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TRavel | Pi Magazine 713

mortality Killing Fields and the S21 Genocide Museum in Cambodia, and I wasn’t quite prepared how difficult that day would be. The barbaric history of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, which slaughtered millions of innocent civilians, was something I hadn’t heard that much about previously. When the tour guide described the staggering extent of the violence, the group’s collective was palpable. Although I came away from the Killing Fields with mixed feelings, I definitely don’t regret going because it gave me a crucial insight into Cambodia’s troubled history and the national conscious of the country I was visiting. We hear statistics about atrocities like the Holocaust everyday, but to me numbers are so alienating that I don’t think they help me fully comprehend the horror. Physically being at the places where these atrocities happened humanises them. At the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam, being led through the tiny and cramped attic where she lived in hiding with her family was a physical explanation of how truly awful this period in history was. The museum is an important memorial, bringing her story to life – a reminder to us that each victim of the Holocaust was a person with hopes and dreams like any one of us. For families and descendants of victims, visiting these places is a way to pay tribute to their ancestors who have suffered. When Jonny Weinberg, a second year History student, visited the Holocaust memorial

in Prague with his family, they stumbled across the name “Weinberg” on the memorial. According to Weinberg, this was a powerful moment for all of them.

Are these sights simply exploiting the suffering of others? But those of us without a personal connection to a human catastrophe lack that specific motivation for visiting some of these places. More often than not, we are driven by a morbid curiosity to find out more about unfortunate events. In the same way that someone might watch documentaries about plane crashes or murders, we as human beings have a macabre fascination with death and inhumanity. Another question is whether it’s ethical to make money off of these tragedies. Does the educational aspect outweigh the financial gain? Are these sights simply exploiting the suffering of others? In the case of genocide, our obligation to commemorate the atrocities as a warning to future generations likely outweighs any negatives.

Photo Credit: Helen Dickman

That being said, there are troubling aspects of the dark tourism trade. A practice some have dubbed “poverty porn”, in which people visit slums like Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, is increasingly common. Although visitors may see a slum tour as a way to give themselves perspective on their own lives, something about it is uncomfortable. The proceeds raised from these tours do go to local charities, which benefits the residents of the slums, but wealthy people effectively paying to observe people who are suffering as a form of entertainment is deeply unsettling. Past suffering is one thing, but this is almost definitely voyeuristic and exploitative. In light of recent disasters, dark tourism sites are constantly springing up. The Costa Concordia, a cruise ship that sank two years ago off the coast of Italy, has already become a tourist draw. The Fukushima plant at the centre of the 2011 nuclear disaster is currently being transformed into a tourist attraction. Given that humanity will always be at the mercy of nature and itself, there will not be a shortage of sites in the future either. However, it would be a shame if these sites weren’t open to the public. Even though dark tourism can seem exploitative, most of these sites are thoughtfully set up to promote reflection. If I hadn’t visited any of these sites, my awareness of these issues would be nowhere near what it is today. Seeing them for yourself is such a powerful experience. Yes they charge for admission, but as long as the money goes toward something positive, whether that be educational outreach programs or charitable initiatives, the pros outweigh the cons.

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Profile for Pi Media, UCLU

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...