Round the World in 80 Ways
With spas and cottage cultures under his belt, Löfgren turns to perhaps the most daunting challenge in the tourism studies repertoire: the Mediterranean package tour. Here he takes a daring approach, as one must with a theme that, after more than thirty years, has become an instantly recognizable topos in the Northern European imagination. He looks to Fernand Braudel, the granddaddy of the "Annales" school of cultural history, which in its heyday emphasized the importance of using bits and pieces of random material culture from the past to build a picture of the mentalité of one's subjects. Braudel is relevant because his subject was the Mediterranean world in the sixteenth century, whose narrative he constructed on "the fate of a rumor, the itinerary of a Venetian skipper, or the effects of a winter storm." Löfgren suggests that he will do for the Mediterranean in the age of the package tour what Braudel did for the sixteenth century--combing through discarded Nivea bottles, sandals and snorkels. Unfortunately, "taking Braudel to the beach" is a conspicuous failure--not so much for want of applicability as for Löfgren's utter lack of interest in following up his own premise.
The lost opportunity is far from fatal, however, as Löfgren goes on to skillfully break apart and piece back together the process by which sun, sand, sex and "local colour" became the building blocks by which Northern Europeans otherized destinations as disparate as Israel and Gibraltar (and later, Thailand and Gambia) into oblivion, leaving behind a manageable and familiar homogeneity he labels "the New South." "South," as he puts it, "became the territorialization of a certain kind of holiday, rather than a fixed geographical region." He introduces here a particularly interesting leitmotif in the intermittent discussions of palm trees, whose enforced ubiquity, he argues, is part of the language of "escape" tourism. The power of this discussion is that it brings us straight to the sad, rotten core of modern tourism: the fact that as an industry it is succeeding in obliterating the subtle human differences whose discovery it once sought to promote.
On Holiday gives us great reassurance about the direction of scholarship. Somehow, Löfgren manages to take us beyond even the encouraging trend toward a social history of leisure. Embracing the return to narrative in the study of tourism, he undertakes a study that is as delightfully anecdotal as it is indebted in equal measure to all the various intellectual approaches that have preceded him. There is something of the historian's narrative, but there is also an examination of tourists' otherizing of local cultures, itself accompanied by the appropriate caution against excessive interest in the "tourist gaze." And finally, there is the gentle admonition in the conclusion that despite our belief in our own sophistications, "we are all tourists"--an elegant reminder of the persistence of Dean MacCannell's contributions thirty-five years ago in The Tourist. In Löfgren's book, willy-nilly, the study of tourism has finally come of age.
This maturity is most in evidence when one realizes that for all its clever insights and pleasant syntheses, On Holiday is in large part actually a compendium of much of the recent work that has quietly been taking shape over the past ten or fifteen years. It is particularly reliant on the work of Urbain, who, in L'Idiot du voyage, introduced the concept of "post-tourism," which is explained in Löfgren's conclusion. When a destination that was previously an "undiscovered" haunt, known only to a few discriminating travelers, becomes a popular tourist mecca, drawing hordes of lower-middle- and working-class package tourists, the "connoisseurs" have traditionally reacted in one of two ways to the parvenus. Those with the means to do so have simply ponied up more cash in exchange for privacy, exclusivity and seclusion--this he calls "elite tourism"--while those lacking the wherewithal have simply grown to resent the invading hordes and slipped into self-righteous "anti-tourism," constantly pointing out "those tourists" and wishing there weren't so many of them about. However, a third response has more recently availed itself, according to Urbain, and that is "post-tourism," in which discerning bourgeois have "decided to join in with those other tourists, but always with an ironic distance." Put another way, post-tourists are just anti-tourists who have given up.
That, at least, is the theory. But in layman's terms, "post-tourism" is essentially an extension of postmodernity's love of kitsch. It's that wry chuckle we get when we watch other people's cheesy home movies--the naïveté of those Technicolor mediascapes, the Campbell's soup children and the Kodachrome smiles. It's the post-everything amusement derived from a visit to the manufactured realities of Las Vegas or Hershey Park USA. It's a recognition that in these days of commodified experience, our vacations are fake as fake can be but that, hell, we're going to enjoy it all anyway, slurping Italian ices on the Coney Island boardwalk, playing the slots at the Excalibur and laughing all the way to the simulacrum.