“Leisure, in its broadest sense, provides an excellent lens through which we can better understand contemporary Western society’s relationships with nature. ” Such a thesis can be best understood through a socio-cultural exploration of the complex relationship of man with nature, and how it has evolved through time. Engaging the literature reveals that there is NO singular ‘nature’ as such, only a diversity of contested natures each “constituted through a variety of socio-cultural practices from which such natures cannot be plausibly separated” (Macnaghten and Urry, p. 1).
For Williams (1972) the idea of ‘nature’ contains an enormous amount of human history, of which the current understanding derive from a complicate array of ideas, linked to may concepts of Western thought (i. e. modernity, democracy, romanticism, etc. ) The ways in which has historically been made singular, abstract and then personified provides key insights on how people thought about themselves, their place in the world, their relationships with each other and the land, their sense of general power and powerlessness in the shaping of their lifeworlds (Macnaghten and Urry, p. 8).
In understanding human-nature relationships, a popular theme appears to be religious in tone – the Christian interpretation of the Genesis story. From Merchant (2003), one gets the idea that mankind’s attempt to return to Eden has been a driving force behind Western culture. In the Age of Enlightenment, this manifested in the European zeal to discover new territory, and transforming it into a new paradise through colonization (Adams and Mulligan, 2003; Merchant, 2003) From the patriarchal white European perspective, the New World is depicted as a hapless female in need of rescue.
This narrative derived from the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve has been to the detriment of women and people of color (Merchant, 2003; Gibson, 2002). From an environmental frame, we are faced with the message that man ‘screwed up’ paradise, we’re still falling and if we don’t get our act together, things are bound to get worse and we instead get hell on earth (Rees, 2003) – as if we are witnessing endless reruns of Lord of the Rings’ “The Two Towers” or Star Wars’ “The Empire Strikes Back.
” On the other hand, the mainstream frame on nature maintains that though we did make terrible blunders in managing resources, we’ve also accomplished a lot for human progress in terms of innovation, technology, and hard work (Porritt, 2005; Boyden, 2004) – a grace-saving “Return of the King” or “Return of the Jedi,” of sorts. Images of and references to nature as female, particularly as a “Mother,” are also found in popular culture.
Roach (2003) uses three approaches – gender studies, psychoanalysis, and theology – to unearth the meanings behind the “Mother Nature” theme, which according to her are generally three: good mother (nurturing and life-giving), bad mother (i. e. gendered references to natural disasters), and hurt mother (repair-based pattern of reconnecting to nature). She illustrates the “bad mother” motif using an advertisement for the Nissan Pathfinder (a sport utility vehicle), urging the consumer to “control your mother,” as the SUV “helps you control just about anything Mother Nature throws your way.
” The advertisement’s underlying message is the human conquest of nature and in a gendered manner, the male conquest of females, common throughout Western history and tradition: from Pandora and Eve’s fall from grace, to the Salem witch trials and Sigmund Freud’s view of women as ‘morally inferior,’ among others. Movies have also shaped our perception of nature – the untamed, vengeful mother – as evidenced by the popularity of film genres with man-hunting beasts such as “Jaws” (a great white shark terrorizing a New England town) and “Anaconda” (a monstrous snake strikes a travelling party deep in the heart of the Amazon).
On the other hand, films such as “Free Willy” tend to highlight Mother Nature’s nurturing side, as the young troubled boy Jesse befriends and develops a bond with fellow orphan Willy, an orca whale in the park aquarium. At the same time these films bring attention to the plight of endangered animals in the wild, and the need for humans to help and protect these creatures. Cartoons and animation targeting the young audience also have a consistent roster of animal characters – think of old Yogi Bear in Yellowstone National Park, Simba the Lion King in the plains of Africa, and more recently Nemo and his underwater exploits.
In the end, Roach (2003) argues for the need to draw on other possible images for nature, including the home, as coupling nature too closely to gender affects both feminist and environmental causes negatively, to a certain degree. Cable channels such as Animal Planet, Discovery Channel and National Geographic also provide regular in-depth nature-oriented programs. In a way, these help inform and familiarize today’s largely urban-based generation with nature and ‘the wild,’ and are also powerful means of getting the environmental message across: we need to help save our planet, stop the destruction of ecosystems and protect endangered species.
Music is also one influential component in garnering support for the environmental movement. Global concerts in support of environmental causes and projects feature top performers and tend to draw young crowds, such as the 2007 “Live Earth” concert series initiated by former US Vice-president Al Gore to bring attention to climate change. Overall, the utilization of mass media and technological advances help bring nature closer to people. A recent development is what has been referred to as ‘wildlife tourism,’ based on encounters with non-domesticated animals (Higginbottom, 2004).
Tourism is recognized as a very large global business enterprise because people seem to really like travelling. And exotic places, where encounters with wildlife provide people new experiences, stimulate their emotions, and create different impressions, are fast gaining popularity. Wildlife tourism is a fairly recent, specialized aspect of this tourism phenomenon. From a historical perspective, only a generation or two ago, people’s encounter with animals was virtually everyday, with wildlife ubiquitous in the countryside.
Today, visions of nature in its gloriously ‘natural’ state are made available through television. Electronics is now the standard medium for people to ‘experience’ the wild. Though people may not necessarily be ‘physically’ in touch with nature, they might be connected mentally to certain aspects of wildlife. Thus in this way, wildlife tourism offers an opportunity to people to get closer to the virtual reality of experiencing ‘nature’ as our ancestors did.
Wildlife tourism provides urbanites the chance to renew their relationship with nature – the promise of a different thrill when one faces lions in a safari, or scuba-diving and swimming with whale-sharks in the Pacific. In view of large-scale habitat destruction in the name of ‘progress and development,’ wildlife tourism provides an essential appeal for governments to help conserve biodiversity. Wildlife tourism now appears to be an important phenomenon, one that has both negative and positive impacts on animals affected by such activities.
Negative effects can be in short-term physiological/behavioral changes in individual animals or long-term, i. e. increasing mortality of entire populations which in turn affect the ecosystem. Thus, there is a need for wildlife tourism to be properly managed in a sustainable manner, so as to minimize the impact of animals and their ecosystems. Though people often assume that wildlife tourists tend to empathize with conservation efforts, even they can cause damage, as well as socially and environmentally irresponsible wildlife tour operators.
Wildlife tourism is a modern form of leisure, one that augurs well for sustainable development if it could be properly managed and regulated. On a parting note, leisure in its various forms is shaped by our relationship with nature; particularly the way we interact with it, as influenced by our own understanding of nature and how it relates to human existence. Bibliography Adams, W. M. and Mulligan, M. eds. (2003) Decolonizing Nature: Strategies for COnservation in a Postcolonial Era.
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(2003) Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture. London, Routledge. Porritt, J. (2005) Capitalism as if the World Matters. London, Earthscan. Rees, M. (2003) Our Final Century: Will Civilization Survive the Twenty-first Century? London, Arrow. Roach, C. M. (2003) Mother/Nature: Popular Culture and Environmental Ethics. Bloomington, Indian University Press. Williams, J. (1972) as cited by Macnaghten, P. and Urry, J. (1998) “Rethinking nature and society” in Contested Natures. London, Sage.