Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Praise of the Tourist Trap

Recently a Facebook pal (Michael Hirsch) shared Jeffrey Tucker's blogpost entitled "In Praise of the Tourist Trap." This is one of those essays that grabbed me from the start. I found myself notating phrases from each paragraph until I realized that I must share the whole thing.

Tucker's essay, as the title indicates, recommends that critics of the built environment complain a little less about the ersatz nature of modern places and focus a little more on the pleasures they offer. We may all be tourists in our own worlds, and the fauxcales we inhabit may indeed be fake. Yet we suffer a myopic loss when we fail to account for the momentary smiles they inspire. Thus:
"In the airport, you can stand in one spot and choose to walk twenty feet in any direction and find yourself in a Spanish or Thai restaurant, or grab a book from a literary looking place, or have a Starbucks, or eat a decadent cinnamon roll, or pretend to be on Savile Row at a high end men’s store, or perhaps get a massage or toss down a martini or two, trying on the high life for as long as it lasts."
The alternative, Tucker proposes, is a kind of Bauhausian sterility reminiscent of a DMV office. From this perspective the divide sets bureaucratic functionalism against corporate boosterism. Yet more importantly, the debate calls to mind a question of authenticity.

We presume some value to experiencing things "as they really are" - but what precisely does that mean? Just because a cheesy Texas 10-gallon hat found at a DFW gift shop might force an embarrassed grimace, must we therefore conclude that this ephemeral piece of consumable culture is necessarily less meaningful than a memento earned through some supposedly more authentic encounter with culture? Does dust make it real? Sweat? Pain?

Perhaps the definition of authenticity resides in discursive construction rather than ontological meaning. Put more directly, authenticity might just be a matter of taste.

Read Tucker's post: In Praise of the Tourist Trap

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