“Locked into this conventional marketing politics is the perception that potential visitors want direct messages; they do not want to be bogged down with difference, and they do not want to think of ‘natives’ as anything more than stock figures with island personality” – Curwen Best (196).
The last time I travelled to the Caribbean was with family friends who wanted to see the Dominican Republic but had to stay in an “Americanized” hotel. They stated they did not “do” areas where the electricity was not stable and wanted to remain as safe as possible. So we went to Punta Cana and not Santo Domingo (where our family lives) to satisfy their needs. The most authentic experience we could provide was conversations with the bartender, Sergio, whom we engaged frequently in conversation about Dominican politics and life in the cabins far beyond the pool bar. I recognize that my family friends come across as arrogant and disrespectful of Caribbean living. But, I also recognize how their naivety of gaining the best “Caribbean” experience has been based solely on advertisements and characters in the media that cater to an image of still paradise and relaxation.
Curwen Best hit the nail on the head. “They” do not want to be bogged down with difference. The formula to creating a mass tourist exodus to the Caribbean relies on the ideology of retreating from reality, nothing happens here. Therefore, tourists realizing the actual state of Caribbean life as anything but pleasantly comfortable and cheerful defeats the purpose of their coming to visit. Even cultural aspects, such as music and entertainment or “outside tours” are packaged precisely for westerners who have a taste for pop culture and the english language and might be intimidated by brusque dialect and rhythms unknown to them. The Caribbean folk are here to please and create an enjoyable experience by any means necessary.
This very notion of pleasing the tourist, who is automatically assumed to be of higher social standing and well-off in comparison to local natives, is another form of demonstrating the strengths of colonization. We see this constantly in our depictions of Caribbean people in movies or internet characters who serve to provide comic relief, makeshift remedies, or peace and love. Curwen Best highlights American depictions of Jamaica and Jamaican characters through his examples of popular films such as How Stella Got Her Groove Back and the use of Bob Marley to set the tone for the tropical themed, romantic-comedy 50 First Dates. In these media examples Jamaica is seen as a place where you fall in love and self-therapy. It is the slice of heaven on Earth where you escape problematic realities and settle in bliss. But, settling in this bliss requires zero acknowledgement of cultural history and social awareness of being in Jamaican culture.
The areas outside of resorts are particularly poor and rundown, but tourists do not come to vie for the realities of native life. That is not an option given on the google search or MTA ad or television show that has oversized pictures of beaches, sun and palm trees when you come home from a stressful day at work. As Best points out throughout his chapter, “The Caribbean in Big-Budget Film: The Caribbean in Tourism,” the neglect of reality creates a total misconception of island life, politics, culture and history and present tourists with a catered experience like no other part of the world resigns to.
I have to admit that I have been THAT tourist. The one who stays at a guest house/hotel in the city instead of with family in my hometown, the one who takes private taxis everywhere instead of public transportation and the one who treats the vacation like it’s an escape into this worry-less, stress-less, paradise, where nothing serious happens. I would go further to argue that that’s what the destination wants me to think and feel. Best’s writing reminds me that life as the natives know it (good, badly & ugly) continue uninterrupted during and after my stay. But I don’t think that as the tourist, my role in this “tourismo-economo-ecological system is to bear in mind all that is outside of what was marketed to me through the websites, flyers, brochures etc. before I get to the destination.
HA! I love this title, but love your blog post even more! I love what you bring up about colonization and the assumed higher social standing of the tourist. This is quite a charged statement that I don’t think has been clearly verbalized in this way until now. I really appreciate your clearly stated argument and using Best as your source to really push this idea of Caribbean tourism as a show for the tourists.