“Extreme Ethno-tourism”

You’ve spent 10,000 years getting there. It’s not pretty but it’s yours–the swamp, the forest, the tree house where you live. Bigger and stronger tribes drove you down from the better land higher up the slopes, so you retreated to a godforsaken place thick with reptiles, insects, and malarial encephalitis. Southern Papua’s rain forests are hell; but at least you feel safe and alone.

Then Zurück in die Steinzeit comes along–a party of Germans looking for tourism’s outer edge, an unknown and uncontacted tribe, a forest fastness to outfast any other. They have their cameras ready and this is what they’ve come for (Zurück in die Steinzeit means Back to the Stone Age)–stark naked little guys with bows and arrows and funny-looking penis sheaths and living in trees. They’re up there on a kind of platform gesticulating: even at $8000 a seat this show is worth the price.

It seems that everywhere today people spend lots of time staring at other people. In some Third World villages they do it because time hangs heavy on their hands. In First World cities they do it because time hangs heavier–the rich, who read less and play more and suffer a surfeit of channels as well as food, are often bored out of their minds. So the bolder of them go on tour to the ends of the earth where “extreme ethno-tourism” can be enjoyed by venturing into the last strongholds of tribal man.
. . .
How come the little brown tree-dwellers have come to be considered as suitable objects for staring at as if they were architectural ruins like Greek temples, or geological oddities like Monument Valley? In other words, as exotic extras on the global stage of commercially theatricalised tourist spectacle?
. . .
What the entire “first contact” tourist operation provides is yet another illustration of our insatiable need for theatricalized versions of life to take us out of ourselves, and the commercialization of exotic “experiences” for harried urban escapists willing to pay for their pleasures in Bangkok or beyond. In brief, we demand the world as spectacle, life as theatre, existence as exhibition–with more and more people staring at more and more people, directly as live tourists or indirectly through a thousand screens, while voyeurismo takes over the world.

Voyeurismo,” a review of Lawrence Osborne’s “The Naked Tourist,” by Roger Sandall, the culture cult, February 2007
hat tip ALD

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