‘Dark tourist’ and our desire for the macabre

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Most of our lives are so sheltered and anodyne that it would be a refreshing jolt to become exposed to horror in controlled conditions.

Engaging with the macabre can bring us in closer awareness of our mortality. This is not necessarily a bad thing. | Reuters

When I first heard of the Netflix series Dark Tourist , I thought it would be a well-produced parody of travel shows — a much-needed escape from the mass-manufactured montages of pretty beaches and sunsets where the vlogging show host seems to be haunted by the ghost of Zindagi Na Mile Dobara .

Dark Tourist sticks out, in the age of overbearing travel shows, like an amputated thumb — bloody, gory, but at the same time, hard to turn your eyes away from.

The eight-part docu-series begins with charming yet restrained TV journalist David Farrier bracing us for some of the most bizarre sights and sounds he encountered during his endeavour to tick places off Darth Vader’s bucket list. Places and experiences you and I would visit if we were paid to, but are incredibly popular among the dark tourists because of its historical association with death and tragedy.

 

 

While he chases hordes of tourists in warzones, nuclear sites and on group tours built around serial killers, Farrier can’t help but question their intent and sanity. Why would anyone in their right mind pay to holiday in hell? Although the title sequence casually tells us, the journalist himself has “always been drawn to the weird side of life”, a sentiment he seems to have in common with his interviewees.

Everybody comes home with the predictable experience of visiting a bunch of monuments and landscapes but there’s no thrill in that, says a guy while casually strolling along in the suicide forest of Japan. In another episode, a bunch of women confess that there’s a certain “bad boy” appeal to psychopaths that draws you to them.

At first, I mocked their idea of a happy holiday. But by episode three, my curiosity had the better of me. Just like dark tourists, I wanted to know more about the death-worshipping cult in Mexico, the real-life vampires of New Orleans and the voodoo-practising tribes in Africa. I couldn’t help but feel Farrier’s anxiety as he traversed through the remnants of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Undoubtedly, there’s an alluring quality to the macabre. Like cat videos, it offers us an escape from our daily mundane lives.

 

The grotesque and shocking imagery of Dark Tourist jolts us into contemplating our own lives and being grateful for what we have.

 

From a psychological stand point, our fascination with the macabre makes a lot of sense. Since childhood, most of us are meticulously protected from all things evil. Death is an uncomfortable subject to talk about. A discourse on tragedy is often omitted from history books for fear of things turning political. Perhaps, then, it is natural for us adults to subliminally seek out experiences that makes us aware of own mortality.

Not to sound like an out-of-job poet, but it’s true — life is best experienced through the awareness of death. Nothing catalyses our understanding of life like the idea of death. In the older Roman days, death was witnessed by one and all through meticulously planned public executions. The sight of a beheaded corpse was as common as potholes are on Indian roads. Death was less feared, rather more accepted as the inevitable and natural end.

While the death of a closed one is considered a loss, experiencing somebody else’s tragedy allows us to understand death in a more objective away. When we hear of a celebrity’s untimely death, we let out a collective sigh. The media drowns all ethics of journalism in a bathtub, while pursuing death like red-bellied piranhas. Do you think all this public interest stems from an all-encompassing grief? I say it comes from a heightened consciousness of our own mortality. “She was healthy and happy. If it happened to her, it could happen to me too”, are the thoughts that rush in our head as we preemptively shed tears in anticipation of the fate that awaits us as well as out of relief that it hasn’t yet befallen us.

 

While shows like Dark Tourist work because of their uninhibited musings on death and devastation, it’s also a worthwhile reminder of how easy we’ve had it in our lives. According to a research scholar, dark tourism plays an important role in helping us ponder over our past, offering lessons on how to avoid a repeat of the mistakes our ancestors made. A trip to Auschwitz, for instance, can act as a reminder to avoid subscribing to fascist ideologies lest you end up reenacting the history of a country reeling from the guilt of hate-crimes committed over six decades ago.

The grotesque and shocking imagery of Dark Tourist jolts us into contemplating our own lives and being grateful for what we have. While the residents of Fukushima continue to suffer from the radiation caused by nuclear accident, our idea of tragedy is often limited to getting late to work, thanks to the traffic snarls caused by the verysame potholes we live amongst and let live.

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