Blueprint MCAT Full-Length 1: Passage 2 – Cargo Cults

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MP 198: Blueprint MCAT Full-Length 1: Passage 2 - Cargo Cults

Session 198

We’re joined by Phil from Blueprint MCAT, formerly Next Step Test Prep. If you would like to follow along on YouTube, go to

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[01:56] Passage 2 (Questions 7-13)

Paragraph 1

Cargo cult behaviors provide opportunity for cultural anthropologists examining millenarian legends. More important is the Western discourse that has grown up around cargo cults, which we shall simply call the cargo cult myth. This myth represents an insidious form of Western imperialism with, at its roots, two pervasive facets of Western culture: materialism and paternalism.

Note: What the author cares about here is how this is related to the Western discourse on cargo cult. So we have these two parts of this Western imperialism and paternalism, which the author is not a fan of. And it’s important to recognize what it is that the author actually cares about.

[03:31] Passage 2, Paragraph 2

The Melanesian islands house groups of tribal peoples who, for thousands of years, had no contact with outsiders. Staging ground preparations in World War II saw an influx of Japanese and American soldiers into the islands. The sudden contact with advanced industrialized society came as a shock to the Melanesians. Seeing large cargo planes dropping huge crates of supplies (often shared with the locals by the servicemen) created societal upheavals. To the Melanesians, only the gods could be powerful enough to bestow such amazing material wealth, so the soldiers were seen as priests who had some special power to please the gods and bring the cargo. When war ended, the servicemen departed. In response, tribesmen began performing religious rituals to bring the cargo back. They built mock airstrips in the jungle, began dressing in outfits designed to mimic soldiers’ uniforms, and even began parading around in imitation of military drills and formations.

Note: It’s actually pretty interesting how the Melanesian islands are pretending they’re in the military to try to get the airplanes back.

[04:36] Passage 2, Paragraph 3

Anthropologists and other Western observers first seeing this behavior, reacted with amused paternalism. Early publications made comparisons to children “playing house.” Theodore Schwartz and Peter Lawrence, two of the first anthropologists to study cargo cults, laid down what became the basic tenets of the cargo cult myth. Schwartz wrote extensively on how the Melanesians had a great emphasis on demonstration of material wealth. Local chieftains were often the ones who could most ostentatiously display their status through goods. The arrival of enormous quantities of material wealth from the cargo containers was jarring, demonstrating the vastly higher status of Japanese and American servicemen. Lawrence focused on indigenous value systems that predated cargo cults, and suggested again that the materialism and provincialism of Melanesian tribes created the necessary preconditions for cargo cult development.

Note: We have these people of the islands. They’re used to determining your stance and society on how much stuff you’ve had, and then the soldiers came in and they’ve got way more stuff.

[05:57] Passage 2, Paragraph 4

It was not until the 1962 “documentary” film Mondo Cane, however, that the cargo cult myth became widely known and the accepted discourse inside and outside of academia. This so-called documentary caught the public’s imagination. An explosion of films, books, and scholarly articles followed, each further emphasizing the materialism and backwardness of the tribesmen.While contemporary eyes may be offended by the paternalism of this early work, is there any truth to it? Schwartz and Lawrence were no academic lightweights. Each had a long and successful career as academic cultural anthropologists and their work, although dated, should not be wholly dismissed.

Note: We know the author is not a fan of this paternalism and materialism stuff. But on the other hand, the author here is couching their opinion a little bit and saying, these people who came up with these, you can’t just dismiss them because they’re pretty serious academics.

[06:48] Passage 2, Paragraph 5

The truth of the cargo cult myth lies in its attempt to tie how Melanesians viewed material wealth with their behavior after encountering industrialized society. Most Melanesian tribes followed a “Big Man” pattern in which political authority was held by the person best able to give away material gifts. The current Big Man could be displaced at any time by another individual who was capable of giving away more and bigger gifts. With no formal authority structures and no heritable authority, the pressure on a Big Man to continuously build and give away material wealth is large. When the servicemen began casually giving away things like extra ration tins, extra clothing, and other manufactured goods, the tribesmen perceived them as Big Men the likes of which had never been encountered.

[07:42] Passage 2, Paragraph 6

The notion that cargo cults that later developed were materialistic had a grain of truth. But the materialism was entirely at odds with the Western acquisitive notion of material wealth.

Note: The author is saying here that the materialism being exhibited here by the Melanesians is different than in the materialism scene in these Western cultures. And so it seems it’s more about giving away the material stuff is important within these Melanesians. So in a way, it’s a material-focused society, but it’s focused on giving, rather than like acquiring, which is what the western notion is.

'You have to be really careful not to bring in your own viewpoints.”Click To Tweet

You need to make sure that whatever you choose as your answer, it has something in the passage to help you get there. If it helps you understand it better, that’s good. But you have to be really careful not to choose answers based on that outside information. If it helps you understand what’s in the passage, it’s good. If it starts going beyond that, it’s a problem.

[10:03] Question 7

Which of the following actions is mostly likely to be taken by the “Big Man” in a typical Melanesian tribe?

  1. Perform elaborate rituals that mimic behaviors of Japanese military servicemen during World War II
  2. Encourage his tribe to attack a neighboring tribe to acquire their possessions
  3. Have a paternalistic view towards other tribes that began a cargo cult
  4. Give livestock and weapons away to members of a neighboring group to increase his status with that group

Thought Process:

Answer choice A doesn’t really answer the question. B is the opposite of D, which is about giving away but it’s to the neighboring group. But D is the most logical thing here since you’re just giving away livestock and weapons. It’s to another group, but that’s exactly what you want to do. You want to build your status to everyone.

B makes sense when you like logic your way through it. But note that they say, “acquire” their possessions. And so the very last sentence of the passage is saying that the materialism of the Melanesians was completely at odds with the western acquiring notion of materialism. So B is actually more of a Western viewpoint of acquiring materials.

“When dealing with CARS, don’t be an analyst and don’t come up with scenarios. Instead, be a reporter and report on what the passage said.”Click To Tweet

Correct Answer: D

[14:32] Question 8

The author’s attitude towards the work of Schwartz and Lawrence can best be described as:

  1. deeply appreciative.
  2. disgusted and dismissive.
  3. disinterested but admiring.
  4. skeptical with measured respect.

Thought Process:

The one sentence where they talked about their work, though dated, should not be wholly dismissed. That’s telling you the author thinks it’s a little bit dated, but can’t just dismiss it. C is tempting. It will give you that admiring thing that they have this heavy academic career. The problem is disinterested. The author wouldn’t probably say they’re interested and they don’t care about any of this. He wrote the whole passage. Obviously, they’re somewhat interested in it.

Correct Answer: D

[16:12] Question 9

The passage suggests that the cargo cult myth is founded largely on the:

  1. work of early anthropologists such as Schwartz and Lawrence.
  2. popularity of the film Mondo Cane.
  3. desire of Melanesian tribesmen to acquire manufactured goods.
  4. need of Melanesian “Big Men” to maintain their status.

Thought Process:

This seems like a trap question because it’s the cargo cult myth is founded, not necessarily what the tribesmen were doing.

We can throw out C and D right away because that’s what happened. That wasn’t the myth around what happened. And so the question is, where’s the myth from? Now, the Mondo Cane talked about the 1962 documentary that the cargo cult myth was not until that film that the cargo cult myth became widely known in the accepted discourse inside and outside of academia. That’s what is founded on.

It wasn’t until this documentary film Mondo Cane that the cargo cult myth became widely known and accepted, which means that it existed before. It just wasn’t accepted. And then if you go to the Schwartz and Lawrence in the paragraph above, Theodore Schwartz and Peter Lawrence, two of the first anthropologists to study cargo cult to lay down what became the basic tenets of the cargo cult myth. And so they created the cargo cult then.

'Analyzing stuff is what makes you so good at the sciences. But with CARS, you have to crumple that analytic viewpoint in your mind.'Click To Tweet

Correct Answer: A

[20:04] Question 10

The cargo cult myth assumes which of the following ideas?

  1. Melanesian tribesmen have a materialistic view of the world.
  2. Melanesians believed that their mock runways could attract cargo planes to bring them material wealth.

III. The isolation of Melanesians left them ignorant and backwards.

  1. I only
  2. I and II only
  3. II and III only
  4. I, II, and III

Thought Process:

The passage supports that the author of the passage is saying that those assumptions are possibly incorrect. But the question is asking, what’s the myth? That’s a constant battle a lot of students are struggling with. The fourth paragraph really supports this idea that this Mondo Cane is what led to this cargo cult myth becoming widely known.

“You've got to be careful not to bring in stuff even when it seems fundamental.”Click To Tweet

Correct Answer: D

[22:56] Question 11

According to the author, the cargo cult myth:

  1. owes its popularity to film representations.
  2. can be understood as a morbid fascination by Western audiences with morally “backwards” but technologically advanced tribal peoples.
  3. was developed entirely by the work of Schwartz and Lawrence.
  4. was weakened by paternalistic facets of Western societies.

Thought Process:

Answer choice C was developed entirely by the work of Schwartz and Lawrence. They were the foundation. But then it was built on more after that documentary. So we can throw out C. Then D was weakened by paternalistic facets of Western societies. The whole myth was that it’s supported by the paternalistic facet so that one is just the opposite.

In B, they weren’t technologically advanced so that’s just wrong.  So A is the right answer. The fourth paragraph really supports this idea that this Mondo Cane is what led to this cargo cult myth becoming widely known.

Correct Answer: A

Question 12

What does the author most strongly imply regarding the cargo cult myth?

  1. It is a myth precisely because it has no factual basis in the realities of Melanesian life.
  2. It ultimately reveals more about negative Western perceptions of tribal groups than an accurate representation of those tribal groups.
  3. It accurately represents the key facets of cargo cults, both in how they originally developed and in how they are maintained to this day.
  4. It understates the key impact that material wealth plays in Melanesian society.

Thought Process:

The author seems to be very much that this is a myth, it’s not based on fact, it’s based on this whole paternalistic Western view of what happened and what’s going on. So A seems like a very good answer. No factual basis is an extreme statement. But you have to find a path from somewhere that says there are no facts. We can’t go with A because saying there’s no factual basis, we can’t really go along that.

Correct Answer: B

[27:30] Question 13

Which of the following assertions would most challenge the primary argument in the passage?

  1. Mondo Cane was seen as a valid exercise of documentary film-making by nearly all who viewed it.
  2. The Melanesians who carried out cargo cult behavior did not believe they were actually summoning cargo planes, but rather their ancestral spirits.
  3. The Western discourse on Melanesians was respectful of their social systems and sought to understand cargo cult behavior in light of the tribes’ own history and values.
  4. The “Big Man” description of tribal social structures was itself first constructed by Theodore Schwartz.

Thought Process:

The primary argument is basically how this myth is just a myth and that’s not who these people are. The whole thing that this was a myth, we don’t know if that would challenge the argument. C sounds like it’s the most strong and D doesn’t seem like it’s right.

C is correct because the argument of the passage is that this is just a myth. These aren’t who these people are. Stop treating them badly. And answer choice C is “we’re going to treat them nicely and just really say what happened here and respect everything.” That would challenge it.

So we’re looking for what’s going to challenge the main argument, which is that this cargo cult myth was not great because of Western stuff. We were paternalistic and our materialism ruined our interpretation of this.

Correct Answer: C

[31:12] CARS is 100% Skill

“CARS is 100% a skill. It's not knowledge. You don't need to know anything, but you got to practice it just like all skills.”Click To Tweet

You can’t master a unicycle by reading a book. You can’t develop that skill unless you’re actually practicing. And putting effort in CARS is the same way.

CARS is the one section of the test that you cannot cram because it’s a skill. You can cram knowledge. But with CARS, it doesn’t work that way because of the scale. It takes this kind of constant pressure and that’s how you improve.


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