Reading Guide to: Johns, N.  and Clarke, V.  (2001) ‘Mythological Analysis of Boating Tourism’, in Annals of Tourism Research, 28 (2): 334-59.

[This is an analysis of tourist discourses about their boating holidays, including using photographic data.  The resources used to analyse myths actually rather odd – Roland Barthes and Mythologies, with bits of Baudrillard.  Individual statements about myths and how they work are occasionally applied to the data.]

Mythologies are organised perceptions of tourists or visitors ( this term implies some convergence between myth and ideology as in the classic Barthes work).  In anthropology myth is seen as either a primitive religion, or as a conceptual tool as in the work of Levi Strauss and mythemes [social and conceptual categories found at a deep level in all myths  – such as categories of family, stranger, nature, culture and so on].  In the work of Roland Barthes, myths carry second order signification as well as immediate signification, but the second order signification is a matter of ideology.  Post modernists like Baudrillard argue that myths are now ubiquitous, and construct a hyperreality [but not as ideology - that is a modernist term].  Disneyland, for example is a myth disguising the evacuation of the real (see file) .  However, everyone can now decode these myths [thank goodness --otherwise academics would seem very patronising and elitist].

There has been work in tourism on myth – Selwyn, or Dann [highly variable stuff -- see Harris 2004] , and Boorstin on the spectacle.  Mythical archetypes are found in advertising, for example.  However, these analyses are not usually based on what actual tourists say.  [Myth is also used as a term of distaste in Dann – Johns and Clarke level this accusation against Urry]. Baudrillard is seen here as an analyst of ideology as well.  The case studied looks at whether tourists reproduce these myths and/or decode them.

Tourists who visited the Norfolk Broads were studied [why it is always these strange traditional English holidays that seem to be analysed, and not modern ones?  This journal in particular seems to deal in nostalgia and a deliberate attempt to avoid mass modern tourism].  Groups of tourists embarking on a holiday were asked to nominate spokespersons who would give an account and take photographs.  Interviews would subsequently be held.  Data would be analysed in terms of stories, form, concepts and motivation as in Barthes, who predicted a richness and poverty of meaning and contradiction [the decision has already been taken to treat these stories as sincere data, of course, not as stories designed to be relayed to researchers or to talk up the holiday.  Emotional and logical content are taken as crude operationalisms of Levi Strauss on the tension between mythos and logos in mythical thinking in pre-industrial societies].

On expectations, this seemed to be quite a lot of uncertainty about ‘it’, with this anonymous referent assumed to be the sign for the holiday, another connection with myth for the authors.  There was an interest in otherness, including references to other people who influenced the choice, including external authorities.  Some of the language seem to reflect holiday advertisements: here [and elsewhere, whenever they encounter popular culture in fact] the authors suspects that ‘triteness hinted at insincerity’.  Potentially negative experiences also appeared in ‘paradigmatic forms’ [so could not be seen as authentic data?]. 

Photographs were described a lot and then interpreted.  These [by contrast] seemed natural and not posed.  As photographs represent individual perceptions, rather than forms of communication, they are hard to analyse as myth.  However there were themes emerging, such as photographs of a number of types of boats, the holiday boating community, and representations of what participants described as their true goal – solitude and open spaces [the authors’ values seem pretty clear here too – it is the old ‘authenticity’ shtick].  Such photographs were often mentioned using terms such as freedom, and less frequently referred to the suspension of disbelief in the claims of the holiday, even an awareness that there is perception rather than simple reality being recorded.  These photographs were linked to themes of ‘nature’, often connected to photographs of birds.  These were linked as a signifying form for the authors [who are also implicitly claiming that these are a signifying form for the tourists as well?].  There was some evidence that the desires of children and adults and the party were mismatched – children complained more about the absence of television.  Some roles were being explored, including explorer.  Relaxing was mentioned frequently.  There also notions of authenticity [told you so] – respondents mentioned the length of the journey as significant [needed to escape from civilisation, I think].  There also hints of Eco on the ‘post modern cult of more’, and attempts to refer back to Barthes’ terms which describe myth.  [All of them pretty unconvincing in my view].

The second case study revealed certain differences though, in particular in the absence of detail in the reports and on the questionnaires.  Again, this is somehow evidence in support of Barthes’ view that even absence can reflect the structure of myth, and should be seen as an attempt at communication.  Generally though, this second group used ‘clichéd mythical forms’, such as ‘slow’ as a metaphor for ‘natural’ [that should please advocates of slow leisure, slow cities and the like – all along they have been using clichéd mythical forms!].  ‘Slow’ has a lot of metaphorical meaning, including a reference to an ‘idealised past’.

The photographs this group took were also odd, sometimes including the interiors of buildings for example.  Clearly, these ‘seemed to be slightly contrived’ [one suspects that anything that falls outside the preferred reading is going to be seen as ideological, imposed, contrived or clichéd].  Narratives and buildings often led to further themes of landscapes and sky, boats and wildlife [which are clichéd at all, evidently], but even here there was ‘a significant number of contrived shots…  a noticeable “picture postcard” feel’.  Overall, this group communicated ‘a paradigm of tourist photography (the form of a myth)’ [so here the notion of myth is finally collapsed into that of ideology?].  There was even the occasional ‘trite culinary signifier’.  However, their journeys were not entirely affected by advertising culture.  There were lots of references to beer and pubs, again interpreted as ‘a persistent and important mythical form’, meaning both wickedness and family [this seems to shift us on to the obligatory notion of resistance].  There were also some jokes [we can predict some problems with these for the serious analyst], functioning as alibis for some dubious behaviour such as ‘ostensible theft’ [often petty items like stealing beer mats from pubs].

So, overall, people used myths is to express their experience, including a few from popular culture.  In extreme cases, these produced both ‘trite and insincere’ forms, including some referring to freedom or nature.  The sincere ones seem to be about confirming initial assumptions.  The concepts used did link to other myths.  However, language can be playful [at last!].

Overall, Barthes seems to have been justified, since the accounts display ‘derived forms and rich but ill defined concepts’.  Sometimes these were general and sometimes ‘intensely personal’.  Tourists wanted to support myths, which often used to evade or forget contradiction.  The personal ones are still traceable to postmodern culture, however, and consumer values.  Such analysis helps us to understand the attitudes of tourists, how they ‘accrue new signifiers for existing concepts’.  There mythologising helps them in particular to ignore environmental damage to the Broads [they weren’t as green as the analysts?].  In this way, myths help to develop or destroyed touristic environments.

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