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The Tourist Gaze: The Search for the Authentic Other

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By Jean-Pierre Brown

APMCP Year 15 Online

 Tourism: The greatest post-modern industry, both in the creation of capital and the re-invention of identity.

 Whether it is longing for a heritage lost, the monotony of capitalist culture or the nascent desire for a simpler life, tourists from the developed nations often find themselves on rather ambitious searches for experiences that appear realer than real.  In an often misguided form of hedonism, variety and pleasure seeking tourists have contributed to the realignment of cultural boundaries, the deepening of the trenches of global income inequality and the homogenization of once distinct cultural heritages.

Contrarily to their interpretation of warm exchanges held with locals, tourists are never actually able to actively engage in the culture of their host countries. They are never actually able to discover this sought after "real" experience. Their position of extreme economic advantage over many indigenous cultures creates a distinct boundary of otherness. Their gaze into the lives of indigenous peoples comes from privilege and accordingly is not the indication of an exchange but rather an intrusion. Consequently, the lives of the observed indigenous become a spectacle. Their actions are constructed in direct correlation to the authentic seeming display that wealthy tourists have come to see.  This creation of artifice is effectively implemented as a means to redistribute some of the wealth and power that the tourists bring with them. When the commoditization of heritage and culture becomes a means of sustenance (often the only means), it is then that the tourists moves on in search of another much more real seeming experience. Never once does the tourist believe that that authentic experience can be found in his or her own back yard.

Jean-Pierre Brown