[from Beatrice] What about the locals?
I have recently had the pleasure of participating in the viewing of Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest creation: a movie by the title “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
I have recently had the pleasure of participating in the viewing of Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest creation: a movie by the title “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” In this film/documentary, Cohen traces the travels of a fictional character, Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sash Baron Cohen), as he road trips across the southern states of “U.S. and A.” in order to report back to his country about the great United States.
One of the ways in which Cohen plays with his character lies in the readings of Borat’s identity by the “locals” he encounters on his journey. Borat’s dark, “middle-eastern” looks, his home country and strong foreign accent, and the values he upholds (i.e. his blatant anti-Semitism), all give room to his interlocutors to relate to him as a stereotype fitting “other.” Borat becomes the ultimate tourist (quite a provoking one) and his identity is produced through interaction with the locals.
MacCannell’s borrowed distinction between front and back social spaces still holds in the model proposed by Cohen’s fictional documentary. Here Borat comes to “U.S. and A.” in order to get to the authentic values of American culture. The character presumes the identity of the tourist, allowing for a whole performance to be enacted. What is particularly interesting to me is the kind of performance that is allowed to happen in different contexts. In this sense, the local’s perspective plays a much more active role in relationship to the tourist production than MacCannell seems to cover. If we are talking about tourist experiences as productions, it seems to me like equal attention should be given to all participants in the production. Furthermore, focusing on the relations amongst “sightseers” and local people can give us more insight on identity issues such as ethnicity/race/gender. How is the tourist experience shaped by these factors?
Once we look at relations within tourist productions, I believe we can start asking questions about a more hopeful kind of tourism. Can we make tourist attractions more focused on sensitizing participants as to the differentiation process these productions are supporting? And can we imagine a tourism in which intimacy and closeness, defined by MacCannell as at the “core of social solidarity,” are important elements of one’s experience?