Synopses & Reviews
In Tourists of History
, the cultural critic Marita Sturken argues that over the past two decades, Americans have responded to national trauma through consumerism, kitsch sentiment, and tourist practices in ways that reveal a tenacious investment in the idea of Americaandrsquo;s innocence. Sturken investigates the consumerism that followed from the September 11th attacks; the contentious, ongoing debates about memorials and celebrity-architect designed buildings at Ground Zero; and two outcomes of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City: the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the execution of Timothy McVeigh.
Sturken contends that a consumer culture of comfort objects such as World Trade Center snow globes, FDNY teddy bears, and Oklahoma City Memorial t-shirts and branded water, as well as reenactments of traumatic events in memorial and architectural designs, enables a national tendency to see U.S. culture as distant from both history and world politics. A kitsch comfort culture contributes to a andldquo;touristandrdquo; relationship to history: Americans can feel good about visiting and buying souvenirs at sites of national mourning without having to engage with the economic, social, and political causes of the violent events. While arguing for the importance of remembering tragic losses of life, Sturken is urging attention to a dangerous confluenceandmdash;of memory, tourism, consumerism, paranoia, security, and kitschandmdash;that promulgates fear to sell safety, offers prepackaged emotion at the expense of critical thought, contains alternative politics, and facilitates public acquiescence in the federal governmentandrsquo;s repressive measures at home and its aggressive political and military policies abroad.
andldquo;Tourists of History is a fearless guide through the paranoid landscape of contemporary American culture. Marita Sturken brilliantly maps the ways consumerism and tourism offer avenues of comfort in a threatening world at the same time that they become politically disabling. From the responses to the Oklahoma City bombing to the memorials to the Twin Towers, Sturken shows how the American way of mourning and remembering the dead shores up a conviction in a timeless sense of national innocence. This exceptionally timely book reaches deep into the past and will continue to resonate in the future.andrdquo;andmdash;Amy Kaplan, author of The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture
andldquo;Tourists of History is a great read: well written, accessible on numerous levels, and driven by a persuasive argument that links tourism, consumerism, and Americansandrsquo; understandings of themselves and their history.andrdquo;andmdash;Erika Doss, author of Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities
andldquo;Sturken is at her best making connections among the varied strands of American popular culture and mass media. . . . Sturken's analysis of contemporary consumer culture is stimulating. . . .andrdquo;
andldquo;Sturken shows how the complex interrelationship of fear and safety ultimately defines contemporary American culture and provides momentum for an episteme in which a terrorist threat is always imminent. Her book is original and powerfully insightful, and comes strongly recommended to readers of cultural studies and public history.andrdquo;
andldquo;While she argues for the importance of remembering the tragic loss of lives in Oklahoma City, Washington, Shanksville, and New York City, Sturken urges attention be paid to a dangerous confluence of memory, tourism, consumerism, paranoia, security, and kitsch that promulgates fear in order to sell safety, offers prepackaged emotion at the expense of critical thought, contains alternative politics not always seen until after the fact, and facilitates public acquiescence in the federal government's repressive measures at home and its aggressive political and military policies abroad.andrdquo;
Study of how the memorials created in Oklahoma City and at the World Trade Center site raise questions about the relationship between cultural memory and consumerism.
About the Author
Marita Sturken is a professor of culture and communication at New York University. She is the author of Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering and a coauthor of Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.
Table of Contents
1. Consuming Fear and Selling Comfort 35
2. Citizens and Survivors: Cultural Memory and Oklahoma City 93
3. The Spectacle of Death and the Spectacle of Grief: The Execution of Timothy McVeigh 139
4. Tourism and andldquo;Sacred Groundandrdquo;: The Space of Ground Zero 165
5. Architectures of Grief and the Aesthetics of Absence 219