Home > Unit 3: Introduction > Excerpts from The Tourist

The Tourist Book CoverThe Tourist (exerpts), Dean Maccannell (1976)

Introduction: Tourism has become the world's largest, most visible industry; it is difficult to go through the day in one's home town without being advised to explore somewhere else — magazines, billboards, newspapers, television, and film are saturated with images of paradise for the traveler. Dean MacCannell explores the problems of commercialized and commodified tourism in his 1976 book, The Tourist. Specifically, he looks at the particular ways that our travel experiences are "packaged." For example, he looks at tourist settings or attractions like vistas, historical markers, scenic highways, gift shops, staged history sites (like Colonial Williamsburg or the "old west" town of Columbia, California). But MacCannell's goal is not simply to trash tourists; instead, he attempts to explain what is meaningful in tourist experiences — including, and in spite of the packaging. MacCannell wants us to see the human motives behind these expeditions. In a 1998 epilogue to his book, MacCannell says, "It is the 'you have got to see this,' or 'taste this,' or 'feel this' that is the originary moment in the touristic relation, which is also the basis for a certain kind of human solidarity."

Sightseeing as Modern Ritual

Modern international sightseeing possesses its own moral structure, a collective sense that certain sights must be seen. Some tourists will resist, no doubt, the suggestion that they are motivated by an elementary impulse analogous to the one that animates the Australian's awe for his Churinga boards. The Australian would certainly resist such a suggestion. Nevertheless, modern guided tours, in Goffman's terms, are "extensive ceremonial agendas involving long strings of obligatory rites." If one goes to Europe, one "must see" Paris; if one goes to Paris, one "must see" Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre; if one goes to the Louvre, one "must see" the Venus de Milo and, of course, the Mona Lisa. There are quite literally millions of tourists who have spent their savings to make the pilgrimage to see these sites. Some who have not been "there" have reported to me that they want to see these sights "with all their hearts."

It is noteworthy that no one escapes the system of attractions except by retreat into a stay-at-home, traditionalist stance: that is, no one is exempt from the obligation to go sightseeing except the local person. The Manhattanite who has never been to the Statue of Liberty is a mythic image in our society, as is the reverse image of the big-city people who come out into the country expressing fascination with things the local folk care little about. The ritual attitude of the tourist originates in the act of travel itself and culminates when he arrives in the presence of the sight.

Some tourists feel so strongly about the sight they are visiting that they want to be alone in its presence, and they become annoyed at the other tourists for profaning the place by crowding around "like sheep." Some sights become so important that tourists avoid use of their proper names: in the Pacific Northwest, Mount Rainier is called "The Mountain," and all up and down the West Coast of the United States, San Francisco is called "The City."

Traditional religious institutions are everywhere accommodating the movements of tourists. In "The Holy Land," the tour has followed in the path of the religious pilgrimage and is replacing it. Throughout the world, churches, cathedrals, mosques, and temples are being converted from religious to touristic functions. . . .

The Stages of Sight Sacralization

Perhaps there are, or have been, some sights which are so spectacular in themselves that no institutional support is required to mark them off as attractions. The original set of attractions is called, after the fashion of primitives, by the name of the sentiment they were supposed to have generated: "The Seven Wonders of the World." Modern sights, with but few exceptions, are not so evidently reflective of important social values as the Seven Wonders must have been. Attractions such as Cypress Gardens, the Statue of the Little Mermaid in the harbor at Copenhagen, the Cape Hatteras Light and the like, risk losing their broader sociosymbolic meanings, becoming once more mere aspects of a limited social setting. Massive institutional support is often required for sight sacralization in the modern world.

The first stage of sight sacralization takes place when the sight is marked off from similar objects as worthy of preservation. This stage may be arrived at deductively from the model of the attraction. . . This first stage can be called the naming phase of sight sacralization. Often, before the naming phase, a great deal of work goes into the authentication of the candidate for sacralization. . . .

Second is the framing and elevation phase. Elevation is the putting on display of an object—placement in a case, on a pedestal or opened up for visitation. Framing is the placement of an official boundary around the object. On a practical level, two types of framing occur: protecting and enhancing. Protection seems to have been the motive behind the decision recently taken at the Louvre to place the Mona Lisa (but none of the other paintings) behind glass. . . Advanced framing occurs when the rest of the world is forced back from the object and the space in between is landscaped. Versailles and the Washington Monument are"framed" in this way.

The next stage of sacralization is mechanical reproduction of the sacred object: the creation of prints, photographs, models or effigies of the object which are themselves valued and displayed. It is the mechanical reproduction phase of sacralization that is most responsible for setting the tourist in motion on his journey to find the true object. And he is not disappointed. Alongside of the copies of it, it has to be The Real Thing.

The final stage of sight sacralization is social reproduction, as occurs when groups, cities and regions begin to name themselves after famous attractions. . . .

from the "Epilogue" (1998)happytrails

In 1975, tourists planned their own itineraries and very often placed themselves at even the unmarked scenes of historic crimes and miracles and before the great monuments and disasters of nature and culture. Not every tourist did this, of course, but it was something of an ideal of a kind of upper middle class touristic travel. The tourists could attempt to understand the connections between historic action, place, and human life without the intervention of commercially marked fantasy propaganda. If they brought images from literature, the movies, even travel advertising with them in their heads or fanny packs, once in the presence of an attraction they could check their predispositions against the evidence of their senses. Their own imagination might be set in motion by something about the site itself or the way it was presented to them. Not in every case, but certainly some tourists could imagine heroism without seeing the face of John Wayne. Some could imagine tomorrow without visiting Tomorrowland.

The main change that occurred after the initial publication of The Tourist has been an aggressive invasion of the touristic field by corporate entertainment interests. I sometimes try to imagine how the spectacle of sightseeing on a global scale must have appeared to corporate CEOs and boards of directors in 1975. From their perspective, on the eve of its becoming the world's largest "industry," it must have seemed completely irrational. Why would people spend all that money and not get anything in return? There were some packaged vacations at the time, and a few efforts to promote certain "destinations." But mainly, economic planners were deaf and dumb to the people's general motivation for touristic travel. They knew even less about people's reason for choosing one place or attraction over another. There must have been an element of wounded narcissism as well. With the exception of Disneyland, the tourists were not swarming to see anything corporations had created.

In August, 1975, the whole world was literally "booked solid." There wasn't an airplane seat or a hotel room available for electronic reservation anywhere on the face of the earth. And the entire system of touristic travel was organized around a kind of human circuitry that is refractory to commercialization. The industry was able to build out to meet demand—add rooms and routes to accommodate the overflow. But it has not been able to contain touristic desire, to gain controlling interest in the things tourists want to see.

Millions of people went to Rome in 1975. Some confessed to going because they had seen a movie starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Rome. At least one tourist I talked to went to Rome after he read that Sigmund Freud was afraid to visit because "too much is buried there." Another went because his father marched into Rome in 1944; and another because her grandmother was born there. Quite a few went just because so many other people went there. Millions of dollars changed hands at hotels, restaurants, souvenir stands, guided tours, etc. Rome was the attraction, but did Rome itself charge admission? No.

The drive of tourism today — the industry, not necessarily the tourists — is to try to correct this particular "market irrationality." Every "destination" is increasingly commodified, packaged and marketed. It is possible to make travel and hotel arrangements for any destination from any place on earth. There is equally a drive to try to break the connection between sightseeing and the specificity of place, to contain sightseeing as generic entertainment and manufactured fantasy that can be delivered to any place. So far, this drive has assumed a fairly simple-minded form: i.e., convince the tourists that the real reason to come to Rome (or Paris or Tokyo, or Moscow) is to shop at the Gap, eat at McDonald's, relax at Planet Hollywood, and hang out at the IMax Entertainment Center which has a terrific three-dimensional short feature on the sights of Rome, etc. . . . .

The Future of the Touristic: There are signs that the drive to rationalize and commercialize sightseeing on a global basis may be self-defeating as every destination on the face of the earth increasingly resembles every other destination. The "anchor stores" on the Champs Elysees in Paris are The Gap, The Wherehouse, McDonald's, The Disney Store, etc., the same as those found deployed near former Red Square in Moscow. If women in the United States already try to appear "Japanese," if the Japanese have established vital communities in America, if Tokyo Disneyland is only a copy of Disneyland in California, why should any U.S. tourist want to go to Japan? When every cultural object and every person is out of place, detached; when the entire world is a homogeneous jumble of frozen fragments; when "home" is no different from any of the places visited on a tourist's itinerary; when every destination is a random cannibalization of styles of the past, a pastiche of tokens and reminders of domesticated "cultural otherness"; isn't this the end of "the touristic?"

Probably not.

On the side of the human, the most important thing happening in tourism today is not the construction of a new Sony Corporation Entertainment Complex across the street from the Art Museum. It is the way San Francisco, or London, or Chicago is being shown to a new immigrant from Asia, Latin America, or Africa, by someone from her family or region who arrived earlier. It is also found in the efforts of middle class people who are not content to accept commercialized entertainment as defining the limits of the tourist experience. Anyone who tries to budge the grid of human experience slightly off its current numbingly predictable coordinates revitalizes "the touristic." Anyone can discover the grounds for new desires in the abundant stuff that is overlooked by sightseers who follow commercialized routes. Or, if it is correct that conventional attractions are only there to hide and suppress the unconscious, anyone can find new grounds for excitement beneath and behind the things that are currently officially noticed: the way in which the removal of Asian Americans from a neighborhood is marked by the Asian roof-line of the bank, for example.

It is important to recall that most things that are now attractions did not start out that way. In San Francisco, there was a time when Mission Dolores was just a mission, when Fisherman's Wharf was just a fisherman's wharf, when Chinatown was just a neighborhood settled by Chinese What transformed these places into the centerpieces of the enormous tourist industry of the City of San Francisco? In the beginning it was not hype. The key I have been suggesting is that the place became something more than a spatial coordinate, something more than a spot of protected intimacy for like-minded individuals. It became, in addition, the locus of a human relationship between un-like-minded individuals, the locus of an urgent desire to share — an intimate connection between one stranger and another, or one generation to another, through the local object. It is the "you have got to see this," or "taste this," or "feel this" that is the originary moment in the touristic relation, which is also the basis for a certain kind of human solidarity. And it is precisely this moment that has become depersonalized and automated in commercialized attractions — the reason they are at once both powerful and dead. But "the touristic" is always being displaced into new things as cause, source and potential. All that is required is a simultaneous caring and concern for another person and for an object that is honored and shared but never fully possessed.

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Reading Response Assignment:

Question 1: Dean MacCannell says, "Anyone who tries to budge the grid of human experience slightly off its current numbingly predictable coordinates revitalizes 'the touristic.'" The sentence is difficult to understand at first, but the sentences around it in the essay help, and if you work through it slowly, the meaning does reveal itself. Explain what you think the sentence means, and then provide 2-3 examples of how one might "budge the grid of human experience" off its coordinates to revitalize tourism (include pictures if possible).

Question 2: In the Bay Area, what are the "sights that must be seen" according to the "moral structure" of sightseeing that MacCannell describes? Describe one sight in the area (or elsewhere) that has undergone the stages of "sight sacralization" that MacCannell describes; i.e., explain the ways the sight has been framed, elevated, and reproduced. What rewards do tourists experience in seeing this sight? (again, include pictures if possible)

After you post your response to these questions, please respond to the posts of at least 2 of your classmates.

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