30 July 2005

Showing it like it is

If you travel to Goa and happen to stop by at one of the beaches there, you may witness an embarrassing scene: a white European or American woman sunbathing in her bikini, topless, and a gathering of Indian men hanging around, watching. There’s something real about this scene, no matter how revolting it is to our senses and our cultural values. And, that’s what I like about it.

I don’t mean the disgusting voyeurism of the Indian men; nor do I mean the shameless topless exhibitionism of the foreigner. I refer to the realism of it – something happening naturally before our eyes. Whether we like it or not, this is a slice of life from a beach in Goa, India. It is not staged; it is not scripted by the tourism department and enacted by paid artists for the tourists to see and enjoy.

However vile the scene is, it does not insulate tourists, like me, into an artificially-created environment, far removed from the reality of Goa. It is not a movie. It is Goa in full colour.

Compare this to the staged shows you see in other countries – actually paying ticket money to be entertained for a few hours. And, what do you get for it? An illusion created by lights, music, sound and commentary… with paid performers doing their bit to keep you entertained. You get a sleek artificially-created set of images replacing the authenticity of real life… which you ought to spend time seeing… on the streets or someplace else.

I can understand if the shows depicted historical events, where simulation and enactment play important roles. But in most cases, these shows are counterfeit versions of actual happenings, packaged for the tourists to see and enjoy.


So, here it is for you. Contemporary culture for the tourists in two basic forms: the awkward naturalness of the Indian experience; and the sleek package of paid entertainment. Which one would you choose for your next vacation?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"... you may witness an embarrassing scene: a white European or American woman sunbathing in her bikini, topless, and a gathering of Indian men hanging around, watching."

Q1; Embarrassing, for whom?

"... the shameless topless exhibitionism of the foreigner..."

Q2: If for them it's routine and not shameless, what yardstick is one using here? Aren't you falling into the trap of cultural relativism?

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