Devils Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West / Edition 1

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The West is popularly perceived as America's last outpost of unfettered opportunity, but twentieth-century corporate tourism has transformed it into America's "land of opportunism." From Sun Valley to Santa Fe, towns throughout the West have been turned over to outsiders—and not just to those who visit and move on, but to those who stay and control.

Although tourism has been a blessing for many, bringing economic and cultural prosperity to communities without obvious means of support or allowing towns on the brink of extinction to renew themselves; the costs on more intangible levels may be said to outweigh the benefits and be a devil's bargain in the making.

Hal Rothman examines the effect of twentieth-century tourism on the West and exposes that industry's darker side. He tells how tourism evolved from Grand Canyon rail trips to Sun Valley ski weekends and Disneyland vacations, and how the post-World War II boom in air travel and luxury hotels capitalized on a surge in discretionary income for many Americans, combined with newfound leisure time.

From major destinations like Las Vegas to revitalized towns like Aspen and Moab, Rothman reveals how the introduction of tourism into a community may seem innocuous, but residents gradually realize, as they seek to preserve the authenticity of their communities, that decision-making power has subtly shifted from the community itself to the newly arrived corporate financiers. And because tourism often results in a redistribution of wealth and power to "outsiders," observes Rothman, it represents a new form of colonialism for the region.

By depicting the nature of tourism in the American West through true stories of places and individuals that have felt its grasp, Rothman doesn't just document the effects of tourism but provides us with an enlightened explanation of the shape these changes take. Deftly balancing historical perspective with an eye for what's happening in the region right now, his book sets new standards for the study of tourism and is one that no citizen of the West whose life is touched by that industry can afford to ignore.

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
Intricately researched, wonderfully detailed, and profoundly disturbing.
H-Net Reviews
An important book filled with cultural insights and a bold interpretive model.
Bloomsbury Review
This remarkable book is both instructive and entertaining. It should be of great interest to anyone who cares about the West.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700610563
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Series: Development of Western Resources Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 450
  • Sales rank: 824,470
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Devil's Bargains

Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West
By Hal K. Rothman

University Press of Kansas

Copyright © 2000 Hal K. Rothman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0700610561

Chapter One


Tourism is a devil's bargain, not only in the twentieth-century American West but throughout the nation and the world. Despite its reputation as a panacea for the economic ills of places that have lost their way in the postindustrial world or for those that never found it, tourism typically fails to meet the expectations of communities and regions that embrace it as an economic strategy. Regions, communities, and locales welcome tourism as an economic boon, only to find that it irrevocably changes them in unanticipated and uncontrollable ways. From this one enormous devil's bargain flows an entire collection of closely related conditions that complement the process of change in overt and subtle ways. Tourism transforms culture into something new and foreign; it may or may not rescue economies.

As a viable option for moribund or declining places, tourism promises much but delivers only a little, often in forms different from what its advocates anticipate. Its local beneficiaries come from a small segment of the population, "the growth coalition," the landowners, developers, planners, builders, real estate sales and management interests, bankers, brokers, and others. The capital that sustains these interests comes from elsewhere, changing local relationships and the values that underpin them and their vision of place. Other residents flounder, finding their land their greatest asset and their labor lightly valued. With tourism comes unanticipated and irreversible consequences, social, cultural, economic, demographic, environmental, and political consequences that communities, their leaders, and their residents typically face unprepared. This coupling of promise and problem defies the usual mitigation processes of American society, the planning, zoning, and community sanction that historically combine to limit the impact of change.

The embrace of tourism triggers a contest for the soul of a place. Although an amorphous concept, it holds one piece of the core of the devil's bargain of tourism as a form of living. All places, even open prairies or rugged deserts, have identities; people see and define them, they have intrinsic characteristics, and they welcome or repel according to people's definitions of them as much as by their innate characteristics. Human-shaped places, cities and national parks, marinas and farms, closely guard their identities. Their people are located within them in ways that create not only national, regional, and local affiliation but also a powerful sense of self and place in the world. That identity depends on the context of the place and is linked to its social shape as well as to its economy, environment, and culture. Challenges to it threaten the status quo, especially when they pull on the bonds of community by pitting different elements, especially those that shared previous alliances against one another. As these bonds fray, subrosa tension, buried in the fictions of social arrangements, surfaces as the impact of change throws the soul of the place, any place, up for grabs.

In the twentieth-century American West, tourism initiates this contest as it generates myriad patterns that challenge the existing structure of communities and regions and reshape them. The initial development of tourism often seems innocuous, "beneath the radar" of outside interests, lucrative but not transformative. As places acquire the cachet of desirability, they draw people and money; the redistribution of wealth, power, and status follows, complicating local arrangements. When tourism creates sufficient wealth, it becomes too important to be left to the locals. Power moves away from local decision makers, even those who psychically and socially invest in the new system that tourism creates, and toward outside capital and its local representatives. This redistribution changes internal relations as it eventually consolidates into a dominant template or overlay for the places it develops. The new shape disenfranchises most locals even as it makes some natives and most neonatives--those who are attracted to the places that have become tourist towns because of the traits of these transformed places--economically better off and creates a place that becomes a mirror image of itself as its identity is marketed. A series of characteristic and oft-repeated consequences results, leaving all but a few people in tourist communities questioning whether they were better off in the economic doldrums that preceded tourism.

Tourism is the most colonial of colonial economies, not because of the sheer physical difficulty or the pain or humiliation intrinsic in its labor but because of its psychic and social impact on people and their places. Tourism and the social structure it provides transform locals into people who look like themselves but who act and believe differently as they learn to market their place and its, and their, identity. They change as much as did African workers in the copper mines of the Congo or the diamond mines of South Africa, men from rural homelands who became industrial cannon fodder. Unlike laborers in these colonial enterprises, who lived in obscurity as they labored, tourist workers face an enormous contradiction: who and what they are is crucial to visitors in the abstract; who they are as service workers is entirely meaningless. Tourist workers quickly learn that one of the most essential traits of their service is to mirror onto the guest what that visitor wants from them and from their place in a way that affirms the visitor's self-image.

Here begins a dilemma. Locals must be what visitors want them to be in order to feed and clothe themselves and their families, but they also must guard themselves, their souls, and their places from people who less appreciate its special traits. They negotiate these boundaries, creating a series of boxes between themselves and visitors, rooms where locals encourage visitors to feel that they have become of the place but where the locals also subtly guide visitors away from the essence of being local. The Sugar Cane Train in Maui nods in this direction as the conductor tells us his story; tourists do not much care about the stories of the cane cutters outside the train window. In this process, the visited change, becoming different from who they were as they exchange the privilege of their identity. This offer to share an image of their sense of belonging for coin becomes a far more comprehensive and often more perplexing bargain than merely exchanging labor and the assets in their land for their sustenance.

This process of scripting space, both physically and psychically, defines tourist towns and resorts. All places have scripted space. The scripting of space is essential to the organizing of the physical and social world for the purpose of perpetuation. Like commercial space, tourist space is specially scripted to keep visitors at the center of the picture while simultaneously cloaking, manipulating, and even deceiving them into believing that their experience is the locals' life, reality, and view of the world. "Wasn't it wonderful [in Hawaii] before Captain Cook showed up," a friend said to me over dinner at an exquisite shoreside restaurant in Ma'alea Bay, Maui, thoroughly swallowing the fiction of the scripted space of tourism.

Despite often seductively quaint and romantic settings, seeming harmlessness, and a reputation as a "clean" industry, tourism belongs to the modern and postindustrial, postmodern worlds; its social structures and cultural ways are those of an extractive industry. Though its environmental by-products are not the tailings piles of uranium mining, in the West they include the spread of real estate development, the gobbling up of open space in narrow mountain valleys, the traffic and sprawl of expansive suburban communities, and the transformation of the physical environment into roads and reservoirs that provide activity and convenience for visitors. Tourism offers visitors romanticized visions of the historic past, the natural world, popular culture, and especially of themselves. The sale of these messages, even in their most innocent form, is what iconoclastic author Edward Abbey called "industrial tourism," the packaging and marketing of experience as commodity within the boundaries of the accepted level of convenience to the public.

The most postmodern of such devices, the ones that meld the technologies, attitudes, and styles of the Age of Information, the era of the global transmission of knowledge that followed 1980, go even further. They purposely create another level of experience that masquerades or prepares for so-called authentic experience, blurring any line that may remain and often making the replica more seductive than the original. Using experience to script space in another way, to design artificial controls that seem natural and ordinary as they highlight the activity by subtly persuading visitors that the activity is their own, this postmodern form shatters historical distinctions between the real and the unreal by producing faux replicas of experience independent of the activity from which they derive.

Las Vegas has best defined this practice in its redefinition of space, time, and meaning into constructs that serve the visitor, but the form has become ubiquitous. The climbing gym, which offers indoor mountain climbing and training for the initiated and uninitiated alike, fuses these concepts. A seventy-five-foot-high climbable rock face, Surge Rock, sponsored by Coca-Cola as a promotion for its newest soft drink, Surge, is at SKG Gameworks in Showcase, a prototype upscale entertainment and commercial development that opened in 1997 on the Las Vegas Strip. As the project debuted, Showcase developer and entrepreneur Barry Fieldman climbed the rockface. Family and friends arriving at his six-year-old's birthday party watched him ascend as they rode the elevator down to the first floor, where other climbers assembled.

Given the varieties of experience available in the postmodern world, all tourism--Surge Rock, the Eiffel Tower, an African safari, backpacking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, or following in the footsteps of protoarchaeologist Heinrich Schliemann--is scripted industrial tourism. The wealth of industrial society, its transportation technologies, its consumer goods, the emphasis on convenience, and the values of a postmodern, postconsumption culture create the surplus that allows people to select any experience they choose. The goal is not experience but fulfillment--making the chooser feel important, strong, powerful, a member of the right crowd, or whatever else they crave. The people determined to leave mainstream society in search of an individual sense of travel are scripted into believing that backpacking in the Bob Marshall makes them unique or at least part of a rare breed, intellectually and morally above other tourists. This conceit is common among elites--academics and environmentalists among them--who believe they are more knowledgeable than others.

This embrace of the inherently fraudulent ecotourism, a codeword for an activity that parallels the colonial tourism of Theodore Roosevelt in Africa, in the hopes of creating a better world reveals a stunning naivete. Finding the little out-of-the-way inn in rural Ireland no more invents a unique experience than does taking a bus tour of Las Vegas or the Universal Studios tour in Los Angeles. Instead it offers a wrapper that promises a self-affirming authentic experience in the viewer's terms. This delusion of distance from society and superiority of spirit and skill clearly exists for the climbers of Mount Everest. Rob Hall, the vaunted New Zealander guide of the Himalayas, recognized his death was imminent during a tragic May 1996 ascent and spoke to his eight-months-pregnant wife on a satellite phone, minimizing the idea that any form of tourism can be other than that of the global market. The expedition took place so that people who could afford it could feel personally satisfied; a total of eight people died as a result. "Bagging trophy," as some people caustically refer to the status side of postmodern tourism, can be dangerous as well as exhilarating.

For Americans, the geographic and cultural landscapes of a mythic American West hold these psychic trophies. The West is the location of the American creation myth, the national sipapu, the figurative hole in the earth from which Pueblo Indian people emerged in their story of the beginning of the world. The image of the West, especially in the conquest that occurred between 1848 and 1890, serves that same mythic purpose for Americans. The Revolutionary War has distant meaning, but in the late twentieth century, the West holds mythic sway. In the post-Civil War West, the United States emerged anew and reinvented itself, shedding slavery, sectionalism, and states' rights and becoming the American nation that persisted until its post-Watergate fragmentation. The new nation embodied in the West transcended the inherent flaws of the first Republic, impaled on its own inconsistencies by the shelling of Fort Sumter. The West healed the hole in the heart of the nation born anew after its epic and cataclysmic tragedy. The revised national creation myth gave the West primacy in American life and thinking that grew from innocence and the potential for reinvention, a prestige further marking the region's importance in a postindustrial world increasingly dependent on tourism. When Americans paid homage to their national and nationalistic roots, they did not look to Independence Hall; they went West, like their forefathers, to find self and to create society, to build anew from the detritus of the old. This need for redefinition explains the historic and modern fixation on the West in the United States and even in Europe.

Western tourism stands at the heart of the American drama precisely because it occurs on the same stage as the national drama of self-affirmation. To Americans the West is their refuge, the home of the "last best place," according to William Kittredge and Annick Smith, home to the mythic landscapes where Americans become whole again in the aftermath of personal or national cataclysm. This virtue and incredible burden makes tourism in the West more tantalizing, more fraught with tension and anxiety, and more full of text, subtext, and depth than anywhere else in the nation. The same activity in the West means more than elsewhere; the myth of exceptionalism has a life of its own as the Rockies rise in front of westward-bound travelers, even as late as Jack Kerouac's adventures in the 1950s. That peculiar standing makes western tourism a crucible in which the powers that drive American capitalism mix with growing and increasingly disparate and random forces, economic, social, cultural, and political, shaking the foundations of the modern world.

Different parts of the American West react to tourism in disparate ways. One West, urban and rural, is tourist-dependent. In Nevada and Hawaii, which depend on tourism to the exclusion of other economic strategies, it has become an extension of state government. In both, tourism has paid the bills as it framed a postindustrial economy and postmodern culture. Both states also show traits of being plantation economies, run by outside capital and local overseers at the expense of the local public. The identity of such places became what they marketed. Tourism there was studied, measured, and surveyed in an attempt to balance its impact with its profits without alienating visitors.

In another West, rural, rooted, and increasingly challenged by changing economic conditions, tourism has long been a by-product, a somewhat improbable shadow economy. To many people, especially those possessed of the myths of individualism that permeate American culture, it seemed ephemeral and unimportant, less substantive than making things, growing food, or raising animals. In places such as 1920s Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or southern Utah at the proclamation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, the outright dismissal of tourism's significance and its amorphousness allowed it to develop with little input, to function autonomously, apart from other more thoroughly measured parts of the regional economy.

A third West, urban, more affluent, and more cosmopolitan, regarded tourism as an integral part of the regional mix, an essential sector of the economy similar to the industrial sector or other service endeavors. Los Angeles and San Francisco reflexively cater to tourism as just another economic undertaking. Almost without the recognition of the larger regional society, both visitor and visited, tourism acquired distinct forms in such places.

Despite their differences in geography and activity, the forms of tourism create similar patterns of life. In origins, economic structure, hierarchical organization, dependence on corridors of transportation, and transformative impact on existing communities, a diverse range of places from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and Disneyland offer numerous parallels. Tourism is barely distinguishable from other forms of colonial economies. Typically founded by resident protoentrepreneurs, the industry expands beyond local control, becomes institutionalized by large-scale forces of capital, and then grows to mirror not the values of the place but those of the traveling public. The malleability of the industry makes these places more pliable, creating pockets of prosperity within localities that are typically limited to incoming neonatives. Existing elites find themselves facing a trade-off: accept profitable but diminished status or fight against outside forces. For ordinary people who typically limped along in many of these locales, tourism offered the promise of panacea but delivered far less. Many residents gave up long-standing patterns of life, expecting tourism to provide better material sustenance without diminishing their sense of self or place. Often it did not, leaving people who had once accepted their position in an unsettled mood and economically only barely better off. As a salvation for social, cultural, and economic problems, tourism has typically fallen short, its success in some cases even more devastating than failure. Tourism's economic results range from good to disastrous. From a social perspective, no one it touches remains unchanged.

The selection of tourism involves a sequence of imperfect choices. It is not inherently bad for people, communities, or regions, but as William Dean Howells once observed, choice could be a curse. For many places in the American West of the 1990s, tourism offers the best available economic strategy to maintain community fabric. Yet those who seek it forget that the places that embraced tourism earlier in western history chose it because they had few other economic options. Tourism's greatest danger is its image as a panacea. Community leaders make imperfect choices based on insufficient information without recognizing the potential consequences. Only the benefits, the successes, the flow of revenue to state, county, and local coffers, occupy their thoughts, not the increase in expenditures and the changing social picture. The economist's fallacious dream of rational choice based on perfect information collapses as unanticipated consequences overwhelm expectations in tourist communities.

Tourism is where modern capitalism ends and its postmodern equivalent, a compelling rendering of the post-1980s cultural and economic landscape, begins. The view of the shore from Lahaina Bay offers a legible geography that operates within a series of conventions apparently intelligible to inhabitants of an industrial sociocultural and economic landscape but that are really quite different. On Maui, experience is the commodity for sale. Viewing the whales epitomizes this process yet is simultaneously irrelevant. Maui connotes relaxation and renewal; its scripting is designed to promote comfort, convenience, and security even as it emphasizes the experience of being above the comforts it offers. It is postmodern script, placing the visitor at the center of the picture and encouraging concern with the self far beyond any interaction with the world. On Maui, the physical world is merely the backdrop to the self.

Postmodern capitalism is new terrain, largely unrecognizable except to the people who experience it. It is not the capitalism of Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Armand Hammer, or J. Paul Getty but more that of Walt Disney, Bill Gates, and gaming impresario Steve Wynn. It is not national or nationalistic but transnational and global. Its emphasis is not on the tangible of making things, of ever-larger assembly lines and production processes, but on the marketing of images, of information, of spectacle. It creates information and information-processing systems and the accoutrements that turn regional and national economic endeavor into a global commodity. Of equal significance, postmodern, postindustrial capitalism produces images that convey emotions, chiefly hope and contentment, and conduits for information. It is a form at once substantial and inconsequential, crucial yet trivial, meaningful yet ephemeral. Its sociocultural impact is vast; in its ability to move information, and consequently to move more traditional forms of economic endeavor such as assembly-line work, postmodern global capitalism is truly revolutionary. Postindustrial capitalism has changed the very meaning of economic endeavor, providing new ways to produce wealth in a transformation as profound as the industrial revolution.

Industrial capitalism began in a productive ethos, a work ethic rightly or wrongly labeled Protestant and an ideal of producing goods with an ebullient joy that helped make their consumption an afterthought. Pragmatism permeated the production phase of American capitalism, that great expansion of productivity associated with the years between 1865 and 1914. It focused on the transformation of raw material into useable commodities such as steel or finished products such as sewing machines and telephones. The shelves of goods available in the "palaces of consumption," department stores, were the signature of the age. Utility defined this phase of capitalism, manifested in the time and motion studies of Frederick Winslow Taylor, in the subsequent invention of the assembly line, and in transportation systems such as railroads and electric street cars dependent on industrial technologies.

Intimately connected to production was consumption, the dominant feature of the stage of industrialization that gathered momentum following World War I. The spectacular consumption of the late nineteenth century, labeled "conspicuous" by social critic Thorstein Veblen, triggered an emphasis on the status rather than on the utility of goods. This trend continued with the advent of mass technologies such as the radio, the moving picture, and later television and reached its pinnacle in the refinement of details that marked the planned obsolescence built into the graciously lined and finned vehicles of the immediate post-World War II era. Consumption became first a means to an end in American society and later an end in itself. Consumption was about using and enjoying the largesse of American economic development, a concept foreign when industrialization began in the United States but that grew significantly in fits and starts until it gathered full force during the 1920s. That enjoyment went hand in hand with the rise of advertising, the widespread availability of credit, and the increased social importance of the self. It reached a pinnacle during the American Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, articulated with a razor-sharp edge by Tom Wolfe in "The Me Decade." The needs of the individual ruled without social checks. The ethic of tangible consumption dominated as the nation transformed from a society that avowed deferred gratification to one that collectively and individually sought instant fulfillment.

Industrial-age Americans made things; then they bought them. In the postindustrial world, Americans became consumers not only of tangible goods but also of the spirit and meaning of things. What Americans of a certain class could touch and hold no longer exclusively granted the security and importance to which its possessors were accustomed. When anyone could lease a BMW, the elite needed more: the control of feelings, emotion, identity, and modes of understanding that signified status, a way to differentiate themselves from the increasingly luxurious mass cultural norm. In a world short on time, where only the very rich and the very poor possessed it and only the former had the means to use it, a new way to define the self as special emerged. In turn, a new form of commodification came to dominate the American and the international landscape. Corporations packaged and people purchased what they felt granted them identity, but that identity ceased to follow traditional iconography and became a product of the international culture marketplace. Modernism had been about finding the individual's place in the world of machines; the mergers and downsizing of postindustrialism rendered the individual irrelevant as postmodernism made the self the only meaningful reference point. Ultimately, this affirmed a series of trappings, tangible and shapeless, that proclaimed an identity of the self, a far cry from the national identity of the production ethos. Adorning the self became a goal, but not only with jewelry and clothing. An intangible dimension gained great significance.

Tourism, through which people acquire intangibles--experience, cachet, proximity to celebrity--became the successor to industrial capitalism, the endpoint in a process that transcended consumption and made living a function of accoutrements. It created a culture, languid and bittersweet, and as writer Mark Edmundson puts it, "very, very self-contained.... There's little fire, little passion to be found" that had as its object participation in consumption. Yet even the young recognized that this culture was equally post-tangible, not about consuming things but about possessing experience. Material goods no longer fulfilled and created status in the United States and Europe. Only a very few products were so elite that they could not be widely owned, and even those few could be suitably copied. Goods were insufficient; status became a function of time spent, of context, of address, of place, of a table in a restaurant. Although the water was the same and the towels no softer and only marginally fluffier at the Grand Wailea's pool than at any other, that pool contained a schooled aestheticism that Americans, and world citizens, mistake for better. The pilfered wristbands provided entree, the look of prosperity and status, wrapped around the intangible of presence in the right places. In the postindustrial, postmodern world, people collect the difference embodied in travel experience as others once collected Faberge eggs. The act of travel, especially on terms dictated by the self, has come to mark the self-proclaimed well rounded and has allowed individuals to define themselves as unique. Travel as a defining experience has become a new form of religion, a new way to value the self. Bumper stickers will soon sport sayings like "she who has been the most places and stayed in luxury in all of them wins" instead of the more passe "he who dies with the most toys wins."

Tourism is the archetype of the service economy, the market of the future. Its form resembles that of the industrial world and derives wealth from it, but tourism is postindustrial in the way it competes economically and in the transnational global patterns of capital distribution it reveals. The seemingly nondescript Sunnyside Inn lodge and restaurant on the shores of Lake Tahoe appears certain to be a one-owner lodge, an old time resort. Here in a home built by a Captain Kendrick of the Schlage Lock Company early in the century, visitors receive an elegant and relaxing experience, real hospitality, just as the captains of industry once received. A close look at the walls reveals a line of photos of peer restaurants, other members of the T S Restaurant chain--in Kaanapali, Lahaina, Malibu, and Huntington Beach. The Sunnyside Inn had not belonged to family operators since 1986, when San Francisco restauranteurs bought the inn and restored it to its former elegance. Sunnyside Inn was one of more than a dozen restaurants scripted to offer unique experience and simultaneously to obviate the traces of that scripting. This faux chain, precisely unlike chain restaurants such as Denny's in the diversity of ambience but adhering to the formula, demonstrates that activities packaged as distinct have structural parallels. These too are networks, shaped by the scripting of space and formed by capital, influence, power, and attraction, but they deny their association with each other in a way that industrial networks never did.

Nor is participation in this economy the same as in its industrial counterpart. Selling ambience, experience, and identity has little in common with selling durable goods except for the selling itself. Little that can be touched and handled changes hands in the tourist transaction; the souvenirs are big business, but they are emblems and not the point itself. The exchange is more complicated and ambiguous than a typical material sales transaction. A feeling is transmitted and perhaps shared; a way of living is expressed. A mode of behavior, be it the ethos of skiing, the appreciation of the Mona Lisa, or the way to hold your cards at the Blackjack table, is offered and recognized if not always understood. These markers of belonging, of being part of the fashionable, the exciting, the new, are critical in a world where most earlier indicators of status have become easily attainable. In this new form of exchange, an entity meaningful but intangible, typically the identity, way of life, or feel of a place and its people seems to be offered up for a price. But not always.

A view of tourism from the perspective of the visited highlights a different set of relationships. For locals and incoming neonative workers, people who accepted the constructed ethos of a place and generally are willing to be underemployed there, the embrace of tourism leads to significant changes. A world in which people apparently do the same thing but in a different way, with a different feel, becomes first characteristic and then overwhelming. Sun Valley, Idaho, native John Rember describes this situation: "There are worse lives than those lived in museums," he mused about his own fate, "worse shortcomings than a lack of authenticity." As problematic as is the concept of authenticity, Rember's definition holds much weight. "Authentic" to him is a world that serves its residents ahead of outsiders, where people grow crops, hunt animals for the table instead of sport, and are tuned to the rhythms of the land. It is a world agricultural and industrial, the forms called first and second nature by William Cronon. The tourist world inverts that principle, opening a new realm of existence, a third nature, much to the distress of Edward Abbey, who made a living writing about experience without acknowledging his own role in creating change, and of locals, who remember a time before tourism descended upon them and altered their lives.

The world Rember remembers contains Cronon's first and second nature. First nature, the prehuman landscape, and I would add its organization by humans for subsistence purposes, contained essentially hunting and gathering, herding, and small-scale agrarian regimes. It is not devoid of humans, which would render it meaningless and abstract. Instead first nature describes hundreds of centuries of relationship between a species and their world, which they typically could affect only in small ways. The prototype for second nature became Cronon's Chicago, a place apart from first nature but intrinsically tied to it, its utility transformed by protoindustrial and later by heavy industrial processes, forms of organization, and physical and intellectual structures and symbols. If first nature was organized to feed and clothe the self and the family, second nature's forms were designed to market to the world.

Third nature, like postindustrial economies and postmodern thinking, focuses on what can be felt in a personal and an emotional sense. It is a natural world organized to acquire intangibles, experience, and cachet, to grant identity, to regard nature as a fount of psychic energy and emotion. Faux or real, scenery evokes powerful emotions. The fin de siecle tourist understood the Grand Canyon as an affirmation of the nation. The postmodern tourist measures it by its impact on the self. Surge Rock is real to people who see El Capitan only as a climbing rock; Surge Rock provokes similar respect because it shares the same purpose with El Capitan. Third nature is intangible, ethereal; only in the mind and perhaps in the heart can its significance exist.

Yet even the people who remember a world before the tourism of third nature and sometimes resent the present cannot live without tourism, for it provides them a promise of permanence in place, a kind of importance, and income. In places where Rember's ways of making a living never existed or have become tenuous, where the power of social structure has weakened and frayed, where many people or even most have little to anticipate except the drudgery of poverty and irrelevance, the promise of tourism, and often the physical changes and attendant growth it creates, provides hope and the glimmer of a future. Tourism begins as a panacea but becomes addictive. Its promise of vitality appears to offer a better way, a way to hope in a reality that stays much the same. It is as seductive as is a tourist's view from a Zodiac in Lahaina Harbor.

These multiple tensions play in ambiguous and multifaceted ways in the development of a tourist economy. The selection or acceptance of tourism as a strategy forces a new characterization of the virtues of place. When AMFAC developed Kaanapali as a resort, it evaluated the area differently than it did for sugar production. The new viewpoint also illuminates a working description of the local power structure, which tourism soon changes. These two features define place, often to the consternation of people who perceive their position differently. Here Rember's fictional characters live, here the "real" of the local world separates from the perceived real that visitors are encouraged to embrace. Here the tension between the various polarities of these different worldviews is manifested.

Tourism transforms place and people, but few can do without its benefits. It brings new neighbors, who often do not share existing values, but those newcomers are a source of prosperity. In the West tourism encourages the marketing of an entity different from the beef grazed on local grass, the timber in nearby forests, or the riches buried deep in the ground. Though these too can bring about exercises in colonialism that impress a structure upon a town, they require only local backs, not hearts or minds. In tourism, the very identity of place becomes its economic sustenance, and in that transformation is a complicated and paradoxical situation for the people of that place.

Three basic, overlapping, and intertwined types of tourism have evolved and become integrated during the twentieth century in the American West. They existed in various forms from the beginning of the era of mass transportation. They rose to dominance, in no small part based on the cultural values of the moment, the distribution of wealth, and the availability of transportation to the destinations that defined the ethos of the moment. Each revealed specific attributes of the dominant thinking of their time, superseding the other forms of tourism that coexisted. In this respect, the different forms of tourism became cumulative rather than sequential. Each successive stage of dominance embodied previous traits, including those attributes in the new shape that reflected changing American values.

The first type to develop was heritage or cultural tourism, the marketing of the historic, scenic, and mythic past. Long before the turn of the twentieth century, Americans defined a cultural heritage for themselves apart from the European legacy they revered and emulated and to which they felt inferior. Cultural values and a need for a national iconography made a reverential approach both to the past and the spectacular scenic attributes of the West a cultural necessity. The art of Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, and others reflected that mythic formulation and conceptually--and through the railroad, physically--generations embraced it. As long as travel remained an upper-middle- and upper-class phenomenon, heritage and cultural tourism exemplified its dominant ethos.

This class-based tourism reflected and resulted from the industrialization of the late nineteenth century. It embodied the simultaneous confidence and insecurity of the industrial age, the tremendous pride in the accomplishments of industrial society, and the myriad benefits it brought as well as the uneasiness caused by the changes it wrought. In the initial phase of national tourism, the industry manifested a class-based affirmation of the power and virtues of the modern while providing a context for a critique of industrial society. In ascribing nationwide meaning to place, tourism served an important conceptual role in American society. Western tourism, so closely allied with the idea of Manifest Destiny, the quest for the sublime, and the desire to know that marked fin de siecle America, became an integral part of reassuring the powerful of their place in a rapidly changing world.

During the 1920s and after broader distribution of increased wealth, better transportation systems, and easier access to remote places initiated the rapid development of nationally marketed recreational tourism. This phenomenon involved physical experience in the outdoors instead of the museumlike appreciation for cultural and natural features that characterized heritage tourism. Recreational tourism melded the amenities required by elite nineteenth-century tourists with activities that appealed to a broader public, less status conscious but more affluent and having greater amounts of leisure time after World War II. Hunting was the first great recreational tourism in the American West; the practice even enjoyed cultural and heritage meaning during the 1890s. The development of the ski industry and the emergence of prewar resorts such as Sun Valley, Idaho, and in the postwar years, Aspen, Colorado, granted new significance to the sport in American society.

As the infrastructure that supported travel developed, as roads stretched toward the horizon in the American West and tourist camps and motor courts appeared, travel became democratized. No longer were the wealthy the only people who could arrive at desirable destinations. The social spread in automobile ownership ensured that a wider range of people visited a broader spectrum of places and passed through a far more diverse world on the way, expanding the impact of tourism but diluting the intensity of its message. The new traveler, more middle class and by the 1920s less tuned to the tastes of the American elite, enjoyed different activities. The hegemonic influence of cultural and heritage tourism gave way to the sheer experience of recreation.

The growth in population and employment opportunities in the post-World War II era, technological innovations such as air travel and airconditioning, and the rise of a society that placed a premium on leisure and had the discretionary capital to fund that obsession helped inaugurate the third phase, entertainment tourism. Between 1945 and 1973 the United States experienced economic growth of such great proportion that it altered American expectations. The combination of wealth and technology allowed Americans unparalleled freedom and changed the way they experienced the world. Television contributed greatly to this conceptual reformulation as did the panoply of popular culture devices, from cable television to the VCR, boombox, Walkman, and personal computer. In this changing cultural self-pronouncement, the West retained great significance. It became a playground, the American dreamscape, historic, mythic, and actual, spawning a complex industry with the ability to transform places as it created an economy for destitute and flourishing communities alike. The development of Las Vegas, Disneyland, and their range of imitators characterized this phase. In the post-1945 United States, travel to accomplish personal objectives acquired the status of national birthright, and changing modes of transportation and accommodation made its forms accessible to a broader range of people than ever before.

In the postwar era, the three basic forms of tourism melded into images of their earlier incarnations. Heritage and recreational tourism in the West, historically linked by geography, developed closer ties as the tastes of the American public changed. Entertainment tourism eventually included both recreational and heritage tourism within its broad dimensions, packaging experience in resorts and national parks and mimicking what these forms offered in the packaged unreality of Disneyland, theme parks, and even Las Vegas. The result was an industry that was sufficiently malleable to weave straw into gold. But there was a steep price to pay for the trick: the cultural, environmental, and psychic transformation of place. Tourism made new places that looked like their predecessors and occupied the same geography, but ultimately the past and future shared only the physical attributes of the place.

The approach of tourism also frayed the bonds of community. Ties within communities exist on two levels: actual bonds of connection and agreed-upon fictions. In the latter, people paper over the differences between them in an effort to maintain the semblance of community. They stipulate that their disagreements are matters of conscience and belief that divide people of good character and intent. The embrace of tourism shatters such fictions, pitting different elements against each other--those who stand to benefit from the changes against those whose economic status will decline. Such tension is not unusual in any kind of community. Particularly in small tourist or resort towns, the destruction of the fiction that everyone has the best interests of the community at heart leads to a rending of the social fabric. The members of the growth coalition, who stand to benefit, embrace the new, sometimes with terrifying alacrity. Those whom this economic change leaves in stasis or decline seethe, resent, and sometimes resist.

Members of the latter group band together and develop a range of strategies to halt, slow, deflect, or reverse the changes that tourism brings. A continuum of response among those threatened has evolved, from resistance to negotiation to acceptance to denial, as places defined themselves in terms of their past. In highly educated and sophisticated communities, filled with neonatives from the elite groups in American society, such resistance could be powerful and all-encompassing. The loosely defined rubric "quality of life" served as the concept behind such efforts. In communities more inclined to accept power from above, with fewer people who felt control over the fate of their place, such actions often consisted of grumbling disguised as social critique. In all cases, the right to challenge change was conveyed through self-identification rituals that had social, cultural, and sometimes economic traits. These rituals--ranging from photographs of the people of Aspen lined up on the local rugby field next to markers connoting the year they arrived to commercials reminding Las Vegans of "how it used to be before the volcano, before the pyramid"--proved local and neonative identity and strengthened ties within the wide group ambivalent about the changes tourism caused.

As a solution to social and economic problems, tourism has vast limitations. The last resort of moribund communities and states, tourism is employed by local leaders as a remedy for the problems of places with declining industries. Tourism required no special skill of its employees, save a willingness to be gracious and attentive. Operators of tourist enterprises rarely requested tax abatements and local dollars to support the industry, and the retail trade generated by tourism filled the coffers of most western states with sales tax revenue. Tourism often functioned as a response to economic desperation, serving as a replacement economy for declining industries. Viewed through the rosiest of lenses, it promised that a community could retain its fabric and character as it brought prosperity.

Unlike traditional industries, which often brought a labor force that became socialized to local norms, tourism came replete with transient newcomers. Labor followed tourism, as did managers and other supervisory personnel. So did neonatives, who found themselves embracing a fixed moment in local time. The tourists themselves became a strong influence, objects of contempt and gratitude but harbingers of a range of experience beyond that of most locals. The need for tourists to experience an event they defined as real but that they could quickly understand compelled change. Locals who expected to be who they were became who their visitors wanted them to be; increasingly, these purveyors of local service ceased to be local at all. Neonatives replaced locals, creating the oddly postmodern spectacle of newcomers imitating locals for visitors to give the outsiders what they were paying for: reality as the tourist understood it.

A paradox resulted: local communities that embraced tourism expected to be visited by many people but generally thought their lives would remain the same. They did not anticipate, nor were they prepared for, the ways in which tourism would change them, the rising cost of property in their town, the traffic, the self-perception that the work they did was unimportant, the diminishing sense of pride in work and ultimately in community, and the tears in the social fabric that followed. Many locals found selling themselves more complicated than selling their minerals or their beef. But given their dwindling options, tourism was sometimes the only choice.

Western tourism typifies the impact of the industry. With the exception of the belt from Seattle to San Diego, the West remains an economic colony, supported by federal and outside dollars, subject to both extraregional and intraregional influences, seeking to assert independence and to control its destiny. It finds itself with the economic structure and sociocultural issues of a colony hardened beyond transfiguration. The structure of these communities and their evolution, the way they use transient and semipermanent labor, and the way they constantly are reinvented highlight the problems of tourist-based economies. Identity becomes malleable as national chains, many of them resort-based, replace local businesses. These stores become ubiquitous, obscuring local business and culture to a traveling public that is seeing just what it saw at home in a different setting and in the process, affirming home, travel destination, and self. This homogenization and increasing uniformity reflect rather than foreshadow transformation. Although the arrival of such businesses illustrates the increased economic importance of tourist communities, it also spells the end of existing cultures. Often this arrival amounts to killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The inherent problem of communities that succeed in attracting so many people is that their very presence destroys the cultural and environmental amenities that made the place special.

This is the core of the complicated devil's bargain. Success creates the seeds of its own destruction as more and more people seek the experience of an authentic place transformed to seem more authentic. In search of lifestyle instead of life, these seekers of identity and amenity transform what they touch beyond recognition. Things that look the same are not the same; actions that are the same acquire different meaning. In the process, tourists validate the transformations they cause; local will must bend to them as it deflects them, fostering a grumbling social critique often indistinguishable from nostalgia for the world they have demolished. The tensions of industrial capitalism take on new shape. Third nature, nature as spectacle, develops an ethos that claims similarity to first nature rather than to the industrial second nature that provides its wealth. Tourism complicates; it defines and redefines life after industrialization. It is different yet the same. Western tourism sells us what we are, what we as a nation of individuals need to validate ourselves, to make us what we want to be. In that process, we as tourists change all that we encounter. Making us what we want to be means shaping other places and people along with ourselves. This is the fault line of tourism, its Grand Canyon.


Excerpted from Devil's Bargains by Hal K. Rothman Copyright © 2000 by Hal K. Rothman.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Maui Redux

1. Introduction

2. Tourism and the Framing of a Culture

3. The Tourism of Hegemony: Railroads, Elites, and the Grand Canyon

4. The Tourism of Hegemony II: The Railroad, Neonativity, and Santa Fe

5. Tourism on the Actual Periphery: Archaeology and Dude Ranching

6. Intraregional Tourism: Automobiles, Roads, and the National Parks

7. From Steamboat Springs to Sun Valley: Regional and Nationally Marketed Skiing

8. The Spread of Recreational Tourism: Skiing in the Postwar West

9. Residence-based Resorts: Second Homes and Outside Influence

10. "Powder Aplenty for Native and Guest Alike": From Community to Corporate Control

11. Entertainment Tourism: Making Experience Malleable

12. Purifying the Wages of Sin: Corporate Las Vegas

13. The Melange of Postmodern Tourism



Bibliographic Essay


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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2003

    On Selling Your Soul for the Tourist Dollar

    In this provocative examination of the development of the tourism trade in the American West, Hal Rothman focuses on the evolution of the industry from the nineteenth century through the present. Rothman¿s investigation is both analytical and critical, as he demonstrates how the effects of the initial stages of tourism on a community may seem unobtrusive. Over time however, the community may find that their local concerns have become subject to the enslavement of a unique, new form of corporate tourism. As their residual benefits dwindle, these communities are often forced to sit back and watch as their tourism revenues fill the pockets of opportunity-seeking outsiders. Furthermore, while many economically depressed communities may have benefited from the introduction of tourism into their region, Rothman questions the long-term price they may have had to pay for the use of tourism in their region as a commercial enterprise. He points out that as the industry flourishes, community members may find themselves strangers in their own home towns, regulated by business interests that cater to visitors to the area instead of its natives. In the end they may regret having `sold their soul¿ for the tourist dollar. Rothman also details the development of tourism as it evolved from the efforts of the transcontinental railroad to increase its patronage, to the upsurge of post-World War I auto travel. The American penchant for entertainment and recreation, as well as a rise in consumerism after World War II, also perpetuated an increase in tourism. The development of major dollar theme parks and recreational facilities such as Disneyland, Knott¿s Berry Farm, the Las Vegas Strip, and western ski resorts were the result. These industries have more than supplemented traditional means of western economic development; in some cases, they have completely replaced it. Moreover, these self-styled `service industries¿ have created stratified environments in which low-wage workers, serve up fun and frolic for wealthy travelers and their families. This has created a new breed of tourist that has become more enraptured by the practice of tourism than in the attractions they travel to see. Modern tourism has now been reduced to a process by which customers order up and purchase a travel adventure, just as one would purchase goods or services. Today, the entire tourism industry is geared toward providing these customers with a tourism experience as a packaged commodity. Consequently, this processing of the experience determines exactly what and how the tourist will feel about the attraction. In its earliest beginnings, tourism allowed people to experience the world around them. The modern tourism industry now dictates how they shall feel about it and why. Rothman, who serves as the Chair of the History Department at the University of Nevada, is a professor of Environmental, U.S., and Public History. He is an expert on western tourism and the author of many books on the subject. This careful assessment is a great resource to use in the effort to come to terms with the development of the West as we know it today.

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