Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Anti-travel in America

A blogger from the splendidly-titled city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama shares my enthusiasm for anti-travel writing, a genre which he considers 'a less indulgent, materialist take on the Situationist idea of 'drift', and a more scholarly version of urban exploration'. The proprietor of New Plastic Ideas thinks that his neighbourhood is ripe for the genre's practitioners:

When I lived at my last apartment, half of a shotgun-style house 16th Ave in Tuscaloosa, I'd considered...researching the appearance, demographics and other contents of my neighborhood, which was deemed a 'historic' district. That this info was cached in the non-circulating, special collections library was a deterrent. I was already spending 8 hours a day working at a library, and didn't want to spend many more anchored to research. I plan to be more intrepid this summer.

I think that anti-travel writing could work as well in Alabama as Auckland. We often hear about the 'coca colanisation' of the world by 'American culture', and a quick jaunt to the local shopping mall or movie theatre might seem to bear out the charge.

But what exactly is 'American culture'? Are Tom Cruise, Britney, and Mickey Ds really emblematic of American society and history? Might they not in their different ways represent the hegemony of a minority culture inside the States?

The Aussie sociologist of place Paul Beilharz has argued that, as US imperialism has globalised previously peripheral parts of the world, the 'peripheries' of the United States - the deep South, the Tex-Mex border, the obsolescent cities of the rustbelt - have themselves been increasingly marginalised, as aspects of the cultures of a few of the larger centres on the West and East coasts have been codified and commodified into a 'popular culture' intended for internal as well as external export.

The latest post on New Plastic Ideas is a sort of exercise in participant observation research, focused on a symbol of US capitalism that is widely-denigrated yet also somehow little-known:

Like many young, white, angry males with completely ineffective left politics, I hated Wal-Mart rabidly. It was the worst of US corporations -- wasteful, environmentally disastrous, treated its employees poorly, used sweatshop labor, was 'family friendly,' and it was ubiquitous, emblematic of a wasteful, conservative suburban conformity. And those wretched smiley faces. If left unchecked, it would make the nation a homogeneous swath of parking lots and one-story box buildings. I refused to shop there, derided those who did, and for a time my friends and I thought it amusing to get ourselves kicked out of the various 'supercenters' in the vicinity. We'd walk in smoking cigars, act suspiciously so that the plain-clothes security 'shoppers' would follow us around, and make crude announcements on the store-wide intercoms to drive away customers...

Now I work at Wal-Mart. Or, as they said in the 19th century, I've 'got a place' there--at least temporarily...And I have to admit, I was grotesquely fascinated by the prospect of working for one of the world's most rapacious corporations, notorious for its unique internal “culture.” The ideological saturation job the company does on its employees was evident from the day I went in to interview.


Read the rest of the first instalment of the Anti-Travel Guide to Wal-Mart here.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:21 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

There is British artist - forget her name, who also plays around with maps (of Europe and Britain) like this...mainly to draw attention to the international nature of Britain and Europe (and the world) and so on...also time and place are played with - space-time in fact... I had book on British art (art in London that means many of the artists are either from other countries or are of other than European or "British" extraction (however one expresses this - we are familiar with fact that the world is now very much NOT countries in very separate units (or it is less so than it once was) ; and NZ is no exception - it is vastly more ethnically and culturally mixed than when I was young - but took the book back to my library - but I will get it again and I will find her name - it is not "anti-travel art" per se but maybe touches on that issue as well, or those ideas.

The US, so vast, and with so many States, is perhaps a puzzle - as it is also immensely influenced by so many different ethnicities and a long history...but there is also a sense of insularity that is quite strange...the more educated Americans know this is naive of o course - hence the amusing map...Borat found or glimpsed at another side of things, on his US travels ... staged, comic, and satirical, or exaggerated (or "biased") as much of that was of course...

As naive as the "Lord of he Rings* View of N.Z" - the beautiful green clean cliche is pretty much hogwash.. and safe? Three murders in a week just in Auckland and very brutal - talking to a Tongan fellow - a social helper in South Auckland - and things are not getting better ...the false images are sent out by touristy people (they head for Queenstown (vomits at the sound of the place) not South Auckland or working class areas) and Government agents; but we are a part of the world tangle...

The history of the people in all these countries is much neglected - instead we get too much of a presentation by Councils and Governments or Tourist agents ...even in Japan - I had an official booklet of Hiroshima (I think done by the local council of that city) - it gave the history (potted) of that place but there was no mention of the Second World War (even though it was published in the 90s) or the atomic bomb!!

*This doesn't mean I don't like the films - I do - it is the dubious way people associate the film scenery with NZ and get an image that that what they are seeing is not a fantasy (or meant to be) but it IS NZ. LOTRs would have been better made say in Russia and directed by directed Jackson who was a great director with it and "Heavenly Creatures" (now that IS a great movie I think)

8:03 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

"When I lived at my last apartment, half of a shotgun-style house 16th Ave in Tuscaloosa, I'd considered...researching the appearance, demographics and other contents of my neighborhood, which was deemed a 'historic' district. That this info was cached in the non-circulating, special collections library was a deterrent. I was already spending 8 hours a day working at a library, and didn't want to spend many more anchored to research. I plan to be more intrepid this summer.

I think that anti-travel writing could work as well in Alabama as Auckland. We often hear about the 'coca colanisation' of the world by 'American culture', and a quick jaunt to the local shopping mall or movie theatre might seem to bear out the charge.

But what exactly is 'American culture'? Are Tom Cruise, Britney, and Mickey Ds really emblematic of American society and history? Might they not in their different ways represent the hegemony of a minority culture inside the States?

The Aussie sociologist of place Paul Beilharz has argued that, as US imperialism has globalised previously peripheral parts of the world, the 'peripheries' of the United States - the deep South, the Tex-Mex border, the obsolescent cities of the rustbelt - have themselves been increasingly marginalised, as aspects of the cultures of a few of the larger centres on the West and East coasts have been codified and commodified into a 'popular culture' intended for internal as well as external export. "

Yes "codified and commodified"
- basically the reality is passed just as the recent shootings and killings in South Auckland (this violent crime is not an aberrant phemona) are "blamed" on, liquor (poverty and say, alienation, are down played) - and a focus is on the "Killer Bees" (who derive from the US in their ideology - poor as that idea base is) culture and thus the reality is distorted - the crime in New Orleans or Mangere or Manurewa is caused by "them" and in NY it is romanticised... (say via the Mafia)
just as there are elements of this distortion/ romanticisation with the Mongrel Mob and indeed the Killer Bees - as if it is These (and all the P labs) who are the cause of all the crime and murders of children and poor old people, or the attacks on or by young men, whereas poverty (class differences) are a "function" of this dis-ease in our state... and so on ... and this is a constant as long as Capitalism exists.

In fact the NZ Govt is failing to look at the fact that NZ workers are becoming increasingly impoverished throughout NZ.

This sort of research (the analysis and "on the job" research I mean) Studs Terkel did and it is good.

The US is not the Grand Canyon and Hollywood etc (interesting as those places are) - any more than India is the Taj Mahal or we are the Southern Alps...

On my EYELIGHT blog [see the link to Richard Bloody Taylor] I currently (and in previous posts) have some scenes of urban (Mt. Wellington and Panmure) Auckland - the focus before and after it was vandalised and so on... on here - this blog we see Huntly and much else - NZ like all countries is a class country (and has a complex history) - thus without utilising Marxist analysis (if not using it as basis) one always gets a false (or "partial") view of any nation (of course it is subject to other analyses besides Marxism and other economic and political theories - this is where sociology, psychology, philosophy history, and even music literature and art are so very useful - even essential.)

Thus Marxism is a tool rather than some rigid formula to assess the world.

8:41 pm  
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2:46 am  
Blogger Tom Barker said...

The current London Review of Books has a long, livid and exemplary anti-travel piece on that part of East London in the process of utter and awful transformation in preparation for the Olympics. Is it travel, or even anti-travel, writing when you can walk from your home to the site of your observations? Sure it is.

9:17 am  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

John Wayne, Coca Cola and Disney are what is American culture. In addition it's the IWW, and slave revolts.

I linked back to your blog.

7:49 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

tom barker - yes it is travel - even if you say home and read a book of travel (or any other book, a play, a science book) - I feel that is also traveling! But I travel around my own local area - about 4 or 5 k in circum ... Maps goes much further.

Traveling by reading or "Idea" gets around the bastards who want to take cash for that "wonderful experience"...or control who enters or exits their country.

The Olympics is mostly a load of cobblers...regardless of where it is held countries count how many medals they get and measure their worth by this pathetic means...

The London artists I was thinking of were e.g. George Shaw, Tania Kovats, James Ireland, Layla Curtis (she changes maps around), and Steffi Klenz - she takes photographs of building material etc in East London that look like they are (mountains or whatever) but they are really (temporarily) in the middle of an urban area...

The London Review of Books is always interesting.

8:42 pm  

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