Nuclear in Miniature: Atomic Tourism in New Mexico

Authors: LuLing Osofsky*, University of California - Santa Cruz, Key MacFarlane*, University of California - Santa Cruz
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, Historical Geography
Keywords: nuclear, sublime, atomic, tourism, New Mexico, landscape, kitsch, museums, military, violence, Benjamin
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8224, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Geographers have recently taken note of the ways nuclear landscapes blur – or mutate – the lines between the invisible and the visible (Davies and Polese 2015), ruin and redemption (Cram 2016), the sublime and the everyday (Alexis-Martin and Davies 2017; Pitkanen and Farish 2017). Drawing on an ethnography of Atomic Tourism in New Mexico, this paper explores how the commodity form mediates these various tensions. In turning our attention to kitsch objects, museum collections, nuclear testing sites, and other “dark tourist” attractions, we trace the ways the invisible past lives out a half-life in the consumerist present, how landscapes of sublimity and violence are contained, “miniaturized,” and sold. Our study draws in particular on the work of Walter Benjamin and Susan Stewart to examine the ways the “souvenir” and the “collection” mediate time and space, particularly in term of collective memory. The commodification of the nuclear in New Mexico, we argue, provides a particularly useful map for how structures of violence are systematically forgotten, buried within the everyday, coopted into contemporary visual and consumer culture.

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