Anthropology in Practice

Anthropology in Practice

Exploring the human condition.

Clowns, Zombies, and Luck: More Halloween Favorites From Anthropology in Practice


Photo by Thomas Scilia, CC>

Haven't had enough of ghosts and ghouls yet? Here are some favorites from Anthropology in Practice:

Why are we afraid of clowns?

Tricksters have a reputation for being bawdy, antisocial, and clever. They’re characters with whom many of us are quite familiar—Bugs Bunny, for example, is a trickster. Anansi the spider, Hermes, Loki, and Rumpelstiltskin are tricksters. (Tricksters are typically male; Eris, the Greek goddess of discord, is a notable exception.) The fairy tale legions of leprechauns, fairies, and goblins are also tricksters. So what is it about clowns that strikes terror into the hearts of so many?

The American Fascination with Zombies

Zombies aren’t pretty creatures. Popular media depicts them in assorted states of decay. They shamble. They’re insatiable cannibals. And, well, they’re dead. So why can’t we get enough of them?

What makes a rabbit's foot lucky?

Lucky charms are in essence fetishes: objects culturally invested with magical properties. But they are also constructed to carry social power as well. Why does one carry a lucky token? Because one believes that fortune is needed in some way. But it might also suggest that the owner of the token is unlucky, or lacks confidence—which is perhaps why our lucky tokens are often small, discrete objects. This is in keeping with the general belief that the owner falsely or overly values such items; they are childish and trivial items that can be readily dismissed by others. Despite this undercurrent, the behavior persists. So where do lucky tokens get their power from?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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