientific channels to independently run Youtube channels, to collect descriptions and labels used when discussing this fossil. This research examines the human and animal boundaries which are set up as ways to distinguish what makes us human, and therefore unique from other animals. To negotiate these boundaries, the media studied uses specific discourse when discussing H. floresiensis which in certain cases brings the hominin closer to humans, while in other cases propels it further away from us and closer to the animal boundary. Whether intentional or not, the protection of the human boundary can result in shaping the perceptions of this fossil. Future research would include expanding the sample size of newspaper articles and videos as well as incorporating other media sources like television news among others. The larger sample size would allow for a more in depth following of the human and animal boundaries as well as to see if further patterns emerge.

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April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract

6 Comments »

  1. Sounds timely. Looking at the sea-change in the connotation of “Neanderthal” in my own lifetime, this issue of how we allow terminology to increase or reduce the distance between us and other hominins will probably be foregrounded as the fossil record gets filled in here & there.

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 6, 2015 | Reply

  2. The “hobbit” label was a unique choice to label the remains found, but definitely done with some motivation. The timing of these finds coinciding with the release of the “Lord of the Rings” movie series would draw international attention with the use of this label. It seems the label was more media-driven than relating to the physical characteristics of Homo floresiensis. Whether or not this proposed new species could be viewed as more or less human would I’m sure be influenced by the perceived notions of a hobbit. The perceptions of a hobbit in nearby New Zealand, where the movies were filmed, would differ from those in Indonesia.

    Comment by Adam Bender | April 12, 2015 | Reply

  3. My comment falls in line with Adam’s. I wonder how in your paper you deal with the shared popular culture knowledge not of “Hobbit” intersects with the way H. floresiensis is understood. While you situate your argument to deal with how the media portrays the species and nicknames it, how do you negotiate these broader systems of meaning we share, even if they are just systems of meaning we have attached to film and fiction? Can you talk about H. floresiensis as being a fictive or “imagined”/”constructed” species of ancestor in the same way as cultural anthropologists sometimes talk about “imagined geographies” and fictive/constructed spaces?

    Comment by Kathryn Nowinski | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  4. I was wondering if the perception of scholars that study “the hobbit” is different in the academic community. Because of the myths surrounding the fossil, are other academics perceiving H. Florosiensis scholars as dreamers and romantics?

    Comment by Jaroslava Pallas | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  5. I am also interested in the types of academic communities that are using more human-like or animal-like tags for #hoflo. The naming of fossils can carry a great deal of weight for generations, think Lucy as the first true human ancestor. The hobbit is just the latest in a long a line of assigned qualities that we expect these hominin ancestors to possess but have little actual proof of outside of inference. I believe your abstract makes several good claims and I would be interested in reading more about the name techniques in paleoanthropology in general.

    Comment by Laura Cunningham | April 21, 2015 | Reply

  6. I find this topic exceptionally interesting when thought of in relation to other nicknames offered for hominin ancestors. One thing that comes to mind specifically is the large referral, and in some cases blatant naming (Crogmagnon man), of remains when sexual differentiation does not always allow for this distinction. With such fragmented remains, and with little data to be able to accurately determine sex, why is the default referral to remains androcentric?

    Comment by Kat Slocum | April 21, 2015 | Reply


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