Skip to main content

Don't be a Tourist


A most obstinate fact that faces any would-be critic of modern Western society is that social changes over the last half-century that constitute the so-called  "consumer society" have been accompanied by a considerable levelling of social (and to lesser extent economic) barriers between classes. We live in a more demotic culture than ever before: MPs and television presenters sport regional accents; air travel is no longer the preserve of the upper classes; a wide swathe of social classes aspire to consume luxury goods and services once the preserve of an elite (fuelled until recently by cheap credit). Deference toward social hierarchies and institutions has been vastly reduced. This is a real effect, not mere smokescreen, even if it hasn't so far been accompanied by equivalent reform to democratic institutions.

There's been a corresponding increase in snobberies of various sorts whose purpose is to maintain signs of social superiority in the face of this
levelling down. Perhaps the most obvious one concerns food - contrasting those wretches who shovel down "junk food" with one's own consumption of scarce and organically-grown products. Wine snobbery (both against beer consumers, and in terms of superior wine knowledge) is another. Air travel has its own snobbery, that unseemly craving for an "upgrade", the disparaging jokes about "turning right" at the doorway. But one that really fascinates me, as a keen photographer, is that surrounding cameras.

It's considered naff in many photographic circles to use point-and-shoot digital cameras because the great unwashed use them, because they work so well and so easily that they de-skill an arcane art, and because of the unattractive stance they provoke  - holding the camera away from the body and gawking at the LCD rather than peering intently through a viewfinder like a pro. The alternative is the single-lens reflex DSLR used by almost all professionals, which thereby aquires a certain cachet. These are large, heavy, expensive and complicated, but those very properties begin to undermine them as status symbols: learning to use one demands time and patience, a nerdish enthusiasm that's very unwelcome in cool circles. This poses a dilemma, but one which Olympus has now brilliantly attacked with its TV and cinema ad campaign for the new digital E-P1 Pen model.

This camera is almost as small as a point-and-shoot compact but has interchangeable lenses like a DSLR. It's easy to use and to carry but most important it has a cool retro look redolent of San Tropez in the '60s. Kevin Spacey is the chosen presenter, and the slogan is.... "Don't be a tourist!"

This slogan plays off yet another of the new  snobberies, that about travel. So many people can afford to visit so many places around the world that it's essential to distinguish oneself from them: they are tourists, I'm a traveller, out to broaden my mind.  Olympus's agency cleverly piggy-backs on this snobbery to sell a camera that's otherwise rather unremarkable. Carrying one will soon be compulsory on the smart beaches, replacing the pastel-coloured Canon Ixus on a neck-string... 


originally posted 26 Dec 2009 21:15 by Dick Pountain

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A New Age of Sabotage

I haven't posted much recently because every time I think of something to say, the extraordinary pace of events makes it sound lame by the next morning: New York under water, Obama re-elected, News International in the dock, rockets falling on Tel Aviv, and that's even before we reach the Mayan apocalypse on Dec 21. However I've finally plucked up courage to wade into the torrent of the miraculous-horrific thanks to a fortunate discovery on the web. In this previous post I confessed an increasing interest in the radical Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen, but that interest was quite narrowly based on reading only three of his works, namely The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Theory of Business Enterprise and his important essay The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers. This wasn't just due to laziness but to the difficulty of obtaining many of Veblen's books, which have been out of print for a long time.

But I re-read Veblen's Wikiped…

Trump of Doom?

Thought for the day. The type of economy we call social democracy depended for its success on a willingness of the majority of the population to cooperate as well as compete with one another, giving up a portion of their income in taxes to be spent on various public goods like medicine, education and transport. If the population loses its willingness to make these reasonable sacrifices then it becomes impossible to maintain a social democracy.

The UK population was so willing for at least 30 years following WWII, to a large extent thanks to the experience of necessary cooperation among the generation who fought that war. But over the *last* 30+ years that willingness has been steadily eroded by many factors, including (but by no means confined to): greater individualism stemming from precisely the relative affluence and economic freedom that post-war social democracy conferred; successive economic crises (some related to oil, some to financial recklessness); industrial decline, outsou…

Collapse of the Left

The devastating setbacks recently suffered by the Left in the UK, USA, Turkey, Hungary and Poland (perhaps soon to be followed by more within the EU) have not yet lead to any satisfactory explanation of what is going wrong. They're still largely discussed in terms of Right v Left, but using partially outdated definitions of what these terms imply.

For the first half of the 20th century, the democratic Left was associated with socialised services, economic regulation, high wages and worker's rights,, while the Right espoused militarism, privatised services, free markets and low wages. The 1960s counterculture crucially changed the beliefs of the so called New Left in the direction of pacifism, minority rights and social libertarianism, and these positions have now merged into the mainstream Left to produce a bewildering range of different combinations and sects.

The Right still likes militarism, free markets, and individualism but has also adopted substantial parts of New Left …