Tourist guides never advise tourists to go to working factories. Tourist guides avoid, as well, pointing out the wonders and spectacle of doctors’ and insurance offices, tire and brake repair places, janitorial supply warehouses, and loading docks. In other words, the world, seen through a tour book, is a world in which the sphere of production is shut out, and the sphere of circulation is severely abridged. The people who do work in the tourist’s country, who prepare food and bring it to the tourists table, who check the tourist into the hotel and change the sheets on the bed, who sell t shirts on the beach or post cards at the museum shop, are indeed working hard, to please the tourist. But the massive mechanism behind these people is simply assumed by the tourist. The tourist isn’t there to see it. If in fact the tourist comes into contact with this world – say in a car wreck, or because the tourist becomes ill – this is not part of the vacation. It is the part one subtracts from the vacation.
What, then, are we to make of this tourist world? A couple of things. Except for shows dealing with cops and criminals, it is a fair picture of the world television shows. Television used to show the blue collar world, but mainly that world has dried up, Nielson-wise. The other thing is that it is a fairly good take on the world of the contemporary liberal. Up through the eighties, the old fashioned liberal – reporter, judge, politician, academic – used to have some very serious political connection with the working class. But as the unions diminished both as a moral force and a physical presence, those connection became nominal. The world of production and circulation is out there, but if you map the outrages and causes of the liberal onto it, you will find very large gaps, incredible gaps relative to what liberalism used to be. For instance, in my lifetime, there have been two extended periods of decline in black household wealth – during the Reagan years, and since 2007. The decline since 2007 is unbelievable: according to Pew Research, while median white household net worth is at 141,900 dollars, for black households, it is 11,000 dollars. In 1983, the figures were 100,000 dollars and 10,000 dollars.
In tourist America, however, this just hasn’t happened. In the sixties, liberals from RFK to the writers at The New Republic would have been all over this. But, in our post-deluge world, it is a tourist unfriendly fact. Tourist unfriendly facts only get to emerge as facts if they become excitingly voyeuristic – if we can stick a crime in there someplace. Who was the black actor who said that 90 percent of the time his job offers were to play criminals?
I think the effort to make this a tourist world is seriously chipping at the moment. But I fear that the liberal literati are not seeing it.