Sight Unseen – Tourism and Westernization in Bali

The short documentary, Sight Unseen, explores the differences between visitors to Bali and its locals. Differences in the way they behave and their perspectives are distinct from each other on the basis of different cultural settings. The documentary also highlights the changing environment with the advent of tourism and seeks to bring to light, the social and cultural impacts of the influx of tourists into this thriving little island. In addition, it reminds us of a continual manifestation of power and influence by the West till today since its colonial period.

Different points of view are exemplified between the touristic activity of video recording and a local videographer. Tourists are not as absorbed into the Balinese culture as they think they are and their motives for recording events is entirely different from that of a local. Visitors search for patterns that appeal to them. Once found, they imagine something like that happens in the everyday life. The ceremonial process showed in the documentary happens on rare occasions, yet visitors assume it is the essence of everyday. They captured the process, but not the product. Conversely, the local captures everything, including friends and family who were at the background. With the dire need to fulfill their ideas of what a foreign land is like, visitors only seek to overemphasize attributes of the culture. However, as much as the tourists always seem to be placed in direct contrast with the locals, and their actions are portrayed as superficial, does this mean that their experiences are any less real than the locals?

The repetitive depiction of a man pushing an ice-cream cart does not merely represent a Balinese’s pursuit for revenue, but symbolizes Westernization itself. The idea that ice-cream is popular American dessert and the fact that it is sold in Bali forms a broader picture of Western ideals slowly diffusing into different regions of Bali. As the ice-cream man walks from place to place, Western values permeate the everyday life of Balinese. The delightful and non-threatening tune incessantly played is a means of attracting young children to consume his product. Like the young children, Asian countries are attracted to the delights of Western ideals and would hop on the bandwagon of what is known as modernization, as Western ideals extends itself in a soft, subtle manner.

This phenomenon has grave social implications. Tourism changes people, and it dictates their cultural process towards another direction. Locals are living to the pace of the fast-rising industry, with no time to conduct proper religious ceremonies, and hence amending the way rituals were originally conducted. The English language is quick to be learned in order to appeal to visitors. Language is an important tool for transmitting cultural identity; it is the essence of life of a culture. With English being spoken more frequently, the person’s mindset of things and the way he portrays himself inevitably changes. His identity is moulded to suit the Western taste. Broadly putting, Westernization is no different from colonization. The “white man’s burden” continually facilitates itself through the imposition of Western ideals onto what seems as “less superior” cultures and in our everyday life through the proliferation of images and products we consume. The juxtaposition of Colonel Sanders, the KFC emblem appearing right after Ida Pedanda Ketut Sideman, a Hindu priest, who looks startlingly alike, reminds us that Easterners are always staying put while Westerners are taking over as they go about planting their mark.

The dictum, “A good fisherman values chance as much as routine… He’s learnt not to have expectations. Without expectations, he’s never surprised,” leaves us with a reminder to visit a place without an image of what it is like in mind before we meet disappointments. It is to enter a foreign land open-minded, separated from our own cultural principles, and accept everything it offers. According to Franz Boas, the value of a person lies in the cultivation of the heart. Hence, we should not judge and attempt to change another based on our own cultural standards, but evaluate them based in their cultural setting and way of living.

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