Colonial Tourism

Abi Reedy, Northwestern University

[This essay was originally written for English 365, Postcolonial Theory and Literature, by one of Jillana Enteen's students in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University.]

Traditionally, ownership of and responsibility for imperialist projects has fallen to the governments of Europe. In the United States, we like to think of ourselves as more progressive than that. After all, this is the îland of the free', the guardian of îliberty and justice for all'. As W.J.T. Mitchell says, "Americans are less disturbed by the idea of imperial decline than with the notion that the word îempire' could ever apply to us" (Transition 5, 1992). But the economic power wielded by the United States throughout the world testifies to the imperial control the îsuperpower' holds. Furthermore, American modes of relating to the rest of the world make it clear that the principles of marginalization and subjugation that fueled colonial projects are still alive and commanding in America's consumer society.

In these modern times, control through military presence in the name of God and civilization has transformed into economic control in the name of democracy, economic aid, and the "freedom" that is so precious to American patriotism. This transition is glossily apparent in the nations of the Caribbean. According to the CIA World Factbook 2001, between 60% and 85% of the jobs in most of these nations are service jobs and in most cases, at least 70% of the national revenue is generated from tourism. These nations have been declared politically independent, thereby responsible for their own economies, but have been left reliant on American consumption to sustain those economies.

The entire world competes for American business, marketing their products, scenery, diversions, accommodations, histories, and cultures to the American consumer. In the Caribbean, the heightened need to win that competition has not only tourism agencies, but the nations themselves marketing the islands as tropical paradises and obscuring any parts of the islands that do not pertain to the tourist. Consequently, the people of the islands are marginalized and objectified; unheard and unseen except when presented as servants or marketed as cultural commodities.

In an advertisement for St. James's Club in Antigua, this marginalization and the homogenization that accompanies it are unmistakable in the language that is used to attract the consumer. After a description of the accommodations, the advertisement sums the concept up as

The perfect spot for life's little indulgences. An enticing departure from the rest of the world, capture the true essence of the Caribbean at St. James's Club.
(St. James) In one sentence, a resort comes to represent all of the Caribbean and all of the Caribbean ceases to be a part of the world.

The islands are almost always presented as a departure from the real world -- an escape from society, from structure, from civilization. What follows is that the islanders are therefore not a part of civilization. Now, instead of the colonial God and civilization, the American consumer brings the almighty American dollar to the uncivilized natives. The Caribbean nations have the choice of accepting their reliance on that dollar or fighting the world economic system. Though the "true" essence of the Caribbean can by no means be contained in a tourist resort, the capitalist system has succeeded in creating the resort as at least essence of the Caribbean economy.

While all of this is going on, the American tourist is presented with sunny images of beautiful beaches and the happy, helpful islander and assured that this îhospitality' is part of local custom (Jamaica, 87). The hegemonic nature of the system is obscured by the benevolent notion of supporting the local economy, and the fact that the economy is one designed and perpetuated by American capitalism is conveniently ignored. Thus, the American tourist is free to consume the islands guilt-free under the impression that their presence there is not only welcomed, but eagerly anticipated, and that when they leave, they will have contributed to the economic freedom of the people. They fail to note that that freedom is only valuable because an America-oriented system says it is.

As it always is in an imperialist situation, the maintenance of the system is dependent on the subjugation of the people of the subjected nation. Because modern politics do not approve of the blatant slavery or violent racism familiar to previous systems, the new imperialists must use images and suggestions that play upon preexisting hegemonic assumptions to maintain the status quo. This method is illustrated precisely in an advertisement for the Almond resorts of Barbados (Almond, 21). The majority of the page is covered with a photomontage presenting, from top to bottom, a large picture of a white woman asleep in a hammock on the beach, a smaller photo of four white adults playing golf, an inviting shot of the poolside, and, at the bottom, a photo of a young black girl (the pampering native) carrying a tray of drinks and a big smile. The placement of the înative' woman at the bottom of the photographic hierarchy in opposition to the white woman at the top visually puts the Other îin her place' while the selection of photographs projects and applauds the idea that when the westerner leaves home, it is customary and natural that the native should serve her or him.

Images like this in magazines and colloquialisms like "I want to pampered by natives" appearing in modern commercials betray the single-minded orientation of American consumerism (Universal). In a nation nearly obsessed with political correctness, the fact that images and phrases that clearly subjugate the Other are considered innocuous, testifies to the colonialist attitude of modern American consumer culture. The tourism industry capitalizes on this attitude.

Because of the necessity of meeting the American consumer's vision to maintaining a stable tourist flow, tourism boards of the Caribbean islands also must perpetuate this version of the Other and sell it in their own marketing. A three-page advertisement for Jamaica in CondÚ Naste Traveler augments not only the idea of the Caribbean Other as servant, but the Caribbean culture as a consumable commodity, and solidifies the idea of a race-based Other beyond the boundaries of the island (Jamaica, 85-87).

The text of this "special advertising section" highlights the main attractions of the island on two principal pages. On one side, activities for children including petting zoos, a Kid's Kamp, and a Sega Dreamcast game center are offered along with the "Home-Away-From-Home" accommodations of the vacation condominiums and hotels (Jamaica 86). The other side describes the "Meet-the-People" program, designed by the Jamaica Tourist Board to connect "visitors to connect with Jamaicans of all ages who share similar interests." The program claims to "usher travelers inside the true heart of Jamaica" (Jamaica 87).

The marketing of the Jamaican people as a tourist attraction not only casts then staunchly into the role of the Other, but objectifies them as either entertainment alongside the petting zoo or as some sort of cultural consumable. The program plays heavily to the American desire to consume -- to consume whatever can be procured, including the "true heart" of the exotic lands they visit. The study of the Other has always been used by the colonist as an attempt to understand and file the unknown in order to perceive some control over it. The îsharing' of culture that has become an appendage of the American tourist experience is a paralleled way of trying to experience a culture in order to consume it, to purchase it, and to somehow feel ownership of it.

The Jamaica advertisement also plays to the racial divisions that are the basis of American traditions of subjugation. It is a bit subtler than the Almond page, but again, the placement of the photographs makes a statement about the expected social position and natural segregation of the races.

On the last of the three pages of the advertisement, where the main attraction is the Meet-the-People program, all of the people in the photos are black. The first picture is of two Jamaican schoolgirls, the second and third, of black tourists. The advertisement uses the already established segregation within the American consciousness to draw the black tourists attention to the attraction that, according to that consciousness, should make them feel most at home -- the opportunity to meet Others of their kind.

The suggestion in linking the images and the program is that it is reasonable to assume that blacks feel most comfortable and have the most in common with other blacks, regardless of their history or experience. There is an idea here that either the simple fact of their skin color or perhaps the mutual experience of oppression grants some sort of preexisting bond -- an image entirely reliant upon their relationship to whites. Either way, the establishment of the segregation is clear. The black tourists are ushered into the heart of Jamaica, where they belong -- with the help- while the white tourists are shown to their homes-away-from home.

On the opposite page of the advertisement, white tourists are made to feel at home in staffed condominiums or upscale hotels, being waited on rather than relating to the Jamaican natives. White tourists come to Jamaica and Jamaica takes care of them with servants and nannies provided "in the gracious Jamaican tradition" (Jamaica 86). The overemphasized availability of nannies -- mentioned in each of the three paragraphs on the page- recalls the long tradition of the American white upper classes of filling the position of nanny with the figure of the Other. Be it the African mammy of the old south or her Hispanic replacement in the new south, or the Caribbean nanny on the east coast, the Haitian nanny of the gulf states, the upper classes have always found this place in the home filled by the dark-skinned Other. Along with the other comforts of home, this advertisement specifically promises the continuation of that tradition, even in the uncivilized islands.

The culmination of the information gleaned from these advertisements leads to these conclusions: What the Caribbean has to offer is what the American consumer can consume -- namely the land, services, and culture of the Caribbean people. While the Caribbean may not really be a part of the world, which is part of it's appeal, the gracious nature of that place has made it possible for Americans to feel at home by providing the staples of American civilization -- Sega Dreamcast, and the segregation and servitude of the Other. Finally, any suspicions of injustice that may exist can be laid to rest by remembering that, not only is it in the gracious nature of the Caribbean people (all of them) to provide these services, it is in the best interest of the local economy for the tourist to take advantage of them. The legitimacy of this system is even certified by the agreement of the islanders to take up the responsibility for its maintenance. The United States has succeeded in gaining control of yet another part of the world through the power of its consumer.

American-geared economic systems in the Caribbean and elsewhere are not only imperial in their ability to control the development and participation of those economies in relation to the world system. They also perpetuate the imperial hegemony and exploitation that the îland of the free' has so boldly declared its enemies.

Traditionally, ownership of and responsibility for imperialist projects has fallen to the governments of Europe. In the United States, we like to think of ourselves as more progressive than that. After all, this is the îland of the free', the guardian of îliberty and justice for all'. As W.J.T. Mitchell says, "Americans are less disturbed by the idea of imperial decline than with the notion that the word îempire' could ever apply to us" (Transition 5, 1992). But the economic power wielded by the United States throughout the world testifies to the imperial control the îsuperpower' holds. Furthermore, American modes of relating to the rest of the world make it clear that the principles of marginalization and subjugation that fueled colonial projects are still alive and commanding in America's consumer society.

In these modern times, control through military presence in the name of God and civilization has transformed into economic control in the name of democracy, economic aid, and the îfreedom' that is so precious to American patriotism. This transition is glossily apparent in the nations of the Caribbean. According to the CIA World Factbook 2001, between 60% and 85% of the jobs in most of these nations are service jobs and in most cases, at least 70% of the national revenue is generated from tourism. These nations have been declared politically independent, thereby responsible for their own economies, but have been left reliant on American consumption to sustain those economies.

The entire world competes for American business, marketing their products, scenery, diversions, accommodations, histories, and cultures to the American consumer. In the Caribbean, the heightened need to win that competition has not only tourism agencies, but the nations themselves marketing the islands as tropical paradises and obscuring any parts of the islands that do not pertain to the tourist. Consequently, the people of the islands are marginalized and objectified; unheard and unseen except when presented as servants or marketed as cultural commodities.

In an advertisement for St. James's Club in Antigua, this marginalization and the homogenization that accompanies it are unmistakable in the language that is used to attract the consumer. After a description of the accommodations, the advertisement sums the concept up as

The perfect spot for life's little indulgences. An enticing departure from the rest of the world, capture the true essence of the Caribbean at St. James's Club.
(St. James) In one sentence, a resort comes to represent all of the Caribbean and all of the Caribbean ceases to be a part of the world.

The islands are almost always presented as a departure from the real world -- an escape from society, from structure, from civilization. What follows is that the islanders are therefore not a part of civilization. Now, instead of the colonial God and civilization, the American consumer brings the almighty American dollar to the uncivilized natives. The Caribbean nations have the choice of accepting their reliance on that dollar or fighting the world economic system. Though the "true" essence of the Caribbean can by no means be contained in a tourist resort, the capitalist system has succeeded in creating the resort as at least essence of the Caribbean economy.

While all of this is going on, the American tourist is presented with sunny images of beautiful beaches and the happy, helpful islander and assured that this îhospitality' is part of local custom (Jamaica, 87). The hegemonic nature of the system is obscured by the benevolent notion of supporting the local economy, and the fact that the economy is one designed and perpetuated by American capitalism is conveniently ignored. Thus, the American tourist is free to consume the islands guilt-free under the impression that their presence there is not only welcomed, but eagerly anticipated, and that when they leave, they will have contributed to the economic freedom of the people. They fail to note that that freedom is only valuable because an America-oriented system says it is.

As it always is in an imperialist situation, the maintenance of the system is dependent on the subjugation of the people of the subjected nation. Because modern politics do not approve of the blatant slavery or violent racism familiar to previous systems, the new imperialists must use images and suggestions that play upon preexisting hegemonic assumptions to maintain the status quo. This method is illustrated precisely in an advertisement for the Almond resorts of Barbados (Almond, 21). The majority of the page is covered with a photomontage presenting, from top to bottom, a large picture of a white woman asleep in a hammock on the beach, a smaller photo of four white adults playing golf, an inviting shot of the poolside, and, at the bottom, a photo of a young black girl (the pampering native) carrying a tray of drinks and a big smile. The placement of the înative' woman at the bottom of the photographic hierarchy in opposition to the white woman at the top visually puts the Other îin her place' while the selection of photographs projects and applauds the idea that when the westerner leaves home, it is customary and natural that the native should serve her or him.

Images like this in magazines and colloquialisms like "I want to pampered by natives" appearing in modern commercials betray the single-minded orientation of American consumerism (Universal). In a nation nearly obsessed with political correctness, the fact that images and phrases that clearly subjugate the Other are considered innocuous, testifies to the colonialist attitude of modern American consumer culture. The tourism industry capitalizes on this attitude.

Because of the necessity of meeting the American consumer's vision to maintaining a stable tourist flow, tourism boards of the Caribbean islands also must perpetuate this version of the Other and sell it in their own marketing. A three-page advertisement for Jamaica in CondÚ Naste Traveler augments not only the idea of the Caribbean Other as servant, but the Caribbean culture as a consumable commodity, and solidifies the idea of a race-based Other beyond the boundaries of the island (Jamaica, 85-87).

The text of this "special advertising section" highlights the main attractions of the island on two principal pages. On one side, activities for children including petting zoos, a Kid's Kamp, and a Sega Dreamcast game center are offered along with the "Home-Away-From-Home" accommodations of the vacation condominiums and hotels (Jamaica 86). The other side describes the "Meet-the-People" program, designed by the Jamaica Tourist Board to connect "visitors to connect with Jamaicans of all ages who share similar interests." The program claims to "usher travelers inside the true heart of Jamaica" (Jamaica 87).

The marketing of the Jamaican people as a tourist attraction not only casts then staunchly into the role of the Other, but objectifies them as either entertainment alongside the petting zoo or as some sort of cultural consumable. The program plays heavily to the American desire to consume -- to consume whatever can be procured, including the "true heart" of the exotic lands they visit. The study of the Other has always been used by the colonist as an attempt to understand and file the unknown in order to perceive some control over it. The îsharing' of culture that has become an appendage of the American tourist experience is a paralleled way of trying to experience a culture in order to consume it, to purchase it, and to somehow feel ownership of it.

The Jamaica advertisement also plays to the racial divisions that are the basis of American traditions of subjugation. It is a bit subtler than the Almond page, but again, the placement of the photographs makes a statement about the expected social position and natural segregation of the races.

On the last of the three pages of the advertisement, where the main attraction is the Meet-the-People program, all of the people in the photos are black. The first picture is of two Jamaican schoolgirls, the second and third, of black tourists. The advertisement uses the already established segregation within the American consciousness to draw the black tourists attention to the attraction that, according to that consciousness, should make them feel most at home -- the opportunity to meet Others of their kind.

The suggestion in linking the images and the program is that it is reasonable to assume that blacks feel most comfortable and have the most in common with other blacks, regardless of their history or experience. There is an idea here that either the simple fact of their skin color or perhaps the mutual experience of oppression grants some sort of preexisting bond -- an image entirely reliant upon their relationship to whites. Either way, the establishment of the segregation is clear. The black tourists are ushered into the heart of Jamaica, where they belong -- with the help- while the white tourists are shown to their homes-away-from home.

On the opposite page of the advertisement, white tourists are made to feel at home in staffed condominiums or upscale hotels, being waited on rather than relating to the Jamaican natives. White tourists come to Jamaica and Jamaica takes care of them with servants and nannies provided "in the gracious Jamaican tradition" (Jamaica 86). The overemphasized availability of nannies -- mentioned in each of the three paragraphs on the page- recalls the long tradition of the American white upper classes of filling the position of nanny with the figure of the Other. Be it the African mammy of the old south or her Hispanic replacement in the new south, or the Caribbean nanny on the east coast, the Haitian nanny of the gulf states, the upper classes have always found this place in the home filled by the dark-skinned Other. Along with the other comforts of home, this advertisement specifically promises the continuation of that tradition, even in the uncivilized islands.

The culmination of the information gleaned from these advertisements leads to these conclusions: What the Caribbean has to offer is what the American consumer can consume -- namely the land, services, and culture of the Caribbean people. While the Caribbean may not really be a part of the world, which is part of it's appeal, the gracious nature of that place has made it possible for Americans to feel at home by providing the staples of American civilization -- Sega Dreamcast, and the segregation and servitude of the Other. Finally, any suspicions of injustice that may exist can be laid to rest by remembering that, not only is it in the gracious nature of the Caribbean people (all of them) to provide these services, it is in the best interest of the local economy for the tourist to take advantage of them. The legitimacy of this system is even certified by the agreement of the islanders to take up the responsibility for its maintenance. The United States has succeeded in gaining control of yet another part of the world through the power of its consumer.

American-geared economic systems in the Caribbean and elsewhere are not only imperial in their ability to control the development and participation of those economies in relation to the world system. They also perpetuate the imperial hegemony and exploitation that the îland of the free' has so boldly declared its enemies.

References

Almond Resorts. "Almond Resorts" advertisement. Islands March 2002:21.

Bermuda Tourism Board. "Bermuda" advertisement. Condé Naste Traveler. March 2002:59

Central Intelligence Agency. CIA Factbook 2001. Home Page, 1 January 2001. Accessed 5 March 2002

"I Want" commercial. Universal Studios Orlando Resort. FOX. 3 February 2002.

"Jamaica" advertisement. Condé Naste Traveler March 2002:85-87.

Mitchell, W.J.T. "Postcolonial Culture, Postimperial Criticism." Transition 55, 1992.

St. James Club. "Antigua"Antigua" advertisement. Islands March 2002:23.


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Last Modified: 4 April 2002