Representations of Revitalization: Rural Tourism in Popular Media

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Heather MAIR, University of Waterloo, Canada
Building on a growing body of critical scholarship seeking to investigate the relationship(s) between rural places, tourism, and popular media (e.g., Andersson & Jansson, 2010; Jonasson, 2012; Mordue, 2009), the paper extends the discussion into representations of rural revitalization by presenting the results of an assessment of “Still Standing”, a popular Canadian reality television series now in its 3rd season. In particular, I consider the ways notions of rural development and revitalization are signified and symbolized in the show and explore the implications thereof. The show chronicles the experiences of Jonny Harris, a comedian/tourist who travels to rural communities that are "on the ropes" but have learned to "laugh in the face of adversity" (http://www.cbc.ca/stillstanding). After spending about a week in a pre-selected community, Harris writes and performs a stand-up comedy routine for community members. The television show features the stand-up routine as well as footage of the area and Jonny’s interviews with select community members. Although much of the material is humourous, there is a clear narrative highlighting efforts undertaken by residents to overcome a variety of social and economic challenges faced by their communities. Relying on past research exploring tourism and imagery, I use a critical discourse analysis approach to highlight how the show represents and reinforces a (typically) services-led approach to rural revitalization, which includes tourism, and which has deep implications for power relationships and for considering alternatives. The presentation ends with a re-imagining, following Edensor (2006, p. 489) who notes, “dramatizing the rural on screen and in fiction involves the citation of a stock of rural characters and settings that can be mobilized in the imagining of multiple ruralities”. I ask whether popular media could be mobilized to present different imaginings about what rural development and revitalization through tourism might entail.