Sex, religion, politics. We anthropologists can sure make life sound serious. It may be worth remembering that most of the transgressions that add spice to human life are venial sins, Freudian slips, only slightly daring or sometimes very funny, indeed. 

I recall a Japanese market researcher's citing a psychological study that indicated a range of responses to rule-breaking, from mild amusement to intense fascination, just before the edge at which going a bit further becomes disgusting and elicits revulsion or anger. 

I think of the plight of anthropologists who, as my friend Don DeGlopper observed, re studies of Chinese popular religion several decades ago, that we anthropologists seem to be a tone-deaf lot, professionally committed to treating the local equivalents of leprechauns, the Easter bunny, and the Virgin Mary in the same deadly serious manner.

But why am I writing this? Because last night, a fellow member of a men's chorus based in Japan that next week will be singing in Milan and Rome quipped about himself, "What's a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn like me doing singing a mass in Japanese at the Vatican?" Now, is that transgressive or what?

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Of course, he's a nice cosmopolitan guy. But insisting that the joke doesn't involve transgression depends on a rather ponderous and limited sense of "transgression" that points to yet another my-semantics-are-better-than-yours debate. Not my cup of tea just now.



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