The Editorial: Kill The Cattle

The Editorial: Kill The Cattle

The populace of an ideal consumer society moves like cattle. Neatly segmented into little boxes, making predictable choices and spending their disposable resources on self-aggrandizing tokens of dubious worth. And this weekend, while crammed between two heroically fat passengers on an international flight, I had a blinding realisation that most travel has devolved into one of those tokens. A type of consumeristic merit badge.

I once had a romantic vision of travel, one in which a fuller passport automatically equalled greater perspective and a path towards relative enlightenment. And certainly, travel can do exactly that. Cross-cultural understanding, language learning and personal enrichment are hallmarks of the truly well-travelled. But as I watched the plump, suntanned faces on either side of me guzzle down several Diet Cokes while their owners nervously flipped through supermarket “adventure” magazines, I saw those cattle that marketeers and profit-hungry corporations adore.

In our short conversations, the couple bragged about jaunts to Africa and southeast Asia and a cruise to Alaska. And they were clearly people who had travelled quite extensively. But they were also people who have seen very, very little. They don’t leave their hotels while in foreign countries. “We loved the hotel… the cuisine! But it’s just too scary out on the streets!” And just like every good consumeristic cattle, these people (provincials who interestingly consider themselves quite cosmopolitan) don’t like it when things don’t come neatly packaged with clear warning labels and disclaimers.

Now, this couple was certainly extreme. But overtones of their attitude – not only of cultural superiority but also of laziness – can be felt strongly when travelling to any sort of heavily touristic destination. The droves of people who pack like sardines into unpleasant airplanes don’t truly want to experience the culture or uniqueness of their destination. They want to be coddled in fancy hotels, to take pictures of themselves smiling in front of iconic monuments, and then go home to brag about it to their friends. And they want to do this without feeling threatened or uncomfortable… except that being foreign is by nature uncomfortable. And its downright exhilarating!

And there’s the disturbing trend towards resort travel, in which tourists cross the globe to stay at posh mega resorts. All while completely ignoring the place around it – why visit India or Tahiti when all you see are your Swedish masseuse and American concierge? The spas and glittering towers of Dubai and Las Vegas are paradise, but those are cultural vacuums in inhospitable desert environments designed precisely to be self-referential monuments to hedonism – the resort is the culture, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with some hedonism from time to time. But outside of these adult Disneyland, it is extremely unfortunate that their non-culture cultures are being exported en masse to all tourism. For starters, Florence just got a loathsome new Hard Rock Café in one of its most beautiful piazzas. Now the city’s legions of American college girls really don’t have to trouble themselves with eating in Italian restaurant…

So, to those of us who travel for the right reasons (and readers of The Blogazine certainly do), this summer perhaps calls for a hard restart. We are trendsetters in style and believers in lives well lived. So as you venture off this August, think about really living your hard-earned vacation. Maybe even stay closer to home to experience the treasure trove of things you undoubtedly haven’t experienced in your own backyard. Revel in where you are.

And if you do go far, get lost while exploring a neighbourhood off your tourist map. Get food poisoning. Try the language. Nix the generic tourist photos. Make friends.

Punch those cattle between the eyes.

Text & Photos Tag Christof