July 31, 2011

Tourism demands Devil's Bargains

Blogger Stephen Bridenstine mentioned this book to me. I haven't read it, but the Publishers Weekly review is interesting.

Devil's Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American WestTourism has been vital to the economic health of the American West for most of this century. In a penetrating look at the social, economic and psychological dynamics shaping the region's modern identity, Rothman, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas history professor, ably and exhaustively demonstrates that the tourism industry has also exacted high costs from many of the communities that have become the West's most popular travel destinations. The West derives much of its appeal as a tourist attraction, Rothman explains, from its place in the American cultural imagination as a kind of exotic elsewhere, a refuge from the postindustrial urban world. Such perceptions pressure Western communities to stay frozen in time, he maintains, and play up their quaintness. Consequently, tourist demands, not the needs of local residents, play the biggest role in determining the community's values and way of life. Moreover, even as it bolsters the local economy, the tourist industry mires many locals in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Thus, Rothman concludes, "Tourism is the most colonial of activities... because of its psychic and social impact on people and their places." As insightful and deftly argued as recent books on the region by Robert Kaplan and Timothy Egan, Rothman's study traces the history of Western tourism from the late 19th century to the present, exploring in comprehensive and eminently readable detail the ways in which the tourist industry has shaped communities as diverse as Santa Fe, Aspen and Las Vegas. Each has been transformed from a small, obscure town to a mythic destination, he argues, often leaving local residents trapped inside the myth that the tourists' imagination creates.Comment:  We don't know if the book discusses tourism's impact on Western reservations, but the last sentence applies to Indians as well as non-Indians. If any Americans are "trapped inside the myth" of their history, it's Indians.

For more on the effects of tourism, see Skywalk Has Quadrupled Visitors and Schlock-lahoma!

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