John Hutnyk writes on culture, cities, diaspora, history, film, prisons, colonialism, education, Marxism. For 30 years he has worked in the area of Asian cultural studies, Asian history, diaspora and media, and is currently Associate Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam. In 2016 he was a Government of India GAIN scholar at Jadavpur University. Before that he was Visiting Professor at the Institute for Cultural Studies at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. In 2015 he was at the Department of InterCultural Studies at Nagoya City University Japan, and since 2014 was Visiting Researcher in the Global Institute of RMIT University in Australia, and also in 2014 at Mimar Sinan University (Architecture University) in Turkey. He has held visiting scholar posts in Germany at the South Asia Institute and Institute fur Ethnologie at Heidelberg University, and Visiting Professor posts at Zeppelin University and in Anthropology at Hamburg University, Germany. For 14 years he was at Goldsmiths University of London including from 2008 as Professor of Cultural Studies.
John Hutnyk is a writer with 5 single author books: The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation (1996 Zed); Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry (2000 Pluto); Bad Marxism: Capitalism and Cultural Studies (2004 Pluto); Pantomime Terror: Music and Politics (2014 Zero); and Global South Asia on Screen (2018 Bloomsbury and Aakar in India); as well as co-authored with Virinder Kalra and Raminder Kaur of Diaspora and Hybridity (2005 Sage). He has edited several volumes of essays, including espceially Dis-Orienting Rhythms: the Politics of the New Asian Dance Music (1996 Zed, co ed with Sharma and Sharma); Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics (1998 Zed co-ed with Raminder Kaur); editions of the journals Theory, Culture and Society (2000) and Post-colonial Studies (1998)’, and both a festschrift for Klaus Peter Koepping called Celebrating Transgression (2006 Berghahn, co-ed with Ursula Rao); the PhD colloquium volume Beyond Borders (Pavement books 2012); and recent volumes of the journals Educational Philosophy and Theory (2020); Journal of Asian and African Studies (2020) and Social Identities (2021).
A review of Bad Marxism here
LECTURES and TALKS to View:
From Subversive Festival Zagreb, May 2014.
John Hutnyk: Translating Capital in context, politics, struggles
The School of Contemporary Humanities
moderator: Dunja Matić
the dedication, the prefaces, the first sentence, the tenth/eight chapter, the teaching factory, malignant and parasitic, etc…
[errata: New York Daily Tribune, not herald. Need to clarify that Commodities as title for chapter one in English is not as good as The Commodity. And I fudged the Horace and Dante quotes, was not rude enough about Zombie’s… but otherwise…]
This, here, for the gnawing criticism of the mice, is my inaugural Professorial lecture at Goldsmiths September 30 2008. Details: presented by Professor John Hutnyk of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths. Title: ‘Pantomime Terror: the paranoid commuter and the danger of music’. Introduced by Professor Geoffrey Crossick. Please note there is a missing part at 48;38 where there was a tape changeover. At this point its important to know I discussed the Fun^da^mental video DIY Cookbook, available here: http://dai.ly/aZeu7n and there is a bit of the discussion is missing, but covered in this blog post:https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2007/05/12/cookbook-diy-video/ – sorry its complicated, but if you like the first 48 mins, then why not watch the short 3 min FDM vid, read the short blog, then return for the eccentric finale! Thanks heaps to Adela for filming this. http://wp.me/pcKI3-1gc
A ‘cultural project’ runs alongside the war on terror and impacts upon a diverse range of practices, from the militarisation of public policy, through to entertainment, cinema and the music industry (Bhattacharyya 1998:293, 299; 2008, 92). Thus, there might be reason to revisit Walter Benjamin’s essay on the now near impossible role of the storyteller as the site of critique and an alternative to ‘Total War’. The storytelling I have in mind involves a mainstream pop music video that uses humour, gimmicky effects and provocations that stress or otherwise reveal our anxieties. The performer-curator and musician Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A, features as main focus: herself conceived as a prankster character, aiming to undo the unexamined comforts of power, in ways which need to be analysed.
For an explanation of Trinketization – never fully codified as yet – you might start with the following old posts:
So, this trinket thing has been my double refrain for a long time now – a critique of those who stop at commodity (who have only read the first chapter) and who eschew any attempt to comprehend, and change/destroy/kill, capitalism. Grinning at the shiny trinkets ain’t enough – even a theory of trinkets will not be enough, and certainly my collecting them for display is only a first step… So, maybe I should start to gather it all together a bit more. Some early formulations: In the draft intro to a special section on music and politics in the journalPostcolonial Studies, summarizing a joint article written with Virinder Kalra, we described it as:
“Focusing on, Madonna, an overworked cultural icon, who’s recent Eastern turn has attracted wide attention, this chapter compares and contrasts her trinketization to the diasporic music offerings of a more local flavour. By highlighting the theoretical dead end that all identity posturing postulates, the paper argues for a critique based not on spurious ascribed/described/pronounced subjectivities but rather on a not so fashionable materialist analysis”
This was eventually relegated/rendered in print as:
“a discussion of musical appropriations of Asian culture as ‘vogue’, offering a critique of trinketizing exoticisms and questioning the politics of identity in the context of racial conflict and imperial power structures” (Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1 No 3, 1998:355)
And this sort of line was developed a little, in a critical assessment of dearest comrade Crispin Mills of Kula Shaker fame, in a piece in the book Travel Worlds:
“It should at least be clear that the concern with ‘authenticity’ that leads to a critique of (Kula Shaker style)trinketizing exotic versions of South Asian musics is not one which insists upon the purity of traditional forms or the relativistic egalitarianism of an anthropology blind to material inequality. The danger is always that the worries about appropriation and commercialization are contradictory insofar as authenticity critique may sometimes slide into less savoury valourizations of cultural boundedness, nationalisms and conservatism. Instead, the critique of inauthentic and aestheticized versions of South Asian cultural production should be geared towards clearing a space for hearing the ‘secret omnipresence’ of resistance to which Theodore Adorno refers”.
A still less generous use of the term crops up in an early draft of a piece that eventually made it into our book on Diaspora and Hybridity, but in this case reaching back to my long-term interest in a critique of budget travellers:
“‘Going native’ persists in taking the most mundane forms especially where otherwise intelligent gap-year university students return from their travels adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of the trinket markets of the world”.
Ideally though, there will be better formulations than these. Here from a draft of my chapter in the book Celebrating Transgression:
“The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentializing system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow moving – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketization of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one”.
The main working out of trinketization as double play was done however in what became the book Bad Marxism. The first version of this published in the journalCritique of Anthropology, in an article called ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’. Catty it was. Ah well. Still, the phenomenal success of Clifford’s book ‘Routes‘ meant that I figured lucky Jim could handle a few snipes when, as I showed, he got Marx wrong (exchange does not determine production, production determines exchange) and went on about that ‘mind-boggling’ bird of paradise headdress and office tie ensemble worn by James Bosu, as seen on the cover (and cropped, the larger version inside showing James with a stubbie of beer too. If Clifford had gone to visit PNG, instead of a quick sprint through a museum in London – the Museum of Man- his ‘boggle’ might have been less offensive). Anyway:
“The problem is that even if Clifford was not limited to descriptive trinketization in his collecting practice, it is very difficult to imagine how he might want to respond to the complexity of the world. Reading his varied statements on culture, trade, power and so on it becomes possible to wonder what would be needed to provoke an attempt to intervene? What set of circumstances would be necessary to provoke even a preliminary essay on what is to be done? Meekly anguished fascination at the phantasmagoric vista before him seems all we will ever be offered” (Critique of Anthropology Vol 18, No 4, 1988:364 – also appeared in Bad Marxism 2004).
“a clarification on the trinketization of jesus, and, this doesn’t qualify as jesus junk” Friday July 06th 2007, 9:56 am Filed under: church, humor “so, you may know that i post these fairly irregular “jesus junk of the month” awards. they’re not monthly, in case you haven’t noticed. deal with it. people mostly find them annoying or hilarious (as i do). but occasionally, i recieve a comment or email from someone who wonders why i feel the need to point out this stuff, because “it’s just good people”, and “can’t you just leave them alone and not buy it?” no, sorry. first, i think it’s funny stuff. but even moreso, i have a deep level of disdain for what i’m officially naming “the trinketization of jesus” (i just copyrighted that, and will be selling keychains with that phrase embossed on them in a few weeks). i’m not opposed to all products that have a christian angle to them; just those that cross the semi-fuzzy line into trinket-land. tchotchkes for jesus. here are a few of my ‘favorites’: the colors of faith duckey p31 dolls ‘we are fishermen’ jesus figurines weddings on water houseboat chapel (that’s a BIG trinket!) the fire bible ‘your best life now’ board game gospel golf balls the jesus pan jesus as a teenager painting that said, i have a bit of hypocrisy on this subject. here it is: my stomach does not turn when the trinketization is done by someone outside christianity (most of the time). in fact, it’s at that point that i sometimes even want the product! yes, they are often kitchze. but that’s part of their charm! i bought a christian friend who smokes an ashtray with jesus’ face on it, and the phrase, “jesus hates it when you smoke”. i still think these bible jump drives are kinda fun. if they made this cross mp3 player, i might want one. i love wearing the t-shirt a friend made for me with a classical painting of jesus wearing a larry-the-cucumber t-shirt, or the one with a classical painting of jesus wearing a ys t-shirt. and in that vein: i cannot give this “hymn book leather book cover for ipod” the coveted jjotm award. if it were in a christian bookstore, i’d disdain it. but created by a company called “suck, u.k.”, somehow i love it. sorry. my bad. jesus is probably rolling his eyes in my direction right now”. (ht to seth for the ipod cover link) 5 Comments so far Leave a comment the best part of that hymn book ipod case is that in the picture, the selected tune is a gorillaz track. from the album ‘demon days’. classic. Comment by patrick 07.06.07 @ 11:53 am Makes sense to me. This stuff kills me. Christian bottled water? I mean, seriously … let’s take the greatest gift in the history of all time, a relationship with God, and try to make money on it any way we can. Nobody is getting a testa-mint (Christian candy), and finally realizing they need a savior. I always try to explain to believers that this stuff makes them look like the extreme Star Trek fans. The ones that everyone else thinks is weird because they have bumper stickers, t-shirts, and Vulcan candy (which, by the way, I would totally buy in a heart beat). In other words, it only attracts other Star Trek geeks – to the rest of the world, it’s a giant “steer clear” sign! Comment by Matthew McNutt 07.06.07 @ 2:11 pm Marko – you should see the Youtube I’ve come across entitled Jesus Junk Comment by Gman 07.06.07 @ 3:12 pm This really does make a good ipod disguise. Someone sees an ipod on the seat of your car, he/she may take it. But who’s gonna nick a hymn book. Not b/c its a “religious” item (God will strike you dead, if you steal a hymn book!) – but your average joe just isn’t in the market for hymns these days. Comment by doodah 07.06.07 @ 5:22 pm The Jesus bobblehead doll is still my favorite. I received one a few months ago from Ship of Fools. *
This is old Adorno in elegiac grumpy mood. From a great book, redoing his schtick about the camps. I think the same points might be made today perhaps about trinkets, about plastic toy workshops in the South, brought here by container, packaged ready for Christmas, to teach kids to love capitalism. So, lets talk about why we want to play with plastic. Materialist comprehensions of the commodity, objects, souvenirs or trinkets (these are not the same) are different to those of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics. I know, but… Plenty of space for a long convoluted discussion of value, labour, circuits, modifications to the formula, etc etc, but we might get locked up for too long in the study. Someone will ask: ‘Why shouldn’t everyone get to shop, get a load of things, trinketize?’ In Australia during the Soviet era, I remember there used to be an advertisement that went something like: “in some countries they don’t have advertising”. A forlorn family sat bored in a spartan room. Indeed, versions of the queues for bread or the wait for a state-manufactured car are still the loaded ideological tropes of anti-communism, as seen in bitter-sweet triumphalist films like “Goodbye Lenin”. In the Grundrisse Marx devotes considerable pages to the impact of money on ‘traditional’ societies (pp145-172) but, again, who is to say that people with feathers should not want to shop? The problem is not scarcity or abundance of things, though this may be a factor, but the distribution thereof, their production for profit, the manufacture of needs (for things) and decisions about what things are made when and where. More than wanting beads and blankets are at stake. The problem is not the lack of (plastic) things in various sectors of the world, soon to be rectified by the opening of a hyper-mega-super-market chain very close by, but that the abundance and success of capitalism amounts only to this: it presents itself as an immense collection of commodities. If we at all see this as a success, even as we critique it, (‘who wants all this stuff’ – Deleuze and Guattari) we have given ourselves over to commodity fetishism through and through. It may bore some people to death, but I’m interested again in the coding of flows arguments D&G offer in Anti-Oedipus – the territorial machine and the technical machine need the social machine to activate them – though we have to understand these machines as interrelated,therecan be no move in space or technology without the social, without memory, without labour.Flowsmust be coded through the machine, marked, inscribed – and so perhaps capitalism is this coding, but it is not always the same, it has fashions and trends – history – and is not a ‘haunting’ such that ‘in a sense capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them astheirterryfying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes’ (A-Op140). Codes?Trinketsto be calculated, to be inscribed and counted in some way (general equivalent, abstraction, numbers). But with capitalism this inscription-calculus becomes an abstract coded/coding flow of desire, which in a waymakesDeleuzeandGuattari improbably advocates of a return through Marxism to psychoanalysis. Was that Teddy A I saw in thesportssction of the department store on saturday? Was he buying golf clubs? A setoftees or ballsforxmas then. When what we might be doing instead is sideways inscribing,perhapsreinscribing, twisting desire and flow elsewhere – like these two likely lads – anti-war protest coppers (go figure!) at May Day last year [they say ‘US-UK Force No to America’ – bad grammar, but the sentiment is clear, no? see pic]. .
An object, collected by many, contemplated, pondered, shaken. It is not always frozen, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized. I am fascinated by these domes, as have been many before – beginning again with the opening scene of Citizen Kane. I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss. Kane is a collector – and one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters. My friend Joanne collects snow domes. I borrow one from her each time I do this Kane lecture. I like to think of this as the cinematic scene. The snow globe shakes up conventional souveniring versions of cinema – stars and cameos – in favour of miniature worlds and mis-en-scene. A glass ball into which all manner of interpretive occult effects can be projected. The snow globe can be thought of as a miniature TV, a time machine for memory, for second sight. It records and replays the past in newsreel fashion. In her book “Film Cultures”, Janet Harbord notes Adorno’s elegant phrase for capturing Benjamin’s fascination for ‘small glass balls containing a landscape upon which snow fell when shaken’ – an example of the ‘frozen image’ (Harbord 2002:34 London: Sage). I think this glass ball occult theme also gets at what fascinates in the globe – the world miniaturized, yet pointing in other directions, evocative, aspirational, and leading us elsewhere. In her next section Harbord explores the increasing importance of ‘ephemeral’ consumption of the ‘dematerialized commodity’, she writes: ‘The experiential economy is characterized by time-based goods, simultaneously used up in the moment and extended in souvenir-like ancillary products’ (Harbord 2002:48 ). The film is ephemeral, the snow-globe souvenir you buy afterwards is the material residue (as is the DVD on the shelf). Despite the No Trespassing sign, Kane, and I guess Welles probably, is fixated on childhood, so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, and take the the snow dome as a vision machine, not just that which Bazin describes as a ‘childish souvenir’ which Kane ‘grasps before dying’ a ‘toy that was spared during the destruction of the dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1950/1991:65 ‘Orson Welles’). He also reports that Welles had described the style of Kane as ‘bric-a-brac’ in comparison to his less famous ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ (Bazin 1950/1991:59), but Bazin also provides an excellent analysis of the single shot which presents Susan’s suicide attempt, contrasted with the six or seven cross-cut shots that ‘anyone else’ would have used (Bazin 1950/1991:78). Just after the snow globe room-trashing scene in Kane there is a beautiful painted 3-piece scene. And a printing error in the eye of a cockatoo – see DVD special edition ‘Anatomy of a classic’ – Barry Norman. I’ve more to do on this I guess, but would an ‘error’ in a film print count as a kind of parapraxis, a Freudian slip in the reel? Melanie Klein wrote extensive notes on Kane but these were not published until 1998, not only, I think, because they were not written up, but also because the film outdoes psychoanalysis before the letter – another Wellesian prank perhaps, snooting his nose at those who’d second guess. (see Mason, A. (1998). ‘Melanie Klein’s Notes on Citizen Kane with Commentary’ Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18:147-153). This will continue, some of it rehearsed earlier here. But before I go, can I note another symptom of Welles’ wit – toying with the psychoanalysts, Welles lets us in on another triangle of distraction, another ephemeral ancillary aspect of the show, a scene inside a scene, (Rozencrantz!): just in the middle scene of Susan’s opera, itself stubbornly sponsored by a now demented Kane, disgraced yet still yearning for glory, we see his old newspaper buddy (and conscience) Jeddadiah sitting in the audience, bored, he seems to have made a 1,OOO,OOO Poems out of his shredded program. Now you can purchase your own rosebud snow globe moment to commemorate the film here for $31.95.Its fromPERZY, the Original Vienna Snow Globe manufacturer! – which ushers in a whole new world of possible trinket-movie tie-ins. What a great ideaforxmas – get a rosebud globe/snowsledetc etc. Other ancient movies surely can also be given the Mattel-Star Wars plastic toy movie merchandising treatment – little kiddy versions of the False Maria of Metropolis, the movie-camerafromVertov, ships from Potempkin… the plastic possibilities are endless, and what a good education it will be. Although a plastic Maria might be indistinguishablefromCP3O I guess. Still, do it now, festoon your young takker’s crib with a toy puss in the shape of Holly Golightly’s cat (‘He’s all right! Aren’t you, cat? Poor cat! Poor slob! Poor slob without a name!’) and how about a teething ring made from the gun used byBarbaraStanwyck in Double Indemnity? I’m riffing now, but why paint young Tamsyn’s room with elven fluff from mere fantasy when she could have wall-sized stills of the Unicorn sceneinBladerunner for her room decor. You want her to have ambition don’t you, you want her to direct? I can see a business plan forming already.
This great post and meme by Ted Swedenburg deserves your attention. I used to play this game but never thought to collect – this is trinketization as well after all. One of my favourites was the news reporter on Japanese television when I worked in Nagoya, who presented all his Baghdad reports during 2003 wearing a Kufiya. Some people have mistaken Jade Goody’s pirate scarf on Big Brother as one as well, but I think we can let that pass – great as Jade is, her support for Pirates will do. Aki Nawaz of course is a prominent UK wearer, among millions in the UK, but though my own is now a bit tatty as its one of my oldest items of clothing, it does come out often. I got it from Palestine Solidarity in Melbourne in 1986 – we ran ads for their campaign group in the journal I edited, Criticism, Heresy and Interpretation. Anyway, this is Ted’s latest addition, gently mocking ‘Urban Outfitters’, but it’s worth pursuing the other posts as this one is number 12 in his series.
Urban Outfitters’ “early spring” catalogue is now online, and the featured item in Men’s Accessories is the (Palestinian) kufiya, marketed as an “anti-war woven scarf” (thanks, Hisham). If you click on the photo of the male model, you will find the kufiya (only $20), in the classic mode, checkered black-and-white, but also available in red, turqoise (my fave), and brown. It’s remarkable that “anti-war” is now so mainstream that Urban Outfitters feels comfortable using it as a marketing tool. By contrast, back in the late ’80s, the Banana Republic catalogue carried an item called the “Israeli Paratroopers Bag.” It’s also remarkable that despite even though the Palestinians, since the onset of the al-Aqsa Intifada, have been indelibly re-associated with terrorism and suicide bombings, the Palestinian kufiya remains so deeply rooted in hipster clothing style and the outfits of oppositional movements that it remains hip/commercial/”resistive” symbol. Something on the order of Che Guevara t-shirts, full of contradictions, capable of making money, yet still giving off the whiff of danger. Probably it’s the hint of danger and the exoticism that, combined, (still) makes the kufiya marketable. I’d hate, of course, to see wearing the “anti-war scarf” as accessory substitute for actual activism against the war/occupation. (And my friend Joel Gordon reminds me: the kufiya “originally” symbolizes resistance, and in fact, armed resistance (the Palestinian revolt of 1936-39, the fedayeen of the sixties and seventies), not “anti-war.” No doubt this is also related to the “hipness” of things Islamic today; an article by Jill Hamburg Caplan will soon appear inNew York magazine, and I’ll comment on it when it comes out. I wrote an article on the kufiya as style back in 1992, in an article inMichigan Quarterly Revies, and I discuss its uses, in Palestine and the US, in my book, Memories of Revolt. I’ve also been attempting to document various “sitings” of the kufiya in this blog”. Great stuff as ever Ted – hence reposted in full (of awe). .
I am sort of stuck in my room. Somewhat foolishly perhaps, I agreed to write an entry on Exotica and Tourism for Jonathan Gray’s encyclopedia (getting so there are too many such things about) and I agreed to a deadline of Jan 1st, possibly forgetting that I should be indulging in some tourism myself at that very time. So, while I might otherwise be buying my ticket on this damn cold London day (is that 2 degrees as top temp? Yikes – and yes, I know that its colder in New York…)… I do have to get this done before I get anywhere warmer… so…Help! This is an unfinished draft and it can’t be any longer… all comments welcome, email me or post here. Hopefully most readers are reading from their deckchairs someplace…Abstract:Tourism has several modes in which, more often than not, its cultural charge is impoverished. As a huge global industry it spans the world, and makes objects of people, places, meanings and experience. As pleasure- and treasure-hunt, tourism commodifies in several ways; it can be presented as educational horizon – since we have to take seriously the ideology that travel broadens the mind – and this has its privileges; as market for the strange, the curio, the souvenir and the remote, tourism brings all “Chinese Walls” battered and bruised into the guidebooks and snapshot albums of the bargain-hunting hordes. The reduction and destruction that tourism visits on the peoples and places of the ‘under-developed’ world are not the only ills of globalization for sure, and some may make the case for tourism as a force for cultural preservation, as opportunity for exchange, tourism as solidarity and as a kind of charitable aid, but on the whole tourism suffers from a bad press on this what, we sometimes call, our lonely Planet.TourismTourist sites and experiences are glossed in promotional literatures with a well known and now instantly recognizable code: sunsets over palm fringed beaches; temples and monuments in jungles or deserts; curious modes of transport – the camel, the elephant, the ‘took took’ or tempo; smiling cherubic youth; feathered warriors or remote Masai women in costumed dance. The adventure of tourism in the so-called ‘third world’ mixes these exotics with pleasure getaways, luxury resorts (swimming pools just meters away from pristine beaches seems clearly excessive); home comforts and promises of safety, running water or fully-catered treks (with Nepalese Sherpers perhaps to carry any real weight; with political concerns safely tucked away in the non-tourist peripheries – alarmingly increasing, as the ‘axis of evil’ expands).The trouble with much tourism literature has been that it must ignore politics, commodification, inequality and exploitation at the very moment that these matters are the very basis of the possibility of ‘third-world’ tourism in the first place. If there was not a wealthy tourist elite (or relative elite, national or foreign, gap year or package tour) looking for leisured rest and/or exotic experience outside of their everyday world, there would be no tourist economy. In a competitive market the travel brochure version of the world of tourism must present the beach, the pina colada, the ‘interesting’ cultural life of others as a package for ready sale. The educational dimension of culture then becomes benign but empty. Inequality is reduced to cultural difference, and may sometimes be presented as something the tourist economy can even alleviate. In Denis O’Rourke’s film “The Good Woman of Bangkok” you can hear sex tourists brag that their custom keeps Thai women from a life of poverty. In Indonesian hotels the artist of Wayang Kulit and Gamelan, not to mention less salubrious traditions, are maintained through nightly performances for businessmen that pay top dollar for entertainments they need not (want to) fully understand. Or rather, they pay for the experience of difference, of not understanding otherness. The exotic is its own reward – does it matter that these traditions are reduced in cultural importance by the way? Some would argue against such traditionalism, against touching nostalgia for a past that was never so neat.The benevolence of tourism and charity workA guilty secret resides at the heart of third world tourism. Holidays in other people’s misery seem inappropriate and yet – the beaches are beautiful; the tsunami a tragedy. This equationcan be resolved by charitable donation or by the presence of the tourist themselves. After the Asian tsunami of 2004, rebuilding of destroyed tourist resorts in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were soon followed by calls for the tourists to return, as part of the reconstruction. Even though many of the needed tourist dollars are not spent in the effected countries when one takes into account the destinations of profits from tourism after airline ticketing, charter and package tour bookings, hotel and food chains (MacDonalds and Coca-Cola all over Thailand for example) and even sale of travel guides, there is a very small percentage of economic return left for local entrepreneurs in any case.In recognition of this, some travelers (a sub-category of tourist, also known as backpackers) seek out charitable works as panacea; a few days at a Mother Theresa clinic or volunteer washing of elephants at a nature reserve or similar. This kind of benevolenceis authorized and approved in many travel guides, and in newspapers advertisements, through the mechanism of a heart-tugging photograph of an (always smiling) child that would be the necessary motivator for even a gesture (‘send just a few coins’) of care or concern for dispossessed human beings. Clearly charitable activities, even where they ‘help’ a bit, are also part of the benevolentself deception of the tourist gaze; serving to deflect meaningful recognition of gross economic privilege and, along the way, turning guilt itself into a commodity form. One does a few days voluntary work in Calcutta (seeHutnyk 1996) to excuse a month of hedonism on the beach in Goa. Similar logics justify the carbon footprint calculations of even the most well-meaning environmental traveler – to walk in the pristine rain forest and leave a ‘soft-footprint’ is still to treat the planet as object for rapacious use. Locals be damned.Souvenirs Tourists collect experience but we have to have mementos to remind ourselves that the fantasy was real. The same photographs of the smiling kids; various nick-nacks and trash purchased from the local flea market, from the beach trader, from the state emporium or from the airport departure lounge. This trinkets are then displayed on shelves at home, gathering dust, or gifted to relatives and friends not lucky enough to have been there. Postcards similarly gloat and preen. The overarching theme here is that world experienced is reduced to tat. The complex global forces of capital, of work and leisure, of the division of labour and the vast networks of information and infrastructure – planes, hotels, servants, right through to Kodak processing labs and internet travel blogging – is miniaturized in handy squares or convenient packets that can fit neatly into the luggage rack. The idea of the souvenir is reduction itself – the veneer of the trinket, the face, ironically, of exploitation write large. That we have learnt not to read these signs in any wider register is also part of the sanctioned ignorance that tourism authenticates. Post tourism But of course we are, many of us, fully aware of this hypocrisy. So much so that the inauthentic has become a part of the quest. Searching out the most gaudy plastic outrageous object proves one has not been duped by the exotica-merchants. To be in pursuit of the authentic is an essentialist trap, but to have continued past this to accept inauthenticity as part and parcel of the world leaves commodification intact. What kind of self-deception is this that extends tourist purchase to the most esoteric of objects at eh same time as it can buy up the mundane? I have seen tourists purchase plastic tap handles for their metropolitan bathroom fittings, or plastic models of the Taj Mahal, with flashing lights, as an ironic, high kitsch, souvenir. The post-tourist irony here (Urry 1990) does not break with trinketization at all, but rather confirms the process, and extends it exponentially. Trinketization Trinketization will stand for the process of reifying the world downwards into tat. What the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss lamented when he saw the filth of the West thrown back into the face of humanity has now become the detritus of all our lives, and we can even revel in it. Does this suggest a political diagnostic? The argument here is not for an end to tourism, thoroughly unlikely that could even be considered, but might we look towards the remote possibility of a better tourism, a revolutionary tourism. What of those travelers who expressly seek out meetings with the Maoists in Nepal, who march in hope of a meeting with the reds of the Himalaya; or those who travel to learn from the Ogoni in Nigeria of their struggle against the multinationals? More touching faith in the reed real here… Trinketization is…more needed here… … looking for a theorist to say the sort of things I wanted to say: that charity is a way of assuaging guilt; that it would never do for redistributive justice; that issues of representation still matter – but matter more than the those who wrote of the crisis of representation in anthropology could see; indeed, that the crisis – at least in anthropology – led us to a politics without radicalism; that the constant talk of crisis is a substitute for a sustained politics of change; and from there that the anthropology curriculum needs substantial reform; that universities have lost their capacity for critical appraisal of their role; that the current vogue for difference is misplaced and under theorized; that anti-racist work in the university and metropolis is more about avoiding guilt that acting against really existing racism… and all this is also about as “trinketization” – how our discrete studies became fascinated with discrete items, unable to theorize how it all fits together as neo-cultural imperialism. Of course Marx was the theorist that mattered, but who uses him in a way that addresses these specificities? Well, only Gayatri Spivak. Who is the one person I will always read first… [revise or exclude this] What then of Tourism Concern etc. Isn’t the solution to relax, stop moralizing against tourism and against those who claim tourism could be better (soft-footprinters). For tourist resorts and pleasure peripheries… More here… Decaying Resorts and the war of terror Something on the fascination with the empty resorts should be included here. This writer traveled through Malaysia in 2002 and it was impossible not to notice the absence of North American tourists in that country at the peak season time. Visiting five-star hotels became a kind of entertaining post-ironic tourist exercise, meeting workers barely employed, desultorily pushing a mop across the patio, with the colonial style furniture piled up at the corner of the wide veranda of the resort, only a lizard and a palm frond in the empty swimming pools, and the jungle reclaiming the golfing greens and fairways with more than six foot grasses. Waiting on teh return of the dollar (the yen and wan filling a few gaps now…). Fear of the ‘terrorist threat’ decimated more than Afghanistan and Iraq … More here… Limitations The trouble with making the case that tourism turns everything into trinkets is that a theoretical approach that pursues this line is in danger of becoming a part of the problem as well. The world becomes a kaleidoscope of fascinating sites in the same way that theoretical analysis can latch onto any example and use it for its argument. What would not be subject to post-ironic touristic exoticization. The Guardian newspaper today, as I write (December 20, 2006) reports the Mayor of war torn Grozny planning tourist visits and mocks the idea with the question ‘but will bullet proof vests be supplied?’. Yes, we can imagine how the war-devastated landscape of the Chechnyan city might become a stop on some adventure tour, which might also then take in other ‘dark tourism’ sites, not all of them inappropriate as places to visit – holocaust memorials, Iwo-Jima, former prisons and locations of famous battles (Gallipoli) might also be on the itinerary. To call this trinketization would miss the emotional purchase of such investments, despite the raw fact that investment is also behind the touristification of war. The problem with trinketization here is that analytical purchase is also often reduced to a façade in much of what passes for the study of tourism, as if replicating the gloss of the brochures also amounts to a diagnostic of the global predicament (see Clifford 1997 for several examples of this). What chance is there that travel really broadens the mind of the analyst also? Further Reading: Alneng, Victor ‘“What the Fuck is a Vietnam?”: Touristic Phantasms and the Popcolonization of (the) Vietnam (War)’ Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 22, No. 4, 461-489 (2002) Clifford, James Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth CenturyHarvard University Press, 1997 Crick, Malcolm, Resplendent Sites, Discordant Voices: Sri Lankans in International Tourism, Harwood Academic, Chur, 1994 Frommers, Guide To India, Frommers Guides, London, 1984. Hitchcock, Michael and Teague, Ken (eds) Souvenirs: the Material Culture of Tourism, Aldershot: Ashgate Hutnyk John The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London: Zed books, 1996 Jules-Rosette, Benetta The Message of Tourist Art: An African Semiotic System in Comparative Perspective New York: Plenum Press 1984. Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley, Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster, London, Cassell, 1999 MacCannell, Dean, The Tourist, reprint of 1976 version with a new introduction, Random House, New York 1989. MacCannell, Dean, Empty meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, Routledge, London, 1992. Olalquiaga, Celeste, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience, London: Bloomsbury 1999. Phipps, Peter ‘Tourists, Terrorists, Death and Value’ in Kaur, Raminder and John Hutnyk Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural PoliticsLondon: Zed books, pp 74-93 Urry, John, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies, Sage, London 1990. Sidebar 1: The Banana Pancake trail. From Cape Tribulation in Australia to Marrakech in Morocco there is the budget traveler phenomenon of the cosy guest house or traveler hostel in which trusted comforts from home are served up to weary travelers. This can be glossed as the ‘banana-pancake trail’ which serves as a shorthand – an obviously gratuitous reference to the ubiquitous back-packer snack – for the contradictory ‘adventure of experience of ‘otherness’ that third world travel can be. In search of otherness but in need of the comfortable trappings of home, backpacker discussion in the guest houses and lodges is so often about where one is from, what you would like to eat when you get back, how the food gives you ‘Delhi-belly’ or similar, the mosquitoes, the toilets, the rip-off taxis. Quite often such discussions go on while the traveller is serves cola or chai or French fries or so by a 12 year old who has worked from dawn, seven days a week, sending money home to the rural periphery that the traveler will rarely see. Sidebar 2: On Post-War Tourism:Iam assured by the Swedish anthropologistVictorAlneng, who knows these things, that Lonely Planet impresario Tony Wheeler had his eyes set on Afghanistan for some time. As evidence Victor translated from a Swedish newspaper interview in September 2002 the following insights into the wheeler-dealer’s thinking: Wheeler: ‘When aplacehas been closed there is always a groupofpeople that want to come there first. After them come the large hordes of travellers’. Reporter: ‘So what destinations will be the next big thing, after East Timor?’ Wheeler: ‘Angola and Afghanistan will come eventually. Maybe also Iraq. We were on the verge of sending one of our writers to Afghanistan as early as last summer, but it proved to still be very difficult to travel outside Kabul. Information ages quickly, so we chose to wait a little’. (Translation byVictorAlneng, Swedish text available at http://www.dn.se/DNet/road/Classic/article/0/jsp/print.jsp?&a=56544).
It is probably important not to allow the vignette to replace analysis, the two are tied together, but we don’t want the story to provide an alibi for those who would avoid the implications of the theory. Here, elegance of prose can camouflage politics. This is particularly the case amongst those who would emphasize the post in post-colonialism, and use this as an opportunity to pretend colonialism has past, and in effect to write as if it never happened. This does happen, and is the modern equivalent of those anthropologists who benefited from the infrastructural facts of colonial power but claimed to have no part in the project. Staging opposition. The founding myth of fieldwork – of Malinowski almost accidentally ‘shipwrecked’ in the South Seas – rehearses this deceit. There are several versions. The idea that missionaries – or anthropologists – were not also participating in the colonial order, however much some revisionist apologist (anthr-apologists) might want to complicate the position, cannot be ignored. Definitely, looking at the ways the ‘West’ travelled and was transformed in travel, is something that deserves more attention, but should not be taken as some sort of alibi for the violences of that travel (as sometimes happens with such work – I consider Dick Werbner’s various citations of the ‘anthropologists were not always complicit in colonialism’ routine to be in very poor taste/bad faith). The descendants of Gluckman may revere his little run-ins with the colonial authorities in Africa as ‘proof’ that he was not part of colonialism, when of course he was etc. Why does it matter that telling stories clarifies the colour of politics? – perhaps because the slippage is the hinge of reaction. At the pomo workbench the maintenance of ongoing colonialisms slips past on the palanquin of narrative – even where the analysis oscillates between anecdotal evidence and the illustration of capitalist violence, the too-easy take up of only the storybook gems from the colonial scene rehearses again the Raj extraction process. Violence of partial explanations that serve the conquest (which of course does not mean we dream of a ‘full’ explanation, but that there are some less credible than others and we know which ones serve masters and which lead elsewhere). Think for a moment of the way selective listening forges the subjectivity of oppression (perhaps in this telling the Emperor’s new clothes is not so much a story of the sycophantic courtiers as an exposure of the necessary blindness of naked power). As ever, the complexities of the circumstance can be recruited to tell another tale, more amenable to capital. The Emperor’s new clothes also tells of transition to the social relations of contemporary production – the young boy who exposes it all is nothing if not a culture hero of a brutal reality we face and embrace for good and bad. Anthropologists who were recalcitrant and troublesome for colonialism may still unwittingly (or not – so often wittingly) be those best placed to extend colonial hegemony and power. This can be seen to happen through several modes; through the promotion of culture, through the mechanisms of inscription (cf. copies of the book of Nuer prophets in the hands of contemporary Nuer – Johnson), through focus on identity, and identifications, through reification and so on. It is important not only to see this in anecdotal terms, even where the anecdotes are so compelling, but rather to recognize the vignettes as examples of a web of institutionalized power (persuasive AND coercive force) deployed systematically across the globe. That the term post-colonialism has one part of its heritage in literature has enabled some to make the anecdotal narration of post-modern anthropology into a methodological doxa, and along the way renounced any theoretical specificity and ushered in a still more reactionary politics than ever before. The other more explicitly political sources for the term post-colonial require a more nuanced comprehension of the ironic and restricted way in which the term was used to refer to a certain betrayal of anti-colonial struggle on the part of national elites and the comprador classes after the so-called fact of decolonisation (Spivak). Within the horizon of this conception of the post-colony anecdotal post-modernisms appear as spurious frivolity. And we could go on and on in this tone forever. I do think sometimes those who get on with the job have it slightly more together than those who vignette-dalliance with words for waffle (here). .
Various posts from the interwebtoday using the term trinketization (I claim no copyrite): From Maverick Kansas: “So I’m part New Yorker, so what? But that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot, because it’s a part of my identity that has a lot less purchase now that I am back in New Zealand. About three months after I returned here I was invited to what I was told was a “Natives Party”. And, after forgiving the hosts for the horrid example of the trinketization of culture that such a party theme provokes, I decided to attend, and so began the business of imagining what kind of a native I was”. From Devu Dada: “this kind of change is known as or the process of becoming smaller is known as trinketization. since the art becomes touristic product, the artist will not follow iconography. this means the art becomes fake which has no originality”. From High Peaks Alliance: “Social Costs May introduce lifestyles, ideas, and behaviors that conflict with those of residents • May create crowding, congestion, and increased crime • May encourage “trinketization” of local arts and crafts” From SlackBastard: “speaking of expensive trinkets, john hutnyk (sounds troublingly foreign to me) has a blog called trinketization, and on it a post all about rock against racism” From Absent Narrative: “It is somewhat disheartening to think of how commercialized modern holidays have become, what I call the trinketization of celebration; there isn’t one major American holiday where you can’t find enormous amounts of junk decorations” .
** Just in 1.1.09: Trinketization won two prizes in the best of anthro blogs awards 2008! Beam. See here. +++++ and then – added 12.7.2010 – again in 2010 – a glorious 22nd out of 40 :) [sponsors add for online PhD programs removed – ahem]: see HERE
And for the annoyance of trolls.