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When I first heard of Netflix’s latest addition Dark Tourist, I thought it was a well-produced parody of travel shows. A much-needed escape from the mass manufactured montages of pretty beaches and sunsets where the vlogger seems to be caught in the ghost of Zindagi Na Mile Dobara.
In the age of overbearing travel shows, Dark Tourist sticks out 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 while ticking places off Darth Vader’s bucket list. Places and experiences you and I would never pay for, but are incredibly popular among the dark tourists because of its historical association with death and tragedy.
While chasing the horde 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 wild side of life”, a sentiment he seems to have in common with his interviewees.
Everybody comes home with a bunch of predictable experience of visiting monuments and landscapes but there’s no thrill in that, says a guy while casually strolling at 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 took 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-practicing tribes in Africa. I couldn’t help but feel Farrier’s anxiety while traversing through the remnants of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Undoubtedly, there’s an alluring quality to the macabre. Just like unicorns and cat videos, the exploration of macabre offers us an escape from our daily mundane lives.
From a psychological stand point, our fascination with the macabre, makes perfect sense. Since childhood, we’re constantly protected from all things evil. Death is an uncomfortable subject to talk about. A discourse on tragedy is often omitted from history books, out of fear of things turning political. Perhaps it’s natural for us adults, to subliminally seek 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 death. Nothing provokes 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 on Indian roads. Death was less feared but accepted as the inevitable end.
While the death of a closed one is considered as 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? Nope, it comes from an heightened fear 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.
While shows like Dark Tourist work because of its 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 pondering over our past, offering lessons on how to avoid repeating the mistakes, made by our ancestors. A trip to Auschwitz, for instance is a reminder of how not to subscribe to fascist ideologies disguised in the name of nationalism or else you would end up being a country, reeling in the guilt of hate-crimes, committed over six decades ago. (*take hint India*).
The grotesque and shocking imagery of Dark Tourist jolts us to contemplate on our lives and be 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 potholes.