‘Stay in and go somewhere different’ – Sky Television Advertisement, 2002
‘[I]n the world of supermodernity people are always, and never, at home’ (Augé 1992:109)
‘A virtual America, therefore, would be a mythic America turned inside out’ (Giles 2002:14).
Jennifer Price’s Flight Maps opens with the question ‘What does nature mean to me?’ and then searches for it in the most obvious and unexpected places, scattered, as it is, almost everywhere (1999:xv). Gathering up these discursive formations of ‘nature’ she assembles a record of her ‘travels’, as she calls them, through all manner of experience; ‘travels at once unsettling and reassuring’, mapping the different ways nature is constructed and produced by us all (ibid.:xxii). Price’s use of the word ‘travel’ suggests her discovery of ‘nature’ is a form of tourism experiencing multiple, mediated spaces, both material and immaterial, past and present, real and imagined from which she assembles and constructs her meanings for nature, which in turn, contribute to the formation of her identity and sense of place. Similarly, one might ask, ‘What does America mean to me?’ Where do I go to find it? How and where do I ‘discover’ and ‘produce’ America? Can I find it without leaving home? The conclusion, like Price’s, is that the itineraries of everyday life bring us into contact, wherever we are, with America as real and imagined space, seeing it from the outside, as mediated, simulated, mythic and as actual, lived and tangible in life’s everyday and multi-layered spaces. These complex geographies bring us to America’s ‘scriptural economy’ (Certeau 1988:132): from the fast food restaurant’s slogan of the ‘United Tastes of America’, to the shopping mall’s Disney, Warner Brothers’ or Timberland stores, to the theme park’s time-space compression of American experiences from the Alamo to space travel, to the array of texts and images available on-line. Thus we come to ‘know’ America despite living so far from it and having no, or limited, actual contact with the nation, rather like Barthes’ sense of Japan in Empire of Signs, a ‘fictive nation’ constructed by a ‘number of features … deliberately form[ing] a system … which I shall call: Japan’ (Barthes 1982:3). Out of the system of signs from ‘faraway’, but ironically, under globalisation, ever-closer at hand, Europe assembles a ‘system’ called ‘America’ in a process not unlike what Augé terms the ‘anthropology of the near’ (Augé 1992:7). An everyday stroll through a city centre, a visit to a theme park, a shopping trip, a meal in a restaurant, a glance at a billboard, magazine, guide book, or merely surfing the internet brings a mediated America into our lives no longer as an exotic destination ‘out there’, but resembling a more immediate, negotiated tourist experience.
The post-modern media surrounds us, as in Barthes’ Japan, with fragments, narratives and representations that as tourists we incorporate or reject as a sense of place is formed. Such overlapping touristic sensibilities enter into the way we structure our lives making it less possible to think of tourism as a ‘discrete activity contained tidily at specific locations and occurring during set aside periods’ (Franklin and Crang 2001:7). Indeed, those moments that in the past might have been considered as discrete tourist experiences marked by a search for authenticity away from home and work have become diffused into much of our day-to-day lives representing the ‘shifting boundary of holiday and everyday’ (ibid.). In this ‘tourism of everyday life’ people are ‘routinely excited by the flows of global cultural materials all around them in a range of locations and settings’ without having to physically travel (ibid.:8). Aided by immense advances in the electronic media we ‘casually take in these flows’ in ways once only experienced through physical travel, learning new repertoires, acquiring different expectations and translating them into the day-to-day world as a complex mélange of actual and virtual experiences (see Virilio 1994:67).
These ideas redefine post-tourism in terms of virtual/actual travel without the necessity of a faraway place, distinct from work, positing tourism as the elaborate consumption and use of a series of images in, what I will term, the virtual construction of America. The once singular activity of the tourist, seeking an authentic experience away from the workaday world, has been replaced by a gamut of experiences, knowledges, activities, and performances that constitute a post-modern tourism both self-aware and hybrid, mixing all forms of ‘texts’ into a complex weave of leisure practices distinct from a ‘pre-packaged’ holiday. Post-tourism is more than physical travel including, as it does, desire, imagining and mediation in a much more complex and encompassing mobility close to what James Clifford calls ‘dwelling and traveling’ (Clifford 1997:30). In ‘travelling’ to America through its ‘cultural flows’ and the mediated ‘virtual’ Americas of television, advertising, consumerism, the service industries, film, literature and the Internet, it is possible to engage actively in the construction of a real and imagined nation or ‘transnation’ whilst still ‘dwelling’ in a familiar and rooted existence. As John Rajchman reminds us, ‘To virtualize nature [or America] is thus not to double it but, on the contrary, to multiply it, complicate it, release other forms and paths in it’ (Rajchman 1998:119).
The passive Americanisation of experience associated with cultural imperialism’s idea that ‘The Media Is American’ (Tunstall 1977), is challenged by this new tourism’s active, performative practice through which the post-tourist encounters America as objects, places, simulations, fashions, pleasures, tastes, and sights/sites creating a tourist text as a
galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoratively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable (Barthes 1975:5-6).
These ‘mobilized codes’ defining ‘America’ impose no simple cultural imperialism upon the audience since they have been actively producing meanings through their consumption. The new post-tourist is not engaged in the impossible quest for an authentic singular America, but rather constructs and inhabits a contingent, fragmentary space, both real and imagined, confirming and challenging mythic national narratives. This self-reflexive, participatory tourism has, in a sense been tutored through our consumption of the media and our sophisticated ‘use’, pleasure and critique of its many elements and ‘codes’. For example, when Ien Ang famously studied the television programme ‘Dallas’ she concluded that rather than accepting a pre-packaged set of values and expected assumptions, its audiences had various responses, entering into complex dialogues with the show proving ‘it is wrong … to pretend that the ideology of mass culture exercises dictatorial powers …[since] alternative discourses do exist which offer points of identification’ beyond those expectations (in During 1993:415-6). With the media, as with tourism, people ‘practise’ it variously, mixing, combining and pluralizing their use of its outputs creating all forms of pleasure and meaning. As David Crouch reminds us, ‘people use different agendas from those supplied by commodification and work their own sense into these leisure spaces’ since space, like identity, is not totally controlled by others, but is always ‘practised’, adapted and hybridised in all kinds of productive ways (Crouch 1999:257-8). Thus a show like ‘Dallas’ could indeed function in juxtaposition, alongside other mediated experiences, as an integral part of a tourist’s critical construction of a ‘Dallas-Texas-America nexus’ acting precisely as an ‘invention and interruption of meaningful wholes in works of cultural import-export’ (Clifford 1988:147). The American mythic ‘package’ supposedly sold in advance to tourists might, therefore, be undone by this more variable, dialogic relationship to its representations and mediated ‘script’, for as Clifford argues, it is ‘a hooking-up and unhooking, remembering and forgetting, gathering and excluding of cultural elements – processes crucial to the maintenance of an “identity” – [that] must be seen as both materially constrained and inventive’ (Clifford in Gilroy et al 2000:97). Out of this ‘uncomfortable site’ of constraint and invention the new post-tourist might ‘begin’ to chart a different identity through its ambivalent experiences of America’s mediascape (ibid.).
Redefining the post-tourist
The term post-tourist was coined by Maxine Feifer responding to a street at Mont St Michel in Normandy full of ‘creperies, Coca Cola stands, and tourist boutiques selling gimcrack souvenirs’ where the tourist had ‘come all this way to see something venerable, beautiful, and above all different [… to find only] an atmosphere of other tourists: the modern plight’ (Feifer 1985:2). The post-tourist has learned to live with and enjoy this ‘modern plight’ as part of the tourist repertoire within a highly mediated environment: ‘Via the mass media, one knows a little bit about a lot of things’ (ibid.:260). Standing by the Eiffel Tower she recalls and quotes Barthes’ famous essay and his idea that what one ‘sees’ is ‘the most general human image-repertoire … confronting the great itineraries of our dreams’ triggered in advance by its media saturation and iconic presence into which one is inserted as tourist identity. Feifer’s experience radiates outwards from Barthes with ‘wry hyper-self-awareness’, to include buying souvenirs, tourist chatter, and generally revelling in the ‘touristy’ ‘simulated environment’ rather than evading or denying it, recognising that the mediated experience is indeed part and parcel of the nature of tourism (Feifer 1985:267,269). She adds that ‘As the McLuhanesque global village of communications media gets bigger and more elaborate, the passive functions of tourism (i.e. seeing) can be performed right at home, with video, books, records, TV’ (ibid.:269). Looking beyond Urry’s influential notion of the ‘tourist gaze’ (1990) as the determining element of tourism, she calculates the effects of the ‘overabundance of [media] events’ on the totality of the tourist experience (Augé 1995:30). The ‘playful’ post-tourist in situ ‘traverses a landscape’ noting its ‘geometric complexities … jazzlike discordances …[and] variety of aesthetic contexts’ with the ‘humorous eye for “kitsch” as well’, enjoying ‘the connective tissue between “attractions” as much as the vaunted attractions themselves’ (Feifer 1985:270 – my emphasis), but in addition calls upon a vast range of ‘other’ media generated ‘landscapes’ of sensation, knowledge and imagination that, in the words of Arjun Appadurai, ‘transform the field of mass mediation because they offer new resources and new disciplines for the construction of imagined selves and imagined worlds’ (Appadurai 1996:3). This is at the heart of reconstituted post-tourism blending the actual and the virtual as components of the twenty-first century leisure event into ‘a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity’ (ibid.).
For Feifer’s post-tourist is creative rather than passive in receipt of the defined and pre-packaged experience cast out from the ‘nets of the media’ (Certeau 1988:165), knowing ‘that he is a tourist: not a time traveller when he goes somewhere historic; not an instant noble savage when he stays on a tropical beach; not an invisible observer when he visits a native compound’ and is, therefore, able to ‘embrace’ and critique it as part of the process (Feifer 1985:271). In the eighteen years since Feifer’s book there has been a media proliferation perpetuating and accelerating opportunities for the types of post-tourist experiences she was beginning to chart, in particular the growth of digital satellite technologies and the Internet, capable, as Augé writes, of conveying ‘an instant, sometimes simultaneous vision of an event taking place on the other side of the planet’ (Augé 1992:31). These mediated spaces enter lives with rapidity, compressed in time, ‘as a substitute [or supplement] for the universes which ethnology has traditionally made its own’ (ibid.:32). So just as ethnology is redefined in the light of these changes, so is tourism, accommodating the overabundance of mediated experience and knowledge and actively selecting a tailor-made ‘package’. Operating within a version of Augé’s ‘non-place’, both everywhere and nowhere, the post-tourist combines the imagined (a dream of America, media representations, screen cultures), the ‘real’ (actual travel, guides and themed experiences) and the virtual (myths, media, Internet) into a ‘package’, a collage-like America of over-lapping and disjunctive elements that together construct their tourist experience. The post-tourist’s playfulness is creative, translating identities between place and non-place ‘like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten’ (ibid.:79). The post-tourist is no simple detached ‘reader’ of the pre-scripted tourist text, but an active ‘writer-reader-practitioner’ using the skills of everyday life such as multi-tasking, rapid interchanges and shifting between media forms and communication flows to assemble, produce and consume virtual ‘Americas’ that together form a multi-layered collage cutting up and rearranging any given ‘scriptural economy’. To borrow from Appadurai, this tourist-media intersection provides ‘resources for self-imagining as an everyday social project’ choosing and moving across and between various texts inventing America as ‘a mass-mediated imaginary that frequently transcends national space’ (Appadurai 1996:4, 6).
The potential of such mediated tourism, is partially defined by Michel de Certeau: ‘Without leaving the place where he has no choice but to live and which lays down its law for him, he establishes within it a degree of plurality and creativity. By an art of being in between, he draws unexpected results from his situation’ (Certeau 1988:30 – my emphasis). When de Certeau lists the media saturation of the modern world and asks ‘What do they do with it?’ he directs us back to our central question too – what do we do with all these American images? Following de Certeau, the new post-tourist is no Americanised, passive being, but mixes and matches from the mediascape forming their own virtual America, part mythic cliché, part surprising and hybrid invention, part narrative debris (ibid.:107). Gathering up these mediated fragments of place and identity, a new ‘collage’ is created that denies the oft-made assumption that the tourist-as-consumer is a ‘sheep progressively immobilized and “handled” as a result of the growing mobility of the media as they conquer space. The consumers settle down, the media keep on the move’ (ibid.:165). In fact, the post-tourist ‘keeps moving’ but differently, crossing boundaries, shifting between experiences without necessarily having to travel in any conventional manner. The ‘Americanised’ tourist, ‘grazing on the ration of simulacra the system distributes’ (ibid.:166) perpetuated in texts from Eco and Baudrillard to Ritzer and encapsulated in the concept of McDisneyization (see Rojek and Urry 1997), is a reductionist vision that defines the consumer as a ‘receptacle’ ‘similar to what it receives … passive, “informed”, processed, marked, and [… with] no historical role’, when in reality they can be more inventive, ‘travel[ling] through … texts’ with ‘detours, drifts … produc[ing] by the travelling eye, imaginary or meditative flights’ (Certeau 1988:167,170). In the twenty-first century one must extend de Certeau’s ‘reading’ to global media texts that amplify this ‘travelling’ through which one constructs ‘another world’, since in the mediascapes that structure tourism ‘readers are travellers; they move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write … his place is not here or there, one or the other, but neither one nor the other, simultaneously inside and outside, dissolving both by mixing them together …’ (ibid.:174).
The ‘nomadic’ post-tourist dwells and travels, moving and ‘poaching’ between the arrays of experiences that constitute ‘America’ actively constructing a hybrid sense of place and identity in the process. Rojek develops these ideas by emphasising the media’s role in the post-tourist experience, adopting terminology drawn from personal computing and digital technology (Rojek and Urry 1997). He writes of the ‘index of representations’ – visual, textual and symbolic – from which the post-tourist might draw to construct their own desired landscape (Rojek and Urry 1997:53). The archive with its ‘files’, are however, always more than visual and involve the post-tourist in a creative process of ‘dragging’ (as on an active desktop) as ‘files’ are moved, combined, selected, deleted, in various acts of ‘interpenetration of factual and fictional elements to support tourist orientations’ (ibid.); an elaborate ‘copy’, ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ across the mediated spaces of the contemporary world. Rojek draws upon the American example I used earlier to make his point, showing how Dallas could be ‘indexed’ and ‘dragged’ from diverse narratives and fragments such as the Kennedy assassination and the Ewing family in the TV show ‘Dallas’. To similarly access ‘America’ today would involve an even wider range of ‘files’ to draw upon, since although the post-tourist engages in ‘fantasy-work, reverie or mind-voyaging’ (ibid.:63), it is no longer tangential, but central to the event, with indexing and dragging no longer ‘an unavoidable accessory to the sight’, but an increasingly vital component part. From the media flows this ‘collage tourism’ of the close-at-hand ‘replaces [even] the necessity physically to visit the site’ (ibid.:63) and presents, at its most positive level, a hybrid engagement between cultures and texts that has parallels with Clifford’s ‘ethnographic surrealism’ with its capacity to ‘mock and remix’, invent and interrupt dominant cultural assumptions (Clifford 1988). The post-tourist, moving between cultures, suggests the potential for a new hybridised identity, resistant and creative, assembling its own America rather than accepting any unquestioned version from within.
John Urry recognised that ‘People are tourists most of the time whether they are literally mobile or only experience simulated mobility through the incredible fluidity of multiple signs and electronic images’, and has developed this idea further in the concept of ‘mobilities’ ‘at the heart of a reconstituted sociology’ (Urry 1995:148; 2000:210). Accepting the multiple nature of tourism in the digital age, concepts such as ‘imaginative mobilities’ and ‘virtual travel’ form part of this expanded vision in which ‘It becomes possible to sense the other, almost to dwell with the other, without physically moving either oneself or … physical objects’ (ibid.:66, 70). Deploying the ideas of Gilroy and Clifford, for whom culture is about mixing routes and roots, Urry stresses the ‘complex relationships between belongingness and travelling, within and beyond the boundaries of national societies. [Where] People can indeed be said to dwell in various mobilities…’ (ibid.:157). A redefined post-tourism is equally ‘mobile’ in this sense, moving in the circuits of mediation both dwelling and travelling amidst the ‘intercultural import-export’ of everyday life, sifting and selecting experiences, producing mobilities and reinventing identities (Clifford 1997:23; see Cresswell 2001). Indeed, Sky television’s slogan ‘Stay in and go somewhere different’ might inadvertently signify this new tourist sensibility derived from an inventive use of these media possibilities.
Virilio’s Post-tourist Inertia
For some however, such fluid ideas of dwelling and travelling within the media appear less optimistic, leading to claims of overt Americanisation, passivity or, as in Paul Virilio’s work, to a world being ‘shrink-wrapped by global media’ as it ‘substitutes’ actual experience with the virtual, consequently diminishing the human in the accelerated saturation of new global ‘vision machines’ that ‘overexpose’ and synthesise physicality (McQuire in Armitage 2000:146). As he puts it, the global media is creating its ‘final resting-place … shrinking before our eyes to a blind cockpit for the dreams of a population of sleepwalkers’ (Virilio 2000:31). This is an age characterised, according to Virilio, by ‘a monotheism of information’ bombarding the senses and distracting the individual from previously accepted notions of travel experience (in Armitage 2000:13). Substituting for these experiences are the multiple ‘screens’ of the global media networks projecting into the individual’s home until ‘everything is on the spot, everything is played out in the privileged instant of an act, the immeasurable instant that replaces extension and protracted periods of time’ making that individual a ‘tele-actor’ detached from ‘physical travel’ taking on ‘another body, an optical body’ that will ‘go forward without moving, see without eyes, touch with other hands than his own, to be over there without really being there, a stranger to himself, a deserter from his own body, an exile for evermore’ (Virilio 2000:17, 85).
The experience of tourism involving motion across the earth is altered fundamentally by this ‘telluric contraction’ since the media now replaces and reconstructs ‘the very nature of our travels’ making it ‘travelling on the spot, with an inertia that is to the passing landscape what the “freeze-frame” is to the film’ (ibid.:18). Virilio’s virtual or cyber travel transmits electronic mediascapes through ‘vision machines’ into the everyday spaces of the home creating ‘the static audiovisual vehicle, a substitute for bodily movement and an extension of domestic inertia which will mark the definitive triumph of sedentariness’ (ibid.). With no capacity for human choice, interaction, empowerment or pleasure, these new digital media epitomise ‘a sort of Foucauldian imprisonment … [in which] the world is reduced to nothing … [and so] it is no longer necessary to go towards the world, to journey … Everything is already there’ (Virilio in Armitage 2000:40). For Virilio the port of entry and departure of classical tourism has been translated into the ‘teleport’ in the heart of the inert home creating tourism without travel as a substitute for real life and meaningful interaction: ‘Now everything arrives without any need to depart …[through] the general arrival of images and sounds in the static vehicle of the audiovisual. Polar inertia is setting in’ (Virilio 2000:20-1 -italics in original).
Virilio relates this process of ‘substitution’ to the ‘Americanised’ theme park; a denudation of experience, a space of inaction, media detachment, and the epitome of cultural loss:
The leisure park is on the point of becoming a stage for pure optical illusions, a generalization of the non-place of simulation with its fictitious journeys offering everyone electronic hallucination or intoxication – a ‘loss of sight’ replacing the nineteenth–century loss of physical activity (Virilio 2000:19).
Virilio’s nightmare world of loss can be countered by defining the traveller-as-agent, following de Certeau, inventing and producing tourist ‘texts’ as a ‘collage’, working with and through the mediated landscapes either as virtual in themselves, or in relationship with the actual, physical acts of travel in a process of supplementation not of substitution. To use our example of apprehending America, Virilio might interpret this as a manifestation of negative global substitution as people absorb the second-hand representations, myths and narratives through screen technologies of sameness, converting different spaces and cultures into a hideously monologic ‘world city’, a ‘geostrategic homogenisation of the globe’ (McQuire in Armitage 2000:147). Virilio’s tendency is to essentialise an authentic, earlier sense of identity being eroded by the forces of hypermodernity in similar ways to the notion of the ideal ‘classical’ tourist or traveller, with a fixed agenda of motives and principles. However, as we have seen, one can view this differently, with the media contributing to a hybrid post-tourism that ‘indexes’ and ‘drags’, selects and rejects America, as part of a complex gathering-up process that constructs a rather more fluid, non-essentialized and mobile identity.
Themed Environments and the Grand Canyon
To demonstrate this post-tourism I will examine two examples of the generalised projection of ‘America’, through themed environments such as malls and restaurants and as iconic sites, like the Grand Canyon. Both can be visited and experienced as ‘American’ in multiple ways as we ‘index’ and ‘drag’ their representations and actuality into our own personal vision. Theming is pervasive, occupying spaces beyond the real and actual, existing through the media circulating images and experiences of America; in the U.K. as 1950s retro culture in the ‘OK Diner’ chain of Streamliner-styled aluminium restaurants with sporting memorabilia themes, or as the mythic Wild West at The American Adventure theme park with its simulated saloon, dancing girls and shoot-outs juxtaposed with the Alamo and Native American remnants, or in any trip to the shopping mall (Gottdiener 2001). Many critics view these themed experiences as hollow spectacles showing all the attributes of a McDonaldization or McDisneyization of tourism (see Ritzer and Liska in Rojek and Urry 1997; Eco 1986; Baudrillard 1983; Virilio 2000). Eco, for example, views Disneyland as ‘a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively’ and for Baudrillard it is ‘there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland’ (Eco 1986:43-6; Baudrillard in Storey 1993:164). Thus in visiting British shopping malls, like the Trafford Centre, Meadowhall, or Bluewater, we enter ‘a stunning new world of experience’ like a theme park, taking us to New Orleans or New York City through its themed restaurants and attractions, ‘the choice is ours’ (Trafford Centre brochure), learning to be post-tourists dipping in and out of a new psycho-geography of American fragments. As David Harvey puts it, summarising many of these criticisms of themed mall cultures, this is a ‘time-space compression’ wherein, just as ‘all the divergent spaces of the world are assembled nightly as a collage of images upon the television screen’ so theme parks allow us ‘to experience the world’s geography vicariously, as a simulacrum’ whilst ‘conceal[ing] almost perfectly any trace of origin, of the labour processes that produced them, or of the social relations implicated in their production’ (Harvey1990:300). Alternatively, these experiences become part of a creative repertoire the individual draws upon, often reflexively and critically so that the ‘collage’ is not inevitably, as Harvey suggests, reductionist.
After all, we know it is not ‘real’ America, since we have not crossed the Atlantic, and yet we still sample the iconic, mythic ‘themes’ that holiday brochures and television programmes articulate. For example, having shopped in The Gap, eaten at McDonalds and walked through a simulated New Orleans, we could buy an American magazine or novel or DVD, or read a USA holiday brochure whose opening double-page has images of happy Hawaiians, the Statue of Liberty, a cowboy and the words ‘Big, Bold and Larger than Life … Imagine the soaring skyscrapers of Manhattan, the glittering lights of Las Vegas, glamorous Hollywood legends and the cowboy country of the West. Think of the great outdoors: awesome Niagara Falls, the majestic Grand Canyon …’ (Funway 2003-2004). The mediated, iconic ‘themes’ are here once again and we are required to ‘imagine’ them before (or as well as) actually experiencing them, drawing them out from our already-formed sense of America and reassembling them as a new collage – ‘a vast melting-pot of creeds, colours and traditions’, where, as with the shopping mall, ‘the choice is yours’ (ibid.).
As we assemble our particular ‘America’ of themes, icons, micro-narratives, instant histories and mediated images we consume and produce as post-tourists, as de Certeau argued, willingly indulging in the McDisneyization of leisure fused with the realities of everyday existence. Some would argue, like Ritzer and Liska, that such a process of predictable, efficient, calculable and controlled experience – the defining elements of a McDonaldized society – have thus entered tourism and the media, with the inevitable outcome that ‘real’, authentic travel has disappeared and been substituted with ‘virtual travel’: ‘some people will find that it is far more efficient to “visit” Thailand [or America] in the comfort of their living rooms [or themed environments] than actually to journey there’ (in Rojek and Urry 1997:101; Virilio 2000). These negative visions of endless, passive consumption cohere in the vision of a ‘McWorld’ of malls, multiplexes, theme parks, fast-food chains and television forming a huge enterprise transforming and denuding humanity. A different approach asserts active choice, ‘sampling’ and ‘collage tourism’ within this process of consuming places and experiences whereby the McWorld’s inauthenticity and commodification is acknowledged and ‘used’ pleasurably in the construction of a post-tourist America as a series of critical dialogues with America, rather than the passive recipient of a pre-formed monologue.
These complex dialogic relations to themed and mediated tourism can be translated into responses to a single, iconic American experience like the Grand Canyon, for example. Gottdiener recognises that many of the same impulses to theming have spilled over into the organisation of nature at places like the Grand Canyon – the so-called ‘seventh wonder of the world’- where ‘regulators … designers and engineers have worked over natural wonders … to heighten the theme of mother nature in an idealized sense’ (Gottdiener 2001:3). But even before one arrives there, assuming one is going at all, the Grand Canyon ‘travels’ into the post-tourist consciousness via its intense media presence. Recently, for example, a BBC viewers’ poll invited people to vote for the best place to visit ‘before you die’ and first choice was the Grand Canyon followed by Las Vegas and New York in the top ten places (www.bbc.co.uk/50/destinations/america). Although clearly a popular ‘real’ tourist destination, America also exists as ‘imagined’ spaces recalled from a cultural image-archive rich in specific mythic traditions about America as ‘free’, ‘open’, adventurous and vibrant. In these tourist experiences the ‘America’ discovered is, as the brochure stated earlier, ‘larger than life’, somehow more real than reality, a spectacular theme-park capable of taking us out of ourselves. The BBC website carries comments that emphasise the Grand Canyon’s vastness and its exoticism: ‘The Paiute Indians call it Kaibab … “Mountain Lying Down” …’ whilst endorsing it with celebrity tributes from Eamonn Holmes to Jilly Goolden, and the authority of the Condé Nast Traveller. In turn the BBC website links to many others about the Grand Canyon; in fact a simple Google search produced well over a million websites that draw one into the ultimate post-tourism journey. Without moving further than a computer screen we engage with both ‘official’ and private sites on river running, air trips, hiking trails, wild life, environmental groups, Teen Summer Camps, gift shops, photo-galleries, individual travelogues from all over the world, and can even sit and watch the ‘live’ webcam of the actual Grand Canyon as it shifts and changes throughout the day and night. In ‘indexing’ and ‘dragging’ through this wealth of material a mediated Grand Canyon assembles following the ‘quick links’, cutting in and out of the ‘frequently asked questions’, the web cam, ‘facts/docs’, maps and news releases until one, ironically, fulfils, without moving, the National Park Service’s slogan – ‘Experience Your America’.
Away from the computer screen, other media add to this rapidly forming post-tourist archive, such as Lawrence Kasdan’s film ‘Grand Canyon’ (1992) in which the actual place functions both as an image of social distance and a reassuring metaphor of ‘otherness’ for the lives of people in Los Angeles trapped in a world of crime, consumption and crises: ‘there’s a gulf in this country, an ever-widening abyss between the people who have stuff and the people who don’t have shit, like this big hole has opened up, as big as the Grand Canyon’. At the end of the film the diverse characters take a trip to the actual place, reflecting as they gaze upon the canyon, ‘I think … it’s not all bad’, suggesting the mythic landscape’s transcendental qualities to erase difference and to assert an ahistorical, harmonising presence that one also discovers in Carl Sandburg’s Prologue to the 1955 photography exhibition ‘The Family of Man’, describing it as ‘A camera testament, a drama of the grand canyon of humanity, an epic woven of fun, mystery and holiness – here is the Family of Man!’ (Steichen 2000:5 – my emphases). Alternatively one might view the ‘Reader’s Digest Grand Canyon’ (1988) inviting us to ‘experience [its] awesome beauty and magnificent drama … the splendour … and magic …in the comfort of [our] … own home… in living colour … with specially scored stereo music … and enlightening narration … [to] Achieve the feeling of actually being there!’ (my emphases). Wherever we go to discover the Grand Canyon, as part of a virtual America, we are confronted by its real and imagined presence, its pervasive mediascape, from which we negotiate and produce mobile meanings that interfere with and destabilise old, mythic, idealised visions as we confront, analyse and rearrange these elements into new patterns and juxtapositions. Post-tourism, as it ‘indexes’ and ‘drags’, is less about defining separate cultures such as a monolithic, dominant America, or in asserting fixed and stable identities, but is engaged, to borrow from Clifford, in producing ‘conjunctures … complex mediations of old and new, of local and global’ accommodating the ‘shifting mix of political relations’ where nations and identities meet, intersect and hybridise (Clifford in Gilroy et al. 2000: 98, 102).
‘Every story is a travel story’ (Certeau 1988:115)
This chapter has examined relations between Americanisation, media and tourism, but resisted seeing cultural imperialism as uni-directional because, as Raymond Williams has written,
The making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery, writing themselves into the land. The growing society is there, yet it is also made and remade in every individual mind (in Highmore 2002:93 – my emphasis)
America is indeed ‘made’ within the ‘active debate and amendment’ of our everyday lives, yet it does not automatically control identities or replace exclusively all that has existed before it arrived. The actual, material landscape reminds us of this fact as we move between Americanised shopping malls and traditional market-places, visit theme-parks and museums, as the mixtures and ‘impurities’ around us testify to the cultural, spatial conjunctures that reflect the formations of identity constituted within this climate of addition, juxtaposition, supplementation and hybridity. Unlike Virilio’s pessimistic vision of travel turned by the media into ‘polar inertia’, Homi Bhabha’s sense of cultural identity as complex, hybrid and contested is less reductive:
What is at issue is the performative nature of differential identities: the regulation and negotiation of those spaces that are continually, contingently, ‘opening out’, remaking the boundaries, exposing the limits of any claim to a singular or autonomous sign of difference … where difference is neither One nor the Other but something else besides, in-between … a form of the ‘future’ where the past is not originary, where the present is not simply transitory. (Bhabha 1994:219).
This ‘in-between’ is, as we have seen, the condition of the post-tourist, and as Bhabha explains, is a productive rather than a reductive experience, actively ‘performative, deformative’, translating ‘America’ here through mediated and actual tourism, re-thinking assumptions and expectations in a process of combination not substitution and of ‘opening out’ rather than of ‘closing down’ (Bhabha 1994:241,227). Rejecting any monolithic vision of America, the post-tourist plunges into a productive experience of time-space, sharing much with Edward Soja’s perception of non-linearity:
We can no longer depend on a story-line unfolding sequentially, an ever-accumulating history marching straight forward … for too much is happening against the grain of time, too much is continually traversing the story-line laterally … Simultaneities intervene, extending our point of view outward in an infinite number of lines connecting the subject to a whole world of comparable instances, complicating the temporal flow of meaning (Soja 1989:23 – my emphasis).
The ‘traversing’ post-tourist enters a phase of what Edward Said calls ‘overlapping territories, intertwined histories’ where relations between Europe and America are no longer seen as one-way or essentialized, but rather as collaborative, negotiated ‘contrapuntal ensembles’ stressing ‘a more urgent sense of the interdependence between things’ (Said 1993: 1, 60, 72). These transnational ‘connections’ emphasise dialogue and interdependence paralleling the reconsiderations of tourism and travel in a global ‘post-cultural imperialist’ media age where
No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are no more than starting-points … Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their own cultures and ethnic identities … there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things … (ibid.:407-8 – my emphases).
To borrow an idea from Rajchman in his discussion of the relations between the actual and virtual, I would conclude by suggesting that these concepts of tourism, media and identity are like constructing of a new type of house ‘that holds together the most, and most complicated, “different possible worlds” in the same container, allowing them to exist together along a constructed plane with no need of a preestablished harmony’ (Rajchman 1998:117). In post-tourism’s construction of a virtualised America there is no simple reproduction of a given mythology or pre-packaged national narrative that engulfs ‘real space’ or subsumes identity and Americanises them both, but instead an alternative emphasis upon a
virtual construction […] that frees forms, figures, and activities from a prior determination or grounding …allowing them to function or operate in other unanticipated ways; the virtuality of a space is what gives such freedom in form or movement. Thus virtual construction departs from organizations that try to set out all possibilities in advance. It constructs a space whose rules can themselves be altered through what happens in it (ibid.:119).
Therefore, in post-tourism’s virtual America there is a powerful sense of potential instead of loss, an assertion of new identities rather than a yearning for lost essences and of being ‘always more than this actual world, and not limited by its already present forms’ (Colebrook 2002:96). As Giles argues, this process states a vital critical position, for the ‘redescription of American culture as a virtual construction would seek to position itself on … [geographical and intellectual] boundaries and, by looking both ways, to render the mythological circumference of the nation translucent’ (Giles 2002:14 – my emphasis). Thus the post-tourist has much in common with other diasporic or nomadic groups in the twenty-first century whose inventive mobilities move them in-between worlds unsettling the assumptions of one culture from the perspective of another, providing new ways to imagine identity and nation, ways that might, ultimately challenge us all to see beyond monolithic, mythic conceptions of closed cultures to something more mutable, itinerant and contested.
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