Tourism is the way we understand the world: tourists travel in an increasingly mediated environment in which ubiquitous promotional material and other popular artifacts employ stunning images and romantic travel narratives to describe local environments. Tourist texts “sell” local landscapes to entice visitors, employing an environmental aesthetic that urges travel. With its mission to “explore the planet,” the National Geographic Society contributes to this tourist aesthetic. This essay examines three special issues on Africa simultaneously published by the National Geographic Society: its official journal, National Geographic, and its sister magazines, National Geographic Traveler, and National Geographic Adventure. The photographic images and travel narratives in these tourist texts produce an environmental aesthetic that positions the traveler at the center of these environments. This essay first analyzes how National Geographic constructs Africa's environmental landscapes. These magazines depict Africa as a vast desert plain, a wilderness theme park, and a part of the global scenery. The second part of the analysis examines how National Geographic locates the tourist in these environments. I discuss how National Geographic positions the tourist as protagonist, expert, and hero of Africa's environment. In the conclusions, I argue this environmental aesthetic renders Africa invisible through anthropocentric distance, and I discuss the need for more critical readings of tourist discourse.
Anne Marie Todd. "Anthropocentric distance in National Geographic’s environmental aesthetic" Environmental Communication (2010): 206-224. doi:10.1080/17524030903522371