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.

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