MacCannell, D (2001) 'Tourist agency', in Tourist Studies, Vol 1 (1): 23 - 37.
Early work stressed the conformist nature of tourism as in mass tourism, or as in the determining effects of structures of meaning. Some critics stressed the role of freedom and agency, including Cohen. For Urry, the freedom of the tourist to travel, play and step outside the ordinary is also a major theme. In his case, it is the freedom associated with consumption rather than the production of tourist spectacles.
The notion of the gaze introduced considerable diversity into studies of tourist experience -- there were male and female gazes for example, and those associated with different social classes and different historical periods. We can choose a gaze, and, crucially, combine different experiences gained at different times. This activity is motivated by 'a desire to leave home and see something different' (24).
However, this already presupposes that a tourist site is different and exciting. Curiously, difference and excitement cannot be found at home, apparently -- not like in the work of Goffman, Freud or even Marx. Everyday life is seen as flat and banal. However, this assumes that the jaded are the most common type of tourist -- MacCannell simply hopes not. Further, the notion that tourists sites should be extraordinary by comparison with dull everyday life 'is not a very high standard for tourist attractions. It makes sightseeing closer than it need be to television' (26). Tourist attractions become 'mirrors to serve the narcissistic needs of dull egos' (26), and tourists become determined by them once more.
There may well be such tourists, and some city tourist policies seem to want to cater for them with special sanitised and themed tourist attractions replacing real cities, catering for 'the ready made for low-grade commercialised leisure' (27). Many guidebooks also reinforce the idea that locations exist purely to provide for narcissistic tourists [and three complaining pieces from the Lonely Planet Guide to Japan are cited, each of which demands that important sites market themselves to tourists] . The guide also implies that they are only worth seeing because so many other tourists see them.
Urry's work is based on Foucault on the gaze. For Foucault, the gaze cannot be denied, and it will be extended to what is presently invisible -- through the increase of science. This notion does seem to correspond to tourists' desire to see beneath the superficial surface of tourist sites. But for Foucault there is no depth or resistance in the invisible -- it will become a visible surface in turn. Foucault's gaze is also dominating and controlling. In Urry's hands it is used to subjugate locals and exoticize them. We seem to be back with determinism here, but Urry sees individuals as still having a subjective element, provided by unique 'articulations between different discourses' (29). MacCannell has criticised this already, as providing only the appearance of freedom in a form suitable for liberal societies -- no matter how complex the combinations, discourses still determine overall [in other words, this is the old dilemma of consumer choice -- you can choose individual goods, but only within an overall system of commodities].
Lacan seems to offer an alternative conception of the gaze, in his analysis of Holbein's The Ambassadors. Here it is the viewing subject who is [hailed] by the painting, which captures individual subjective desires. The same effect can be found in tourist posters. [I never saw this as particularly different from Urry, or Foucault for that matter]. However, a free subject can be inferred, one that recognises the positioning of subjectivity in the first place [what, the Althusserian intellectual?]. This 'second gaze' is available to all, but often voluntarily relinquished by people accepting their dull lives and seeking entertainment in the tourist industry. MacCannell finds evidence in his own discovery of tourists who want to get beyond the tourist gaze and the easy representations of Otherness -- 'This is a desire which almost all tourists will express if given an opportunity' (31) [but how can we be sure that these tourists are simply after better forms of entertainment?].
The fixed tourist gaze is vulnerable -- anyone can see it operating, despite its attempts to be naturalistic -- 'Tourists know that looks deceive' (31), although they cannot always express this knowledge abstractly. Tourist sites always exceed their representations [their 'markers' in the earlier format], and some are able to recognise that there is always an unseen and an unrepresented. This can be illustrated in action.
Let us turn to Stendhal [looks like abstract evasion rather than a demonstration in action!], who writes a novel about a travelling salesmen acting as a tourist. This tourist soon discovers there are several ways to view an attraction, and that tourist sightseeing can lead to discussion, as the book apparently did. This perception arose from visiting and viewing the mundane and ordinary aspects of life in France. [Any poet would do then?]. Stendhal's traveller seeks out sites that will stimulate further talk and discussion -- this is the point of travel for him. The result is a running commentary on what is seen, a 'lamination of the visual and verbal' (32). This narrative clearly adds meaning, or decodes meaning to or in what is seen. Sometimes the meanings are not at all obvious -- a Gothic building reminds him of the sound of a harmonica (33). Detail, and the unexpected, are what is important rather than organized spectacle -- the traveller notices the facial expressions of the actors who modeled for statues and uses this to see beyond the immediate attempts to represent famous statesman or whatever. He recognises the work involved in the representation, the unnoticed [MacCannell tells us that Stendhal was a favourite of Marx's. It also sounds a bit like the surrealist project to read cities poetically].
This kind of critical commentary is always available, and to perform one is an ethical responsibility for Stendhal [and MacCannell?]. The descriptions found in travel-writing and guide books are scorned, as are scholarly commentaries which have their own agendas. 'What he is advocating is a kind of radical sightseeing, an anti-tourism in the heart of tourism' (34). The project is always to look beyond what is offered by the tourist business. A recent researcher has adopted this Stendahlian approach as well (Kirschemblatt-Gimblet (1998), Destination Culture), while Lippard (1999) sets out to contrast the richness perceived by locals with the bland dismissals of the tourist industry of her local village.
Thus there are two different kinds of gazes. The one described by Urry is developed by commercial tourism to complement the narcissistic ego. It claims to offer full transparency and immediate satisfaction. This does accurately describe much of what goes on in commercial tourism. However, it is weak on explaining critical resistance. For that we need the second gaze which knows 'that seeing is not believing' (36). This gaze insists on its own constructions for ethical reasons [so politics is sidestepped by this soggy humanism?]. It focuses on how gazes are constructed, how complexity is simplified and closed, how reality is structured.
[Lots of interesting thoughts here. The first and second gaze look pretty much to me like the I and me of symbolic interactionism, or even the natural and transcendental ego of social phenomenology. I kept hearing echoes of surrealism, or Adorno's dictum that 'concepts never go over into their objects without remainder'. I am sure that any poetic consciousness operates like this -- but how many of us actually are poets? MacCannell 's attempts to use Stendhal's novels as evidence is obviously suspect, and he uses the slippery pronoun ploy to move between the poet and the ordinary punter. There is probably some elitism in there too -- only proper people can do touristic poetry, unlike the poor subhumans that we cultured sensitives see all around us. Finally, I think Urry himself gets close to this view with his description of ironic tourism, which similarly focuses on the presentation and enjoys the struggle to manage complexity]
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