The Tourist

touristDipping into Dean MacCannell’s “The Tourist, a New Theory of the Leisure Class” this afternoon, I came across this passage, marked by me these many moons ago, a thin blue vertical ink line in the left hand margin:

‘Experience’ is the basic term in the rhetoric of modernity. That touristic experiences fall short of ‘understanding’ (in the Weberian sense) is well-known. We do not, however, know the reasons why touristic experiences turn out to be so shallow. Common sense places the blame on the tourist mentality, but this is not technically correct. The tourist’s inability to understand what he sees is the product of the structural arrangement that sets him into a touristic relationship with a social object, in this case, work.

Upon reading this passage again, many years having passed under the bridge, I think of the amazing George Saunders, whose short stories are essentially about people whose jobs require them to fake authenticity, people who work in vast theme parks and government bureaucracies and pretend for tourists and/or customers, because that is their job.

How many of us work in the same line, really, pretending to be friendly beyond the bounds of normal reality, to keep the customer satisfied, because the customer is always right? Undergoing weekly, monthly, yearly evaluations to measure our efficacy? Going above and beyond to keep the customer satisfied, not just in a business sort of way, but also in a phony host/guest touristic sort of way, so that when you go in your bank they have cookies and cake and ice cream and pumpkins in the fall for you because, you see, you are just like family to us, or at least guests, so this is a small token of our appreciation for your business, because I guarantee you, at the other bank it’s the same, but there’s just balloons for the kids. So we see, really, that Saunders writes for us, and Saunders understands the touristic relationship to have extended into all of American work culture.

But read MacCannell.


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