Monday, February 27, 2006

Cruising to Hyperreality

Now that I'm off Cruise Ship X, there are a few elements of boat life I think are worth reflecting on and sharing with you. I'll spare you the day to day crap, though if you really want it feel free to e-mail. There were a few trends that got me thinking, and that's much more interesting to me right now. Particularly, I'm still digesting the experience of living on a ship with people from almost 60 countries, under foriegn law, but in a painfully American paradigm plays out. Every day is a very personal lesson in globalization.

In Umberto Eco's "Travels in Hyperreality", one of the seminal writings on postmodernism, he goes on at length about the title term, a phenomenon where people are creating experiences designed to be "even better than the real thing", as a teacher of mine put it. More and more elaborate wax museums, historical castles that never existed in the first place, more and bigger Disneylands, etc. This kind of post-modernism has had a profound artistic and cultural impact, which I don't feel qualified to talk about but...

The places I visited on Cruise Ship X- especially ports in Mexico and Jamaica- were no doubt tourist traps, with a lot of show of "native culture" with a dubious link to the reality of native life. Is that a show for the gringos, or a paradigm shift? For instance, spend time in the tourist towns of Jamaica, and it becomes clear that they are responding to, or even creating, an experience for tourists based on what the tourists think Jamaica should be. So tourists come looking for a "real" Jamaican experience, lots of beads and "ya mon" (and yes, pot), and the Jamaicans create experiences that meets the tourists' idea of Jamaica, which may or may not have much to do with the historical, cultural or political reality of the place. While at the same time, the trappings of American culture (or imperialism, depending on your perspective)- KFC, Wal-Mart, etc- become more and more a part of the daily equation of native life. (Just outside downtown Playa del Carmen is one of the biggest Sam's Clubs I've ever seen) And if you live in that hyperreality, it becomes real- the culture is subtly or overtly transformed into that hyperreality you're ostensibly creating for the tourists. And slowly these places becomes just another outpost of McWorld.

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