Special Session Summary Views of the New World From the Old: European Visions of the American West


Gary J. Bamossy (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Views of the New World From the Old: European Visions of the American West", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 121-122.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 121-122



Gary J. Bamossy, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam and University of Utah, U.S.A.


This session focuses on how consumers from three Northern European countries construct, maintain, and revise their visions and images of the American West, one of the world’s most popular international tourist destinations, and a region heavily portrayed in film, literature, art, and the mass media. Drawing an analogy with Foucault’s (1980) concept of the gaze, this study focuses on the "tourist gaze" (Urry, 1990a, 1990b), which suggests that there are systematic ways of "constructing and seeing" what we as tourists look at and evaluate when considering and consuming a tourist destination. In terms of sheer numbers and availability of images, the U.S. Wst is one of the most highly visible regions in the world, and has been for decades (Costa and Bamossy, 1998). This visibility allows European consumers to easily browse images and fantasize about an environment that is represented both as a mixture of the past (the idealized "old West") and the present (the West’s majestic scenery and attractive cities; MacLaren, Stevens and Brown 1998; Costa and Pavia, 1998). Thus, the marketing and consumption discourse relative to the American West, like that of Hawaii as paradise (Costa 1998), draws upon and sustains select images and marketing practices of the West as a tourism destination.

Using purposive sampling methods in each of three countriesCthe United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and DenmarkCwe have matched samples of: (1) young and mobile tourists whose visit(s) to the American West were not determined by the structure of travel agent itineraries ("Free Movers", aged 20-30); (2) Tourist who have visited the American West in the past 24 months, making use of tour operator packages (men and women, aged 30-65, from middle to upper-middle social classes); and (3) Non-visitors to the American West, who have expressed a desire to visit as part of a holiday in the future (men and women, aged 30-65, from middle to upper-middle social classes). Using native speakers as moderators, separate focus group sessions with each group in each country were conducted in the Spring of 1998. Additionally, personal interviews to follow up on emerging themes from the focus group data were conducted, and collection of images of the American West from European-based media and websites is on-going.

While each presenter focuses on and develops different themes and findings in the analysis of his or her country’s data on the American West, the overall session is able to identify and discuss several themes of similarity and differences. Similarities include the majesty and grandeur of nature, often expressed through media representations; Western hospitality, the vastness of the American West, and the "travel triangle" of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Differences relate to the differing notions of "idealized" versus the "real" of the "old and new" West, as expressed by visitors (first hand impressions) and non-visitors (mediated expressions). Interestingly, the analysis of the data from the different countries reveals as much about the cultures of the respondents as it does about the subject of the investigation, the American West. This duality of focus and presentation (what Europeans have to say about the American West, and what they therefore say about themselves in discussing the American West) should make this a stimulating session, with many opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue. Also, consistent with the overall objectives of the Paris ACR conference, the presenters come from both sides of the Atlantic, and this diversity adds to the richness of perspectives presented. With the exception of one Dutch and one Danish graduate student, all the speakers have experience at presenting at ACR conferences.



Margaret K. Hogg, Manchester School of Management, UMIST, U.K.

"Travel.. has made men think faster, imagine more largely, want more passionately.. many.. now 'travel’, yet few are travellers in the old sense of the word" [emphases added](Boorstin 1962:87-88)

Boorstin (1962) argued that men had changed from active travellers to passive tourists. They had lost their delight in adventure, represented by exploring the strange, the unexpected and the unfamiliar. Instead they had settled for experiences which were 'diluted, contrived, prefabricated’ (Boorstin 1962:86-88). Whereas Boorstin examined Americans’ views of the Old World, this paper starts from the opposite premise, and examines the views of visitors from the Old World to the New.

The study uses Boorstin’s (1962) themes from "From Traveller to Tourist: The Lost Art of Travel" as the basis for exploring, analyzing and interpreting the consumption experiences of two groups of British visitors to the American West. The themes which emerged from discussions with a focus group of upscale visitors to the USA (aged 30-55) and with a focus group of younger free movers (aged 20-30) included: the discovery of new worlds and disturbing ideas; guided tours, planned excursions and sightseeing; the insulation of the tourist from the travel world; isolation from the landscape; provision of local atmosphere; tourist attractions; examples of local culture 'collected and embalmed’ (page 110); ’the democratizing of travel, the lowering cost, increased organization, and improved means of long-distance transportation’ (page 117); and superhighways. The findings from these British consumers of the American West are discussed within the context of Boorstin’s contrast between the active traveller and the passive tourist.

One of the main findings was that British visitors consumed different visions of the American West depending on their own cultural perspective. This finding reflected McCracken’s (1986) view that consumers bring their own cultural 'lens’ and 'blueprint’ to their experiences of the categories of time, place, space and people within the context of other cultures. The findings also echoed Boorstin’s final point that:

"travel becomes a tautology. The more strenuously and self-consciously we work at enlarging our experience, the more pervasive the tautology becomes. Whether we seek models of greatness, or experience elsewhere on the earth, we look into a mirror instead of through a window, and we see only ourselves". [emphases added](Boorstin 1962:124-125)



SĀ°ren Askegaard, Odense University, Denmark

Diana Storm, Odense University, Denmark

"Dust is whirled up by the galloping hoofs of horses, and the villain is pursued swinging the lasso above one’s head". Most people in the Western World are familiar with the imaginary universe of the American Wild West exemplified in this interview excerpt. They would probably not only be able to recognize it from descriptions such as this, but also to add their personally and culturally shaped twist if they were to express their image of the American West; a world of its own, heavily loaded with symbolic meanings.

The imagery of the American West is very much a part of the European heritage of cultural references (Kroes 1996) and it is widely used also in advertising originating in Europe. However, to our knowledge, no consumer research project has been undertaken to demonstrate the readings of the "Wild West" imagery beyond the taken-for-granted stereotypes. Research has demonstrated the richness and versatility of consumers’ advertisement readings far beyond the sender’s intentional meanings (e.g. Mick & Buhl, 1992; Scott, 1994). Therefore, we have found it worthwhile to explore in depth the perceptions of wild west themes or imagery in advertising, the possible linkages between wild west imagery and the images of particular products or kinds of products, and the salient values and themes invoked therein.

The present research project explores the imaginary world of the American Wild West employed in advertising as perceived by a group of Danish consumers. This is done by means of qualitative research and more specifically through focus group and depth interviews. Via these methods and the complementary use of projective techniques, initial data was collected and analysed using the analytical principles of the grounded theory approach. The research provided insights into the informants’ perceptions of wild west themes or imagery in advertising and shed light on a number of opositional meanings evoked in such advertising. It also opened up for new questions concerning the issue of possible linkages between the wild west imagery and the images of particular products or types of products.



Gary J. Bamossy, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and University of Utah, U.S.A.

Janeen Arnold Costa, University of Utah, U.S.A.

Tom Rood, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

In the 17th century, pilgrims from the Dutch town of Leiden saw America as a refuge and site of hope, marking the beginning of Dutch fascination with America. When Peter Stuyversant purchased Manhattan Island from the indigenous Indians for roughly $24, the relationship took on a more commercialCand, hence, decidedly DutchCinterest. In the 1990s, only the U.K. and Japan have greater amounts of foreign investment in the US. In short, the Dutch have a long and active economic, political, and social relationship with America. Nonetheless, Dutch knowledge of the American continent generally, and of the American West specifically, is fairly superficial and has been strongly influenced by media representations.

This paper examines the various ways in which the Dutch construct and maintain their images, expectations, and visions of the American West. One of the rich themes emerging from the Dutch data is the strong interplay of the "idealized" West, replete with images of nature’s grandeur and Western hospitality, with the hard, urban, dangerous constructs of America’s West, as typified by Los Angeles. Thus, within the Dutch focus groups, there was seldom a singular focus on any one aspect of the West for any extended period of time. Rather, a consistent point/counter-point discussion of the "ideal and romanticized West" versus the "real West of development, racial inequality, and urban decay" prevailed. That which is admired about the West versus that which is abhorrent about American society, as it is played out in the American West, often dominated the discussions, regardless of the semi-structured approach to topics taken by the focus group facilitator. Often, informants used media based anecdotes, so that television programs about the "old West" (Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie), for example, were interspersed with those about the "new, real West" (Baywatch, L.A. Law). Similarly, informants contrasted the hyperreality and perceived tackiness of Disneyland and Las Vegas as destinations with the civilized and cultural sites of San Francisco. Thus, the Dutch respondents used a large number of dyadic contrasts as a platform to identify and discuss just where, and what, the American West is for the Dutch tourist.


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Gary J. Bamossy, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam and University of Utah, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4 | 1999

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