David Bouchier: The Coming Of The Barbarians
The Roman poet Horace divided all travelers into two groups: those who travel for a change of climate, and those who travel to change their minds. The twenty-first century seems to have added a third category: those who travel to lose their minds.
This has been a bad season for tourists – bad in the sense of bad behavior. From Nepal to New Orleans journalists have reported on summer visitors who were acting more like barbarian invaders. It has often been said that tourism is the continuation of war by other means, and it certainly feels that way sometimes. In some popular cities and resorts we read that mobs of drunken tourists have rampaged through the streets, smashed up restaurants, and vandalized art works. Videos show groups of young adults apparently losing all their inhibitions, if they ever had any, and returning not just to childhood but to early childhood. Tourists have damaged monuments, harassed sentries outside Windsor Castle, and done many other things not mentionable on public radio. All nationalities are guilty, but the British are among the worst. The unfamiliar combination of sunshine and cheap booze seems to destroy their minds entirely. A backlash is under way. (We just returned from Berlin where the locals refer to tourists at “cockroaches.”) Some regional governments and city mayors have enacted new laws and restrictions, and severe jail terms for offenders. The Chinese government has restricted the travel of certain notorious troublemakers who are seen as embarrassing their country.
Wild parties are as old as civilization of course, and probably much older. But this destructive frenzy seems to be quite new. Some journalists who have studied the phenomenon up close have blamed the narcissistic craze for selfies and video clips that encourage crazy or boorish behavior just so that the moment can be recorded and posted online. The portability of cameras makes it all too easy. You wouldn’t set up a big, complicated two thousand dollar Nikon camera just to snap yourself doing something idiotic in the streets of a foreign city, but in the drunken moment with cell phone in hand it probably seems like a good idea. Then you can share it with all your friends on the web, and live with the embarrassment forever. It will probably still be there for your own children to find.
In its earlier days travel was about seeing new places and learning from them. Now the social media have changed the equation and the world has become no more than a background. The individual has moved center stage. “Here’s me, and that’s the Mona Lisa behind me.”
This is not exactly the world’s biggest problem and I believe it is self-limiting for three reasons.
First, you only want to gaze at pictures of yourself when you are young, so this generation will soon grow out of selfies. The next generation will find some other stupid thing to do.
Second, when the cheap oil runs out, that will be the end of cheap mass travel to distant countries where tourists feel they can act like idiots without embarrassment. It’s no fun behaving like an idiot in your own backyard.
Finally, I predict that the saturation of the World Wide Web with trillions of selfies and video clips will eventually cause it to crash, and we can all go back to writing picture postcards.
Copyright: David Bouchier