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Phillip Wade Wilson

Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia – John Frow

Frow claims there are three main ways in which tourism is explained and can be understood as, the first pits the tourist against the traveler, the second establishes a positive narrative for the traveler in a postindustrial world, and the third compares authentic forms of tourism to those that are not and seeks to establish what is and is not authentic. In a previous reading by Culler, we noted that the way in which things are gives rise to consequences that shape how others view a specific thing. For instance, a fur coat is not simply a garment to keep one warm but rather a status symbol of fashion, wealth, and power that happens to additionally be a garment to keep one warm. In this reading by Frow, that same argument is extended and includes three main pieces being:

“inseparability of the object from its semiotic status”
“sheer impossibility of constructing otherness”
To construct a “good tourist object” one must “construct it as a plausible simulation of itself”

This can be seen everywhere in the travel industry as it is commonplace for travel advertisements to use an exclusivity ploy of “the real…” in order to draw in more people. Since tourists are looked down upon in the travel industry and travelers are pedestaled, many tourist information hubs now shift their focus from showing what “touristy” locations are available in a certain city, country, or area they emphasize living like a local. Nearly all travel sites encourage their users to get to know the place they are going “like a native” (or something of the like) because tourists are seen as a societal annoyance, but world travelers are seen with this aristocratic gloss. Frow writes about this paradoxical idea between traveler and tourist, and the outcomes this has on other areas of travel.

The portrayed authentic or real…. can be dreadful because it extends a false sense of what a place actually is without the person making up their own mind on what something is or is not. With so many external forces giving people preexisting notions on practically everything, from religion to government, when it comes time to make one’s mind up on something as simple as how a place one is visiting is conceived in one head thoughts blend together and a convoluted, and oftentimes incorrect, ideas. For example, when I was abroad in Spain, we had a native Spaniard give us a tour she said she would take us to all the local spots, but where we ended up was with a bunch of other tourists in the same spaces they were occupying. A similar occurrence happened in Belize; we were offered a local’s guide to one of the coastal cities, but it turned out to be just another tourist hotspot as all the other tours were on the same path. These ‘local guides’ promoted the already established ideas of the places they lived to newcomers with, most likely, no intention of upholding commonly held beliefs nonetheless they continued to exacerbate them. It seemed in these cases, where tourism was a heavy component of the economy, the mark of authenticity was a key component to continuing their touristic cycle and vastly beneficial to the local populations while being slightly misleading to the tourists themselves.

One reply on “Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia – John Frow”

I like your piece a lot as I drew the same conclusions from Frow’s piece. The issue with authenticity creates great problems with travel. The internet and travel authorities give an idea of what a place is before one even travels there, making their mind already made up about what they are going to experience before it even happens. I enjoyed your personal relations to the piece as they enhanced your point with real world experience.

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