Whether elements of classical mythology can provide anything more than superficial entertainment might require a realisation of its original use. This, it is intended, should set the battle ground for the ensuing debate. The idea of the function of mythology as that of a rationalisation of the unexplained is a popular premise. Hawkes (1977) [see references here] summarises Vico’s assertion that myths in this sense “represent…attempts to impose a satisfactory, graspable, humanising shape” on aspects of the lives of ‘ancients’ ”. Pre-empting the authenticity debate by a couple of hundred years, Vico suggests that mans intrinsic ‘poetic wisdom’ is a demonstration of the ‘creation of cognitive structure through metaphor’ (In Hawkes 1977:13)
So, according to Vico, it seems, ancient Greek, Aztec or Celtic myth might be viewed as internalised and constructed realities, based on real or imagined, external or internal stimuli.
These myths “constitute not mere embroidery of reality, but a way of coping with it” (Hawkes 1977:12). The function of the creation of myth, according to Vico, is due to the nature of man not only to ‘formulate’ cognitive structures through myth, but also to willingly ‘submit’ to these structures; “To be human is to be structuralist” (In Hawkes 1977:15). Hence, it might be seen that mythology and society are not entirely distinct. For Kluckhohn (1942), this is best illustrated in the production of rituals [and myths] as a response to the human need for ‘regularity’; a method of articulating the cognitive through the social. It is this reflection of the cognitive in the social that might be seen to underpin structuralist thinking, a “process [that] involves the continual creation of recognisable and repeatable forms which we can now term a process of structuring” (Hawkes 1977:14).
The notion that ritual could be the embodiment of myth is a recurring theme. Leach’s position (1954, In Kirk 1970:24) that ‘myth implies ritual’ and vice versa, however, is rejected by Kluckhohn on an ontological basis; myth being a ‘word system’ and ritual being a system of objects and acts [an assertion that might be seen to be sadly lacking in light of later analysis]. Kluckhohn differentiates ritual as an “obsessive repetitive activity, often a symbolic dramatisation of the needs of society”, which is ‘rationalised by’ mythology (:24). If this position can be accepted, the similarity between the functions of, [and theorising of] classical mythology and the contemporary ‘ritual’ of tourism might not therefore be that distinct as the following research may indicate.
Kirk (1970) is succinct in summarising the variation and convergence of opinion on myth and its genre. Citing Propp’s (1968) analysis of fairytales and Fromm’s (1952) view of the ‘forgotten language’ of myth and dreams, there is an apparent confirmation of the significance of the subjects and their ontological connections; in particular, the idea that myths [and dreams] as ‘communications from ourselves, to ourselves’ (Fromm, 1952 In Kirk 1970:19). Indeed, it is this ‘language’ link that might provide a running theme, in whatever form myth takes. The significance of Vico’s insistence of myth as a ‘mental language common to all nations’ (In Hawkes 1977:15) might be seen to be profound in retrospect.
The study of the significance of mythology as a language therefore, might at first seem theoretically appropriate. Saussure’s (1915) concept of ‘langue’, the system of linguistic rules and laws, and its manifestation, ‘parole’ (In Hawkes 1977:21) set the notional framework for such a study. One reservation might be Saussure’s assertion that language exists only in the manifestation of speech. (In Hawkes 1977:21). Perhaps most vital in this paper’s context however, is Saussure’s notion that “What is natural to mankind is not oral speech, but the faculty of constructing a language” (1959, in Hawkes 1977:21). The cognitive meanings, or signs, generated by language, it is posited, are ultimately a result of the relationship between the ‘signifier’, or the physical object, (such as the ‘word) and the ‘signified’, or “mental concept to which it refers” (Fiske, 1982).
Although these concepts might facilitate analysis of language and meanings, they could be seen as perhaps less applicable to the analysis of more abstract forms of communication, such as myth. As Fiske points out, Saussure “emphasised the text, not the way in that the signs interact with the cultural and personal experience of the user” (1982:90). The analytical tools provided by the semiologist, C.S. Pierce, might prove more beneficial in that this system is adaptable to both verbal and non-verbal signification systems (Echtner, 1999:48), and therefore allows for wider application. Furthermore, Pierce’s elaboration of the signifier-signified relationship to a three-way discourse between ‘object, sign and interpretant’ might be seen to expand the potential of Saussure’s framework to analysis of more cultural applications. Moreover, the perception of the interpretant is as “a mental concept produced both by the sign and by the users experience of the object” (Fiske 1982:45) will also be pertinent to the critique later in this analysis.
Although an in depth critique of
the value of Pierce’s work is beyond the scope of this paper, the central
concepts can be seen to be even more significant when applied to the study
of mythology; in particular, the classification of the nature of the ‘sign’
into ‘symbol, icon and index’. The key differentiation being
the level of ‘convention’ required to attribute meaning to the object (Fiske
1982), convention being “the agreement amongst the users about the
appropriate uses of and responses to a sign” (1982:60). Myth, it is suggested,
works ‘metonymically’, building the meaning of the whole from the perception
of a significant part, exploiting its ‘indexical nature’ (:60). Whereas
metaphor “expresses the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar” (Chandler
1995 [on line]), and could perhaps be seen to function symbolically (See
also Jakobsen and Halle 1956). Therefore, if tourism is to be posited
as similar in function to classical myth, the inclusion of analysis of
metaphor and metonym might be seen as vital to the research being undertaken
“It is a relationship between sign and meaning…The Shamen provides the sick woman with a language by means of which unexpressed, and otherwise inexpressible, psychic states can be immediately expressed” (1963: 198).Indeed, it is the symbolic nature of myth that carries the power, not the words used, Levi-Strauss claims. The ‘proof’ of this being the apparent constant structure of myths across cultures and languages.
Levi-Strauss is not alone in such a mode of thought; Fromm (1952) suggests that ‘symbolic’ language is “the one universal language the human race has ever developed” (In Kirk 1970:16). However, Kirk fails to be convinced, accusing Levi-Strauss of “Studying a narrow base of myth” (1970:3). Even the ‘fallen colossus’ of Frazer (1922), it is asserted, “tossed in catalogues of vague similarities” (:3). Not withstanding this, the question in this paper is whether Levi-Strauss’s structuralist conception of the powers of symbolic language can be applied to classical mythology in its form as a tourist product; more specifically, whether tourism can be seen to be promoted and perceived as performing a role for the contemporary tourist through its use of such language, similar to that offered to the sick woman by the Shamen. Semiotic analysis, it seems, could provide a suitable tool for this.
The application of such thinking is not restricted to classical mythology however. The earlier Marxist work of Barthes (1972) draws parallels in its application to the contemporary social and cultural ‘myths’, as opposed to that of ‘ancients’. The position is summarised by Turner (1990), suggesting that for Barthes, myths were the way in which cultural associations and social knowledge become ‘signified’ in convention, “they operate as do myths in primitive societies, to ‘explain our world for us” (1990:19). Like Levi-Strauss, Barthes perceived myth [in both its senses] as a language, “a system of communication that is a message” (1972:109). A divergence of viewpoints can be identified however. Levi-Strauss aimed to demonstrate the constant nature of ‘classical’ mythology [despite the ‘plasticity’ of its application], whereas Barthes highlights the possibility that the form of myth is culturally affected and inevitably ephemeral, “One can conceive of ancient myths, but not eternal ones…myth is a type of speech chosen by history” (1972: 110).
Utilising the conceptual framework of Saussure, Barthes demonstrates the working of myth on a higher plane than verbal language. Central to this theory is the differentiation between the denotative nature of language, in the Saussurian tradition, and the connotative nature of myth as a communicative form. Indeed, the ‘meaning’ [or Saussure’s ‘sign’] becomes his ‘signifier’ in a ‘second order of signification’; that of the mythological construction. Illustrating this process, Barthes describes his analysis of a magazine cover showing a black soldier saluting the French flag, stating “ I can see very well what it signifies to me” (1972:116). Rather than signifying an oppressive past, for Barthes the image connotes a cosmopolitan France in which the soldier gladly serves, offering “no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism” (:116) This framework, however, must be recognised as just that. As Fiske asserts, “Once we start thinking about the signifieds, we realise how unreal the distinction is …it is of analytical convenience only” (1982:108). Barthes himself might be seen to acknowledge this, “Mythology, since it is the study of a type of speech, is but one fragment of …Saussure [‘s] semiology” (1972:111).
Semiotic analysis of classical myth, in the Levi-Strauss or Frazer style, or the socio-cultural myth of Barthes, might in many ways appear potentially fruitful. The assertion of ‘myth as a language’ could justify such techniques. Moreover, if culture itself can be accepted as a linguistic system of ‘signs’, then semiotics could uncover the deeper meanings [and structures] of society. Awareness of such ‘deeper’ workings of society, it could be suggested, presents the potential for the intentional creation of ‘meaning’ and structure, via the same techniques. Such a situation is upon us, if current literature is to be believed, particularly if Barthes’ work [or paranoia?] is accepted on face value; “Myth is the most appropriate instrument for the ideological inversion which defines society” (1972:142), the myth being perpetuated and enhanced through an “ideological process of signification” (Fiske 1982:150). Nevertheless, the use of semiotics for more positive ends is also conceivable, perhaps leading to the enhancement of the tourists’ experience at the destination. Rather than using the text to create an ideological influence, a ‘reverse-engineering’ of meaning could feasibly see the tourist influencing attraction development, via semiotician’s research.
A logical line of questioning would be to ask why ideological construction of meaning would be initiated and perpetuated. Early Barthes work would indicate the motivation of ‘order’ and control, or the perpetuation of capitalism, reflecting the Marxist approach. The creation of ‘identity’, either for reasons of state economic growth (Eatwell 1997) or the more intrinsic level of ‘knowing who you are’ (Hewison 1989) is also addressed. A less insidious motive for creation of ‘order’, could be posited, perhaps more akin to the psychological ‘need’ for affiliation and security (Maslow 1943), or the intrinsic desire to perpetuate social integration through ‘figurations’ (Elias1986). Even Barthes himself is not averse to accepting that certain activities could be free from ideological interference, their significance no more than that of physical recreation or pleasure (1975, in Turner, 1990:219). However, Eco’s recognition of the “obsessive determination not to leave a single space that doesn’t suggest something” in a contemporary ‘heritage’ sight (1987:23 In Harris 1996:viii) could at least indicate the opportunity for ‘ideological constructions’ to permeate mass recreational activities, as the ensuing research might illustrate. Consequently, it would appear that myth [in whatever form] is worthy at least worthy of critical attention.
In order to move towards an analysis of the an application of theory then, leisure and tourism might be seen as an area particularly suited to research in the context being mapped out here. Inevitably, such a substantive industry is subjected to the sociological scalpel [and that of almost any other ‘ology’ or ‘ography’ that could be mentioned]. This provides an endless stream of cross-over theories of varying degrees of palpability and absurdity. Indeed, the aim of this section is to digest such theory in relation to tourism, to hopefully avoid absurd conclusions. A concise analysis of some of the dominant theories in tourism might therefore be appropriate and timely.
The idea that touristic activities can provide some intrinsic or social ‘sign’ value is not new. For Veblen, (1899), the signification of leisure as a significant act of ‘being seen’ to partake in certain behaviour or pursuit was essential in differentiation from the lower classes. In this paper’s context however, Selwyn’s (1996:1) view of tourists, in one sense, as “myth chasers” fits more precisely. An important element of Selwyn’s work is his apparent defence of MacCannell’s (1986) ageing theory of authenticity. Tourism, suggests Selwyn, presents “a persistence of myths underpinned by themes which seem clearly to be concerned with the nature of selves and society” (:29). This ‘nature’, it is asserted, reveals tourists as the “archetypal structuralist”; (:2) clearly an expression of concurrence with MacCannell.
It is vital therefore, to acknowledge the significance of MacCannell’s (1976) central theory in the context of this paper; the notion of a society displaced by modernity from its historical and cultural roots. Essentially, this displacement raises the “tendency to regress to a previous state, a golden age” (1976:82). [This apparently reflects Levi Strauss’s opinion that “any myth represents a quest for the remembrance of past things” (1963:204); whilst augmenting the ‘mythical’ nature of tourism]. However, any attempt to seek out apparently authentic experiences is inevitably thwarted by the construction of fake authenticity, leading to inevitable dissatisfaction. Moreover, the symbolic value of ‘pure experience’ and the commercially motivated “synthes[is] of fiction and reality” (:21) leads to an element of control over the authenticity of the experience by the provider. The value of MacCannell’s position, therefore, could be in the demonstration of the vulnerability of the tourist [who is apparently motivated by a quest for the authentic] to inaccuracies in the representation of the sight, perhaps to the extent of ideological manipulation.
MacCannell’s concerns [if not his methodology], and the earlier concern over the potential for negative use of semiotics appears to be reflected by Hewison; in the concern over the primacy of ‘reconstructed’ images over the authentic, leading to the “commodification of private memory itself” (1989:20). Conversely, Selwyn takes a more pragmatic stance; the requirement to satisfy both commercial needs as well as the needs of the tourist. On Golden’s (1996) concerns over the apparent inauthenticity of the representations of the Jewish Diaspora, Selwyn asks “Why …should [she] have even the slightest twinge of anxiety?…[it is a]…shining example of an accord reached between the museum curators and their visitors” (1996:27). The assertion being that the museum is being presented as the visitors would want it to be. Hewison offers the more cynical Marxist [or should that be realistic ?] perspective when suggesting that “commerce reinforces the longing for authenticity, in order to exploit it” (1989:22). Hewison raises the question “Can the truth be commercially viable?”. It would seem that if it is, it is not considered as viable as its distortion.
The post-modern perspective expressed by Urry, suggests a more balanced appraisal. The implication being that the systems of meaning available to both tourist and the sight creator being ‘equivalent’ (1990: 146). The idea that characteristics are intentionally omitted, or enhanced for ideological effect, it seems, is discarded in favour of a more benign view of the role of the sight creator, that has merely shifted from one of ‘legislator’ to ‘interpreter. (1990:146). In this sense, Gottdiener’s (1995) distinction between user, producer and object might be seen as useful. The conceptualisation of a ‘first stage of semiosis’ (:180) suggests the infusion of meaning by the producer , leading to an ‘exchange value’ to the user. The second stage, however (:181), plays on the second order signification that allows the transformation of the object’s meaning (therefore, its value) by the user. This, it could be asserted, offers the potential for resistance to ideological intention. From this perspective, perhaps Barthes might not be the only individual who can ‘see very well’ the second order signification.
Nevertheless, as Baudrillard (1983) might suggest, whatever the attraction: museum, resort, town centre, the success of its promotion might be based on its ‘sign value’, relying on individuals’ interpretations. Furthermore, models of consumption, as presented by Engel (et al 1986) would suggest that the product, whether tangible or more abstract, should somehow be conceived of as being able to fulfil a role or perform a function for the individual, either intrinsically or literally. In the case of tourism, theoretical debate over this role, as has been seen, has involved such issues as the sign value of ‘conspicuous consumption’ (Veblen 1899) and the search for authenticity (MacCannell 1976). Cohen (1979) argues a case against MacCannell; that not all tourists are seeking authenticity. Cohen’s alternative is that society has instilled a sense of alienation that is manifested in a desire [in some] to find a ‘spiritual centre’, whilst accepting that others might be merely motivated by recreation. Graburn (1977) also posits a pseudo-religious connection, in his notion of the ‘pilgrim-like’ tourist. The desire for ‘strangeness’ that which is not common in our everyday life (Cohen 1974), or the location of sights of the ‘collective’ or ‘romantic’ tourist gaze (Urry 1990) also arouse considerable and worthy academic interest.
Perhaps the most appropriate theme, given this paper’s focus, is developed by Dann in his appraisal of tourism promotion as akin to a mystical act, promising that “we can…be magically transported [and] transformed into persons other than ourselves” (1996 (a):55). An interesting element of this notion is the obvious reversal of MacCannell’s position. Rather than ‘seeking the authentic self’, tourists are aiming to ‘leave themselves’. Neither position, it could be argued offers an entirely convincing explanation, yet neither can be entirely discounted.
The idea of tourism as a magical force to somehow improve the existence of the tourist, it is asserted, is a common device in both promotional activities, as well as on site, using the full range of symbolic tools available. Dann’s analysis of the nature of photographs in travel brochures (1996(b)), and Cohen’s interpretation of the language used in promoting trekking in Thailand, (1989) represent definitive examples of the variety of approaches to the semiotic study of tourism promotion, as does Selwyn's critique of the ‘multi-faceted’ nature of texts in brochures. Perhaps the most profound concept of this genre is posited by Urbain (1989:110), combining the power of promotion and the earlier pseudo-religious nature to tourism,
“The tourist is also a traveller who is willing to die, but only just a little bit, in order to be born again…this is the symbolic matter of his journey, the meaning of his adventure which is reflected and attested by tourist advertising”.
The collective effect of such studies is the recognition of the power of symbolism, in creating the desire for tourism, irrespective of whether the desire can actually be quenched by the act itself.
The ‘magical’ theme, it seems, is not distinct from the study of mythology [in either context]. Dann perceptively comments, “magic is a communicative activity which is therapeutic to the extent that it can help bridge gaps in the pursuit of life’s daily activities” (1996: 56), in recognition of the contributions of Levi-Strauss and Malinowski. The result of this ‘magic’, it is noted, can appear to be the conversion “of a place into something else, often in a different time” (Barke and Harrap 1994, In Dann 1996 (a):59); a notion particularly appropriate when studying heritage sites. Ultimately, Dann suggests, such effects are “magical to the extent that both the destination, people and the client come under the spell of the tour operator as sorcerer" (1996:61).
Combining Dann’s notion with that of Levi Strauss and Barthes, it could be perceived that tourism ‘producers’ may hold manipulative skills that can semiotically create demand and provide supply. Underlying this, however, could be the machinations of the even more discrete influences suggested earlier; those cultural and ideological foundations of society that create the intrinsic psychological needs that are most pervasive. The tourism operator as ‘sorcerer’ merely plays on these needs.
Just as Levi-Strauss’s shaman creates a psychological battlefield within the sick woman; introducing both positive and negative forces to achieve his objective, the ‘bourgeoisie’, [if they exist] it could be asserted, nurture a system where the tour operator is merely another element of the process of creating the psychological ‘sickness’ whilst offering the ‘cure’. Whether the cure is ‘authenticity’, a ‘spiritual centre’ or even symbolic ‘re-birth’, [or, heaven forbid, just fun], the producer of the tourism experience would inevitably be just as much a part of the greater system as the tourist. The producer may be the ‘sorcerer’, but the motivational forces of tourism, it could be found, lie beyond the individual elements it brings together, within that ‘shaman’ that Barthes calls the ‘Bourgeoisie’. Ultimately, Barthes might suggest, someone must guide convention.
Barthes’s view of myth as a “prohibition for man against inventing himself (1972:155) appears heavily weighed down with Durkheimian tradition, particularly in light of more contemporary [and less extreme] thought, in that not enough consideration is given to ‘agency’. Using the terminology of Hollis (1977), it does not make sense, it could be asserted, that the huge majority of mankind is entirely ‘plastic’, at the will of the free-thinking and ‘autonomous’ Bourgeoisie. Otherwise, the questions of ‘who determines the mind-set of the Bourgeoisie?’ and ‘how can one ever be intellectually independent of its influences?’ (as Barthes seems to be ) need to be raised. The consideration of a more balanced ‘duality’ of structure (Giddens 1984) that asserts an interdependency between the forces of ‘agency’ and those of ‘structure’ itself, might be seen as a more acceptable and less radical perspective that will be re-visited later.
Following such abstract divergence, it is felt that the theoretical funnelling has reached a critical point. It might therefore be beneficial to take an ‘aerial view’ of the situation so far. It is hoped that this writer’s concern with the less tangible attributes of the tourist product is apparent; hence raising the issue of the value of semiotic research. The idea that classical mythology and ‘cultural’ myth show ontological similarities seems likely. The application of semiotic research to this area could demonstrate [if not prove] two things: firstly, that tourism could in some way provide a subconscious or intrinsic value. Secondly, that this in itself might provide an opportunity to perpetuate carefully constructed value-signs, or even ideological messages that influence supplier and consumer, subliminally creating social and cognitive structures. Conversely, the notions of ‘agency’ (Giddens 1984) and a ‘second stage of semiosis’ (Gottdeiner 1995) offer an alternative to these purely structuralist ideas.
Tourism has been posited as a symbolic Language (Dann 1996, (a)), as has mythology (Levi-Strauss 1963) and myth portrayed as ‘speech’ (Barthes 1972). Semiotic analysis, having evolved from the structural study of language to a paradigm that is applicable to non-verbal sign systems seems an appropriate mode of analysis of this whole genre. Such a viewpoint is promoted by Echtner, (1999) in her clever practicalisation of Pierce’s ‘semiotic triangle’. The substitution of Pierce’s terminology, ‘sign-interpretant-symbol’ with the more tangible ‘tourism advertisement-destination-potential tourist’ (:53) is a welcome departure from purely academic enunciation that also opens up the field for the less theoretically inclined. Echtner suggests that this model offers three relationships that should prove “useful for highlighting gaps in semiotic research and for guiding the direction of future studies” (:53).
The previous lack of the ‘Piercian’ framework offered by Echtner has not prevented the production of useful studies in the area. The destination/promotion relationship has begun to be addressed, as seen in this paper, through Dann (1996), Selwyn (1996) and Cohen (1974, 1979). Echtner adds Urbain (1989) and Uzzell (1984) to the distinguished few. The actual image of destinations has also been well researched (Crompton, 1977, Gartner, 1989. Hunt, 1975. Pierce, 1982. Reilly, 1990. Kale and Weir, 1986), although, as Echtner comments, “These studies do not specifically address the use of sign systems…to convey image to potential tourists” (1999:54).
The importance of the remaining relationship, that between the destination and the potential tourist, Echtner suggests, is underlined by the apparent lack of work into the symbolic consumption of specific sights. This is despite the theoretical frameworks having been established, as demonstrated earlier [for instance, authenticity, pilgrimage or seeking the ‘spiritual centre’]. However, studies such as Voase (1999) on the efforts of York to develop its symbolic profile, and Munt (1994), who directly addresses the symbolic value of holidays to the ‘new middle classes’ [shades of Veblen…] appear to have been overlooked. Nevertheless, the area does appear to be ripe for further academic attention.
Fortunately, the theoretical direction of that this paper is orientating itself towards fits comfortably into this neglected third area of study. The question for such research, it is suggested, is “What is the symbolic consumption experience offered to the tourist by the destination?” (Echtner 1999:53). Additionally, given the title of this paper, the critique that follows this research will reflect on the actual research experience and its implications for semiotic analysis. By addressing these issues, it is hoped that some small contribution can be made to the discussion of the concepts, theories and techniques briefly mentioned in this section.