Off the Beaten Track…

I’m creating a page on this site (here) where I keep track of one of my favorite recurring tropes of tourism, both historical and contemporary. It’s this idea that having a real experience of a place – experiencing the “authentic” Paris or the “real” Los Angeles – means going somewhere where the other tourists don’t tend to go, or to which only locals can give you access. Dean MacCannell, author of The Tourist (one of the most important texts on the topic) writes that this search for getting off the “beaten track” “suggests that somewhere in tourist settings there are real events accessible to intellectual elites” (105). Jonathan Culler, in his essay “The Semiotics of Tourism,” writes that this is the “most common motif” of tourism (159 in Framing the Sign).

Obviously, the big societal/cultural question to consider is why we are so concerned with authenticity in the first place. What are we doing in our daily lives that makes us want to find something “authentic” when we leave home? And what does the experience of “authenticity” feel like to someone in the midst of experiencing it?

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