I have this little theory. Actually, I have lots of little theories, but my theory in this case is that the things that were in pop culture during our childhood affects our interests, spending habits, obsessions, and passions later in life. I started thinking about this when I realized that our most successful trip, or more accurately perhaps our best-selling trip is our African Safari. When I am at a cocktail party or other social function and I ask people where they want to go on vacation, I think that one of the most popular answers by far is to go on an African safari. Now, I know that safaris are wonderful. I just got back from safari in Africa and while there I realized why I love it so much. It is just such an amazingly peaceful, spiritual, and educational experience. Plus, the way we do it it is really lavish and kind over-the-top. But still, why do people who don’t know what it would really be like want to do it so badly. I was literally in my safari jeep, and we had just seen a herd of elephants with our group and then zebras appeared from behind some bushes and then one of us noticed a giraffe peeking its head over from behind elephants. Then one of the guys in the group started humming “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” and it hit me–I bet you anything that several books and movies of the past decade have led to a fascination with going on safari.
I remember as a kid watching “Out of Africa” in 1985, where a young Meryl Streep plays a wealthy noble Danish woman who falls in love with an English big-game hunter, played by Robert Redford. The movie had stunning scenery of Africa, and I know it was this movie that first sparked my interest in going on safari.
Over a decade later, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “The Poisonwood Bible” about a missionary father, his wife, and four daughters who move to an incredibly remote village in the Congo. I think one of the daughters ends up living in South Africa, and then owning a hotel. Again, my interest grew.
Then there was “The Lion King,” the movie and Broadway musical that I believe has done more than any other book or movie to garner interest for going on safari. Could a simple cartoon with catchy music (well, REALLY catchy music) have such an impact? It may sound far fetched, or even cheesy, but I think especially for gay men everywhere, “The Lion King” sparked something. Perhaps a lot of us found a touch spirituality and meaning in this African tale, at a time in our lives when we were feeling shunned by our churches were being denied the rights of our straight brothers. I think a lot of us related to Simba being outcast to the jungle, and let’s be honest, it probably helped that Elton John was behind the music, but I digress. Am I saying that this Disney Musical made a lot of gay men want to go on safari? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying, and here’s the thing: I have yet to take a group of gay men on safari, without hearing several “Lion King” references and songs every day, lions referred to as Simba or a red-billed hornbill referred to as Zazu.
And of course, pop culture has not only inspired travel to safaris in Africa, and it can have negative affects as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in India. India remains one of my favorite destinations in the world, and it is also I think the most misunderstood. Like most other people, my first concepts of India were the images I saw of starving children on TV– it didn’t exactly make it the prime choice for a carefree vacation location. But then, as I got older, and my desire for an authentic sense and form of spirituality grew inside me, it seems that so many roads were leading to India. Every new age teacher was speaking of Indian places, and philosophies born in this ancient country. My time in the travel industry also taught me that India is home to the finest hotels. So, I went, and have been fortunate enough to go back, and I can tell you that the India I have experienced is vastly different from my earliest connotations. Where many people associate India with poverty, filth, and despair, I associate it with love, beauty, and hope, because when I go there that is what I see and experience.
So what lies ahead? What pop culture phenomenons are inspiring future travels? Well, I do have a little prediction. Most parents, aunts, and uncles of children 12 years old and younger, especially boys for some reason can tell you about Thomas the Train. My Nephew was pretty obsessed with this cartoon several years ago, as were all of his friends. Luxury train travel used to be all the rage and then it waned. If you see a resurgence in about 15 or 20 years, you’ll know why, and you heard it hear first.