The Portrayal of Looting in Scooby-Doo

The villains in “The Fiesta Host is an Aztec Ghosts” are an ostensibly respectable pair of husband-and-wife archaeologists who use costumes and projected images to hide their nefarious behavior, the looting of artifacts and jewels from the Aztec pyramid they are studying. Their need to hide their actions is a marked departure from the typical pop-cultural portrayal of archaeologists as having the solitary goal of retrieving valuable items from ancient temples and tombs, as with Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. The plot of this cartoon is remarkable for carrying two assumptions that, by remaining unstated, are presumed to be both obvious and unimpeachable: that the looting of ancient artifacts from their original context is a crime that is recognized as such even by the perpetrators, and that even archaeologists are not entitled to remove objects from the sites they study. If either of these beliefs did not hold true in the world in which the show takes place, there would have been no need for the elaborate distraction undertaken by the couple.

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The show can therefore be said to more accurately reflect contemporary attitudes towards the material remains of the past than the standard portrayal of the archaeologist-adventurer, a character type based on attitudes common a century ago. The collapsing of archaeologist and looter into a single character, however, complicates matters. The motivation for this may have been one of dramatic contrasts, whereby the individuals least likely to be behind the “haunting” are revealed to have been the guilty parties, as archaeologists are the most vocal detractors of looting and the antiquities trade. Yet, from a different perspective, the unmasking of the villains could be understood as exposing the dark side of their professional personae, showing archaeology to be little more than looting justified through an appeal to scientific inquiry. Thus, while it utilizes many persistent, exoticizing tropes in its portrayal of the Pre-Columbian past, this Scooby-Doo episode presents a relatively radical critique of the prevalent pop culture representation of archaeologists as treasure-seeking hero-adventurers.