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"What, exactly, is the function of a rubber duck?"
—Arthur Weasley, Harry Potter
Astonishing as it may seem, not all non-Muggle characters are on a crusade to murder us Muggles. In fact, their motivations will turn out to be surprisingly mundane- they want to see how us crazy Muggles operate. I mean, how do we keep from getting cold without any fur? Where does our food come from if we don't have access to Functional Magic? And how do we... you know...
This usually non-malicious character type has one primary function in a story--comedy. Because it's hard to beat the humor of someone who doesn't understand human customs trying to make any sort of sense out of them. The Fantastic Anthropologist very rarely has long-term story implications due to their job in large part because part of their job is to keep the Muggles in the dark about what's going on.
In terms of narrative, the Fantastic Anthropologist's culture can sometimes be a satire of our own. After all, as wacky as this guy may seem, when it gets right down to it we're Not So Different.
Depending on the point of view of the story can often come off as Captain Oblivious. Frequently an Amusing Alien character. Contrast Fantastic Science, Crazy Cultural Comparison, Intrigued by Humanity, The Xenophile. A subtrope of The Watcher.
- Eris from Asobi Ni Iku Yo is sent as an scout by her species the Catians to check Earth as a suitable diplomatic partner. Note that the Catians' outlook is pretty much that of tourists: her reports on Japanese cuisine makes the Catian expedition hurry to establish formal relations.
- In Keroro Gunsou, whenever the Keronians aren't plotting to take over Earth, they're studying its culture, occasionally getting it hilariously wrong: in one chapter, they assume that Natsumi's School Swimsuit is an amphibious battle-suit based on Keronian physiology, and in another they mistake a bowling alley for a military training center.
- DC Comics' Major Bummer was given super powers as a school experiment by aliens, but they were inadvertantly sent to the wrong person (Lou Martin instead of Martin Louis).
- Arthur Weasley in Harry Potter has his recurring hobby of studying Muggles as a regular tension reliever in the plot. Mrs. Weasly was not amused when on one occasion he went so far as to use Muggle medicine to try and stitch up some serious wounds he had incurred.
- The Isaac Asimov short story "What is this thing called love" uses this as a Framing Device. Specifically, as an explanation for why aliens randomly abduct us all the time.
- Discordian writer/philosopher Robert Anton Wilson (of Illuminatus! fame) claims that Greg Hill (AKA Malaclypse the Younger, author of the Principia Discordia) is this. Hill fervently denies this.
- In Robert Silverberg's "Flies", a human space traveler crash-lands on the planet of a race who are able to save him with their advanced medicine. In return, they enable him to transmit the feelings of others so that they can study humans, but tragedy ensues when this enables him to inflict grievous suffering without experiencing any effects of remorse.
- Ax from the Animorphs frequently came across as this in his narration. At one early point he laments that, stuck on Earth, there is no opportunity for military advancement. So he decides he will make the most of the situation and become his species' foremost expert on humans.
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "Mr. Dingle, the Strong". Several alien experimenters (Martian and Venusian) give the title character various superpowers (strength and intelligence) to see how he'll react.
- The Outer Limits TOS episode "Controlled Experiment". A pair of Martians investigate the quaint Earth custom of murder by using a time machine to run an actual murder forward and backward in time.
- The entire premise of 3rd Rock from the Sun has Dick and his "family" observing what life is like on Earth and reporting the findings back to base. Their ultimate goal, however, remains vague throughout the series. We know they're not trained anthropologists, in part because they routinely received poor job evaluations but also because Dick and Tommy are clearly shown to be experts in hard science while Sally is a soldier (and Harry is some sort of pet, apparently).
- Earlier episodes imply that they are not used to running into planets with complex life. Most notably, their initial stay was supposed to last only a few weeks, which they had officially extended after reporting that Earth warranted longer investigation. Either this is a team meant to examine simpler things (Which would explain Tommy and Dick), or complex life is rare and there is no need for anthropologists. Of course, the most likely explanation is that competancy is not a key characteristic of the Home Planet.
- Notably, Dick's love interest and recurring office-mate, Mary Albright, was supposed to be an actual anthropologist, but was never seriously consulted on the study of human behavior (she was involved in more than a few of Dick's experiments in the human condition, though).
- On occasion they would run into other aliens. One such alien was a Fantastic Anthropologist with a far more specific goal- determine whether Earth was valuable enough to avoid destroying (since it was somehow blocking their view of part of the universe).
- Mork and Mindy: Mork, at least theoretically.
- Mr Copper from Doctor Who Christmas special Voyage of the Damned claims to be one of these, but doesn't seem to have much of a clue...
- Uncle Traveling Matt from Fraggle Rock
- Samuel Colt from Spots the Space Marine is a non-comic example. While his primary mission is weapons evaluation, he studies human customs as a hobby.
- Pleakley from Lilo and Stitch is a "Human expert", who among other things believes that you eat cereal with a fork.
- ↑ Actually, the Principia is the work of a time-travelling anthropologist from the 23rd Century. He is currently passing among us as a computer specialist, bon vivant and philosopher named Gregory Hill. He has also translated several volumes of Etruscan erotic poetry, under another pen-name, and in the 18th Century was the mysterious Man in Black who gave Jefferson the design for the Great Seal of the United States. I have it on good authority that he is one of the most accomplished time-travelers in the galaxy and has visited Earth many times in the past, using such cover-identities as Zeno of Elias, Emperor Norton, Count Cagliostro, Guilliame of Aquaitaine, etc. Whenever I question him about this, he grows very evasive and attempts to persuade me that he is actually just another 20th Century Earthman and that all my ideas about his extraterrestrial and extratemporal origin are delusions. Hah! I am not that easily deceived. After all, a time-travelling anthropologist would say just that, so that he could observe us without his presence causing cultureshock. I understand that he has consented to write an Afterword to this edition. He'll probably contradict everything I've told you, but don't believe a word he says fnord. He is a master of the deadpan put-on, the plausible satire, the philosophical leg-pull and all the branches of guerilla ontology.