Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Economic Impacts of Iconic Pop Culture Tourism


This month Anthony takes us on a whirlwind tour of settings and backdrops of some of our iconic movies, television and popular culture. But be warned, he gets a wee bit existential by the end.
Our tour starts in Salzburg, the setting, of course, of The Sound of Music. I was originally going to write this newsletter entirely on Salzburg, but the way we visited the city (i.e. grabbing a Sound of Music sights guidebook and running around the City trying to picture Maria and the children in those locations) got me thinking about the approaches of different locations to their iconic popular culture moment.

Salzburg is a reluctant Sound of Music celebrity. It would like to be more known for its Mozart history and its stunning architecture. It does indeed extensively promote its connection to Mozart and has a range of cultural festivals promoting classical music and the arts. The Salzburger Dom (the city’s cathedral) and Salzburg Castle are magnificent structures and worth a visit to this city on their own. The hilly topography of Salzburg (it is in Austria after all) means there are some wonderful vantage points from which to view the city. Indeed one of these vantage points was a location for Maria and the kids as they were Do-Re-Mi-ing all over the town.

Teenage crush on Liesl notwithstanding, personally I wouldn’t have detoured from my journey to see the setting of The Sound of Music, if it wasn’t for my wife being keen to do so. Salzburg is a very picturesque city and I enjoyed my time there, but I wouldn’t visit to revel in The Sound of Music experience. However, I have been known to detour hundreds of kilometres to visit Elvis’s home Graceland in Memphis and delight in the gaudy memorabilia, shag carpet ceiling and rhinestone costumes.

Memphis is a city that lives and breathes music. Its location on the Mississippi and in the heartland of the Deep South mean that its musical roots extend further back than Elvis and the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, and include blues, jazz and country. Obviously unlike with a film production, the music scene has never left Memphis (even if Elvis himself has left the building) and continues to be a hub of musical creativity and performance.

Unlike Salzburg, New Zealand enthusiastically embraces its movie notoriety. It seems the whole country has some connection to The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit trilogies. And why wouldn’t they get behind the venture? The production alone of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey injected some $200 million into New Zealand’s economy, with last year’s Wellington world premiere providing a $12 million boost. And surveys after The Lord of the Rings trilogy revealed that some 7% of international visitors cited the movies as the main reason or one of the main reasons for visiting New Zealand. Air New Zealand certainly used The Hobbit’s fame cleverly, with their Middle-Earth themed in-flight safety video going viral.

Some cities feature in so much of our popular culture, particularly movies and television, that we feel we know much of the city without actually going there. Indeed, apart from flying into the airport and immediately getting a bus out, I have never been to New York, but through the myriad of television and movies set in the Big Apple, I think I have a reasonable understanding of its geography, vibe and people; from the wondrous Central Park and iconic skyline to its sharp-tongued inhabitants, sassy gal pals and dictatorial soup vendors (and its unfortunate role as a principal target for alien invasions). I have some connection and affinity with the city despite not having any personal experiences in New York.

So posing some philosophical questions now, given that so many of our heroes, leaders and dare I say it, loved ones, are completely fictional, do we travel to these settings to try and make them that much more real to us? When we arrive and see the disconnect between the fictionalised world and the actual place, is it a bit of a let-down? It would be sad if Salzburg couldn’t be enjoyed without Maria, or New Zealand without Frodo.

These places are settings for the very reason that they are beautiful or vibrant or memorable. It is not the fictional world which makes them so; indeed, it is the wonderful and diverse places in our world which enriches our fantasy.

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