Sparing a Glance: Moving Beyond the Tourist Experience


When traveling someplace new, it is so easy to get caught in the tourist trap; seeing, doing, eating, photographing the same things as everyone else. Staying on the surface of the culture may feel comfortable and safe, but only through an alternative mapping of the location do we find space for a true, holistic experience of the location’s culture.

In my hometown of Pendleton, Oregon, people visit to experience the famed rodeo and “Wild West” history, but they neglect to notice the sacred spaces that truly make Pendleton what it is. For example, my town was recently featured on national news websites for a local man setting up a huge volunteer work party to repaint and fix up an elderly couple’s decrepit house. Small, rural Pendleton is predominantly lower-middle class, and there are a lot of people who are struggling to stay afloat, desperate and embarrassed with their situation. But there are also a lot of people who are acting as the hands and feet of God’s love in the community, reaching out and making life-changing differences for others. But when you come to town solely to bar-hop and go to the rodeo, you miss this entire narrative, which, in my opinion, is truly the heart of Pendleton.

I feel that this experience is only all the more true for Americans traveling overseas, especially to Arab or Islamic countries. It takes deliberate effort to peer past the prominent perspectives of mainstream Western media and see the sacred spaces and cultures at the heart of the community.

BLOG Performing Democracy

When I tell people I am traveling to Morocco, I am met with diverse reactions. Some people do not even know where it is, some people voice excitement about the adventure and the learning opportunities, but some people, knowing that it is an Islamic country in Africa, show apprehension or concern, either in their words or in a more subtle expression. Before learning about Morocco and Islam, I admit that I shared a bit of this apprehension about the “Middle East”- without even knowing exactly why. Whether it is due to our political culture, the media gaze, or just our self-preserving humanness, we are programmed to fear “the Other.” But this fear causes us to live our lives in the tourist experience, where comfort and safety abound, but connection and growth are elusive. In order to break out of the tourist experience, we must shed our shell of judgment and fear and recognize the common struggles and joys of humanity that are shared among people everywhere in the world.

BLOG Perf Dem

In her book, Performing Democracy, Dr. Segall outlines three correctives that counter the media gaze and help us see “what is less noticed”: gender locations, social contestation, and artistic revision.  Looking at gender locations helps us to see the important roles of women, a group who, almost universally, goes unnoticed.  Examining social contestation shows us the diverse groups in a community, rounding out the one-dimensional view of media.  And artistic revision shows us how individuals move on through healing and protest following a collective trauma.  As a whole, these three correctives remind us to “spare a glance, a moment to consider the imaginative ways that individuals name themselves” (Segall, xvii).  Recognizing the ways individuals name themselves as opposed to the (often narrow-minded and incorrect) names that Western media gives them, allows us to turn away from the kitschy tourist experience and step into the sacred spaces at the core of the community.


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