In “Fifty Shades of Greyhound,” Harrison Scott Key praises the idea of a “bus person.” A bus person, he says, is not like a plane person, who is pretentious and talks about skiing or doesn’t talk to you at all because they will be off the plane in a few hours and why would they spend that time talking to you? A bus person, he argues, is a person who will delve into conversations of truth and life because they’ll be on that bus for well over 10 hours and will have plenty of time for such self-reflection and must share their findings with their fellow passengers. The bus person is a very specific kind of no non-sense, tell-it-like-it-is traveler. The writer praises the idea of a bus person to show his audience that the mind space of a bus person is somethin we all have the capacity to be and should occasionally get off our high horse and realize that we all at one point or another at least had the elusive dream of being a bus person, or leaving everything behind and hopping on a bus either for new adventure or to forget about life’s responsibilities for a while. Whether we want to admit it or not, we envy the bus person who just hops on a bus and goes.
In America the Marvelous by A. A. Gill, the commonly held notions between the view of America from a European lens is explained.
“Americans are stupid, crass, ignorant, soul-less, naïve oafs without attention, irony, or intellect”
This is a commonly understood way of how Europeans view Americans, and in all honesty, it is correct. The average American who travels abroad does not understand the tourist gaze, the cultural norms of the place they visit, or even the sheer privilege of being an American has on them. Americans typically just make reservations at a hotel, buy a plane ticket, and jet-set off to whatever country piques their interest.
A lot of discussions have been had recently about cultural norms in class and what makes an American feel like an American. As viewed in Tresspass by Theroux, what made him feel like an American was being taken advantage of, and having the unknowing of culture turned against him. When Americans travel abroad, as I stated earlier, they typically do not research before traveling abroad. And due to this, it not only casts them in a negative light for appearing that they are above another’s culture but also puts the tourist at a disadvantage for their lack of knowledge.
Though, as explained by Gill, Europeans also take America for granted due to its advantages. This type of understanding of the world does not simply refer to one nation or area over another, but rather nearly all places. There is this idea of “snobbery” that pervades the ideals of Europeans due to the culture that surrounds western ideals. While there are many problems with America and its schools of thought, the origination of western thought has given Europeans a sense of superiority. Europeans hold certain American aspects in high regard, but they still look down on others. What Gill is explaining is the tourist gaze of America by another western nation and details how the tourist gaze affects Europeans specifically.
“much of the negativity that surrounds social media and selfies can be contextualised within broader cultures of youth shaming”
Something that I found lacking in this article was the way in which Cardell and Douglas, perhaps, do not fully understand social media from the aspects of Gen-Z. Specifically, I want to highlight the fact that in my generation we grew up using all of these technologies and being exposed to the world at such a young age that had never been seen before. This came at the extent to which parents had difficulties monitoring their children’s internet behavior and many many parenting guides about online behavior came about but none captured what they should have. I remember as a child seeing things I should not have seen, going to sites that I should not have been going to, and having giggles or conversations with my friends at the age of 10 that I definitely was not ready for. Though, these parenting guides on monitoring online behavior were about children texting using codes or acronyms or sending naked pictures back and forth between each other… from experience growing up this was not the issue.
What the selfie and explosion of social media gave to children were lasting internalized traumas of being lesser than or not good enough based on the posts we were seeing from influential figures. I remember opening up Instagram in high school and seeing models and fashion and wealthy people showing me how I ought to live because this is what I should be striving for. Differences were not accepted and even so, in the creation of one of the newest social media platforms, TikTok, its algorithm for who would become a star was based on eurocentric, petit, and wealthy models. Time and time again has it been accused that algorithms created by Big Tech are made with such inherent bias that many are left out and unable to fully join in and interact with the global online community.
Going it Alone- Rehawa Haile
Going it Alone- Rehawa Haile
Rehawa Haile opens up her story with a seemingly normal everyday activity, being hiking. Hiking is done all over the world, by all different types of people. As she hikes she is approached by a stranger coming from the opposite direction. This is when she gets hit by reality and one of the biggest problems within it. Racism, one of the biggest problems in the world. After a bit of small, the man states “To him there’s nothing abnormal about our conversation. He has categorized me, and the world makes sense again. Not black-black.” This was one of the biggest eye openers for me. Unfortunately, it is well known that racism still exists, but the person who approached Haile does not seem to realize that he is being racist. It does not seem like he is trying to insult her but rather, he sees it as a normal conversation. This is a symptom of an even bigger disease. Racism is a terrible thing but we can’t hope to make it better if people do not even realize that they are contributing to it. In this particular scenario described by Haile, a simple hiking trip induced racism. In my opinion it was very uncalled for. The man made assumptions about her based on her skin color. He did not even try to get to know her, he relied on previously implemented stereotypes to judge her. Although his intent was not malicious, it does not excuse him of the actions that he took. Racism is an issue that needs to be dealt with.
“Going It Alone,” by Rahawa Haile
With its mild humor and compelling, dynamic narrative, I found Haile’s “Going It Alone,” extremely insightful, and topical. It highlights a major human flaw, and one that is very noticeable in our modern American society: we, at large, are stuck in the past, be that in racism, xenophobia, or the like. One could say that this is no longer commonplace in our society, but I would point, as Haile does, to our current political landscape. It appears to be the modus operandi for many, though not all, on the right, is to blatantly ignore or downplay examples of it, while some, though not all, on the left try to elevate the situation for their benefit. One could certainly argue that the former is larger and more dangerous than the latter, but still, both are issues, and the resulting situation is exemplary of the fact that we have not progressed much beyond our troubled history.
One example of this issue that Haile uses early in the article really struck me, as she intended for it to do, is a response from a fellow hiker she is chatting to after she says she is of Eritrean heritage.
“‘I knew it,’ he says. ‘You’re not black.’ I say of course I am. ‘None more black,’ I weakly joke. ‘Not really,’ he says. ‘You’re African, not black-black. Blacks don’t hike.’”
This, of course, is terrible, and it really shows how ready to jump into this stance he, and likely many others like him, was. There is a good, and even productive way to approach a conversation like this, if he were to be more respectful and interested in her history, and obviously far less presumptive and prejudiced. As a hiker and backpacker myself, I have heard people in the past remark at how notably non-diverse the community is. This is something that could be explored in a considerate way, asking why this is the case, and what prevents people of color from becoming involved in these activities.
Those who continue the stereotyping and categorization of people, especially over small things like hiking, are perhaps not knowingly being racist. They may just be acting upon what they think is acceptable or amusing at that moment in time because they are not aware of the implications of their actions. Not that this excuses it, but quite the opposite. As I, and many who enjoy dad-humor, like to say, “you know what happens when you assume? You make an ass out of you and me.” That is very much the case here: people need to be educated to be aware of how their actions play into a larger system that hurts marginalized groups. Of course, I’m not saying to stay quiet when Uncle Dave makes an offensive comment at Thanksgiving dinner, but rather when you do reply, try to help him learn.
A Small Place – Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid uses Commonplace throughout her book in order to expose the system that has been the root of all the corruption in her country, rather than a single person or persons. In the book she talks about the colonization of Antigua and how the English loved their country so much that they tried to make every place they went to a version of England, but it was never a successful transformation so they hated that new country and its inhabitants as a result. This painted a picture of English people and their empire as a people who were always after the newest, shiniest toy and got bored with it just as quickly. Except this wasn’t an inanimate object they were playing with but people’s lives and entire communities and cultures that they erased simply because they could. This use of Commonplace shows that Kincaid doesn’t blame the English doctor who made them be scrubbed clean before seeing him, or the Irish schoolteacher who told children to stop acting like monkeys that had just jumped out of trees. Rather the fault falls on the system of colonialism, the mentality of expansion, and the constant and historical degradation of black people and the Englishman’s thirst for conquest.
Type of Progym: Commonplace
About two days after Election Day, I continue to feel extremely cynical about my home island’s government. While Kincaid showcased a lovely side to Antigua, she even compares the beauty of the island to “a stage set for a play” (77), I couldn’t help but focus on her criticism about Antigua’s government. Kincaid shows us how corrupt a country can be no matter how small it is, with stories from unrepaired libraries to drug trafficking ministers. Many of her stories resonated with me, since corruption has always been a big topic in my home, Puerto Rico. Kincaid mentions how Antiguans constantly talk negatively about the government, she says that
“For the answer on every Antiguan’s lips to the question ‘What is going on?’ is ‘The government is corrupt. Them are thief, big thief’ (41)
While it may seem exaggerated to blame everything wrong with a place on the government not working correctly, this is the case in many places. I’ve grown up watching government scandals on the news basically every week, to the point where I’m not fazed by them anymore. I heard and continue to hear people complaining about how ineffective the government is from a local level up to a national level. Especially in recent years, the Puerto Rican government has been extremely unproductive and critiqued by everyone.
I could make a list of ways I’ve seen corruption in my country, but it would probably end up being extremely long. Probably the one that stands out, and hurts, the most was having the government hide about ten trailers of provisions sent by the United States to help out citizens after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, which many believe was done in order to make the U.S. look bad. These supplies would’ve quite literally saved people’s lives, yet they refused to do anything for political reasons. Right now, there is extreme controversy in regard to the elections held on Tuesday. Once again, some ballots that were “hidden” were found on Wednesday night, an entire day after the new governor had been announced. These are expected to be around fifty thousand votes that have yet to be counted, which would be crucial since the election was an extremely tight race. On top of that, the newly elected governor had also been named governor back in 2019 after our then-current governor had to resign, due to corruption-related allegations, and was impeached after less than a week.
Things like this certainly happen in other countries, however having to live them so constantly and have it affect my daily life and the lives of those around me definitely makes me feel pessimistic toward the people who hold high positions such as governors, senators, and mayors, as well as what they stand for. It definitely hurts to see the majority of the people on the island continue to support the same parties and officials that are known for being corrupt. It makes it even harder to achieve the change these same people talk about with such passion while being the problem themselves. Watching the election results intensified these feelings I already had, as well as reading about Kincaid’s experience in Antigua, it’s still sad to see people still not working towards a change after everything we have collectively lived through.
Disclaimer: I know there are more important points Kincaid touches on in her book and this has nothing to do with travel at all, but I couldn’t get this out of my mind when it came to writing a response to her (excellent) book.
Understanding where the aspects of the advertisement industry originate is quite intriguing given the role that advertisements have on popular culture and society as a whole. I could always see that women were deemed as “consumers” by the advertisement world given the commonly held notion that women like to shop, and men do not; whereas, men have always believed they need to be the ‘man of the house’ so-to-speak and be the breadwinner for the family. Growing up I always found this idea to be a bit ridiculous for two reasons. The first being I am a man, and I like to shop. The second being that my mother was the breadwinner in my family and was the producer, provider, and consumer not just one thing. Many of my friends who lived in single-parent households understood this as well, the socially constructed idea of gender is just that, socially constructed.
“Nature was controlled by men who were smart enough to exploit its resources for production, whereas women were privileged as the primary consumers responsible for the health of families and the maintenance of new standards of beauty and glamour.”
In my mind, the semiotics of gender, male, female, and intersex all differ greatly, though intersex is often unrepresented even in our society today. For reasons I do not fully grasp myself it seems that most of this is due to categorization and unawareness. As Hill and Helmers stated, men have the power, and women are given the opportunity to consume because of men. It seems that advertisements just proliferate gender and class struggle simultaneously by telling people what they ought to hold as ‘the ideal family’ or ‘American dream’ in their heads. Obviously, in order to advertise something, you must market it to a targeted group and categorize that group because you want the people in that group to buy it and get another advertisement contract to make more money. However, as we have seen in the past with practically any group this is how some stereotypes are created and some stereotypes are exacerbated.
The way advertisements have been marketed toward people, specifically women and men as aligns with the gender roles they established, have backfired occasionally. One that comes to mind is the diamond market. It only became common for men to buy women a diamond ring within the last century or so, due to advertising by using the social norm that the man must propose to the woman. Their advertisement slogan “A diamond is forever” (photograph below of this ad) was hugely successful but this was only in one aspect, engagement rings. Due to their marketing strategy diamonds were given the social construction of being for women from men for a wedding ring. This made it nearly impossible to sell diamonds to men or even to get women to buy their own diamond rings. While consumerism played a huge role in their first ploy to increase sales, because of their use of gender they could no longer push consumerist rhetoric other than to increase the diamond size a man would buy for his fiancée.
I find this commonplace established by the editors is quite brilliant and insightful because it will be useful come time to analyze any advertisement in the future. It seems that gender will always be present in advertising in some capacity, and this reading has given me a few strategies for analysis and what to look for. Since our reading and introduction to semiotics, analysis has seemed a tad easier and definitely useful in the assertion of claims.
Supposedly Fun Thing Part 2
In the latter part of his essay, Wallace starts describing the faults and dissatisfactions he now sees in things he previously marveled at. The commonplace vices he now sees in the aggressively loud flush of his toilet, the embarrassing dance routines, the too-small tray holding places under his door were all things he marveled at upon first boarding the cruise ship. Now, however, the initial wow-factor and excitement has worn off and instead he once again sees the decrepitness of the once-extravagant activities but now seem to hold the same place as the rusting ship and the aging participants on board. This use of the commonplace progym is especially effective because it came right after the section in the essay where Wallace described these very same things and their extravagance and how every experience was fully pampered and nothing short of excellence was allowed. A few days later, however, and especially after seeing another cruise ship that seemed bigger, brighter and overall better than his own, he sees all these things in a different light: smaller, less excellent, embarrassing.
Many people like to describe tourism as “going out to see the world,” or going abroad to “see things.” In this way, travel is considered a purely visual exercise, and the “tour” in tourism is taken very literally as if at all times you are following a guide, going where he goes, in line, and looking where he points. You go to a place to see the thing that you are told you should see: go to Paris for the Eiffel Tower and the café patrons, go to Berlin for the Brandenburg Gate and to see people eat currywurst outside a U-Bahn station. You go to the place to look, idly, at the view you have been told will be there, and so you have experienced tourism at that location.
This, of course, is a terrible way of looking at travel. Instead, you should enjoy travel in its entirety, along with every sunburn, aching foot, crowded train car, and noisy hostel room. After immersing yourself in a rough-and-ready American road trip or European train vacation, the cliché “it’s about the destination, not the journey,” really rings true. More often than not, the best vacation you will have will be the wild, backcountry, 3-star one over the transport-provided, tour-included, 5-star one. You go to Jamaica or Johannesburg to see things, sure, but also to experience whatever happens along the way, to appreciate the act of travel.
The person who goes on the first type of vacation, the one to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, is not inherently wrong, nor are they doing anything we haven’t all been guilty of at some point in time. But rather, they are missing something. Urry writes that “experiences are only of importance to the tourist because they are located within a distinctive visual environment” (Urry 1). Hence, it is not necessarily seeing the Eiffel Tower that will make your trip to Paris so great, but that you can have a glass of champagne, eat a pain au chocolat, or simply have a nice conversation while surrounded by the beautiful and novel visual scenery of Paris. As Urry says, “sometimes, tourism indeed appears to be understood as little more than a collection of a range of often disparate and relative unconnected sights,” when in fact we should be equally appreciating those moments in between the photo-worthy ones (Urry 6).
Generally, when we head into a vacation destined to be like our Eiffel Tower example, it is because we have over-planned. We are following the guidebook, which as we know from de Botton’s piece, often makes us unable to truly see and appreciate what is around us. The argument here is then obviously not to look at our surroundings when on vacation, but to not focus too much on planning and following the sightseeing list. We should avoid being the blind, bumbling tourist, but not because this is some terrible crime, but because in doing so we would miss half of the value of travel.