Host: What say you to young Master Fenton?
He capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May; he will carry’t, he will carry’t, ’tis in his buttons, he will carry’t.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, III, 2, 63–67.
Political tourists come in three types, two of them quite traditional, one suggestively new. On the one hand, there are all those people who see in dramatic political developments in someone else’s country a hopeful or hellish vision of the future of their own. Since they set off knowing what they want to find, they rarely stay longer than is necessary to bring back the illustrative evidence—what one might generically call the ‘slides’—for their political prognoses. All the more so if their travel expenses have been paid for by the foreign country’s regime or by well-heeled sponsors back home. What is characteristic of their slides is an often touching humility. There may be photos or vignettes of the tourist being received by Mussolini, Stalin, Nasser or Nehru, but their inclusion serves mainly to persuade the reader/viewer that he or she is getting genuine first-hand testimony. The important thing is that hopeful/fearful future.
The second type, which, however, is not always easy to distinguish from the first, is the (usually intellectual) celebrity. Such people do not have to worry about ‘genuine first-hand testimony’, since the celebrity is, with luck, much better known than the politics with which he or she is holidaying. If the first type hopes to show himself in the shadow of great events, the second expects to show events in the great shadow of himself. For these purposes, the best events are those which, by artful chiaroscuro, contrast the tourist as violently as possible with the political landscape. Since the real interest is the celebrity, it is no surprise that these holidays are usually paid for by publishers or television companies. The contemporary doyen of this form of tourism is undoubtedly V.S. Naipaul, who loudly proclaims all that nice Englishmen now feel ashamed to say about the Third World even when they think it. It is not that Naipaul does not have views about politics, but rather that there is an instructively photogenic touch to his itineraries: Buenos Aires (not Caracas), Kinshasa (not Maputo), Kuala Lumpur (not Algiers) show in sharp, dyspeptic relief the civilized clubman against a backdrop of ‘Oriental’ savagery, self-delusion, fanaticism and stupidity. The choice of locations for Naipaul’s slideshows is politically random (except that they must be Third, not First or Second, World), but they are always shrewdly aesthetic. (Who will buy Naipaul on Belgium or Bulgaria?)