Key Words; Dark tourism, Thanatourism, Visitor motivations, Post-modernity, Holocaust
Thanatourism -Entertainment for the Dark Side of Human Nature or Spiritual Contemplation on Death?
Dark Tourism means tourism which concentrates on places that have been scenes for death, tragedy and disaster. (Stone & Sharpley, 2008) It is also called 'Thanatourism', the name derived from term 'Thanatopsis', which is a human process of getting used to the idea of death. (Slade, 2003) This kind of tourism is not a new phenomenon as people have always travelled to places of death, one of the earliest examples being the Roman Gladiatorial games. (Stone, 2006)
Thanatourism has received much critique and such strong links with death and tourism have persisted throughout history that death related tourism has been referred to as 'the dirty little secret of the industry'. (Stone, 2006) Visitor motivations have been brought to ethical discussion and it has been suggested that the main motivation would be curiosity over the deaths themselves, hence it could be hardly said that Thanatourism would be a positive tool for helping people to accept and confront death. (Slade, 2003) However tourism to 'dark' places has been growing significantly and theorists have noticed and attempted to understand it, as the phenomenon specifically in the last century has become more widespread and diverse.(Stone & Shapley, 2008)
Categorization of death-related attractions is complex. Some support the idea of different shades of dark tourism, which range from 'fun parks' such as the London Dungeon to camps of genocide. (Stone, 2006) However it has been strongly suggested that dark tourism is an intimation of post-modernity. The rationale behind this argument is that death has been commercialized and commoditized as dark tourism attractions. Further sign of such connection with post-modernity is the role of media in attracting attention to these places and the fact that many sites create anxiousness regarding the results of modernity, such as the Holocaust camps. In this view it is also concluded that that although there is no separable niche-market for dark tourism; a dark tourist is usually driven to the attraction by serendipity and curiosity.(Lennon & Foley, 2000)
It has been suggested that due to the constant presence of artificially re-created or re-presented death in the media, people feel more isolated than ever from 'real' death. Sanitation and professionalizing death (which means that the dying are dealt with in hospitals instead of within the society) and funerals are highly private, has left the people to deal with the issue of dying alone. Questioning of meta-narratives, such as religion, also contributes towards post-modern anxiety. In the light of the almost taboo-like role of death in contemporary society, some suggest that visiting dark tourism places could provide a chance for tourists to confront 'real' death and come to terms with it. (Stone & Sharpley, 2008)
However there is more criticism towards the motives for consumption of death sites than there is acceptance of it. Criticism towards dark tourism for prioritizing the 'visual' and 'experiential' over the need for accurate historical interpretation has also been recognized as one of the symptoms of Post-modernity. It has been said that in some cases the barrier between delivering a message and the capitalization on the tragic events has become blurred or un-distinguishable. Some further critique towards the supply of dark tourism products is that this consumption -whatever the true motivation of the consumer- is seemingly often disguised as education and/or entertainment. (Stone, 2005)
Holocaust is described to be one of the most unimaginable, scarring, dark events in human history. Hence the suggestion that a fitting example of exploitation of dark history would be the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., is rather disturbing. The museum is said to be a Disney-like tour', which leaves very little for interpretation of his attitude towards the attraction. The visitors are provided with ID-cards of real victims of the holocaust and they can swipe them during the exhibition to see how their holocaust victim is 'progressing' at the death camp. Opinions have been addressed also about the questionable, continuous, extremely graphic, visual presentation of the executions of the victims. .(Lennon & Foley, 1999)
While entering a discourse about the purpose of this museum Lennon & Foley (1999) admit that the holocaust exerts considerable attention and interest of people due to the fascinating and seductive nature of it. A truly valid question, which should also be considered in context of the supply side of tourism, has been raised about the consumption of dark material from the holocaust; "Is exposure to barbarism an antidote to that very barbarism?" It is rather easy to pick out the darkest form of Thanatourism and point out the moral issues concerning it. However if it is so easy to recognize these issues that occur in re-presenting one of the most sensitive and painful historical events, it certainly calls for attention to the question: "Where do we draw the line with consuming other peoples' suffering and death?"
Lennon, J. & Foley, M.(1999) 'Interpretation of the Unimaginable: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum', Washington, D.C. and "Dark Tourism, Journal of Travel Research, Vol. 38 (iss 1) pp. 46-50
Lennon, J. & Foley M. (2000) Dark Tourism -The Attraction of Death and Disaster, Continuum; London
Stone, P & Sharpley, R. (2008) 'Consuming Dark Tourism: A Thanatological Perspective', Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 35 (iss 2) pp. 574-595