Willamette professor co-authors book on anthropology of Hollywood blockbusters

Willamette University professor Peter Wogan's new book, "Hollywood Blockbusters: The Anthropology of Popular Movies," delves into the cultural underpinnings of American society by looking at movies through the lens of an anthropologist.

Wogan and co-author David Sutton explore anthropological theories about ritual, kinship, gift giving, power, egalitarianism, literacy, linguistics, stereotypes and the mysteries of the Other to provide fresh insight into the popularity of movies such as "The Godfather," "Jaws" and "Field of Dreams."

"Blockbuster movies are like enormous collective dreams," Wogan said. "Movies can create a visceral connection to important anthropological concepts."

Wogan explored this connection through a class that he teaches each year at Willamette. In Wogan's "Survey of Anthropological Theory" class, he used "Jaws" to explore underlying tensions in American culture in the same way that anthropologists study myths in non-Western contexts. These classroom discussions over several years at Willamette, and in one of Sutton's classes at Southern Illinois University, informed the arguments made within the book.

Among other aspects of these blockbuster movies, the authors consider the nature of linguistics in "The Big Lebowski," and they discuss the nature of boundaries in "Field of Dreams." Wogan and Sutton also include a less commercially successful movie, "The Village," to explore and contrast with movies that have become deeply interwoven into American culture.

The book is available in bookstores and online. Additional material and discussion is available on Wogan's companion blog at