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make a bullet point notes on the key arguents in the” Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’Ecotourist dialogues and the politics of global resistance”, do it in MLA format, and i will attatch the reading as pdf

Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’
Ecotourist dialogues and the
politics of global resistance
1996 saw the global success of The Beach, a novel by Alex Garland that has been translated into 25 languages and sold millions ofcopies around the world (Gluckman 1999c). A decade later we may claim that the book has become a contemporary classic. It did not come as a surprise that in the second halfof the 1990s Hollywood expressed an interest in adapting the story for global cinematic consumption. The core narrative encompassed the trajectory of travel experience, the pain of unrequited love and the horrors of social dysfunction -fantastic scenarios in a powerful combination that would normally appeal to movie viewers. The finished product, however, did nor enthuse audiences, because it failed to live up to the magical story that Garland had contrived. The manipulation of the novel’s plot was received by many viewers as a manifestation of Hollywood’s cultural imperialism: in the film the protagonist, a British backpacker, was turned into an American who is looking for adventure in an exotic land. Such revisions were deemed to be addressed exclusively to American viewers and offended the sensibilities of Garland’s fans. The diversity of responses that were registered online by audiences form a wealth of material for this study. Central to reviewer comments were questions thar modern travellers often ask: how is it possible to gain an authentic experience from and through travel? When is an inner, spiritual, journey ‘authentic’ and how is it complemented by corporeal travel?
Although the film deviated from the novel, it still followed the original narrative in brush strokes. Richard, a young American traveller, decides to visi t Thailand to escape the monotonous and repetitive life of his homeland. In Bangkok he meets Mr Daffy, a drug addict who speaks of a spectacular beach hidden away from the eyes of Western tourists. The idea of visiting an unspoilt paradise lures Richard, now equipped with Mr Daffy’s map, to search for this legendary place. Together with two young French travellers, Etienne and Francoise, they trace the island of ‘the beach’. There, behind a marijuana plantation maintained by Thai
28 Pitjal]: ofthe ‘tourist gaze’
drug dealers, they find a self-sufficient community of Westerners who live on the island, but the joy of arriving at their destination and joining the group will soon be replaced by disillusion and terror, Nothing is as it seems. While a series of mishaps lead to the collapse of communal solidarity, Richard’s sanity is in danger and the dream of inhabiting an earthly Eden falls apart. When sharks attack two members of the group, the group leader refuses to allow their transportation to the city, fearing that the secret of their island will be disclosed. This decision affects community morale and brews conflict and resentment among its members. Richard, who had shared the map with two fellow backpackers, watches them being murdered by Thai plantation guards when they track the island down. Finally, the drug dealers turn against the community and demand its departure so that they can be rid of foreign intrusion and further trouble from newcomers. The survivors of the ensuing tragedy find their way back to the civilized world, bearing with them the scars of memory for the rest ottheir lives,
If the cold reception of the film was unexpected, the film’s impact on Thai tourism was not. The island that figures in The Beach (Phi Phi Leh, Maya Bay) eventually became a popular tourist destination for Leonardo DiCaprio (the cinematic Richard) fans and for deluded travellers who sought to reproduce his cinematic adventure by visiting the island. Moreover, The Beach assisred in the promotion of tourism in the Phuker region by international holiday providers, especially those who maintain websites. It must be noted that Garland’s story itselfwas intended more as a satire of backpack travel (see Wall StreetJournal, 1999; Gluckman 1999c) and counter-cultural tourism, an alternative type of tourism that emerged in the later part of the 1960s and the 1970s (Cohen 1988b). Counter-cultural tourism was popular among the hippie communities and involved long-term visits to underdeveloped Asian countries for spiritual betterment and experiential authenticity. Many such countries were consequently added to the itineraries of backpackers, for whom travel was more a way of living and a shared value (Schwartz (991) than a brief break from work. It has been argued that backpack travel to Asia and beyond differs from conventional tourism in that its disciples operate outside the structures of organized tourism: even if they have a list of desired destination visits in their diary, they do not follow an organized programme decided in advance (Feifer 1986: 2). More controversially, it has been argued that travellers always express an interest in the values, customs and ideas of the host culture, although they never manage to ‘live like the locals’ (Westerhausen 2002: 6). However, as some viewers observed, the cinematic adaptation of Garland’s novel had a more ambiguous agenda, because it promoted a confusion of backpack travel with tll, implicit conner
This implici global sign ind packaged and travellers. Thes film and the ve Century Fox, a authorities, Fa: did not fit the an area protecte locally, nations viewers. Under plere the produ on a publicity c Both director] published onli:
In this chapt response and di invited film vii the film. Cyber activism ‘on 10 environmental political agend could be said tI in the field of 5 that a change nature of the n websires, rife ~ global, nation stabiliry’ (Ger activists need« claim that the wars. Intormar munities that Subsequently, mirrored in rh culturally ern]: The main bur, campalgnlOg 0 Internet to can and Ward 199~
/esrerners who on and joining Nothing is as of communal .inhabiting an s of the group, he city, fearing ecision affects nt among Its w backpackers, Then they track he community 1 intrusion and isuing tragedy em the scars of
lrn’s impact on b(Phi Phi Leh, .n for Leonardo travellers who ng the island. •in the Phuket :who maintain intended more 99; Gluckman oftourism that :=ohen 1988b). ~ communities 1 countries for such countries .ers, for whom =hwartz 1991) kpack travel to rat its disciples .n if they have not follow an
2). More conress an interest although they ~: 6). However, and’s novel had on of backpack
Pitfalls 0/the ‘tourist gaze’ 29
travel with the pleasures of conventional tourism, uncovering their implicit connections.
This irnplicit cross-reference of travel and tourism was exploited by global sign industries for the establishment ofa tourist site that was also packaged and presented as a destination for prospective alternative travellers. These developments were shadowed by a controversy over the film and the very presence of the Hollywood production company, 20th Century Fox, on the island. After achieving an agreement with the Thai authorities, Fox decided to ‘modify’ the natural backdrops because they did not fit the fantasy of a tropical idyll. These blatant interventions in an area protected by environmental laws generated a great deal ofreaction locally, nationally and globally, and angered environmentally friendly viewers. Under pressure to retain ‘high consumer satisfaction’ and complete the production process that stumbled upon protests, Fox embarked on a publicity campaign to counter accusations of ecological destruction. Both director Danny Boyle and DiCaprio were involved in interviews, published online, in an attempt to turn the tide in their favour.
In this chapter I am going to follow the controversy and Hollywood’s response and discuss the development ofcyberacrivist communities that invited film viewers and other fellow activists to partake in boycotting the film. Cyber-acrivism, I claim, contributed to the organization ofactual activism ‘on location’, because it enabled local and other international environmental pressure groups to identify a cause and present a coherent political agenda that then made its way back to online publications. It could be said that The Beach online wars exemplify recent developments in the field of social movements, but I do not want to support the idea that a change in the medium of communication radically altered the nature of the movements, only that it multiplied their appeal. Activist websites, rife with publicly available material on the episodes, provided global, national and local environmental groups with a ‘marker of stability’ (Germann Moltz 2004: 171), a symbolic home which the activists needed to counterbalance Fox’s publicity campaigns. I will not claim that the Internet ‘materialized’ the activist groups of The Beach wars. Information networks linked up already established activist communities that meet regularly on a geographical basis (Lax 2004: 225). Subsequently, the ‘network’ nature of actual activist communities was mirrored in their use of the Internet, which has ‘technologically and culturally embedded properties of inreractiviry’ (Castells 1996: 358). The main burden of this campaign was shouldered by international campaigning organizations such as Greenpeace that cusrornarily use the Internet to complement their existing organizational structures (Gibson and Ward] 999). Another question that follows from these developments
30 Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’
is how pivotal were external activist initiatives (on and offline) for the local Thai cause. To answer this I will examine the anti-statist nature of Thai environmental movements and the responses of state agents to local reactions. Following Utry (2003) I atgue that The Bead]protests activated a process of ‘glocalization’ (2003: 85) that drew the Phi Phi island communities into global tensions and flows of ideas, sustaining a phenomenal relationship of solidariry and interdependence between foreign and domestic activist cultures (Melucci 1996: 1i3).
Authenticity, c:ommunitas and travel
Tourism activates a spatiotemporal segregation from organized work (Urry 1990: 2-3), because the routines that define our everyday lives grind to a halt and we live in suspended time. Taking time off work’ to travel is, after all, often associated with seeing new, non-ordinary places and cultures (Urry 1992; Chaney 2002). At the same time travel, just like leisure literature, performs a compensatory function, providing the individual with the opportunity to avoid standardized practices and lifestyles <Burch 1969). The Beachnarrates a story that follows this logic, because it takes as its starting point Richard’s decision to escape his depressing life in America in favour of adventure. His first experience of Bangkok is rather frustrating. The camera here replaces the traveller’s pen, capturing a dazzling array of city images including clubbing, traffic congestion, drug dealing and sex trade that despair and confuse the young Richard, who was looking for something different. This produces a spectacular sequence of ‘tourist glances’ (Urry 2001: 4), equating mobility of vision with travel. Richard’s true ‘escape’ begins when he takes possession ofMr Daffy’s map and departs on a quest for authenticity. The authenticity that the film promises is double: on the one hand travelling invites Richard to explore difference and test the limits of his knowledge. This he eventually achieves by joining the small international community of ‘the beach’. This type of authenticity partakes in the project of self-fulfillment and emotional transformation -what Wang has termed ‘{a preoccupation] with an existentialstateof Beiny,’ (1999: ) 59, emphasis in the text). At the same time the film engages the viewer with the ‘object’ oftravel, the ‘paradise’ of the island, to use the viewers’ vocabulary. Although I concentrate on the first dimension, which received more attention in online reviews, I will not neglect the social construction of the toured object, which I discuss later in the chapter.
It is interesting that in film reviews experiential authenticity was translated into an engagement with yourh culture. ‘The beaches, the bars, the snake blood, the dope, the parties’, a mixture ofRichard’s urban and communal expc ‘Many from New; on “The Great OE true for many Aust youth’ UMDB, 24 Another viewer call 30 September 200( between the Beach in Thailand’ (IMDB film as a documents location (see for exar travel is, of course, people. It marks the and self-sustained entering the realm foteign countries at also Bell 2002 l.
Flgllre 2.1 Richard w Source: 20th Century F
line) for the local .t nature of Thai agents to local rotests activated Phi island com19a phenomenal ~en foreign ancl
organized work r everyday lives :ime off work’ to i-ordinary places e travel, just like , providing the ed practices and )llows this logic, on to escape his .rst experience of es the traveller’s clubbing, traffic onfuse the younb’; This produces a l: 4), equating begins when he :for authenticity. in the one hand the limits of his tall international
partakes in the m-what Wang eing’ (1999: 359,
; the viewer with e viewers’ vocabch received more I construction of
.uthentiri ty was “he beaches, the ~Richard’surban
Pitfalls ofthe ‘tourist gaze’ 31
and communal experiences, belong to the performance ofyouth identity. ‘Many from New Zealand head off in their late teens/early twenties on “The Great OE” (Overseas Experience). The same is undoubtedly true for many Australians and Brits, if not so commonly for American youth’ (lMOB, 24 January 2002), says a viewer from New Zealand. Another viewer calls the film ‘a narcissistic youth fantasy’ (IMOB, USA, 30 September 2000) whereas an American found the ‘sharp contrasts between the Beach and the town … very true about young westerners in Thailand’ (lMOB, 20 December 2001). Young viewers even treated the film as a documentary worth seeing before catching a f1ib’;ht to an exotic location (see for example IMOB, California, 1 February 2004). Backpack travel is, of course, an established ritual in \X1estern societies for younb’; people. It marks the passage from adolescence to the world of independent and self-sustained b’;rown ups with professional occupations. Before entering the realm of work youths enjoy prolonged leisure by visiting foreign countries and familiarizing themselves with other cultures (see also Bell 2002).
Figure2.1 Richard wanders in the touristified streets of Bangkok. Source: 20th Century Fox/Phorotesr. ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.
32 Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’
Some reviewers discussed the community of the secret island as a subcultural enclave. Following Garland, a viewer is surprised to find out that ‘the paradise’ is ‘full of hippies’ and wonders whether this is an allusion to the ‘Vietnam era’ (IMDB, US, 5 December 2004). An Australian suggests that the film leaves behind ‘pop culture’ ‘for an alternative culture’ (IMDB, 20 August 20(1), and an American sees in the island community the model for a ‘pacifist, anarchist society’ (IMDB, 8 March 2004; see also San Francisco, California, 10 September 2(02). Travel is thus for viewers a rite ofPmJage (Van Gennep 19(6) that accompanies a process ofspiritual change. Rites of passage used to be performed in preindustrial societies in order to consolidate changing positions (marriage, puberty, change ofpolitical status) in the social order. They involved the ritual separation of the initiate (or the group) from the social, their existence in a stage of ‘in-betweenness’ (what Turner [l969} termed liminality) and finally their reaggregation to the social fabric as carriers of new identities. However, rites of passage also occur in postindustrial societies, especially in subcultural contexts. Their function is to establish boundaries between the inside (who belongs to the group) and the outside, securing the distinctive identity of the group. Victor Turner employed the term liminoid to describe these phenomena, differentiating them from the liminal, as they are ‘not obligatory ritualjs] [but} a playseparated-from-work’ (Turner 1974: 74). The liminoid phase is voluntary, unlike the liminal, which is prescribed from outside, the structural environment. Turner operationalized this concept in his examination of various subcultures, among them the hippies, who construct their own system ofbeliefs in opposition to given norms and values. Despite the fact that their liminoid state of being is not recognized or ‘classified’ by outsiders, such subcultures develop their own patterns of collective self recognition -what he termed COI1l11lUnitm.
These anthropological models can be mobilized in our understanding of reviewer comments. On an individual level, Richard’s journey to Thailand resembles a puberty rite. After his pilgrimage to the beach, he is an adult, alert to the dangers of transgression. At the same time the viewers recognize in the island group to which Richard belongs the antistructural element ofcommunitas that tourists enjoy while traveling. The dramatization of the story on a beach further stresses this: as Shields (1991) hasargued,the beachis the’locusofanassemblage of[…}behaviors and patternsofinteractionoutsidethe norms ofeverydaybehavior'(1991:75). I must stress here that for some viewers the comrnunitas of the island enclave does not belong to travel but to the tourist experience. Holiday time is free from everyday constraints and voluntarily spent in enjoyable ways (Wagner 1977; Jafari 1987). As we will see below, many viewers believe that all the” community (very c cinematic plot. Wl dance in pop rhytlu plantation. Divorcii context enables, in these ‘hippyish’ W. story, the young gn of tourist experienc
The scenes of lei: ceptions of hippy c discourses of the ~ discourse, present tal ism’ (Carrier 19′ as the place of diso It forms the voice 1 within the rigid st Thailand exists in brochure, an ernbo the secrets of the ( because of its pron hippy communes experiential touris because it promo and investment. 1 ‘tak[ing} a concent clever images ofrn Los Angeles, 7 Fe
10 October 2001) which film is reac Western desire for pressures of everyd authenticity. So, c through the film, mentation that p12 contrasts between I the beach bears w conformity promo to resist or invert t
The complaints full of’spoiled teen principles’ (IMDB
J as a subd out that n allusion mstralian lrernarive the island ,8 March . Travel is mpames a led in pre’marriage, volved the cial, their 1) termed as carriers industrial ) establish ,) and the :or Turner renriating ut] a playvoluntary, tural enviination of their own ite the fact ssified’ by lective self
ersranding iourney to ~ beach, he e time the ;s the antieling. The .lds(1991) iaviors and 1991: 75). the island
e. Holiday I enjoyable ny viewers
Pit/allJ of the ‘tourist gaze’ 33
believe that all the work-related activities and the division oflabour in the community (very central to Garland’s narrative), are written out of the cinematic plot. What is left is a group of young people on a beach who dance in pop rhythms while smoking marijuana that they stole from the plantation. Divorcing subcultural activities from their historical and social context enables, in Roland Barrhes’ terms (1993), the mythologization of these ‘hippyish’ Westerners, On the second order, mythical level of the story, the young group of the beach embodies the archetypal community of tourist experience.
The scenes of leisure bear a striking resemblance to stereotypical perceptions of hippy culture as decadent and apolitical, popular in foreign discourses of the West as the place of vice and lack of moral order. This discourse, present in some reviews, becomes the backlash of ‘occidenralisrn’ (Carrier 1995), a response to Western denigration of the Orient as the place ofdisorder, lack of civilization and immorality (Said 1978). It forms the voice that attacks tourist orientalizations of countries from within the rigid structures of Western discourse, On a structural level, Thailand exists in Western consumption practices only as a tourist brochure, an embodiment of hedonism and a promise for initiation into the secrets of the Orient. Young Western tourists often visit the place because of its promised sensual qualities; the country has been hosting hippy communes for decades. This transposition of Orientalism into experiential tourism complements its exposed political counterpart, because it promotes discursive fixities through emotional fixation and investment. The comments of viewers who praised the film for ‘takjing] a concentrated look at the misery of urbanity’, and ‘offering up clever images of mechanization, population, and capitalization’ (IMDB, Los Angeles, 7 February 200 I) and ‘antimaterialism’ (IMDB, USA, 10 October 2001) confirm that this project can influence the ways in which film is read. At the same time viewer comments uncover the Western desire for a rediscovery of the self away from the stresses and pressures of everyday life and function as a lamentation for the ‘loss’ of authenticity. So, despite their conformist nature, which is promoted through the film, these comments highlight the alienation and fragmentation that plagues modern societies. Online discussion of cultural contrasts between the urban environment of Bangkok and the serenity of the beach bears witness to a paradox: the very industry that produces conformity promotes the idea of the authentic Self as an ideal ‘that acts to resist or invert the dominant order’ (Wang 2000: 60),
The complaints of some other viewers that the island community is full of’spoiled teenagers’ with no social skills or ‘political convictions and principles’ (IMDB, 23 October 2003) echo these discourses of Western
34 Pitfalls 0/the ‘tourist gaze’
decline from which committed travellers want to escape, Here we move away from the notion of organized, package tourism, favoured by young clubbers, and enter the domain of travel as a form of’pilgrimage’ (Graburn 1977), an individual project of spiritual change that lost its religious connotations with the advent of rationalization (Bell 2002), This invites us to differentiate modern organized tourism from travel, an earlier form ofacculturation that found its expression in the grand tour (Urry 1990), Travel experience is transgressive and destabilizing, unlike organized tourism that operates as ‘a system for managing pleasure and keeping danger and destabilization at bay’ (Chard 1999: 208), Travel of course provided the economic and ideological framework for the development of tourism as an escape to peripheral and exotic countries (Brodsky-Porges 1981 ),
A brief history of travel and tourism in Asia supports the analytical distinction between them: in the late 1960s many young Westerners followed the ‘Hippie Trail’ to Asian countries in search of a different lifestyle. By the early 1970s this type of travel had acquired the character ofa youth culture, replacing the hippy endeavours of the previous decade. The new travellers would use means of transport that were safer than those of the previous generation, resembling in their exploits and travel styles the wealthy youths of the grand tour (Westerhausen 2002: 25): organized enough to avoid unpleasant surprises along the way, yet free from parental constraints and able to enjoy the ‘unknown’ (often with parental financial contribution). More importantly, the popularization of travel Bights during this decade consolidated the institution of a structured tourist system that by the 1980s had overtaken youth, drifter-style, travel. Although backpack travel survived these Western socioeconomic changes, conventional tourist visits to places like Thailand are the rule today. Historical changes in travel and tourism in Asia were registered in the film by viewers, because backpack travel and tourism still coexist in Western societies. Preferences to either vary: for some viewers travel is regarded as a rite that must be performed properly, without deviating from the protocol. For example, a viewer disliked the uncivilized attitude of the island group, exclaiming that ‘if this is what would happen in a paradise setting with so-called “civilized” people, I’ll take savage headhunting tribes any day’ (IMDB, USA, 25 July 20(0). Another explained triumphantly that ‘the best part of the film is the ending when all these pathetic, craven softies from civilization, who fancy themselves rugged individualists, get their final comeuppance’ (IMDB, USA, 30 September 2000). Conclusively, the absence of the trials and tribulations oftravel from the cinematic story was unacceptable for some viewers -mostly Americans. According to them, not unlike Adler’s ‘anchorite pilgri wilderness, Rich, debased socializai
This categories the constraints of because it compri travel. The film It as the island corm failure acquires tv commumty to m. involves the grip 1 leaders decide tha name of humariit of the communit that despite pron compared the sto tat ion of a novel group of youngstl savagery -a classi social solidarity cc that both films, state of nature (i.1 that accompany collective psyche’ moral message e disappearance of r situations’ (lMDE 18 February 200; Canada, 12 Febru
We could clair anomaly of the i addiction and the to the comments: ceases to be the UI not escape arrent] of the island begi of todays [Jie} so than a carefree rc argued,
Having gone You go ttavel
ere we move ed by young ge’ (Graburn its religious This invites l earlier form
(Urry 1990),
ce organized and keeping vel of course development odsky-Porges
.nalyticai dis\ Westerners of a different the character .viousdecade. ere safer than iirs and travel en 2002: 25): , way, yet free .i’ (often with mlarization of ion of a struc.drifter-style, .ocioeconomic .iland are the
in Asia were ·1 and tourism rary: for some med properly, er disliked the ‘if this is what ~d” people, I’ll ~5 July 2000). :he film is the ion, who fancy oance’ (IMDB, . the trials and xable for some unlike Adler’s
Pit/;I!IJ of the ‘tollrist gaze’ 35
‘anchorite pilgrim’ (1992), who looks for spirirual growth in the wilderness, Richard should have been educated through hardship, not debased socialization.
This categorical dislike for Richard’s and his friends’ liberation from the constraints of organized time and work deserves closer examination, because it comprises an extension of the debate on the liminoid phase of travel. The film left many viewers with a bitter taste ofdisappointment, as the island community fails to realize their desire for authenticity. The failure acquires rwo dimensions: the first one involves the inability ofthe community to master nature, as sharks devour its members. The second involves the grip that dissonance and hatred take on the group when their leaders decide that they cannot sacrifice the secret oftheir paradise in the name of humanitarian purposes (e.g. to save the shark-bitten members of the community by providing proper medical help). It is interesting that despite protestations from the makers of The Beach, many viewers compared the story with The Lord of the Flies (1990), a cinematic adaptation of a novel by William Golding. The Lord of tbe Flies follows a group of youngsters who, trapped on an island, begin ro degenerate into savagery -a classical exponent of the Hobbesian state of nature in which social solidarity collapses, A viewer confirmed the comparison, explaining that both films are stories about the way ‘people would behave in a state of nature (i.e. away from civilization and the political institutions that accompany it), and as such [they} reveal a great deal about our collective psyche’ (IMDB, UK, 9 August 2(03). For others, the movie’s moral message exposes ‘the dangers of separated communities, the disappearance of rules, regrets, the Iittle value human life has in extreme situations’ (IMDB, Oxford, UK, 14 April 2002; IMDB, Dublin, Ireland, 18 February 2002; IMDB, Anonymous, 18 May 2000; IMDB, Calgary, Canada, 12 February 2000; Amazon, Oxford, 28 November 2000).
We could claim that what disturbs these viewers is the liminoid anomaly of the island community: their lax mannerisms, their pot addiction and their disagreements. There is, however, another subtext to the comments: once they are settled in the island, the utopian beach ceases to be the unattainable and becomes more like home. This paradox did not escape attention and was recorded in some reviews, The community of the island begins to resemble more what a viewer calls ‘a microcosm of todays [.ric} society’ (IMDB, California, 12 February 2000) rather than a carefree touring of different places. As another viewer wittily argued,
Having gone travelling from my point ofview this film is utter drek. You go travelling for two reasons: 1) to go and see and do different
36 Pit/a/lf 0/ the ‘tourist gaze’
things 2) to go home again, Cos {Jic] you see, if you don’t go home then in fact you are NOT a traveller, You have stopped travelling. (IMDB, Cardiff, UK, 29 May 2001).
The viewer recognizes that travel involves change, and is incompatible with the stability that the protagonists of the film aspire to establish (Amazon, Berlin, 14 August 2005) -a complaint that travellers constantly voice against tourists (Westerhausen 2002: 57). Consequently, the antistructural element of Richard’s journey is quietly replaced by mere conventionality. The viewer implies that the film reproduces conventionality: the conformism of following orders by a more ‘experienced’ group leader is complemented by regular trips to the civilized world of holiday resorts to stock up on all the goods that cannot be provided by nature. The food is nicely cooked, yet nobody appears to do any cooking -a miracle that can only take place in the back regions of a regular restaurant (Coffman 1987). Last, but not least, the young community members seem to enjoy their time playing soccer, as if they had stepped our of their hotel in a tourist resort. As a viewer pointed our, the film
FiWm 2.] A relaxing break in Thailand: the island commune enjoys the crystalclear waters of ‘the heach’ while the food cooks itself.
Source’ 20th Century Fox/Photofest. ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.
‘failed to show iso beach resort’ (Am;
Isolated, these ( one point: the eXI an artificial [lavo cinematic interpre as a personal rransi standardized toun that ‘those of us wi assorted modern ar 2000). Another re its heroes are ‘un: (IMDB, Cobham, even more critical corners to escape I run away from [th 13 April 2000). ‘A and play in equal I to become a borin argued a sophistica critique comes froi average American Richard’s travel 01
standardized touri:
I guess if you how idyllic it responsibilitie most of us wo Most of us wo latest amenity
This viewer welcor involve fakery and
This could be n Adorno and Horkl only do modern cc dardized products ~ claim would not ( dardization. There background (the is]
m’t go home
I May 2001).
. to establish
itly, the anticed
by mere
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Vhad stepped
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ijoysthe crystalf.
Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’ 37
‘failed to show isolation’ at all because it looked ‘just like a normal tacky beach resort’ (Amazon, UK, 28 February 2001).
Isolated, these details are not so striking, yet they do converge upon one point: the experiential authenticity that the film itself markets has an artificial flavour. Another group of reviewers are so upset by the cinematic interpretation of the novel that they renounce the idea oftravel as a personal transition to a more authentic state ofexistence and welcome standardized tourist offers by commercial providers. A viewer explained that ‘those ofus who have long ago freely capitulated to the lure ofall our assorted modern amenities get the last laugh’ (IMDB, USA, 30 September 2000). Another remarked that there is ‘too much order’ in the story, as its heroes are ‘unable to give it up … to leave [their} comfort zone’ (IMDB, Cobham, England, 14 February 2000). An American viewer is even more critical, accusing ‘Westerners, who have gone to the remote corners to escape their own cultural imperialism … But [they} cannot run away from [themselves} or [their} culture’ (IMDB, California, USA, 13 April 2000). ‘As surely as human nature seems to require both projects and play in equal measure, life skewed toward recreation alone is bound to become a boring and unfulfilling existence’ (IMDB, 31 July 2000), argued a sophisticated viewer from Ohio. It is interesting that the harshest critique comes from the United States, despite Richard representing the average American traveller. Even non-American commentators value Richard’s travel only as a short-term commodified activity, welcoming standardized rourist offers that they enjoy every year. A viewer explained:
I guess if you are a student or a hippy then you would understand
how idyllic it would be to live in a small community with few
responsibilities and most of the day spent playing in the sun. But
most of us work and struggle from day to day to pay the bills …
Most of us would have the island developed wirh hotels and every
latest amenity for a 2 week break.
(lMDB, 3 July 2004)
This viewer welcomes tourist offers stripped ofany pretensions that they involve fakery and the staging of experience.
This could be regarded as the ultimate undesirable prediction that Adorno and Horkheimer (993) theorized over half a century ago: not only do modern consumers not resist cultural replicas, but when standardized products are not available they demand them. Such a pessimistic claim would not take into account active rejections of so much standardization. There was, for example, a lot of criticism of the cinematic background (the island and its location), which was deemed too contrived.
1t> Pit/ails oftbe ‘tourist gaze’
Someone from Vegas laughs at the fact that the island ‘seems to be … visible by binoculars from a tourist beach (come onl)’ (IMDB, 14 April 2(00), translating ’emotional accessibility’ into measurable distance. A viewer from Texas notes that ‘the community’s compound was reminiscent of a luxury resort, not a slacker hangout’ (IMDB, 4 August 2000). This is like a Club Med resort without room service’ (IMDB, USA, 30 September 2(01), exclaims a rather angry viewer. ‘I felr I was seeing a travelogue or a Club Med ad’ (lMDB, Canada, 10 October 2000), added someone from Montreal. Although rhis and the previous group of viewers’ commenes occupy rhe two ends of the critical spectrum, they both acknowledge that the film corresponds to tourist practices. The recognition that the film functions as a preliminary tourist experience is nor confined to the IMDB community of viewers, but extends to readings of the film by the creative actors of global sign industries, as the following discussion suggests.
The cryptocolonial condition: cinematic signs for the tourist gaze
Genealogically, the emergence of a Thai tourist industry can be situated in the early twentieth century. Akin to the grand tour ritual, travelling to Thailand was a Western elite activity that involved visits to cultural attractions, such as temples and palaces, and recording or photographing sites. English-speaking elites had acquired their own special travel guide to Bangkok published by the Siamese Royal State Railway Department, which provided a wealth of information on cultural sites (Peleggi 1996: 4″)4). The production of travel guides for unknown, peripheral, countries in Europe has a special place in the history of Western scientific knowledge (Graik 2000: 119). Recording, describing and domesticating unfamiliar places that international politics shunted outside the civilized world was a practice analogous to that employed by renowned (French or British) Orientalisrs, who complemented the actual colonization of the Orient with a symbolic subjection of its culture into scrutiny, cataloguing and scientific examination (Tzanelli 2003). The link is subtle, yet unmistakable: the non-European Thailand was becoming an exotic destination ready to be ‘tamed’ by the tourist gaze.
Thailand’s exoricizarion sarisfied political dilemmas. From the outser, the country occupied an atypical position in the Orientalist order, because it was regarded as a ‘buffer zone between the colonized lands and those as yet unearned’ (Herzfeld 20mb: 900-1). Thus, following the example of other semi-Oriental countries such as Greece, Thailand lived in a peculiar stage of non-recognirion from Western imperialist powers as
Figure.?3 Represer good SUI
Source: 20th Century
‘ms to be … )B, 14 April e distance. A rd was rernimgusI2(00). lMDB, USA, t I was seeing 2000), added IUp of viewers’ m, they both -s. The recog)erience is not to readings of the following
:an be situated :ual, travelling sits to cultural photographing ial travel guide Ly Department, (Peleggi 1996: heral, countries stern SCientific I domesticating ide the civilized vned (French or mization of the iny,cataloguing btle, yet unrnisotic destination
;rom the outset, st order, because lands and those ing the example iland lived in a .ialist powers as
PitfallJ of the ‘tourist gaze’ 39
Figure 2.3 Representing the virtual flaneur: Richard and Francoise getting a good suntan.
Source: 20th Century Fox/Phorofesr. (i)20rh Century Fox Film Corp.
40 Pi~fcdls of the ‘tourist gaze’
their equal. One ofthe major obstacles in this recognition was the alleged Siamese racial difference, which went against the European purist project, The country may have managed to escape the net ofWestern colonialism -indeed, it was the only one in the region to do so -but still strived to conform to the Western civilizing project in the same fashion that colonized countries did. Thai-Western relations were regulated by a form of cryptocolonialism (Herzfeld 2002b), whose predicament was destined to have long-term consequences for Thai identity, One ofthe major Thai dilemmas has been how to accommodate imported models ofprogress and civilization (ku’a1Jlpen araya prathet) to claim membership to the community of ‘superior races’ without compromising cultural difference,
The emergence ofThai tourism as a system oforganized leisure became complicit in the economics ofWestern cultural imperialism (Nash 1981: 467). Initially, it secured the dependency of the Thai economy upon Western capital, as most tourist-generating countries coincided with the metropolitan centres of global political and economic domination (see Nash 1977): Britain, France and later, the United States. As the Thai tourist industry evolved, tourist practices themselves began to contribute to the exoticization of a country whose sociopolitical institutions still negotiated a way out ofstructural underdevelopment, A milestone in the history of Thai tourism was the programme of economic development launched by Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat, who achieved the establishment of the Tourist Organization of Thailand in 1959; this was followed by infrasrrucrural changes that would assist in the accommodation oftourists (hotels, roads). Significantly, Sarit Thanarar’s civilizing project was encapsulated in his use ofthe term khwamsahat or cleanliness (Peleggi 1996: 434) -a neat correspondence between purity and order that followed the paradigm of Western Orientalist discourse.
Less than a decade later, in the context of the Vietnam War, Thailand received American economic aid that boosted the growth of its tourist sector, It was precisely over this period that Thailand’s tourist cryptocolonial status was consolidated. First, the establishment of American military bases led to the development ofnightclubs, bars and restaurants, and the expansion of sex trade to cater for soldiers’ demands and needs (Ryan 1991), Second, in the context ofhippy subcultural movements (an offspring ofAmerican sociopolitical problems), and later countercultural movements that dictated liberation from Western ideological practices, Thailand became an escape from the iron cage of Western progress. By the 1980s, the country was a major world tourist destination that bore the stigma of decadence, as it was strongly associated with gay communities, AIDS, and the promise of sexual pleasure (Craig-Smith and French 1994; Hall 1995). The Phuker region, in which The Beach was filmed, became interr replicated Western Ii
In this part ofthe ( cinematic transposit global sign industries survival ofsuch theme I look at the tourist 1= by the same viewer: hedonistic or mystica the country. Clearly, t the original expressio those who visit the long, history -and d to which the film allu coexistence in virtual
A general observat they do not really dis preoccupied with tlu absence reflects and is experience is told tI anthropological fasf encounters more tour ofhis spectrum are pi colony for tourists, at serviceofWestern cor urban havoc behind, f does not really inch Americanized Keaty another group of mal killing foreign intruc poli tical background drug trafficking and their plantation to M between colonizers a space in which peopl into contact with ea involving condirions conflict’ (Pratt 1992: background, as the 1= fire at Western intru. that of cinematic tec who traverses contin
1 was the alleged in purist project. tern colonialism It still strived to me fashion that ;ulated by a form .nt was destined If the major Thai Isofprogress and p to the comrnudifference. -d leisure became
ism (Nash 1981: i economy upon iincided with the domination (see ues. As the Thai gan to contribute institutions still L milestone in the nic development iieved the estab1 1959; this was in the accommoanarat’s civilizing thatot cleanliness
purity and order course. m War, Thailand wth of its tourist l’s tourist cryproaent of American :sand restaurants, :mands and needs ‘al movements (an ercountercultural ological practices, .tern progress. By tination that bore -dwith gay com(Craig-Smith and ich The Beach was
Pitfalls of the ‘touristgaze’ 41
filmed, became internationally famous for its hectic nightlife that simply replicated Western lifestyles in exotic surroundings.
In this part of the chapter I explore how The Beach turned out to be a cinematic transposition of past orientalist themes into the matrix of global sign industries. Further analysis of online reviews will expose the survival of such themes and practices in contemporary milieus. Thereafter, I look at the tourist promotion of Thailand in online sites, often quoted by the same viewers that I use in the chapter. I do not claim that hedonistic or mystical images of Thailand eliminated cultural tourism in the country. Clearly, there is a split in the history of Thai tourism between the original expression ofinterest in cultural sites -still present amongst those who visit the country to become familiar with its distinctive, long, history -and drug tourism and backpack travel, types of tourism to which the film alludes. The Beach generated the preconditions for their coexistence in virtual and actual tourist markets.
A general observation that one can make about online reviews is that they do not really discuss Thai culture: on the contrary, they are mostly preoccupied with the film’s commune and Richard’s adventures. This absence reflects and is reflected in Richard’s cinematic narration. Richard’s experience is told through the camera’s lens in a detached pseudoanthropological fashion: wandering in the streets of Bangkok, he encounters more tourists than locals; the locals that cross the threshold of his spectrum are pimps and druggies. Bangkok seems to be a Western colony for tourists, and the few Thais that walk its avenues do so in the service of Western consumer desires. Even when Richard finally leaves this urban havoc behind, he enters a white world, because the island commune does not really include non-white members, with the exception of Americanized Keaty (joseph Paterson). The Thais of the Island are yet another group of malicious creatures, who guard their plantation while killing foreign intruders. They are in fact the only hint to the harrowing political background -a feeble reference to Thailand’s involvemenr in drug trafficking and distribution for its Western guests. We can liken their plantation to Mary Pratt’s ‘contact zone’, the domain of interaction between colonizers and colonized. Contact zones are traditionally ‘the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict’ (Pratt j 992: 4). In the film, the promise of violence lurks in the background, as the plantation workers patrol their dominion ready to fire at Western intruders. But whose violence is superior here, theirs or that of cinematic technology? If Richard represents the global tourist, who traverses continents to reach the fantastic place of his innermost
42 Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’
desires, rhe natives of the story are the ugly savages of his teenage travel narrative: devoid of manners, mores and humanity, The so-called ‘international community’ of the island is a mirror for Western tourist imperialism: the message of the film is that yesterday’s guests are now the true natives. The domestication of the beach is complete and unquestionable,
Once emptied oflife, ‘Thailand’ is nothing more than a neutral plane, ready to be replenished with a plethora of new meanings. It is small wonder that some cinematic viewers of the film discussed so extensively ‘things Occidental’ -offshoots and representations of Richard’s experiential trek -and almost nothing ‘Thai’. Angry protestations that the story was ‘a racist dope’ (IMDB, Frankfurt, Germany, 14 April 2000) were isolated incidents. Auxiliary to this silence are hundreds of reviews that separate historical and social context from place. An anonymous viewer concludes that The Beach ‘could have been a silent film and the photography of Thailand’s pristine Maya Bay would have been enough to hold most viewers’ attention’ (IMDB, 26 March 2000). Others decide that ‘the beauty of the backdrops and settings’ is characterized by ‘sheer artistry’ (IMDB, Alberta, Canada,S November 20(1), implying that cinematic representations of Thailand may be the product of an overpolished lens, but they are still appealing. ‘Kudos to the cinematographer of this movie’ says another, on vacation in Thailand at the time OMDB, 11 April 200 I). ‘Ifyou like nature and paradise … pictures then rent or see this one’, suggests someone from Sweden OMDB, 15 October 2001). For others the camera was ‘brilliant’ (Amazon, Devon, 28 December 2(01), ‘specracular (Amazon, UK, 18 January 2(01) and ‘worth spending millions for a perfect result’ (IMDB, Vancouver, 12 August 20(0), as it advertised Thailand’s ‘incredible settings’ (Amazon, UK, 16 June 2004) in the best possible way, The cinematic and photographic lenses are identified by other viewers (Amazon, Brighton, L’) January 20(1), who find the film’s picture ‘outstanding’ (Amazon, UK, 6 September 200 I). I do not reject Mike Crang’s (1997) argument that visual experience of tourist settings involves a process of interpretation and must be considered in relation to the making ofsubjecrivities. However these film (re)viewers are more constrained than actual tourists, since they are trapped into the visual world of Hollywood. Their comments run against the grain of Crangs argument, suggesting that some viewers can be affected by externally produced ‘signs’.
The obsession with visual perfection betrays symmetry between literary narrative (Garland’s fictional travel account) and cinematic representation (its filming), and takes us back to the genealogy of European travel. When the wheels of ,progress’ set in motion the institutionalization ofWestern
scholarly knowledge, in travel books, and I: and, later, photograph scholarly interest in although the two ne’ admiration that viewe most recent developr rhe ‘safest way’ to obs. the bars’ (Crawshaw Panopticon. As a vie” pick up a camera and This is not to say th ‘antiseptic travel-bro. IMDB, Italy, 23 Augu 19 January 2(00), whi (IMDB, Wisconsin, I. advert for the Thada (Amazon, Middlesex,
Sporadic reactions ( this kind have becon of signs from film tr intermediary in the di: Some viewers were ins and go to Thailand in ! (IMDB, St Paul, MN, place. Others were ‘cc considered finding a be to the point, many vic vacation’ OMDB, Be. August 2000; IMDB, an illustration of the ‘Englishman living in
it convinced his girlfri not achieve although 6 February 200 I). N along the same lines Maya Bay. But before have a look at the ways industries.
It all started with rh is designed as a digit of Richard’s journey,
‘nage travel e so-called tern tourist are now the nd unquesutral
plane, It is small extensively lard’s expeons that the April 2000) Isof reviews anonymous 11m and the ieen enough rhers decide sedby ‘sheer lplying that t of an overmatographer ime (IMDB, ;then rent or tober 20(1). 8 December vorth spend.igusr 2000), JK, 16 June raphic lenses nuary 2001), 6 September
that visual ion and must owever these .ince they are ts run against -wers can be
tweenliterary epresentation travel. When in of Western
Pitfalls of the ‘touristgaze’ 4.)
scholarly knowledge, travel experience ceased to be recorded exclusively
in travel books, and began to find expression also in drawings, sketches
and, later, photography (Adler 1989; Pratt 1992: 201-7). At a later stage,
scholarly interest in the ‘other’ was separated from tourist adventure,
although the two never stopped interacting in cultural tourism. The
admiration that viewers expressed for the cinematic scenery is one of the
most recent developments of the phenomenon: cinematic tourism is
the ‘safest way’ to observe and survey sterilized otherness, caged ‘behind
the bars’ (Crawshaw and Urry 2000: 178) of Hollywood’s cinematic
Panopticon. As a viewer explained, ‘any idiot in that region would just pick up a camera and roll’ (lMDB, Toronto, Canada, 15 February 2000).
This is not to say that none felt that the film was characterized by
‘antiseptic travel-brochure prettiness’ (IMDB, Paris, 22 March 2000;
IMDB, Italy, 2::; August zoo», ‘pictures full of cliches’ (lMDB, Germany,
19January 2000), which ‘you can get … on the travel chanel {sic} tor free’
(lMDB, Wisconsin, 16 October 2002). ‘Maybe it is meant to be, but an
advert tor the Thailand Tourist Association it ain’t’, retotts a viewer
(Amazon, Middlesex, l.TK, 24 June 2002).
Sporadic reactions confirm rhat the use of cinematic technologies of
this kind have become an institution that promotes the circulation
of signs from film to tourist markets and back again. An essential
intermediary in the distriburion ofsigns is the cinematic audience itself.
Some viewers were inspired by the scenery and ‘wanted to sell {their} car
and go to Thailand in search ofan Island somewhere with white beaches’
(IMDB, Sr Paul, MN, 26 March 2000), disregarding the specificity of
place. Others were ‘consumed with rhe idea of a lost paradise … and
considered finding a beach ofItheir] own’ (US, 20 February 2(05). More
to the point, many viewers ‘saw the “Beach'” and planned their ‘dream
vacation’ (lMDB, Bellevue, WA, 12 August 2003; IMDB, UK, 26
August 2000; IMDB, Scotland, 2.) June 20(2). Others used the film as
an illustration of their past experience of Thailand. For example an
‘Englishman living in Spain’ explains that The Beacb ‘acted’ on his behalf:
it convinced his girlfriend that Thailand ‘is amazing’, something he did
not achieve although he lived for years in the country (Amazon, Spain,
6 February 20C)]). Needless to add that the Thai authori ties thought
along the same lines when they gave Fox permission to shoot the film in
Maya Bay. Bur before we examine the politics of The Beach we should
have a look at the ways in which the film was mobilized by the global sign
It all started with the online marketing of the film. The official website
is designed as a digital travel book with hyperlinks to different aspects
of Richard’s journey, one of which is a colourful gateway to his travel
44 Pit/ails oftbe ‘tourist gaze’
trajectory. This is accompanied by a subsection (‘Travelers’ Exchange’) in which hundreds of viewers discuss the utopian messages of the film, drawing on their own travel adventures, or inviting readers to visit Thailand and any other corner of the world that they like. The function of this gateway is double-layered: participants may be assuming it is the space offandom that they share, but when we peel off this layer, we come across a sign industry that is using them as promoters of the film or tourist resorts. Why else does the official website figure in most online tourist markets) The most remarkable aspect of the website is its main page, complete with an invitation to ‘enter the site, as a tourist or a traveler’ (Tbe Beach, 1999-2000). The text that accompanies this invitation is also suggestive:
The wonders of modern technology, like computers, video games,
cell phones, pagers and the Internet were designed to make our lives
more enjoyable and facilitate communications. Yet for many, the
complexity ofthe digital world is overwhelming, leading to a feeling
of unreality … of being disconnected.
The desire to find something real … is what drives Richard. , , a
young American backpacker who arrives in Thailand with adventure
on his mind. Travel, he asserts, is the search /01′ experience, the quest /01′
something different,
(ibid., emphasis in text)
The ‘invitation’ is built on a paradox: the hyperrealiry ofthe digital world that the site inhabits is classified as inauthentic -we can only be led to consider it a fabrication ofthe Hollywood machine for the virtual tourist eye. The text seems to deconstruct its own role, to deal a blow at the value ofits travel simulation. At a first consideration and in Baudrillard’s terms 0973, 1983), we can argue that The Beach is a reproduction of fiction (the novel), a simulacrum of the real travel. In the same way that film viewers denounced the stresses ofmodern life, the website denounces the technological age -a reference to Richard’s own words and actions at the beginning ofthe film. But while the text makes us aware ofthe ‘structural impossibility’ (Baudrillard 1998) to look for experiential authenticity, it celebrates the simulation of this quest in Richard’s cinematic journey. Hence, the very website that accuses technological progress of human alienation, proceed, to valorize its prctaices. The gallery of postcards from the ‘beach’ that the site hosts, constructs a place that exists only in the virtual t1aneur’s imagination. It is not the pictures themselves that count, but what they stand for in the phantasmagoric world ofconsumption: the fetishized object of the film, the alleged paradise.
This simulatory gan providers. Beaches in t and were marketed in because it is rnentionec Thaipro.com, a Thai se from the Phuket compl omitted that Koh Pha I’ island, Koh Samui, ins Thailand is everything the site claims. What fo. combined uitb images 0 images are almost ident Koh Pha Ngan is descr has just acquired a ‘boo: retreat’ for those seekin, to establish connections recognized in film revie More importantly, for rn by Marie-Therese Le Ro that we will not manage crowd the island ‘otour c tastes’. Surely, millions
Travel accounts that I website began to appea will analyse one that a travelogues from differe who ended up in Phi I colourful story. The tray tribe, and he is not Oil Unfortunately, he was G of The Beach and the n females’ who want to b: He has read every singh began to take shape in h had read Garland’s nov (look for ‘his own’ islan Thailand, he changed p
Why not live ‘The I untouched island, w ofThailand) Why r
change’) in fthe film, -rs to visit ie function ng it is the -r,we come nortourist line tourist main page, ~ a traveler’ arion is also
deo games, ke our lives ~ many, the to a feeling
.chard … a hadventure
the quest for
.asis in texr)
igital world ily be led to rtual tourist at the value llard’s terms .m of fiction ay that film .nounces the ctions at the ie ‘structural rhenticity, it aric journey. 55 of human stcards from s only in the -s that count, .irnption: the
Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’ 45
This sirnularory game found application in the websites of holiday providers. Beaches in the Phuket region appeared in different websites and were marketed in different ways. I will provide one example here, because it is mentioned in film reviews as an alternative to Phi Phi Leh. Thaipro.com, a Thai search engine, advertised the Koh Pha Ngan island from the Phuket complex as an upcoming holiday resort. It is, of course, omitted that Koh Pha Ngan has been a resort for a while and that its sister island, Koh Sarnui, inspired Garland to write his novel. ‘In the gulf of Thailand is everything you ever dreamed about for a faraway paradise’, the site claims. What follows is a long list ofIbiza-like, clubbing activities combined u.itb images of unspoilt beaches. Interestingly, some of these images are almost identical to those we find in the official movie website. Koh Pha Ngan is described as a ‘castaway secret of backpackers’, which has just acquired a ‘booming tourist industry” complete with ‘a Buddhist retreat’ for those seeking spiritual experience. The virtual advert leads us to establish connections between cinematic subcultural activities (already recognized in film reviews) and actual products for tourist consumption. More importantly, for marketing purposes the engine cites a travel account by Marie-Therese Le Roux, a replica ofRichard and Mr Daffy, who worries that we will not manage to ‘keep the story a secret’ and word ofmouth may crowd the island ‘ofour dreams’ with tourists who have expensive ‘imperial tastes’. Surely, millions of web surfers would never do such a thing.
Travel accounts that promote the ‘authentic stage’ ofthe film’s official website began to appear on the web during the filming of the movie. I will analyse one that appears on Wanderlust, a website that publishes travelogues from different parts ofthe world. A backpacker and reporter who ended up in Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Leh’s sister island, narrates a colourful story. The traveller is upset: he does not belong to the paparazzi tribe, and he is not DrCaprio’s fan; he ‘simply yearned for adventure’. Unfortunately, he was caught in the furore ofprotests againsr the filming of The Beach and the invasion of the island by ‘screaming pubescent females’ who want to have a close look at their teenage idol, DiCaprio. He has read every single tabloid on the politics of the film, and an idea began to take shape in his head: months before travelling to Thailand, he had read Garland’s novel and toyed with the idea of copying the plot (look for ‘his own’ island). Now that he found out what is going on in Thailand, he changed plans:
Why not live ‘The Beach’ in reverse? Instead of seeking our a secret,
untouched island, why not explore the most scrutinized island in all
of ThailandI Why not try washing ashore the movie set itself?
(Wanderlust Salon)
46 Pit/al/.r0/the’touris: gaze’
He soon finds out that his original paradise ‘expired years ago’ anyway, when urban Thailand was taken up by the ‘aliens’ of the West, This is where his reflexivi ty ends, and he passes in silence a rather important detail: once upon a time Westerners wanted to visit untarniliar lands in order to expand the borders of their knowledge, ‘Rolf Plotts’, as the narrator signs himself, may have started his journey on the same premise, but he ended up looking for the Thailand of Hollywood. Like other contemporary tourists, he only pursued the ‘stage’ that someone else invented for him.
On the global scene, one ofthe lasting consequences that The Beach has had was the promotion ofEdenic fantasies for those who can afford a truly unique experience: to rent, or even buy, their own island. Private Islands Online, the largest Internet directory of private islands for sale, hosts roday a long list of’Movies for the Island Enthusiast’ (see Private Islands Online). Among them is The Beach, with hyperlinks to the plot and the backgtound of the film. The story is surrounded by pictures of islands from different continents and seas available for purchase, The website erases the identity of these places, as their location is blinded by their visual radiance: what prospective buyers -or even virtual f1aneurs with no money to spare for such luxuries -consume is a postcard from Richard’s destination. The film has joined a global economy ofsigns that has no respect for, or interest in, cultural specificity. The website’s entrepreneurialism is echoed in the use of images that repeatedly appear in the travel prospectuses -green crystal clear lagoons and beaches full ofpalm trees in the middle of nowhere.
The visual rnarketization of the region has picked up over the last two years, with many international tourist providers using high angle shots of Phi Phi Leh’s famous beach on their websites. Discovery’Thailand.corn tor example, advertises the island, stating that these days Maya Bay, ‘the spor where the movie The Beach was filmed’ is a “rnust do” item in its own right’. The website encourages travellers and tourists to visit the region, explaining that regular boat ttips are run from Krabi to the islands. It also stresses that although Phi Phi Leh and Don are officially part of a national park no admission fee is charged for the tours. A standardized advertisement for visits to the islands has been reproduced in many other webs ires maintained by foreign tourist providers. Accompanied by lustrous photographs identical to the cinematic images of The Beach, the suggested itinerary includes Maya Bay, apparently ‘very busy in high season’ and ‘famous’ because of the film (see for example South Orchid, KrabiTourism.com and PhiPhi Phuker.com). Unpopulated, high angle shots of the islands reproduce the now familiar cinematic signs of The Beach, consolidating the appropriation of these ‘paradises’ by the commercial providi addressed to comrr Travelfish.org, an in includes similar phc However, most of tl these sister islands inspiration. The sp references.
As opposed to al Tourism Authority as ecotourisr destin; Phuker. This mode! government fought early 1999, the R Suraswadi cheerful] mercial tor the park ‘couldn’t buy better 1999; emphasis mir appropriation of a shadow of doubt th epicenrre had alreac 1990s. The second 5 in the domestic poli in Thailand. Lookin, initiative did not air the raxation on ‘torei as to ‘make Thailand et til. 2005: 167). AJ image by advertisin end up encouraging
Thai government w; foreign (especially country’s tourist irna a place which identi
‘We will fight the and Thai respon.
Films and their by-pi shape consumer derr triburion and genet; ‘the politics of the bi,
;0’ anyway, ‘est. This is , important iar lands in rtts’, as the .ne premise, Like other imeone else
“be Beach has lfforda truly ivate Islands r sale, hosts ivate Islands plot and the ‘es of islands The website ded by their Uneurs with istcard from ,ofsigns that -bsite’s entreappear in the s full of palm
r the last two h angle shots I’hailand.corn ,.faya Bay, ‘the :em in its own sirthe region, the islands. It ially part of a . standardized Ked in many Accompanied S of The Beach, ‘very busy in xarnple South opulated, high nematic signs radises’ by the
Pitfalls 0/ the ‘tourist gaze’ 47
commercial providers of the tourist gaze. Even when the websites are addressed to committed travellers, they rely on the same sign order. Traveltish.org, an independent backpacker’s guide to Indonesian islands, includes similar photographs of the region in its ‘Phi Phi Travel Guide’. However, most of the description and guidance offered does not involve these sister islands but hyperlinks to Koh Samui, Garland’s initial inspiration. The specificity of the region is erased from the electronic references.
As opposed to all these foreign tourist providers and guides, The Tourism Authority of Thailand website modestly promotes the islands as ecotourist destinations that belong to a region ‘less developed’ than Phuket. This modest advertising is a curious move, given that the Thai government fought a battle to legitimize Fox’s production project. In early 1999, the Royal Thai Forestry Director General Plodprasop Suraswadi cheerfully declared that the film has been ‘the perfect commercial for the park [the islands) and for Thailand’, claiming that they ‘couldn’t buy better publicity for a tourist destination’ (Wall StreetJournal 1999; emphasis mine) -an illuminating lapJuJ liny,uae that betrayed the appropriation of a national park in tourism structures. Beyond any shadow of doubt the formation of a global sign industry with a Thai epicenrre had already begun with the filming of the movie in the late 1990s. The second step that was taken in the same direction originated in the domestic political arena. In 2003, a Film Commission was formed in Thailand. Looking at its opening policy statements we realize that the initiative did not aim to prevent despoliation, but to support changes in the taxation on ‘foreign actors and corporate income-tax holidays’, as well as to ‘make Thailand Asia’s “film-making hub” via joint ventures’ (Miller et at. 2005: 167). Although this aimed to consolidate Thailand’s global image by advertising its ‘cultural distinctiveness’ through film, it may end up encouraging foreign labour flow (see also Sum 2003). In 1999 the Thai government was already happy to open wide the national gates to foreign (especially Hollywood) capital, as long as this boosted the country’s tourist image, but as we will see below, Fox was to tind olit that a place which identities with the tourist archetype comes at price.
‘We will fight them on the beaches’: cyberacrivism
and Thai responses
Films and their by-products (including tourism) are designed to meet and shape consumer demands. Yet what affects the finished product, its distribution and general socioeconomic consequences -what we can call ‘the politics ofthe big screen’ -may be concealed from audiences. Unlike

48 Pitfafts ofthe ‘tourist Raze’
other films, whose politics stayed securely shut in Hollywood’s forbidden archives, The Beach’s records were disclosed. This happened because the film became involved in national politics and international concerns about Western capitalist hegemony, for once Hollywood had touched a rather sensitive nerve locally, nationally and globally. This section examines direct and indirect connections between local, national and global reactions to the production and distribution of The Bead? The analysis will not be confined to the film itself, but will move on to debate the establishment of strategic agreements between Hollywood and tourist providers for the maximization of profits, often at the expense of Thai localities. The most interesting part ofthe conflict took place on the web, where both sides (on the one hand the activists and the Thais who partook in environmental campaigns, and on the other hand Hollywood actors and tourist providers) publicized their cause (see also Moore 2002). Not only did the Internet become a subsidiary medium in the activist cause (Cere ~002: 148), bur it promoted a convergence of local and global concerns regarding environmental sustainabilrty.
The Beach ‘wars’ began in 1998, when Fox decided that the location chosen for the filming of the story, Phi Phi Leh island of the Krabi complex, was not pleasing enough to the tourist eye. It was agreed that planting some 50 to 60 coconut trees on Maya Bay, cleaning the rubbish that the sea washed ashore from other locations and bulldozing a few natural dunes would produce the desired result (see Gluckman 1999b). In November 1998 the Thai government gave its consent to the project, especially in the aftermath of rumours that Fox was planning to spend US $10 million in Thailand, and in expectation that the film itselfwould attract international tourists and DiCaprio fans. The company needed official permission to make these alterations because Phi Phi Leh belongs to a national park and is protected by Thai laws. The fact that the company agreed to pay 4 million baht (US$111 ,000) to the Royal Forestry Department of Thailand, which is responsible for conservation issues, and to provide a deposit of 5 million baht (US$U5,000) as guarantee against damages at Maya Bay, exacerbated the political tensions that Thai governmental decisions generated. The donation was understood as a bribe by Thai and other international environmentalists, who accused the Royal Forestry Department ofselling out’ Thai laws and destroying the country’s environment (The Nation 2000).
Local protests starred shortly before the shooting of the film on Maya Bay, when villagers and local representatives ofcivic groups from all over Thailand camped on the island, obstructing the film crew’s work for more than two weeks until the police and the military were called in to disperse them <Third World Network 2000). These protests were complemented
by the involvement 01 Confederation of Insl Protection Association Phuket to dernonstra foreigners and Thai ven ourset there was global numbers and bestowe 11 January 1999 the Ci assemblies from the K officials for encroachm conflict emerged at a planned to shoot more s sent an open letter to t. the terms of the contra When their demand w: destruction of Maya] heightened when seve against the filmmakers 199~ Environment A< press: on 29 October 1 it exposed extensive ‘alterations’ that 20th The Internet was swat Beach), both Thai and ij corner of the globe for
I should point out t turbulent marriage of sensu. Despite the activ The BMch controversy, in the Krabi region be problem: the lack of reE affect the everyday life 1997; Herzfeld 2003) nomenon with a long h 10 power raise concerns of militia on Maya Bay b) exposed an aurhorn democratic dialogue. ‘l was summoned to cor constitutes a turrung p
In this hostile clime destroyed the island. T
xxl’s forbidden led because the concerns about ouched a rather :tion examines ial and global
h. The analysis 1 to debate the xxl and tourist ‘xpense of Thai .aceon the web, aiswho partook woodactors and ~002), Not only vist cause (Cere global concerns
iat the location ld of the Krabi was agreed that .ing the rubbish ulldozing a few ickman 1999b). It to the project, inning to spend JIm itselfwould ompany needed Phi Leh belongs :t that the com~ Royal Forestry .ervation issues, )0) as guarantee nsions that Thai understood as a .rs, who accused sand destroying
he film on Maya LIpS from all over /s work for more led in to disperse ecomplemented
Piifatis of the ‘tourist gaze’ 49
by the involvement of Greenpeace, the Wildlife Fund Thailand, the Confederation of Inshore Fishermen and the Phuket Environment Protection Association, whose representatives crowded Patong Beach in Phuket to demonstrate against the ‘colonization’ of the island by foreigners and Thai vendors (International Herald Tribune 2000). From the outset there was global involvement in the cause, which raised participant numbers and bestowed the protests with international glamour. On 11January 1999 the Civil Court accepted a lawsuit filed by residents and assemblies from the Krabi province against Fox and Thai government officials for encroachment on Thai natural resources. A new theatre of conflict emerged at a waterfall in Khai Yai National Park, where Fox planned to shoot more scenes from the movie. Local environmental groups sent an open letter to the provincial governor, demanding a dialogue on the terms of the contract that the authorities signed wi th the company. When their demand was not met, they distributed a documentary on the destruction of Maya Bay by the film’s production team. The crisis heightened when several protest groups filed yet another complaint against the filmmakers for violating the 1961 National Park Act and the
1992 Environment Act. The story was discussed in the international press: on 29 October 1999, the Guardian published an article in which it exposed extensive environmental damage at Maya Bay after the ‘alterations’ that 20th Century Fox had made to the natural landscape. The Internet was swamped by anti-Hollywood manifestos (Boycott The Beach), both Thai and international, and the film became famous in every corner of the globe for all the wrong reasons.
I should point out that the cause of the controversy may not be the turbulent marriage of tourism with environmental conservation stricto sensu, Despite the active involvement of international activist groups in The Beach controversy, the cause acquired meaning for the communities in the Krabi region because it captured in a nutshell a burning social problem: the lack ofregional and local involvement in decisions that may affect the everyday life of local communities (Prudishan and Maneerat 1997; Herzfeld 2003). The violation of environmental laws is a phenomenon with a long history in Thailand; political monopolies by those in power raise concerns about the future ofThai civil society. The presence of militia on Maya Bay and the threat ofviolence (see The Nation 1999a, b) exposed an authoritarian regime that forecloses any possibility for democratic dialogue. This was the first time that a government sector was summoned to court over environmental issues; as such, the case constitutes a turning point in the history ofThai social movements.
In this hostile climate, fox tried to counter accusations that it had destroyed the island. The most effective weapon in its counter-campaign
50 Pit/af/J 0/the ‘tourist gaze’
was Leonardo DiCaprio, who appeared in interviews with a serious demeanour and wounded pride, In an interview he claimed that everything ‘had to do with the political propaganda that was going on in the country’, and that environmentalists used the film as a ‘lightning rod for attention’ (Toronto Sun 2000), U nsurprisingly, in the wake of Thai opposition DiCaprio declared an ethical investment in environmental issues (Bangkok POJt, 26 January 2000), Producer Andrew MacDonald and director Danny Boyle also appeared on the film’s website claiming that the protest simply helped Thai social movements to gain an international profile (see also Gluckman 1999b), With what was deemed to be unjustified arrogance, MacDonald also claimed that the film was raising local environmental consciousness, ignoring the fact that there was no appropriate American legislation to handle an environmental dispute in the US, while Thailand had a legal framework in place (Miller et ali 2005: 167), Andrew MacDonald stressed the financial returns from the film for Thailand (AJiaU’eek 1999), whereas Boyle claimed that the island itself is meaningless compared to what is going on in the country (The Beach online). Andrew MacDonald even figured in Women’s Voice and Greenpeace websites, asking activist groups to write to him with suggestions for a solution (Women’s Voice), Such declarations were intended to alleviate international pressure and regain the support and interest of millions of viewers, It is no coincidence that some IMDB viewers’ knowledge of the debate (IMDB, USA, 20 April 2000; IMDB, Melbourne, 8 February 2001; IMDB, London, 23 March 2000) is conditioned by what appears on the official website of The Beach, This does not mean that The Beach website dominates cyberspace; the Internet ‘war’ has urged the most environment-aware viewers to visit other sites (IMDB, USA, 19 February 2000; IMDB, Germany, 14 January 2000) and familiarize themselves with other views, But Fox’s public presentation certainly satisfied vested capitalist interests, In fact, this case presents us with a wonderful, though largely contingent, alignment of interests of the tourist and film industries: the argument used by the filmmakers was that they wanted to help Thai tourism without harming the environment,
An interesting addition to these cyber-dialogues was the site www, thaisrudents.corn, allegedly maintained by Thai students, When we take a closer look, however, we realize that the site does not articulate the voice of university students who joined the boycott: the actual developer of the site is Richard Barrow, a Western teacher at Sriwittayapaknam public school in Samut Prakarn. The young pupils of the secondary school in which he teaches are merely a facade. The website seems to be more like an advert for Thai tourism than a critical and fair assessment of the controversy. Not only does it contain numerous hyperlinks to Phi Phi islands’ emergent ho holiday experiences, il soundtrack (Thai Sn developments on the ‘students’ aspiration’ economy, Predictably website and by varier MacDonald (also quo Richard Ehrlich and I
The hidden agenda who began to expose il them, subverting the Network .2000: New Joe Cummings, travi Thailand, for arguing It was explained tha Cummings concealed on travel and filming significant than it rna travellers in Asia puc rienced backpackers re books they frequent! (Westerhausen 2002: communicate to the tl for commercial purpo~
Commercial interes national conservation found the environmer argued, ReefCheck pr: global project to rnon countries and is endors in this controversial reI pointed out by activi company based in P uninhabited tropical Depth Adventure use friendlv’ travel to the operation managers to, On DiCaprio’s twenty website geocities.com money to their idol’s Check, The web mat
ith a serious .d that everyling on in the iming rod for vake of Thai nvironmental ~ MacDonald osite claiming rstogam an at was deemed t the film was
that there was nental dispute e (Miller et a]. turns from the that the island e country (The len’s Voice and . to him with .larations were he support and It some IMDB 12000; IMDB, h 2000) is conleach. This does ie Internet ‘war’ ier sites (IMDB, 000) and farnilitation certainly resents us with
interests of the filmmakers was heenvironment. s the site www. s.When we take iculate the voice ual developer of apaknam public mdary school in s to be more like ~sessment of the links to Phi Phi
Pitfalls ofthe ‘tourist gaze’ 51
islands’ emergent hotels, scuba diving courses and reviews of Phuker holiday experiences, it also recommends Garland’s book, the film and the soundtrack (Thai Srudenrs.corn 2000). The site may be posting all developments on the protest, but it also makes a declaration that the ‘students’ aspiration’ is to assist in the development of the tourist economy. Predictably, the initiative was praised in the official DiCaprio website and by various Hollywood actors, including producer Andrew MacDonald (also quoted on the website), DiCaprio’s media consultant Richard Ehrlich and production consultant Dave Walker.
The hidden agendas of the global sign industries infuriated activists, who began to expose internal weaknesses and profitable alliances between them, subverting their interests. Third World Network (Third World Network 2000: New Frontiers, 4(6) (1998) and 5(1) (1999» attacked Joe Cummings, traveller and writer of Lonely Planet publications on Thailand, tor arguing that after the bulldozing Maya Bay looked better. It was explained that in his article to International Herald Tribune. Cummings concealed Lonely Planet’s engagement by Fox as a consultant on travel and filming in Asia. Cummings’ relationship with Fox is more significant than it may seem to be. An ethnographic study of Western travellers in Asia published in 2002 pointed out that because inexperienced backpackers regard Lonely Planet guidebooks as alternative travel books they frequently consult them before they start their journey (Westerhausen 2002: 78). Obviously Fox was consciously trying to communicate to the travel book industry its own cluster of global signs for commercial purposes.
Commercial interest guided the pen of Cogen and Miller from international conservation group Reef Check, who inspected Maya Bay and found the environment better than before the ‘alterations’, the activists argued. ReefCheck pride themselves on the establishment ofa non-profit global project to monitor coral reef deterioration, which spans over 40 countries and is endorsed by the United Nations. What was not discussed in this controversial report (published in the Bangkok Post] 999a), but was pointed out by activists, was that Cogen and Miller run an ecotour company based in Phuket, which offers explorations to ‘romantic uninhabited tropical islands’ (In Depth Adventure). Not only did In Depth Adventure use Reef Check’s report to endorse ‘environmentally friendly’ travel to the Phuket region. it also included a picture of its operation managers together with DiCaprio during his stay in Thailand. On DrCaprio’s twenty-fifth birthday in November] 999. the US-based website geocities.com prompted international DiCaprio fans to donate money to their idol’s ‘environmental favourites’ -among them, Reef Check, The web material was removed when cyberactivists pointed
52 Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’
out the link between the ecological group and DrCaprio. Cogen and Miller’s report on Maya Bay was also supported by former director of EnvironmentalTourismConsulrantsin Phuket,NoahShepherd.Owner ar the time of a tour company, Shepherd posed as Cogen’s ‘friend’, and endorsed Reef Check’s expertise in an article he posted to a renowned tourist website.
The saddest aspect ofthis lobbying is represented by EcoLert, a website repeatedly quoted by American tourist organizations such as www. ecotourism.about.com that would rather promote Phi Phi islands as a destination unspoiled by mass tourism. The choice ofEcoLert by American tourist providers was careful: in its own environmental report, the website had dismissed the protests because they allegedly concerned ‘uninhabited’ places (Thai Students.corn 2000). The statement replicates tropes that were discussed in previous sections of the paper: Richard’s whitewashed travel account, in which the Thai appear only as a minor background nuisance, and the viewers’ construction ofThailand as an empty plane. The suggestion was that behind the protests there were only a few troublemakers. As J. Ginsberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s program (WCS) stated, ‘the local people ofPhi Phi, the sea gypsies, no longer exist in the area’ (Media-Culture Organisation 2000), implying that the islands have no populations who can claim rights to protect the island. Ginsberg was previously condemned by human rights and other environmental groups for having an active involvement in the development of locally damaging ‘ecotourisr projects in Laos and Burma (Observer 1997).
It may be just too convenient to forget the locals and the impact the Hollywood storm had on their lives. Nationally, Ginsberg’s comment had a racist subrext that few would acknowledge without shame. Against WCS claims, Phi Phi Don is indeed populated mainly by Muslim groups from the south who started moving into the area from the 1950s. In Thailand southern Muslims generally have civic rights. In contrast, the hill tribes of the north have been denied full citizenship and classified as ‘jungle people’ (chew pa), beings whose humanity is incomplete. Perversely, however, these jungle people have become representative of pure ‘Thai-ness’, of ‘civilization’ in Thai nationalist discourse (Herzfeld 2002b: 904-5). Despite their exclusion from civic rights, and perhaps because of their value as ‘national progenitors’, the northern Muslims are not discussed as politically subversive elements. The state presents southern Muslims as troublesome elements, because they allegedly harbour a separatist cause. Ginsberg’s statement killed two birds with the same stone: it covered up the national embarrassment of hosting ethnic-religious trouble that can expose the Thai state’s dirty laundry internationally and denied the locals any agency.
At the same time islanders had discourn folk’ (Gluckman 195 movements in Thaila groups and classes, tl exaggerated environr policies on national f promoting the exclu: natural resources (For conviction that no loo involvement of villa! of temporary crew sh shooting the film (Ba more likely to be app the film because of tl: crew, the paparazzi an, divide the local com missing out on a slice who got themselves ‘c
The division of loc another issue -namel driving or simply assi noting that state ager Thus both those wI subsequently, travel a (the government, the Thai activists as ‘outs former also attacked t noted, \X!estern interv the site of cryptocoloi government in this g~ the power of cryptoco oppressive and entici involvement of interr attained the form of national activists, beo against foreigners’, Ie, Forsyth (2002) also s protests was not so rm: used to strengthen cri ronmental destrucrior of Greenpeace and (
Cogen and director of erd. Owner Friend’, and a renowned
rt, a website :h as www. islands as a lyAmerican ,the website minhabited’
tropes that ,hitewashed background :yplane. The Few trouble.y’s program I longer exist at the islands id. Ginsberg vironmental -nt of locally 1997). e impact the g’s comment arne. Against uslim groups he 1950s. In contrast, the and classified
incomplete. resentative of .rse(Herzfeld , and perhaps iern Muslims state presents ley allegedly >0 birds with nt of hosting dirty laundry
Pit/ails of the ‘tourist gaze’ 53
At the same time, international journalists explained that most islanders had discounted the protests as ‘a silly stink raised by the urban folk’ (Gluckman 1999a). Of course, despite representations of social movements in Thailand as a phenomenon that encompasses all social groups and classes, the truth remains that it is not so. The benefits of exaggerated environmental awareness could also be questioned: strict policies on national parks can have adverse consequences for farming, promoting the exclusion of whole communities from effective use of natural resources (Forsyth 1995; Hirsch and Lohmann 1999). But the conviction that no locals participated in The Beach ‘wars’ omits the active involvement of villagers from the Phi Phi islands in the destruction of temporary crew shelters on Maya Bay while the company was still shooting the film (Bangkok Post 1999b). Also, Western journalists were more likely to be approached by those villagers who were not hostile to the film because of the short-term profits that they extracted from the crew, the paparazzi and DiCaprio fans. Inevitably, the controversy would divide the local community into those who were ‘disgruntled over missing out on a slice of the film’s budget’ (Gluckman 1999a) and those who got themselves ‘on the payroll’.
The division of local communities into rebels and conformists Rags another issue -namely, the extent to which Western activist forces were driving or simply assisting in a local/national cause. We may begin by noting that state agents were as unwelcome as Hollywood ‘capitalists’. Thus both those who came from abroad (production crews and, subsequently, travel agents) and those who represented the Thai state (the government, the Royal Forestry Department) were identified by Thai activists as ‘outsiders’; protests and lawsuits directed against the former also attacked the state and its undemocratic policies. As already noted, Western intervention in Thailand is a thorny issue because it is the site of cryptocolonial oppression. But what was the position of the government in this game~ Herzfeld (2002b) has already explained that the power of cryptocolonial discourse resides in its twin nature: as both oppressive and enticing to emulate Western models of progress. The involvement of international environmental organizations might have attained the form of ‘symbolic capital’ (Bourdieu 1984) for local and national activists, because it presented the episode as a case offoreigners against foreigners’, legitimating their anti-statist activities in general. Forsyth (2002) also suspects that the underlying cause of these Thai protests was not so much environmental issues per se, but that they were used to strengthen criticism of the state. If anything, by Ragging environmental destruction the Thai activists managed to catch the attention of Greenpeace and other satellite organizations in the West. The
54 Pitfalls a/the ‘tourist gaze’
environmental angle ofThai activist discourse is ‘epiphenomenal’ (Hajer 1995), because it nicely conceals pre-existing problems concerning the nature of the Thai nation-state, its policies and its place in the international political arena. On the one hand The Beach ‘wars’ brought Thai localities into contact with the globe, transforming them into sociocultural agents; on the other hand, they shed rather unwelcome light on the global forces that shaped the Thai nation-state.
It may be useful to further distinguish between local participation in the protest and protesting against foreign capitalist invasion. We gain valuable insight on this distinction from Ron Gluckman’s report from the Krabi area. Gluckman was attentive ro the tensions that Thai encounters with tourists generated, and found some locals rather rude. Villagers in the Krabi region are definitely not impressed by the ‘backpacker cult’, he states, and call foreignersjizrang kee-nak, literally foreign bird droppings. Lest I am accused of linguistic games, I will note that the phrase works as an anthropological spyglass, because it exemplifies the effective use of rhetoric by local actors who may be disempowered on a decision-making level, bur still remain politically minded. In other words, I look for ways to analyse how Thai resistance was mediated in this case through language (Joseph and Kavoori 2001: 1004). Farang (also pronounced j:tlang) is the Thai word for guava, a fruit produced from a tropical tree that makes white flowers. The word often denotes colour, although on its own it is rather neutral; combined with kee-nak (bird shit) it refers to a particular type of guava, which is not as juicy as other varieties. The combination ofwords is used metaphorically to describe a type offoreigner, the stingy backpacker who lives on breadcrumbs and forgets to change his clothes and wash his body.
The obsession with cleanliness, which occupied a significant place in Sarit Thanarats modernist discourse, figures as a pervasive characteristic of Thai encounters with tourists. Backpackers are regarded as the great ‘unwashed’ ofthe Occident -or, to use Cohen’s expression, ‘nomads from affluence’ (973) who pretend to be poor in order to live their dream of escape. Their value for Thai communities is equal to that of excrement, waste from the sky that bears the potential to pollute, to violate cultural boundaries (Douglas 1993). The allusion to foreign stinginess is equally important. Thais also use the expression [arang kee-nak to describe prospective sons in-law who fail to produce presents for them (they are not as ‘juicy’ as others), Although traditionally the value of the ‘gift’ is eq uivalent to the bride’s dowry, the gesture itself denotes respect and is duly reciprocated with another present by the in-laws at a later date. To name your prospective son in-law ‘white bird shit’ hints that the act ofreciprocation never took place, because there was no gift giving in the first place. If we are activate a system 01 parties and secure when it comes to t are still outsiders f recognize the host’s never present: ‘We fixed idea of Thai ‘j own. The tension operated as a sub-ci and less with local the latter their ‘au them as anything 0 distinction betwee case of tourists, eru tourists spend limi activi ties. Moreove between tourists a because they are l meaningless in lac bur a two-way dyn of foreigners. As af more than ‘wallets Thais.
On a sustainable tualizes an old que: destination, be ex 1995). The rsunat reputation as a trax it was reported tho famous through a tsunami. The islan popular excursion I ‘off limits’ (Sunday Phi Phi Don, was c the islands stared with his customer: hardly an advertis devastation, a sparl and their aid grouf 2(05). Internet cal Western hegemon:
11′ (Hajer .ning the e in the , brought nern into ornelight
ipation in
We gain tfrom the ncounters illagers in -rcult, he lroppinjrs. raseworks rive use of m-making rk for ways hlanguage lang) is the :hat makes tsown it is 1 particular imbination ” the stingy ,his clothes
ant place in iaracteristic as the great omadsfrom eirdream of excrement, latecultural ss is equally to describe -rn (they are .the ‘gift’ is respect and a later date, that the act .iving in the
Pitfalls of the ‘tourist gaze’ 55
first place, Ifwe are to believe Mauss (1954), the gift and its reciprocation activate a system of ‘total services’ that could seal relations between rival parties and secure cooperation. The locals know that this is impossible when it comes to tourists. Put simply, just like future sons in-law, who are still outsiders for the family of the bride, tourists refuse to properly recognize the host’s services. In the eyes ofthe Thai hosts, recognition was never present: ‘Westerners’ and ‘dirty hippies’ are supposed to cherish a fixed idea ofThai ‘others’ as objects ofconsumption with no life of their own. The tension is aggravated by the fact that backpackers always operated as a sub-cultural enclave, spending most oftheir time with peers and less with locals (Westerhausen 200.2: 24) reasserting in the eyes of the latter their ‘outsider’ status. In return, the hosts refuse to recognize them as anything other than shit that needs cleaning. I did not apply the distinction between travellers and tourists here for good reasons. In the case of tourists, encounters with locals are even more restricted because tourists spend limited time in the country and mostly indulge in leisure ‘3.ctisit\e”. Moreover, as Brunner 0991: .248) has explained. distinctions between tourists and travellers may be important in Western contexts because rhey are burdened by rhe grand tour’s history, but they are meaningless in local contexts. Stereotyping is nor a Western ‘privilege’, but a two-way dynamic process rhat often legitimates local exploitation of foreigners. As an Australian backpacker put it, travellers are nothing more than ‘wallets on legs’ (Westerhausen 200.2: 95) for impoverished
On a sustainable development front, the Internet ‘war’ simply recontextualizes
an old question: will Phi Phi Leh, initially the ideal backpacker
destination, be expropriated by international mass tourism I (Cohen
1995). The tsunami disaster left Thailand struggling to rebuild its
reputarion as a travel destination. In the early days after the earthquake
it was reported that Phi Phi Leh and its adjacent Phi Phi Don, made
famous through a James Bond film, had taken the full force of the
tsunami. The island of The Beach, which had in the meantime become a
popular excursion from Phuket, was declared by the UK Foreign Office
‘otflimits’ (Sunday Times 2005) and Ton Sai, the backpackers’ enclave on
Phi Phi Don, was claimed to be devastated. The owner of two resorts on
the islands stated that 200 bungalows were swept our to sea together
with his customers and his employees (Sydney Morning Herald 2004) hardly
an advertisement for the place. In the face of such complete
devastation, a spark of hope survived on The Beach: foreign backpackers
and their aid groups tried help the region recover from the shock (CNN
2005). Internet cafes and chat rooms, the foremost acomplishments of
Western hegemony, worked for Thailand in the absence of any official
56 Pit/ails of the ‘tourist gaze’
aid programmes. It is ironic that this humanitarian movement was assisted by the popularization of cinematic tourism, as calls for international conrriburions were supported by the mythical status of the Phi Phi islands. The humanitarian aid did indeed assist in the recuperation of the island communities to such an extent that today the region is ‘functional’ again, Yet this may be brewing new problems: in July 2005 Sarah White of Lonely Planet published a new report on local developments in the Los An[f.eles Times, which today figures on the web amongst a series ofe-brochures tor tourism in Thailand. The report, titled ‘Phi Phi’s charm is entirely intact’ (Los Angeles Times 20(5), reassures prospective travellers that it is safe to visit the location and provides a long list of airline and accommodation suggestions. With so much prEssurE placed upon the Thai state to conform to the standards of Western markers, the local voice was subdued, What remains to be seen is whether the battle for sustainable development was fought and lost or whether it has just begun.
3 ‘Nati< Organ
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