Rites of Passage in an Age of Fugitivity | Ian MacKenzie (The Mythic Masculine)
On this episode, our guest is Ian MacKenzie, a filmmaker and writer who lives on the Salish Sea with his partner and young son.
For over 13 years, he’s been tracking the global emergence of new culture. From the desert of Burning Man to the heart of Occupy Wall St, he has sought and amplified the voices of visionaries, artists and activists who have been working toward planetary system change. Ian is best known for his films Sacred Economics, Lost Nation Road, Amplify Her, Dear Guardians, and Occupy Love (directed by Velcrow Ripper).
More recently, he founded The Mythic Mascline Podcast and Network, exploring in-depth conversations about emerging masculinities, as well as A Gathering of Stories, an online mythopoetic ceremony. At the end of April, Ian, alongside others, launched The School of Mythopoetics.
I met Ian some years ago at the Orphan Wisdom School near Ottawa, Canada. Since then, we've become friends and co-conspirators in the deep work of apprenticing the culture, what is absent in it, and what might be done about it. Ian joins me to discuss the backpacker "gap year" and the lack of initation for young men and women, the difference between a tourist and a traveller, the theatre that the tourist industry creates for tourists, what it means to be a guest, creating ritual space, and Joseph Campbell's "hero's journey." Enjoy!
Chris & Ian’s Friendship / The Orphan Wisdom School
The Backpacker Gap Year
A Lack of Initiation for Young Men (and Women)
Leaving Your Comfort Zone
Blogging and the Lure of Travel
I’m not a "Tourist," I’m a "Traveller"
Commodification and Sacred Economics
Life as a Customer Service Endeavour
Escapism, Wanderlust, and the Subversion of Each
Being and Becoming A Guest in a Place
Fyre Festival and the Homogenization of Tourist Economies
Creating Ritual Space for Spilling A Story
The Hero’s Journey
Fathering the Fugitive
Ian Mackenzie - Rites of Passage in an Age of Fugitivity
Chris Christou: Welcome to the End of Tourism Podcast, Ian MacKenzie.
Ian Mackenzie: Hm, good to be here, brother.
Chris Christou: Well, it's a pleasure to see you after it seems like an incredibly long time. Do you think you'd be able to offer our listeners a little bit of an idea of where you find yourself today? What the world looks like for you, where you are?
Ian Mackenzie: I'm currently my office here in Comox Valley which is right in town, small town. And, uh, I currently look at probably the best donut shop in the whole region, giving them a shout out. Well they're called Bigfoot Donuts, which is a contrast though, because where I live actually is out in the forest, uh, with my family.
And I'm not too far from here, but it feels real worlds away. And so it's actually nice to be able to traverse, you know, the forest in the city, come in to do work, work like this, you know, good internet connection, and then go out there where there's very little internet connection. It's a pretty soggy day after a couple of weeks of a biting chill, certainly more so for this region than is normal.
And a lot of it's in the melt now and another atmospheric river, as they're called, is barreling through here over the next day. Uh, and there's flood warnings. And of course, you know, there was major flooding on the west coast here about a month ago as well. So definitely we're in the midst of wild times, as you probably are in a different way there.
Chris Christou: Undoubtedly. Yeah. So, we've known each other for some seven years maybe. And, uh, maybe just putting it on the spot off the top of your head, you could tell our listeners as well, uh, how we met and how we've come to maintain this long distance friendship.
Ian Mackenzie: Um, yeah, I mean, I'm trying to recall it myself, but I mean, certainly through the Orphan Wisdom School, I believe with Stephen Jenkinson. Yeah. And, uh, I'm trying to recall the first, was it one of the sessions probably on the farm. Yeah. And what was your "peoples" called, your cohort?
Chris Christou: "The People of Mountain Longing."
Ian Mackenzie: That's right. Okay. Yeah. Um, those of you who are listening, uh, yeah, in the orphan wisdom school, each cohort sort of has their own name. And I was sort of a roamer in those earlier years because I was also making a number of films about Stephen and his work.
And so I traversed a number of the classes and, uh, People of Mountain Longing, uh, where, uh, a great bunch, so I'm told, uh, and certainly few are left standing like you, and we've continued to sort of roll into the "Big Tent," which is the class that's yeah, still willing to show up and ask for more despite how difficult it is to live often what we learn and and approach in the school.
But yeah, I believe, uh, that was really where planted the seed of friendship. And then since, you know, I have fond memories of different locales from deep in that Arcade Fire concert in Toronto to being out in the wilderness together, but apart as part of a series of I wouldn't say quests, but, but a wilderness fast of some kind in service to something.
And so I feel there's a certain bond and that's forged that I appreciate, you know, tending over distance and certainly creatively and conversations like this.
Chris Christou: Well, it's a great honor to be able to speak to you and to offer this conversation up for our listeners. So you're the host of the mythic masculine podcast an excellent, incredible podcast for anyone who's listening right now, please check it out and you'll have a links to that via the end of tourism website and social media.
And so Ian, I wanted to ask you in regards to masculinity and travel, if you could offer us a little bit about, your own personal experience, in your travels, how have your travels influenced your sense of masculinity or your understanding of masculinity?
Ian Mackenzie: Yeah, I think it's, you know, it's interesting to reflect on this too, within the context of tourism in particular, because I think maybe these are the two main hubs of the conversation. You know, tourism's consequence, masculinity, culture. And I think certainly there is a relationship between the call it a rite of passage or initiation or lack thereof, which happens often through travel in more modern times when it's not culturally practiced. It can also be known as the gap year, um, where there's this break between, you know, life as it has been for a youth and then this sort of journey of this walkabout and then some sort of reconstitution on the other side.
And, you know, for me, my relationship to travel and to that period was certainly inadvertent or not unconscious, like it is for many, but I was just drawn to travel, right? Like, like many are certainly around that time. Although I was somewhat of a late bloomer in terms of my family that I actually, I'd never been on a plane until I think it was around 17 or 18.
You know, my family just, we didn't travel like that. We didn't really have money to afford things like flights. So, it wasn't until I myself was working and I had saved up enough that actually my first trip was to Los Angeles, actually first air flight to see a friend. And, um, you know, that was star-studded in the wonder of it all.
But then it was actually after that again, after high school, even a little bit, a little bit into my university, I kind of made that immediate step, which, you know, I hear at the time a lot of cautionary tales, right? Or like don't leave the momentum you have to like get a job or whatever it is.
And then of course, you know, two years in, I was like, what am I doing? I have no idea. Just sort of wandering aimlessly through university. And I remember I saw it was a poster for Australia or, you know, it was a what do they call it like a co-op position or something, or not work, work abroad or this sort of work trade sort of thing, you know, temporary visa.
And prior to that I'd done some travel in a summer to Europe, I sort of did the, you know, backpacking trip around Europe for about a month with a former girlfriend. And that, you know, we were sort of in our bubble of getting a taste of that, you know, that initial exploring new horizons, new places, and then later on about a year or so after is when I felt that call, really in the heartbreak of that relationship ending, to get as far away as possible as I could.
And, you know, I saw the sign for Australia and I thought, "hey, that's pretty much the farthest away I could get from where I am in North America." And so I followed that. I saved up as much as I could, and then I bought the ticket and headed there, and it was actually, I uh, booked a stop in Fiji or there was a stop over there on the way down.
And I was able to spend a couple of weeks there prior to landing in Australia. And it was actually in Fiji that 9/11 happened. And I remember, you know, really being on the small remote island and the tourism host or the local said, you know, "Hey, did you hear the news?" I was like, what? I just come out of this grass hut, you know, on this tiny little island, I was like, "no, I didn't hear the news."
And, you know, two planes hit the trade center towers and they'd pulled out a TV, you know, CNN greenily, showing and, and, you know, there it was. And, uh, that was quite a bang, you know, at a time that was already a sort of liminal for me in these between two worlds. And then I eventually landed in Australia and, uh, spent the next eight months, is this reality check of both pushing myself to a place where I didn't know anybody.
And I really want it to be challenged in a lot of ways. And then also, you know, that recognition of like, oh, wherever you go, there you are. And, uh, the same heartbreak that I had fled followed with me and, um, but really became, yeah, I would call it some kind of initiatory ground, you know, unawares and, uh, you know, we could get into that in a moment, but I would say, you know, again, as I reflect back now that that time really was that quest to leave it all behind, which was a longing really that I carried and certainly many carry, particularly young men for that very thing to be visited upon them by olders, by elders, by uncles, you know, to really show them that they're different, that they're actually, you know, that there is some kind of break from the old and stepping into adulthood or stepping into manhood or whatever you want to call it. And of course, for many of us, including me, it never happened and I was left to do it, uh, inadvertently on my own.
Chris Christou: Wow. It's fascinating to hear you speak about these things. I had at probably a young age, although we're, I think a few years apart, the same flight routes, basically for my first few trips, to California, and then later to Australia through Fiji, if you can believe it. But, I'd like to ask you then, I guess you mentioned that like this heartbreak followed you, right?
And that there was this sense of perhaps escapism from having to deal with that. And this is something that has become, or is becoming epidemic right now, is this desire to escape? Especially in Anglo North America, the desire to get on a plane and go anywhere because of well, the consequences of the pandemic.
Right. What did you in retrospect find about this way of perhaps trying to, you know, avoid the real pain at hand in the moment and how might we, you know, extrapolate that into what's happening today?
Ian Mackenzie: Hmm. Yeah. You know, I it's interesting too, right. Because I would say maybe for there Australia, right. I mean, it's still like a Western culture. And so in some ways, you know, and they speak English and with an accent or, you know, of course they would never say that. I have the accent.
But there's a certain familiarity. Right? So, it wasn't really that far out of my comfort zone, at least culturally speaking. You know, I learned a bunch of things like "jumbucks" and "Tucker bags" and all this. And that still carried, certainly an element of being confronted by things outside own sense of how I understood the world.
But it wasn't really until later actually, when I went to Southeast Asia where I did that quote "did that trip." um, went to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos. And for me, I, I guess that probably, that was the first time, I suppose, Fiji as well, where there was a clear disparity between the tourist in this case, you know, the backpacker and then the locals of course, depending on the area, but it was often just more obvious.
And so in that sense that disparity became more, that became its own kind of confrontation. And, uh, you know, you, you really start to see this sort of performative or veneer of hospitality, you know, performed by the locals. I'm of course I'm thinking of Bangkok and the, I can't remember that strips called right in Bangkok, but it's like the strip, right? But again, that kind of thing is very obvious, like very clearly catered towards these tourists. And it just became, you know, the cliches were just rife and I just, I couldn't ignore that there was a consequence of being there in a way that maybe it was less obvious when I was in somewhere, like say Australia.
And so, yeah, I'd say I started to lose a bit of the sheen in terms of travel in terms of that it would somehow provide that level of something that I wanted that inadvertent something. But at the same time I was still drawn to travel and as a kind of spiritual possibility, um, not to turn others into a kind of spiritual objectification, as if they were there just for me but really to try to glean some kind of conscious growth, you know, again, I'm using that specifically then.
But it coalesced as a magazine. I actually started publishing a sort of online blog called Brave New Traveler, which was really aimed at that. Right. This idea of speaking about the spiritual or philosophical dimensions of travel, which ended up doing pretty well, like as in people started to dig it and it was sort of the golden age of, of blogging around that time.
And I worked with a lot of writers who really spoke to this dimension. And that caught the attention actually of another group or another sort of social network of travelers that had sort of sprouted around that time, uh, Matador. And they were early days at the time. Again, they were still more of a, just a direct social network.
And they reached out to me and asked me to come on board and actually help them develop their publication side of their network. And that certainly was a big deal for me at the time, you know, I was like, oh wow. Now I can really focus largely, primarily right on, on travel and, and the realm of travel as a focus, right?
Like that was a big deal. I was working in copywriting at a different company at the time. This is sort of my mid twenties. And so I did, I joined them and again, I felt drawn or wrapped up in now much more of this whole ecosystem right of travel, really travel commodification. Right. Which is something that I'm sure you've spoken at length here on the podcast, um, which I could, you know, I could touch on a lot in the conversation to come.
But I'll just say that again, I started to lose, uh kind of automatic sense that like travel was inherently meaningful or it was inherently good. Like all these mantras that tend to get trotted out right is this sense of it opens horizons and, you know, bridges, borders and all this stuff.
And I started to see the impact on place and how it reorchestrated place, and made me wonder again, what was the deeper longing there, which, you know, I would call now a deeper longing to be from somewhere, again that that permeates so much of the desire to be elsewhere, in a place where the sense of belonging has been fugitive for some time.
So that was certainly alive for me. And has remained, certainly, I mean, in many ways, maybe that's what led us to the orphan wisdom school, because we were sort of fed up with looking elsewhere for it. And, uh, and we found ourselves there.
Chris Christou: Hmm. Cultural orphans, right?
Ian Mackenzie: Hm.
Chris Christou: I mean, that's so much of what my travels and really many people's travels, especially backpackers are founded in. These notions of searching out culture. And that the kind of hidden understanding that one only need to go searching out culture elsewhere if there's none of it at home or that it's hidden at home or an endangered species or that it's just not good enough. Right.
Ian Mackenzie: Well, also, this is coming back to me now a little bit too, but just the conceit that often would come up of, you know, maybe you even encountered this a lot. And I probably was in, you know, participating in it sometimes was, you know, "oh, uh, I'm not a tourist, I'm a traveller."
Right. "I'm not, oh, no, I'm not, no, I'm not a tourist. I'm a traveler." I mean, it was like often even said in that kind of tone, right? Like one was this cheesy cliche, uh, you know, "packaged tour." And the other was, you know, the one "off the beaten path" and that, and you know, this was at a time too, when you could, you know, walk down the strip in Bangkok there and book a tour to basically wherever you wanted with other grungy folk like you and, you know, call that, oh, I'm not a tourist, I'm a traveler.
But of course those kinds of false distinctions break down, you know, if you really try to hold them up. And they do try to create a sense of that one is not commodifying the place or objectifying the place. Right. I think it's like trying to salvage a sense of, I really, you know, get culture and I really am not animated by the very same thing that these packaged tour tourists are, um, which yeah, to me so much turns out to be false.
Chris Christou: Right. The commodification of the rebel. Right. And this is what I think in a lot of the literature they referred to as the anti-tourist, who like the antihero is still a tourist or still a hero. Right. The inverse still holds the foundation of the thing and the function of it. And what's being asked to do within the society or within the culture and in this case within the industry. Right. And all of these, all of these things get commodified one way or the other.
Ian Mackenzie: Well, this, yeah, this strikes me though. Again, you know, I'll just touch on Matador for a second, though, who again, have continued to do thrive in a way to this day. And I ended up leaving the company in 2012 actually to pursue documentaries full-time. My film that I was working on with the director Velcrow Ripper, "Occupy Love" was just being released the following year.
And so that, that was really, you know, I was on good terms, but I was really wanting to pursue documentary in that way. And, and so I did, and I've tracked them a bit since, and I mean, I'll just say, for me, what stands out is that initially at the time, when I was entered into that industry, that there was a sort of ethos of impartiality, right, with reviews and with articles like Lonely Planet and these kinds of things.
Like, they were very clear to them that they were like impartial, right? Taking freebies or like any of this kind of stuff that would slant their impartial reviews or their recommendations was at least it was already shifting then, but it was generally, there was a sense of it was dirty to take bribes, like, it was a little bit like that. Right. And, uh, and I'll say the difference now, I mean, particularly with something like somebody like Matador is, you know, basically all of their major contracts are with tourism boards and, and their content is paid for directly by the tourism boards in these places.
And they're transparent about it. Like, as in, it'll say, you know, "in partnership with tourism, Colorado, or in partnership with tourism, Australia." and so for me, it's just so interesting to watch that flip that, you know, what was initially a sense of pride of like this is just pure review or whatever it is, no sway, but it's now the exact opposite.
And people don't seem to mind, or at least in that sense, they almost expect it. Right? Like, influencers and all this stuff, they almost expect that, oh yeah, of course they partner with the boards and they'll recommend the best things. But of course, even then you're so far down the commodified rabbit hole of of distortion of what it would mean to be in a place and sort of not be swayed or conditioned by where they're trying to show you are the places that you should go because that's usually the conceit with the traveler, right?
The traveler kind of goes where they're called and isn't seduced by these kinds of things. But of course, you know, that's all there is now, it seems, is essentially these tracks of authorized things to do in places to go. and of course you're not even away from your smartphone really, unless you deliberately wrestle it away from yourself.
I can't even imagine really going on those trips and having a smartphone with me where I could talk to all of my friends at any time, at any moment, you know what I mean? Like that kind of like, I didn't, I, so I would never really leave is what it would feel like. Right. You would just sort of be somewhere else, but you would never have that break from the world that, you know, because they're just so accessible right there. So I just think that, yeah, the landscape is so different in some ways of even this idea of stepping away from the things you know to create some kind of I don't even know if that's possible now to have that quote, even unconscious rite of passage anymore because of how commodified the landscape and how accessible your reality that you were in, in your networks were and are, are still available to you.
Chris Christou: Wow. Yeah, it's incredible. I mean, I think I stopped traveling and I'll be honest or I'll be sincere I'll say "touring," right? I stopped touring in maybe 2013 or 14 and that was around the time when wifi just started popping up everywhere. And I don't have a memory of being able to do that. And I think most tourists today, it'd be difficult for them to remember a time where that wasn't the case. Right.
So I wanted to ask you regarding this commodification, this commercialization of what we might otherwise call a kind of pseudo-initiation or rite of passage that, you know, young men and women travel the world to do. How do you think, through notions such as adventure, heroism, initiation, how do you think these things have been commodified by the travel industry. For example, adventure tourism is a huge, huge aspect of the industry and becoming more and more common everywhere you go.
Ian Mackenzie: Yeah. I mean, there's interesting themes to touch on, I think for sure, because I think that there's something like if I think about what is the function of commodification, right. And I'll draw upon a little bit of another author, Charles Eisenstein who's spoken at length about this idea of, in "Sacred Economics," which is a short that I did with him based on his book quite a while ago.
But there's this idea that, you know, to commodify means to take something that was freely offered or, uh, maybe I'll say free as in, there was some kind of exchange, not barter, but there was some kind of relationship required, to reciprocation right, the flow of those gifts in a way.
And in commodification, what that does is it actually takes those things, puts a price tag on it and then sells it back to you or it mediates that exchange and turn into a transaction. And so the consequences is more than maybe as benign as it might sound because essentially what it's doing is it takes away the labor, right?
Like essentially the labor of relationship or the labor of work. And this is something of course, Stephen Jenkinson has spoken to at length of this idea, that work is something you're least inclined to do. Right. And so much of what I would consider to be the things that are actually, I don't know, initiatory or involving a rite of passage or the sort of hard labor of
you know, finding a way in another place and actually building relationship in a meaningful way, not to tour it, just vanishes when it's just, "Hey, click here, buy the package." But it's understandable, right? Because what it does is that it builds an industry of course off of that very taking care of things, right: fixing, making the pathway frictionless, right. I mean, aside from money, of course you save up the money and then, you know, you can do that thing. You can do the bungee jump off the bridge, or you can have that, you know, deep culinary moment with a local and like they just become experiences that are sort of canned or, you know, ready to be checked off the list.
Right. And so there's a consequence of that of course, is that you can have the experience, but there's no kind of soul tempering, maybe I'll say it that way. Right? Because there's no work involved, according to that understanding. Right. And because literally you just become like a ghost, you move through these places, you know, have your experience, take your photo. Even if it feels real for an afternoon or whatever it is and then you're gone and then the place maybe continues being itself after you're gone. So there's some consequence to that spirit labor vanquished because of the mediation through this commodification in this, uh, really objectification.
Chris Christou: Yeah, certainly. The ghost instead of the guest, right.
Ian Mackenzie: yeah.
Chris Christou: I mean, all you have to do is show up with the right amount of money and your experience is there for you.
Ian Mackenzie: Yeah.
Chris Christou: All right.
Ian Mackenzie: And in fact, in some ways, right, demanded. If you don't get it, it's like, "Hey, you know, I paid money for it."
Chris Christou: Yeah, just the entire world pushed through an ever shrinking pinhole of customer service demands and expectation. And the people patching the leaks on that boat are at the very worst at the mercy of the industry and international peace and I guess health and at the very least dehumanized by foreign entitlement and business owners, trying to find the bottom line. Uh, the one that keeps getting lowered further and further.
And then this is somehow the context and the background for what a lot of people would claim to be initiatory, initiatory rites of passage and this is the structure and the style that it entails.
Ian Mackenzie: Yeah. Um, I'm mean curious to even ask you, did you have a similar moment of either revelation or disappointment around this reckoning, you know, and was it in a particular place or with a particular experience, where you felt like, oh wait, you know, you'd sort of been chasing a phantom, that suddenly, you know, you recognized.
Chris Christou: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think I stretched it out as long as I possibly could before the reckoning came down and it started for I think the first few years and just kind of tourist exploration and going to places that I thought would be interesting, going to a lot of ruins, even though I wasn't particularly a fan of history in any way, it was just something to kind of be a spectator in front of, right.
To witness what I thought and what I imagined and what I hoped would be kind of liminal moments, right, in front of these ruins of old cultures that perhaps had something that I could learn from that I could garner that I could, but at the end of the day it was just a spectator.
Right. And so, so after a few years, I began to do some voluntourism work, helping to build natural construction community centers in Guatemala and things like that. And just to learn again and then this kind of notion of... the catharsis, isn't... it's not holding up. Right?
The addiction needs to be stronger because it no longer carries its potency as it once did. And then, so I decided I needed to specifically be engaging in learning and healing experiences in the Amazon jungle and places like Mexico and doing, you know, traditional African ceremonies in Europe. That kind of thing.
And at the end of the day, after almost 10 years of doing this, I realized that I just needed to be somewhere, that I just needed to be somewhere instead of anywhere or everywhere. And so I found myself in Oaxaca and I just stayed. And after six months of being here, that was my realization. And, you know, it's a tough thing to do because I feel like that escapism, and for me, particularly, it was regarding modern life, growing up in a metropolis in Canada and finding it so incredibly spiritually impoverished that you just keep looking for the next place, the next place that'll somehow, you know, comfort or satisfy those needs.
And, you know, I think at the end of the day, you realize that the capacity or willingness to move and to keep moving is the thing that stops that from happening. The wanderlust is the subversion of the thing you're looking for, because the thing you're looking for can't be found and it has to be made, right, which is home, which is culture. And it has to be cultivated. So that's the tragic, decade long story of, of, of, you know, how I had to come to that in the way that I did.
Ian Mackenzie: You know, there's certainly a poetic return, you know, in there. And I mean, it might've been maybe Robert Frost or Thoreau you know, something like, you don't have to travel around the world to recognize the dew on your front lawn is just as sparkly and beautiful, or to see it anew, you know, something like that.
So there's that sort of poetic, romantic recognition, but then I'm curious again, what is it then by not moving? Like what is one confronted by? I mean, it sounds like, like you're saying this sort of spiritual poverty or cultural poverty. But for example, for you in a place, like, Oaxaca is, you've engaged in certain things as a way I think of trying to contend with this very thing.
Like, what does it mean to be somewhere of, which is not the place where you were born to nor ancestrally recognize, but you're engaged in, in being there in a certain way as a way of what is it, redemption, spirit work, culture work. I mean, I believe so, but I'd be curious to hear you speak to that, but what does it mean to not move and to engage in this place where you are.
Chris Christou: Mm, well, I think to not move means to be willing to apprentice the weather in a place and time. Right. It means being willing to sit and bear the storm of the times and to deepen your understanding of it and how you might serve it's subversion, right. And how you might participate in whatever redemptive work can be utilized in order to court better worlds. So I think for me, it was very clear that once I decided I was going to stay in Oaxaca, that I understood and I would understand myself principally as a guest in this place, no matter how long I stayed, no matter if I got my residency or citizenship or got married or had kids, or was even recognized, you know, by the community or anything like that.
That I would always be a guest in this place. After years of contending with that I realized that, you know, the same thing would apply to me if I had never left Toronto, right. That my willingness and capacity to be at home in a place or a citizen of a place or time is dependent on my understanding of how I proceed as a guest in that place.
And how that might inform an understanding of what it might mean to be a host and this relationship between the two that bears generally what we would call hospitality if it wasn't specifically something that had been co-opted by industry. So I think that's what it comes down to is, is understanding yourself as a guest in a place and what that means and the consequences of that.
And what the consequences of you being a guest or just being in another place is if you're being there is temporary, right. Are you still a guest in a place if, if you can't proceed with a cognizant and reflexive understanding of your consequences in that place. So if you leave, you have no capacity to understand the fallout, both of you being there in the first place and how it rippled out over time, those consequences. And then of course you're leaving. You can't gather up a consequence for what that did or does. I mean, you, you can try, but your absence precludes that.
Ian Mackenzie: Hmm.
Chris Christou: And so that's something that I had to contend with leaving Toronto and having family and friends get further and further away, in some respect, over the course of years.
Ian Mackenzie: You know, as you're speaking as well, it made me think of, you might've seen one of the documentaries that came out a couple years ago. Now it was on the Fyre Festival.
Chris Christou: Oh yeah.
Ian Mackenzie: Do you remember that? And, uh, I think I saw the, it might've been the Netflix one, but what was tragic and fascinating was how the producers had put forth this grand idea of, you know, having this big, you know, festival in some remote island.
But, um, yeah, it was very clear that the place through their own, you know, heaping on all these promises of riches and big tourists and all the rest, the place really, um, you know, contorted itself to meet this, you know, impending bash, you know, this impending festival that was gonna happen.
And, uh, those of you who've maybe seen the film or maybe read about it, of course, know that it sorta sort of happened, but it was a total train wreck and, you know, none of the infrastructure was there and all these bands, you know, people canceled and, and, you know, all these really generally very rich people who could afford to go were outraged and horrified.
And, but one of the things that was really just deeply sorrowing was actually, they interviewed a woman, a local woman who ran like a restaurant, right. The local restaurant. And they've been serving these tourists while they were there for those couple of weeks, while nothing happened. Either that or she'd you know, fronted the cost of the food or something like that and where the festival is going to pay them, you know, there was some kind of debt to be paid there. And they never did, right, of course, because the whole thing crashed and burned and, and this woman was, you know, weeping on camera saying that she's 10,000 or so, in debt or something, you know, American, and I don't know what that was in the local currency, but essentially really ruined for life it felt like, um, because of the willingness to distort on behalf of these, you know, the promise of these people coming.
And so for me, that really felt like part of that reckoning, like you're saying like the fallout of your presence and your absence, and even the promise of your presence, I mean, as a tourist and touristing, and, uh, just the fragility of that, of course which can seem very solid when everything's humming and the boats arriving, you know, willy nilly.
And I mean, I'm thinking as well as of course, the pandemic fallout of so many places that, you know, ghost town, once the planes stopped flying and everybody was told to stay home. And that, so many of these places that really relied upon, of course, the steady influx... I remember reading some stories about how devastated these places were, because again, they relied upon the octane of tourism.
And again, there's a certain tragedy in that of how fragile, again, that really is, in a time when this kind of world travel jet setting, you know, slick international consumer commodification is floating on a sea of cheap oil. And in that sense is vulnerable certainly to disruption and also any longterm viability of course seems suspect.
And so, yeah, I guess I'm really hearing in your sense that, in some ways, that the whole market of commodified tourism is meant to keep you away from understanding your consequence, because it just wants your money. You're not allowed to really see, you know, the coral reefs bleaching or the black market, you know, in the shanty next to the fancy hotel and all that stuff.
I mean, which is so much of course of how the market economy works is really separating these things.
Chris Christou: Yeah. Yeah. Well now, even, even these things are becoming tourist attractions, right? There's a kind of little known category of tourism recently coined in the last, well, actually it's in the last 10 years, but called extinction tourism. Right. And sometimes you see things like this where social media influencers sneak into Chernobyl, right to get photos there and people going to places like old mines, for example, and while there might be the possibility of mourning what's happening in this regard in the world, it's clearly this really strange inverted kind of glorification of the very thing that we would otherwise mourn and perhaps try to heal.
I wanted to come back to masculinity for a moment. And I wanted to ask, you know, about something that I am sure you speak about quite a bit, that I know you speak about a fair amount on the podcast and in your projects, which is the hero's journey and Joseph Campbell and we were speaking a little bit about it earlier, like this notion of like an initiatory rite of passage, however kind of commodified and really in the end false it might be, that there is this notion that even if we do this, and even if we somehow, achieve this transformation into adulthood, that we're always doing it in the context of other cultures, right.
And other cultures have to bear the brunt of that quote unquote initiation, which is often just the way of contending with the lack of initiation. So, without a kind of achieved coming of age, rite of passage, for especially young men in a Western culture that the consequences of not having it is projected abroad, overseas and on to other cultures where they don't host initiation, but they host the consequence of not being initiated. Right. And I'm wondering, as two men who seem to have had similar experiences in regards to this kind of thing in our earlier lives, what's your take on this idea that when tourists return home, even if they learn something that there's often no community to be initiated into, right. Can we even call it initiation, especially if what's happening, the tourism, the travel, to other places is a way of kind of contending with the lack of initiation and then basically leaving it there as baggage almost.
Ian Mackenzie: Yeah. I mean, I'd be happy to weigh into that territory. You know, it comes to me, I like what you said there, the place bears the consequence of the lack of initiation and, you know, what comes to mind, of course, there's a lot of tourists behaving badly. Um, you know, I saw it a lot. I mean, particularly younger men, when I was also in that age range, sort of late twenties or late teens, early twenties, many encounters where I was in some places, you know, Southeast Asia or wherever and just the complete shenanigans, right that these jackasses were doing, that place of this, you know, they're just having fun or just being deliberately confronting or aggressive, drunk, like, you know, all those behaviors that are sort of easily recognizable. And I had to watch so many locals that, you know, it was their restaurant or was there, you know, grocery store or whatever it is, sort of smile and put up with it, largely because there was this sort of golden aura of "well they're tourists, right?"
So, they have money and you don't want to make them upset. So, I mean, that really didn't sit well with me. Right. And in so many ways, I think that speaks to what you're saying, like bearing the consequences of a lack of initiation, particularly, let's say for young men who can behave really poorly, when they don't have those tempering pathways, you know, into confronting a sense of their own consequence in their own, their own wake, you know, before and after they enter somewhere and leave.
And so I absolutely think that's, that's a deep consequence of that. And in terms of the hero's journey and this idea, the break from everything one knows and hearing the call and stepping off into this initiatory ground, I mean, by and large, I think that the most sort of faulty part of that, I mean, at least from the experience of the subjective, because, you know, the tourist can go and have lots of experiences of course and pat themselves on the back and have great journal entries and photos and the rest and really feel that they they did something right, "wow I, you know, ventured far and I had all of these wild experiences" and then they come home as I did as well, and by and large, nothing's changed. Right.
But when I was in Australia, I came back after eight months and literally it felt like nothing changed. Like everybody was doing the exact same jobs, the same rhythms, you know, the place, you know, strangely, I thought it might somehow look different to me, you know, where I, I returned to where I grew up and nope, looked exactly the same, familiar in a moment of like nostalgia or recognition and then all of a sudden, you know, bland and boring again.
But, it was the return and, and wanting that, or that deep longing to be recognized as different. Right, which is what, which is what I think is that initiatory completion or at least for that cycle, right is to feel that people are, you know, they just recognize you're different.
You're no longer that person because that is something that maybe particularly young men as well, really want to feel right. "Like I did something out there, like I'm no longer who I was," but if they return and everybody, including the family and others, even if you get pretty good conversations out of it, oftentimes though it's, "Hey, how was it?"
Right. And if you're foolhardy enough to answer that question, of course, generally it's never as satisfying as it was to live those experiences as it is to talk about them later, to people that aren't really open or are able to hear, right. It's different. And I, you know, I would recommend it, if I might offer some specificity on, you know, if that is you and you do come back from, some sort of, you know, quote transformational anything is to craft a bit more of a ritual space for spilling the story.
And that that can be a way to honor both what happened and also the capacity for those present, to truly receive, the story that can, you know, the medicine that can come from story. So that's possible, but generally, you know, again, even at the time, not something I knew how to do.
And so, yeah, returning, and then hitting this, this deep wall or this malaise. Of, " Wow, I did all these things and I went away and I had these experiences and I thought I was different and I came back and nothing about me indicates that's actually, so. And so it's a tough one. Yeah, because that, without that, can one even can one call it initiation and can one call it a rite of passage? I mean, one can have great experiences, right. And challenging experiences that do a kind of soul tempering certainly. But, it is the return that really is the cultural labor, right, that needs to be rewoven. But it also would be the launchpad in a way for those very things if we're really talking about an achieved culture.
Chris Christou: Yeah, but the return is hinged on when leaving in the first place. Right? I mean, the hero's journey is typically undertaken in service to the community, not the individual. I mean, while coming of age rites of passage utilize the individual by often bringing them into contact with their mortality in liminal realms or wild worlds, the goal is to immolate or kill the individual, the individual, which traditionally would have been referred to as the child or the childhood of the initiate.
You know, so tourism, on the other hand, I think feeds the individual. I mean, how many people buy plane tickets to places they don't want to go to? Right. How much of tourist travels are undertaken in service to their communities back home? I mean, that alone sounds ridiculous unless you're a missionary or unless everyone considers you to be a piece of shit, but then what good are you doing somewhere else?
I think we need to contend with the fact that any kind of touristic travel in our time undermines community, both at home and in the places people travel. To the founding myths of the west, according to me at least are escape and exile masquerading as freedom and the hero's journey becomes a way of mapping the masquerade of using it as a pretext for a lack of community and a lack of initiation.
I mean, I think all we have to do is ask, if we lived in an achieved culture with people who properly understood the consequences of your leaving, the consequences of your absence, and yet still with the capacity to cook you over the coals of inherited and tested initiatory rites, would we still be so quick to leave? Would the community still be so willing to let us leave?
You know, maybe the hero's journey only exists if there was already a coherent rooted community to leave in the first place. And what if there wasn't a need to leave? What then would become of the myth of the hero's journey? Another way of saying it would be, what does our willingness to believe in the hero's journey do to us in our time and place, in this time in place? What is its function? What are its consequences?
Ian Mackenzie: Hmm.
Chris Christou: I'd like to ask you one more question
Ian Mackenzie: sure.
Chris Christou: Well, so, you have a young son, a beautiful young son, and it's very possible that he'll reach an age much like you did, where the open road calls upon him in some manner. And, you know, how do you think you would proceed knowing that some of your travels perhaps contributed to a sense of escapism that's epidemic now in the culture and unbelievably consequential?
Ian Mackenzie: You know, it's interesting as I, as I wonder that question as well. I mean, one thing comes to mind is, you know, by the time he's, let's say 18-19, you know, will there be cheap air travel, right? That's, you know, the first thing that comes to me. I mean, the futurists or the technocratic utopias would certainly say that to be so, but I know I'm not so sure depending on, if you look at certain variables, but the other thing is that, if it is the case, if they are, if it is quote relatively inexpensive to fly and that possibility is there, I also wonder, as you walk around the supermarket and you see, you know, strawberries in winter, you know, as I do in the grocery stores where I am it's very hard to, to not just say, oh, great strawberries, right? Like, And not really wonder about the consequences of having fresh strawberries from likely Mexico or somewhere, you know, this time of year in the grocery store and that the cost does not reflect that at all right.
The cost is like, you know, X number amount. So it's hard to be able to sort of put on, let's say for him too a kind of "heroic," and I use that purposely like a yeah heroic capacity to not participate in it in a kind of easily accessible, you know, quotation, escapist or commodified industry, because of course there is some deep longing for that new horizons, for novel experiences, to be challenged.
You know, all those things they are completely natural and necessary, especially for men. And so, you know, the only thing I can think to do is perhaps equip them as best I can with the degree of his consequence. Right. And that's the theme that's come up here a number of times.
Because I guess that's the thing that is possible to do and hopefully, so when he's the right age, which is just around when puberty kicks in and hopefully there's some good men around me and if I've lived my life in a certain way that I've built those bonds of solidarity and trust that they would be the ones that come for him appropriately so and guide them out in the woods somewhere, you know, hopefully with other young ones too, to be introduced bracingly in some ways to the bigger story. Right. And in that sense that it's sort of meant to be a kind of necessary trauma of the ego of the idea of one's own centrality in the universe, that they are the universe.
And without that being interrupted again, it's very difficult to persuade anyone otherwise, I mean, myself included. And so to me that seems to be the only thing, or at least the direct thing that I might be able to do that would support his own sense of consequence in the world as he moves through these places and not pretend that isn't the case.
And the other might be to properly craft a place for him to be witnessed and to be blessed as he heads out and to properly be gathered in upon his return and to be conferred upon him that he is different, that to give him that sense of that something did happen and likely would, should that be the case and that that is a kind of soul food, soul hunger that I think men, especially young men deeply need to feel a sense of consequences and meaning is probably not quite the right word, but yeah, a real sense of, of participating in life in a deep way.
And without that, of course there's any number of distractions and numbing agents and spiritual just destitution that, of course, again, is so much of the story, particularly for young men as well of, you know, all the way to suicide and.
And the rest, or mass shootings, you know, just to try to feel a sense of that I matter. And so to do those things that properly so a culture does, would be, you know, where I would cast my line.
Chris Christou: Beautiful. Thank you so much for that, Ian. Would you do as the owner of telling our listeners where they can find out more of your work and the mythic masculine podcast.
Ian Mackenzie: Absolutely. Uh, all the episodes are available on your favorite podcast platforms, search for the Mythic Masculine as well as of course, www.themythic masculine.com, as well as I feel called to offer up agatheringofstories.com, which is of course the sort of sister project of bringing together storytellers, you know, artists, activists, poets, to really inquire usually in a live format of a sort of mythopoetic inquiry into the times, you know, big themes. Things like masculinity, femininity, the pandemic, you know, and more to come.
Maybe last thing, if I may, is of course my work as a filmmaker, which I've been doing for a number of years. All of that is available at www.ianmac.com, ianmack.com.
Chris Christou: Perfect. I'll make sure that all of those links are available on theendoftourism.com website. And on behalf of our listeners, I'd like to offer you a deep bow and a big hug for your willingness to speak with us today. And that's a great honor to see my friend after what seems like a very long time now.
Ian Mackenzie: Mm, indeed. Thanks for having me brother. Appreciate it a lot.