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Reviewed by:
  • Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage, and: Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience, and: Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America
  • Sharon Mazer (bio)
Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. By Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997; 311 pp.; illustrations. $50.00 cloth, $18.95 paper.
Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience. By Susan G. Davis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997; 336 pp.; illustrations. $50.00 cloth, $18.95 paper.
Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America. By Andrea Stulman Dennett. New York: NYU Press, 1997; 208 pp.; illustrations. $45.00 cloth, $15.95 paper.

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A tour bus passes me, and someone leans over the rail to take my picture. I’m in Greenwich Village. I’m in Christchurch, New Zealand. I’m in London. My image is collected and may come to represent the place someone has visited, even though in London I am also a tourist. It’s no longer a simple matter of presenting myself in everyday life; these days I (along with just about everyone else) have become an image, one of the sights/sites made available for display, commodified and preserved, set within the context provided by an ever-expanding phalanx of tour guides and media. At the Christchurch Museum, I walk through a replica of an old city street. In addition to lovely antique toys beautifully displayed as though for sale, in the “toyshop” two mannequins are alternately lit as a two-minute dialogue is played and, if I wait, replayed over the PA system. Outside the museum, I can step onto a restored tram and take a ride which, with its chugging and clanging as well as the nonstop patter of its driver and conductor, transforms the city into a kind of tourist replica of itself, at once historical and contemporary, staged and live. How am I to understand these experiences, if not as part of a worldwide culture of display which permeates everyday life and lives?

In these three books, these and other problems of everyday experience are defined and, for me, the nature of performance studies itself is clarified and deepened. While addressing a remarkable range of phenomena—tourist and museum display practices, dime museums, Sea World—these books intersect in their analyses of the cult and culture of display, in particular the sort located in the sighting/siting of “freaks, wonders, and curiosities” (the sideshow cliché). Of these, Susan G. Davis’s Spectacular Nature offers a sharp-edged political and social justification for studying performance at its most quotidian, consumerist level. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s Destination Culture provides an overview of the poetics and politics of ethnographic display, and explores correlative questions of identity and taste in the quotidian as well as in the avantgarde. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s focal question—“What does it mean to show?”—sharply reiterates the rationale for linking events and objects, which might not in themselves be considered performative, to the discipline of performance studies; it might very well serve as the framing question for the [End Page 163] other two books as well. Her theoretical framework and explorations, while focused on specific examples, act as a summation of the issues that are central to the field. It’s a terrific resource. Her writing is simple and direct: she allows the reader to consider her specific subjects and at the same time the applications of her ideas to any number of other subjects. The provocation to think further and deeper is most welcome.

Destination Culture reads as a vivid residue of numerous conversations—at conferences, in workshops, and in journals—between the author and a wide range of colleagues and acquaintances. Unfortunately, this means that the book suffers at times from being more a compilation of past papers and articles than a focused set of materials unified by a single issue. The original papers seem to have been addressed to colleagues who were already deep into the conversation and thinking along similar lines. Some of Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s most intriguing and challenging insights thus appear almost as afterthoughts...

Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4715
Print ISSN
1054-2043
Pages
pp. 163-169
Launched on MUSE
1999-12-01
Open Access
No
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