Tourism: The spectacle of travel

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

A celebration of the Left Hand Rotation’s documentary film, “Fascínio”.

Tourism is the highest form of alienation in our time. The modern traveler is divorced from all relations to place and time, except those of consumption. And what is consumed (land and cityscapes, monuments, museums and so on, all identified as obligatory points of passage by tour guides and by the likes and dislikes of other tourists) is itself abstracted from any living history and the ways of life that created it. The tourist is a rootless consumer of branded places, mediated through industries of commodified destinations, destinations produced by the very movement of tourists.

Contemporary capitalism is increasingly characterised by the porousness, even erasure, of the line separating production from consumption. In tourism, the destination (and all related economic activities) is produced through consumption, and in the act of consumption, the commodity is produced. Spectacle-commodity capitalism attains here its most intense expression. And in the moment of consumption-production, place, time, history, local ways of conviviality are suspended and captured by the circulation of money. Literally, everything that pertains to a place and a “people” is transformed by a global economy of buying and selling: housing, food, transportation, older economic activities, habits and cultural expressions, sacred and profane spaces – they all give way to the needs of the tourist economy. And should anything stand in its way, it is merely swept aside (with all of the violence that is necessary).

[Gloss: The United Nations World Tourism Organisation gleefully celebrates the economic benefits of global tourism, oblivious to the social and ecological catastrophe which it promotes …

Why Tourism?

Over the decades, tourism has experienced a continued growth and deepening diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Modern tourism is closely linked to development and encompasses a growing number of new destinations. These dynamics have turned tourism into a key driver for socio-economic progress.

Today, the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in international commerce, and represents at the same time one of the main income sources for many developing countries. This growth goes hand in hand with an increasing diversification and competition among destinations.

This global spread of tourism in industrialised and developed states has produced economic and employment benefits in many related sectors – from construction to agriculture or telecommunications. The contribution of tourism to economic well-being depends on the quality and the revenues of the tourism offer. UNTWO assists destinations in their sustainable positioning in ever more complex national and international markets. As the UN agency dedicated to tourism, UNTWO points out that particularly developing countries stand to benefit from sustainable tourism and acts to make this reality. UNWTO]

Perhaps the most revealing manifestation and telling way of speaking of the alienation of the tourist is as the loss of any tie to the land that underlies and sustains the destination. Increasingly filtered through the proliferation of “selfie” photographs, places come to exist only through that screen-images that reproduce them. Smells, sounds, tastes, textures vanish before the omnipresent eyes of telephone cameras. The risk of disorientation is seemingly minimised through GPS localisation and signaled paths, roads and barriers. Threatening, unpredictable human behaviour (among the “natives” and the tourists) is surveilled for, controlled and pushed away from centres of tourist spectacles, or are themselves made spectacles. The land, in all of its mysterious opacity, its veiled density, its buried contingencies, cannot be apprehended, even sensed, by the hurried tourist. The land, and all that lives from and with it, is ignored, or worse, violated and domesticated for consumption.

If capitalism’s horizon is the destruction of the ecosystems which for millennia have been our homes, then anti-capitalism must stand against and contest the violence of tourism.

The documentary film Fascínio [Fascination], by the film collective Left Hand Rotation, is such a protest; modest, perhaps, because it is only a film, but profound in the way that through the juxtaposition of images, sounds, narratives, it speaks of the destructive power of tourism in the portuguese city of Sintra and of what is lost in the wake of this power: the possibility of the free and equal enjoyment of rooted, and therefore autonomous, community. (The film can be viewed with english subtitles).

We shared an earlier film by the collective, Terramotourismo, that focused on the impact of tourism on the city of Lisbon. (Click here)

Left Hand Rotation: website, blog, vimeo channel

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