We buy plane tickets and pack our bags, hoping against hope to get a glimpse of Carrie Bradshaw strutting down the streets of New York, flaunting her glamorous shoes and unruly blonde hair. Or Audrey Hepburn, elegantly having breakfast at Tiffany’s.
We travel because we are curious, because we crave the bright lights and the outrageous color Hollywood offers.
While customary travelers pack cameras to take pictures of their journeys, others pack virtual pictures of their imminent journeys. Such pictures are acquired through exposure to a prolific entertainment-media scene, which instills a curiosity for alluring places, quite faraway from home.
After watching endless movies on over-sized cinema screens, our minuscule by comparison laptop screens, and many sizes in between, an indelible curiosity takes shape. Maybe it’s the wardrobe, the crisp colors of the American outdoors, the delicious junk food we witness, or the epic love stories that seem to go round in uncontrollable circles, yet inevitably end up in sheer happiness.
Compared to the ingloriously hot streets we daily wake to walk, suffused with smoke, complimented by an everyday routine which is simply and disappointingly "ordinary," a lavish American lifestyle seems to offer a welcome escape.
After endless hours spent immersed in an alternate reality, witnessing glamorous actors pretend to lead fascinating lives, we somehow come to think of the world beyond the screen as our second home, and rail against the realities of our actual existence.
Why are we having molokheya (Egyptian green leafy soup) for lunch? I want New York-style pizza just like the one Joey, from Friends, is having. Why does my girlfriend go to the bathroom? Scarlett Johanssen never needs to go to the bathroom.
For a variable number of hours everyday, we travel to the inescapable Hollywood-born virtual world, and we return bearing two sentiments: a resentment of the looming reality of our plain existence, and desperation for an actual escape, for travel to that place where donuts come in pink boxes and you’re the star of the show.
Hence, a need for travel arrives. A plan consumes your mind. You set out to rhapsodize about the people you will see, the sights you will soak up, the places you will walk and run through, and the food you will indulge in.
A dynamic media environment is producing an array of content that does so much more than glue viewers to TV sets. Contemporary media products have succeeded in infiltrating your life and transforming your expectations.
You become convinced that you and your loved one should celebrate your love on the top of the Empire State Building (Sleepless in Seattle).You find yourself suddenly seeking the bright lights, the place where dreams come true. And Rome, Paris, and the US are the typical ‘dream’ destinations.
Though the entertainment industry is primarily seeking the largest possible profit, it releases products with the power to alter the culture of a huge global audience.
American critic Herb Schiller put forward the theory of cultural imperialism. Western culture, Shiller suggested, takes cultural precedence over the rest of the world through its sheer domination of the media industry.
Fervently consumed by developing nations who are financially unable to produce entertainment that represents their local culture, Western media imposes itself throughout the globe, along with an associated set of cultural indicators.
For this reason, developing countries are influenced by the Western way of life, beliefs, and conceptions. We start to emulate Hollywood-born lifestyles and, in the process, according to Schiller, abandon traditional customs. We venture out to replicate Western behavior, by trying to walk the streets we see on TV, and have coffee at a bistro in Paris.
We are craving the bright lights…the dim lights…any lights. As we tune in to our favorite shows and experience blockbuster movies, potential travelers take snapshots left and right. A picture is created, and our curiosity is amplified. And only traveling could actualize the dream of visiting our virtual, second home.
With a new voice every week, writers offer their reflections on the reasons why people leave behind familiar settings, friends, and perhaps even family members and beloved pets, to explore new places, away from home.
Readers of Al-Masry Al-Youm are encouraged to contribute by reflecting on their own journeys and telling us why they travel, either by sending their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, by registering to our site and writing a blog or by leaving their comments.