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.