On The Guardian’s Greek holiday package of suffering porn

The Guardian Holidays’ £2,500 per person package to take tourists for a first-hand view of ‘the ongoing impact of the financial and refugee crises in Grece’ has offended the type of readers who donate money to the news organisation – which has enabled it to reduce its economic losses.

At a deeper level, the mishap in question illustrates what could be described as a neo-classical example of British colonialism. I’m talking the kind that comes with Brexit as an expression of imperial nostalgiaembodied by Boris Johnson when he decides to recite in Myanmar, whilst touring the country as UK Foreign Secretary, a poem which celebrated the presence of English soldiers causing a bloodbath in the 19th century.

Holidays

At £2,500 per person, this package was still being advertised on 28th March on The Guardian Holidays’ site

I am not sure that “Boris” is fully aware that his views and attitudes are shaped by orientalist attitudes which, as put by Edward Said, describe ‘a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient’. At the heart of such attitudes lies the notion that white people are inherently superior, physically and intellectually, to people outside the West, especially non-whites. The fact that Johnson has chosen to avoid the subject when questioned about it, suggests he at least understands that his views are problematic.

Popularly, however, both whites and non-whites have for years cultivated the idea of whiteness superiority (and the implied inferiority of non-whites) as a given. The former have developed a subjectivity mediated by a colonial gaze which, consciously or not, views the order of things as natural. In such natural order, such things as economic development, governance, standards of beauty and traditions are judged on the basis of whether or not they align with Western ideals – those of whiteness.

The way in which a colonial mindset is pervasive in our times is cogently illustrated by Jeanne van Eeden’s exploration  of the multinational interests that converge around The Lost City in South Africa as a place that feeds into white mythologies of Africa as primitive, exotic and tribal.

JAAKSON Postcolonial tourism

Globalisation and neocolonial tourism (Reiner Jaakson, 2004: 169) In M. Hall & H. Tucker, eds, Tourism and Postcolonialism

As she notes, The Lost City becomes  a ‘neocolonial landscape’, with its creators largely ignoring ‘the historical, geographical, and demographic imperatives of the land where it was sited, and constructed a fantasy landscape that encourages a distorted reading and consumption of the past.’

The Greece & The Euro holiday package could be seen as a parallel illustration of the colonial gaze in question because, whilst devoid of the racial connotations that come with colonialism, it’s fully loaded by the post-colonial tendency to exercise power trough the landscaping of particular realities.

The premise that a tour guided by The Guardian‘s Greece correspondent, Helena Smith, might be conducive to a ‘fascinating exploration of the ongoing impact of the financial and refugee crises in Greece’, mobilises a similar, neocolonial mindset.

GHolidays1

The Guardian Holidays homepage at https://holidays.theguardian.com/

At the point of writing this piece, The Guardian Holidays had removed its Greece poverty and refugee holiday package. That it had it on offer at all says a lot about the neocolonial mindset that operates within the tourism industry. Thus, as suggested by Jaakson’s compilation of academic perspectives, tourism is the continuation of violent domination through economic means.

Such means are extended to situations in which postcolonial institutions like the European Union and  International Monetary Fund demand that Greece submit to inhumane  austerity programmes so debts can be repaid to the international equivalent of loan sharks. In this process, mainstream media, with its close connections to the ruling elites, played a role in representing Greece and the Greek people as miscreants living outside their means.

Thus, as Douzinas and Papaconstantinou suggest, anger over austerity policies in countries like Germany and France, is channelled in the form of populist outbursts that have Greece as a target. ‘Surreptitionsly, a new type of colonialism is emerging, in which the Brussels elites treat the European south as undeserving poor or colonial subjects to be reformed and civilised.’

The Guardian Holidays has been operating since 1997 and while it started focusing on  the UK and Europe, it has ‘gradually expanded to long-haul tours and themed breaks including garden, archaelogy and art’. Ran with a team of three who have ‘over 30 years combined experience working in the travel industry’, it is unlikely that whoever came up with the idea were aware of the colonial gaze which suffused the initiative.

The Holidays unit could also be seen against the backdrop of economic uncertainty that has forced news organisations to diversify their revenue streams. One could speculate then that the intention of using journalists as “tour leaders” is in tune with contemporary tendencies across non-manufacturing industries to adopt business models based on so called product service systems.

The logic of revenue streams diversification would be at play in The Guardian‘s recent partnership with the likes of travel company Political Tours, through which it has tried ‘to provide informative trips to Greece and other countries for people who wish to develop their understanding of the political and social landscapes in these places’, as the news organisation explained to Al Jazeera.

Donations

The Guardian’s revenues from readers now exceed those from the sale of advertising

Following criticism on social media for what was considered as an insulting attempt at ‘making money out of misery’, the newspaper emailed Al Jazeera, saying that ‘On reflection, we have now paused this project in order to reconsider our approach.’

It is of course praiseworthy that while Guardian Media Group, The Guardian’s parent company, has been operating with significant losses in recent years, it has kept its commitment to providing free quality journalism in a context where the only sustainable news organisations are those which have set up paywalls.

By aggressively cutting  costs, (changing to a tabloid format, laying off hundreds of staff and convincing its readers to contribute voluntary payments), on the other hand, it is expected that The Guardian will stop shedding money by 2019.

For The Guardian to maintain its revenues from readers, which now account for a larger share than the sale of ads, it will need to maintain the same integrity and reputation on which it relies to ask for donations. Avoiding neocolonial attitudes goes with maintaining such reputation.

Ultimately, the decision to remove The Grece & The Euro package, made it clear that someone in the organisation knows better than acting guided by a neocolonial gaze.

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