Walking As Toddlers

March 10, 2011
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Sticky fingers grasp at the first possible item in reach. Twelve o’ clock’s jelly leaves remnants on the wall as the toddler clumsily bounces down the hallway in search of a misplaced toy. Upon her quest for the lost toy, she encounters a curious item. Perplexed, she roughly picks up the irregular shaped object and brings it closer to her wide eyes. Peering at what she believes is something not of this planet, the toddler contemplates what comic hero might have left such an item. But, as all toddlers, quickly loses interest in what she grasps in her hands and disregards the object by letting it slip from her delicate fingers to crash onto the floor. Thud. The toddler continues on her way, but this time, in search of something new that has crossed the spontaneous mind she possesses.

Unbeknownst to the child, what lay on the floor was a small slice of history, dating back to days when the words “cars”, “television”, “iPods”, and “air conditioning” had not been formulated in man’s brain. This unidentifiable object to a young and ignorant child is something of little worth, easily disregarded and pushed aside when one loses interest; yet compared with an informed individual, the item that now lay exposed and vulnerable on the floor holds meaning. The author long gone; his stories concealed within the medium used to create such a work. Persons willing to open that story will be amid the thoughts, morals and beliefs of one such time when the art work developed from plan to finish.

We are but toddlers.

Society has lost that desire for knowledge of the past in dealing with historical sites and art work; living life at such a fast pace, full of technology and advancement that one often does not stop to ponder those that came before us. Future. Future. Future. From child to late teens that is the word engraved in one’s mind. As generations progress and technology continues on the steadfast path, tourism has become a hobby and an immense source of revenue. Ironic, isn’t it? To engage in viewing what the past has produced, yet living a life of such bustle. But tourism is taken on as a somewhat surface value activity. Tourists of this day and age easily disregard the site or artwork and quickly move on, but bear the sticky fingers of a child in relation to the condition and state that the site or artwork is left in. Remnants of tourists and sightseers leave places dangerously exposed and weakened, threatening the lifespan of the piece. Just as a toddler, tourists come in and out of a popular place, ignorant of the damage they are indirectly and, in some cases, even directly causing. We may only have the future to look towards one day as we continue to lose places/objects of expression and insight from various cultures of our past.

High demand comes with a high price. Historical sites made popular due to advertisements and movies of today have witnessed an influx of tourists from around the world. This creates many short term benefits, including jobs, revenue, status, etc. In which case, society tends to look towards this positive effect and disregard the threatening consequences until it is far too late. Mindset of these - plus picture hungry tourists - plus extremely delicate places - well, you can put the pieces together. The high quantities of people tromping into these sites has created a difficult predicament for host countries. On one hand, the country can decide to limit the site, resulting in sustaining artwork for a longer period of time, or, on the other hand, allow as many possible into the area, therefore producing mass revenue to flow into the country, but damaging the site in the process. Most have chosen the latter. Tourists bustle there and about through the sites day in and day out; the danger present in this lies in the tourist’s lack of knowledge of how to properly handle ancient works. This constant flow of people forever leaves a mark in the landscape; just as a stream erodes away at the land it passes throughout time. One can always see the trench it dug as the stream made its’ content way down the mountain. Just as a stream does to its’ landscape, tourists do to their historical and ancient sites.

During a recent interview with the AP Art History teacher of Stephen F. Austin High School, Ms. Birtwistle, stated “I don’t trust the average tourist. It’s sometimes embarrassing to even be an American in foreign countries...if everyone acted intelligently and were properly informed, I would have much more faith in them” (Birtwistle). Being the avid traveler she is, she has witnessed thousands of tourists in action. The average tourist she speaks of happily visits, takes a few photos, stores the memory away and promptly moves on to the next destination. Carefree and ignorant, as are toddlers, tourists mishandle historical sites, usually without the concern or knowledge that they are harming the area. For instance, at Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument dating back to the Neolithic Age and one of the world’s most recognizable and famous sites, over the years of industrialization and technological advancements has been put in jeopardy for society’s own pleasure and gain. As seen in an earlier photograph, spray paint was used to deface the stones with the message “ban the bomb”. This destruction was guaranteed media coverage and Stonehenge was essentially sacrificed for one’s own personal political message. This image captures the harm done to a defenseless site filled with our world’s past. The method used to clean this slogan strips away the precious stone to attempt to restore it to its’ original look. At a time when technology is booming and internet is the number one way of communication, defacing a historical site for gain is not necessary. Also in the sake of gain, a highway was erected for the convenience of tourists, but as a cost, motorized traffic in proximity with Stonehenge has damaged its’ landscape due to the violent vibrations from cars passing at high speeds. This has resulted in many of the stones being knocked over. They have been erected upright again by scientists and conservationists, but this damage could have easily been avoided by redirecting the road farther away from Stonehenge. Destruction of sites are likely to have occurred as early as the first century A.D. and continue to this day. This “continual touching [of Stonehenge] has left some stone faces uneven...visitors were fond of taking hammers and chiseling off pieces to use for medicines or in tea baths” (Mass). Host countries would have it in their best interest to educate the masses of the damages they are inflicting upon the exposed areas. Whether it be intentional or not, host countries usually throw this information that needs to be passed along to tourists on the back burner.

Inhale - exhale - destruction?

Breathing is a bodily function you just can not get away from; unless of course you would like to be six feet underground - but I will safely assume that that is not the case. The very own moisture you naturally produce when you exhale is catastrophic to a cave painting. The moisture results in mold forming on the walls of the cave and essentially eats away at history. Scientists are doing everything in their power to reverse this damage, but the only option is closing down the site completely. This fate, although not exactly as the cave paintings at Lascaux, will fall upon many of our world’s most treasured sites in years to come if knowledge of how to deal with historical sites is not passed down to tourists.

We are but toddlers.

With proper information and caution, society as a whole can preserve what cultures before us have blessed us with. Each historical era develops their own unique style of art, showing what it means to be human in a certain time and place. Shall we go about with sticky fingers, or shall we clean the remnants of jelly from our walls?
Works Cited
Birtwistle, Monica. Personal Interview by Kaylin Martin. 21 Jan. 2011.
Fig. 1. Mass, Wendy. Stonehenge. “Ban the Bomb” photo. San Diego: Lucenta Books
Inc., 1998, 78. Print.
Mass, Wendy. Stonehenge. San Diego: Lucenta Books Inc., 1998, 73-85. Print.

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