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
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.