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Discover a World of Unreality: Dark Tourism, London Dungeons and Dracula in Whitby

Discover a World of Unreality: Dark Tourism, London Dungeons and Dracula in Whitby
Author: Kimberley Banks
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The consumption of 'dark attractions' is an increasingly popular form of tourism; much attention has been paid as to the motivation for such experiences. Theorists have suggested that dark tourism provides a 'coping mechanism' to confront death in contemporary society (Stone and Sharpley, 2008). This idea is explored in relation to two hyper-real attractions, which allow the tourist an escape from reality, where their morbid curiosity can be fully implemented.

KEYWORDS: Dark Tourism, Hyper-reality, Escapism

Dark tourism is a sinister and complex phenomenon. Stone and Sharpley (2008) surmised that this dark behaviour, could in fact be a way in which human beings can 'safely' explore their curiosity with death and dying, in contemporary society. In the present day, with much help from the media, people are constantly subjected to stories and images concerning death and suffering and for many, the concept of mortality is one that is genuinely feared. Stone and Sharpley (2008) suggest engagement in dark tourism allows "both the individual and collective self a pragmatic confrontational mechanism to begin the process of neutralising the impact of mortality". Their motivation therefore is to achieve a 'coping mechanism'; an escape from the harsh reality of death, by actually experiencing a desensitised version of it.

Concentrating on two specific dark tourism attractions, namely the London Dungeons and Dracula in Whitby, tourists are able to experience a morbid hyper-reality; a method in which symbols and signs are repeatedly used to imitate the conditions of a particular situation (Baudrillard, 1976). This is an enhanced truth, where it is easy to get lost and detached from the real world. It is better than reality. Nobody wants to experience the firsthand pain and sufferings associated with these dark events, yet are drawn in by the 'safe' and 'protected' environment.

The London Dungeons presents a re-enacted tour of real historical events, such as the Great Fire of London and Jack the Ripper. The attraction also shocking provides a simulated hanging experience: 'The Drop Ride to Hell'. Whilst there is a distinct entertainment element to the ride, it is also decidedly sinister. The atmosphere is purposely built up to provoke fear and anxiety, tourists are said to be at Newgate Prison and 'at the mercy of the hangman' mock nooses are hanging in front of them and the drop is about 15 feet. Many of the features within the dungeon allow the tourists to engage in 'death role play scenarios' where it is possible for fantasy and reality to become blurred, yet in a socially acceptable setting. It appears as though we as human beings have an incessant curiosity with death. So far so, that in some cases, we are aiming to come as close to the experience as possible without suffering the fatalism of reality.

Bram Stokers' Dracula in Whitby portrays the fictional character and Macabre Legend of a novelist's imagination, hence a pure dark fantasy experience. During the 'Dracula Trail' tourists follow a route in which they retrace steps and specific locations that characters were said to have encountered in the Dracula novel. This allows a 'projection' into the role of the characters and into a fantasy world. The vampire icon is undoubtedly linked to darkness and mortality. Not only is it linked to macabre acts, but also youth and immortality; inevitably gaining a strong fascination by those who fear mortality, or are simply morbidly curious about death. Sanes (2008) also suggests these types of fantasy environments give the participants a sense of 'mastery' and power over their fears. The character of the vampire possess the power to manipulate mortality and for a short amount of time, the participant can manipulate the simulated environment; giving them "a perceived immunity from death" (Stone and Sharpley, 2008).

Sanes (2008) refers to these types of simulated hyper real experiences as 'Symbolic Areas'. They are 'safe' environments in which participants are able to act out their fantasies that personify their desires and fears in a way that real life just does not allow. "These haunted environments allow visitors to play the role of victims of evil, creating a fictional risk in which they survive to tell the tale" (Sanes, 2008). When the tourist engages in a hyper-real dark tourism attraction, it could be that they are able to confront their nightmares about mortality and transfer their fears into a state of unreality, yet come out the other side 'unharmed'. Are there risks associated with this type of behaviour however? As hyper-reality becomes more wide spread in society, are we allowing ourselves to become seduced by simulation? (Baudrillard, 1976) It could be argued that instead of experiencing physical reality and dissecting the difficulties of human nature (such as mortality) we rely on the provision of a fictional world in which our 'coping mechanism' is to in fact, distort reality.

Baudrillard, J. (1976) The Hyper-realism of Simulation [online]. Accessed via Google Scholar at < http://www.launchprojects.com/IMAGES/Jean%20Baudrillard%20.pdf>

Sanes, K. (2008a) A Culture Based on Fantasy and Acting Out [online]. Accessed via Transparency at <http://www.transparencynow.com/actout.htm>

Stone, P. and Sharpley, R. (2008) Consuming Dark Tourism: A Thanatological Perspective. Annuls of Tourism Research [online]. 35(2) pp.574-595. Accessed via Ebsco Host at <www.ebscohost.com>
Discover a World of Unreality: Dark Tourism, London Dungeons and Dracula in Whitby.
Author: Michelle Burge
This paper has been written with a logical approach. The abstract and keywords introduce the topic well, and the main body of writing that follows gives a full representation on the topic of Dark Tourism. The use of quotes and references throughout this passage implies that the subject has been appropriatley analysed in order the find the relevant information.

Kimberley has mentioned the 'coping mechanism', in relation to hyper-real attractions and morbid curiousity. The action of 'thrill-seeking' could also be supplementary to these issues. It is the Alloncentric tourist who travels for 'adventuresome exploration', (Shaw et al: 1994, Page 81). The coping mechanism causes a tourist to feel certain thoughts, including terror. This type of reaction can be related to the feeling of being on a rollercoaster. Kimberley has made a very good point in that the media exposes people to so many stories concerning death and suffering, that tourists are wanting to experience, to a certain extent the 'thrill' of being in danger, of the feelings associated with an unfortunate past event.

An aspect of this paper that I found most interesting was where Kimberley describes how people can explore their curiousity in a 'safe and protected' environment. According to George, (2002), 'if tourists feel unsafe at a destination, they are not likely to take part in activities outside their accomodation facility'. The illustration that follows, (The London Dungeons), is a perfect example of an attraction where tourists can visit, and the only risk they are exposing themselves to is that of illusory fear.

The issues raised throughout this paper; morbid curiousity, morbid hyper-reality and simulation for example all contribute to the entertainment factor. Shadenfreude is a word that describes the, 'deriving of pleasure from the misery and suffering of others'. Kimberley has written this paper in such a way that it can be open to interpretation from its readers. Dark tourism in itself is a subject with many opinions. The information given in this paper could be used to decide whether 'shadenfreude' is a positive or negative element within the tourism industry.

In the last paragraph of Kimberley's paper, she discusses the potential risks that dark tourist attractions can have on a tourist. The possibility of being 'seduced by simulation' is a frightening one, particularly as it suggests that tourists are allowing themselves to be taken in by the replication of dark and disasterous events. According to Baudrillard, 'the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented… the representations become more important than the real thing'. This could suggest that dark tourism attractions are no-longer taking into account the terrible event from which they emerged. Therefore, a further question could be asked as to whether the ethnicity of these attractions are being forgotton, and instead of paying respects for example, it is the thrill-seeking experience that a tourist wishes to gain.

Shaw, Allen and Williams, (1994). Critical issues in Tourism: A geographical perspective. Blackwell Publishers LTD, Oxford. Second Edition. Page 81.

Richard George, (2002). Tourist's perceptions of safety and security while visiting Cape Town. Tourism Management, Volume 24: Issue 5.University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. Page 575.

Baudrillard, J. (1976) The Hyper-realism of Simulation [online]. Accessed via Google Scholar at < http://www.launchprojects.com/IMAGES/Jean%20Baudrillard%20.pdf>