For my Final Project, I used satire to address the idea that many tourists allow themselves to remain detached or unaware of the impacts of tourism on the people, livelihoods and natural environment of the places they visit. Beyond that, I explored the idea of how people native to an area live and work in it as opposed to how many tourists perceive that they do, and the perceptions and stereotypes perpetuated by the tourist areas and vendors themselves. I structured my Final Project as an article from the digital media site, The Onion, which commentates on contemporary issues and events in society through satire and irony. This use of satire allows the writers of The Onion to commentate on a wide variety of societal issues in a way that, while highly opinionated and often politically biased, often effectively illustrates and highlights the paradoxes and dilemmas within popular thought that pervade our society on many issues.
Why the Naxi?
I focused my research and my article on the Naxi (or Dongba) ethnic minority living primarily in the Yunnan province of modern-day China. I was struck by the description of the city of Lijiang in the book Invisible China, which we read as part of our coursework in COR 330: Tourism and Ethnicity in China. The authors described the feeling that “everything was a little fake,” but delved only briefly into the complex cultural mix that is Lijiang and the official Chinese ethnic minority of “Naxi.” This made me curious about what distinguished the Naxi from other ethnic minorities in China, in general and also, specifically, those which they are often confused with or named interchangeably as. I attempted to convey an exploration of the underlying ideas of authenticity, ethnic classification, the impact of travel, our responsibility as travellers, our ideals and preconceived notions as travellers and as Americans, and the impact of media, from the simplicity of a roadside banner to the complexity of digital media forms.
Why Does It Matter?
I thought a commentary such as this worthwhile in today’s world of constant heavy media exposure in that it aims to be correct through blatant incorrectness; when so many news and media outlets assure us that they offer only valid facts and unbiased analyses, it is easy to lose sight of the flaws in our own patterns of thinking, especially when they are reinforced continually by the news sources we seek out, which operate according to similar patterns. The Onion critiques various perspectives and situations in society through humor and an entirely unexpected outright falseness. I have found through talking with many others over the course of my project that these techniques often allow readers to remain more open-minded and engaged with the political dialogue of the articles, and to share their ideas or perspectives with others in a more concise and humorous manner.
As someone who spent the last year of college abroad, including a summer internship in China, I found that I recognized many of my own flaws and reinforced patterns of thinking through the reading, research and class discussions involved in this course. I felt that summarizing, critiquing and communicating these ideas could be done more effectively through the humor and irony of an Onion article than, in this particular case, through more traditional academic styles. As a tourist in many countries around the world over this last year, I felt obligated to think more deeply about the impact of my travels, past and future. While my article was constructed to highlight the immunity many of us feel to the impacts of our tourism on an area, and our frequent willingness to “buy into” the stereotypes and generalizations of an area or group of people, and does utilize the heavily sarcastic tone of The Onion, it is not meant as an oversimplified criticism of all who travel, nor those who travel by tour, nor Americans, nor the locals of any particular area. It is intended to cause the reader to laugh, to reflect, and to maybe consider a little deeper the complexity of the issues presented, even in such a simplified arrangement.