Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

"No One Belongs Here More Than You": Travel Ads, Colonial Fantasies, and American Militarism

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

"No One Belongs Here More Than You": Travel Ads, Colonial Fantasies, and American Militarism

Article excerpt

"INDULGENCE IS MORE THAN A STATE OF MIND. It İS a destination," proclaims a travel advertisement for Puerto Rico.1 Because travel advertising employs tourists' emotional investments, their "states of mind," to conjoin physical and psychological "destinations," it is an ideal genre for analysing the fantasies and desires that fuel modern tourism. By collecting and digitally cataloguing approximately a thousand travel ads published in American magazines from the early-twentieth century to the present, I have created a database that allows scholars to examine the semiotic and discursive elements of these ads in order to understand some Americans' beliefs about other places and about their own place in the world.2 My use of the ideas associated with 'American' or 'Americans' does not assume a monolithic consciousness or erase the vast heterogeneity of those who live in the USA but, rather, points to some overarching national myths, dominant beliefs, and persistent desires. Travel ads simultaneously reflect Americans' immediate concerns (born of specific historical, political, or economic moments) and invoke various enduring fantasies or fears that lead Americans to travel or to think about the world in often troubling ways. One of the most prevalent conceits used by tourism campaigns to promote tourist destinations is the promised pleasure derived from experiencing past colonial power in presentday travel. The ads that target American tourists often play on mythologized images of nineteenth-century British imperialism and implicitly support current neocolonial military, political, and economic relations that allow American middle-class tourists to expect the kind of service and pampering they cannot afford at home. The ads emphasize more than mere luxury or indolence; they offer a particular political and economic relationship that makes such service and pampering possible. They serve to justify both past and present inequalities and exploitation that result from nineteenth- and twentiethcentury colonialism, current economic neocolonialism, and American military presence worldwide.

One of the challenges in studying these ads is understanding how their often outrageous tag-lines function; their audacious or obsequious assertions simultaneously highlight and obscure troubling American fantasies and fears about Otherness, ownership, and cultural superiority that descend from European colonial history and American military intervention. For the most part, the ads I highlight promote countries that were or are colonial territories. As I compare ads for countries or territories that have vastly different colonial histories (such as Bermuda, Hawai'i, and Israel), I am not suggesting any specific or actual similarity among them but, rather, wish to reveal a constellation of desires and fantasies as they function in the American imagination and are recognized and exploited by advertising agencies. The foundational narrative of the USA rests on its separation from England and, more generally, from European conflict and imperialism, a distancing that encourages Americans' general geopolitical ignorance about the differences in the colonial or political histories of their travel destinations. Tourist bureaus know this, and so their representations of colonial history (particularly those of island nations) are non-specific and often interchangeable even as they attempt to distinguish themselves as unique tourist destinations. Strikingly, many of the travel ad campaigns that seek to engage generic colonial fantasies and desires of American travellers are promoted by governmental tourism bureaus of former or current colonial territories (sometimes, but not always, enlisting the services of American ad agencies); that ads from many different countries can readily invoke similar signs that attract tourist money speaks to the enduring psychological currency, power, and intelligibility of those images and imaginative narratives. When the USA sees itself as both postcolonial and anti-imperialist, travellers can simultaneously critique and fetishize European colonial histories, a move Frank Kelleter condemns as "anti-imperialist imperialism. …

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