Tag Archives: tourism

Breaking Bad, Masculinity and Media Pilgrimages

By Ashley Crowson, king’s College London

Depending on your TV viewing habits, the house below is either an entirely unremarkable suburban residence or it is the home of television’s greatest antihero, unassuming high school chemistry teacher turned underworld kingpin Walter White.


Walter White’s house. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Image: Karl Kaktus Creative Commons 2.0

This house has recently featured in the entertainment press as Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan, while discussing the show’s new spinoff series Better Call Saul, has chastised fans for repeatedly throwing pizzas on to its roof. The house, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is home to a retired couple and was used for exterior shots in the show. The pizza throwing fans are replicating an infamous scene, in which an enraged Walt hurls a ‘party pizza’ on to the garage roof.

Walt’s infamous pizza throw. Image: funnyordie.com

Visits to the White residence, alongside many other sites used as locations on the show, have been driving something of a tourism boom in Albuquerque. Fans can take Breaking Bad tours and buy merchandise at numerous themed gift shops. This impulse to undertake a pilgrimage to locations associated with popular films and TV series is something that has intrigued geographers.

Couldry (2003) argues that such pilgrimages are implicitly connected to the symbolic authority of the media; they represent a symbolic journey in which the distance between the ‘ordinary world’ and the ‘media world’ is momentarily collapsed, giving the impression that this boundary is traversable.

Writing in Area, Stijn Reijnders take issue with this approach, arguing, “We should take into account the cultural embeddedness of media pilgrimages.” And that we need to acknowledge “the way the authority of the media is related to other power structures, such as gender and ethnicity.” Reijnders does this by focussing on the relation between media pilgrimages and masculinity, looking specifically at why fans travel to James Bond film locations.

Reijnders explains, “Scholars interpret Bond as a paragon of manliness – a paragon with a strongly conservative and hetero-normative disposition… The respondents recognise this sexual ideology, but without explicitly condemning it. On the contrary, these fans – the majority of whom are white, heterosexual men – adore the character of Bond. Exploring his world and repeating some of his actions affords these fans the opportunity to embody and act out a certain idealised masculinity.”

Breaking Bad is also a show with a lot to say about masculinity. One reading might interpret it as a cautionary tale about the foolishness of traditional notions of masculinity. In one scene, big-time drug dealer Gus Fring tells Walt, “A man provides. And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.”

This is a concept of masculinity that our protagonist seems to embrace. When Walt gets his cancer diagnosis, pride prevents him from accepting assistance from very wealth former colleagues. Instead, in a bid to ‘provide for his family’, he embarks on a course of violence, criminality, brutality and, ultimately, tragedy.

An alternative reading might see the show as revelling in the transformation of Walter White from a meek and nerdy teacher to a hyper-masculine gun-toting criminal mastermind. The audience is invited to celebrate occasions when Walt dominates and out-manoeuvres his prototypically macho brother-in-law, who previously mocked his bookish demeanour.

Reijnders concludes that media pilgrimages are about more than simply closing the gap between the ‘ordinary world’ and the ‘media world’. Imitating Bond “at the very place where he was sitting, running, fighting or making love” enables fans to “recollect the roots of their own masculinity, to refresh it and to define it.”

Unlike Bond, who arrives as a fully formed paragon of heteronormative masculinity, Walter White transforms into something not too dissimilar on screen. Many of the male pizza tossing fans, then, who travel great distances, often at considerable expense, to replicate the antics of their hero might be considered not just to be closing the gap between ‘real world’ and ‘TV world’, but to be engaged in processes of defining and redefining their own masculinity, processes in which location is of crucial importance.

 Stijn Reijnders, 2010, On the trail of 007: media pilgrimages into the world of James BondArea 42(3) 369-377.

 Nick Couldry, 2003, Media Rituals: A Critical Approach. Psychology Press.

Our Nation is Sinking: The Maldives and Global Warming

by Benjamin Sacks

Malé, the congested capital of the Maldives. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Malé, the congested capital of the Maldives. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

The Maldives is sinking. Like several other South Asian and Oceanic archipelagos, the Maldives’s topography suffers from a lethal combination of high surface erosion and rising sea levels. The former stems from the islands’ soft soils, but most scientists agree that the latter is a direct consequence of global warming. Although rising sea levels may not pose much of a concern to residents of Salisbury or Kinross, it has become an extraordinarily important issue for a country where the highest point above sea level is a paltry 2.4 metres. Heightening tensions, the archipelago is remarkably dense and urbanised. In Malé, the country’s political, social, and cultural capital, Over 100,000 people reside on an island with an area less than 6 square kilometres (2.24 miles).

The Maldives’ susceptibility to erosion and land loss has been acknowledged for at least a century. In a 1901 Royal Geographical Society expedition, J Stanley Gardiner noted how the islands of Minikoi Atoll were sharply controlled by currents (pp. 287-88). But Gardiner evidently recognised the beauty in the erosion process. ‘Together with the washing away of the land’, he recalled in The Geographical Journal, ‘fresh conditions tend to be found on its reefs’ (p. 293). But what Gardiner perceived as interesting, if not dangerous phenomena proved increasingly problematic in the years following the Maldives’ independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. In the early 1990s, British geographers and climate specialists repeatedly warned that such archipelagos as the Maldives were at increasing risk of flooding or disappearing altogether. Even a ‘slightly higher rise in sea level increase the areas of potential inundation, threaten[ing] the existence of certain island states (e.g. the Maldives) (Jones p. 127)’. Rising sea levels and increased erosion prompted Erlet Cater to accuse, in 1995 article in The Geographical Journal, the Maldives’ government of willful negligence and destruction for the sake of tourism. Cater identified a increasingly negative cycle:

  1. Rising sea levels and increasingly fast erosion led to fewer tourists, and hence much-needed income.
  2. To increase tourism levels, Malé increased mining of coral reefs around the islands, selling the dried corals as souvenirs and permitting tourists to travel in and around the fragile reefs.
  3. Coral levels plummeted, not only creating an oceanic environmental crisis, but destroying islands’ natural barrier against erosion. Erosion increased, to the shock and amazement of officials.
  4. The Maldives tried to both stem rising water levels and continue fostering tourism through coral sales. They failed in both instances.

As if deliberately echoing Cater’s call to action, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami most violently demonstrated the existential threat the Maldives faced. Although the country suffered remarkably few casualties relative to its neighbours, much of the islands were completely flooded, quickly leading to a national disaster. Malé – and most government administration and private business – came to a chaotic standstill for weeks while locals tried to apprise the situation on dozens of widely scattered and isolated islands.

In the most recent edition of The Geographical Journal (June 2014), Uma Kothari (University of Manchester) returned to the Maldives question, albeit with a new – and fascinating – perspective. In order to combat rising sea levels, recent successive Maldivian governments have sought to resettle thousands of residents from some of the more remote, impassable islands to larger, more populated, and accessible atolls. In total, the government intends to reorganise the country’s total population – currently thought to reside on some 200 islands and oversize reefs – onto about ten larger islands.

On the surface this appears logical, (relatively) efficient for a small state with a small population, and even honourable, given the Maldives’ enormous environmental obstacles. As Kothari explains, however, Malé is also influenced by longstanding political and economic priorities; environmental concerns, to an extent at least, have become a convenient mask. Although the government’s commitment to drastic environmental reforms is undeniable (In 2009 then-President Mohamed Nasheed pronounced that the Maldives intends to become ‘carbon-neutral’ by 2020), ‘environmental concerns have also been used to justify and legitimise other agendas’ (p. 135). Since the early years of independence, both the government and private sector elites have pushed for population consolidation as a means of reorganising national spending, raising the profile of tourism, and effecting greater political and social control (pp. 136-37). Although some Maldivians have vocally resisted the government’s declarations, the very real threat posed by climate change seems to have swung the balance far in Malé’s favour.

How does the Maldives’ approach and handling of rising sea levels and increasing land erosion compare to other, similarly at-risk states? Kiribati? Micronesia? Nauru? Has climate change become a front for consolidating other agendas?

 J Stanley Gardiner, ‘The Formation of the Maldives‘, The Geographical Journal 19.3 (Mar., 1902): 277-96.

 Erlet Cater, ‘Environmental Contradictions in Sustainable Tourism‘, The Geographical Journal 161.1 (Mar., 1995): 21-28.

 David K C Jones, ‘Global Warming and Geomorphology‘, The Geographical Journal 159.2 (Jul., 1993): 124-30.

 Richard Warrick and Graham Farmer, ‘The Greenhouse Effect, Climate Change and Rising Sea Level: Implications for Development‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series 15.1 (1990): 5-20.

 Uma Kothari, ‘Political discourses of climate change and migration: resettlement policies in the Maldives‘, The Geographical Journal 180.2 (Jun., 2014): 130-40.

Reproducing ‘Authenticity’: The Politics of Restoration and Preservation

by Jen Turner

Nigel Homer [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent BBC News report explained how English Heritage and Bradford Council are offering grants of up to 80% to recreate “lost” historical features along the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire made famous by the Bronte sisters. In 2010, English Heritage claimed Haworth’s traditional character was being eroded by gradual minor changes and invited business owners to suggest ideas to enhance the main street.  Councillor David Green, executive member for regeneration and economy, said Haworth was a “special place”. Bradford Council maintained that “historically accurate” details such as traditional shop fronts and sash windows could be reintroduced.

English Heritage regional director Trevor Mitchell places increased business revenues at the heart of the project, claiming that “A restored shop on Haworth Main Street will be more attractive to customers and tenants”.  For me, Howarth as a place is enchanting.  I grew up with West Yorkshire as my home and a penchant for literature that gave the town a magical appeal for me.  In my view, preserving its integrity is important – both picturesque and meaningful for me, I would hate to see its surroundings degenerate.  However, this raises an important question.  What is the definition of this ‘integrity’; and how should it manifest itself?  What processes (and the repercussions of them) should geographers attend to when considering how regeneration schemes seek to reproduce ‘authenticity’ in the contemporary environment?

It is here that I would like to make reference to a numbers of works that have emerged in recent years surrounding these issues within the discipline. As Mihalis Kavaratzis explains, cities all over the world have been applying marketing techniques and increasingly adopting a marketing philosophy to meet their operational and strategic goals; allowing  City marketing to grow into an established field of research and an academic sub-discipline.  The article outlines the historical episodes of such marketing, highlighting how branding has been influential in shaping future prospects for urban spaces.  In Howarth, the ‘Bronte Brand’ is quintessential in the marketed atmosphere of the town.  This also relates to the work of  Adrian While and Michael Short, which recognises that the built heritage of most cities is heterogeneous, hybrid and multiple.  They highlight how certain heritage objects and meanings are invariably privileged over others in place-making strategies, having impact upon the production of local heritage and the regulation and conversation of changes in the built environment.  For Geography Directions followers with interest in this field, their paper further contributes to conceptual debates about the situated politics of heritage and the institutional work performed by heritage discourse.  In aligning ourselves with these debates, it is easy to question the complex relationship between place-making, capitalism, and the ‘authenticity’ we take for granted in our favourite tourist destinations.


Mihalis Kavaratzis, 2007, City Marketing: The Past, the Present and Some Unresolved Issues, Geography Compass, 1(3) p. 695-712.

books_icon Aidan While and Michael Short, 2011, Place narratives and heritage management: the modernist legacy in ManchesterArea, 43(1) p. 4-13.


Effort to return Bronte authenticity to HaworthBBC News Leeds and West Yorkshire, 5 Jan 2013.

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (16th June 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Visualising postcode data for urban analysis and planning: the Amsterdam City Monitor
Karin Pfeffer, Marinus C Deurloo and Els M Veldhuizen
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01096.x

Changing countries, changing climates: achieving thermal comfort through adaptation in everyday activities
Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01105.x

Rethinking community and public space from the margins: a study of community libraries in Bangalore’s slums
Ajit K Pyati and Ahmad M Kamal
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01100.x

Practising workplace geographies: embodied labour as method in human geography
Chris McMorran
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01101.x

Original Articles

Muslim geographies, violence and the antinomies of community in eastern Sri Lanka
Shahul Hasbullah and Benedikt Korf
Article first published online: 11 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00470.x

Characterising urban sprawl on a local scale with accessibility measures
Jungyul Sohn, Songhyun Choi, Rebecca Lewis and Gerrit Knaap
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00468.x

The geodemographics of access and participation in Geography
Alex D Singleton
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00467.x

Original Articles

Towards geographies of ‘alternative’ education: a case study of UK home schooling families
Peter Kraftl
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00536.x

Boundary Crossings

Geographies of environmental restoration: a human geography critique of restored nature
Laura Smith
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00537.x

A policymaker’s puzzle, or how to cross the boundary from agent-based model to land-use policymaking?
Nick Green
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00532.x

Marine biodiversity

I-Hsien Porter

The Census of Marine Life was published earlier this month, after a decade-long study by hundreds of scientists across the world. A total of 201,000 species were listed, but there may be up to 750,000 more species that are yet to be identified.

The census provides a baseline against which changes in biodiversity can be monitored. Many species are under pressure from climate change and pollution.

In a paper in The Geographical Journal, Liam Carr and William Heyman investigate the management of coastal marine resources in the Caribbean. The high biodiversity of the Caribbean is a resource for subsistence living, commercial fishing and tourism.

However, these activities aren’t without their conflicts. Marine resources are threatened by over-exploitation, as the tourism industry forces local people to widen the scope and intensity of fishing activities.

Carr and Heyman argue the need for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where active conservation, education and enforcement of sustainable resource management practices take place. If focused on breeding grounds, MPAs can replenish biodiversity and fish stocks, with benefits beyond the immediate area. However, to be effective, MPAs must be introduced now, to maintain the health and resilience of threatened ecosystems, rather than attempting to repair damage after it has occurred.

Marine biodiversity faces a range of pressures and challenges. However, with prompt action, it might be possible to mitigate the effects of future change.

The Guardian (4th October 2010) Census of Marine Life

The Guardian (4th October 2010) TV Review: ‘Horizon: The Death of the Oceans?’

Carr, L M and Heyman, W. D. (2009) ‘Jamaica bound? Marine resources and management at a crossroads in Antigua and Barbuda’ The Geographical Journal 175 (1): 17-38

Discovering film locations

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Last month, while I was stranded in Washington DC due to the volcanic ash cloud affecting Europe’s air space, I spent an afternoon trying to find the location in Georgetown of the steps that appear in the film “The Exorcist”. In the afternoon sunshine, the steps were being used as an ‘outdoor gym’ by three young boys; the most mundane of scenes for the “darkest” of cinematic stairs. As someone who sometimes enjoys discovering the locations of films and works of literature, I am aware of being part of an increasingly popular interest, one which allows the temporary enactment of geographies of fantasy.

In a forthcoming article for Area, Stijn Reijnders (2010) explores the reasons why people visit places related to the James Bond films and books. His fieldwork with twenty-three regular ‘Bond tourists’ showed that for many of his participants, the pilgrimages allowed the temporary recreation and embodiment of the type of masculinity that Bond represents. Reijnders emphasizes the usefulness of considering media pilgrimages as culturally embedded phenomena, taking into account that the authority of the media is related to power structures such as gender. This type of research highlights the richness of experiences that lie behind the geographies of film locations.

Visit The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations website, section about The Exorcist (1973)

Read Stijn Reijnders (2010) “On the trail of 007: media pilgrimages into the world of James Bond”. Area. (Early View)