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Tourism in Morocco and Commodification of Culture

Abdelmoula Elkhdar

Morocco World News

Khouribga, Morocco, February 5, 2012

Culture is pristine yet it’s subject to being unauthenticized and de-contextualized. Culture as perceived by locals is always authentic. I am talking here about both tangible and intangible aspects of culture.

When tourists come in the guise of neocolonialism, cultures are altered, commodified and hegemonized opening the door wide open to many interpretations and amendments. The local pure culture becomes, in my view, like an old whore opening its legs to whoever pays more, wearing cheap cosmetics to meet the clients’ needs.

When the cultural value is being transformed by a commercial one, the meaning of culture is lost and the pure past is re-told aloof from the original version! When we sell culture as a commodity, we rob our locals of any sense of belonging. Culture, hence, becomes a hybrid, almost like ‘the parrot that tried to imitate the pigeon’s walk and ended up walking in a weird ugly way’, as the Moroccan legend goes. The parrot in this respect is the culture that is commodified to fit the tourists’ desires, without taking into account the locals’ needs and without respecting their glorious past.

Marie-Françoise Lanfant states that “when tourism increases, culture declines.” There are a lot of examples of Moroccan culture we no longer see today or we see them in new forms. Take the example of the story tellers in the mythical square of Jemaa El fna, Marrakesh. In the past, that was a real entertainment for the locals with both socio-economic and educational perspectives; a pure culture.

The story teller was a well-read man, a scholar, a historian…etc. Today story telling is becoming a mere spectacle devoid of any humanistic meaning, and is seen to be authentic only by tourists because they see through different lens that distort the genuine authenticity of this art; lens that satiate their unconscious fantasies and dreams.

Even the food in our culture is altered, commodified and ‘othered’. The Moroccan couscous is no longer keeping its secret within the confines of this nation. It’s re-packaged and marketed worldwide. As something deeply rooted in the Moroccan culture, couscous is not becoming authentic any more. Chances are that when you eat couscous in Morocco in a Moroccan restaurant, you are not eating authentic Couscous that our mothers and grandmothers used to roll in their Baraka-palms and serve for couple of hands to share on a table of brotherhood .Worse, when you eat it outside the country, chances are you will end up eating something named couscous, but has nothing to do with our cultural dish. It’s devalued, de-contextualized, defamed and drained of its entire cultural load.

Consequently, tourism is demonizing the local culture and simplifying it to a trademark, a cheap commodity in a luring package, a titillating attraction. In brief, Marx’s natural use-value of culture is put on the line.

Marco Polo traveled for some 24 years but never meant to distort the Chinese culture he met. Today, however and to Marco’s dismay, the Wall of China is becoming a commodity with modernized cafes, malls and parking lots. The Chinese nowadays don’t consider the Great Wall great; it’s becoming part of a modern life.

Likewise, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, Louisiana, is no longer conceived as a local indigenous heritage and a celebration rich of symbolism. Rather, it’s becoming a commodity which is promoted by marketers to gain more money without caring for the damage they made to the local culture. Who cares now about those women who exchange their breasts for beads? Or are they mere trivialities and commodities?

We should as a matter of fact go beyond this image and look at the other side of the coin. We should give culture the value it deserves. Suffice it if we sell tangible aspects of our cultures! There is no urgent need to barter our dear human culture for a few euros and dollars, exchange our kids and women’s flesh in the sacred name of the promotion of tourism with old octogenarian human predators.

In a nutshell, tourism is bad! Our ”cultures are endangered.”

El khdar Abdelmoula is a social organizer. He worked on many projects related to citizenship, women marginalization, youth participation in political life and illegal immigration.  He is currently teaching English in Ibn Abdoun High School, khouribga. He graduated from Chouaib Doukkaly University of El jadida with a BA in linguistics. He had worked in many middle and high schools before he won the Fulbright scholarship to USA in 2007 to represent the Moroccan culture and teach Arabic at Mississippi Valley State University.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.

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