Eat, Pray, Colonise

What the recent issue of tourism in Bali could tell us about identity politics and the re-imagined colonialism in a different guise and why it is important for us to know even if we are not Balinese/Indonesian (or especially if we're not)

Two Black American women, Kristen Gray and her partner, have been living in Bali for over a year as digital nomads. They recently promote, through their  e-book Our Bali Life is Yours, relocating  to Bali and having a lavish lifestyle at the expense of everyone else in Bali. And here’s what they were publicly scrutinised for:

1. Contributing to the ongoing gentrification across Bali 2. Committing tax fraud and breaking the immigration  regulation 3. Largely undermining Indonesia’s health protocol concerning the Covid-19 pandemic 4. Making a gravely inaccurate claim on LGBT+ space in Bali 5. Vocally advocating others to do all of the above

Allyship (n): supportive association with another person or group (merriam-webster)
There are many layers of social groupings and formations to practice solidarity one may get attached to vis-a-vis the recent Bali discourse. When one practices allyship, there is a plethora of chances that one might merely touch the surface, the problems or even the symptoms instead of critically addressing the core issues (re: becoming performative allyship). Indonesians, specifically Balinese, generally came into solidarity in criticising Gray through multiple praxes while resisting to align or sympathize with Gray’s side of American identity politics. This form of grouping resonates with Stuart Hall’s “never solidarity before criticism” (1994), as those who stand with Bali scrutinise the conjuncture of the issue (the history of tourism and colonialism, gentrification by First World tourists, the govt. regulations, etc) before and while declaring allyship. Thereby, effectively not being performative.

Privilege, minorities, and positionality. Like privilege, minorities might not be “geographically translatable”. The long history of colonization has created a sharp global inequality between the (post)colonizer and the (post)colonized countries. When persons with triple minorities in the US or the UK come to Indonesia and other postcolonial nations alikeÑto find a “sanctuary” with $ or £ they might become a “privileged minorities”. In this regard, using the narrative of minorities while living in the postcolonial countries is nothing but playing victim, as you can live your life luxuriously than the majority of people! And minorities intersect with class, history, gender, and etc. Thus, one cannot speak on the behalf of all minority!

Pop culture’s influence on tourism and colonisation Pop culture plays a crucial role in popularising the depiction of South East Asia as a place of “sanctuary” for the western audience. Contemporary works that influenced tourism boom in SEA include The Beach by Alex Garland and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The western neoliberal characters from those works need to consume “spiritual culture” that somehow only present in SEA to reach personal enlightenment Ð highlighting westerners’ inclination to see local culture merely as a product to be consumed. These works (in)directly influenced westerners to see SEA as a paradise to eLeVAte their lifestyles whilst simultaneously creating an exclusive community of colonisers westerners, silencing the locals, and erasing their lived experience. These cultural works show a type of colonialism where the colonisers displays empathy [to the locals] yet still prioritises their consumption of the culture (Williams, 2011). If our place is their sanctuary, then where do we go when we need one? Their fucking expensive imperialist countries?

  • Robert Burroughs (2014) Weird farang thing: dark tourism in Alex Garland’s The Beach (1996), Postcolonial Studies, 17:3, 320-333, DOI: 10.1080/13688790.2014.987896
  • Hall, Stuart. Representation of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures. 1994. New York. Pantheon Books. p.32
  • Williams, R. (2014), Eat, Pray, Love: Producing the Female Neoliberal Spiritual Subject. The Journal of Popular Culture, 47: 613-633. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00870.x


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