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American culture and the Nacirema dynamic

The Nacirema are a sect of people living in America who have developed a culture that reflects a sadomasochistic oriented society. The general populous in this culture represents masochists; inflicting extreme ritualized body tortures to ‘purify’ and heal their bodies. They seek out the methodology for the various tortures from ‘specialists’. Specialists not only provide witch doctor like services, giving potion recipes and charm use instructions, they also provide tortures to extreme cases in the lati pso temple in exchange for rich gifts.

The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony (Miner, 1956). The case of the Nacirema exchange is an extreme example, but is not such a stretch to fathom its development based on the tendencies for dominant and submissive behavior structures in American society as a whole.

It is commonplace in relationships of even some of my closest friends to continually find someone who treats them badly. They may say they don’t want to be with someone like that and yet they continually end up in a dominant – submissive relationship. In these cases it often seems that the dominant person also gets off on being abusive (physically or emotionally) to the other person. If you have ever spent time talking with anyone who has been incarcerated. Our prison system has become a model for sadomasochistic behavior and it often spills over into our streets through treatment of citizens by law enforcement.

Even prisoners who get out of the system tend to end up right back in it or end up in a social situation such as a gang where the same dynamic exists. The interesting question is who really has the power ,the person in the position of pain or the one of pleasure. By allowing themselves to be treated in a degrading manner when they have complete control not to be that the power really lies in the hands of masochists and that they cultivate sadists for their purpose. Miner creates an accurate depiction of this dynamic in his discussions about the Nacirema.

Individuals are not forced to endure such torture as they might be if the power lied in the hands of the sadist. Most ritualistic tortures take place in the home in private. “While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies, but are private and secret. ” (Miner, 1956). Miner reinforces this idea when he describes how individuals who are particularly sick will seek out treatment in the temple, treatment that comes at a high cost in terms of gifts and potentially their life.

He states, “sick adults are not only willing, but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. ” (Miner, 1956). Based on his descriptions and what is known about other sects in American society it follows that masochists cultivate sadists and that with such a prevalent dynamic on a smaller scale in our culture it is not such a far stretch of the imagination to see its extreme cultivation as in the Nacirema tradition. References Miner, Horace. (1956). Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58:3. 503-507 Retrieved April 6, 2009, from http://www. jstor. org/stable/665280

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