Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cultural Commodification: Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

Some cultural events such as parades, galas, and festivals which often have quite historic or political origins and have taken place for a number of years (sometimes Centuries) have been capitalized upon by entrepreneurs, and as a result, whilst maintaining a historic significance have become largely commercial undertakings. This is an example of the commodification of culture as highlighted by (Long, 2007).

Social groups often partake in celebrations and displays that are unique to their own traditions and evolution, some celebrations and displays attract spectators from the wider community, who are keen to witness something that may be considered a spectacle by them, some people travel long distances solely to witness or experience these events, as such they become tourist attractions.

An example of this in action is the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which despite it’s name is not held on or around Shrove Tuesday like many other Mardi Gras events in the world are. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras began as a political demonstration in 1978 to highlight homosexuality (which was illegal in the Australian state of New South Wales at the time), and to protest against the persecution of those who were homosexual. Over the years the annual demonstration grew from being an organised march into a parade along a set route, with the addition of themes, costumes, music, theater, and dance - the 2009 theme is Nations United. As the event became more elaborate it began to attract non-gay spectators, as well as it’s traditional gay support. In 1988, Tourism New South Wales sponsored an economic impact statement of the event (Marsh and Levy, 1988) in recognition of the fact that the gay travel market was a lucrative one, with the average spend per capita being significantly higher than the average tourist spend (Waitt and Markwell, 2006). Economically the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras benefited the region as a whole with accommodation and support services being in high demand during this period. By the mid 1990s, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was an established event on the cities entertainment calendar, and was / still is used by marketers to attract tourists to the city - long may it continue!


Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association. 2007. Berlin, (2007) Outsourcing culture: the role of the diaspora in the commodification. Long, D. Amherst, The Law and Society Association.

Marsh, I. & Levy, S. (1998) Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras: Economic Impact Statement 1988. Sydney, Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Ltd.

Waitt, G. and Markwell, K. (2006) Gay tourism culture and context. Philadelphia, Haworth Press.

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