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


Popular posts from this blog

Blimey, it could be Brexit!

It's a year since I wrote a new entry on this blog, and that isn't because I have nothing to say, merely that the world is getting crazier faster than I can focus on it. Now though, faced with an imminent EU referendum, it would be remiss not to say something. Boris, Gove and the other Brexiteers have the scent of victory in their nostrils, a scent wafting from a silent majority who don't share their real thoughts with pollsters. This scent is part xenophobia – the Brexiteers are convincing many people that leaving the EU would reduce immigration, which it won't – but also partly from their simmering rage against liberal media and cultural elites who have for several decades been fiddling while they were robbed of security, dignity, jobs. Unfortunately the Remain campaign relies on precisely those elites for advocates, which simply turns up the heat under the simmering pot.

So what of a "Left Case For Brexit"? There isn't one. Even if you sneakily share s…

What I've learned this week.

That insecure, narcissistic, retarded-adolescents who can barely distinguish between reality and computer games, are inventing and controlling technologies on which the future of civilisation may depend (Andrew O'Hagan's "The Satoshi Affair" in the LRB, 30th June). That a majority of working people are being written out of this future, robbed of dignity, security and jobs, and they're so furious that they'll lash out right and left at institutions they blame - like Parliament, the EU, and perhaps in November the USA. And that we lack any politicians who have clue what's going on, the nous or the backbone to handle it. It will take some time to digest these lessons.

To be absolutely honest, I did know all this already but, hell, I don't get too many opportunities to exercise my rhetoric nowadays...

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…