Sunday, June 1, 2008




The tourist takes photos as an attempt to consume what can’t be brought back in a small suitcase. The photo acts as proof of the tourist’s experience of a place; the frame is adjusted to represent the space as accurately as possible in a fixed boundary. The tourist is an outsider at the place of tour, and quickly becomes an insider back home, as they gain experience of the outside beyond what their tribe, friends, or family possess.


The word tourist carries with it the notion of leisure, as opposed to someone passing through like a migrant or traveler. Regardless of titles, any person in an unfamiliar place reads the environment through visual inputs, and reacts through output action –what is impressive, what is passed by, and what is purchased or taken. The input-output system is essentially a cross-referencing structure based on what is familiar and unfamiliar. Rooted in primitive thought, place is studied and interpreted through the location of positive and negative stimuli, negotiating between danger and safety as two extremes. Within that dichotomy lies a field where curiosity can be explored based on differences and similarities of familiarity. 


The tourist remarks “look how they do this…look at that broom…look at that weird toilet.” The danger-safety realm is constantly being negotiated, if one decides that squatting over an open hole on train is good idea or a bad one, or whether drinking water from the tap is safe or dangerous, or even eating the chicken that seems to have all the parts still attached. What this quickly becomes is cultural perception of what is safe and dangerous, and meaning and value are derived and assigned accordingly. As meaning and value are assigned to objects and experiences, the economy of travel is exposed, and the disillusionment of capitalism becomes accessible.


Inefficient Objects and Meat


The broom that is made of weeds one can find on the highway holds tremendous value for the westerner, not because the broom is a good broom, but because it reveals the labor of the individual who made it. The factory made broom is anonymous and uniform, although a very efficient tool both in production and use, but it lacks a personal story. The westerner is impressed by banal objects because they gain meaning through unfamiliarity and uniqueness, the conceptual narrative.


The economic conditions that permit brooms to be made of weeds, or hand-objects, are unfamiliar to the western tourist. Crossing over from a synthetic, sterilized, digital lifestyle, to an analog, gritty, and modest existence becomes a living museum for the tourist to experience. The state of advanced capitalism is in many ways just as abstract as a primitive tribe who relies on witchdoctors and spiritual cleansings. The media allows the westerner to visualize what cannot be seen, like germs, microscopic airborne particles, and abstract threats like terrorism. This abstract visualization exists in foods as well, as the westerner has developed more and more iterations of taste. Snack foods boast flavors like pizza, chips & salsa, and guacamole, which are abstractions of ingredients. A stroll through a Chinese supermarket reveals chips that have 1:1 flavors, like chicken, or cucumber. Advanced capitalism has removed western sensibilities away from direct experience of what is being consumed. The western supermarket is lined with meat that most people would never be able to extract from the animal themselves, and if they could the act alone would be visceral enough to convert carnivore to vegetarian. The western palette has evolved so far beyond the thing that is actually being consumed, that visualization is no longer necessary because it exists abstractly in thought, and texture has become the common denominator weeding out “mystery meat” for “pure meat”.


Economics determine western taste. If America was a developing country and much of the population lived in poverty, the entire animal would be consumed. Waste would be limited to only the inedible. To illustrate this point, flip through a “soul food” menu, which has been historically confined to a challenged socioeconomic culture, and notice what parts of the animal are available. In a positive economy fueled by consumption, the edible palette can become very particular, eating only the “best” parts of the animal, fruit, or vegetable. 

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