Dean Maccannell's Interpretations Of Tourism

Dean MacCannell s puts forth an articulate and well-explained account of modern tourism as the quest for authenticity. Particularly interesting are the scattered quotes from the likes of such well-seasoned travelers as Claude Levi-Strauss and Daniel J. Boorstin. In addition, MacCannell s writing contains lengthy, yet indispensable, definition and analysis of terms like the front and back regions of a tourist site: two terms indispensable to the argument of tourism as man s quest for the authentic real life of other men and women.One topic MacCannell briefly touches upon is the innovation of nomenclature used by Modern Man. it is no longer sufficient simply to be a man in order to be perceived as one. Now it is often necessary to act out reality and truth (92). As it is clearly the case that languages are becoming more and more precise, new words are constantly being added to the standard vocabularies used by the masses. Therefore, there is a certain clarification that must occur in the minds of the more inquisitive in order to establish exactly what, for example, is the true meaning of (and the concept behind) words like carnaval. While in the United States, that is more easily associated with Mardi Gras, and the incessant consumption of alcohol, in Brazil, it is a staple of that country s culture, from the samba parades to their scantily-clad mulatas and their gyrating hips. It seems that it is not only the search for the authentic, but the search for what is exotic that drives tourism today. With the sudden acceleration in the technology related to travel (information through the media, and actual travel), the discovery of true authenticity has been made almost impossible. In this day and age, the unspoiled authentic is, most likely, practically extinct. On a recent trip to Isla Grande in the Republic of Panama, my host informed me that most of the islanders there had never even been to a city. Few of them, in fact, even owned shoes. However, much to my surprise, the village idiot as he was called, was wearing Michael Jordan pajamas. When I asked him if he was a big fan of Jordan s, he was unable to answer me. As it turned out, he was the village idiot because he was deaf in both ears. Nonetheless, he was wearing the red and black pajamas associated with the most famous man on Earth. This goes to show how pop culture has made its way to most of the nooks and crannies of our planet, making the discovery of what is truly authentic an exhilarating find. Like Margaret Mead, the tourist who finds what is truly authentic will feel a sense of fulfillment. However, Mead conducted her studies at what is arguably the last possible time to find such cultures that have not been infiltrated by the internationalization of popular culture. The modern tourist seldom has the time to seek out and find such a virgin culture. This is what has led to the development and feigned authenticity of the front and back regions, which MacCannell describes in his work. The notion of such front and back regions makes for the creation of the staged back region. As Arthur Young put it, the less you see of the cooking the more likely you are to have a stomach for your dinner (96). Speaking of authenticity, this brings to mind the Brazilian proverb a woman s romantic past and a restaurant s kitchen are two things I would rather not know about. The tie-in with a woman s past explains the concept of a staged back region in another concept: this is how I would like you to believe that we live (or have lived). In sum, the concept of front and back regions, coupled with their intermediary, the staged back, together with the creations of such idioms as off the beaten path and in with the natives (97) has undoubtedly led tourism to gravitate toward a quest for authenticity. When anybody living in the industrialized world decides they want to take a vacation, it is usually the case that the last thing they want is to spend their time in a place where they will be reminded of their own lives, which they likely consider boring and routine. MacCannell makes the valuable point, however, that the premeditated creation of front and back regions may often lead to an inaccurate representation of the authentic. For that reason, it may often result that tourists don t really get the authenticity they for which they were searching. This does not go to say that they are returning from their vacations unhappy, only that they may have been duped out of what is truly authentic. Sometimes, it may be necessary for a certain misfortune to lead tourists to what is really authentic. For example, the American couple who was unable to find a hotel room in Zagreb. These tourists were witnesses to the authentic life and socioeconomic strife of the Balkans when they were led to rent a black-market room, displacing the family of workers who slept on a couch behind a blanket hung as a curtain in the living room (97).


While some might argue that tourism is not a quest for the authentic, rather just a break from the routine, others might argue that it has developed into the search for the real life of others. It seems that there are countless examples to support either claim. Of course, there are those who set out to find the authentic. The backpacking travelers, as they call themselves, will find more of the authentic than the tourist with two cameras hanging around his neck and a tour-guide showing him the faux-real. However, who will judge which of the two is on a more justified journey? However, it seems that although MacCannell has made a good argument in favor of tourism having become a quest for authenticity, he may have missed the clarification of one very important factor: the modernization of information. From the technology employed in its dissemination to the ever-increasing use of the Internet as a medium for the promotion of tourism, the information age seems to be in its prime. Safety has also become more accessible when on a search for the authentic. Satellite phones on a safari, or walkie-talkies giving the avalanche victim access to a helicopter rescue-team greatly reduce the risk of being on such a quest for the authentic. Does such technology, however, take away from the authentic experience? Some may argue that it does. For example, consider those who have died an authentic death attempting to climb Mount Everest. Surely, they would turn in their graves at the notion of today s concept of the authentic ascent of Everest . MacCannell addresses this issue, albeit indirectly, in his conclusion: Specifically, I have suggested that for the study of tourist settings front and back be treated as ideal poles of a continuum, poles linked by a series of front regions decorated to appear as back regions, and back regions set up to accommodate outsiders. (105). Having been published in 1976, MacCannell s The Tourist may be a bit outdated, but its philosophical merits remain unscathed. Quite accurately, MacCannell tells the reader how the archetypal Modern Man (as opposed to Industrial Man) is losing his attachments to the neighborhood, the town, the family, which he once called his own but, at the same time, his is developing an interest in the real life of others. (91). It seems that with all the technological advances (and the resulting fall in both costs and prices) of the twentieth century, the tourist has lost his or her susceptibility to be moved by simple beauty. As real prices for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and package tours fall amid competition, it has become increasingly easier for the lower classes to use their savings (or even use installments) to travel to the so-called beautiful places all over the planet. Hence, as a consequence, the spreading of this insensibility has led the entrepreneurial members of the tourism and entertainment industries to perfect the concepts of front and back regions, changing the interests of their customers, manipulating them to begin a search for the authentic. As far as my own motivations for tourism are concerned, it would be easy to say that I am on a constant quest for the authentic. However, having traveled extensively as a child, having been explained ad nauseam the rituals of the Incas at the age of seven, I would opt for the alternative. When on vacation, I seek to relax, to do the things I enjoy doing when I have no worries in my head. For example, I recently visited the Bahamas with my then-girlfriend. Not being in a group with anybody else, we sought the seclusion of a trip together in that beach-oriented atmosphere. Even then, on a beach in front of the not-even-close-to-the-authentic Radisson Hotel, I was offered a dose of the native Bahamian s authentic disrespect for the tourist. A native police officer, with his Marriott Bellboy-eque white uniform, complete with Caesarian feathers on the helmet, wagged his tongue shamelessly at my girlfriend as we passed. In sum, even the unsuspecting tourist on no such quest for the authentic will usually be served his dose of the real life of the natives, let him just hope it s not in the form of a picked-pocket.

Related Essays on Tourism