"Dark tourism" is the phenomenon of people visiting places where tragedies once took place. While visiting, they will typically photograph the place and themselves on location, allowing viewers to feel like they are there themselves, too.
To give just a few examples: there are people who have photographed themselves with the Concordia ship behind them, the cruise ship that sank on the Italian island of Giglio due to the captain’s recklessness, and there are others who went to see where the cable car fell from the summit of Mottarone. There are others who travel for hours to take pictures of themselves in front of a house where a murder took place or on a street that was once a crime scene. Social network feeds are full of similar "reportages.”
What’s behind this sort of behavior? Can distinctions be made between different places that remind us of death?
According to one author, Rojek, places like concentration camps are to be distinguished from other crime scenes that attract visitors.
There are some places that evoke a sense of remembrance of the past and the history of humanity, while others are visited out of sheer curiosity.
In the first case, there is often an interest in learning about historical events, understanding what caused them, and, hopefully, thinking about how we can work to keep it from happening again.
Going to a place where a plane has just crashed or where someone has been killed, on the other hand, means giving space to a cheap and superficial curiosity. We could define this form of tourism as "morbid," “dark,” or “macabre.”
The latter is part of “Dark Tourism,” in which locations become a “good” commodified by those who visit these reminders of man’s mortality. This phenomenon stands out due to the attention the media gives to particular events.
What makes places related to death so attractive to us? Why show others pictures of these locations?
It’s likely that we visit places where there has been one or multiple deaths (i.e., places where recent disasters or accidents have occurred) in order to experience strong emotions. Feelings that arise in these places will probably linger with us for the rest of the day.
Dark tourism is kind of like a horror movie, though it shakes us more than a movie would since it isn’t fiction. It’s impressive, upsetting, attractive, and thrilling.
This pull we have to experience intense emotions (and death—the great unknown—brings on intense emotions so easily) goes beyond our rational minds, which aims to protect us from experiencing anxiety brought on in certain places.
Doesn’t it seem foolish to visit a place that makes us feel anxious? And yet, the demand for dark tourism is on the rise. There are more and more people who want to feel special and important. They may feel that sharing photos of these locations can get them the attention they seek.
The macabre attracts us perhaps because it brings us closer, in some way, to something we don’t fully understand—death. Nevertheless, people remain concerned about mortality and have so many questions about it. So, in addition to experiencing intense emotions at these sites and escaping the boredom of their daily lives, people also confront their fear of death.
Keeping curiosity at bay...out of respect!
Relatives or friends of those who have been victims of crimes or disasters often suffer at the mere sight of the place where their loved one lost his or her life.
Before trivializing the meaning of such a place with a smiling selfie, shouldn’t we ask ourselves what the relatives of the victims would think if they saw us?
If we want to experience intense emotions, we could instead go to a concert, the cinema, the theater, or an amusement park.
Above all, why not try to make ourselves useful by, say, volunteering in places where people are most vulnerable and need extra care?
Is there any greater thrill than seeing someone get better by their own drive of the will and with a little assistance?
Do we even really need to go to crime scenes to encounter death? Wouldn’t it be more peaceful to simply look to the Crucifix, where we can look toward He who has conquered death for us?