Topless tobogganing divides German town

Citizens of the east German town of Oberwiesenthal finds itself at odds with a nearby ski resort this week, as plans for a controversial topless tobogganing event, scheduled to take place next month, move ahead.

Yes, you read that correctly. A “topless tobogganing” event is being hosted on a nearby mountain, with a local property developer offering up travel and prize money for those that compete. The developer in question, Jochen Nske, says he has “considerable support” for his big promotion, and claims that a similar event drew more than 12,000 spectators last year. That rowdy crowd lined the slopes of a resort in the Harz mountains to watch young slide down the mountain in little more than a helmet, bikini bottoms and a smile.

Despite the fact that the even is likely to bring a lot of visitors to Oberwiesenthal, the locals would rather Nske and his competition stay well away. The major of the town fears such an event would tarnish the reputation of his fair city, while others complain that it is sexist and demeaning towards women. The town council will vote later in the week on whether or not to allow Nske to move ahead as planned.

For his part, Nske seems unmoved by the controversy. He says that if he’s voted off the mountain, he’ll simply move across the border to Czech Republic and host the event there instead.

Much like curling, this topless tobogganing will not get the respect it deserves until it is officially recognized by the Olympics.

Uganda: the latest not so gay-friendly destination

While every city council and national tourist board seems to know the equation gay + traveler = big bucks, the central African nation of Uganda wants none of it. A controversial bill may soon pass that would not only outlaw homosexuality, but would also impose the death penalty against certain “offenders” and make it criminal to not report known homosexuals.

Whence in Africa, most gay travelers know to keep it on the down low, however the new legislation would be sure to sniff them out by criminalizing anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality”. If convicted, people who know gay people would face seven years in prison. That includes hotel owners and landlords who rent rooms to homosexuals.

So forget Utah, the gay witch hunt of the century will occur in lovely Uganda, land of gun-toting child missionaries and toxic breasts.

Thailand Hitler billboard draws controversy

A Hitler billboard in Thailand promoting a local wax museum has locals and foreign governments up in arms. The billboard campaign, which features photos of famous dead people, included a photo of Hitler making the infamous Nazi salute along with the tagline “Hitler is not dead.” The ad was part of a promotion for Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, a wax museum based in Pattaya.

Since the billboard’s unveiling two weeks ago it has caused a firestorm of complaints, prompting museum officials to have it covered and to apologize for the offense. Both the German and Israeli embassies in Thailand filed formal complaints. Wax museum director Somporn Naksuetrong has emphasized the campaign was not meant to glorify the Nazi leader.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first Adolf Hitler wax museum incident to draw controversy. In 2008 a German man rushed into the new Madame Tussaud’s in Berlin, ripping the head off the museum’s Hitler figurine and shouting “Never war again!”

The use of Hitler’s likeness, whether as a wax dummy or in advertising, never fails to attract criticism. But that hasn’t stopped museums and brands from capitalizing on Hitler to draw attention, a decision that almost always ends poorly. Anyone hoping to draw tourist dollars from Nazi imagery in the future would do well to keep this in mind.


Tourism Australia comes under fire from random retired American soldier

Tourism Australia nailed it. The struggle between work and life is reaching fever pitch. Those with jobs are working harder than ever, thanks to layoffs and a desperate play to look like top performers in case the axe comes down again. It’s a battle, sometimes, to take control of your life. This is the theme of Tourism Australia’s new campaign, “No Leave, No Life,” which drives home the fact that Australians are pissing away their vacation time and aren’t giving themselves the time away that they need.

So, the organization modeled a photo on the U.S. Marines (hey, Sydney Morning Herald, marines and soldiers aren’t the same thing) raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. You know the original picture. Everyone remembers it. Because everyone is familiar with this iconic photo, it’s easy for one to relate to it. That’s what makes Tourism Australia‘s picture of a family “raising” an umbrella particularly brilliant.

Well, there are a few people who would disagree, as you’ll see after the jump.

U.S. Army veteran (unless he’s really a marine – SMH can’t tell the different) Russell Wade wrote to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to complain. He’s pissed because it trivializes “an iconic picture of high significance to the American people.” Yet, he isn’t driven to anger by U.S. Marine commercials that equate fighting in a war to fantasy games in which fictional creatures are the enemy and are vanquished by knights with swords in a manner that implies death with what looks like a simple “zapping.”

Before we take Tourism Australia to task for its advertising decisions, let’s not forget that the Marines have had a few problems as well … occasionally seeming culturally tone-deaf.

Okay, back to the contested photos. Both photos were staged, so it really is a posed piece derived from a posed piece. And, it’s not like this is the worst instance of borrowing from military history and tradition to entertain, amuse or sell. Hell, where was Wade when Homer Simpson “trivialized” the U.S. Navy?

For that matter, where was he when the Village People did so? It looks like this guy has a shitload of letters to write.

The Village People can model entertainment on the U.S. military. The creators of The Simpsons can take it a step further (as they’ve done several times with the navy and the army, at this point). And, let’s face it. These go a lot deeper than modeling a photograph on a classic … mind you, a practice common in the arts.

I was a soldier for a while, and I have nothing but respect for those who served honorably. I just wish there could be a better sense of reality and an antidote for self-importance.

Saturday Night Live pokes fun at Hawaiian tourism: Some thoughts

Back when Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show poked fun at Butte, Montana because of the Berkeley Pit, the shut-down copper mine that’s almost filled to the brim with toxic water, and is a tourist site anyway, I felt bad. I love Butte, Montana and visit every summer. It was one of my budget travel options back in January. The Daily Show’s version of Butte did not do it justice.

Now Hawaii is in the fray of popular culture tomfoolery. Saturday Night Live poked fun at Hawaiian tourism last week with a skit of fake hula dancers in a restaurant filled with tourists. Within the skit, issues of authenticity, lack of a working wage by those working in the tourist industry, race and other issues that highlight the clash between those looking for a dream vacation and those hired to make the dream happen were mixed together.

Linda Lingle, the governor of Hawaii, is mad about the skit because she feels that it sheds an unfair light on an industry upon which Hawaii depends to a large degree. Because of the economy, Hawaiian tourism is suffering. Bad publicity could do more damage. I’m not too sure about that — particularly if Hawaii uses the skit as a stepping off point to show just how much Hawaii has to offer besides hula dancers. [Saturday Night video after the jump.]

Before I went to Hawaii several years ago, I had Tiki statues and big wooden fork and spoon wall hanging sets in mind. What I found is a lush, culturally rich, gorgeous place that I was enthralled by. We didn’t stay in Waikiki, but with relatives who live on the other side of Oahu. What the governor needs to do is point out how Hawaii is a fascinating state with a history unlike any other.

I’m always amazed when I find out that people went there without going to The Bishop Museum or the Mission Houses Museum or the palace. The role of Hawaii during World War II is also important. A trip to Pearl Harbor and the Punch Bowl shows that. As part of our trip, we went to the Big Island where at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park learned more about volcanoes and Hawaii’s geological make up. These are just a few places that highlight Hawaii’s uniqueness.

I think what the skit did is point out the dissonance between people who head to a place with an idea in their minds about what the location is about without considering the darker side. Any place that tries to bring in tourist dollars could do a similar skit. Saturday Night Live just happened to pick Hawaii. So what if paradise has a darker side? Isn’t that true about anything? It’s the ying and the yang.

On the other side of the dark side is the light which is the reason why Hawaii is such a great place to go on a vacation–just don’t stop at the hula skirts. Have fun with the schlock, notice the disparity, but get out of the places that are geared for the cliche and explore. See what else Hawaii has to offer. It’s plenty, and these days Hawaii is a terrific vacation value.

Admittedly, I think the Saturday Night Live skit is funny. I didn’t watch the episode, but I headed to You Tube as soon as I read about the controversy. The reason I think it’s funny is because I loved watching Dwayne Johnson hula dance. His legs and arm movements just cracked me up. Plus, he looked like he was having a great time.

In case you didn’t see it, here it is. The copy isn’t the best, but you’ll get the idea.