Some weeks ago, while writing a new piece, I was feeling slightly glum so I decided to call it something like “We’re Stupid and Deserve All Bad Things Happening to Us.”Okay, I might have exaggerated with the name this time, but yes, we’re weird creatures that engage in weird activities more often than we’d wish to accept. So, today I’m presenting you with a new trending option for your next vacation, and it’s famously called “Dark Tourism.”
But before you rush to see how much you have on your savings box and run to get your suitcase ready, don’t get yourself tricked by the alluring name of this vacation option and see what’s all about.
In a couple of years, we’ve seen photos of people visiting concentration camps and taking hideous selfies of them laughing and showing how great their vacation is, without realizing how lame and offensive their actions are. But as Robert Reid explains in his article for National Geographic, these attitudes aren’t precisely new. For ages, people have engaged in these dark vacation activities, like visiting places where great tragedies happened. These places awake our most morbid nature and, as the author explains, the problem is not visiting them if there’s an honest interest in learning from them or, if that’s not the case, at least to pay your respects for the place.
The more I think about it, the more questions come to my mind. Naturally, we all wish to visit some of these places that belong to the list of Dark Tourism. In my case, I've always dreamed of visiting Poland and the main concentration camps, since I’ve always had a deep interest in the Second World War. But whenever I see one of the idiotic pictures mentioned before, I can’t help but question what’s inside these people’s heads that pushes them to act in that way. My first guess is that they don’t even know what really happened at these spots, and they just visit them because they’re marked as main touristic spots they feel they must attend. Although I haven’t been to any of these places, I can imagine the vibe and atmosphere of solemnity and sorrow that must prevail in them. So, are they just too stupid not to sense the room, or even read or listen to what the guides and others say about these places?
As I mentioned, morbidity here plays a very important role. Our human curiosity what makes us want to see with our own eyes these destinations of death and catastrophe. We like to experience for ourselves (even if it's far distant in history) the reach of inhumanity, malice, and the thirst of power behind these humiliations and attacks. And even while writing this, I wonder if my wish to visit these places isn’t really morbidity disguised as a historical curiosity. Perhaps it is.
But as Reid states, this is a double-edged sword situation, since it’s not only a matter of who visits these places but also of the people behind the promotion and maintenance of these locations. A little anecdote. I remember when I visited Trotsky’s last home in Mexico city, the curators of the museum had left the place exactly as he had it before he died, only taking care of the objects displayed. And although it was quite interesting to see how important this man was in the twentieth-century history, you could sense that creepy vibe of how we were marveled about his death. Then I realized it wasn’t only the atmosphere of the place, but how from the moment you enter the house they constantly remind you of how he died, where, and so on. But that wasn’t the creepiest part of all. I remembered how unsettling it was when the guide pointed at a huge metallic door and a hole on it saying that when the man was shot, the bullet had gone through his head and pierced the door. Then it hit me; they weren’t selling Trotsky's last days as an exhibit. It was all about his death, and people seemed to enjoy that.
Whether it is a matter of marketing to drag people into these historical destinations or just people appealing to their morbidity, Dark Tourism is highly increasing. Places like Chernobyl, Vietnam, concentration camps, or any other place doomed by tragedy are becoming enticing destinations for people to spend their vacations. But Dark Tourism isn’t only about historical places per se. There’s been a huge increase of people just visiting local graveyards whenever they travel. So, it’s not actually about human tragedy, but about death. Yes, death has become the latest vacation trend, and it doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon.
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