Dean MacCannell on why tourist attractions are tourist attractions

“In the establishment of modern society, the individual act of sightseeing is probably less important than the ceremonial ratification of authentic attractions as objects of ultimate value, a ratification at once caused by and resulting in a gathering of tourists around an attraction and measurable to a certain degree by the time and distance the tourists travel to reach it. The actual act of communion between the tourist and attraction is less important than the image or the idea of society that that the collective act generates. The image of the Statue of Liberty or the Liberty Bell that is the product of visits to them is more enduring than any specific visit, although, of course, the visit is indispensable to the image. A specific act of sightseeing is, in itself, weightless and, at the same time, the ultimate reason for the orderly representation of the social structure of modern society in the system of attractions.”
–Dean MacCannell, The Tourist (1976)

Posted by | Comments (7)  | February 27, 2003
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

7 Responses to “Dean MacCannell on why tourist attractions are tourist attractions”

  1. googoosh Says:

    ” ……. ceremonial ratification of authentic attractions ….” call me a dumb bunny, but what was that all about??????

  2. Rolf Says:

    Ah yes, academic-speak. Pretty dense stuff. MacCannell’s book is fascinating, but you have to wade through a lot of jargony sentences to get many of the points. “Ceremonial ratification” in this case is a technical way of describing why people visit certain attractions again and again. Just as holidays are ceremonial ratifications of religious or cultural ideals, visits to tourist attractions are ceremonial ratifications of the collective travel desire.

    But then, I’m no academic; that’s just my take on it. Anyone else have thoughts on putting this into “plain English”?

  3. Venessa Says:

    I think by “ceremonial ratification of authentic attractions as objects of ultimate value” MacCannell means to say certain places will only have true value to us if we consider them “authentic” in one way or another. We have a collective desire to travel because we desire as a “modern” society to find a level of authenticity that we consider absent in the society we are embedded within.

    That’s my take on MacCannell so far, anyway. What do you think?

  4. Takemoto Says:

    People go and see things that are real and valuable. At the same time, they
    are real and valuable because people go and see them. The system of going to see certain sights educates and perpetuates a social system.

    MacCannell employs Durkheim’s “Elementary Forms of the Religious Life” to argue that tourism is a religion that helps us to understand and reinforce
    social values.

    Durkheim showed how ritual in “primitive” religion served to reinforce the
    values held important by that society, and act as a model for behaviours. I
    think that this function of religion is alive and well in more modern religions. In Christianity for instance, believers are encourage to imitate

    MaCannel also uses Barthes’ ‘Mythologies’ for a theory of the Tourist sign. I am not sure if it works but it is a clever idea.

    He also uses Marx’s “alienation,” the process by which workers (or everyone) have become smaller and smaller cogs in economic system that seperates us from utility. He uses the example of the switchboard operator, as someone who is alienated from their work.

    Basically then the person that is a mere cog in modern society, takes part
    in tourism as a ritual act to get a glimpse of the authenticity, the values
    that underpin society as a whole. Maybe the switchboard operator may go and gaze at the liberty bell or the Statue of Liberty and realise that her work helps to support a marvelous liberal society and that she herself is at
    liberty to go and choose another profession.

    Or something like that?

    It is a nice idea…but…As others have argued, and MacCannel mentions himself, and as Urry explores his section on “post tourists”, tourists go in for a lot that is rampantly in-authentic, kitsch, pseudo-attractions such
    as giant ice cream cone statues in the desert, and theme parks that bear no
    relation to anything in the real world.

    What totalising glimpse of authenticity do tourist gain at such sites?

    A lot of the examples that MacCannell uses are to domestic US tourism, or to
    US tourists visiting Europe. These examples are appropriate to the theorey
    of tourism as social lesson-ritual. But, what of tourism in more diverse
    settings? What does for instance the American tourist learn when she sees
    the relics of headhunters in Bali, the Itsukushima Shrine near Hiroshima, or
    mausoleum of chairman Mao? What is cultural value (to the viewer, the US
    tourist) is ratified by this sight?

    MacCannell suggests (e.g in case of the US tourists going to visit red square) that “the other” may be visited to reinforce its otherness. But so much of tourism seems to concetrate on viewing otherness, the weird. Perhaps this is lesson enough in itself?

    And if the tourist does not *get it*, does that matter? Will the tourist go away unsatisfied?

    What if the tourist gets the wrong message? Or if the tourist gets a message
    appropriate to another culture? MacCannell seems to be suggesting that
    Modernity is a global culture, so modern tourists may all be being taught
    the same Modern (capitalist) message.

    “Tourism as lesson about, and ritual which perpetuates modern global
    society” does not quite do it for me. It seems a lot of the time tourists
    are quite happy to be gobsmacked. It seems that there is too much of tourism that is traditional. I really like MacCannel’s book but I don’t think that it goes quite far enough. There is something more universal, dare I say spiritual about tourism that goes beyond lessons about/perpetuating
    modernity. MacCannell touches on this proposition when he notes that people
    have since antiquity attempted to find themselves in the absolutely other.
    He notes this fact, but he does not seem to attempt to explain it.

    Finally I think that it seems to have been written by someone who does not
    believe in “primitive” religion, or tourism. My guess is that Professor
    MacCannell does not believe that he needs take part in tourism, that he will
    learn from the ratifications that go on as people gaze at the liberty bell. I am not sure though. Does Professor MacCannell consider himself a tourist?

    All the same, “The Tourist” is my favourite book on tourism. Urry came close
    with “The Tourist Gaze”, but I think that MacCannell’s book has yet to be surpassed.

    — Tim, a tourist

  5. Polo Says:

    An individual person’s role, in the society, is to reinforce the society so that it continues to survive, as a being of itself. All the above references seem to live under that umbrella (Durkheim, Barthes, Marx, …)

    When we act as a tourist, we are fulfilling that role, by creating a web of connections, but consuming and being consumed, by creating connections, by creating icons. Whether it’s the Eifel tower or some obscure “find” that we think is unique, we are making that place or context an object of consumption, reducing it to a product or object, making it part of the general schema. Our experience of it seems unique, but it is only part of the whole.

    It is only if we actually participate in certain ways, interact, exchange, that we are no longer consuming and so no longer just perpetuating and feeding the society as a whole animal that needs food and that excretes waste.

  6. Charles Booth Says:

    yeah! a real job! like building roads!