Bob Gliner, Documentary filmmaker

May 26, 1991



By David Rosenthal

An Australian visitor chats with a vendor in Bali, where tourism has changed the very characteristics tourists come to see.

'NOBODY goes there anymore," Yogi Berra was once quoted as saying about a popular nightspot. "It's too crowded."

He might have said the same thing, with his distinctive logic, about Bali or Jamaica or any number of places we think of as paradise, which have become forever changed by hordes of tourists.

That's one of the theses behind a thought-provoking new documentary about travel called "The Tourist," which airs Monday on KTEH.

The half-hour show by San Jose State sociology professor Bob Gliner wonders if the presence of so many tourists in so many places doesn't "destroy the very cultures they have traveled thousands of miles to see?"

It's a question very few of us think about as we pour through the travel brochures and pack our bags for parts unknown.

But as we see here, the mere mention of a tiny Balinese village in even an off-beat guidebook can change the whole atmosphere of the place forever.

One young traveler tells about climbing a mountain in Bali three years ago, and how serene it was. He returned recently to find the place crawling with would-be guides and drink sellers, with a restaurant at the top.

Gliner's script, with narration by Russ Holcomb, says that before the influx of Western tourists and customs, Balinese women used to wear only sarongs that left them topless. Now, they wear bras and covered tops and the Western women are the ones who are topless on the beach.

Tourists attend cremations and other ritual events, turning the island into a stage, with them as the audience, clutching their ever-present cameras.

Gliner says the act of taking pictures replaces the experience itself for many.

The program also visits Jamaica, where one resident talks about how tourists are more and more being herded into their own "all-inclusive" enclaves, away from the people who actually live in the country.

One tourist summarizes what lots of them feel, that he doesn't want to be bothered with the poverty all around the fancy resort he has paid dearly to stay in.

Tourists, Gliner says, "don't want to spend time experiencing other people's problems" and he's right. Most of us have neither the time nor the inclination to get to know another culture intimately. We just want to get away from our every-day lives, so, as one woman says, we can look back on them.

Gliner deals, at the end, with what may happen to American culture as more and more tourists from other countries come here.

''Perhaps it will make no difference at all," he concludes. "For in a world where tourism is fast becoming the No. 1 business, Americans, like people from other countries, will be expected to either be tourists or to cater to them. On one end of the camera or the other, creating a new kind of artificial culture and identity.

''Tourists -- oblivious to the problems around them, without responsibility to the world they have helped create. With only their identity as tourists to call their own."

An exaggeration? Probably, but there's more than a little truth to it.

A half an hour isn't enough time to cover such a complicated subject in depth, but the mere fact that Gliner has raised the questions he has makes watching "The Tourist" worthwhile for any prospective traveler.

| Home |