Chandler Zausner, one of AAA’s youngest members, submitted the following post about his experience at the AAA Annual Meeting and how he caught the anthropology bug.
My name is Chandler Zausner and I am a student at the High School of Art and Design in New York City. I recently had the opportunity to serve as the youngest presenter at Familiar/Strange, the 114th AAA Annual Meeting in Denver. The subject of my abstract was Cosplay as Tribal Ritual: Transmedial Archetypes as Avatar and Shaman. I could not have accomplished it without the inspiration and encouragement of the anthropologists that I met when I attended the previous year’s AAA convention in Washington, D.C.
Though I had been interested in myth and culture since elementary school, it never occurred to me that my interest could translate into a job. I was content to create toy pantheons mixing Mayan, Greek and Egyptian gods, represented by Happy Meal toys and action figures. In middle school, I discovered Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey. At that time, I also began exploratory classes at the American Museum of Natural History, but was led to believe that archaeology and anthropology were limited to the study of past civilizations. It was not until I attended the AMNH Margaret Mead Film Festival in October of 2014 that I discovered how anthropology could be an immersive living investigation. I met visual and cultural anthropologists who had documented subjects from Australia, China, India and Malaysia. When I asked these filmmakers how to explore anthropology in a modern day venue, each one suggested the American Anthropological Association.
Six weeks later, I was on a bus to Washington, D.C. to attend my first anthropology convention. I was nervous to be the only high school student at the convention. The bulky program intimidated me and I wondered if I would even understand the vast conversation that would take place. From the moment I registered, I felt welcomed and encouraged. Every presenter was approachable and gave thought-provoking answers to my questions about their research and the field in general. I returned home inspired to launch my own research project.
Because I had a familiarity with Japanese Anime, I wondered how other young Americans explored the same subject. I was intrigued by how two such diverse cultures combined to create a third, which inspired me to create a film record of the adaptation process necessary for American distribution. One aspect that captivated my attention was the emotionality and passion of “cosplayers” found at regional conventions. My first interview subjects revealed a compelling inspiration and responsibility in their devotion to portraying iconic characters from Japanese Anime. I wondered how this experience could be codified and I found my answer in the Hero’s Journey. This began the basis for my visual and cultural anthropological investigation.
To prove my theory, I would conduct a series of ethnographic observations at regional conventions, including more than 100 interviews and 500 surveys over the course of six months. I also completed a comprehensive literature review of anime plot lines and the existing scholarly perspectives on fandom. As my research progressed, I felt inspired to submit my abstract for presentation at the 2015 AAA convention and was gratified to be chosen by the Society for Cultural Anthropology for their panel, Games of War and Power.
To frame my research and eventual presentation, I used many of the resources listed on the American Anthropological Association website. Once my abstract was accepted, I relied heavily on links provided by AAA to construct my presentation appropriately and professionally. I am especially grateful for the roadmap provided by Tanya Boza on her blog, “getalifephd” and the AAA Style Guide! I am also grateful to Sara Perry, Jerome Crowder and John Jackson, three members who were generous with their advice and encouragement.
My chance exposure and the kindness of professionals in the field resulted in an early validation of my process and my path. I am grateful to the American Anthropological Association and my fellow members for the perspective that I have gained through early exposure to the many facets of anthropology. This insight has been invaluable as I explore different university anthropology departments and complete the college application process. Although I have never met them, I suspect that there may be other young individuals who could be intrigued to become anthropologists. Based on my experience, I would encourage the AAA membership to reach out to high school students, who could bring a fresh perspective, especially in regard to new technology and presentation methods and the emerging transmedial global conversation.