[1 November 2005]
It makes perfect sense that airlines would show travel shows as in-flight entertainment to a captive audience. It advertises and glamorizes the product they sell. Those traveling from necessity can be encouraged to think of travel not as an enormous hassle (as it most certainly to that point the in-flight screens come down, it has) but as a potential adventure. And for those already traveling for pleasure, it is a reassuring reminder of why they are doing it, a projection of the ideal, of travel as a series of peak moments. And it caters to these travelers’ narcissism, depicting something they are already doing and glorifying it, affirming that despite the crying babies and the sub-hospital food and the stranger’s sweaty arm on your armrest, you are in fact in the midst of doing something very exciting and important and should be congratulating yourself.
But it seems odd to be indulging a daydream of travel in the midst of actually going somewhere oneself, that while traveling there are moments dull enough that watching someone else travel, daydreaming about being them, is a welcome relief. What travel programs can do, which real traveling can’t ever do, is reduce it to only compelling moments, when the traveler is completely engaged and the locals are being obliging and entirely representative, living only to provide regional color and facilitate the traveler’s experience, having no complicating motives of their own and no life when the traveler is not there to watch.
This fantasy travel within travel seems an inevitable consequence of experience being reified into objects for consumption. We want the peak moments compressed into a unbroken, series; we want to be surprised but in a predictable, regular fashion. But travel unfolds slowly over time, requires an ebb and flow of concentration, a patience and determination to pursue the kinds of experiences one wants and accept they may not materialize. One has to be open to unanticipated experience, one has to be willing to be surprised rather than afraid. But more than that, one has to be willing to embrace boredom and the unspectacular, otherwise one will be continually retreating in the midst of experiences to consume other people’s phony idealizations of what you’re after.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/travel_programming/