Bus tours versus active audiences

Tv tours were originally developed as a niche activity, this kind of tourism has become an important attraction, complete with specialty souvenirs, city maps and travel guides

says Stijn Reijnders in his article: ‘Places of the imagination: an ethnography of the TV detective tour.’

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TV- and movie tours become more and more popular. In New York alone there are a lot of different tours as for instance: a Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, Sopranos, and a New York TV and Movie sites tour. While seeing all those TV- and movie tours it is almost as if there isn’t a sight in New York that is not been filmed for a television series or a movie. Are these tours a disneyfication of New York? The term disneyfication refers to a development whereby everything is presented as an attraction park. The whole city becomes an attraction park and it is all about consuming.

Because of this growing popularity we want to point out the relation between the popular TV and movie tours and the notions of lieux d’imagination and the public sphere in this blog. What is it that makes these tours so immensely popular and what are the alternatives to the typical buss tours?

To explain this popularity, Reijnders uses the concept of lieux d’imagination, a concept that was introduced by Pierre Nora in the mid 1980s. Lieux d’imagination (places of imagination), is building on the concept of lieux de memoir (places of memory). Lieux d’imagination focuses more on the active role of locations and local objects in the experience of media pilgrimages (which is how Sneijders calls these trips to visit film locations for example) and on the effects of media pilgrimages on the material organization of these locations.

Lieux d’imagination and lieux de memoir can be seen as physical points of reference. But why do people need physical points of reference for their imagination? According to Nora, modern western society is characterized by an obsession with the past. With the loosening of traditional social bonds, individuals and social groups are desperately in search of the roots of a shared identity. This has brought about a rich culture of memoralization. Lieux de memoire have an important role in this, as places, which can function as symbolic moorings in a turbulent world. This can be a real place, like a battlefield, but also certain songs or celebrations.

An alternative explanation can be found in the work of the cultural anthropologist John Caughey. According to Caughey, people live in two distinct worlds. On the one hand, they find themselves in the ‘real’ world, an empirically measurable reality, defined by time and place. On the other hand, there is a world of imagination, an interconnected complex of fantasies, daydreams and stories.

Once this distinction between the two worlds is made, this line is crossed all the time when it comes to film tourism, for example when it comes to act out scenes from the TV series on location. The audience can use certain attributes; sit in a chair for example. This re-enacting of fictional events in a real-life setting is also known as ‘ostension’.

So TV tourism has focussed on physical points of reference by creating TV and movie tours. The popularity of TV series becomes even clearer when we combine the notion of the lieux d’imagination with the public sphere model. The public sphere model described by David Croteau and William Hoynes is a democratic model in which not only the markets produce media, but the public does too in equal measure. Open media system and ownership of the media are broad, diversified and accessible by the public. A public sphere is equal, social and diverse because the public gets a big say in what’s made. This is because the dedication to places that play a part in cultural objects goes further than organized tours by companies. The fans play a really big part in dedicating certain places to events from a movie or a tv-show as the following examples will show.

The first example is in Cardiff wales, and it’s a memorial to the character of Ianto Jones from the TV-series Torchwood (2006-2011) (a spin off series from Doctor Who). Ianto Jones died in the third series of Torchwood in 2009. Being such a beloved character (he’s not even the main character) there was a big fan reaction to his death. A way of expressing the feelings towards his death, the fans put notes and artwork at the place where in the series was the door to the main base of Torchwood. The door exists in real life, but it leads to nothing interesting like an underground base. Still, fans completely covered the place in notes, poems and other things. The interesting thing is that it didn’t go away, and the door is still covered in fanmade material. This place was such an important spot to fans that even the management of the area the memorial was in, put an ‘official’ plaque there, remembering the fictional character of Ianto Jones. This shows that the fan reaction can transform an ordinary location into an extension of a TV-series and therefore producing a very interesting bit of media.

Another example is a spot next to the St. Bartholomew hospital in London. In the TV-series Sherlock, the titular character apparently kills himself by jumping off the hospital, in plain sight of his best friend, John Watson. This has caused such a shock in the fandom that fans massed to this spot, and plastered the nearby phone booth in messages. Here, fans re-enacted the death of Sherlock Holmes by lying in the exact spot the detective was in, sometimes even with fake blood and in costume. By enacting the spot, the fans activate it as something different than an ordinary piece of pavement but rather a place of ritual and remembrance. Also it is interesting to note that there has been no ‘official’ influence at the place. It’s all from the fans. Maybe this place can even be described as a milieux de memoire. A nonofficial space, it is not really an official sight yet. It is a process of something that is still in the making, something that is much more personal.

sherlock  sherlock1

In the case of the New York Film and TV tours, no democracy is used, whereas fans of the Sherlock series have an active audience that helps creating places, even memorials for characters. We find that the active audience is way more interesting than the bus tours that seem to be so popular nowadays. The active audiences bring a whole new dimension to the way television programs and movies are received.

 

– Anouk, Laurie, Sascha, Sjoerd

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