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Review 1 of 1:
Sight Unseen
Item Name:Sight Unseen
Reviewer Name:Bruner, Edward M.
Reviewer Affiliation:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Reviewer Bio:Edward M. Bruner is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Illinois. He has edited Text, Play and Story, and The Anthropology of Experience (with Victor Turner). A past president of the American Ethnological Society as well as the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, he has published on tourism in Bali, East Africa, Ghana, and the United States, and is currently doing research on tourism.
Review Source:Asian Educational Media Service
Review Source URL:
Review Citation:News and Reviews, Vol.3, No. 2, Summer 2000


The film revolves around a Balinese Hindu priest and his family. It is 27 minutes of images from Bali that show mainly juxtapositions. But really juxtapositions! A sign in Bali advertising Texas BBQ while a Balinese musical group sings the Israeli song "Hava Nigila." The priest chewing betel nut and speaking to the film maker in Indonesian (not in Balinese), juxtaposed with a smiling Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Gamelan music and a fax machine. An Indonesian market and a Kodak display. A ceremonial procession with a Coca Cola sign in the background. The son of the priest watching Indonesian television showing "America's Funniest Home Videos." Interspersed throughout the film, we see images of an ice cream vendor pushing his cart along Balinese roads, and a tour bus with an English speaking guide. The film ends with the priest fishing on the ocean shore while a jumbo jet aircraft lands at the airport, all to the sounds of "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

To me, these juxtapositions seem entirely ordinary, everyday fare not only in Bali but in Indonesia and the world generally. This is the era of globalization, of mixture, hybridity, culture flows, trans nationalism, instant media communication. Culture is a process, always in motion. The themes shown in this film have been discussed for decades by the Balinese scholar James A. Boon, as well as by others. Balinese culture is not static.

But the film maker, Nicholas Kurzon, highlights the traditional-modern juxtapositions in opposition to the tourist perspective. Tourists, he says, come to Bali as the last paradise, a tropical wonderland, the island of the Gods. The tourists feel that the authentic Bali is slipping away (a touristic theme for at least 70 years), and that they have come too late. The Balinese are being overrun by outside influences, but tourists still look for the unspoiled Bali. As such, the tourists fail to see the Bali that is before them, in the present moment, in the here and now. They take photographs that confirm their prior images. In the main, this is an accurate characterization of tour agency advertising and of the kind of images that tourists capture with their cameras.

Sight Unseen counters the tourist image of Bali by showing the mixtures ofculture by juxtapositions. Also, the anonymous voice-over says explicitlythat nothing is permanent and that tradition means renewal. I agree, but Iknew this before I saw the film. Nor is the execution of this perspective in the film that striking or extraordinary.

I would show Sight Unseen in my tourism seminar or in more general anthropology or social science classes along with any one of a number of more standard tourist films about Bali. After showing the two films, one after the other, I would then raise a number of questions for class discussion, particularly two questions.

The first problematic I would pose as follows. We know that the Balinese have been living with tourism for 70 odd years and very intensively since 1969, when the international airport was constructed, yet they continue to practice Balinese culture and ritual. Their culture has been modified but not lost. I would ask, what other choices do they have as they are, after all, Balinese? I would point out that in addition to tourism the Balinese have been subjected to modernizing influences so that indeed the "outside" is now "inside" Balinese culture. Tourism itself is now very much a part of Balinese culture. As we see from Sight Unseen, Balinese culture is a postmodern pastiche, if we focus on the historical origin of each culture item. The question then becomes, how has tourism changed the Balinese and their culture, how do the Balinese cope with the tourists, what does tourism mean to the Balinese, and what new creative culture has emerged as a consequence of the interactions between Balinese and the West? Despite the pastiche, we ask, is Balinese culture a thing of shreds and patches, as it appears to be in Sight Unseen or is there a more systemic symbolic system here? I would want to go beyond Sight Unseen, and also would locate Bali in its political context, as an isolated Hindu outpost in an Indonesian Muslim sea controlled by politicians in Jakarta and their business cronies.

Secondly, the video takes the tourists as monolithic, and there is no question that the tour agencies stress the unspoiled Bali, but what are the tourist actual beliefs and experiences of Bali? My research suggests that many tourists do not really expect the pure authentic, they know Bali has changed, and they realize that the tourist sites presented to them have been constructed for their benefit. It is mostly film makers, anthropologists, museum curators, art dealers, and intellectuals who are obsessed with authenticity.Sight Unseen does raise these fascinating questions. It is an excellent takeoff point for discussion, and it undoubtedly has and will find use in many classrooms.

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