Body Ritual Among the Narcirema by Howard Miner

Intention: In this essay, Miner satirically addresses the ridiculous things American people do their bodies. He successfully astonishes the reader about their own nature by describing the “Narcirema” as a foreign and primitive people that have rituals done because to them “the human body is ugly and its natural tendency is to debility and disease.”

Tone: The tone of this essay mimics the one of a scientific journal, or another credible document. Because of its tone, the audience is led to believe this essay is factual and not satirical in nature.

Subject: The subject of this essay is the strange people of “Narcirema” and their body rituals.  The author goes into depth, humorously turning daily activities into horrifying atrocities. When the reader discover that these activities are things that are in their own daily schedule, the author invokes memory, causing the reader to place themselves into the formerly disgusting activities. From this experience, the author hopes to show the reader how strange our culture looks to an outsider, and it makes the reader emphasize with cultures they had previously judged.

Context: In today’s society, we often find ourselves critically judging the cultures and practices of other people because we do not understand. We also put a big emphasis on beauty. Miner beautifully marries these two trends by causing the reader to call into question the ridiculous things we do to become “beautiful” and causes us to realize that all cultures look strange to outsiders. By setting this satire in the context of modern society, the author is able to make his message even more powerful.

–Sarah Braunstein

The biggest intention that Miner had in writing this satirical journal was to make the audience realize that the way we talk about other cultures can often make them seem alien and terrifying. The whole time, Americans are reading this journal thinking “wow this culture is seriously screwed up!” only to later realize that they are a part of the culture that is being scrutinized. The article is meant to do this and make people look at other people and their cultures with a more accepting eye.

When first read, Miner’s fake anthropological article on “the Nacirema” has a very cold, serious, and factual tone. If one isn’t aware that the entire thing is utterly satirical, they are more than likely to think that it’s real (I know I did, oops). However, once the audience is aware of the clever facade Miner put over his piece, it’s easy to find his sarcastic and extremely amused voice. This helps boost the power of Nacirema because Miner makes his persona so believable, only to be revealed as fake and thus amaze the audience and cause the reader to see how we were completely appalled by our own societal practices.

In this article, Miner has an abundance of ethos. Albeit, it is faked ethos expressed through an anthropologist persona, yet the effect is all the same. The point of Miner’s style and approach to this essay was to, from the very beginning, make the reader believe that all the words that were soon to follow were 100% scientific truth. Miner preys upon the American tendency to believe almost any scientific paper as automatically being accurate, no matter how bizarre or alien it may sound. The audience is so absorbed in the strange “facts” of this disturbing culture, that they don’t take any time to think about why they feel sort of familiar…

–Skyler Houser

In the following quote, Miner describes a typical medicine cabinet and how we treat old prescriptions: “The charm is not disposed of after it has served its purpose, but is placed in the charm-box of the household shrine. As these magical materials are specific to certain ills, and the real or imagined maladies of the people are many, the charm-box is usually full to overflowing. The magical packets are so numerous that people forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again.”

Intention: Miner elaborates and dramatizes on some of our cultural practices regarding the body and its functions to show our simultaneous disgust and fascination with our bodies. Examples:

  • the rituals associated with the family “shrines” (bathrooms) are private and secret, and the rites are only discussed with children when they are “being initiated into these mysteries”
  • “Natural reproductive functions are similarly distorted. Intercourse is taboo as a topic and scheduled as an act.” Reproduction and birth is natural and yet people are uncomfortable talking about it.

Tone: Even though the essay is written in a formal and scientific manner, once the reader knows that the work is satirical, you can almost hear the author’s sarcastic and mocking tone when describing our culture.

— Sierra Houser

Intention-Miner exemplifies the racism underscoring much of anthropological practice and stresses how the normalization of American culture is harmful for the scientific community and the rest of the world.

The satire of the piece is amplified by its precise adherence to the conventional writing style of scholarly journals. Miner even cites other prominent anthropologists, building his persona’s ethos as an author and researcher.

The article relies on exotic words to create a sense of foreignness  to the culture we live in everyday. By reducing the science-based health practices (e.g. teeth-brushing) as a magical ritual, the speaker strips them of their significance. Most cultures have a reason behind their seemingly strange practices, even if it doesn’t appear obvious. Using “tribal magic” as an explanation for anything unknown reveals the laziness of racist anthropology, and its professionals’ refusal to try to understand a different way of life.

The arrangement and style of the piece particularly reveal how specifically this was addressed to the audience. Miner went after racist and malpracticing anthropologists by emulating their style and exaggerating their mistakes. This criticism depends wholly on the audience understanding the conventions of anthropological scholars and recognizing their own practices in Miner’s satire.  

–Rachel Meyer


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