Thursday, August 12, 2010

Slum Tourism

So some people like to tour slums on their vacation? Really? Well, Kenny Odede, writing for the NYT, objects:

Slum tourism has its advocates, who say it promotes social awareness. And it’s good money, which helps the local economy.

But it’s not worth it. Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from. People think they’ve really “seen” something — and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before.

At its best, slum tourism is a bit like white/middle-class kids who listen to rap - you get to hear Rick Ross and Biggie and Nas talking about doing illegal stuff and carrying guns and dealing with women who like their men to be big, rich, tough guys. Except you're probably not. You're probably just an average kid who likes a bit of escapism with your breakfast. Ditto for the comic books you read. And the James Bond movie. And Rambo. It's gory but entertaining, all entertainment, and when you're done with it, you get back to your life, knowing that no matter how hypothetically awesome it sounds or grotesquely bad as to warrant your curiosity, you're perfectly happy right where you are, thank you very much.

Slum tourism truly is poverty as entertainment, nothing more. Odede tries to give the tourists the benefit of the doubt -- maybe they're going to learn about poverty! -- but come on, there is no learning to be done when you throw yourself head-first down the rabbit-hole for an hour or less of emaciated people and poor sanitation. There's only staring and ooh-aahing or cringing. Maybe pity, but then you probably already had that before.


  1. Explaining it as middle class kids who listen to rap really gave me the vivid picture. I get it.

  2. Thanks. That's the way I tend to think about it.