On our trip through Spain and Morocco many students often sought out locations in various cities that could be seen as less touristy. However, as a temporary visitor, an “outsider,” it was impossible for any of us to gain access to an “authentic” experience. Since we couldn’t live an “authentic” experience, many students, including myself at times, viewed scenery as a way to access and understand the “authenticity” of a space.
While riding on the bus from Tetuan to Tangiers a classmate of mine looked outside the window and highlighted the beauty of an abandoned building sitting near the bottom of a hill. Although the scenery made up of mountain ranges, valleys and farms was indeed beautiful, I often wonder if I’m allowed to think or articulate my appreciation for the sight. Despite the aesthetics that can be subjectively interpreted as beauty, it is important to remember that an abandoned building is a symbol of poverty, and there are real social implications of that building no longer functioning. With our tourist gaze, we forget about the family, the life, the function this building may have served before it was forced to be deserted. By referring to these sites of desertion as beauty, we allow ourselves to ignore real-life problems associated with that abandoned building, and also the way in which western society impacted the devastation of that space. The privilege that comes along with the ability to wear the tourist gaze includes allowing oneself to be “detached” from the real-life implications of the aesthetics we may enjoy.
The term beauty is oftentimes used to describe difference or “authenticity.” While in Morocco, I was often stopped and told by men that I was beautiful. Likewise, in Spain, many people would yell “negrita” (sorry if I spelled it wrong) when they’d see me across the street. Although in some ways I was glorified for my difference, more often people interpreted this difference as beauty, similarly to the way tourist use the words “authentic” and “beauty” interchangeably.
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