The Consumer Gaze
Reverting to the transition from the Grand Tour to the romantic, Adler (1989) [references here] observes a sensory shift from the travellers ear to the traveller's eye. A dark and more sinister side to tourism is revealed as Urry (1990) draws from the works of Focault (1976) and Bentham to demonstrate how the visual gaze of the tourist can be socially structured and organised just like the medical gaze.
The evolvement of the asylum during the nineteenth century is seen by Focault (1976:1) as an ideological pursuit to institutionalise insanity from the public. The care and deployment of patients were passed totally into the hands of perceived experts but Focault shows this medical gaze to operate as a panopticon. Just like in Bentham's model prison, the spatial confinements of the institution allow the authorities to induce fear and discipline into their subjects by a discreet and continuous observation. More frightening, and at once more relevant, for us is Focault's (1979:178) extension that the whole of contemporary society is "not one of spectacle, but of surveillance...We are but in the panoptic machine".
We can be said to be under the influence of the consumer gaze. Referring to Marx, MacCannell (1989) claims that the value of a commodity no longer rests on the amount of labour required to produce it but on the experience that it manifests. In modern society, entrepreneurialism and class structure may now result from the values of this experience, termed the cultural production, which can prompt the production of materialistic commodities. For example, the visitor who samples an Oriental restaurant in an English city consumes a cultural production. It is popular, we shall presume, and entrepreneurs can capitalise by authorising further productions and commodities based on this culture. We can be tempted to consume in these through a variety of methods, including paid employment, credit cards, advertisements and new technology. The consumer gaze can be seen to extend all around us and may further provoke the displacement of families, religions, cultures and symbolic structures. The influence may be so powerful that even when we think we have escaped the gaze, the issues may still play on our minds.
The Tourist Quest
Tourism operates within this very framework. It constitutes an outlet, a solution to the de-differentiation of society. For here is a chance to escape from our everyday experiences, to encounter objects and peoples that are different precisely because they have not been displaced. This is the basic tourist quest but a number of critics attempt to define it more precisely.
"All tourist attractions are cultural experiences", claims MacCannell (1989:23), and so the tourist can also expect to come under the influence of the consumer gaze. One of the earliest critiques comes from Boorstin (1964), who accuses the tourist for displaying a lack of sensory awareness during their encounter with tourist sights. The industry thrives on this predominantly visual encounter by supplying "an elaborately contrived indirect experience...in the very places where the real thing is as free as air" (1964:103).
Another who is concerned with the inauthenticity of modern life is MacCannell (1989), but unlike Boorstin (1964), he argues that the tourist is not content with this type of encounter and actually searches for authentic experiences. For MacCannell, the tourist quest is a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey to try and rediscover oneself through the acquaintance of pure structures, religions and cultures. But indulgence in such novel experiences represents both an intrusion to those who live and work there and an opportunity to capitalise. The gaze is redirected at the tourist through the systematic staging of authentic experiences. Here we may find tourist spaces and settings purposefully dressed to resemble an authentic experience. A seminal example is of the Alarde ritual in Fuenterrabia, where the government requested the locals to perform the event twice in one day to enable more tourists to see it (Greenwood, 1977). The tourists would not, of course, be witnessing the true event and their quest remains elusive.
Then we have what Feifer (1985) terms
the post-tourist, who are more concerned with the hedonic nature of the
experience than the authenticity. The post-tourist is aware of the
contrived nature of contemporary society and realises that tourism can
not provide them with an authentic experience. Rather, they see tourism
as a series of games to be played. Here, Feifer is alluding to another
tourism fetish, that of the tourist as child. This type of quest
is much discussed by Dann (1996a), and also Gottlieb (1982), who sees the
tourist's acquaintance with a novel environment as an opportunity to engage
in liminal behaviour. A kind of role reversal can take place where
the affluent tourist can play at being a peasant and the peasant becomes
King or Queen..
The problematic nature of defining the tourist quest has been illustrated. Selwyn (1996) explains that the cause of the ambiguity may be because there are two types of authenticity present here. One concerns the quest for the authentic Self but there is also the authenticity of the setting. He argues that we need to distinguish between the two types of authenticity but we shall see that the rhetoric of tourism markers pursues both of these types simultaneously.
Anticipating the Experience
Under the consumer gaze we alluded to the ubiquity of advertisements and how we can be tempted to consume. Now we turn to travel advertisements specifically. In order to consider how we may anticipate a tourist experience, we shall begin by looking at the most abstract of formats.
Let us imagine, momentarily, that we are really fed up with our everyday, mundane experiences. We have all been there. We start to fantasise of pleasures to take our mind of the present task. A tourist experience can therefore be constructed during mindlessness, fantasies and dreams (Ryan, 1995) and it is not always necessary to travel for long distances or for long periods of time. In this context, our anticipation of the experience can not only form a valuable component of the tourism product but can become an escape per se.
If the anticipatory stage is to be successful it must serve two complementary functions. It must sell itself to us and it must inform of our potential visit. This, it does, claims MacCannell (1989), through a system of markers. It is usually through the consumption of off-site markers that the visitor will first make contact with a particular sight or destination. Simulacrums can be transported to our very living rooms in the form of brochures, guidebooks, photographs, artefacts, television, internet, etc. On-site markers, on the other hand, can rarely be taken away for consumption. The destination itself is composed of fragmented sights and attractions (i.e. Tintagel Castle), each a symbolic marker that is complementary of the holistic experience. It leads MacCannell to proclaim that sightseers do not see a place in any empirical sense, rather, a meaningful experience can be accumulated. Each sight can, in turn, house intrinsic on-site markers, such as interpretation boards, displays and way-marking, and to complicate matters further, they can often house off-site markers as well. But the most significant feature of the markers may be the arbitrary nature of their messages.
Barthes (1972)discusses three types
of meaning; the linguistic, the semiotic and the mythical. It may
seem quite a while now since the abstract of this study was consumed but
we are going to revert to du Maurier's (1967) quote in order to illustrate
this concept. Her quote serves a marker that tells us about approaching
Cornwall from Plymouth by train. At the linguistic level, how do
we know that a train is a train, or what constitutes Plymouth or Cornwall?
Our linguistic meanings are shaped by human history and social convention.
A semiotic analysis of train can uncover a myriad of meanings. Train
might represent a form of relaxation or nostalgia for someone, a necessary
means of travel for someone else or a polluting evil for another.
A myth, on the other hand, is a general belief that has been shaped once
again by history and convention. For du Maurier, her perceptions
of Cornwall were a myth. She experiences a very different Cornwall
to the one she had believed.
Urry (1990) refers to the neologisms of spatial zones to reveal how the rhetoric of the markers can create false images of authenticity. Yorkshire is renowned for James Herriot Country and Bronte Country, Tyneside as Catherine Cookson Country, Dorset as Hardy Country and, dare I suggest it, Tintagel as King Arthur Country. The attachment of the markers can lend a certain measure of authenticity to the site. Here we are concerned with the authenticity of meaning and our understanding of the experience. 'Bronte country' becomes a worthy component of the tourist gaze but in the absence of the marker the same area of Yorkshire may barely receive a second glance. Such is the power of the marker that the act of seeing a sight without one can have little significance (MacCannell, 1989).
In our reverence of the markers, Urbain (1989) suggests that tourism advertising can also pursue our quest for the authentic Self. The rhetoric of the Blue Guides (Gritti, 1967) combines conspicuous symbols (bold font, capital letters and asterisks) with romantic superlatives (the grandest, the highest, the most spectacular) to illustrate ' must-see' attractions (MacCannell, 1989). While the visitor is covertly controlled in this manner, they are unlikely to stray into areas of deprivation or conflict with local people and the quality of the guidebook and the visit apparently remain in tact. For Barthes (1972), guidebooks are therefore instruments of blindness that inform us of little at all.
Yet this contrast between the markers
and reality may actually increase with anonymity (Dann, 1996a). The
markers rarely incorporate local voice and as the source becomes more distant
and obscure it can provide a haven for concealment.
The rhetoric of the markers can provide a perpetual tourist discourse, a mental framework that may extend full circle. At the anticipatory stage "…people come to expect their annual vacations to be romantic and exotic, however extravagant and illusory their expectations" (Boorstin, 1964:102). During the visit, MacCannell (1989:123) claims that we do not see a sight in any empirical sense but perform a 'double take' where perception is exchanged with recognition. Consequently, even when the sight fails to live up to expectations, Urry (1990) says it is the significance of the markers that will stay in the mind.
A Semiotic Analysis of Tintagel
We too are going to undertake a semiotic analyses to investigate Tintagel's rise in popularity as a tourist destination, how it is promoted to the visitor and a current tourism strategy to try and rejuvenate Tintagel into a quality destination.
Tintagel has been the subject of romanticism from as early as 1136 when Geoffrey of Monmouth claims that King Arthur was conceived at Tintagel Castle in a 'History of the Kings of Britain'. A legendary Arthur had appeared in an earlier account by Nennius as a successful Christian war leader in the Dark Ages but not, as Geoffrey describes him, as a mighty King of England who defeated a Roman Emperor. There has never been conclusive archaeological evidence to prove that a historic Arthur ever existed, let alone the connection with Tintagel (Thomas, 1993). King Arthur is, in Barthes' (1972) terms, a myth.
A legacy of other Dark Age discoveries
at Tintagel has ensured that the legend of King Arthur has continuously
been the source of both elaboration and debate. A detailed coverage
of the legend lies way beyond the scope of this study, suffice to say that
it was given renewed interest by the new romantic inspiration of the nineteenth
century. Of particular influence were Alfred Lord Tennyson's 'The
Idylls of the King (1859-1869) and R.S. Hawker's 'The Quest of the Sangraal
(1863). Both were local writers who combined old Arthurian tales
with romantic scenery. This was a potent mix and it began to place
Tintagel on the tourist map. At the turn of the twentieth century
the parish of Trevena was re-named as Tintagel, after the Castle and the
headland, in an ingenious marketing plan to associate the whole destination
with the legend of King Arthur.
The larger players in the market tend to be more ambiguous about the Arthurian legend. The following article from the Western Morning News (1998) is to be found on display at the Tintagel Castle gift shop (English Heritage). It reads, "This is incredible...a Godsend for the economy of a village that has been down on a hill". Yet when we acquire the 'Tintagel Castle' promotional leaflet, also at the Castle gift shop, we are told that we are at the "legendary birthplace of King Arthur" (English Heritage, 1999). Tintagel Visitor Centre would seem to be in the ideal location to supply the North Cornwall 1999 brochure (North Cornwall District Council, 1999a:16) for it tells us it is at Tintagel that "your search for King Arthur must surely begin".
As far as the scenery is concerned, receptions remain unequivocal. Both a guidebook (Young and Williams, 1994:6) and a promotional leaflet (Tintagel Traders Association, 1997) that I acquired during my research at Tintagel refer to the same quote by Arthur Mee in their description of the coast. "It's rocks rise sheer from the sea, crowned with green carpets...". In the North Cornwall 1999 brochure (North Cornwall District Council, 1999:36) we find the use of superlatives, just like we did in the Blue Guides (Gritti, 1967), to attract us to the Willapark Manor Hotel. It is advertised as being "one of the most beautifully situated hotels in England". Finally, a promotional leaflet for St Nectan's Kieve and Waterfalls goes a stage further in combining superlatives with MacCannell's (1989) pilgrimage by describing it "as amongst the ten most important spiritual sites in the country" and that "the magic and tranquillity are unique" (The Hermitage, 1999.).
Tintagel's decline in visitor numbers may seem bewildering considering the rhetoric of the markers but, paradoxically, it may indicate that visitor expectations may be illusory. This may have been prophesied from as early as 1959(:4) when Boney found from dialogue with visitors that their experience at Tintagel consisted of "parking in the village, a walk to the Castle and a laborious trek up the hill to the village before returning to the car in search of beauty and grandeur (elsewhere) when it is all here on the doorstep". In 1988, Thomas also found that "nearly a third of visitors to Tintagel desired only to patronise the shops on Fore Street". The present decline of Tintagel as a tourist destination is attributed to the poor aesthetic quality of the village (Tintagel Regeneration Forum et al, 1998) and this is likely to accentuate the problem by acting as a symbolic marker. We have seen that the rhetoric of tourism is a perpetual discourse and when markers can be seen to conflict and compete with one another they can acquire an 'emergent authenticity' (Cohen, 1988), so that it can be a matter of chance which perceptions of Tintagel visitors will arrive with (Robb, 1998).
In 1998 the Tintagel Enhancement and Regeneration Project (Tintagel Regeneration Forum et al) was established to try and rejuvenate Tintagel as a top quality visitor destination and a desirable place in which to live and work. It is administered by the Tintagel Regeneration Forum, a partnership approach, which comprises of the Tintagel Traders association (TTA), Tintagel Parish Council and the North Cornwall District Council. The main proposals of the project are to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the village and to improve links from the village to Tintagel Castle. The bulk of the Project will therefore be centred around Fore Street and includes the following components: