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  • Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel, and Environmental Justice
  • Matthew P. Brigham
Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel, and Environmental Justice. By Phaedra C. Pezzullo. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007; pp. xiii + 265. $47.50 cloth.

In Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (1984), Kenneth Burke defines piety as "the sense of what properly goes with what" (74) and explains that perspective by incongruity works by countering such common sense with the use of impious combinations of words and concepts. Phaedra C. Pezzullo's Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel, and Environmental Justice can be read as a series of such impious combinations advanced to reframe our understanding of justice and agency. Confronting the popular and intellectual associations of tourism as being inherently bound up with exploitation and privilege, Pezzullo suggests that tourism, and in particular "toxic tourism," creates possibilities for progressive social change and presents opportunities for pursuit of a more embodied approach to rhetorical criticism.

Pezzullo's middle chapters address the three major toxic tours that serve as points of departure for her analysis. In chapter 3, "Sites and Sacralization," Pezzullo describes a bus tour of "Cancer Alley" (also known as "Cancer Death Alley") in Louisiana. Part of this analysis features an intricate and informed discussion of the historical relationship(s) between the environmental movement and the environmental justice movement. As revealed in the title of the chapter, Pezzullo is interested in how this tour in particular "illustrates the possibility of a more democratic world by denaturalizing previously established labels of the 'sacred' and resacralizing the bodies of people and land in pain that previously were considered profane" (104).

Chapter 4, "Cancer and Co-optation," investigates the tensions created by National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) as a corporately sponsored occasion that suspends questions of the source(s) of cancer, instead focusing much more narrowly on questions such as early detection. In particular, Pezzullo accompanies a tour in San Francisco, in which a local group, the Toxic Links Coalition, stages an annual protest during October (the same month as NBCAM), with its motto "Stop Cancer Where It Starts." Pezzullo also uses chapter 4 to explore the issue of cooptation and in particular, the phenomenon of "greenwashing" (112), in which calls to buy more environmentally friendly products replace demands for structural change. [End Page 160]

In chapter 5, "Identification and Imagined Communities," Pezzullo uses a video documentary, Matamoros: The Human Face of Globalization, to ground her analysis of conditions along the U.S.-Mexican border in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Once again, displaying her first-rate capacities as a researcher, Pezzullo does not limit herself to textual analysis of the film, but also travels to the areas shown in the documentary and interviews a number of the people involved in making the film. In continuing the organizational pattern of the previous chapters, Pezzullo uses a part of chapter 5 to examine the utility and priority of various media. Challenging the idea that the lack of immediate sensory engagement makes a documentary less captivating and present for its audience, Pezzullo argues that "[t]he absence of proximity … does not exhaust the possibilities of presence or identification as affective mobilizing tactics" (168). Indeed, Pezzullo explains that video images offer advantages that traditional tours cannot capture, such as comprehensive aerial shots from above that offer a radically different image of border life.

From start to finish, Toxic Tourism is top-rate scholarship that speaks to a wide range of audiences, from scholars to grassroots activists to general interest readers with no particular background in the subject matter. Pezzullo's writing is accessible and engaging. She moves easily from Michel de Certeau and Stuart Hall to Britney Spears and Chevy Chase. In these interweaving moves, there is something for everybody: a nuanced engagement with popular culture, a cogent encounter with and across multiple literatures, and a text that draws in its readers and invites them on its own tour. In addition, Pezzullo maintains a critical charity that remains attuned to the promises as well as pitfalls of each theoretical, intellectual, and political position she details.

In addition to contributing pertinent commentary on a...


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