Baudrillard once wrote that the purpose of Disneyland was to hide the fact that all of Southern California was a simulacra, or in other words, a replica for which there exists no original, a fake made real because it's not quite faking anything. In researching this project, we've come across all kinds of curious folds in Europe that make us feel that tourism, not the jetsetting lowcosters using a living Europe, but the hordes going to refurbished pallazzos and the childhood homes of semi-obscure medieval celebrities, that coupled with a declining population, threatens to turn Europe into a museum or likely worse, a theme park.
In Italy, Mussolini (the seeming father of modern Italy for better or worse), interested in uniting Italy under the brand of nationalism, strongly promoted internal tourism to create a better national cohesion. He encouraged towns to cash in on their history, politically useful for him as the celebration of the past hinted at its continuity with the future, in his mind the interminable Fascist Empire. Tourism both internally, and more profitably, externally has made Italy a curious case study and parts of it in particular are especially susceptible to becoming mere theme parks. What happens when your country becomes a tourist trap?
Italy, is not a fake, not a simulacrum, but is still beginning to suffer a fate stranger than even the sunshine noir surreality of Los Angeles. Italy might be becoming a theme park of history and collapsed empires, with the museums and historical centers, like Disneyland, hiding this fact all along. Venice, of which we've done a few missions on, seems a city perpetually in decline, whether it's plague, or conquest, or acqua alta, or the worst yet, tourism eroding the dignity of the city, destroying it in the process of appreciating it. We're loving it to death, and once it's dead, we'll stuff it, mount it, and then love it's well-preserved corpse.
Like Disneyland, maybe Italy should start charging an admission fee to enter the country, matinee prices in the winter, full price during the high season. Or it should manage its economy to try and become less dependent on tourism as the primary form of industry. Venice is becoming a very fragile place, other fragile places have limited tourism, Bhutan as an example, certain national parks and land art. This is a problem perhaps bigger than I've a solution for, even a joking one. But Venice especially and Italy at large, needs to find an answer, or Italians risk becoming only theme actors, security guards, and guides to their own dead history.
Posted by Check In Architecture at Tuesday, July 01, 2008