Vituperation against a man whose mother just died seems like the harshest way to use literary exercises but it somehow works for David Sedaris. At first, Sedaris is outraged that the people in First Class are complaining about a man crying because his mother died. This seems like a fair reaction. But later he wonders if the man isn’t maybe overdoing it. He’s not arguing against the concept of crying, or crying for a dead mother, or even of men crying. He is specifically talking about this man crying for his dead mother. He uses this vituperation to show how ugly we all can be in situations like this. When reading his article, we can all identify with (or at least I can) having these same thoughts when seeing someone crying. Come on is it really that bad? Can you really not keep it together? And then on the other end of the spectrum, when we are the ones suffering, we, like David Sedaris, have been preoccupied about how distraught we look, how distraught we SHOULD look, and the theatrics of it all. Maybe Sedaris and I are just two self-absorbed individuals, but with his vituperation, Sedaris is shining a light on our own inner thoughts and how ugly we can all be when someone is suffering.
It’s always disappointing to read pieces of literature by great authors who – disappointingly – are unforgivingly white. I have no problem with white authors (except for J.D. Salinger – you know why) and often praise them for their whit, eloquent speech, and disorienting allusions: authors like Thomas Moore, Marie de France, and Homer. As much as I appreciate white literature (white American and white European I use interchangeably) and understand it to be the norm (albeit forcefully) for intellectual discourse, I can’t forgive white authors for being the very thing they are: white.
A.A. Gill in his piece “America the Marvelous” argues that Europeans are hypocritical normies who purposefully refute the greatness of America to make themselves feel more superior. He strings together various reasons for why America is so great: the US has some of the best universities in the world, the most Nobel prize winners, and New York City. For all of these reasons, Gill confirms that Europeans only ridicule Americans out of their own self-pity and need for a farce to indulge themselves in the benefits of insults. A.A. Gill paints this marvelous image of America, one of an idealistic, diverse, complicated, cosmopolitan country; in Gill’s eyes, once you’ve stepped foot in America, you’ll never want to leave. You’ll be pulled in by America’s greatness and would dread the idea of returning to Europe, Africa – wherever you may be from. This is Gill’s argument, for his animosity towards our European counterparts has grown so great that he believes throwing insults back at them is the best way to find common ground; and although Gill never says it openly, I – as I imagine most black, Asian, Hispanic people would – understood exactly what Gill really wants to say. Behind all this misplaced anger, Gill was just bragging about being white. All he did was talk about white people: who they are and what they’ve done, although he did gloss over a few things: slavery, redlining, COINTELPRO, Jim Crow, Vietnam war, war on drugs, Cuban Missle Crisis, segregation, Japanese internment camps, the KKK, the Proud Boys, mass shootings, Native American genocide, Richard Nixon, the South, Chinese Exclusion Act, Guantanamo Bay, the My Lai Massacre, Emmett Till’s murder, the Wilmington coup (seriously, look this up), the Sand Creek Massacre, Santa Barbara Oil Spill, smallpox, neo-nazis, police brutality, Executive order 10450 (look this up too), Operation Wetback, Dredd Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the death of Treyvon Martin. But I guess none of this matters to A.A. Gill because he got to sing Be Bop a Lula (a song I have never heard as an American) in front of and with other white people. It’s almost sickening once you’ve realized what A.A. Gill has done: he’s made America into an oasis by distinguishing it from Europe, but still using Europe as the starting point of American culture, and by accentuating a few good outcomes over years and years of negative ones. I should mention again, Gill can only write in such a way because he is white; his argument and reasons for arguing are white noise to any person who isn’t white. He’s just another patriotic American white guy who has no shame, urges others to only look at the good, and abuses his whiteness so take bring himself above not only Europeans (who are also white), but anybody who isn’t also white (I use white a lot in this piece and I hope you understand why by now). Gill is just shouting into a white void – he’s furiously screaming at our European counterparts to understand how their history and ours are linked, and that we came out the better nation in the end. He condemns their snobbery, hypocrisy, and self-indulgence, all of which – I can logically assume – makes him feel like the bigger, better white guy. I don’t know A.A. Gill personally, so what I’m saying might come off as defacement; most readers would assume I’m any angry black guy lashing out on “white oppressors.” To an extent, that is true, but I assure you I am doing more than that.
I am trying to paint a picture of America as a whole, not the bits and pieces Gill uses to develop his argument. America needs to be seen, in any light, by the good and the bad, they cannot exist without one another. Too often white authors only paint the picture of white America (even though Gill mentions Jazz which set me off), completely omitting the history of non-white Americans. If Gill and any other white American wishes to uplift America as this utopian-esque society with still more room to grow, they must also mention what is weighing America down: all the bigotry, hate, narcissism, and history that comes with being an American. Say what you will about Europeans: their accents suck (this is a joke for I am quite fond of British, French, and Spanish accents), most of them never reach 5’10, and they’re all stuck in the past. As bad as all this may seem, America is no better, and rather than pointing fingers, we should focus our energies on doing and being better; the first step, admitting to yourself Mr. Gill that you are white, and you have privilege.
“The intellectuals, the movers and the makers and the creators, the dinner-party establishments of people who count, are united in the belief—no, the knowledge—that Americans are stupid, crass, ignorant, soul-less, naïve oafs without attention, irony, or intellect,” (Gill para. 2).
Americans are fat, dumb, and lazy. This is a common theory I have heard repeated from countless British relatives and foreign acquaintances over the years, including from my parents, to the point that until I reached some point of teenage maturity or more likely rebellion, I almost accepted it. My parents, grandparents, aunts, nearly everyone will, as a casual aside, as if it goes without saying, remark about how different and inferior the customs, consumerism, mannerisms, and attitudes of the American populace are to those of Britain or Europe.
This attitude is, without a doubt, snooty and self-aggrandizing. It is unfounded, and hilariously quite hypocritical, as oftentimes those same people will be as ready to note the flaws and recent failures of their own cultures. My dad, for example, upon returning home to England will immediately complain about how uptight people are, and how every parking garage, supermarket, and public restroom in his homeland seems to be trying to rip him off. My relatives simply act this way because it is the common farse under which Europe, fading in relevance, reassures itself of its importance.
Britain, once a bastion of global power and wealth, has now been reduced to its current, and possibly righteous position as just another indebted neoliberal democracy on the edge of the continent. With this decline and adaptation, however, the attitude towards its now full-grown daughter across the pond has not changed. This attitude was taught to each generation of British youth through to the ’90s, alongside a heaping pile of imperial glorification and denial. In the end, it’s not their fault that they’re wrong, as the realization that they are in fact believing a lie can be somewhat depressing, as seen in a plethora of modern British media. I, as a dual citizen and someone who has been educated from an entirely different perspective, can see the reality and humor of it. I’ll argue with my parents over it, but beyond that, it appears a lost cause.
This kind of denial is common to many former powers, it seems. Look at the French, who go to the bizarre trouble of “preserving the quality” of their language through the Académie Française, or the Dutch who are the literal kings of holding onto random overseas colonies. When you’re used to being on top, you like to pretend it’s still that way by criticizing the new and reminiscing about the old. America is not dumb, fat, and lazy, it is amazingly weird, clever, and diverse. Just because America doesn’t present its gifts of knowledge and culture wearing up in a suit and tie, that doesn’t mean the gifts aren’t there to be given. There is a reason that immigrants and travelers from the Old World have flocked to the New for centuries, in search of a Hunter S. Thompson-esque Wild West of opportunity. As Harrison Scott Key writes about his learning about America by traveling by the joyous mode of a Greyhound bus:
“They will remember only the people and the America it showed them and the wild and reckless reasons that drove them to it: to see a girl, or a headstone, or a mountain. And they will recall it fondly, as I do now,” (Key para. 63).
As mentioned by Cardell and Douglas, the selfie has become an increasingly popular mode of visual travel writing. However, in my opinion, this change in the popularization of the selfie has been a negative one. The point was brought up that the selfie allows for the subject (the picture taker) to place themselves around notable travel destinations and landmarks, documenting the travelers journey. Contrary to this, I find that people take selfies to display themselves rather than the beautiful destinations they travel to. Selfies are thankless towards the places they are taken and vain in nature. Many people take these selfies purely for the reason that they can upload it to social media websites and push off empty experiences to their followers. The only kind of post I may hate more than the travel selfie is the food picture people put on their stories instead of just putting their phones away and eating it. When I associate the selfie with travel it makes me think of annoying tourists rather than authentic travelers. They are the type of people who do not genuinely appreciate the culture they are surrounded by, only capturing small glimpses in their camera lens of what they could obtain through their own senses. Instead of making themselves the focus of their travel narrative through taking a selfie, people should instead put their phones down and appreciate the place they decided to travel to.
“The Selfie” vituperation
Visualising lives: “the selfie” as travel writing- Kylie Cardell and Kate Douglas
Authors Kylie Cardell and Kate Douglas are in direct affiliation with the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences of Flinders University in Bedford Park, South Australia. They studied in Travel Writing, shedding light on how the rise of technology has influenced the type of pictures taken on vacations. The idea that selfies are taking over travel is very true but yet it is hard to accept. Selfies have given travel a bad rap. People take selfies to show off on apps like instagram, all for a simple like. These people put their own appearance over their surrounding areas. It puts the self taker’s face over their environment, ruining one of the fundamentals of travel which is enjoying the view. The idea of doing typical tourist things have come up before but the use of selfies seems to be the new normal. These types of photos were taken to specifically show other people that they were at a certain location. In other words it is a way for someone to show off their travels.
Paul Theroux is a great American travel writer who wrote about his adventures into parts of the world that most Americans have never heard of. Theroux is from Medford, Massachusetts and attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Theroux is part of a famous family as both of his sons are famous documentarians and he is also the uncle of famous actor Justin Theroux. In Theroux’s short story, “Trespass,” he describes his time in Malawi. Theroux was in Malawi shortly after it had gained independence. He was a member of the Peace Corps and was assigned to work as a teacher in Malawi. Theroux was one of the first members of the Peace Corps as it had just been established in 1961 where his travels took place in 1963.
Around Christmas time, Theroux decided to travel to neighboring Zambia and go to a local bar. At this bar, there were only two other attendees, a man and his sister who Theroux mistook for his wife. The man told Theroux that his sister “likes you very much” (Theroux). Theroux let his lust take over and went with these strangers on a long taxi ride to their home. Theroux and the woman made love, however, the next morning when he attempted to leave, both the woman and her brother would not let Theroux leave. They made him go the bar again because it was Christmas. Once again, Theroux returned with the woman, made love, and was forced to go to the bar again the next day for Boxing Day. He was now stuck in a vicious cycle where he was being forced to stay in this village. The longer he was there, the more Theroux realized how messed up of a situation it was. The two Zambians started to become more aggressive towards him, the thought of sex started to become more frightening, the food was bad, the hut was rundown, the drinking was making him ill, he was giving them all of his money, they spoke a language that he did not understand, and that he really had no way out. He was now a captive. The next day at the bar Theroux realized he had to try and escape. He attempted to use the outdoor restroom when the girl tried to send a man out there with him to make sure he did not escape. She stated, “he will not come back,” knowing exactly what his intentions were. Theroux left his jacket and some cash for them to show that he would return, once outside, he ran quickly down the street until he could grab a cab out of the village.
Theroux had let his guard down and let lust get the best of him. This moment of weakness led him to a place where he was lucky to escape from. He states at the end that this moment was the one that scared him the most on his journey and made him feel the most “American.” Theroux did indeed become an American tourist through his actions, he mistook hostility for kindness and ended up in a vicious cycle for it.
In the second passage of Jamaica Kincaid’s book The Small Place the past of Antigua, along with the lingering ties of England’s colonialism is explored. This section perfectly expresses the pain and anger caused by this colonialism which may in fact be immeasurable.
They don’t seem to know that this empire business was all wrong and they should, at least, be wearing sackcloth and ashes in token penance of the wrongs committed, the irrevocableness of their bad deeds, for no natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did. Actual death might have been better.
Colonialism is a horrible practice that occurred across the globe by many European nations. These nations decided that their own self-interests and greed were more valuable than the lives of the indigenous people of which they stole resources, land, and people. They displaced, raped, enslaved, and oppressed people in order to profit and feel superior to others. Kincaid rightfully says that the people of these empires committed wrongs that were irrevocable in nature and atrocious acts that they should be repenting.
It was built by some people who wanted to live in Antigua and spend all their holidays in Antigua but who seemed not to like Antiguans (black people)
In another portion of the section, Kincaid touches upon a paradox where colonizers want to live in the area of a certain culture and love everything about it, except for the people that live there. In Antigua this is exemplified with a club that would not allow Antiguans inside unless they were servants. An Antiguan being served a sandwich from there was such a big deal that everyone knew the name of the Antiguan and the day of which this transpired. This shows the cruel reality of how many times native people can be on the short-end of the travel industry. People will want to go somewhere but not interact with the people; or people will build an attraction in an area but not open it up to locals or allow them to reap any profits from it.
The only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime
This section from the book highlights a sad consequence of colonialism. Colonialism often causes for people of certain cultures to lose some of themselves, in this case their language, as they are forced to assimilate to the cultures of their colonizers. This is not the only example of this either, a major part of colonialism is the erasure of different people’s cultures. It is a horrifying truth and the pain felt from colonialism has passed down generations, as highlighted by Kincaid.
Throughout the text, I found that colonialism is brought about in the negative light that many times I feel it is overlooked. In my educational career, especially in history and language classes (both foreign and English), the negative impacts of colonial rule are almost always denoted as something much less severe than what it actually was. In her writing, I feel like she explains the numerous ways that colonialism impacted her life, thoughts, as well as political and economic aspects of Antigua as a country.
What stuck out to me the most is the way in which education in Antigua and in America are similar. As I stated previously there have been numerous times where the awful roles that colonizing powers of the old and new worlds have been downplayed. She explains how this happened to her as well. It made me think about how I have been taught to understand certain concepts about the creation of America and its subsequent ways of continuing to hide its hideous past. She explains that the ways in which history is crafted, by the winners, has seriously damaged the ways in which people all over the world have been and will be able to see themselves.
To me, I find this extremely concerning not only in this aspect but in the inherent ways that local people are overlooked and not taken into account their full context. As we learned with Iyer, there is a way to escape the tourist gaze in certain ways but we will never truly be able to understand a place or its people without being one ourselves. In Kincaid’s novel, it is clearly evident that this is the case. Even taking a look at the larger picture, outside of her world, the West has always done an excellent job of taking advantage of less fortunate peoples and even industrializing nations as a whole.
Just look at the lives of the tourists that come to visit Antigua. Ti escape boredom they come to this island nation, yet disregard the hardships the people have to face and look at it with this glamour for the impoverished peoples present. It is quite honestly, sick. I remember on my trip to Belize a few years ago we were on a bus tour going into the mountains and dense forest to cave tube and on the bus ride we passed a very small house a few feet x a few feet and my mother pointed it out and showed it to me. I found it extremely sad that people anywhere in the world have to live like this and I think it instilled me to want to change the world for the better and break the cycle of poverty wealthier nations impose on poorer; however, my mother wanted to take a picture of it because she had never seen something like it before and glamourized the life of the poverty in Belize. And when I explained how it was awful she was taking photos of it she told me I was ungrateful for my “blessed life” rather than seeing how rude it is to pinpoint the less fortunate and photograph them for self-posterity.
Bourdain’s video about food tourism in Cairo was very interesting to watch and one-of-a-kind but he is also actively against what he sees as basic tourism of going to see the pyramids up close. His disdain for the basic tourist attractions in Cairo is palpable. On the one hand he is against the self-serving, self-centered, consumerist tourist experience where tourists visit famous places and pollute them with their tourist-y-ness: tour buses, selfie sticks, and basically reducing the experience to photographic proof that they were there. That, however, seems extremely hypocritical when you realize that is exactly what Bourdain does when he goes camping in the desert for one night. He rents a whole caravan of vehicles to take him and his crew into the desert. He is not responsible for anything; his guides take care of driving, the food, sleeping arrangements and even entertainment with the sticks game. And in all this he only stays in the desert one night, and has everything pre-prepared and catered to him. In his zeal to avoid basic self-serving consumerist tourism, that is exactly what he ends up doing.
44% of London’s population consists of Black and Brown persons, yet A.A. Gill composes a picture of a city that is woefully and unwaveringly white. This, I must be honest, pisses me off. It is too often that travel writers or travel critiques write in a way that completely excludes Black and Brown persons (unless, of course, they’re are writing about Africa or South America). Black people(which I happen to be: go Black people!) are never given proper representation in travel documentation unless we are the spectacle that is to be seen by tourists. Besides such spectacle, Black and Brown persons are presented as non-existent – with the reason being that due to our lack of “history” in mainly white cities, we hold no value to the physique or aura of said city. I will have Mr. Gill know that Idris Elba was born in the U.K., and he is one hell of a Black man. He is a Londoner, and much like Mr. Gill, Idris Elba matters. He matters to the history of the U.K. He matters to the U.K. entertainment business. He is another Black Londoner whose struggle has been interwoven into the current U.K. mainstream entertainment that white Londoners have enriched themselves off of. So before you talk about your city and its rich history, that history better include Black people.