'An "Art of Listening" 2.0? Epistemological and axiological failures in cinematic tourism'

This seminar explores the rationale and origins of changing imaginaries of tourism in Greece in the context of the current economic crisis.

This event is part of the Research Culture Seminar Series 2015/2016.

Presenter: Rodanthi Tzanelli

Chair: Bobby Sayyid

The presentation explores the rationale and origins of changing imaginaries of tourism in Greece in the context of the current economic crisis. I highlight a radical change in the picture of the country that circulates in global media conduits (YouTube, Facebook, official press websites and personal blogs). To examine this shift, I reflect on past media representations of Greece as an idyllic peasant and working-class site. Then I highlight that today such representations are being recycled by Greeks living and studying abroad in virtual sites. These representations, which focus on embodied understandings of happiness and well-being, are challenged by the current economic crisis. Instead, new dark and slum tourist imaginaries emerge and propagated by native and global intellectuals-activists. Originally, ‘dark tourism’ or ‘thanatourism’ had a double identification: (a) travels to sites of disaster but also ruined spaces of industrial modernity, and (b) visitations to heritage sites of slavery, hence personal pilgrimage to distant family pasts. Dark tourism has always been connected to artistic (embodied, performative but also pictorial) and moral sentiments (of loss and resurrection of human togetherness). As a continuation of thanatourisn/dark tourism, slum tourism has been irrevocably associated with Western industrial modernity and the global consequences of unplanned urbanisation (poverty and racial inequality).

The new imaginaries both test in practice and bear the potential to re-invent Greece as a tourist destination. The change is informed by the European histories of (a) art and dark tourism focusing on middle-class refinement and (b) individualised-come-collective welfare interventions. This might assist in Greece’s upgrading as a cultural tourist destination in global value hierarchies in ways obeying to neoliberal imperatives. The new imaginaries prognosticate the death of society and attempt to rescue it through ‘positive action’ that informs two types of agency: one looks to global public engagement through artistic enactments of suffering and heroism; the second enables local (rural, island, peripheral) empowerment by international recognition. To exemplify these two types of blended native and foreign agency I provide two examples: the first comes from Ai WeiWei’s recent artistic and humanitarian engagement with the ways Greece copes with the Syrian refugee crisis. The second example considers the recent nomination of Lesbos residents involved in salvaging Syrian refugees for the Nobel Prize by an international community of scholars.

I argue that, if we look past the dangers of such positive action (incitement of nationalist sentiment), and into the nature of such interventions, we encounter an ideal type of tourist: a romantic, hypermobile and aesthetically reflexive subject, determined to rescue the ideals of community and well-being from the dangers of material and moral destitution. Though both ‘examples’ of agents value proximate engagement with Greece’s woes and refugee hosting experience, significantly, their social action achieves maximum potency in the cybersphere. In the cybersphere, social conflict and inequality or xenophobia are erased and Greek community is also ‘morphed’ into an aesthetically reflexive, philanthropic collective agent. This digital resuscitation of ‘humanity’ finds its analogue in John Urry’s Tourism 3.0 – in that it asserts ‘mobility’ as a ‘universal right’ in the face of Greece’s economic and political adversity. As economists now pronounce Greece’s slide into the ‘Third World’, the making of ‘Humanity 3.0’ invites critical engagement with class and racialized imaginaries of belonging in Europe.