Round the World in 80 Ways
Of course, a little discomfort always ensues from the knowledge that we may really just be aping our own family albums and burlesquing our own childhoods. But there is no reason to let such psychohistory get in the way of a good laugh. In Löfgren's words, it's comforting to know that "you don't have to worry about any systematic demystification by Jean Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, or all those other tourist researchers who rush impatiently through the gates of Disneyworld--you can just enjoy the place."
To say that we live in an age in which irony is the dominant aesthetic force is no great insight. However, there is more to Urbain's idea of "post-tourism" than mere camp-for-camp's-sake, and there is so much more to Löfgren than merely a fascination with tourist kitsch or layers of untethered meaning. He puts his scholarship where his mouth is. In the introduction, he wastes no time in dispensing with the absurd notion, propagated by Daniel Boorstin, among others, that there is somehow a difference between a "traveler" and a "tourist," the former in all respects superior to the latter. Löfgren dutifully lays such tired old distinctions aside. And throughout his entertaining and highly accessible book, he maintains an evenhandedness that is not to be taken for granted in studies of tourism, refusing at any point to paint a caricatured or condescending portrait of even the tackiest of his subjects.
Löfgren's introduction and conclusion in fact turn out to be the most intellectually striking parts of the book, as they represent the most original thinking, packed with keen insights and peppered with bons mots. What's in between the bookends--though perhaps occasionally falling prey to the anthropologist's nagging tendency to presume the dubious and belabor the obvious--is a highly memorable bricolage of anecdote, observation and truism. It is what makes On Holiday not just a valuable addition to the shelves of students of tourism but also an enjoyable and accessible read. Whether it's Urbain's post-tourism or Colin Ward and Dennis Hardy's work on the history of British holiday camps or Stefan Kanfer's book on the borscht belt resorts of the Catskills, it's all there, peppered with Löfgren's unique insights and interwoven with the dexterity of a scholar who knows how to tell a good story.
And the story he tells, inevitably, is the story of tourism, but it is also of something a little bit bigger. It is a story about the making of authenticity and experience, and the anxieties and oblivions that are unleashed by that process. It is the story of HeritageLand UK, and the sorry trajectory of Cool Britannia. It is, in short, the story of postmodernity, with all its posturing and strutting about manufactured experience. MacCannell suggested, in 1965, that we should think of tourism as the universal experience of modernity. We may only now be realizing just how right he was.
Löfgren offers the twin eighteenth-century characters of Phileas Fogg and Robinson Crusoe as the rock and the hard place of Western tourism, but his work suggests that it may be time to introduce a third character--a sort of (my apologies for this) Andy Warhol of "post-tourism"--one with a schizophrenia and a nervousness about experience and authenticity that transcends either empiricism or escape. The Campbell's soup cans we see in our family albums. Perhaps that, after all, is the occidental tourist.