infinity on repeat

"It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality. It seems, in the last analysis, to have something to do with our self-preservation; and that, no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sound of its words, helps us to live our lives.”

Tag: media

let’s pretend we don’t exist

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

There was a quiet strangeness about studying tourism in the Yucatan while experiencing tourism first hand. Our small group travelled with a tour guide for sixteen days, and most of our class conversations were directed toward finding a humanizing mode of tourism. But even on the last night of the trip, the dialogue drove itself into a dead end. Nothing seemed viable for a sustainable solution to the problems tourism creates.

Because tourism is an impossible equation.

We always returned to this questionː is tourism a newer, gentler form of imperialism? I think the logic here assumes that imperialism is as an isolated chapter in history that could be returned to… But history is a constant flow of action‐responses. Since the word imperialism first entered our language, it has become a part of our shared code for navigating and understanding our relationships.  So, I do think tourism is a response to imperialism, and a largely affirmative one… but the aspects of tourism that we criticize are not at all unique to tourism. It is the perpetuation of imperialist ideology in our language.  The pervasive idea of culture is created and sustained by media, and is  now being packaged and sold as tourism.Culture is a super powerful ideological system because it relies on a fear and fascination with the other, and it has been inextricably linked to language and place. Tourism is dangerous and dehumanizing because it sells an impossible goal—to temporarily stop the chain of interactions that defines our existence. It is a behavioral code of demolishing self‐generation and agency.


Mexico in American newspapers~ half the story, at best.

The mainstream news coverage of Mexico fluctuates between presenting Mexico as a glorified luxury getaway destination, and a place of socially deviant mayhem. That, combined with the tourism industry Americans rely on while visiting Mexico, creates an awful sense of otherness.

While I was waiting for my flight out of Atlanta to Cancun, I a USA Today at the newsstand with an article titled “Authorities find 49 bodies dead on Mexican highway” on the front page. This is classic sensationalized journalism. Rather than covering the social, economic, and political structures that have contributed to and sustained the drug‐related violence in Mexico, this just lists the result—casualties— and presents them as mere numbers. There is no history, no narrative, no detailed investigation. Just a blatant statement that drug cartels in Mexico are violent. Which is, of course, all most Americans know about them already. This sort of shallow coverage, I think, contributes to the fact flocks of Americans travel to Mexico every year, yet rarely stray out of the “safety” of the all‐inclusive resorts in Cancun. Most of the money spent by tourists in Mexico only sustains the tourism industry, which is largely owned and operated by international corporations. Perhaps the drug cartels and violence is a result of a starving local economy? I don’t know, because the system that robs Mexico of economic autonomy is the same system that regulates the media that covers it….. But I do know that I never felt unsafe or threatened during my sixteen days traveling the Yucatan peninsula and I never stayed in a resort.  Before I left, countless people warned me that a “little white American girl” walking the streets alone in Mexico was doomed for rape or kidnapping. I was suspicious of that type of generalization even before I put it to the test.  And when I did put it to the test, I realized how deluded our perception really is. Instead of danger, I found friends who I could connect with beyond our language barriers.

I also read an article in the LA Times before my departure called “Disenchantment may keep Mexicos Young Voters on Sidelines”, which I think is a much more thoughtful and humanizing coverage of Mexico. The article gives a brief history of Mexico’s 71 year long one-party rule, and discusses the new generation of voters who are extremely critical of all political parties after having witnessed both sides of the cultural revolution. I spent a few nights at The Mayan Pub in Merida getting to know some local guys who had all recently finished up the equivalent to high school. They were extremely knowledgeable & critical of Mexican politics, and most said that they were not going to vote in the upcoming presidential election. They shared my largest critique of American media & politics, which is the refusal to vote for a candidate without having the adequate information to feel fully informed of the implications of my decision. However, I noticed a huge difference between these guys and my American peers. Rather than falling to apathy, they were activists. They didn’t want to vote, but they sure as hell were going to be heard. And the political demonstration I saw in Merida confirmed that… most participants looked like they were younger than 25.

My new amigo, Orlando, & I having a chat.

 

a travel guide is a tourist’s bible

Before I left, I looked at media representing Mexico–especially media directed toward foreigners and/or tourists. These are some travel books I found, and I think each depicts a specific type of “tourist gaze”…

1. Mexico Chic This travel book represents the luxury gaze. Like Ury and Larsen theorize, the tourists’ gaze depends on his or her own sociocultural ‘centre’–their culture, language, beliefs, daily routine & practices, economic, racial, and social status. This book caters to the contemporary American fashionable female. The implied reader’s lifestyle is heavily influenced by visual and sensual pleasure. The book presents Mexico as an oasis that is isolated from a daily routine of work, offices, and suburban/urban landscapes. It entices via large, colorful photographs of hacienda suites, resorts, spas, and fine dining– all with an “authentic” Mexican flair. Tag-lined with the phrased “you can’t get it at home”, the tourist is lured into an ideal of escapism. Mexico is only partially depicted, as a place void of actual people with actual jobs and actual lives, etc.

2. Graham Greene‘s Another Mexico

PalenqueThis book offers an historical viewpoint of Mexico: a mix of travel writing, social critique, and religious protest written in the 1930’s. After converting to Catholicism, Greene traveled to Mexico and explored the religious landscape. He described Catholics as a suppressed people, ignoring the history of Spanish colonialism and imperialism. Mayan culture was significantly changed by the infiltration of Catholic Spaniards, prompting Mayan religion to take on aspects of Christianity. This syncratic practice is a key notion in the study of Mexican culture.

3. An Archaeological Guide to Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, by Kelly Joyce

This book approaches tourism through a scholar’s lens, offering the tourist a how-to guide on a more academically grounded, therefore ‘authentic’, experience. The book emphasizes visually compelling aspects of the Yucatan as an anthropological and archaeological field, and invites the reader into an insider perspective on Mexican culture. Tourism scholars could criticise this book for perpetuating staged authenticity, as the sites listed are all run somewhat like cultural theme parks. The scholarly authority imparted by the voice in the book seems verified and objective, which could be dangerous for a tourist audience.

4. Lonely Planet: Cancun, Cozumel, and Yucatan

 

This is what I would consider a “classic” travel guide. Lonely Planet produces hundreds of guides for destinations all over the globe. The information is a survey of the Peninsula’s hotels, restaurants, museums, beaches, and cultural sites. The design has a visual and photographic emphasis, once again, with historical/cultural information in captions. The book is a self-described authority on “how to get there and get away”, and the place is presented as exotic, foreign, and other-worldly. The American tourist is instructed to see difference primarily, and there is not much about the people who inhabit Mexico today–perpetuating voyeuristic pleasure.