Monday 3 November 2014

Climb it, film it, share it: multimodality and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Doing the Pisa Push

Imagine you`re on a holiday of a lifetime, standing in front of a world-famous site, say the Tower of Pisa. So what do you do? What a silly question, you might think:  climb it and take funny pictures, of course! But that`s the thing: how do you know what to do? Where does that knowledge come from and what turns millions of good citizens into jostling tourist crowds?

According to Crispin Thurlow and Adam Jaworski, there`s more to tourism than merely seeing what other have already seen, posted on Flickr and written tons of guidebooks about. The researchers state that we never simply visit places, but we also take our share in shaping and making the place itself – that`s why the same sites have been attracting vast numbers of visitors for decades. 

This is achieved through the so-called hermeneutic cycle, formed by a complex layering of mediatised representations (for example, how a site is depicted in guidebooks or in travelogues), mediated actions (for instance, performing the Pisa Push –that is, posing for a photograph to create an illusion of supporting the Leaning Tower) and remediated practices, with digital technologies enabling us to reproduce and share experiences with the wider public in a split second. Another aspect of interest is the enactment of place – which is the capacity to ‘make’ space through the positioning of body.

The authors used two sources of data in researching Tower of Pisa tourist practices: 10 video clips, extracted from over three hours of footage filmed during the observation of the site, and a ten-minute YouTube video of climbing the Tower, posted by an American visitor. These videos represent typical activity at the site. Body movement and gesture were a focal point of the research.

The most meaningful element was the Pisa Push. Whether supporting or pushing the Tower, that`s what you do to show you`re on the case, you have the knowledge of what other tourists do in Pisa. It also gives you a sense of ownership and power over space, albeit for a very short time.  Another commonly performed action is pointing. It can be technologically mediated by cameras or laser-pointers, and doesn’t necessarily involve fingers. Whatever you choose, pointing is always indicative not only of the object being pointed at, but also of the pointer. Thus, by pointing, one points not only to the site, but also to oneself. On top of that, using a camera enables us to capture that moment for posterity – which, in short, could probably be called the essence of tourism.

The second piece of data testifies to tourist practice as a ‘safe adventure’. The point of it all is to climb all the 294 steps to the top – that`s how this amateur video is staged, with the ascent being its most thrilling point, not the descent. Once again, it gives you a sense of personal achievement, because you temporarily conquer the Tower from bottom to top, despite the warning signs.

So, next time you`re on holiday, keep in mind that you can do more than view sites – you can make them!
Thurlow, Crispin and Adam Jaworski (2014). ‘Two hundred ninety-four’: Remediation and multimodal performance in tourist placemaking. Journal of Sociolinguistics 18 (4): 459-494.

doi. 10.1111/josl.12090

This summary was written by Marina Myntsykovska.


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