Catherine Dodd Corona

The Semiotics of Tourism

The Semiotics of Tourism

Progymnasmata: Confirmation

Culler does a fantastic job of outlining how symbols mean more than their function. In other words how objects have “signifiers” being cues to what that object symbolizes or the judgments unconscious or conscious one gives a person, place or object. One example he uses are “blue jeans”. When a person puts on blue jeans they may not be thinking of the symbol it gives off or the signifiers it has but it certainly does give off a meaning. Blue jeans indicate a sense of casualness or western style. They could also have a different meaning depending on the culture and situation they are in. Blue jeans pose a different symbol when they are worn at a rodeo compared to a fancy dinner or when they are worn in LA compared to Kuwait City. While this is already an interesting observation it touches on a larger concept being that everything humans produce is an imaginary concept. Even though those imaginary concepts have power and can make differences in society, they are still made up or are being described by our limited language. (If you are confused by everything being an imaginary concept Yuval does an incredible job of describing this concept in his book Sapiens) There is no way to escape this concept along with the semiotics Culler explains. One is always going to perceive different objects as cultural signs, even if the judgment they give does not match the intended expression. More importantly these objects, their intended symbol, or their misinterpreted symbol even if it is a tiny aspect of an environment gives authenticity to that environment. Signifiers even though they are imaginary and described by specific cultures make up certain cultures and environments. This observation is important because it allows reflection on how one or a place represents itself or at least tries to represent itself. Which is especially important in the tourism industry.

Simona Barca

The Semiotics of Tourism- Theme

In this article, Cullen makes an argument that the age of travel as ended and we are now in the age of tourism. In this theme, he describes ‘travel’ as what upper-class Englishmen used to do when they visited foreign places, got drunk with the locals in run-down hotels, and then came back and wrote about their experiences. Tourism now, he argues, is less about what the tourist does and accomplishes and more about what happens to the tourist, thus naming it more of a commodity. One quote that emphasizes this theme is this: “The resemblance between the tourist and the client of a massage parlor is closer than it would be polite to emphasize.” A client in a massage parlor comes to the salon, pays for the experience he/she enjoys, then leaves without it having much of an impact on the client or vice versa. The same can be true in some cases for tourists. They come into a new place, pay for all-inclusive packages where the tourism industry simulates ‘authentic’ experiences for the clients without them actually having to go out in search of these experiences, then they come home and rave about what a great experience they were provided and how great the service was. Cullen also describes this type of tourist as a shipped parcel, where he/she is taken from one place to another and while they can say they’ve physically been to these places, they haven’t necessarily experienced them.

Jack Albert Nusenow

Cultural Reduction

Progym: Argument

Every culture that we believe to be easily recognizable and identifiable is surely more complex than we can ever grasp. I mostly agree with Cullen when he says that tourism “reveals difficulties of appreciating otherness except through signifying structures that mark and reduce it.” My addition of mostly stems from his inclusion of the word reduce. Ironically, we need a semiotic approach to evaluate what he means by this. Like his early example of the Eiffel tower, world wonders lend themselves well to Cullen’s idea of tourists and signs, but this I think is too generous to tourists. When we talk about tourist attractions, we have to examine who these sites actually serve. In essays and articles about tourism, its easy to slip into the routine of describing these sites merely as attractions or monuments that exist to serve foreigners, but doing this ignores the cultural relevance that citizens inherit from their own homes. A Parisian would rebuke the idea that the Eiffel tower or the catacombs reduce in any way French and Parisian culture, just as a New Yorker would with the Empire State Building, or an Egyptian would with the Pyramids. But I think all would agree, semiotically, that these attractions signify their cultures. And while the Eiffel Tower, and the Empire State Building, and the Pyramids aren’t accurate signs or descriptors of the cultures that produced them, they are all, undoubtedly, uniquely of their culture.

The distinction is almost semantic, but there’s an important case for why cultures’ greatest creations aren’t reductionary. Rather, important and relatively immortal cultural and historical markers for us as we exist in a globalist world.

Nathan Ryan Reeves

Culler-The Semiotics of Tourism

Jonathan Culler’s view of tourism gives a lot of interesting points about the good and horrible effects of tourism. I envy that he can switch midway through his sentence and start to pick apart the little details about tourism that I bet you would never think about. Standing out like an elephant in the room is Culler’s statement saying that tourists are foolish for what they really want but can never get a “true experience” without paying or searching for tourist attractions. Culler writes that Boorstin makes a good point on what is behind the artificiality of tourism,

“‘Tourist “attractions” offer an elaborately contrived indirect experience, an artificial product to be consumed in the very places where the real thing is free as air’ “

Culler then writes responding to the quote saying that a tourist is fooling for paying for an experience that they could get for free on their own terms. As Culler goes on, he continues to try and “beat some sense in the reader” by elaborating on the same point but going deeper than before.

Those tourists cannot go without looking for something that is like what they are looking for and looks out less for what the place is. And this is what makes this part of the course super interesting, because there is a line developing between the authentic and the inauthentic tourist attractions, and that usually, the tourists go for the non-authentic. To me looking back at trips I’ve taken with family, the things that are inauthentic usually feel too convenient and in your face to actually feel authentic.

From personal experience, the inauthentic stems from wanting to take advantage of ignorant tourists that think something is authentic.

For instance, if you’re traveling on a cruise from Florida to the Virgins Islands or whatever islands you’re stopping at, when you stop on the island there is a flood of tourists coming off the boat, while simultaneously a flood of the “inauthentic” just trying to sell you stuff. A clear summer day in an ordinary market can turn into something different when the people there try to diverge away from what is actually authentic, where the fake authentic is not free.

This can also be seen in American tourist sites across the country. One example that I like to think of all the time is the difference between the DC tourist and the average DC resident. From being a resident for a little bit of time, I can see the attractions of the monuments, although I feel that there are so many better things than just the monuments for one day. When I took any trip to DC in the past whether it be with school or whatnot, the focus was always on the monument and the people at the monuments trying to sell you things. One moment you are admiring all the buildings, the next you’re being greeted to by something off a table at an intersection on the mall. The mall is fun but doesn’t feel like a genuine part of DC. While that is controversial to say, the focus of expectations and American consumerism revolves around the mall and the monuments, and never once did I go into a more interesting part of DC on a trip in school or with another group before college. However, I can’t take away the influence the monuments, or even the empire state building has as a “marker” on the culture of the site.

While many of these examples really are not inherently the fault of the tourist, but as Culler says, that people look for things that are more like the culture than what is actually the culture. The excitement and delight that comes with tourists can be understood, but when it comes to other cultures and tourism, capitalism and semiotic mechanisms can get in the way of the general framework of how a country or place can characterize itself.

Samuel James Conroy

Confirmation Progymnasmata

            Jonathan Culler puts out a very interesting piece regarding travelers versus tourists. I have read numerous pieces for this class thus far regarding tourism and the negatives surrounding it. So far, we have read about the appropriation of cultures through and the degradation of environments in certain countries due to overpacking tourists. However, I found myself disagreeing with many of the points suggested as I did not think all people traveled for the sole purpose of seeing the “big” tourist attractions. I argued in previous pieces how it was lazy to stereotype all tourists into one category as the ones who have no intention of learning the culture of the place, they travel to but rather see something, take a picture, and then leave. At my high school we used to have a spirit week where one of the days were tacky tourist day, this reminds me of slapping a stereotype on a group. Here is a picture for reference:

Culler does a good job and splits these two types of people, travelers and tourists.

Culler describes the difference in these two by talking about the semiotics of travel. Tourists are those who are not interested in what the culture has to offer but rather the idea of what their culture has to offer. Culler describes it perfectly, “The French chanteuse singing English with a French accent seems more charmingly French than one who simply sings in French” (Culler). These tourists are not interested in what France has to offer culturally, but rather what the perceived image of France has to offer, hence French people speaking English with French accents rather than actually speaking French. Then, the traveler is one who goes to various destinations for getting lost in that nation. As stated in the reading, “to drive through Roumania or Afghanistan without hotel reservations and to get by on terrible French” (Culler). Travel has become too much of becoming something you are not, such as traveling to a foreign country to become part of a social class that you are not part of back home or to simply take pictures of nice locations to brag about on social media. This piece is logical as it describes the fine line that differentiates the stereotypical “tourist” versus the more serious “traveler.” Culler has in-depth reasoning as to why both exist, the issues that arise from tourism, and why becoming a traveler needs to become the new normal so cultures do not get degraded.

Aongus Mui

The Semiotics of Tourism, Jonathan Culler

Progym: Confirmation

Tourism, a simple yet complex concept. Jonathan Culler does a phenomenal job illustrating that tourists sometimes unknowingly interpret signs. He goes in depth on one of the more specific parts of tourism which is the symbolism that comes along with it. Culler goes through the perspective of multiple individuals to give us a detailed conclusion of tourism. Many tourists go to famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon, and the Statue of Liberty. The tourists go here expecting something based on someone else’s critic. Another interesting theme that Cullen included in his writing is that “tourism reveals difficulties of appreciating otherness except through signifying structures that mark and reduce it.” Cullen explains that as tourists we often fail to fully understand the culture of the place that we are visiting. As a person who has been a tourist many times, I find Cullen’s perspective to be fitting, and logical. When I travel, I think of all the known places like the beaches of Aruba or the night lights of Las Vegas, tourists are hardwired with the desire to seek out the spots that other people have told them are “amazing” or “beautiful.” We never fully dive into the culture or connect with the people there. The reading helped me reevaluate my mindset when it comes to travel, showing me that there is more than just sightseeing to being a tourist.

Phillip Wade Wilson

The Semiotics of Tourism: Everything Has Consequences – Description

There were a few points within this reading that resonated deeply within me and made me take a second and just think. I found myself saying “wow” or laughing a bit as I read this because I never organized my thoughts about tourists and travelers in this way before, but I know for a fact I too dichotomize the two and stereotype the tourist as inherently negative while the traveler is its noble counterpart. I found it even more interesting when Culler displayed the thoughts of Fussell in juxtaposition to Boorstin, and I happened to agree with both explanations of how those authors describe tourists and travelers. I think, while possibly on the extreme side, Fussell brings up good points in relation to societal pressures and expectations while Boorstin centers his claims around the way times have changed to make travel itself easier. To me, it seemed that Fussell cast the motives of tourists as equitable to that of a person at a massage parlor in order to pretend to be something they are not to escape the natural bounds of one’s life and attempt to rationalize the haunting conditions of a normal, working, average person was quite relatable, at least in my life.

Like we talked about with beachgoing in America, once at the beach we kind of succumb to this carnival-like state of not caring about societal norms or expectations or even about what may be the best for us in general… it almost seems like taking a trip anywhere, not just the beach, taps us into our own hedonistic nature. When I go on vacations, I always end up spending more money than I should; if I go to the beach, I typically get more sun than I should; I usually eat more unhealthily and focus on what I want to eat at that moment rather than taking a step back from my cravings; I tend to focus more on what I want in that time than what anyone else wants. Fussell describes this in a sense and it resonated with me in more ways than just one. I found his argument, while more emotional based, to be stronger than Boorstin’s even though Culler seemed to lean more toward Boorstin’s and cast Fussell in a negative light after he quoted him.

Another major takeaway from this piece was the way authenticity was portrayed. I have always attempted to look at things from an outside perspective in order to better contextualize what I am experiencing, but Culler’s work takes it so much further. A self-reflection, of sorts, into our own biases and understanding of the world will help us see the “signs” without letting our “alibis” cloud our perceptions. I tended to view tourist traps, like the city of Pisa in Italy or the Empire State Building in NYC (if you have been to either of those you know what I am referring to), as a detriment to the experience I, or anyone, could have but after reading about the way “markers” ultimately heighten our experiences I have a newfound love for my memories within those places. After finishing Culler’s work it became even clearer to me that everything, no matter how small, has consequences.

Samuel E Evans

“The Semiotics of Tourism” by Culler, “Rhetoric of the Image” by Barthes

Progym: Refutation

In general, I agree with the idea of semiotics with regards to tourism and culture, which Culler describes in detail. He writes that we see cultures, landmarks, and the people we encounter through a foreign, fantastical lens, choosing to see them most romantically or charmingly. In this way, different aspects of the culture we visit or emulate become so-called “signs,” and so the image of a tomato signifies Italieneity, a sombrero Mexicanness, blue-jeans Americanness, a Mini Couper Britishness, and so on. This concept is intuitive and accurate, but there are some ideas of Culler’s that I take more issue to.

Culler writes that “the tourist is interested in everything as a sign of itself, an instance of typical cultural practice: a Frenchman is an example of a Frenchman, a restaurant in the Quartier Latin is an example of a Latin Quarter restaurant” (Culler 2). This seems an overly reductive way to look at the mind of a tourist, almost assuming the tourist to be a mindless, ignorant brute who makes wild assumptions wherever he goes. Having been a tourist on countless occasions, as has nearly everyone else, I can’t think of many times when I’ve sat in a restaurant somewhere and thought of the place, “this is what it’s all like!” Perhaps someone has that mindset, but I haven’t had that thought on many occasions outside of situations where it is the obvious schtick of some attraction to appear in that way, such as a themed historical site.

Likewise, Culler uses an example from a book by Walker Percy, in which a tourist travels West across the US and stops to see the Grand Canyon, though he cannot truly see it because it “has been appropriated by a symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s mind” (Culler 7).  Culler refers to this idea as “semiotic mediation,” and it is a concept I find highly unlikely and obscure. As I see it, anyone with any sense of self-awareness can form their mental frame for observation and can view a sight from outside of the lens of some tourist poster. Perhaps you may reference the classic loud, oblivious tour bus full of selfie-stick wielding, sunscreen-smeared globetrotters, who will only actually “see” the sight through their phone camera. Then, maybe you could argue they cannot see the Grand Canyon, as they are blinded by the propaganda of travel media, but I still believe this is false, perhaps because I have some faith in human capacity. This theory is unfitting, largely because I think Culler gives too much credit to the tour company or the travel catalog. Far fewer people than Culler would have you believe have been absorbed into a mindless, capitalistic trance in which destinations exist as destinations alone. Instead, the tourist existing in Culler’s semiotic cage is the exception rather than the norm.

Paula I Arraiza

The Beauty in Tourists Attractions

Type of Progym: Proverb

“Ferocious denigration of tourists is in part an attempt to convince oneself that one is not a real tourist”

When traveling, many of us tend to do our best to separate ourselves from other tourists. We long to have the most unique and real experiences and take pride in these once back in our home country. Whether you want to admit it or not, we all take part in this. Whether it be something as simple as avoiding Starbucks and going to a local café for local coffee or exploring underrated sights instead of tourist-filled ones. We love to come back home with a unique story to tell our friends and family. As the author said, we do this to convince ourselves that we are not real tourists, that instead, we lived like locals as much as possible. However, it’s truly impossible to immerse yourself in a country if you’re only in it for a short period of time. There’s nothing wrong with admitting to yourself you’re a tourist and doing “touristy” things. After all, you’re there to explore new sights, and these all don’t have to be completely unknown to other tourists. Yes, there’s something beautiful about having a completely unique experience to other tourists, but we should let them happen on their own instead of looking for them. For example, one of my favorite memories, in general, is going to the Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg. While Saint Petersburg is a highly visited city, and the Peterhof Palace is extremely popular, there was still something special about it. While many people, myself included, would hate standing in between thousands of tourists with their maps and selfie sticks, this time I didn’t feel the same way. The architecture was beautiful, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, or the fact that I was in a country so far away from home. Even though we rode the metro and ate at amazing local places where the servers barely spoke English, this is still the memory that stuck with me the most. There’s something amazing about standing in front of a well-known tourist attraction, or “marks” as Culler calls them, and taking it all in for a moment, feeling astonished and grateful for the fact that you made it there.

Lucas Enrique Fernandez

The Tourist’s Gaze: Revisited


In the article “The Tourist’s Gaze: Revisited” John Urry presents and wonderfully articulates the concept of the tourist’s gaze to the reader. Urry meticulously breaks down first what the “gaze” is, and then how our gaze interacts with travel and the environment. I believe that he was correct in being critical of the tourist’s gaze as often times it can be both superficial and dangerous.

Sight is not seen as the noblest of the senses but as the most superficial, as getting in the way of real experiences that involve the other senses.

This quote truly makes me think of the negatives that are associated with many tourists in today’s day and age. There are many people who travel places just for the sake of checking off a list of sights. The most common place I see this is with Instagram where people feel compelled to document things just to seem more popular. People will go across the world and be in an amazing city, eating a beautiful meal, and not truly experience any of it because all that matters is getting the perfect visual instead of experiencing everything about where they are. One of the big lessons I took from this is that people need to explore the places they travel with all of their senses. Smell the flowers, taste the food, hear the sounds of the city or forest, feel the different textures of the area. To use your experience as a tourist in another place as just a way to see and collect images and sights then that is a waste.

Also, in much tourism there is the equivalent of looking at the mad behind bars. The bars can be the camera or the ethnic costumes or the quaint village that gets invaded every summer.

This part of the text made me think about how tourism and “sightseeing” can often be a source of dehumanization. People from other countries are made to be a spectacle for tourists and onlookers where they are expected to conform to stereotypes as a way to survive. While tourism is a benefit to many, the superficial art of it definitely has a dark side that hurts many, often those that are indigenous to different regions. If a tourist can take the extra step to truly experience and understand where they are visiting, I believe that is a step in the right direction.