The thing that struck me the most about MacCannell’s writings on authenticity in travel are how little that view applies to our society today. Globalization has drastically changed the landscape of travel and the role of the tourist. Tourists are not as obvious as they were; more common, yes, but they do not stand out in the same way. Traveling, and also immigration, are so commonplace that one can expect to see visitors in almost any city in the world. As families and groups immigrate to new countries, they are bringing their influence and languages with them. This, then, changes the perception that others may hold of this person being a “tourist”. In Berlin, there are tours of the city center conducted by English, Irish, or Australian students, and only in English. Doing one of these tours with visitors was, yes, tourist-y, but extremely enlightening. On this tour, I learned so much about the essential history of Berlin that I never would have discovered on my own. Was it any less authentic because the guides were not natives, but had moved for some reason to Berlin? I think not, and even so, I don’t care. You need a base to start from, and I think that this helped build it. Many Americans blur the line between being natives and being visitors because of family ties to a particular country. As these tourists speak languages that may not be expected of them, they are able to more easily access those very closely-knit communities in different countries. These communities are what MacCannell calls the “back region”, the impenetrable cores of authenticity in a culture. The role of the local, on the other hand, and the “back region”, are still very prominent today. I see this most strikingly in the Turkish areas of Berlin (see post #13). If one of us knew Turkish, then we would not only confuse them, but we would be instantly welcomed into restaurants and offered endless little glasses of free tea and treats. Immigration to Berlin has changed the how a visitor questions the authenticity of this city. Living here, I do not feel as though I am getting a true “German” experience because of the mix of cultures – but on the other hand, being around immigrant communities and the clashing and remolding of radically different cultures is the most authentic thing about a country. Even after living here for a semester, I feel that I will never fully be able to access these parts of Berlin. In fact, I have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.
I am currently breathing a large sigh of relief, having put my mom in a cab this morning and wished her a smooth trip home. Don’t get me wrong: we had our fun times, and it was important to me that she got to see where I’m living and what my life is like in Paris. But her approach to the time together as a visitor here, and mine as a current inhabitant, were frequently at odds. Beneath her behavior, I saw some of the tendencies pointed out by MacCannell: namely, the intention to seek out authenticity, but to be happier with a “staged” authenticity than the true one.
On my mom’s list (and man, did she have a list!) were museums, restaurants, bakeries, theaters, monuments, walks, and stores. Having been to Paris a few years before, some of these places held personal nostalgia for her. Most, though, were part of the idea she holds of the “quintessential Paris:” the must-see things that allow one to bask in the utter “Parisness” of it all. And it’s true: looking at Monet’s panoramic water lilies at the Orangerie, getting a perfect pastry at Ladorée, and staring up at Notre Dame does make you feel lucky to be in this beautiful city. I can understand why newcomers would think to themselves, “This must be what it feels like to live in Paris.”
For me, though, the activities that connect me most to Paris are much more mundane. I’m writing this from my laptop, amidst the run-down, painted metal chairs and tables of my favorite local café. This may be the place where I feel most a part of the city: I recognize the bartender (he’s the one who always drops things…), I know what I like to order (a café noisette), and I can anticipate the most crowded time of day (1-2:30) and avoid it. Other than this café, the most essential places are my yoga studio, the NYU center, and the esplanade of my local park. Not terribly exciting, but when I am in those surroundings, I feel rooted in my experience of Paris.
Therein lies the tension between my mother and I: these spots represent my Paris as opposed to the generalized Paris, or the Paris that my mom was seeking out. Though she wanted to see where I spent my time, those places didn’t draw her into the city or make her feel more Parisian. Maybe they weren’t so unpleasant as Arthur Young’s account of an 18th century French inn, but they represented the same sort of disenchantment: as a tourist, one often wants to be impressed and excited, rather than met by the banal. Yes, my mother wanted to see the “real” Paris, but she wanted to pick and choose which real things she saw. She wanted to penetrate certain regions of MacCannell’s authenticity continuum (say, up through Stage 4) but not go all the way. Seeing great works of art and eating a croissant supplied her with the Frenchy feeling she was looking for; it didn’t matter whether that was true to the quotidian Parisian experience.
These reflections have brought me back equally to De Botton’s writings as to MacCannell’s. What I observed in my mom suggests that we do, as De Botton suggested, each create our own destination. Mine is a product of my own disposition, my ability to speak French, and the fact that I’m living here for four months. My mom’s, on the other hand, is born of her personal traits and her position as a non-French speaking tourist. The result? Two rather different notions of Paris.
Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings does a good job of demonstrating that society itself creates in essence a semi-fake stage and tries to hide the back stage. However, I take offense to the quotation, “The term 'tourist' is increasingly used as a derisive label for someone who seems content with his obviously inauthentic experiences.” I do not plan to contradict the claim that the label “tourist” is used as Dean MacCannell describes, but rather give insight into why and how this label has come to arise and give examples on how I have or have not fallen into that trap. I consider myself a tourist, and therefore, I feel free to use myself as an example of what a tourist does and does not do.
First of all, the term has become so negative because it seems, as MacCannell describes, tourists seem content with the false experiences they, being tourists, receive. I do not agree that tourists are content with false experiences, but rather that they do not know they are receiving one. I know that when I feel I received a “touristy” experience, I feel swindled. I also know that I try and eat at non-touristy places because its cheaper and a more authentic experience. The problem is inevitably that the tourist never knows what is real and what is fake, but can only try and figure it out. Of, course sometimes the tourist will be successful in this respect and sometimes not.
Now to do something authentic is in some respects a catch-22 because if the tourist is doing it, then by definition it is not authentic. This catch-22 I feel is one of the reasons the perception of tourists liking inauthentic experiences is generated. This is because while the tourist is doing an activity, he thinks he is doing something authentic. At the same time, someone observing the tourist knows that it is not authentic and also thinks that the tourist knows that because of the inevitable truth that the tourist can only do something touristy. Therefore, I think it is not that tourists are happy to do inauthentic things, but rather simply have a different vantage point then the local as to what is authentic. An easy way to avoid this catch-22 is to only observe authentic behavior, however this would be contradictory to the point of traveling in the first place and therefore, I cannot offer this course of action to resolve the tourist's catch-22.
I would definitely agree that what the traveler seeks is “authenticity”. Everyone here always wants to have a “real” Argentine experience or go out to a restaurant that the “locals” go to. I am not an exception to this desire and it is something that I’ve thought about a lot during my time here. However, I must clear something up: while I can’t speak for everyone, I do not feel that I am a traveler or tourist here in Buenos Aires. I live here. I have a home here. I have a daily life here. With that said, I think that my way of going about discovering the “back region” is different that a traveler or tourist.
For example, during our first week here, before I had a sense of Buenos Aires, we were taken on a tour around the city, where we checked out the famous neighborhood “La Boca”. There we visited El Caminito, a small, colorful, architecturally fascinating little street. The only problem was, it was a complete tourist trap. The street was lined with people selling trinkets, artwork, “real” tango dancers, etc… The only problem was, the only people there were tourists. Every single person who looked at us on that street did not see faces, but rather dollar signs. What’s worse is that La Boca is advertised as this quaint little working class, immigrant neighborhood when it actually has one of the higher crime rates and is one of the poorer neighborhoods within Capital Federal.
My reason for this anecdote is this: to the tourist or traveler, who’s just passing through Buenos Aires, he/she might visit La Boca’s Caminito and say how beautiful and wonderful it was, how it was so full of color and the people were so joyful, how it was a real “authentic” experience. This area is the exact type of place MacCannell was talking about, it’s “arranged to produce the impression that a back region has been entered even when this is not the case.”
As for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason why I want to get into the back regions is simple: my desire to learn Argentine culture. Once again, I’m living here now, this is my home. I don’t just want to bring my same self and my same customs and habits from the states and live my same lifestyle here. Living and understanding a different lifestyle than my own is one of my main goals here, and I believe that one way of helping to achieve that goal is by discovering the back regions.
MacCannell’s “Staged Authenticity” offered an interesting perspective on the role of the tourist, traveler, and local. However, I felt, overall, the article is extremely outdated and difficult to assess in relation to my experiences abroad. As I have been exploring Paris, I’ve come to realize that Globalization has truly taken hold. There are very few “undiscovered” neighborhoods, very few bars that haven’t been infiltrated with American students looking for a cheap beer. It’s harder and harder to even seek out authenticity as a tourist or traveler, as tourism has become more and more common.
On the other hand, I felt that MacCannell accurately describes the role of the tourist and the local. “The possibility that a stranger might penetrate a back region is one major source of social concern in everyday life, as much a concern to the strangers who might do the violating as to the violated” (MacCannell 591). I have very often noticed a distance between the locals and myself. As much as I would love to “infiltrate” the “back region,” I’ve found it difficult to make French friends. It is not for lack of trying, but rather protectiveness on the part of the locals and a fear of intruding on my part. MacCannell’s clarified what I could not accurately pinpoint myself. The only barrier between my superficial exploration of Paris and a deeper more authentic exploration is commonly held social standards. “Under modern conditions, the place of the individual in society is preserved in part, by newly institutionalized concerns for the authenticity of his social experiences” (MacCannell 590).
If there is one thing that I have learned since arriving in Paris, it is that the world is rapidly becoming smaller and smaller. MacCannell’s vision of authenticity, or even staged authenticity, seems too concrete for our rapidly changing world. The role of tourist is rapidly changing, as are tourist attractions, which are becoming part of the regional landscape. The Louvre is not inauthentically Parisian, nor is the cous cous vendor on the corner. They are products of need, local culture, and globalization. Authenticity doesn’t solely exist in hidden corners of the city, but rather in the circumstances that surround a place or attraction.
As tourists, I believe it is a venerable goal to strive to seek out authentic experiences. However, I am not certain that MacCannell describes those experiences accurately. Authenticity is found in the little everyday interactions and experiences, not necessarily in back regions. In a globalized society, we can not expect such concrete distinctions.
In my time studying and traveling abroad I have seen myself and others engaging in ultimate quests to experience the authentic nature of the places to which we travel. Being a tourist means fighting for authenticity and whoever can win the fight thus wins the game of traveling. Sure anyone in Buenos Aires can go to a tango show or a soccer game, but a real experience is going to a party with locals and hearing their friend’s band play. Anyone can go out to a restaurant but being invited to an asado where a real live Argentine is cooking steak will always make for a more enjoyable evening. I constantly see myself participating in this struggle for authenticity and though I have enough self-awareness to realize what I'm doing I never stop playing the game.
Some of my worst experiences in my time abroad have come from participating in the pseudo back region atmosphere that is created simply for tourists. We went on a class trip to an "Estancia" or ranch and watched a bunch of sad looking Argentines dress up in gaucho gear, do traditional dances and ride horses. Though it was nice to see watch traditional gaucho life might have been like, these people were simply playing a part, so in reality I was still seeing the front region. Did these people really want to run around like a bunch of fake gauchos, doing mock sword fights and forcing people to get up from tables and dance, probably not. Did I want to watch these people pretend to be gauchos, definitely not. The same type of experience occurred when we went on a school trip to see a tribal village outside of Iguazu Falls. We drove in on a bus to the "village" and the tour guide showed us tools that his ancestors used to catch different animals when wild animals used to actually exist in the rain forest. He showed us huts that people used to live in and clothing that they use to wear, but now they live in normal modern buildings and the guide himself was wearing converses. Sure it should have been interesting to see what tribal life used to be like, but subjecting myself to the false authenticity of the village put a sour taste in my mouth. The only part of the trip that was authentic was the rain pouring down upon our group while being in the rain forest.
Being abroad and searching for authenticity in the same places that every other tourist goes to is a painful experience. Whenever I'm around other tourists I see myself for what I actually am and it’s a painful realization. Guided tours with a group of tourists is a pitiful excuse for an authentic experience, and though there is value in seeing historical and cultural points of interest, I find myself playing tourist over and over again.
From the first page, MacCannell’s article is clearly outdated in its mode of thought as far as sociology and anthropology go. From his use of terms such as “primitive” to his insistence on denying the awareness of the ability to “‘participate’ in one’s own life,” it is clear that the postmodern terms in which anthropology and sociology are now discussed are not in his research. Though he acknowledges certain points of reflexivity and subjectivity of experience, I think that in postulating that the tourist is automatically on a quest for authenticity and that the tourist/intellectual boundary is a misconception, he reveals a shortsightedness that is unforgivable. With the rise of more recent research, it is impossible to lay out such black and white rules and ideas about any group of people, be they Amazonian aborigines or Americans on vacation. The general term “tourists” is certainly far to gross today.
I know that personally, my experience here has been plagued by a severe introspection that defies his continuum of front to back authenticity. I find myself questioning the authenticity of my experience most when I’m engaging in activities and settings that would probably be considered back regions, such as being led by my RA’s one evening into a small forest on the edge of Prague to roast sausages in the place that my RA Eva did as a child, or waiting in line at the bank or post office, surrounded by Czech people going about their days. At these moments I am not pleased with my authentic experience, I do not think of myself as gleaning an understanding of the people of this country. Instead, I am forced into a lonely evaluation of whether I even want to be there in the first place. By contrast, when on a tour of the Jewish Quarter, I happily listened to the tour guide, speaking in English, informing me of the history of Jews in Prague, much of which the RA who organized it didn’t know herself. What about appreciating the beauty of a place, or its historical value? Yes these are places that are only open to a public because they are tourist destinations, but to deny their authenticity as beautiful or historically worthy places is selling them far short of their true value.
In our consumerist society, often the value of the consumption is based on its exclusivity, and so a story that only you can share, a description of a place that only you know feels valuable, and though it’s true that there is an emphasis on unique and “authentic” experiences in tourism, I think that it is equally easy to be moved and enriched by Strawberry Fields in New York as it is to be moved and enriched by having a conversation with an old Chinese man running a fruit stand on the Lower East Side. This said, I believe that if someone wants to live in a culture or record a culture, then it’s true, the front to back stages of authenticity apply. When I realized where to go to get cheap food and beer here, or when I began to understand the Czech sense of humor, I felt that I had enriched my life and was more able to live comfortably in a foreign place. But the deep thrill I experience whenever I sit atop the hill at Vysehrad, the place that one of the largest student marches of the Velvet Revolution began and a common tourist destination, a beautiful, profound, historic place, has proven to be much more vital to my experience here than any conversation with a Czech person I’ve had. Fuck authenticity. I ain’t on no quest.
Reading MacCannell’s “Staged Authenticity,” I was struck by his ideas about the sight-seeing tourist and traveler in search of authenticity. MacConnell works at dissolving the boundaries between the two, noting that both tourist and traveler set out on a pilgrimage-like search for experience or understanding, and that authenticity, seeking the “true” nature of a place or a culture, is often a construction—that is, not as authentic as we thought, or at least not in the same way.
I think it’s easy to lump all major “sights” or tourist attractions into the tourist category, the antithesis of authenticity; but especially in a city like Paris, or any other huge tourist destination, even these “sights” become an integral part of the city. Of course I’m guilty of scoffing at the big red double-decker buses unloading tourists at the base of the Eiffel Tower; of course the nearby restaurants and sandwich shops are the worst, and priciest, in the city; of course I prefer discovering less crowded, less well-known neighborhoods, where not everyone is taking the same photograph and no one is trying to sell me an Eiffel Tower keychain from a giant ring of them. But that doesn’t make the Champ de Mars, or the Louvre or the Arc de Triomphe, any less real and Parisian than the student-tended garden behind the Cinémathèque Française, or the little boulangerie around the corner from my apartment. These are all just different sides of Paris: the traditional, the grand, the overlooked, the historic, the quotidian, and so on.
Even still, now that I’m living in Paris, I think I’m especially motivated to discover the overlooked, non-touristy corners. I think I expect myself to be an authority on Paris, on the “back regions,” as MacConnell calls them, of the city, the places where visitors for a few days or weeks wouldn’t find. I’m still exploring, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a reasonable goal. Sometimes I feel strange comparing Paris, which I love and which continues to fascinate me, with Copenhagen, where I’ve never stayed for more than a few weeks at a time but which still feels more like my home in Europe… at least for now.
It’s amazing how touristy Florence is; even now in late October. And now that I’ve been living here for the last two months, I would like to believe my role in this particular society has gone from being a tourist or “sightseer” in the front region to a participant in the back region. One way that’s helped me feel a bit more immersed is by doing a home stay and actually living with an Italian family. Still, I can’t help but feel sometimes like an outsider still. An uncultured American who could never truly understand.
If I reflect even more on my life and my “nomadic existence” I think I’ve been a perpetual “tourist” of sorts. With each new place and each new community, I’ve been able to experience a vast range of lifestyles of which I couldn’t say one was necessarily mine. Though I was born in the South, I couldn’t say I understand Southern ways at all. I’ve lived on the West Coast in both Colorado and Washington and have never felt entirely at home there. With the East Coast, I’ve lived in the remote parts of the Pocono Mountains, the suburbs of Virginia, and now in the greatest metropolitan in the world, New York City. Having lived in Germany at one point and Korea in another, I know how it feels like to be the “American” who doesn’t quite fit in but isn’t just a visitor set to leave in weeks or even months.
Reading Dean MacCannell’s article made me a little sensitive to my own plight for true authenticity and intimacy. And perhaps that’s why traveling as an actual tourist has always been such an exciting thing for me. Even though I realize that it’s all fairly “fake” when I visit a city and all I really see are the major tourist sites, I still feel a strange connection to the place. That at some point in history, those sites were made to offer some insight to society and culture.
Since I arrived in Paris my ultimate quest has been to find French friends. For me, the idea of spending time with real, live Parisians seems like the most authentic thing that I could possibly do during my study abroad experience. I have this idea that if I hang out with young Parisians, this will be my key to all the other “back regions” of Paris, as MacCannell would put it.
It is also a very qualifying feeling to hang out with Parisians; a way to feel that you are assimilating into the culture rather than simply being a tourist, an outsider.
Being new to any city is always a hard feat to overcome. You never know right away where all the best things are: where to eat, where to party, where to shop? As a newcomer, especially in a foreign country, we are limited to travel guides and the recommendations our friends and family that have traveled to the same place before us. However, none of these recommendations ever seem good enough. We want to find the places where the locals go so that we can better disguise ourselves within the culture. I find myself constantly judging places by what the ratio of tourists to Parisians is inside. If there are a lot of tourists I don’t want to be associated with it and the more Parisians, the cooler I feel.
I feel that if I am able to find French friends, I will no longer have to rely on this ratio. They will take me out and show me all the things that I need to know, the secrets of their city. Those “back regions” which are only accessible to people in the know (or those who lack the dead give away: an American accent.) Perhaps an unassuming brasserie that just so happens to be better than all the rest, a bar that makes the most delicious mojitos you have ever tasted, or an unmarked restaurant tucked away behind closed doors? At least this is what I envision…
So far my quest for French friends has been somewhat of a success. I have managed to meet people through my classes and my nights out, who are usually enthralled with the fact that I come from NYC/ that I am American (so much for the French hating Americans… well at least the younger generation) and who are always happy to lend a reccomendation or two. Parfait!! However, I am still lacking the integration into an actual group and I am starting to think that this is possibly setting my sights a bit too high. Maybe I will settle for one French friend who I can crab a café with because no matter what I still feel that seeing the city from an insider’s perspective is what gives your experience the ultimate stamp of authenticity.