Monday, April 4, 2011

Why does tourist attraction == gift shop? Hint: Corporations think human being == wallet

Old Faithful Village Shop in Yellowstone National Park
by TGIGreeny on Flickr CC-AA-NC-SA
The weirdest place that I saw a gift shop was at a trail head near Banff in the Canadian Rockies. I'm out there for a invigorating walk and I'm supposed to buy something to commemorate it? Whatever happened to just having a good time and creating fond memories?

There are other tourist attractions, such as Granville Island in Vancouver or Pier 21 in Halifax, that consist almost entire of shops and restaurants. Occasionally, you can exchange money for an experience, such as a midway ride or a game of chance. But there's nothing to do there that doesn't involve money. This raises the figure of a tourist as consisting of a wallet, a stomach, and an empty bag. What happened to enjoying the scenery? Or activities that don't involve money, such as walking or building sand castles? The obvious answer is there's no profit in this, so no one is going to organize the space to promote such activities. Consequently, spending money becomes that only way to fully experience a location that has historical significance.
garryknight on Flickr CC-A

Why does a gift shop as a category of store even exist?

Think about it. A gift shop is a store where you buy gifts. What kinds of things constitute gifts? Not things that you need, like groceries, or even things that you would keep for yourself. So, this is an entire store full of things that have no purpose other than to be given away. It used to be that gifts were meaningful and infrequent, because we had less expendable income and knick-knacks from China were not a dime a dozen. What happened to choosing a gift by thinking about the person what s/he might need? Instead, the choice is made by browsing thousands of random items and deciding which one would be most suitable for a distant cousin whom you never talk to outside of family gatherings. Tese so-called gifts are really things that have taken on emotional meaning far beyond their due proportion. This proliferation of stuff has led to an entire industry of organizers, books on de-cluttering, and television shows about hoarding. Not to mention, this habit of acquisition is not good for the planet.

So, how to resist gift shops? 

Resist by exercising other aspects of being human, not just a cost center, customer, or other kind of economic unit. Let me illustrate by way of a story.

There is an old science fiction short story by Terry Bisson called "They're Made of Meat." The story, which appeared in Omni magazine in 1991, consists entirely of dialogue. We infer from the content and context, that these are two advanced aliens talking about the discovery of humans. A field agent reporting back is having a hard time convincing central command that an intelligent life form could be based entirely on flesh. The field agent drives home the enormity of the situation by emphasizing that this species undertakes all the activities that persons of note undertake using entirely meat.
"So ... what does the thinking?"
     "You're not understanding, are you? You're refusing to deal with what I'm telling you. The brain does the thinking. The meat."
     "Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"
     "Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you beginning to get the picture or do I have to start all over?"
     "Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat." 
Resist by taking back your humanity, by being thinking meat, conscious meat, loving meat, dreaming meat. Be more than just a wallet. Don't take the easy way out.

By loungerie on Flickr CC-A-NC- SA

Where is the strangest place that you have seen a gift shop? Do you need souvenirs to help commemorate a visit? Have you found ways to not exit through the gift shop?

1 comment:

Tariq Hossain Shishirq said...

Travelling is an important thing for a baktira. But in order to travel to a place we need to know about. For travel to india to find out about all the information such as,city guide, indore city maps, India, tourist information, shopping attraction, shoppping malls, hotels,tourist information...