Getting to know Lisa.
During a three-month sojourn in Paris some years ago, I visited the Louvre Museum many times and on each occasion was left amused by the crowd packed around the Mona Lisa, tourists jockeying to get a photo of the famous Da Vinci painting.
People would muscle through the crush of bodies and push in close enough so they could hold up their phone and - SNAP! - take a picture. Then, they'd often walk away staring down at the image captured on the screen without having actually looked at the work!
(Meanwhile, the Code of Hammurabi, a stone stele carved with 4000-year-old Babylonian law and one of the oldest pieces of deciphered writing in the world had tumble weeds blowing past it.)
A tourist has her picture taken with an Indonesian army commando after a security exercise at a hotel in Bali. Photo: AFP
You could argue this impulse to show people your picture of the Mona Lisa or Taj Mahal is the polite, nerdy cousin of the drive so many tourists have nowadays to be photographed in "extreme" situations or locations.
There's John diving with great white sharks, and Dave standing next to a street sign that says Chernobyl! Look, Jessica's only metres away from that active volcano!! Is that Abdul doing the 'hang loose' signal on Death Road in Bolivia next to 15 crucifixes?
The subtext here, of course, is the person has risked life and limb for the photograph and made it back to the 'burbs intact, a God of Travel.
Facebook and Twitter have obviously amplified this ostentation but Instagram has taken it to a whole 'nother level, where some people seemingly spend half their holiday framing perfect, cool or outrageous photographs to illustrate how much fun they're having. It's the photo album designed to make their friends jealous.
Whereas to me, you know you've had fun - be it at a party or on holiday - when not a single photo exists because you actually were too busy enjoying yourself to stop, pose, take shot, crop it, add hip filter, upload to social media and write an oh-so-nonchalant caption.
On the weekend, Fairfax's Traveller section labelled this the "big brag theory", quoting Richard Munro, chief executive of the Accommodation Association of Australia. He speculates our appetite for extreme travel has increased because it gives people something to big note about on social media.
"Australians in particular, because we're so well travelled, are often looking for bragging rights when it comes to travel," he said. "It's all about, 'take a picture of me next to that', especially now with social media."
Munro's comment reminded me just how many people you see overseas who seem to be travelling in a bubble; where poverty and suffering, cultural wonders and natural spectacle are all a backdrop to the "movie of me" going on in their heads.
I sometimes wonder if this is because it's now so easy to get almost anywhere in the world, people fall into the "I can always visit again" syndrome and don't pay enough attention first time around. One hundred years ago people knew their 'Grand Tour' would probably be their one and only chance to experience a distant country, so they drank it all in.
The striking contradiction of the current need to be photographed in "extreme" or "authentic" situations is the way many people then use said image to construct a completely inauthentic identity online.
Once the shot is taken, they toddle off back to their air-conditioned hotel room, eat hamburgers and spend more time on Facebook than they do the mean streets of the city they've supposedly conquered.
One of the more odious examples I've read about is the Emoya Hotel fake shanty town in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Tourists pay $90 a night to stay in watertight, wi-fi equipped shacks disguised by corrugated iron and distressed fittings to make them look like the real thing. Slumming it, I think not.
That sort of fakery has been dubbed "poverty tourism" but it still encapsulates what bothers me about the whole concept of extreme travel; people want to do something different but they still demand limits and safeguards be in place.
It's reflected by the fact young travellers aged under 25 are the most demanding of consular help from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when they get into trouble, having ignored travel advice not to go to countries that are dangerous, ie things got a bit too extreme.
And there's the rub.
I hear Syria's pretty "intense" at the moment.
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