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The Great Soporific

Author: • Oct 24th, 2007 •

Category: Australia, consumerism, inner space, travel

‘Tourism is the great soporific. It’s a huge confidence trick, and gives people the dangerous idea that there’s something interesting in their lives. It’s musical chairs in reverse. Every time the muzak stops people stand up and dance around the world, and more chairs are added to the circle, more marinas and Marriott hotels, so everyone thinks they’re winning.’

‘But it’s another con?’

‘Complete. Today’s tourist goes nowhere. … All the upgrades in existence lead to the same airports and resort hotels, the same pina colada bullshit. … Travel is the last fantasy the 20th Century left us, the delusion that going somewhere helps you reinvent yourself.’

‘And that can’t be done?’

‘There’s nowhere to go. The planet is full. You might as well stay at home and spend the money on chocolate fudge.’

J.G. Ballard. Millennium People.

Ballardian: Mugged in Mexico LEFT: Photo: Simon Sellars. Walking past STA Travel in Collingwood (Melbourne), I was struck by this advertisement: ‘I was mugged in Mexico.’ STA targets the thrillseeking youngish backpacker scene, and it seems to have finally realised the futility of promoting Mexico via the standard travel-industry imagery of tacos, burritos and tequilas to a street-smart, apparently narcissistic audience that has seen it all and done it all before. The logical next step: marketing its target group’s nightmares.

Mass tourism accelerates the shrinking-globe effect. The spidery net of information technology means forward planning is negligible and the time between decision and departure minimal. Dirt-cheap air fares wrap the planet in a grid of many-tentacled route maps, itineraries and carbon trails. The romantic notion of ‘untouched areas’ becomes extinct due to countless package tourists blithely following guidebook trails laid out in advance, and the cumulative effect is that we have reached a stage in which anything and everything is able to be seen and experienced simultaneously, an ‘accident of reality’, after Paul Virilio.

When asked ‘But what shall we dream of when everything becomes visible?’, Virilio replied ‘We’ll dream of being blind’. But to follow the Ballardian line of sight means the only place left to visit when the world has been stripmined of experience is the inside of your skull — and your deepest, darkest fears.

Next in the series: ‘I was bashed and left for dead by a pack of rabid alpha males high on ice in the Melbourne CBD.’

For a target group brought up on Eli Roth films, that would sure beat the taco-and-tequila-style cliches of ‘Melbourne: World’s Most Livable City’.

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3 Responses »

  1. i agree with this and have been saying it myself for years, but still i continue to go, mostly for the sunshine, the beaches, cheap living and uniterrupted tíme; time that seems to stretch out for me. i’ll admit i’m still on the lookout for mystery and exotica like any romantic and sometimes i even find it; my behavior is addictive when it comes to this; and maybe it’s yet another illusion, but i feel once i settle in another environment i’m able to get deeper into my own skull, and in a different way than when at home, where i’m constanitly in a whirl, even when there’s no reason to be; it’s something to do with the city itself i believe, the rhythms, the sounds, the landscape, the herds, the dollar.

    but ballard still goes to spain? i read in an interview with him that he said he thought it’d be too expensive to go to someplace like mexico for an extended stay. well, this just isn’t the case; at least not yet, and if you’re not too fussy. he must have been referring to a stay at a gated resort, most of which discourage their guests to even leave the premises, except with a guided tour. hey, that sounds like a setup for another ballard story.

  2. I think Ballard was ahead of his time with the whole anti-tourism angle. And Houellebecq seems to be following his lead. Stay tuned for more exposition from me on this score.

  3. a few months ago there was a big whoopla about a british sexhealth non-profit featuring a guy with the big mexican hat that said:

    what’s more embarrasing? his hat or what he might give you?

    it got in the papers in mexico and the british consul had to appologize or some sh*t.

    wonder if this will spill…

    oops, already did:

    ps. good post. love the melbourne catch-phrase.


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