The liminality of travel journalism: A case study of Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey (2011) documentary series.

This is me with my academic hat on guys. It doesn’t get too much of an airing these days, so I thought I’d blow away the cobwebs and finally publish my MA in International Journalism thesis.

It was a labour of love (sometimes pain) and sees me fighting the case for travel journalism and its importance in today’s media landscape. It also gave me the opportunity to indulgence in my love of the ‘absolutely fabulous’ Joanna Lumley. Hope you enjoy.

Abstract

This paper analyses the case study of Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey (2011) and argues for increased scholarly and professional attention to the genre of travel journalism. I argue the liminal content of travel journalism, which centres around transitional journeys, ‘rites of passage’, and the notion of being physically and mentally ‘betwixt and between’, and its liminal genre position, at the intersection between information and entertainment or ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ news, make it an illuminating and increasingly relevant form of journalism in an era where travel, cultural understanding and border crossing are essential. We have to alter the way we view liminality and therefore travel journalism. We must draw both travel journalism as a genre and liminality as a concept, out of negative darkness and into positive light. 

Chapter 1: Intro

My topic

For over thirty years, most of the research from journalism scholars, beginning with Tuchman in 1972, has often focused on upholding the distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ news (Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky, 2010). Similar to these dichotomous academic requisites, the news consuming public have also had a tendency to respect traditional ‘hard’ journalism, “at the expense of other types of journalistic content” (Hanusch, 2014, p.47), such as travel journalism. Indeed, an individual who shows a strict affiliation with, or a sole tendency towards reading stories with high levels of ‘newsworthiness’, those concentrating on the current status of the EU, the world economy or the next G8 summit for example, may perhaps hope that by declaring an affinity with the respected realm of ‘real’ journalism, they will be well regarded socially, professionally and academically.

Of course, there can be no doubt that these topics deserve attention from news outlets due to their undeniable global impact and inherent public interest. However, it is also important to recognise that the face of journalism is changing and “softer news formats, such as lifestyle journalism, have been growing exponentially” (Hanusch, 2014, p. 48). Indeed, journalism “is heterogeneous in any one period” (Hampton and Conboy, 2013, p.163).

Traditionally ‘soft’ news, or those stories that “[don’t] necessitate timely publication and [have] a low level of substantive informational value (if at all)” (Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky, 2010, p.38), such as those surrounding gossip, human interest, celebrity or travel, are becoming increasingly popular and thus particularly relevant in our modern world where, for example, pop-culture is exceedingly influential and travel is ever more accessible and readily available. Therefore, the continued heavy focus on ‘hard’ news journalism from scholars does not reflect the shift in journalism output towards other forms (Fursich, 2002). Academic studies need to echo the transforming demand for different types of journalism which often bypasses categorisation and frequently combines elements from several genres. Still, despite travel being a popular media topic[1], travel journalism is often relegated to the ‘lifestyle section’ of magazines and newspapers.

This paper will focus on the largely side-lined genre of travel journalism, my case study being the four episodes within the ITV travel documentary series Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey (2011). The English actress, activist and former model Joanna Lumley travels through mainland Greece and many of the corresponding islands, visiting locations both familiar and unfamiliar to the viewer, its concept being that the presenter will be “studying all things Greek, both ancient and modern” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011), by taking a journey through the country’s rich history and exploring current day Greece from a variety of perspectives.

Significance

I will argue for increased scholarly and professional attention to the genre of travel journalism and show how its liminal content, which centres around transitional journeys, ‘rites of passage’ (Van Gennep, 1909) and the notion of being physically and mentally ‘betwixt and between’ (Turner, 1964), and its liminal genre position, at the “intersection between information and entertainment” (Folker, 2010, p.68) or ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ news, make it an illuminating and increasingly relevant form of journalism in an era where travel, cultural understanding and border crossing are essential. Indeed, I argue its liminality is a positive characteristic.

Greek Odyssey (2011) highlights the absolute centrality of history, religion and myth in Greek society, but it also exposes the very tangible effects of economic catastrophe and religious divergence. The content is equally educational, entertaining and informative, making it a perfect example of why a great deal of travel journalism is both pertinent and valuable. Greece is where western civilisation began; drama, democracy, language, science, philosophy and medicine, and yet it seems to have lost its way on the global and economic stage. Its legacy is woven into the everyday fabric of our lives and yet Greece, like travel journalism itself, is today considered unstable and uninfluential, a ‘pretty’ but economically crippled holiday destination isolated from the western metropolitan buzz. The educational-entertainment format of this documentary series potentially offers a powerful new way into exploring modern life in Greece and possibly a way around the ‘catastrophe fatigue’ viewers might have felt if they had seen this as a more typical news-type documentary which only focused on the country’s problems.

While some travel journalism may chart insignificant wanderings to exotic locations, there are pieces that explore environmental conflict, economic suffering, significant travel trends or in this case, the marginalisation of Greece from modern consciousness, despite its historic, social and cultural importance to the world as we know it. Travel journalism may be concerned with pure facts and advice for the future traveller or it may be more intent on entertaining the reader or viewer. Indeed, the very fact that travel journalism straddles various editorial motivations, qualities that for news suppliers and consumers, are no longer mutually exclusive, is what I argue makes it so relevant in today’s society, which is all about embracing the liminal, pushing the boundaries and not adhering to binaries of high and low culture, and more recently the blurring ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ news (Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky, 2010).

It is imperative that we, as readers, writers and scholars, become more aware of the significance of travel journalism for another reason, namely the abundance of travel in our world today. The travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest, where the global number of international arrivals for example, has risen from 675 million in 2001 to 983 million in 2011; a total increase of more than 45 percent[2]. Travel is the ultimate signifier of modernity in our post-modern world, and the search for ‘authenticity’ or being at one with another culture, is one of the highest achievements of contemporary living.

For many young people, a ‘gap year’ of travel is becoming increasingly popular and is seen as a ‘rite of passage’ (Van Gennep, 1909) for many who are transitioning between school and university[3]. Moreover, as Cocking (2009, p.56) notes, allied to the shortening of working hours over the last 30 years, travel and tourism are no longer the preserve of the middle and upper classes and sustained economic growth in countries such as China, Russia and India has led to the emergence of new tourism markets catering for the growth in aspirant middle and upper classes who travel internationally. Tourism is also becoming a more global and less predominantly western activity (Urry, 2002).

Background

Travel journalism, which emerged out of a tradition of travel writing, used to be the only way people learnt about other cultures and envisioned the world around them, dating back to Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, Homer’s The Odyssey and James Boswell’s 1786 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, and it still plays a vital role in how we perceive different countries, their traditions and customs. As Blanton (2002, x) states, “travel literature has attracted a wide readership since ancient times… [and is a] unique form of non-fiction, with its origins in classical Greece”. She goes on to aptly explain how “travel narratives chart “convey information about geography as well as human nature” (Blanton, 2002, p.2), highlighting their importance. Similarly Santos (2004a, p.394) argues that ‘‘travel writers have become socio-cultural decoders’’ and considering that sixty percent of travellers use a guidebook on holiday (WTM, 2010), their influence cannot be under-stressed. Moreover, as travel journalists cover destinations and ‘perceive’ local culture, surely their authority is considerable and grossly underestimated.

Parameters

I will analyse the documentary series Greek Odyssey (2011) which aims to enlighten the viewer to Greek history and culture and, at the time of filming in 2011, chronicled culturally significant, economically relevant and globally relatable issues, but was never awarded for its journalistic achievements. I will show how imperative it is that travel documentaries such as this one are not amalgamated in with the more commercially motivated travel journalism that serves to denigrate the entire genre as arguably unethical and supposedly insignificant. Although I will not be analysing other pieces of travel journalism in depth due to size limitations, my analysis of the case study will be thorough and I hope my paper can contribute to the growing, but still limited, number academic studies on travel journalism and instigate others to undergo further research.

Analytical framework and key concepts

Through interpretive analysis, I will explore how Greek Odyssey (2011) shows travel as a physical and mental excursion, travel journalism as a genre, Lumley as presenter and Greece as a country to all be in a liminal or transitional state. They are liminal in that they are about or are concerned with a journey, they are in a state of being ‘betwixt and between’ (Turner, 1964) one state and another, and are undergoing a transitional ‘rite of passage’ (Van Gennep, 1909).

My key terminology is derived from anthropological literature on liminality which began with Arnold Van Gennep’s Les Rites de Passage in 1909 and was later expanded upon by Victor W. Turner in 1964. Despite the linguistic origins of liminality stemming from an alternative academic field, I believe it is a term which can be aptly applied to a study on travel journalism due to the very association that transitional passage or intermediary space has with both the concept of travel and the liminal.

Research question and argument

Through my analysis of the documentary Greek Odyssey (2011), I hope to answer the question: is travel journalism a liminal form of journalism? I argue the documentary series shows that while Greece’s importance has been undeservedly forgotten in many ways, its customs, people and beliefs are all founded on liminality, whereby ‘rites of passage’ are key, and combining the real with the mythical is standard practice. The liminal genre of travel journalism, which is reinforced through the liminal content it charts (see Van Gennep, 1909 and Turner, 1964), is both a socially significant and complex medium. Similarly, I want to make a case for why its liminality makes travel journalism so relevant today, in a world that is increasingly about the destruction of binaries and the celebration of the ‘in-between’. Travel journalism straddles the borders of entertainment and factual analysis and I argue there is no other journalistic genre quite so fitting to the mixed social fabric and diverse journalism landscape of today.

Travel journalism has been undeservedly dismissed from traditional circles, and its exclusion was confirmed when I began this project and embarked upon my research. There is a distinct lack of academic or scholarly material surrounding the topic. Fursich and Kavoori’s (2001) study could find little evidence of research on travel from a communications studies perspective, and their call to arms for other academics to fly the travel journalism flag has largely failed. Still, the collection of work surrounding travel journalism is gradually growing. Moreover, while concepts of liminality have affected debates regarding the construction of identity in relation to different forms of travel, an investigation into the liminality of travel journalism, using a travel documentary series, has not been explored in academic or theoretical terms.

Essentially, the material on travel journalism is still limited in breadth considering the relevance of travel in our world today. Consequently, I hope my project can make an interesting and enlightening contribution to our understanding of the diverse forms of journalism available.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Introduction

Regardless of rumours surrounding the demise of journalism as a whole, or questions regarding the credibility of travel journalism specifically, the latter is “a stubbornly resilient genre in our age” (Krist, 1993, p.593), despite its frequent relegation to insignificance. It is a genre which, I argue, is of great relevance in our increasingly globalised and progressively connected planet, where travel – as a topic for discussion and as a habitual custom of modern living – has become a familiar and fundamental practice. Of course, the opportunities for authentic travel, let alone travel writing, the ancestral mode from which travel journalism originally stemmed, have become increasingly rare. Indeed, the ever expanding force of mass tourism has by now, “reached nearly all countries on earth, threatening to turn every act of indigenous cultural expression into a self-conscious, profit-motivated exploitation of an increasingly fictitious ‘local colour’” (Krist, 1993, p.593). Consequently, worthwhile and informative travel journalism is often associated with advertorials and PR led features which give a distorted picture of the entire genre, and while there have been studies carried out on travel journalism, their focus is often negative or stems from a non-communication background.

Where does the term ‘journalism’ originate?

Before we look at defining and positioning travel journalism, we must address a key debate, namely ‘what do we define as journalism’? The term ‘journalism’ was itself only introduced into the English language in the 1830’s (Conboy, 2004, p.1) and is derived from the C17th French Journal des Savants. However, many of the practices and traditions of journalism had been well established by then and as an authorised communicative system, the wheels were already in motion (Conboy, 2004). Such a delay of understanding is something that has continued to chart debates surrounding journalism and has undoubtedly contributed to a field whereby theory has always followed practice. Zelizer (2004, p.21) states, the term journalist initially connoted “someone who systematically kept a record of certain happenings within a specified time frame and who tended to make that record public”. However, a journalist’s job may today cover a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities, “reporting, criticising, editorialising and the conferral of judgement on the shape of things” (Stuart, 1993, p.12).

Definitions of journalism

It is clear that definitions of journalism have changed over time. Yet one opinion remains the same: it is a debatable and subjective term (Folker 2010, Hanusch 2014 and Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky 2010). One modern, all-encompassing definition stands as “the collection, preparation and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through such media as pamphlets, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, radio, motion pictures, television and books” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Schudson (2002) sees public significance as a key factor in defining journalism and McNair (1998, p.4) regards journalism as “any authored text in written, audio or visual form, which claims to be… a truthful statement about, or record of, some hitherto unknown new feature of the actual, social world”. Similarly, Spurr (1993, p.2) claims journalism is distinguished from fiction by “the conventional expectation of its grounding in an historical actuality”. However, Spurr (1993, p.2) brings up an interesting point, that “journalism and other forms of non-fiction, despite conventional expectation, depend on the use of myth, symbol, metaphor and other rhetorical procedures more often associated with fiction and poetry”. In other words, it is clear that ‘journalism’ has become an equally comprehensive, unspecific and chaotic term and the debate surrounding its definition is arguably unresolvable.

The problem of definition and what we understand as travel journalism

As “journalism has always been associated with dispute about its value, its role, its direction, even its definition” (Conboy, 2004, p.3), it is unsurprising that defining travel journalism is an even harder task due to the already muddy categorisation of what constitutes the practice as a whole. While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact historical beginnings of travel journalism, the colonial travelogue and the diaries of sailors and adventurers for example can be seen as precursors for the more objective, fact-based pieces (Blanton 2002). Twentieth-century travel writers, especially ones like Graham Greene and Bruce Chatwin, are distinguished from their predecessors through their inclusion of subjective, social and psychological issues, which were more important than facts about places and events (Blanton, 2002). I argue the modern travel journalist, within the ‘post-tourism’ world[4] has to combine the objective methods of the past with more subjective tendencies of recent travel writers, to produce simultaneously informative and relatable travel journalism.

However, it goes without saying that the strong ancestral links to travel writing serve to blur the journalistic boundaries of travel journalism and lower its status. The terms ‘‘travel writer’’ and ‘‘travel journalist’’ are often used interchangeably, leading to issues of differentiation between what constitutes travel journalism, and thus at least hypothetically falls within journalism’s parameters on ethical conduct and truth-seeking, and what should be counted as travel literature in the tradition of Bill Bryson (Folker, 2010). As I pointed out in my introduction, travel writing is one of the oldest forms of global communication, therefore the ancient lineage of travel journalism should motivate scholars to analyse it as one of most fascinating forms of communication due to its historical grounding and transformation over time.

Hampton and Conboy (2013, p.163) insist that one of the problems with defining journalism is that it “lacks easy definition even within any given moment”. Hampton (2013, p.156) suggests that we should think of journalism, as a “collection of literary genres” whereas Conboy (2013, p.162) defines journalism as a “discourse” which is inscribed within a particular web of knowledge and/or power. I argue that we can understand travel journalism within the context of these two definitions, as both a ‘literary genre’ and ‘discourse’. Indeed, if Hampton (2013) sees multiplicity of form and content as key to defining journalism as a whole, then travel journalism is just one specific, equally important field within the collection of literary genres that comprise the larger landscape of journalism. Moreover, travel journalism equally possesses and follows a particular discourse, which Conboy (2013) regards as imperative to delineating journalism.

In terms of other definitions of journalism previously mapped at the beginning of the chapter, there can be no doubt that a travel journalist keeps “a record of certain happenings within a specified time frame and [makes] that record public” (Zelizer, 2004, p.21). Travel stories may not be involved in traditional “news making” (Zelizer, 2004, p.21), but they are frequently concerned with “reporting, criticising, editorialising and… [making] judgement[s] on the shape of things” (Stuart, 1993, p.12). If journalism is “any authored text in written, audio or visual form, which claims to be… a truthful statement about, or record of, some hitherto unknown new feature of the actual, social world” (McNair, 1998, p.4), then innovative, sensitive and socially relevant travel journalism should not be excluded from the global news frontier.

What are the problems with travel journalism?

Aside from the more typical or familiar pieces of travel journalism that may appear in the Sunday Times travel section or Lonely Planet magazine for example, a plethora of travel orientated writing and viewing, including guide books, travel novels and programmes on theme specific stations such as the Travel Channel are now accessible to the public. The Travel Channel, for example, broadcasts content in 14 languages across Europe, Africa and the Middle East (Cocking, 2009). In other words, we cannot escape the fact that ‘travel’ and thus travel journalism, in all its forms, is increasingly readily available for consumption.

However, the problem with such a surfeit of travel journalism material is that much of it is often executed in soft feature format which instantly distances the content from ‘hard’ news. Moreover, travel is associated with leisure and is therefore seen as disconnected from real or serious work, it often possesses subjective or personal views which goes against key journalistic criteria of balance and neutrality, many trips and articles are strongly linked to advertising which brings ethics into question and numerous pieces marginalise the host culture or focus purely on tourism. These are all factors which contribute to the problems surrounding travel journalism and serve to relegate it to a negatively liminal or unrecognised genre, when it should be praised for its liminality.

Classic travel features or those which contain narrative, colour, creativity, inquiry – are “being replaced by reader tips, lists of suggestions and thinly disguised advertorial puffs and plugs for tour operators” (Moss, 2008, p.37). It is interesting that a feature on a prominent figure or relevant, current news topic will be more respected than a travel feature which does contain all the classic features of which Moss (2008) speaks. I argue this is due to travel journalism’s ancestry within travel writing, which many see as too literature orientated, and the fact that ‘hard’ news traditions dictate what can be included in such feature pieces. Similarly, Greek Odyssey (2011) includes a fascinating exploration into how Greece has changed over time, a close portrayal of how lifestyles differ according to the particular region and an examination of how modern Greek life is so heavily influenced by its mythical past. However, it is seen as a light, entertaining documentary series, rather than a project of worthwhile journalism. It is pushed into the negative liminal landscape where most travel journalism sits, outside of the realm of respected journalism, meaning that rich, educational and relevant material is enjoyed, but not journalistically appreciated at the same level as many ‘hard’ news documentaries, features or reports.

Travel is considered “a recreational activity devoid of social and political meaning’ (Chang and Holt, 1991, p.102) because it seems to “involve the private sphere and thus to lack public relevance” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.152). Indeed, such a lack of critical attention to travel journalism may lie in the “deeply embedded values in western society about play and work” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.153). However, the fact that leisure pursuits and travel have become so prominent in contemporary society due to cheap air fares and social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram (where users are encouraged to showcase their travels and hobbies to their followers), makes the study of travel journalism even more crucial.                                                                                                

Travel journalism is often criticised for its idiosyncratic, personal narratives that occasionally draw on fictional modes of travel writing (Cocking, 2009) and may seem at odds with some of the core values of the journalism profession, chiefly ‘‘objectivity, editorial independence and public relevance’’ (Spurr, 1993, p.61). However, as already stated, traditional “journalism and other forms of non-fiction, despite conventional expectation, depend on the use of myth, symbol, metaphor and other rhetorical procedures more often associated with fiction and poetry” (Spurr, 1993, p.2). Therefore, while travel journalism may utilise these rhetorical methods in a more discernible manner due to the context and content of the writing or filming, it by no means negatively distinguishes is from other pieces of journalism which draw on deeply embedded literary devices or expectations, such as tabloid puns, or theatrical performance in the case of television news presenters. Moreover, traditional journalistic values such as objectivity or editorial independence are also being brought into question (Spurr 1993, Allan 1999 and Sparks and Tullock 2000). Therefore, while travel journalism may embody several contradictory features, what we as scholars, readers and viewers regard as ethical, independent or objective is constantly changing.

Another reason why travel journalism has repeatedly been placed in ‘softer’, less influential categories of journalism is due to its close relationship with advertising and the view that ‘anyone’ can write travel journalism because everyone can travel (Folker 2010 and Swick 1997). Indeed, strong links with advertising further blurs the notion of objectivity and fuels the perception that travel journalism “lacks the critical distance associated with other genres, such as political or financial journalism” (Cocking, 2009, p.56). Free trips and other inducements for travel journalists are common and the fact that only a few publishers are willing to finance their travel, places many travel journalists in a difficult ethical position. On the other hand, as Fursich and Kavoori (2001, p.154) have argued, the implicit relationship travel journalism has to advertising, public relations and the travel industry at large makes it “highly charged discourse”, whereby a close evaluation is all the more necessary.

The importance of travel journalism today

Regardless of any problems that exist within the genre itself, the view that travel journalism is less important or is of lower status than other journalistic genres “does not take account of the massive expansion of the social phenomenon on which it is based (i.e. tourism)” (Cocking, 2009, p.56). Indeed, it is impossible to ignore the significance of travel in our lives. As Cocking further notes, in the UK, for example, travel accounts for approximately 40 per cent of available leisure time (Williams and Shaw, 1988, p.12)[5]. Furthermore, “international travel is no longer a one-way stream from the West to other countries” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.153). Affluent groups from an increasing number of countries are travelling for pleasure and business, thus expanding international contact at the same time as raising audience demand for travel-related journalism and global information (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001). There has been a raised interest in and understanding of international travel, not to mention the amplified notion of travel as “a desirable private goal of establishment” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.153). These factors are only going to increase in scale and therefore “stimulate a bigger market for specialized travel journalism on a global scale” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.153).

Towards answering the question: the liminality of travel journalism

I argue the concept of the ‘liminal’, which was initially put forward by Van Gennep in 1909 and expanded upon by Turner in 1964, is extremely useful when trying to locate travel journalism in the current media landscape. Van Gennep (1909) made a unique and transformative contribution to anthropological studies through his analysis of the various ceremonies and rituals accompanying an individual’s ‘life crises’ which he termed ‘rites of passage’. He argued the various transitions between “birth, social puberty, marriage, fatherhood, advancement to a higher class, occupational, specialization, and death” (Van Gennep, 1909, p.16) have individual ceremonies “whose essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another which is equally well defined” (Van Gennep, 1909, p.16).

Furthermore, Van Gennep (1909, p.15-23) argued that activities associated with such ceremonies could be distinguished by three major phases or special acts, namely separation (pre-liminal rites), transition (liminal rites), and incorporation (post-liminal rites), and the life of an individual in any society is a series of passages from one age to another. In terms of these major phases, travel, as a physical journey and as a form of self-development between the different stages of life, can be seen as a ‘rite of passage’. Also, while ‘separation’ and ‘incorporation’ denote a beginning or ending experience, ‘transition’ or liminality epitomises the notion of movement and therefore the connection with travel is an intrinsic one.

In 1964, Turner published a paper which investigated liminality in even greater depth. He argued that the liminal period or experience is “a stage of reflection” (Turner, 1964, p.53), when something or someone (the ‘passenger’) is “betwixt and between” (Turner, 1964, p.56) two states. Though Turner (1964) and Van Gennep (1909) were writing from an anthropological viewpoint, I argue their terminology and concepts can be appropriately adapted for a study of travel journalism due to the genre’s liminal location in between genuine journalistic appreciation, its relegation to insignificant realms of journalism and its position between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ news or fact and entertainment. Moreover, the travel journalist’s job often operates at geographical and cultural borders (whereby they are frequently neither at home nor settled in their present location). They are liminal entities “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arranged by law, custom, convention, and ceremony” (Turner, 1969, p.95), they are “cultural translators, trying to define identity” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.163). Indeed, travel journalists operate at “the border between the foreign and the familiar… [making] their discourse especially charged” (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001, p.163).

Liminal spaces are “borderlands between the mundane and the extraordinary” (Pritchard and Morgan, 2006, p.764) and I argue travel journalism exists somewhere between these two modes, not as a hybrid combination of the two, but moreover, as an independent means of cultural communication. Waade (2009) and Hill (2007) argue that travel series are a hybrid genre. Waade (2009, p.101) rightfully points out that historically speaking, travel series have been “linked to travel literature, travel journalism and anthropological films”, and as a contemporary television genre,  they often combine elements from documentary film, didactic educative television programmes, host-based factual entertainment shows, lifestyle series, talk shows and TV advertisements. However, I argue that while travel series – with their wide ranging audiences and topics – do draw on a variety of forms, the unique visual and educational form of the travel documentary series surpasses hybridity, and instead forms its own liminal space within the history of travel journalism and journalism as a whole.

Analytical framework and key concepts

The liminal “connotes the spatial: a boundary, border [or] transitional landscape. It exhibits temporal qualities, marking a beginning as well as an end” (Andrews and Roberts, 2012, p.1) and I therefore argue the concept of liminality is a potentially progressive and enlightening way in which we can investigate the varied content, diverse motivations and audience perceptions of travel journalism in today’s society. The three key concepts bound up within liminality are the notion of journey, ‘rites of passage’ and the state of being ‘betwixt and between’.

These concepts are perfect vehicles through which I can explore my analytical framework, namely, a) travel as an emotional and physiological journey, which has “stages and transitions, movements forward, and periods of relative inactivity” (Van Gennep, 1909, p.160) as well as the journalistic genre of travel journalism, b) the travel documentary presenter (Joanna Lumley) who acts as a mediator between the real and the imagined experience of travel and thus takes the viewer on a journey, through her interviewing of people and connecting with the past, and c) Greece which is journeying through time and today exists in an ambiguous or ‘liminal’ social position despite its global, historic significance and relevance.

Concluding thoughts

Travel journalism’s liminality, at the “intersection between information and entertainment” (Folker, 2010, p.68), makes it a complex and increasingly relevant form of journalism in an era where travel, cultural understanding and border crossing are imperatve to modern living. It is a form like no other and should not be dismissed as “journalism’s not-so-serious little brother” (Folker, 2010, p.69). The stigma surrounding travel journalism and travel journalists themselves needs to fade and be replaced with an appreciation that reflects its relevance and popularity. I will operationalise my three key concepts to my three levels of analysis in my methodology chapter and later undergo a thorough qualitative analysis of the travel documentary series, Greek Odyssey (2011), to answer the research question: is travel journalism a liminal form of journalism?

Chapter 3: Methodology

My approach

The purpose of this study is to examine the concept of the liminal in travel journalism, specifically the travel documentary, through the concepts of journey, ‘rites of passage’ and ‘betwixt and between’. Instead of comparing multiple documentaries, this study will employ the single-case design as the documentary Greek Odyssey (2011) is relatively large, spanning four episodes. These vary visually, structurally and within their content, thus providing numerous rich scenes and diverse encounters for close analysis. Each one involves a cross section of local people, differing geographical terrain and thought provoking explorations into Greece’s history and how that history impacts on modern Greek life. Though I initially considered either contrasting Greek Odyssey (2011) with another Joanna Lumley travel documentary Nile (2009), or comparing it to another travel documentary series with a different presenter, I felt the analysis would be more interesting through a singular critical study of such rich data. Indeed, my approach is interpretive, and is therefore neither a scientific nor objective study.

Collecting the data

Most studies on travel journalism or travel documentaries have predominantly focused on how the material portrays tourism; has an impact on tourism, or how it marginalises the ‘other’ (Huang and Lee 2010 and Cocking 2009). Indeed, the majority of studies do not tend to analyse travel documentaries from a communications perspective, as texts in and of themselves, which uncover layers of meaning placed into and onto the film by the presenter, director and viewer (Burns & Lester, 2005). By contrast, my study will analyse a particular case study which explores culture, history, myth, economic climate and travel from a variety of perspectives. It will provide me with data to answer the aforementioned research question of: is travel journalism a liminal form of journalism? I aim to offer a new perspective on both travel journalism and liminality that builds on the understanding of travel as one of the most complex, relevant and universal phenomena of our time.

A documentary relating to travel has the ideal data for studying the concept of the liminal, because it offers a combination of multiple sources of analysis. The narration, framing, music, camera angles and dialogue of the documentary can be analysed and studied to investigate how far they contribute to the end product and overall sensory experience of watching the documentary. Indeed, “any television documentary must persuade the viewer, through the structure of argument and rhetoric as well as visual images (Cao, 2007, p.279)[6]. The data of this study was selected from all dialogue, actions, commentary, images and observations in each episode of Greek Odyssey (2011). It was gathered over several viewings through a thorough transcription of the material.

This study addresses the neglect of travel journalism in the media despite the relevant, thoughtful and well researched content that is being published or produced, something my data analysis will confirm. The tendency to marginalise host cultures and the fact that so much travel journalism tends to focus solely on the experience of the presenter or author rather than predominantly on the local people (Dunn 2005a and 2004b, 2006), plays a role in endorsing the negative stigma towards the genre as a whole (see Urry 2002 and Dunn 2005b). Therefore, it is imperative we distinguish between travel journalism which has an advertorial or stereotypical focus and that which, as in my case study, can have an informative and enlightening impact on the viewer.

Ensuring the findings are credible

Travel documentaries offer a unique look at other cultures, landscapes and foreign places in the world and “they deal with cultural and national differences through their audio-visual communication in sophisticated aesthetical and emotional ways” (Waade, 2009, p.104). Still, I am not naïve to the point made by Murphy (1992, p.124), that readers sense the fundamental flaw in the television travel documentary, “the fact that the arrival of the crew in a traditional village alters it profoundly, at least for the duration of the film making and sometimes, even, forever”. When we watch a travel documentary, we are only exposed to a carefully selected collection of material. Similar to a piece of written journalism, travel documentaries are produced with an audience in mind. Producers choose to frame particular settings or moments, capturing them often in, but sometimes out of context. Therefore, it is essential we analyse each travel documentary individually and assess it – as much as is possible – separately instead of placing many together and casting generalised statements about their initial aims and subsequent effects.

What is a case study?

A case study is “an in-depth exploration from multiple perspectives of the complexity and uniqueness of a particular project, policy, institution, program or system in a “real life” context” (Simons, 2009, p. 21). It could also be a single collection of diary accounts, open-ended questionnaires, unstructured interviews and unstructured observations. Moreover, a case study is “not a methodological choice but a choice of what is to be studied” (Stake, 2005, p.443). For Thomas (2011, p.513) a case study must comprise two elements a) a “practical, historical unity,” which he calls the subject of the case study, and b) an analytical or theoretical frame, which he calls the object of the study. In Greek Odyssey (2011), the subject is the people, history, culture and landscape and the object is my theoretical framework of the liminality of travel documentaries.

Why this case study?

I chose the Greek Odyssey (2011) documentary series as my case study for two reasons. Firstly, it was aired at such a turbulent time for Greece, but did not focus solely on negative experiences, and that context makes it both a fascinating and complex piece of journalism. Secondly, the rich and varied content within the documentaries showcased, for me, travel journalism at its best, thus aiding my case for the importance of travel journalism in our world today and within the media landscape.

I am aware that the available material put forward in Greek Odyssey (2011) will have been selected to fit a pre-arranged time slot and artistic objective, thus rendering certain interviews, facts and filming unknowable. We have to be aware that much of the data is not raw; rather, it has been designed to fit a particular purpose, namely a simultaneously entertaining and informative one. However, we can only analyse that which is put before us. Most of the graphic maps and facts about Greek history can be easily verified through comparative research in books or online and the fact that the same translator was used throughout the series lends an element of uniformity, and thus increased reliability.

My findings will be credible assertions according to interpretive and subjective analysis. Indeed, a qualitative research approach is open to debate due to the human aspect of the case study. Much of the information put forward in the episodes, aside from the historical elements which can be cross checked, stems from the personal experiences of individuals or groups of individuals and can therefore be subjectively interpreted. I will analyse the knowledge and evidence put forward in Greek Odyssey (2011) through verifying the objective facts, but more importantly, by examining the constructed meanings and experiences in and of themselves.

Academic literature on case studies as a method

Flyvbjerg (2006) disputes the customary view that studying a single case study as opposed to comparing several studies cannot provide reliable information[7]. One reason why many academics have come to such a conclusion is because they feel the single-case method maintains a bias toward verification, of confirming the researcher’s preconceived notions, so that the study therefore becomes of limited value (Flyvbjerg, 2006, p.234). Such criticism keeps us aware to an important issue, however I cannot help but see the critique as demonstrating a lack of knowledge of what is involved in in-depth case-study research, namely detailed and thorough examination of a single example.

Furthermore, Flyvbjerg (2006) argues that single case study investigations are often used in the preliminary stages of investigation. However, he also asserts “it is misleading to see the case study as a pilot method to be used only in preparing the real study’s larger surveys, systematic hypotheses testing, and theory building (Flyvbjerg, 2006, p.220). Indeed, case study research “has its own rigor, different to be sure, but no less strict than the rigor of quantitative methods” (Flyvbjerg, 2006, p.235). I argue the single case study design allows the researcher to become fully immersed in the topic at hand, investigations that may only reach the surface in a comparative approach.

Expanding the analytical framework

Through Greek Odyssey (2011), I will analyse how travel embodies the idea of a physical and mental journey and argue those concepts are essential to liminality, where you are in between two emotional states or actual locations. Indeed, the inclusion of the word ‘odyssey’ in the title, which stems from Homer’s The Odyssey[8], demonstrates how the notion of journey is central within the documentary, which poignantly conveys a range of material. Travelling vicariously through the documentary, we learn about the historic journey of Greece through hardships and success, the importance of Greek gods and mythology in everyday life, the quotidian customs within the capital city of Athens, life on some of the 1,400 islands, scientific revelations that still influence modern medicine and architectural accomplishments that continue to attract visitors from across the globe.

I also argue my case study contributes to the journey or growth of travel journalism itself, which as previously mentioned in my literature review, is becoming increasingly relevant and popular in our travel-centred world and transforming media landscape. Travel journalism is ‘betwixt and between’ different modes of writing and strands of motivation and needs to undergo a ‘rite of passage’ itself in order to progress from journalistic un-appreciation to recognition.

Greece is a country that is constantly in motion and I argue its continual ‘odyssey’ is powerfully conveyed through my case study. I will analyse how through such transition, Greece is undergoing a ‘rite of passage’ from one historic state to another and how ceremonial ‘rites of passage’ are significant within Greek culture. Moreover, I argue the documentary shows how Greece is ‘betwixt and between’ and in a ‘stage of reflection’ over its economic struggles, its mythical past and its indefinite future. Furthermore, it is important to note that Turner and Van Gennep’s own anthropological travels or journeys allowed them to investigate the concept of liminality in the first place.

Lumley, the presenter, is a tremendously liminal figure herself, very upper class but very much of the people in terms of her public engagement and career, she is simultaneously an activist, temporary travel journalist and actress. She is both seeker of justice and theatrical pretender. She undergoes a personal or ‘interior’ odyssey through her interactions with the locals, her reactions to landscape, from the Greek islands to the northern borders, from Mount Olympus to Corfu . Subsequently, she mediates the visual journey of the viewer, who experiences Greece vicariously through her eyes. She is the prism through which we indirectly travel. Lumley experiences varying ‘rites of passage’ herself as she moves through the country and is incorporated, albeit temporarily, into different families and communities. We as viewers also experience those ceremonial practices. Lumley is in a constant state of being ‘betwixt and between’ due to her position as an outsider on the inside and we the viewer are in a suspended state of in-betweeness as we engage in the documentary. Indeed, as we watch, we are neither fully in nor out of the actual world around us.

My Method

Research methods and data can be placed into two basic categories: quantitative or qualitative (McLeod, 2008). Unlike quantitative data collection, which gathers facts about social phenomena, assumes a fixed and measurable reality and is analysed through numerical comparisons and statistical inferences, I will be employing a qualitative method. Qualitative research is concerned with analysing human behavior and assumes a dynamic and negotiable outcome, whereby the data is collected through observation and description. Though typical qualitative research methods might employ archives or interviews, I am employing a discourse and thematic analysis as this is the most appropriate for the case study and my objective aims.

Qualitative research gathers information that is not in numerical form, which makes it ideal for analysing case studies such as my own. It is generally harder to analyse than quantitative data due to its idiosyncratic nature. As McLeod (2008) notes, analysis of qualitative data is challenging and requires accurate description of participant responses, or in my case, accurate quotes or summaries of the dialogue and commentary within the documentary, something I fully intend to undertake.

Primary sources

I will be selecting various scenes from across the four episodes of the documentary series for my primary source material. This is as a sampling strategy, whereby purpose sampling is used to pick elements which will best support the logic of my argument. Purposive sampling, also known as judgmental, selective or subjective sampling, is a type of non-probability sampling where the units that are investigated are based on the judgement of the researcher (Laerd.com). Although I recognise this method brings up a previous point about reliability of evidence (Campbell and Stanley 1966 and Flyvbjerg 2006), qualitative analysis is based on such selection. I will investigate all four episodes because each episode moves to a different geographical location in Greece and therefore focuses on different environmental, social, cultural or historical issues that occur due to the differentiation. However, I will not analyse every scene in each episode because I am limited by space.

Conclusion

This chapter aimed to convey my overall interpretive approach and explain why I chose to use my case study Greek Odyssey (2011), as evidence to answer the research question: is travel journalism a liminal form of journalism? I have explained how I will collect my data through the specific case study, shown how I will ensure my findings are credible through verification of information, explored what we understand as a case study, charted the debates surrounding case studies as a method, explained my analytical framework in greater detail, justified my qualitative method and explained how I will select my primary sources. In my forthcoming empirical chapter, I will engage with and thus interpret the data, indicating the significance of my findings.

Chapter 4: Empirical Chapter

Introduction

This paper aims to answer the question: is travel journalism a liminal form of journalism? The forthcoming chapter intends to answer that question and explore how the liminal content of travel documentaries reinforces the liminality of the genre itself. As previously discussed, travel journalism is often relegated as inconsequential within the wide reaching panorama of journalism as a whole (Fursich and Kavoori, 2001). However, as argued in my literature review chapter, through combining Hampton’s definition of journalism, as a “collection of literary genres” (Hampton and Conboy, 2013, p.156), with Conboy’s definition of journalism as a “discourse” (Hampton and Conboy, 2013, p.162), we can understand how travel journalism rightfully fits into the respected journalism landscape and thus recognise its importance.

Indeed, travel journalism is just one specific, equally significant field within the collection of literary genres that comprise the larger realm of journalism and it, like ‘hard’ news, possesses and follows a particular discourse of combining fact with entertainment. I argue the liminality of travel journalism should be seen positively rather than negatively and we should regard its capacity to form its own journalistic space combining fact and entertainment as advantageous and progressive.

Having justified my interpretive, qualitative approach, explicated why I chose my particular case study to answer the research question (see methodology chapter) and reframed my three key concepts of liminality, namely: the concept of journey, being ‘betwixt and between’ (see Van Gennep, 1909) and ‘rites of passage’ (Turner, 1964), I intend to analyse the raw data within the documentary Greek Odyssey (2011). I will structure my empirical chapter around how the liminal is embodied within the elements of my analytical framework, specifically: travel journalism as a genre which focuses on travel as a physical and mental journey, the presenter Joanna Lumley and Greece as a country.

Greek Odyssey (2011) provides evidence for why there should be increased scholarly and professional attention towards travel journalism. Imperatively, I argue that my case study makes an enlightening and significant contribution to journalism in an era where travel, visual engagement, cultural understanding and border crossing are essential to the world today. It enlightens the viewer to Greek history and culture and, at the time of filming in 2011, touched upon culturally significant, economically relevant and globally relatable issues, but was never particularly recognised for its journalistic feats. The content is simultaneously educational and visually satisfying, making it a perfect example of why a great deal of travel journalism can reach audiences at a deeper level of consciousness than ‘hard’ news through its dualistic motivations, and should thus be regarded more highly.

The Liminality of Travel and Travel Journalism

Travel journalism as a literary genre and discourse (Hampton and Conboy, 2013), currently exists in a ‘betwixt and between’ location, in a liminal academic and liminal professional space that is regarded contemptuously because scholars and journalists are unable to wholly categorise it within ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ journalism (Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky 2010, Fursich and Kavoori 2001 and Cocking 2009). However, I argue my case study can contribute to the journey or growth of travel journalism which, as already stated, should be valued for its ability to transcend definition. Moreover, travel journalism is becoming increasingly relevant in the changing media landscape (Hampton and Conboy, 2013) and our journey-led society where travel is ever more important (see literature review chapter). The fact that travel journalism is, by definition, concerned with the topic of travel, means we witness a layering of liminality. Subsequently, journalism which chronicles that collective liminal experience should be brought to the forefront of the world of communication.

I argue travel journalism needs to undergo a ‘rite of passage’ in order to progress from journalistic un-appreciation to genuine acknowledgement. Travel journalism charts physical and mental experiences that, like the genre itself, are undefinable, ‘betwixt and between’ and in motion (Cocking 2009 and Williams and Shaw 1988). Travel as a physical movement, has “stages and transitions, movements forward, and periods of relative inactivity” (Van Gennep, 1909, p.160). Similarly, travel journalism is moving through time and as physical travel becomes gradually more and more vital to the global community, we cannot ignore journalism that engages with the most modern of practices. Greek Odyssey (2011) follows the physical (climbing Mount Olympus in ‘Mount Olympus and Beyond’, 2011) and emotional journey (crying with Nana Mouskouri in ‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) of Lumley around Greece. The documentary thoroughly encapsulating liminality, whereby someone or something is in-between various geographical locations or states of mind and is constantly undergoing ‘rites of passage’.

A genre on a journey

The notion of the ‘journey’ is key to both Van Gennep (1909) and Turner’s (1964) understanding of liminality. Travel journalism has been on a journey ever since ancient times (see literature review), progressing from the tradition of travel writing, and it is still journeying through the media landscape due to its intermediary liminal position. As the search for ‘authentic’ journeys (Krist, 1993) becomes more potent in our world, a parallel desire for the public and academic recognition of illuminating travel journalism is something that should accompany such an attitude.

The discoveries Lumley presents to us are informative and should be recognised for their journalistic achievements due to their educational and informative elements.  Lumley told Fiaca (2011) in an interview that Greek Odyssey (2011) “looks at the parts of Greece we aren’t familiar with… [and goes] far from the white churches and the bright blue sea.” In ‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’ (2011), we engage with the history of ancient Greece when Lumley visits the Acropolis and learns how the building has changed over time. Similarly, in the same episode, we learn about the reality of Greece today when Lumley visits a Bouzoukia in Athens, showing the ironic habits of those in the midst of economic depression (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). We witness the emotive encounters of Lumley with those who underwent great hardships and horror during various occupations and wars in Greece, those who are still going through difficult times due to religious clashing and those who are trying to make positive changes for Greece.

For example, in ‘The Islands’ (2011) Lumley meets a local man, Nicos Fasoulas, who narrowly escaped execution by the Nazis during the Second World War. In ‘Greece’s Borderlands’ (2011) Lumley journeys to the small town of Melivia, a tobacco-growing Muslim community, where a local woman informs her of the difficulties faced by many Muslims who had to hide near the Bulgarian border after the Balkan Wars and how separation still exists. In ‘Mount Olympus and Beyond’ (2011) Lumley meets the radical and controversial Mayor of Thessaloniki who speaks of the importance of maintaining diplomacy with Turkey, as demonstrated through his introduction of direct flights to Istanbul.

Consequently, Lumley, and therefore the viewer, engages with the historic journeys of individuals and communities in Greece and we are all brought together through the liminal genre and liminal experience of journey. The documentary places itself within the constructive journey of travel journalism itself through its vivid engagement with topics, themes and issues, such as the economy (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) and religion  (‘Greece’s Borderlands’, 2011) that are a long way from advertorial features or commercial or tourism based programmes. Through such diverse engagement, the future of travel journalism is being molded due to the progressive amalgamation of fact and entertainment, and the formation therefore of a liminal form of journalism that is positive rather than negative.

A genre betwixt and between

Travel journalism is ‘betwixt and between’ (Turner, 1964) different modes of writing and strands of motivation, placing it in a liminal location in between genuine journalistic appreciation and relegation to insignificant realms of journalism. As argued in my literature review, Turner (1964, p.53-56) saw the liminal period or experience as “a stage of reflection”, when something or someone (the ‘passenger’) is “betwixt and between” two states. In Greek Odyssey (2011), this concept is fully embodied through the documentary being ‘betwixt and between’ the various journalistic spaces that separate factual, emotive and entertaining documentary formats. We learn about Greek humour which is supposedly similar to Chaucer, we witness the bonfire jumping tradition that marks the end of the farmers’ year and see Lumley excitedly engaging in the bonfire ceremony herself. Similarly, when Lumley compares the Temple of Apollo between ancient and modern times we learn about factual details at the same time as experiencing the presenter’s own subjective and theatrical reaction to the landmark (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). Therefore, the documentary, or ‘passenger’ of which Turner (1964) speaks, is ‘betwixt and between’ various modes of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ communication and we see several driving motivations within the narrative of each episode. The combination of narrative qualities are attributes Waade (2009) sees as key to journalistic documentaries.

Reviews of Greek Odyssey (2011) from the time of its release show how the documentary was predominantly negatively received. Many journalists were not able to comprehend the contrasting motivations at work and therefore saw it’s ‘betwixt and between’ nature as detrimental. Indeed, some felt Lumley did not explore the disastrous economic situation in enough detail and others felt her theatrical background lent too much flamboyance to the overall piece, therefore disregarded the documentary as a serious work of journalism (Williams 2011, Harvey 2011 and Sutcliffe 2011).

However, these journalists ignored the fact that, now more than ever, journalism comes in all manner of forms and simply because the documentary series did not focus solely on Greece’s economic adversity, need not render it a piece of illegitimate journalism. Indeed, the economic situation in Greece was highlighted in at least one scene in each episode and it goes without saying that if Lumley had focused purely on the economic situation, then there would have been a great deal of valuable material left untouched. It includes a variety of local voices, but also gives attention to sociality, visual pleasure and imagination. Lumley sets a context – a quality essential within good journalism – for modern Greece by relating both the past and present aspects of culture. For example, she learns about the continual age-old importance of shipping in Greece (‘The Islands’, 2011) and how the Temple of Apollo in Delphi influenced pilgrims for centuries and still attracts people today who are interested in learning about the site of the oracle (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks, 2011).

Travel journalism combines fact and entertainment, the ‘hard’ and the ‘soft’, and thus forms a unique ‘betwixt and between’ space in journalism. Its liminality makes it relevant to today’s news consuming public and relevant therefore to future journalism which will likely involve a combination of fact and entertainment (see literature review). The very fact that Greek Odyssey (2011) is able to mentally inform us about poignant, relevant issues and visually satisfy us through Lumley’s theatrical tendencies (see the lipstick scene in ‘The Land of The Ancient Greeks’, 2011), makes it a powerfully liminal piece of journalism.

Travel journalism and rites of passage

Greek Odyssey (2011) demonstrates why travel journalism needs to undergo a ‘rite of passage’ itself in order to progress from journalistic un-appreciation to recognition. In terms of Van Gennep’s (1909, p.23) three major life phases or special acts, namely separation (pre-liminal rites), transition (liminal rites), and incorporation (post-liminal rites), we can view the genre of travel journalism as having undergone separation through its emergence from the ‘mother’ (travel writing) and regard it within its current position of transition, as being misunderstood and unappreciated. As I stated earlier in the paper, although I argue for travel journalism to be incorporated into the realm of respected journalism, I also argue its liminal subject matter and vehicle of delivery is a positive trait, and that we need to simultaneously alter what we deem to understand as ‘hard’ journalism and recognise the progressiveness of liminal communication forms. Indeed, travel journalism’s ability to draw upon both fact and entertainment, whilst exploring a topic which continues to influence global consciousness and individual experience, makes it exceedingly dynamic.

In summary, travel and travel journalism, in the form of documentaries like Greek Odyssey (2011) are increasingly relevant today, in a world which is increasingly about the destruction of rigid binaries, the undertaking of physical and mental journeys and the celebration of liminal experiences, spaces and genres ‘betwixt and between’. Indeed, Greek Odyssey (2011) simultaneously entertains us through the journey of the mysterious and affable figure of Lumley and teaches us about people, places, traditions or ‘rites of passage’ we never knew existed or had perhaps previously misunderstood. Through the combination of the juxtaposing impetuses of objective facts and subjective entertainment, we learn more about Greece than we might have done through a traditional news style documentary and Lumley therefore subversively campaigns for travel journalism to embark on a ‘rite of passage’ into journalistic approval.

Joanna Lumley: the documentary presenter as liminal figure and temporary journalist

Joanna Lumley as actress, writer, activist, woman and temporary journalist within the documentary series exists in a liminal social space because she does not adhere to stereotypes of what constitutes either one of these roles and thus shapes her own ‘betwixt and between’ character. Moreover, her position as a temporary travel journalist is befitting to the travel documentary as a liminal form that combines elements from both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ journalism, objective information and theatrical entertainment (Lehman-Wilzig and Seletzky 2010 and Hanusch 2014). The viewer vicariously goes on a journey through their engagement with the documentary series and with Lumley’s position as a travel journalist. Both Lumley and the viewer exist in a ‘betwixt and between’ state as the former lives away from home as neither citizen nor tourist and the latter engages with the programme so that they are neither physically travelling nor fully engaging in their current life for the duration of each episode. Lumley undergoes and witnesses various ‘rites of passage’ while in Greece such as her visit to the Gate of Hades (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011), and we therefore experience those transitional experiences through the liminal figure of the presenter.

Lumley on a journey

The documentary’s full length title is Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey (2011). Of course, this is very much a personal journey or ‘odyssey’ for Lumley as she follows “in the footsteps of Odysseus, Alexander the Great and Apollo himself” (The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). While she is engaging in a vicarious journey for the viewers, she is going on a physical and mental journey of her own and thus operating in a liminal space due to her engagement with the unknown and her constant state of transition. Indeed, she includes personal stories into the narrative on Greece, about her fear of heights while climbing the Acropolis for example (The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) and her accidental visit to Poros in 1966 (‘Greece’s Borderlands’, 2011).  When she is climbing the Acropolis in the first episode she says directly to the camera, “I’m doing it for the viewers… because I love you” (The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). There is a clear relationship being set up between the presenter and viewer and the ‘odyssey’ is thus a personal one for both Lumley and those she is entertaining and informing.

Moreover, Lumley is constantly in motion and therefore the concept of journey is at the forefront of the viewer’s mind. For example, a great deal of the footage across the four episodes shows Lumley in cars and on boats, atop of horses and inside trains. We see her hiking up mountains (‘Mount Olympus and Beyond’, 2011) and climbing atop of landmarks (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011), all conveying the notion of constant movement or ‘odyssey’.

The various journeys within Greek Odyssey (2011) are extensive and wide ranging. Indeed, in one interview, Lumley told Fiaca (2011) that her travel documentary set in Egypt (Joanna Lumley’s Nile, 2009) was more of a singular journey, with the chief aim being to reach the source of the river. However, Lumley said that in terms of her Greek documentary, she had only skimmed the surface of the innumerable journeys that could be undertaken within the culturally and geographically diverse country (Fiaca, 2011). She often says to the camera that she is keen to ‘learn’ more as each new experience imprints on her consciousness. Therefore, Lumley is aware that her journey can be continued and that the concept of journey in this specific documentary is arguably open-ended and forever unfinished.

Throughout the documentary series, Lumley travels extensively, and to areas perhaps not familiar to every viewer. Indeed in ‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’ (2011), she travels to Delphi, the former navel of the ancient Greek world, she explores ancient Olympia, journeys to the Gates of Hades, spends the night at a Bouzoukia in Athens, goes to meet the villagers of the Mani Peninsular who live off the land and engages with people in Antia who speak with one another using an old Persian language based on whistling. In ‘Greece’s Borderlands’ (2011) she investigates the British influence on Corfu and explores the remote areas in the north of Greece, some of which are home to established Muslim communities. Her journeys to the ‘borderlands’ or edges of the landscape where cultural fusion is accentuated, not only maps the cultural liminality within the country but demonstrates how the travel documentary is able to poignantly capture such liminality through its simultaneously visual, factual and entertaining techniques.

Lumley as betwixt and between

In many travel documentaries, the host is typically a popular, middle-aged, male-explores-the-world type (Waade, 2009), and he often produces several series focusing on different parts of the world. The presenter often occupies the role of explorer, conqueror and adventurer, in which “the place is the object of their desire, though in a political, idealistic and scientific way” (Waade, 2009, p.106). Greek Odyssey (2011) defies the concept of the typically male, authoritative travel documentary host, a tradition embodied by celebrity presenters such as Michael Palin and Ewan McGregor. My case study employs a strong, well known female figure to act as temporary journalist, inform the viewer about history, debate sensitive cultural issues, draw on familiar mythical themes and impart unknown facts about remote communities. Lumley’s position as a presenter is very much ‘betwixt and between’ various characters, which I argue reinforces her ability to be a well-rounded journalist, one who is both sensitive and informed, as displayed in the scene where she interviews a local man whose father was executed after being exiled from Turkey and sent to Greece because he was a Christian (‘Greece’s Borderlands’, 2011).

Lumley is simultaneously friendly host, explorer, authoritative voice-over and cultural commentator and the visual images, music and editing support the overarching message of her words. The focus is on Lumley as both a travel journalist and female explorer, and the viewers see her deciphering maps in all four episodes, rushing with her camera crew to board an imminently departing ferry (‘The Islands’, 2011) and even applying her makeup (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). Essentially, Lumley has a didactic role as travel journalist but she is also a relatable traveller with whom the viewer can go on a journey, making her an extremely liminal figure, one who does not adhere to convention.

Lumley and rites of passage

Liminal experience involves traversing some imagined threshold and Lumley’s scene at the gate of Hades (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) shows her undergoing a mythical rite of passage. She brings two coins for Charon the boatman, and a pearl “for the spirits of all the people who have gone into the underworld and can never come out again” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). Lumley says “I’ve heard about these things all through my life and I thought I’d be feeling quite light hearted about it, but I actually feel very, very full of respect, it feels quite serious” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). Thus for that moment in her journey, Lumley undergoes a transitional Greek ‘rite of passage’ by sailing on the boat to the spiritual portal of the underworld, performing ceremonial acts (Van Gennep, 1909) essential to liminal transition and engaging in an activity which, for many Greeks, carries great symbolic meaning.

In other instances throughout the documentary series, Lumley is temporarily incorporated into people’s homes and families which I argue denotes another ‘rite of passage’ from stranger to accepted guest. In Vathia, a largely deserted C16th tower house settlement she helps a local lady, pick wild asparagus for dinner (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) and in Sitia (‘The Islands’, 2011) she tastes the local raki and dances with a family. In both cases there is Greek food and drink present and it is as though Lumley ingests the culture and is subsequently temporarily accepted into the community through that ingestible ‘rite of passage’.

In summary, the findings here are of Lumley as a transient journalist and liminal figure who, in keeping with the travel documentary as a liminal form of journalism that combines various ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ qualities, draws on her acting abilities to reinforce the importance of the discoveries she makes in Greece. She is ‘betwixt and between’ various roles and undergoes ‘rites of passage’ that allow her to more readily engage with the culture and its people.

Greece: a liminal country

Greece is a country currently in a liminal state both historically and economically. It is still recovering from a particularly turbulent period, politically, economically, socially and culturally, during which Greek Odyssey (2011) was filmed. Between 2010 and 2012, a series of strikes took place across the country in response to the public spending cuts during the debt crisis, there was mass emigration and increased suicide rates (Williams, 2011). Though Greece has come through the worst of its various crises, it is continually journeying through time, like all countries and their people and its past has an impact on its present. Liminality, as embodied through ceremonial or mythical ‘rites of passage’ have always been particularly significant within Greek culture, regardless of other problems, and the documentary shows how Greece has always values its traditions. The country is in a “stage of reflection” (Turner 1964, p.53) over its mythical past and its unknown future and is therefore in a ‘betwixt and between’ state.

Greece on a journey

Lumley begins the documentary series by stating that “this is where western civilisation began, drama, democracy, language, science, medicine, this country has given us so much and it has influenced the fabric of our everyday life” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). In other words, Lumley begins by articulating the relevance not only of her specific travel documentary series due to its important subject matter, but of Greece’s global and historical influence throughout time. She also tells us “if you’re like me, you might know something and nothing about Greece” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011), placing herself and the viewer in a liminal space of knowledge and suggesting that through the documentary series, both parties will go on an educational as well as physical journey. Indeed, while most of us have heard of The Parthenon, Zeus, Mount Olympus, Socrates and Zorba the Greek, beyond this patchwork knowledge is a country with surprising and unknown practices and customs and documentaries such as this are vital, particularly when we think of the impact of Greek history on every one of us.

Subsequently, we witness a journalistic and partly critical starting point for the series, and we are presented with the notion that Greece, particularly at the time of filming, is being forgotten and only mentioned in journalistic circles for its economic struggles. Therefore, the documentary series serves to equally highlight a country that has been side-lined and negatively regarded due to its then current economic, social and political troubles. Such focus also draws attention to the genre of travel journalism itself which has been pushed aside as unworthy to be deemed ‘real’ journalism.

Greek Odyssey (2011), engages with the journey of Greece “which is evolving all the time” (‘Greece’s Borderlands’, 2011), something that is emphasized even further through the visual nature of the documentary series and the constant reiteration that “this is a land of constant change” (‘Greece’s Borderlands’, 2011). Indeed, sweeping camera angles and aerial images of landscape reinforce the idea of movement and therefore transition and liminality. We witness a high standard of production as conveyed through the beautiful panoramas and colourful images which chart Lumley’s movements through the country. The camera partly follows Lumley’s own perspective of Greece, but it also assumes an all-seeing or timeless look at the country, resulting in a journey that is both personal and universal.

Maps and graphics are used to illustrate the travel route and show how ancient buildings such as the Temple of Apollo in Delphi (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) would look today, once again connecting the ancient with the modern and merging various transitional phases into one. Through Lumley, the viewer can ride the horse up Byron road in Corfu (‘Greece’s Borderlands’, 2011) walk across the volcanic rock in Nisyros (‘The Islands’, 2011) and eat the hillside asparagus in Vathia (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011). We bear witness to a country which is journeying through time and which today exists in an ambiguous social and economic position despite its global, historic significance and relevance.

A country betwixt and between

At the time of filming in 2011, Greece’s economy was in an exceedingly problematic condition. There is a scene in ‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’ (2011) where Lumley visits a Bouzoukia in Athens and sees the local people paying up to sixty euros to throw a plate of flowers into the air, a custom that seemed largely at odds with the then crippled economy.

The fact that Greece had one of the worst economies in Europe at the time of filming and was at the heart of the crisis in the Eurozone is particularly highlighted in this scene. Lumley’s commentary on the expensive custom, which she sees as “extraordinary” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) given the social circumstances, means we are presented with a contemplative and subversive message, one that is both critical and journalistic. Indeed, there is liminality shown here as the people are existing and practising customs that are neither appropriate for the day nor out of line with tradition. The people in the Bouzoukia are neither transitioning into awareness of their obscure spending nor continuing the older tradition which was to smash cheap plates instead. Therefore, we see life acting out as if in a ‘betwixt and between’ vacuum, unaffected by the outside world.

When Lumley visits the iconic Acropolis in Athens (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011), the scene conveys the notion that even Greece’s landmarks are in a ‘betwixt and between’ state. Indeed, the temple has suffered abuse over the years after being used as a gunpowder store by the Ottomans, blown up by the Venetians and when an Englishman, Lord Elgin, removed parts and sent them home to the British museum where they still remain. With parts of the building spread across the globe, a continual restoration project underway at the site and one million tourists visiting the site each year, this is a poignant example of a liminal architectural space whereby the actual building and its history is shared among many parties. Moreover, Lumley highlights how the White House in Washington and the Bank of England in London have all been influenced by the style of this particular building, once again emphasizing “the importance of Greek culture throughout the world” (‘The Land of the Ancient Greeks’, 2011) and subsequently of travel documentaries such as this one which highlight that fact.

Rites of Passage in Greece

For the Greek people, literal and metaphysical ‘rites of passage’ are an essential part of history and everyday life. Indeed, the Greeks know very well that “the middle stage in a ritual passage [has] its own spatial reality (Thomassen, 2012, p.21). Liminal experience therefore, has always played a key role in Greek living. As Van Gennep (1909, p.21) notes, boundaries or locations for rites of passage  “might be a sacred rock, tree, river, or lake…[or something] marked by an object—a stake, portal, or upright rock…whose installation at that particular spot has been accompanied by rites of consecration”. In terms of Greece, Mount Olympus is rippled with boundaries, rites and legends that informed ancient Greece and still influence the modern Greek people. The mountain itself embodies its own rites of consecration through the mythical power it possesses and the ‘ceremonies’ it still holds. For example, the owner of a refuge half way up the mountain, Maria Zolta, says “we can feel Zeus sometimes when he is in a bad mood” (‘Mount Olympus and Beyond’, 2011), emphasizing how even the understanding of weather is linked to ancient mythology.

Moreover, Lumley meets the local men who take part in the annual marathon set over Mount Olympus. This modern race was inspired by a battle that took place in 490BC in the town of Marathon, and has now become a ‘rite of passage’ for many young runners in Greece with the movement over the mountain marking a ceremony of athletic achievement. In other words, Mount Olympus is another geographical space in Greece where ‘rites of consecration’ (Van Gennep, 1909, p.21) and traditions of the past still influence and play an influential role in the present, meaning that modern life is a liminal mix of old and new rituals.

Greece is also undergoing a ‘rite of passage’ itself. Lumley told Deacon (2011) in an interview that “not every city can remain as bright as day all the time…things do change….it’s become dark and strange for a bit. But it’ll come back again.” Indeed, the documentary ends with the notion that “No country has had a more lasting impact on the world than Greece herself. But although the days are dark for Greece at the moment and the nights are long, she will survive triumphantly to see another day” (‘Mount Olympus and Beyond’, 2011).

In summary, Greece, now more than ever embodies liminality due to its transitioning social, economic and political context, and the liminal travel documentary form with its combination of fact and entertainment further emphasises the liminal content. Greece is journeying from a period of crisis into its future stage of development, a linear transition similar to that which Van Gennep (1909) saw as positive and essential to both individuals and communities. Greece is a country where ‘rites of passage’ inform daily life due to deeply embedded religious and mythical values and I argue Greek Odyssey (2011) shows a country ‘betwixt and between’ its historic past and unknown future.

Final thoughts

While I cannot speak for all travel journalism, due to my single case study method of analysing one documentary, Greek Odyssey (2011) is a fitting example of how travel journalism is a liminal, progressive form of journalism. However, crucially, I argue this liminality should not be deemed as detrimental, but moreover, as an inherent feature that places travel journalism in its own enlightened space of communication that reaches audiences at deeper levels.

Indeed, the documentary does this by simultaneously informing and entertaining the viewer, forming its own journalistic window through which we can engage with the equally liminal, travel centred content. Subsequently, it provides evidence for why there should be increased scholarly and professional attention to a genre of journalism which is far more complex and relevant than many have previously deemed. Greek Odyssey’s (2011) ability to captivate the viewer through synchronized modes makes it an important piece of journalism and one that can and should set an example for future travel documentaries that seek to enlighten the viewer to a world beyond travel features and travel shows on luxury hotels and tourist heavy resorts. Travel documentaries such as this one have an important role to play in an era where travel, visual engagement, cultural understanding and border crossing are essential motifs within the modern world (see literature review).

Though Greek Odyssey (2011) was negatively reviewed at the time for its decision to focus on a range of aspects within Greek culture, including history, myth, landscape and architecture at a time of economic hardship (Williams 2011 and Harvey 2011), I argue the decision to engage with a wide variety of both negative and positive topics, and explore the context of Greece as a whole rather than simply offering a framed snapshot of the epicentre of financial crisis in Athens, makes it even more journalistically credible due to its desire for balance and perspective. Greece’s economic, cultural, social and historical realities are neither sugar-coated nor hidden.

Through Greek Odyssey (2011), we engage with a topic, genre, presenter and country on a physical and conceptual journey through time and geographical space. Similarly, travel and travel journalism, Lumley herself and Greece as a whole are all shown to be in a ‘betwixt and between’ state. Moreover, ‘rites of passage’ are present not only in the culture of Greece, but are experienced directly by Lumley and therefore the viewer. The documentary shows how the genre of travel journalism, needs to undergo a positive ‘rite of passage’ so that important documentaries such as this one are recognised for their journalistic accomplishments.

Though I argue travel journalism has been unfairly relegated to the liminal space of undefinable journalism, I argue that instead of trying to incorporate it into the realm of ‘hard’ journalism, we should instead illuminate that dark, liminal space and appreciate travel journalism for its ability to transcend categorisation.

Chapter 5: Conclusion

Initially, I embarked upon this project due to a life-long passion for travel, in all its physical and perceptual forms, and travel journalism, through all its progressive and varied mediums. I have always been drawn to reading, writing and watching material related to travel, something that has been reflected in both my personal and professional life. However, the academic journey of writing this paper has transcended from a simple penchant for a practice and topic, to a sincere desire to uplift the genre of travel journalism and show how its liminality is a positive rather than negative attribute.

There exists a lack of critical material surrounding travel journalism due to a variety of reasons, as previously mapped out in my literature review. Definitional disputes and debates surrounding the umbrella category of journalism mean attempts to define and therefore elevate travel journalism are made even harder due to unclear foundations. However, since journalism as a whole is not easily definable or locatable and in the context of extensive debate, I see no reason why the genre of travel journalism cannot enter the discussion, and be equally respected as one genre within the “collection of literary genres” (Hampton and Conboy, 2013, p.156) that comprise the wider world of journalism. Furthermore, if various genres within journalism possess their own distinct patterns of “discourse” (Hampton and Conboy, 2013, p.162), then the combining of fact and entertainment within travel journalism is simply another tradition which should be equally respected as those conventions within ‘harder’ forms of journalism.

Travel journalism’s ancestry within travel writing, the surfeit of PR or advertorial pieces, the fact that travel is associated with leisure and is therefore seen as disconnected from serious work, the strong links to advertising and existing academic literature that highlights how numerous pieces marginalise the host culture or focus predominantly on tourism, are all factors which contribute to travel journalism being relegated to a genre whereby its liminality is seen as justification for its demotion. However, there are gradually more studies on travel journalism being published which serve to bring our attention to the importance and relevance of the genre today (Fursich and Kavoori 2001, Cocking 2009 and Folker 2010).

I have analysed how travel embodies the idea of a physical and mental journey, whereby the traveller undergoes a ‘rite of passage’ due to their ‘betwixt and between’ state and explained why those concepts are essential to what we understand as liminal experience (Turner 1964 and van Gennep 1909).

I have explored how Greek Odyssey (2011) contributes to the journey of travel journalism itself, which as I stated earlier, is becoming increasingly pertinent and focal in our travel-centred world and changing media backdrop. Moreover, I analysed how travel journalism is ‘betwixt and between’ different modes of writing and needs to undergo a ‘rite of passage’ so it can progress from journalistic un-appreciation to recognition.

I analysed how the presenter, Joanna Lumley, is an exceedingly liminal figure due to her ability to transcend what we understand as a travel journalist and occupy various roles throughout filming. I argued that she experiences a personal journey through her interactions with the local people and her reactions to landscape and culture, and how she thus mediates the journey of the viewer, who experiences Greece vicariously through her eyes. Lumley, and therefore the viewer, experiences varying ‘rites of passage’ and together, they are in a constant state of being ‘betwixt and between’.

I investigated how Greece’s continual ‘odyssey’ is powerfully conveyed through my case study and showed how, as a country it is undergoing a ‘rite of passage’ as it moves from turmoil into gradual recovery. Moreover, how ceremonial ‘rites of passage’ have always been essential within Greek culture and society. For example, when Lumley visits a village near Agathopolis, the home of her translator Eleni, she tells us that “though Greece is on the eve of bankruptcy, it feels as though this community needs its ancient traditions more than ever” (‘Mount Olympus and Beyond’, 2011). I also analysed how the documentary shows Greece as being ‘betwixt and between’ its historic past and its unknown future.

Travel journalism embraces that which lies at the edge, and as illustrated in Greek Odyssey (2011), the content is also focused on charting liminal experience. My case studies exposes the marginalisation of Greece from modern consciousness, despite its historic, social and cultural importance, making it a vital piece of journalism due to its complex insights into people, culture and current affairs.

Essentially, I set out to answer the question: is travel journalism a liminal form of journalism? Through my analysis of Greek Odyssey (2011), I have come to the conclusion that yes, travel journalism is liminal. However, more important than recognising its inherent liminality, I argue we have to alter the way we view liminality and therefore travel journalism. We must draw both travel journalism as a genre and liminality as a concept, out of negative darkness and into positive light.

Travel journalism’s liminality should not be seen as detrimental to its validity as an important form of global understanding and cultural communication. Indeed, our multifaceted, global social fabric and transforming journalistic landscape are increasingly concerned with embracing liminality: the places, spaces and people situated in the ‘no man’s land’ of modern culture and contemporary living. The margins that define ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ journalism are dissolving and lifestyle journalism formats, such as travel journalism, are becoming progressively more popular and thus gradually more powerful in terms of their ability to convey crucial messages.

Moreover, I argue the liminality of travel journalism makes it progressively kaleidoscopic due to the various motivations contained within the work. While many articles and television programmes were made at the time of the Greek economic and social crisis in 2011, Lumley’s documentary places the delicate social situation in the context of a rich historical past and poses questions for the future too. While the documentary may not be a piece of ‘hard’ news, it is equally if not more insightful due to the entertaining vehicle of delivery and utilisation of a female figure who, though not strictly a traditional journalist, temporarily and wholly engages in journalistic activity through her sensitive interviews, stimulating explorations and thought-provoking commentary.

Of course, it goes without saying that there are limitations to my research. I made the choice to analyse a single documentary, which as a method offers opportunities for rich analysis, but does not take into consideration all the travel journalism that came before and after my particular case study. However, I negotiated the limitations of the single case design and was continually aware that the available material put forward in Greek Odyssey (2011) was not raw and was been designed to fit a particular purpose. The single case study design allowed me to become completely immersed in my topic. A comparative method would not have given me the opportunity, due to size limitations, to fully investigate the liminal content and the liminality of the genre being embodied simultaneously.

We are all travelling through time together every day of our lives, and whether travel journalism is concerned with journeys that took place many years ago, journeys that are being undertaken today or journeys that may take place in the years to come, it is a form of communication that can unite us all through that common experience, and increasingly so in our travel centred planet. Liminality is just one way of exploring this largely uncharted field of communication studies and I urge future scholars to draw on the positive liminality of travel journalism and look for alternative theoretical approaches that can help further our understanding of travel journalism and elevate its status. I hope my project can contribute to the growing number of studies on travel journalism and demonstrate that those genres and concepts we may perceive as consigned to the undefinable or undeterminable may in fact be more relevant than ever in a world where everyone is striving to know and learn about other countries, cultures and forms of communication that lie beyond the peripheries.

THE END

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Footnotes

[1] See Radio 4’s Excess Baggage, From Our Own Correspondent, Channel 4’s Homes in the Sun, Wicker’s World, BBC’s Hairy Bikers, Michael Palin’s travel documentaries, Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Down as well as Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein’s travel cookery shows for examples of popular travel orientated material.

[2] The number of international arrivals is projected to rise to more than 1.36 billion by 2020 (Statista, 2013).

[3] In 2012, the Student Times, estimated that 2.5 million young people living in the UK were planning a gap year in 2012 (Latitude Global Volunteering).

[4]Where travel writers and journalists have reconnected with the notion that there is always something new and authentic to be discovered regardless of what has come before.

[5] See also Folker (2010), Apostopoulos et al. (1996), Smith (1989), Smith and Brent (2001) and Urry (2002)

[6] See also Van den Berg and Van der Beer (1990).

[7] See also Campbell and Stanley (1966).

[8] The epic poem which charts the journey of the Greek hero Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman myths) from his home after the fall of Troy.

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