Business is booming in Chernobyl as tourism soars after HBO's show aired. But, as it turns out, that's actually not a good thing.
HBO's Chernobyl is enjoying an incredible degree of praise and acclaim from fans and critics alike—and with good reason. A few inaccuracies here and there notwithstanding, this miniseries sets a new standard for how historical shows ought to be written, produced, edited, scored, photographed, and acted. Every single aspect of the show is amazing, and its creators are now reaping their well-deserved rewards. And with the series' success came a predictable spike in public interest surrounding the real Chernobyl.
Sergiy Ivanchuk, director of the SoloEast tour agency, recently told Reuters that his company saw a 30% increase in tourism to Chernobyl during May 2019, right after HBO's miniseries aired. What's more, reservations for tours during the following summer months increased by a staggering 40% compared to last year. Business is good for tourism in Chernobyl.
But that's not actually a good thing.
Bachelor parties, selfies, and a whole lot of dark tourism
Tourism in and around the disaster area is certainly not new. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone opened its gates to visitors from all over the world in 2010, and tourists have traveled to the area consistently ever since. There's a strange trend going around, known as dark tourism, in which people drawn to the morbid past of certain places with a dark and violent history visit these spots in the hopes of satisfying their curiosity—and taking a few selfies while they're at it.
In some cases, there's nothing wrong with this kind of curiosity: visiting sites like Auschwitz, Ground Zero, or the Nanjing Massacre Hall can really help to comprehend and relate to the terrible events that occurred there. It can give visitors a new understanding of the history associated with the place, and that's a good thing.
But then there are those who care little for understanding and simply like to bask in the morbid character of the site by taking a selfie and posting it on Instagram for views and likes. Or those who think it's "cool" to party around in these areas.
Some people go as far as to have their bachelor or bachelorette parties at Chernobyl. The friends travel to Kiev and get drunk the night before visiting the Exclusion Zone, and then wander around the disaster site making jokes and not realizing just how profoundly terrible the tragedy was. "LOCK UP YOUR MUTANT DAUGHTERS," wrote one such person (Twitter user @snake_moore) as he was arriving to the nuclear-stricken town a few years ago. Many pointed out how distasteful that was, to say the least.
And now, after the incredible success of the HBO's miniseries, things could escalate. The rising interest from tourists could have this kind of disrespectful behavior become commonplace, and that's a rather discouraging prospect. The fact that there's so many people who just want to go there to take their "sexy selfies" deep in the heart of the Exclusion Zone speaks volumes about the problem: they don't go there to pay their respects or understand what happen. Most of them go just to follow the current morbid trend on social media, now that Chernobyl is so "in." That's not only sad—it's outright immoral.
Think twice before making light of Chernobyl
Many rightly worry that this kind of activity takes a serious issue much too lightly, without the gravitas or respect it deserves. Chernobyl writer himself, Craig Mazin, took to Twitter to show his concern and asked people to stop it with the disrespectful selfies already.
“It’s wonderful that #ChernobylHBO has inspired a wave of tourism to the Zone of Exclusion," he said. "But yes, I’ve seen the photos going around. If you visit, please remember that a terrible tragedy occurred there. Comport yourselves with respect for all who suffered and sacrificed.”
Like Mazin says, we must remember that these sites are historically associated with death and tragedy—they are very real locations where very real people suffered greatly. That's no laughing matter, nor something to be exploited for the sake of followers on social media.
It's great that we are interested in Chernobyl's history and in the people who sacrificed themselves there. But there's no good reason why we should be posting pictures where we strike [overly fake] poses with the nuclear plant in the background, for example. On the contrary: rather than show an authentic interest in the place and its history, photos like that just show a deeply unfortunate ignorance about the importance and seriousness of the site where the worst nuclear accident of all time took place.
So, if everything else fails, please just think twice before making light of Chernobyl.
(Cover photo via @evening.standard)