The Paradox of Modern Tourism

The World in a Selfie
By Marco D’Eramo
242 pp. Verso. $30.

An excellent analysis of tourism in this book’s first half gives way to a tedious, overly academic second.

For whatever reason, having already laid out his main points, the author turns to the examination of topics such as alienation and otherness that appear to have little to do with tourism at all. Why they weren’t ultimately chopped by a good editor is beyond me, because otherwise this book is a riveting read, full of insight into the damage done to cities because of restrictive zoning laws and organizations like UNESCO.

I was perhaps expecting a little bit more of a philosophical look at how tourism has changed in this technological age, a reality that’s still best examined through the Instagram account @insta_repeat and the scene from the book “White Noise” when Murray Jay Siskind and Jack Gladney visit “The Most Photographed Barn in America.”

There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides—pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We need near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced at once by others.

“We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies.”

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.”

Another silence ensued.

“They are taking pictures of taking pictures,” he said.

He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.

“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” he said.

“What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can’t answer these questions because we’ve read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can’t get outside the aura. We’re part of the aura. We’re here, we’re now.”

He seemed immensely pleased by this.

A “religious experience … like all tourism.”

For a book that features the word “selfie” in the title, it seems strange that author Marco D’Eramo never really addresses the odd paradox of modern day tourism — that the tourist acts not to experience a destination, but to maintain it.


2 thoughts on “The Paradox of Modern Tourism

  1. This is something I became interested in when I was in Paris last summer, and I couldn’t believe how many people were taking selfies in front of these amazing works of art, without looking at the art at all!


    1. This is definitely one of my pet peeves, Carly. If more museums instituted a “no photography” policy, would visits decline? I think so, because then people would have to take in works like the Mona Lisa with their own eyes, rather than through the screen of their phone.

      Liked by 1 person

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