As the number of religious people worldwide decreases, one would think that people who set about on yearly pilgrimages would also decrease. But that isn’t the case. Nor has it been the case in this or the last century. There is a new brand of pilgrim that is slowly but quite surely replacing those pilgrims or old. The modern pilgrim is a consumer pilgrim.
Holidays, free time, vacation, all those should be time used by the individual or a collection of individuals to recover, bring something new in their lives. All in all, it should be a time of mental refreshment. In some cases, for example, taking a vacation in summer on some coast, it is also a physical refreshment. But that is decreasingly not the case. That free time is used to visit certain products of social spectacle. People browse for “It” locations or prepare to visit monuments to consumer culture. The biggest example of that is Paris.
People call Paris the capital of love and romance. But how much of true love is in a phallic metal structure, baguettes, black coffee, cigarettes, and croissants? All those are products that you are expected to buy, to consume, and to encourage others to do the same as soon as they get the opportunity.
The crowning jewel of all that is the selfie next to the Eiffel tower. Being on a pilgrim of the social spectacle is not enough in and out of itself. It isn’t even designed to be. You are merely a tool that propagates touristic and consumeristic attractions. It is only logical that the crowning jewel of all that is a post on social media that shows you, with a beaming smile, next to the phallic metal structure. And people do it, by the millions.
Like the old, religious, dying-out breed of the pilgrim, they also bring back souvenirs. While the religious souvenirs of times past were supposed to bring good fortune to the pilgrim and his loved ones, such items that belong to a saint/martyr, the souvenirs by the modern pilgrim are just reminders of their consumptive history. They don’t fill them with joy, excitement, or faith in a better tomorrow, they are just a quick reminder that something happened in their life that is stuck in a Groundhog Day manner.
The next time you go somewhere after all this coronavirus despair is over, do it for yourself. Enrich yourself, get to know a place and its people, its customs, their way of life. Travel should enrich us. But one has to travel mentally, not just physically. The best example of that is the comparison of Immanuel Kant and your average “well-traveled” Instagram Model.
Kant never got further than 20 miles from his home town of Konigsberg. Was he lazy? No. Was he a xenophobe? No. Was he a German supremacist? No. Kant knew that travel in his time took a lot of time. Travel was much more dangerous back then as well. But he invested a lot of time and money on books and magazines that depicted faraway lands and people. He learned about them indirectly, showing that direct contact with the other does not necessarily mean better-understanding a subject. Kant was enriched with mental travel.
Only one of these two will be remembered.
On the other hand, your Instagram model might have traveled the world, but what did he or she learn? How much wiser are they? They visited all the hot spots, everything that is aesthetical, that can add likes and followers which some of their strategic body parts failed to add. But they won’t change the world. Their body was all over the world, their minds are still rigidly confined in the cage of an influencer worldview.