At the time of writing this post (Sunday, April 21 at 11:30AM) a bombing in Sri Lanka had killed over 200 people and wounded more than 450.
Under the headline Ontario PCs want to make it next to impossible to sue the government was the photograph above. The caption specifically points out that it was taken last year; that is it was not taken specifically for this news item. This means the editors had a choice and this was the image they selected. Why?
As the headline points out, the news item is about the Ontario PCs, therefore it makes sense to have the PC Leader, and Premier, Doug Ford in the photograph. As well, since the article is about legislation related to suing the government, it makes sense to include the Attorney General, Caroline Mulroney. But two things interest me about the picture.
First is the composition with Mulroney blurred in the background. Second, is the expression on her face.
That she is physically behind the Premier suggests that she supports the legislation. Yet, being out of focus lends some ambiguity to that assertion. She’s there … but not completely? Her support is fuzzy? The ambiguity is amplified by the expression on her face; is that a look of support or disbelief or somewhere in between?
Another way to look at it is by composing the camera focus on the Premier he becomes the primary subject of the image, attracting the viewer’s eye, and suggesting he is the one pushing this legislation. Mulroney’s image, residing in the blur, becomes a secondary subject. As noted above, by being in the blur, it lends ambiguity to her support. It’s like a half-full or half-empty question; where is she coming from? Does she support it or is she just going along with it? It brings to my mind a political question, given Mulroney is the daughter of a former Prime Minister, successful lawyer, perceived moderate, and former PC leadership candidate, how does this legislation play with her own image and aspirations? Is this the act of a moderate conservative, or if not, was she inappropriately labelled or is she trying to break away? Depending on how one feels about making it more difficult to sue the government will determine the feelings attributed to Mulroney. Yet, there remains the look on her face that contradicts the answer to the first question.
The tradition of the father teaching his son specific and essential survival tasks goes back before the dawn of civilization. As we as a species evolved to develop skills and understanding, it became apparent that sharing these things enhanced our chances for survival. This shared knowledge that developed into a foundation of culture that was subsequently handed down to following generations, who adapted the practices to a changing environment and developed better ones as needed, we arrive at what we have today.
Well, today I don’t really need to go out and hunt a wild pig or defend against a grizzly bear. A squirrel is the most visible remnant of the wild kingdom in our neighbourhood. But, installing a kitchen faucet; that’s useful!
The other day I taught my son how to remove and then install a kitchen faucet. Useful information that he may apply when he gets a house. I have found that the ability to complete such household chores results in unfettered delight from my wife. A worthy reason to suffer the process.
Through this project I taught my son many valuable lessons: visualizing the outcome; how to select the right tools for the job; the value of removing all the junk under the sink first and then how to shimmy through that tight space filled with pipes, hoses, water filters, and a garburator; using a pillow to lie on; how to manipulate his arms through the maze of pipes etc. to reach the bolts securing the old faucet; how to undo a bolt (and which direction is counter-clockwise, a learning not often got in this digital age); how to manipulate a wrench to fit into tight areas where there is no horizontal room; how to problem-solve when you realise the last bolt securing the old faucet is unreachable; team-work; how to smash the old faucet to bits so that what remains slides easily down through the hole in the counter-top; how to use plumber’s tape to seal the threaded connections; how to connect the new faucet to the existing plumbing; turning on the water; watching the water come out of the faucet for the first time, with no leaks. Sensing the satisfaction of a successful installation. Seeing how happy was his mother.
I enjoy using exclamation points! They are the ancestor of the emoticon that in the past allowed an author to include an emotional dimension to a text :) They can conveniently communicate delight, with a single stroke available on every keyboard! They are also additive, to represent stronger emotions!!
But, like their evolutionary outcome, they can be over used!!!!! :-o
And so it was, as I imported the images from my SD-Card, that all these little exclamation points appeared. How exciting! But wait … what does it really mean!!
It meant my images were corrupted!!! I nearly fainted. I looked through the import and found every file was corrupted! gasp!!!! I feared I had lost all the shots from the event. My mind racing, I thought about the disappointment the organizers would feel. I shuddered.
I loaded the card from my second camera, and pressed import, closed my eyes and hoped … more exclamation points!! relief!!!!!!
It meant that the problem was with the reader, not the cards, so I tested the theory by switching to an alternate reader and to my relief the files were read correctly!
I was happy, and delighted!!
A poor use of the exclamation point? I guess it’s used on road signs to communicate caution. How flexible is that!
Conversation yesterday drifted towards the meaning of the word interesting.
engaging or exciting and holding the attention or curiosity
1225–75; (noun) Middle English < Medieval Latin, Latin: it concerns, literally, it is between; replacing interesse < Medieval Latin, Latin: to concern, literally, to be between; (v.) earlier interess as v. use of the noun; — Dictionary.com
holding the attention : arousing interest
The word interesting originally meant "of concern"; it was a synonym of important. It comes from the verb interest, which in its original use meant "to induce or persuade to participate or engage." If you were interested in something, you were not willing to be a bystander; you felt the need to participate or engage. — Merriam-Webster
inspiring interest; absorbing
Very Common. interesting is one of the 4000 most commonly used words in the Collins
My colleagues in this conversation tended towards the traditional definitions, as cited above. Accepting that, I also acknowledged the one submitted by Vocabulary.com:
The adjective interesting describes something that makes you curious, or catches your attention, but sometimes people use the word in a doubtful way when they are taken aback but want to be polite. Like if your grandmother looks at your new tattoo and says, "Well, that's certainly interesting!" Chances are she's not actually feeling very enthusiastic about your choice of body art. — Vocabulary.com
My project, Denk Ich an Sonneberg, introduced me to various theories related to memory, among them were Ethical Remembrance and Post-Memory. Roger Frie’s book, Not in My Family: German memory and responsibility after the holocaust and Marianne Hirsch’s book Family Frames: photography narrative and postmemory explore these topics respectively.
As I continue to explore the broader subject of remembrance, I came across Roger Simon’s book The Touch of the Past: remembrance, learning and ethics. Simon asks “…how and why a social, and often conflictual, practice of remembrance might be central to establishing the conditions necessary for democratic life[?]”(p3). A connection between democracy and remembrance? What is it?
The departure point for Simon’s line of reasoning is that remembrance enables us to bring past learnings into the present. In a process that is continuous and on-going, learnings accumulated over the eons form our culture, a framework of practices, common understandings, our norms, our sense of right and wrong, our perceptions of truth and facts. The framework that we use to negotiate our daily lives within our community that enables the formation of strong social groups. Referring to Zygmunt Bauman, Simon notes social solidarity is a necessary condition to build the “trust, self-confidence, and courage without which the exercise of freedom and willingness to experiment are unthinkable.” (p.5)
Simon then positions these two characteristics as necessary conditions for “…a democratic public life [that] requires explicit activity that subjects existing practices to continual critique and the conflictual work of repair, renewal, and invention of desirable social institutions.” That is, our practices, and institutions need to be continually and continuously tested and this can be accomplished only when we share those norms that promote a stable enough society to weather the challenges of critique. The crucible of this testing is a “public sphere within which the substance of the social is debated and negotiated.”
The “public sphere” is not a single location, such as parliament. It includes other sites of discussion, including our various levels of government, lobbyists, newspapers, individuals, each stating their own perspective in their own voice resulting in the assembly of a wide range of opinions and information “… the substance of ‘the public sphere’ is not to be limited to a discussion of institutions, sites, and spaces, but must include an inquiry into what situated practices will support listening, learning, conversation, and debate capable of reassessing the political, cultural and moral dimensions of the organization of social life.” (p.7)
Yet, having a public sphere is insufficient; there needs to be the impetus to act. Derrida’s concept of the “arrivant”, that moment in history when the time is right, the conditions have been met to have a serious debate, that “… existing institutions and forms of authority are put into question through critical judgement and a commitment to linking social responsibility and social transformation.”(p.8) Here I am reminded of Thomas Kuhn’s premise, stated in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that theories are continuously tested through experimentation that either support, or not, the outcomes predicted by a theory. At some point a critical mass of failures is reached and the theory needs to be re-evaluated, or in the case of public institutions, policies and processes that need to be revisited.
This is where I stopped and reflected on the disruptive forces emerging in many places around the world, such as those responding to impacts of globalization. Thinking of Trump specifically, Simon’s argument brings purpose to his actions, and a framework to distinguish those that are constructive from those that are not, and why. While Trump is testing and pushing our institutions to address current issues in different, non-traditional ways, he is failing to do so through an inclusive “public sphere” either by exercising powers directly where he can, or by sewing division developing mistrust that poisons the environment for debate and negotiations as necessary conditions for democracy.
In the black and white world of extreme right and left postions, the former would give him a pass for the good he is doing, the latter a fail for the bad. There is no middle ground, no room for discussion, no room for compromise. The time has come, the impetus to act is here, but the “public sphere” is stifled.
The question for the longer term is how will these practices be remembered and thus used by future generations.
As a thought experiment, think about comparing the highly-processed magazine photograph of a fashion model standing on a runway against a grainy, black-and-white image of a derelict woman standing on the street. We might conclude that the former idealises, the latter degrades. But why? Both images are of women, yet how these women are presented and the style of the photographs are very different. Through style, we can offer an emotional dimension that complements the factual information presented through the subject.
While each viewer will respond differently, there is a tendency to see “beautiful” pictures as being more contrived or artificial. The unvarnished, “ugly” photograph is perceived as more realistic (after all why would someone take such a picture if it were not true? Or at least that’s my thought). These feelings of beauty, or not, translate, if only subtly, into a sense of authenticity.
Alternatively, we could develop an unvarnished image of the fashion model say, in black and white, make it grainier, to instil a sense of the negative underbelly of the fashion industry. We could process the image of the street women to suggest defiance, pride, fortitude, resilience, vigilance, all those characteristics representing a strong social order. In the former experiment, information and emotion (subject and style) are harmonized; the latter conveys dissonance between the information and emotion.
It’s probably helpful to distinguish between truth and authenticity, if not only for the purpose of being aware of different levers available when representing something in a photograph. Truth focuses on the preservation of the facts, authenticity on the preservation of the artifact, that is it is genuine and uncorrupted. I can have an image that does not represent the truth, even though the photograph itself is uncorrupted, unchanged from the original.
The truth of the representation of a subject in an image is confronted by several subjective decisions through the life-cycle of a photograph. What is the motivation of the photographer? The Editor? Which subject should I take? What lens should I use? How should I crop? Among the many photographs taken, which do I select? It is easy to carry the questioning to a point where no image is trusted. Yet, underlying all this questioning is the fact that the camera accurately captures what is put in front of it.
Similarly, the authenticity of the subject may be in question. Who in the above thought experiment is performing the more authentic act? What is the status of a photograph that truthfully represents an artificial or recreated event? The photograph is authentic, not the event? This is the source of tension.
Untethered these observations take us nowhere. It is when we align the levers of subject and style that we can develop complementary or contrasting information and emotion.
The OED defines authentic as “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.”
But is it that simple to determine if something is authentic?
The concrete tree I referred to in an earlier post failed, in my mind, the authenticity test: it was clearly not a genuine tree. It was a fabrication. Yet, as this instance was made of concrete, and there are no genuine trees made of concrete, one might argue it’s not really a copy as no such genuine thing really exists. Thus, it is itself a genuine article. Alternatively, one might argue that there was no original tree in the first place; it was completely fictional. So this concrete tree is not a copy of something real, but a representation of something fictional. Does that make it unauthentic?
Similarly in describing the contrived environment of the resort, I wondered whether it was authentic? The resort was designed, built and physically exists. In this instance the site is unique, a copy of nothing. So is it not authentic? There might be genuineness in its physical form, but not in the contrivance of what it represents. It offers nothing substantial, rather it is some configuration of Caribbean tropes designed simply to generate an experience that was defined by a marketing firm in some first-world location.
UNESCO, the sponsor of the World Heritage Sites, has developed Operational Guidelines based on ICOMOS’s (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Nara Document on Authenticity. In its preamble, the Nara Document takes focus on cultural identity, immediately defining what it is they want to be authentic and why.
In a world that is increasingly subject to the forces of globalization and homogenization, and in a world in which the search for cultural identity is sometimes pursued through aggressive nationalism and the suppression of the cultures of minorities, the essential contribution made by the consideration of authenticity in conservation practice is to clarify and illuminate the collective memory of humanity.
UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines offer a set of [testable] ‘properties’ to help realise the principles of the Nara Document:
form and design;
materials and substance;
use and function;
traditions, techniques and management systems;
location and setting;
language, and other forms of intangible heritage;
spirit and feeling; and
other internal and external factors.
These principles and properties are important as they give us a means to determine authenticity, however, in focusing on culture, they exclude many things, including, may be, our Caribbean Island Resort looked at earlier.
“Is this Authentic?”, Thornhill, March 2019
When we visit a resort, we enter a space manufactured to be comfortable, relaxing, to fulfill a dream of some sort. It is a Manufactured Dreamscape. The dreamscape encourages us to look at it, to see and interpret what we see; to gaze. The dreamscape makes claims, if not only metaphorically, that support the marketing of the destination. Symbols, embedded in the architecture, by the locale, by the hosts, the architecture, the white sandy beaches, the race of the locals, each acting as a lens skewing how we interpret what we see; they reinforce tourist clichés. The physical representation of the dreamscape is elaborated by our subjective interpretations; the terms and phrases used suggest cultural references, exploiting our assumptions of what this place should be, and tint the lens of our perception. “Gazing is not merely seeing, but involves cognitive work of interpreting, evaluating, drawing comparisons and making mental connections between signs and their referents, and capturing signs photographically” (The Tourist Gaze 3.0, page 17)
The gaze however privileges sight over the other senses, feeling the heat and humidity, smelling the salt in the air, tasting the spices in the food, hearing the birds or the crash of the surf.
The resort is real, the heat is real, the birds and beaches are real, but the question of authenticity comes from their interpretation and configuration, that all these things are conveniently put together. It is all manufactured.
My first reflections on authenticity came many years ago visiting the Swiss Family Robertson’s Tree House at Disneyland. From a distance I was impressed by the tree; its size and structure so convenient for hosting a tree house. It wasn’t until we were in the house and I touched the tree that I discovered it was made of concrete. I was both surprised and amused. I was surprised at how real the tree appeared. A true-to-life representation formed in concrete of a real object that was a subject in a fictional storey of a shipwrecked family based on the story of Robinson Crusoe thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a castaway for four years on Más a Tierra, renamed as Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966 (Wikipedia).
Why do I care about authenticity? In my Project Statement I noted that “… tourism asks us to reflect on our understanding of authenticity …” More broadly, seeing authentic things, buildings, landscapes, peoples, cultures, are very often the objective of travel. The story above offers some sense of the challenge.
My subscription to Amazon Prime gives me access to Prime Videos. Since the last time I looked, they seem to have grown their library. Yesterday I watched Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore’s look at why Trump was elected.
His answer: political leadership has privileged the needs of business over the needs of the people. Trump said he would change that, and he was believed.
To develop that message, Moore explores in more detail than might be necessary the water issue in Flint Michigan and the Teachers’ strike in West Virginia. His documentary is forceful, to the point of appearing one-sided. Yet, for anyone who has travelled through those states, and have witnessed the decline into poverty, they recognise that there is a problem. Regardless of the root cause, the failure of political leadership to respond is their sin. In response, people have taken action and voted them out. Unfortunately, what was elected was a vile, and crude man, at least as corrupt as his predecessors.
The message of hope that Moore offers, at the end, is that the election of this turd has motivated a new generation of people to participate in the system. The recent US election results suggest this process might be underway.
But it is the message of hope — that trope that is embedded in the propaganda called the American Dream that motivates the American lower and middle classes to tow the line — that subverts the message of this work. It’s like the image of Obama drinking Flint Michigan water.
I recently had the chance to visit a gallery show presenting the work of Italian photographer Franco Fontana (1933 -present), which had me add his book Skyline to my Christmas wish list. While many of the images are of natural landscapes, he includes urban landscapes as well. This wider interpretation of the genre suites my preferences as well as it offers a wider pallet of cultural clues as well as being more reflective of the current experience of many of us; one dominated by life within urban centres with only infrequent sojourns into the shrinking reserve of natural places.
What stands out for me are his abstraction and simplification of space, through reducing detail as well as simplifying the colour pallet, in combination with his use and presentation of shapes, including lines. The book immediately positions the photographer’s view of the importance of space on its first page:
Nella fotografia cerco la dimensione dello spazio; a mio parere è alla base di tutto l’equilibrio della vita, quindi anche di ogni forma artistica.
In photography I look for the dimension of space; in my opinion it is at the base of all the balance of life, therefore also of every artistic form.
Starting from a tangible reality he abstracts by excluding all unnecessary elements. Through his technique he has developed a personal language that unfolds the familiar landscapes and the unknown expanses so that the signs, the space, the shape and the colour become the only elements of the image. The colour treatment is an interesting dimension of his images. To me his approach is reminiscent of the work by Yozo Hamaguchi in his book Color Mezzotints.
I’m getting tired of snow. And cold.
Heard my first cardinal of the year, at -13C
In today’s political environment we are blessed with leaders who are able to resolve some of the most complicated problems with simple ways out. The expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline is a case in point: kill the expansion, save the whales.
The first question is are the whales facing a problem? Fisheries and Oceans Canada reports the “Southern Resident Killer Whale population [that is the population affected by the expansion] has fluctuated between 70 and 99 individuals since 1976, and consisted of 76 members in 2017. Because of their declining population size and small number they are currently facing imminent threats to their survival and recovery.”  NOAA Fisheries has estimated the historical number of whales in this population at about 140 , so the current state represents nearly a 50% decline, which seems significant.
The second question is what is the cause of their decline?
The greatest threats to Resident Killer Whales are reduction in prey availability, contaminants, and acoustic and physical disturbance; ship strikes have also been recently identified as a threat. Exposure to toxic spills, interactions with fisheries and aquaculture, and climate change are other human-related threats that may negatively impact the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.
Natural factors may also impact the survival of these whales. These include: diseases, narrow prey selection, complex social structure, late sexual maturity and low birth rate, inbreeding, and mass stranding or natural entrapment.
“Prey availability” refers specifically to salmon, which makes up about 97% of the whales’ diet, that has suffered significant declines as well . Washington State has taken action to increase the stocks by removing dams along rivers feeding into the whales’ habitat and expanding fish hatcheries . Contaminants, such as raw sewage from Victoria, have impact, as well as the noise of existing ship traffic. Having vessels slow to 11 knots has reduced noise significantly, by 6 to 11 decibels .
Two points might be drawn. First, the decline in the whale population pre-exists expansion. Second, steps underway offer hope to address some of these problems, at least in part.
Is this increase in traffic material with respect to the survival of the whales? This is unclear, however, implementing the expansion could make the things worse. As noted by the Globe and Mail “The Trans Mountain project and expanded capacity would mean a seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers coming and going.”  While this appears dramatic, the increase in absolute numbers is from 4 to 28 vessels per month, within an overall traffic pattern of 250 vessels per month.
Assuming the goal is to protect the whales, two questions remain:
Can solutions currently being put in place resolve the challenges facing the Killer Whale population?
Is traffic reduction necessary, and if so which should be cut?
Given that the decline in the whale population is independent of expansion, steps currently in place, and/or those considered, need to continue.
The answer to the second question is in part contingent on the success of the first. But let us assume that at minimum traffic volumes need to be stabilized at current levels. Allowing tanker traffic implies offsetting this increase in traffic with reductions elsewhere. For example, statistics from the Port of Vancouver report cruise ships account for 240 vessels per year in 2017 , which is a reasonably close offset to the 336 vessels per year that would be added by the Trans-Mountain Expansion.
Oil exports offer material economic benefits, so it might make more sense to measure the risk-reward of tanker traffic against other traffic, cutting that of lesser quality until balance is achieved.
Shinzo Maeda (1922 - 1998) was a Japanese photographer known for his landscapes images. The poet Kenkichi Kusumoto introduces the book and the photographer by stating:
I am a poet not a photographer, but I feel that photography and haiku have the same origins, and I am deeply touched by each of the photos of the four seasons in this book; it is as if every photo is a single haiku, a complete and substantial work of art.
My tendency is to look at a work as a whole, with each image as a word or sentence of the narrative. This of course shifts the pressure away from finding that perfect image — the decisive moment — towards the complete work itself. But this approach can lead to sloppiness and Maeda’s work reminds me of the importance of the individual image.
Kusumoto explains what he means by the haiku:
[the purpose] is to observe the subject, to scrutinize and feel it until we are able to penetrate to its true nature. When we do so we find truth is different than reality. The truth is not reality; it is instead, what we find when we break through the husk of external form and pierce the essence of a thing. To put it in another way, finding the truth means shaking up the reality that lies behind the actuality of the subject.
There is a lot to unpack in that quote, but in essence Kusumoto is saying you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is the essence of documentary photography and the challenge observed by Barthes and Berger.
Wikipedia offers another perspective on haiku that helped me understand its manifestation in the photograph, as the “juxtaposition of two images or ideas…” This insight resonates when going through Maeda’s photography; each image contains one or more juxtapositions of two things, such as: light and dark; focus and blur; colour and not; cold and warm; solid and liquid; smooth and rough, among many more opposites. This conceptual form of composition annotates the usual physical relationships found in western composition theory. As such, it creates another dimension of contrast between physical and concept; may be a means to connect a physical thing with meaning or the relationship between husk and essence.
Each photograph in the collection is beautiful, and while beauty in the documentary style is often rejected as it is thought to detract from the substance of the work, Robert Adams submits in Art Can Help, “Beauty implies hope.” I like hope.
Presented square, shot in black and white, the physicality of the photographs engender a sense of the past. Although most of the photographs are from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, they have a feel from 1960’s; a sense of that period’s naïveté, but also the presumption, entitlement, and hope are seen in the eyes some; resignation, despair and fear in others. Symbols of times gone by: an old indian head coin, a KKK pin, a confederate uniform, suggest causes.
This photographic essay conveys contrasts that existed in our society 30 to 50 years ago: rich and poor; gay and straight; powerful and weak; blacks and whites. These were the many different realities present in our society. Many of these groups were marginalized. Publishing these photographs today returns these stories into the present. They remind us of the segregations in its different forms. It informs us that the divisions and tensions we witness today have been around a long time.
The images had me recall the those from “Gone with the Wind”. An 80-year-old film presenting events from 150 years ago. A plantation-owner’s view of the time, and what was lost, the culture and privilege that was ‘gone’. A departure often leaves a sense of sadness, but for whom? Not those who were marginalized. Afro-Americans departed or were forcibly removed from their positions of slavery and servitude to one of freedom, but were they any better off? With freedom comes opportunity, position, independence. Yet, a 150 years later the master-slave relationship lingers evidenced by police shootings of young black men, and their higher incarceration rates.
As a metaphor, Solomon’s photograph of the broken gate of a driveway that leads through an unkempt garden towards a well-kept plantation mansion, suggests that the master-slave relationship might be less visible than it once was, but the attitudes remains in good order. The plantation home, as a representation of white supremacy over black slavery, suggests the strength and resilience of that culture.
The photographic essay is followed by one of words, written by photographer and writer Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa. It was only after reading these words that I came to fully appreciate the narrative of Solomon’s photography. “So I am bound up in a movement between the grand obsolescence of the antebellum slave plantation, and an amnesiac’s escape to freedom …” While there may have been improvement in the lot of the former slaves, the end of the path is still not reached. But the quote refers to amnesia, forgetting those horrors of the past, suggesting forgetting offers a path to free our conscience.
The question, the problem in fact, is how to draw a line that encompasses both ourselves and these histories [slavery, brutality, lynchings, commercialism…] and yet seeks to claim them in the morbid light that they cast on us all in this place, as inheritors of a dream whose radiance is buttressed by so much blood that the telling of it sickens, withers flesh, prompts an instinctual aversion of the eyes? What is it to want this, if this is America?
“This is not my America” was said by one critic of Frank’s The Americans. The same has been said more recently by many political leaders and movie stars in response to racially motivated actions, such as Charlottesville. This is the third book I have read in recent months touching on the underprivileged, the left behind, marginalised, the racialised. Repeating narratives that bring into focus the decline of some class of people. I have wondered why this subject is the focus of so much attention? I wonder if it is being diluted and becoming a meaningless trope. I have come to consider these as individual responses to a national problem; to a trauma being experienced by a nation. The memories need to be churned to make sense, to find a way of dealing with them, accepting them, and then resolving them. These three stories, each a different story but carrying the same meaning, are a form of acting out in an effort to deal with the trauma.
Regardless of all the denials, the fact is, these are a part of America. It is part of the American body, the American mind. It is embedded in the culture. That it is suppressed marks an unwilling to accept the truth. To ignore, then to forget, to make it go away.
This book presents us with the ultimatum: how do we deal with an uncomfortable past. The United States is not the only country to have a past containing regrettable events. Most, probably all, countries have something.
The first step is to see the event. It is incumbent on us to remember, to learn, to avoid, to prevent. Remembering is not simply desirable, it is the only ethical response, because to willingly forget is to accept its return.
The combination of images and text is stunning; the images add dimension to the text; emotion, feel, it is guttural, visceral.
A warm, gentle breeze drifts through the open-air lobby of the resort, carrying with it the muffled chatter of those sitting around the bar. The sedative effect is complemented by a cool, refreshing drink, proffered with a smile by staff as we check in. The drink helps cool the nerves, ease the mind of the stress of travel, customs, security, timelines and schedules. It is sweet, not bitter. The colour is bright, not dull. It is the first sip, the first tangible expression of the dreamscape. This service is more than a simple transaction, it is pleasurable, memorable; it is an experience. As authors Pine and Gilmore note in their book The Experience Economy, “In a post-Fordist economy businesses need to think of themselves as ‘theatres’ with their staff as performing artists in order to engage with consumers.”
Uncommon in my daily life, the drink is something that separates this from my regular place. It is a marker, this drink becomes an ingredient in the definition of this place, this region, the Caribbean.
The role of a daiquiri seems too superficial to be a cultural marker. Yet while it may defy any deeper meaning it draw significance from its role in the entry process. It starts to lay out what is different about this place, what is attractive to the tourist. It is an element of the local identity. For the semiotician, it is a sign of the place; something that signals we are at a resort, in an exotic location ...
There are stay-cations, where the tourist stays at home. While I don’t intend to discount the value of these, they are not my immediate concern. I am interested at this time in leisure travel; one that involves a change in place. Put another way, change of place is a means to achieve differentiation. Differentiation stimulates interest, then engagement, a deeper observation of our surroundings. Changing our location takes us out of our routine surroundings that we move through each day often on automatic pilot without looking as we have seen everything already, a hundred time before. In a new place much is novel and in this it is engaging, elevating excitement, and adrenaline. There are mental and physical responses.
Differentiation allows us to interrogate our normal. We contrast what we see in the place we visit against our normal place and by seeing the differences we have an opportunity to see our normal in a new light and maybe learn something about it, draw an insight. As authors John Urry and Jonas Larsen observe in their book The Tourist Gaze 3.0, “… tourism is significant in its ability to reveal aspects of normal practices which might otherwise remain opaque.” (p.3)
Thus, the first step is the departure that carries us away physically and mentally.
Departure from Toronto
In the book Qualitative Research in Tourism : Ontologies, Epistemologies and Methodologies, edited by Lisa Goodson, and Jenny Phillimore, author Barbara Humberstone notes that “…tourism studies are about the relationship between the visitor, the Other (host) and the locale …” (p.120). This begs the question what makes for a good relationship? Developing Humberstone’s thought further, transactional elements of the relationship emerge: expectations or wants (by the visitor), offerings (by the host), and context or culture (provided by the locale). Modelled in more mathematical terms, a visitor’s wants are serviced by some proportion of offerings of the hosts and the context of the locale. Presumably, goodness of a relationship is measured by success in satisfying the visitor’s wants.
This model offers a point of departure to develop and organize my thoughts on the workings of tourism. As a first step, I apply the model to a recent trip, beginning the process of validation and refinement.
In this experiment, the trip falls into the category of leisure travel; reseting one’s context of place and routine to escape the shackles of daily life, delivering us from routine into an alternative state (the offerings in context) that enables relaxation (the wants). Or so goes my theory.
Applying the model, I recognised the subjectivity of wants, their malleability, and that there was some sort of negotiation among the model’s elements. That is adjustments in the offering and context determine which wants could be served and how well. Conversely, the search for “good” wants would determine the configuration of the offering and context. This lead me to think of the relationship as less an algebraic one and one more algorithmic, by which I mean, the focus is less about the equivalence between wants and offerings + context and more of an optimization calculation (and here I have in mind Runge-Kutta Fourth Normal Form where the parameters vary, generating a landscape of wants, and it is from this landscape a choice is made, possibly determined by economics).
If, as suggested above, the primary want of leisure-travel is relaxation, realising goodness, while a subjective assessment, comes down to an optimization process minimising tension and maximising harmony.
A frequent first step in leisure-travel is to change context (locale) as in getting away from it all. In this test case the context was changed from a cold, wintery Canada, to a resort hotel on a small island in the Caribbean. The offerings are provided by the resort, the local businesses (tour operators, restaurants, shopping, etc.) and the character of the island. All were presumably arranged for the visitor, to reduce “hassle” and maximise enjoyment. Over the years, these arrangements have become more and more sophisticated, tuned by market demand, resulting in the design and development of destinations that optimise the parameters in such a way that the place is both attractive and economically viable.
In their book, The Tourist Gaze 3.0, authors John Urry and Jonas Larson build on Boorstin’s analysis of ‘pseudo-events’:
… mass tourists travel in guided groups and find pleasure in inauthentic contrived attractions, gullibly enjoying ‘pseudo-events’ and disregarding the ‘real’ world outside. As a result tourist entrepreneurs and the indigenous populations are induced to produce ever more extravagant displays for gullible observers who are thereby further removed from local people.
The Tourist Gaze (p. 7-8)
This leads me to define the dreamscape as that type of place optimizing context and offerings towards a visitor’s wants. While such places may exist in nature, many are created and thus the refined notion of the Manufactured Dreamscape. A place that has been designed, tuned, managed and built to purpose. There are as many of these as there are dreams, and wallets. Yet we should not condemn too quickly these manufacture dreamscapes. In his article Staged authenticity: arrangements of social space in tourist settings published in American Sociological Review, 79 (1973), MacCannel, using the term ‘staged authenticity’ suggests that such places are both a means of generating value as well as protecting the lives of the host people.
Climbing the stairs, we enter into the resort and leave behind our daily life, and weather, entering a space manufactured to create distance from our normal reality. In a curious way, the purpose of the dreamscape architecture is similar to the purpose of sacred architecture (to define a space that conveys the glory of God and the magnificence of Heaven on earth). Something to look forward to.