Oh, so there is a word for it: Postmodern Tourism.
Postmodern Tourism defines a growing trend in travel where adventurers visit offbeat or unpopular locations for purposes pertaining to both “personal interest and ironic detachment”. Places that hipsters giddily check into on Foursquare and breathlessly wait for their followers’ confused responses. Places such as Roswell, New Mexico, Flint, Michigan, or Chernobyl, Ukraine. Places that tell a story good or bad, that might give us a little insight into who we are. According to the above The Atlantic article, “urban exploration” has become increasingly popular due to high costs of traveling to less depressing places such as Hawaii, desensitization from the Internet, and society’s expanding enlightenment to how we’re f’ing up the world. Postmodern Tourism has a close relationship with a topic I find very interesting: ruin porn. Ruin porn is the sort of stuff that curious or nihilistic artists get off on. It’s the sort of thinking that drives young people to buy a $1000 house in Detroit or spring break in New Orleans 9th Ward instead of Miami Beach. Even though their parents please with them not to but they do anyways…and then they figure out their parents were probably right.
I’m glad I now have TWO names for the type of travel I most enjoy. When my mother and I were looking down into the great abyss known as the Grand Canyon, I shrugged my shoulders, flipped up my shirt collar and said nonchalantly, “It’s cool, but it doesn’t mean much to me.”
My mother was incredulous. “Lauren, the Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven greatest natural wonders of the World! What the hell are you talking about? You just always go against what everyone else likes.”
Maybe she’s right, but the Grand Canyon didn’t tell me a story about people. I didn’t see any little historical tidbits of how the Grand Canyon effected someone. No skeletal remains of a mail mule with postal bag full of letters still attached or tiny footprints of a lost Anasazi child wandering towards a cave. To me, all I saw was a giant hole.
“I like the nitty gritty, Mom. I like traveling to a place where I see the daily workings of humanity. Nature is great and all but I like seeing what Mankind made and then destroyed. Or seeing examples of Mankind being ironic, irreverent, or incompetent. It gives us insight as to who we are and what we were in the past.”
At that point my mother had walked off, leaving me to ravage a gift shop book about people who fell into the Grand Canyon.
I am a postmodern tourist. I’ve been to a number of locations that best fit this category and there are a number of places I still want to visit. Below is a guide to some of the best postmodern travel locales in the U.S. Please add your favorite places in the comments section!
Salton Sea– Salton Sea, California
Why it’s a good example of Postmodern Tourism: Because the place is completely inhabitable, duh! It’s full of dead fish and Botulism and empty trailers and salt-encrusted lawn chairs. It’s reeks of death and the humidity is oppressing. IT’S HEAVEN. The Salton Sea has become a photographer’s paradise ever since the locals jumped ship and abandoned their homes and storefronts throughout the 1980’s-1990’s. The largest lake in California began as a tourist hot spot at the turn of the century, much like it’s neighbor Palm Springs. Then throughout the decade Botulism spread like a mo-fo and millions of fish then birds died. The beaches of Salton Sea are comprised of fish bones. Also, the lake’s salinity level is so high that many species can’t survive. Oh, a hurricane also blew through at some point and flipped over old people’s mobile homes like hotcakes. Only the strong (in the “I’m high on CRACK!” kind of way) and the senile still live there. We stopped at Salton City, one of the more famously photographed cities lining the lake. There we saw a ruin pornographer’s landmine! Abandoned homes, restaurants, hotels, and children”s playgrounds. I’m getting chills just thinking about abandoned childrens playgrounds.
Good read:The Salton Sea: A ‘Dead’ Sea Ready to Rise?
Dollywood– Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Why It’s a Good Example of Postmodern Tourism– Because it’s a theme park in the middle of Deliverance-land created by a country singer with Double D breasts. If that doesn’t say America, then I don’t know what does. Truthfully, Dollywood does epitomize the American Dream. Originally opened in 1961 as something called the “Rebel Railroad”, Ms. Parton came on board in 1986 as a co-owner. She is quoted as saying, “I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.” Awww. How sweet! Dollywood is Rocky Mountain-esque themed and boasts such rides as “Granny’s Garden and Piggy Pen” and “Lil’ Logger’s Landing”, and a chapel to pray in. My thought is that this will become a hipster’s go-to place over the next couple of years. Everyone likes Dollywood. Even the strategically placed obligatory black man does.
Marfa– Marfa, Texas
Why It’s a Good Example of Postmodern Tourism: Marfa is the perfect mix of Americana and Big Cityification. Marfa is a small railroad town out in the middle of Bum F Texas. A couple of decades ago one of those “blasted New York City types” moved in and set up shop. Long after minimal artist Donald Judd left, his big city grime stayed spluged over the sleepy town. New Yorkers/Angelenos/Austinites have been flocking to Marfa to add their own seed ever since. What struck me most about Marfa is the very clear divide between the locals and the visitors. Due to the town being so small, everyone pretty much congregates into the two block area that is Main Street (N. Highland Ave). Almost as if in a parade, you’ll see an old timer in his cowboy hat followed by a young lady with severe haircut and designer black dress followed by an old timer in a cowboy hat followed by a hipster in American Apparel garb followed by an old timer in a cowboy hat and a verbal pickaxe ready to chase off the out-of-towners.
Good read: Wanderlust: Marfa, Texas
New Mexico– All of it
Why It’s a Good Example of Postmodern Tourism: Last year, my mother and I drove through West Texas and most of New Mexico. It was a trip that two hours in we both silently wondered what the hell we were thinking. Four hours later we discovered that we were setting out on this challenging journey because we thought the other really wanted to travel through the Southwest. We were wrong. However, by the end of the trip, everything seemed A-OK. I’ve lived in New York, California, and Texas and have traveled through more than half of the U.S. I can honestly say there is NO PLACE like New Mexico. From the alien conspiracy theorists in Roswell to a city that renamed itself after a radio program to the setting on fire of a giant man who moans in Santa Fe, New Mexico is f’ing weird. The first thing you’ll notice when you step into New Mexico is that it’s vast. And it’s desolate. And you wonder if you can hold that poop in for the next 90 miles because there isn’t a freakin’ building in sight. What you’ll see in this large state with a population less than that of Chicago is extreme class divide, a rich Mexican and Catholic history, and a genuine creative and artist feel. Just remember to take a GoGirl before you set out on this journey.
Picher– Picher, Oklahoma
Why It’s a Good Example of Postmodern Tourism: If it’s listed as a Superfund site, then you know you’re in for a good time. Picher was once the home of lead and zinc mining and over 1640 people. Now it’s the home to gigantic holes to the center of the Earth and 20 people. The mines, which were an important part of the town’s economy, began contaminating the local water supply and are prone to caving in towards Hell due to over-production. By 2009, the city shut down it’s only school and post office. The government paid everyone to flee for the hills and a few stubborn ones stayed behind with guns and a couple of VHS copies of Mad Max. Most of the city is being or has been leveled, so I’m not sure how much you’d see here. Also, the EPA might chase you away but why not take that risk to see what humans do when they rape the land.
Good read: Welcome to Armageddon, USA: A Tour of America’s Most Toxic Town