May 5 2014

Dark Tourism Group Essay


above: Auschwitz-Birkenau

Dark tourism, or tourism centered around historically significant death or tragedy, is a relatively new field of study though its practice goes back as long as people have travelled. Within the past few decades, debate over dark tourism has emerged over its value commercially, educationally and culturally. As a result, the contributors to the project entered into this conversation looking to delve deeper into some of these concerns. They analyzed the development of the industry over time, the impact media has on the industry, and the educational importance of various dark tourism sites. Ultimately, they arrived at different conclusions regarding the value of the dark tourism industry. While Will Blommer and Willie Halsted urge that dark tourism serves as tool of education, a method of honoring victims of tragedy, and as a medium to contemplate mortality, Audrey Vitalo and Nicholas Bowe argue that dark tourism is exploitative of tragedy and serves primarily as a source of entertainment for tourists.

Will Blommer, in an effort to analyze the evolution and significance of dark tourism, argues that dark tourism has evolved to take on the function of mortality contemplation as well as a tool for peace and prevention.  Blommer claims that early on, religious institutions provided a space to contemplate death yet as society grew more secular and death more privatized, dark tourism sites grew to fill that role. While Blommer agrees with Bowe and Vitalo that dark tourism has been increasingly affected by commercialization, he disagrees with the effect it has on the industry. Blommer claims that ultimately, dark tourism sites became more commercialized in order to effectively convey their message to a large audience. As well, dark tourism sites have grown as an instrument of education that “empower the dead to pass on their story and exert an influence on the visitors” (Blommer 5). This is similar to Halsted’s claim regarding the US Holocaust Museum functioning as a positive form of dark tourism.

Willie Halsted, in his essay “The Holocaust: An Event to Remember,” argues that the U.S. Holocaust Museum is a positive form of dark tourism because it provides a place to remember the past and educate future generations. In some cases, such as those presented by Vitalo and Bowe, dark tourism is mainly used for entertainment and profit. However, it would be incorrect to universalize this statement to every form of dark tourism, including the Holocaust Museum. The Museum holds thousands of artifacts intended to commemorate the millions of murdered Jews and force visitors to think about the moral implications of indifference versus standing up to genocide and hate. A crucial role of the Museum as an educational institute is its presentation as a historical narrative museum. The exhibits are presented in context, allowing the visitor to emotionally connect with the time period and analyze what should have been done to prevent such an atrocity. Halsted states that “ the Holocaust Museum is the model of dark tourism because it exemplifies what it means to turn a macabre historical event into an educational masterpiece” (1). He argues that upon leaving the Museum most visitors will have a strong opinion on how to prevent current and future forms of genocide rather than a sense of satisfaction that comes from being entertained.

In contrast to Blommer and Halsted, Nicholas Bowe, in his essay “The Current Flaws and Potential Benefits of Dark Tourism” explores many facets of the dark tourism industries related to the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide and concludes that dark tourism sites are currently exploitative and lack societal value. He believes that the dark tourism industry relating to the Holocaust is the most developed and widespread in the world, yet he still sees many ways that these sites can be improved upon or altered to be more respectful and authentic. Bowe sees an opportunity for Cambodia to radically alter and ameliorate its dark tourism industry.  He says, “They can move away from their explicitly exploitive past and completely rebrand their industry” (Bowe 6). There is very much that Cambodia can learn from Holocaust memorial sites, but there is also room to improve on those sites and create a model for the dark tourism industry worldwide. Although Bowe disagrees with Blommer and Halsted by arguing that dark tourism currently does not have significant educational and commemorative influence in any instances, he recognizes that it is possible to create dark tourism that is beneficial to society by focusing on the culture and lives of victims.

Like Bowe, Audrey Vitalo’s article, “Dark Tourism and Media”, concludes that dark tourism has become a source of entertainment rather than of education, although unlike Bowe, Vitalo comes to this conclusion by looking through the lens of media. Its primary focus is the film, Titanic, although it also explores photojournalism and literature. Vitalo argues that due to media’s goal of attracting the attention of the largest number of people, it unintentionally creates an air of entertainment that surrounds the dark tourism industry. Here she differs from Bowe, in that he argues dark tourism is designed with the intention to entertain. Vitalo goes on to describe that the atmosphere of entertainment generated from media then translates to the sites themselves which causes people to visit in search of entertainment rather than education and respect, with film being the most detrimental. Vitalo’s final argument is that “the popularity of media works to shape which sites society deems more important than others,” (Vitalo 2), which, combined with media’s purpose to entertain, unintentionally turn revered sites of death into entertaining tourist traps.

Since dark tourism is such a new field of study, there is a wealth of topics to be explored, and the conversation is still very open. As a result, in their independent research the authors came to very different conclusions. Although the four contributors analyzed very different aspects of dark tourism, they all led back to evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of dark tourism, which resulted in disagreement among the authors. Since there are so many forms of dark tourism throughout the world, it is difficult to assess the entire industry and make sweeping conclusions. Regarding the future, there is still much to be added to the conversation of dark tourism as it becomes more defined and scrutinized. As research into dark tourism continues and the industry itself develops, we welcome other scholars who can elaborate and build on the foundations of our work.


May 5 2014

The Holocaust: An Event to Remember


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

            Most people’s idea of an enjoyable, relaxing vacation doesn’t involve killing fields, gas chambers or disaster zones. They would rather lie on the white sandy beaches of sunny Mexico. But as unorthodox as it is, the number of people visiting historical sites of death and suffering is growing every year. The Cambodian killing fields, ground zero and Aushwitz-Birkenau are some of the most infamous dark tourism attractions. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. is no exception to the dark tourism label. But is there a difference between the killing fields of Cambodia and the Holocaust Museum? Dark tourism has an inherently negative connotation but that does not mean it is always harmful to acknowledge the past in a mature manner. In many ways the Holocaust Museum is the model of dark tourism because it exemplifies what it means to turn a macabre historical event into an educational masterpiece. That being said, the opening of the Museum was not without controversy. To this day critics argue that the authenticity and purpose of the Holocaust Museum are flawed. Philip Gourevich, the son of two Holocaust survivors, asks, “Is exposure to barbarism an antidote to that very barbarism?” (8). Gourevich points to the argument made by many critics that the videos, pictures and writing give it an entertainment value that undermines its educational role. J. John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, the two authors who coined the term “dark tourism,” argue that the Holocaust was a uniquely European event and that the Museum has no place in the United States. However, these critics are failing to acknowledge the extent to which education and memorialization are emphasized above entertainment and profit in every corner of the Museum. To ignore such a powerful historical event would be a failed opportunity to educate new generations about the dangers of indifference and hate. Although there are many examples of dark tourism exploiting historical events for profit and entertainment, the Holocaust Museum is not one of them. The Holocaust Museum is a positive form of dark tourism because it serves as a tool to educate and memorialize a historically important event.

To those who experienced the Holocaust first hand, the Museum is a place for remembrance. Every architectural detail was carefully planned out and made to be as authentic as possible to give the visitors an accurate representation of the time period. The staircase in the entry room resembles the tracks of the rail cars and the archway at the top is nearly identical to the one through which Jews entered Aushwitz-Birkaneu. There are over 5,000 artifacts, including pictures, videos, and a rail car used to transport Jews. These artifacts commemorate all of victims that experienced the Holocaust, including those who aided fleeing Jews, and remind survivors and Jewish relatives of the cruelty that existed between 1933 and 1945. As Bill Clinton expressed at the opening ceremony, “If this Museum can mobilize mortality, then those who have perished will thereby gain a measure of immortality” (1). Clinton is expressing the power the Museum has to celebrate the lives of those who died and those still living. The Museum furthers its role as a memorial by offering lectures, plays, concerts and interviews for survivors and relatives of victims. By walking the halls of the Museum they are reminded of the people and events, good or bad, that shaped their lives and brought them to their current state of being.

Critics of the Museum, such as Lennon and Foley, argue that the location and purpose of the museum make it a negative form of dark tourism. According to them, the Holocaust was an event that occurred in Europe and to have a memorial in the United States, a country with a Jewish population under 3%, is disrespectful. However, to say the Holocaust was uniquely European is ignorant. The forces of the Holocaust touched many people across the globe, from Gypsies in North Africa to Jews worldwide. It affected any country that accepted or denied fleeing Jews and it affected any country that fought in World War II, including America. The United States sacrificed thousands of American lives in the fight to preserve the human right to freedom of religion and pluralism. The fact that the pre-opening ceremony was held in Arlington National Cemetery, amongst the many thousands of Americans that lost their lives fighting on behalf of the Jews, is a testament to how appropriate the Museum’s location is. As our world becomes increasingly globalized, a genocide that occurs in any country is a crime for which every country should strive to prevent. Everyone can learn from an event such as the Holocaust whether they experienced it first hand or barely at all. The purpose of the Museum is strong and clear: “for the dead and living we must bear witness.” The Museum reminds everyone, Jewish or not, the power of human evil and teaches them how it can be prevented.

In its essence, the Holocaust Museum is a hall of remembrance, a memorial to those who suffered. It is a promise that the injustices faced will never be forgotten or repeated. The decades following the Holocaust were known as the “Conspiracy of silence” because the world community wanted to forget their past. This silence was the worst thing that could have happened. Nobody could grieve the dead or learn from history. Societies create communal identities and make meaning of their past through their memories. Memory dictates how people relate to one another and enables the process of reconciliation in the aftermath of unjust events such as the Holocaust (Greene 117). Think of a wise old man sharing stories from his “glory days.” Some stories will be positive, some will be negative, but they all shaped his life and can teach the next generation critical lessons. Trying to forget those stories would be the real tragedy, as would trying to forget the Holocaust. As the old adage states, “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The Holocaust Museum promotes justice by forcing the world to take accountability for their actions.

Along with being a memorial, the central purpose of the Holocaust Museum is to educate the public in order to prevent future crimes of similar magnitude. According to Jeshajahu Weinberg, the founding director of the Holocaust Museum, “The most crucial aspect of the Museum’s educational role is demonstrating the applicability of the moral lessons learned from the Holocaust to current and future events” (19). Weinberg’s point is that the Museum goes beyond just educating people about the Holocaust; it “universalizes” the moral conclusions that society has come to through such a surreal experience. Although the Holocaust was a very specific event, the Museum teaches society that one person can make a difference and to be a bystander is to share in the guilt. Many Jews lived because there were thousands of people willing to help. It also teaches visitors that the human spirit is strong enough to triumph over evil; people simply need to take action. When countries and individuals are facing decisions on how to react to similar atrocities in the future, they need only walk the halls of the Holocaust Museum to determine what the result of their inaction will be. In this way the Museum serves as a warning monument and moral compass for millions of visitors every year.

Crucial to the role of the Holocaust Museum as an institution for education rather than a form of entertainment is its unique presentation as a historical narrative museum rather than a traditional history museum. This aspect differentiates it from negative forms of dark tourism. The core purpose of a traditional history museums is to collect, preserve, and display historical objects (Weinberg, Elieli 49). Traditional history museums are less effective than narrative museums at educating their visitors mentally, emotionally and morally because they convey information without providing context. Context allows visitors to identify with the time period and emotionally relate to an event rather than just learn about a technological achievement or work of art. Through primary writings, pictures, videos and diagrams the Museum educates visitors on every year of the Holocaust from before Hitler rose to power until after the war ended. Upon entering the exhibit visitors can choose to take an ID card of a Jew that experienced Nazi Germany. Throughout the Museum they can track the status of their individual as it was during the Holocaust. This chronological order and connection to a specific person from the time period help people grasp the gravity of the event. In a review written by Leon Wieseltier of The Baltimore Sun, “The Holocaust Museum is a pedagogical masterpiece” (1). Wieseltier argues that the layout of the Museum provides the most conducive environment for learning about the Holocaust because every individual exhibit is understood in the context of the previous exhibit. By presenting the material as a narrative, visitors are forced to think analytically and ask themselves what actions they would take if history were to repeat itself. This narrative presentation engulfs visitors and is the reason they spend, on average, two more hours in the Holocaust Museum than a traditional history museum (Weinberg, Elieli 49). If the Holocaust Museum were a negative form of dark tourism there would be an entrance fee to watch a series of movie clips of Jews being killed. But it doesn’t. It explains, in detail, every aspect of the Holocaust from before a single victim was touched until the liberation of the death camps.

Critics such as Lennon and Foley did not see the purpose of opening the Holocaust Museum and when they coined the term “dark tourism” they put the Holocaust Museum under that generalization. Lennon and Foley were wrong to do so. They looked at the Museum far too generally and did not acknowledge the power it has in every detail to teach its visitors how to prevent a future Holocaust. Every aspect of the Museum took time and planning and serves an important purpose. From top to bottom it emphasizes education and remembrance. Lennon and Foley ignore what an atrocious wrongdoing it would be to continue the “conspiracy of silence” by trying to forget an event so imposing. For survivors and relatives of the victims it filled that silence by providing an important memorial to commemorate those before them. For those who don’t know anything about the Holocaust it serves to educate them about the potential for human evil. For everyone it is a place where serious moral questions about genocide can be asked and applied to the current world. As Jimmy Carter said, “We must harness the outrage of our own memories to stamp out oppression wherever it exists” (1). The only way to “harness” our memories is to acknowledge them in the first place. Just because an historical event such as the Holocaust is dark does not take away from the constructive lessons that can be learned. What makes dark tourism good or bad is the way the material is presented and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. presents it perfectly.




Works Cited

Carter, Jimmy, President. “Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust
Remarks at a Commemorative Ceremony.” Rotunda of the Capitol,
Washington D.C. 24 April 1979. Speech.
                                                                                                            Clinton, William J., President. “Remarks at the Dedication of the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum.” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Washington D.C. 22 April 1993. Speech.


Greene, Roberta R. Studies of the Holocaust: Lessons in Survivorship. London:

Routledge, 2011. Print.

                                                                                                            Gouretvitch, Philip. “Behold Now Behemoth.” Harper’s Magazine 07 1993: 55-62.
Proquest. Web. 4 May 2014.


Lennon, J. John, and Malcom Foley. Interpretation of the Unimaginable: The U.S.

Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., and ‘Dark Tourism’

International Journal of Tourism Research: 46-50. Print.


Weinberg, Jeshajahu, and Rina Elieli. The Holocaust Museum in Washington. New

York City: Rizzoli International, 1995. Print.

                                                                                                            Wieseltier, Leon. "Reflections on the Holocaust Museum." The Baltimore Sun
[Baltimore] 25 Apr. 1993: n. pag. Print.

May 5 2014

“The Current Flaws and Potential Benefits of Dark Tourism” by Nicholas Bowe


Tuol Sleng facility in Cambodia


Presently, dark tourism, or tourism that focuses primarily on death or tragedy, is seldom presented in a way that truly honors or celebrates the lives of victims. Millions of people from all over the world travel to Germany, Poland, Cambodia, and even the United States to see and attempt to connect with genocide and tragedy through museums, memorials, and other forms of evidence of disaster. These sites attempt to memorialize the victims, educate visitors, present the shocking realities of death, and serve as a warning about future catastrophes. However, they face significant criticism, based on the claim that dark tourism sites simply capitalize on tragedy and appeal to humans’ natural intrigue with death. Sites related to the Holocaust have had more time to develop than those relating to the Cambodian genocide, and as a result, they integrate multimedia and create a more interactive experience in an unsuccessful attempt to enrich the experience for visitors and increase their ability to contemplate and understand tragedy. Although many sites worldwide make efforts to commemorate the victims, they still fail to properly honor them since they almost exclusively focus on their suffering rather than their culture and lives.

Dark tourism is a term that seems to carry negative connotations, but in reality, it can be defined as any tourist site that focuses mainly on death, tragedy, or disaster. As a result, many sites that make an effort to educate visitors incorrectly escape the label of dark tourism. Sites like the Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C. often escape this label because they are geographically detached from the concentration camps and death camps in Germany and Poland, yet these destinations exist solely because of previous catastrophes. Dark tourism is a term that should be used to categorize a site based on its content or focus, and its use should be free from connotations or evaluation of the quality of a site, or how respectful it is to the victims.

Both the Holocaust and Cambodian genocide were fueled by extreme political regimes, the fascist Nazis of Germany, and the Marxist and Maoist Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Both of these genocides were founded on extreme political outlooks and the idealist ambition of achieving a homogeneous population.  The Khmer Rouge and Nazis were both fueled by the prospect of a new and improved way of life, and millions of people, in both catastrophes fell victim. During the Holocaust in the 1940s, the Nazis strove to eliminate ethnic, religious, and other minorities from its population to create the Aryan race in Germany. Similarly, from 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge sought to establish a completely agrarian and egalitarian society in Cambodia and create a very rigid and conforming national identity. Although the motives and ultimate objectives of the perpetrators of these genocides do not coincide, the results are very similar. Innocent people were slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds of thousands; in both cases, these people were demographic minorities who were not deemed acceptable by the ruling majority. These two events still share one crucial similarity: the existence of physical evidence of the atrocities. Concentration and death camps in Eastern Europe, and prison and killing facilities in Cambodia have since been converted into dark tourism sites. In the past few decades, these sites have developed and grown in very different fashions, and the relatively nascent Cambodian dark tourism industry has the opportunity to build off of and improve upon the precedent set by the Holocaust’s examples of dark tourism.

The Holocaust has garnered more global attention than the Cambodian genocide because it happened decades before the Cambodian genocide, and because there was significant global involvement in World War II and the Holocaust. A crucial aspect in analyzing the success and efficacy of a dark tourism site is how long ago it happened. Generally, in the wake of genocides and other horrible events, there is an effort to destroy evidence and places associated with the incident because victims and societies wish to forget and move on from events like these. However, that despair gives way to more commemorative sentiment, and thus, people want to share and preserve what is left in order to honor those who fell victim and to serve as a preventative warning to others. Primo Levi, a survivor of the Holocaust, explained that “With the passing of years and decades, [barracks and death camps] do not lose any of their significance as a Warning Monument; rather, they gain in meaning” (qtd. Lennon and Foley 147). Levi explains that people who are linked to these genocides become more accepting and desire to use the remnants and evidence for beneficial purposes. This “chronological distance” helps explain why the Holocaust has gained more traction than the Cambodian genocide, which happened nearly forty years later. It is somewhat evident that Cambodia is becoming more open about its history as it gains more and more attention on the international stage.

Since the turn of the century, films, literature, and other media about the Cambodian genocide have been released and have received significant support and recognition. Many survivors of the genocide seem to be ready to share their nation’s previous plight, while also demonstrating the positive aspects of Cambodia and its culture. This supports the idea that Cambodia’s dark tourism industry is still developing and can still be improved. In addition to occurring much earlier, the Holocaust included significantly more Western involvement than the Cambodian genocide. In addition, World War II and the Holocaust occurred in very developed countries that have been crucial members of the global community for centuries. As a result, Western countries have a more intimate connection to the Holocaust, while Cambodia seems to many like a distant nation that has very little in common with Western nations.  Lastly, the victims of the Holocaust had very diverse identities, including their religion, sexual orientation, and other factors, which resulted in widespread advocacy, support, and emigration for numerous groups compared to the Cambodian genocide, which only targeted ethnic Cambodians. These factors all help explain why there are so many more Holocaust memorials and other methods of remembrance worldwide.

Holocaust memorials and commemoration sites around the globe have begun to include multimedia and other tactics to bring visitors closer to the tragedy; although these developments can sometimes result in a more powerful experience, they tend to dramatize the Holocaust in a manner that damages the educational and commemorative value of these sites. These sites, which are located in over twenty-five different countries, contain incredible variety: from the actual concentration and death camps in Poland and Germany like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau to museums and simple monuments all across the globe. J. John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, who wrote the groundbreaking book Dark Tourism, analyzed these modified concentration and death camps that attract millions of tourists each year and increasingly feature different types of media to give visitors an opportunity to become closer to the time period and the experience of being in these camps (28). Those numbers and observations of the concentration camps show how popular and developed the sites are and how much effort has been put into development of these sites.

Attempting to recreate what the camps used to be through multimedia and other features sensationalizes the conditions and even makes visitors take them less seriously. Lennon and Foley reason, “…there is an inherent danger in constant re-creation of the past, particularly if there is any attempt at stylization which can marginalize and indeed trivialize the enormity of the issues being dealt with” (29). These recreations walk a fine line between factual history and dramatization, which can make visitors take these events less seriously. As a result, the authenticity of these sites can be called into question and their efficacy in terms of educative value and warning value can lose legitimacy. As much as sites like these try to exaggerate their positive contributions to society, they are inextricably associated with death and suffering. Other memorials and museums like the one in Washington, D.C. bear no relation to the Holocaust geographically, yet still attempt to recreate the event. Since Washington, D.C. has no connection to the Holocaust in terms of history or location, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum relies heavily on fantasizing the experience of prisoners. These recreations also produce a detrimental effect on the experience of the visitor since the museum is largely founded on loosely factual practices like assigning visitors the identity of a concentration camp prisoner.  Museums are made to satisfy and compete for the attention of viewers, and this objective is what spawns the flaws of these sites. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other similar sites overstate their educational value and fail to recognize the detrimental effect they have on how people perceive the Holocaust. The alternative to these sites is not to banish all establishments related to the Holocaust. Instead, by limiting the commemoration to a symbolic memorial remains respectful, and does not delve into the aspects of dark tourism exhibitions that damage the visitor’s perspective on the event.  Many of these sites make very clear efforts to have a positive influence on society and the perception of the Holocaust, but their efforts are intrinsically flawed.

Cambodia is another nation that uses physical evidence of genocide as a means of attracting tourism. As of now, its most popular dark tourism sites demonstrate minimal effort to respect the victims and celebrate their lives and culture. Sites like Tuol Sleng, a massive prison where hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were detained, and Choeung Ek, the fields where many of these prisoners were killed, blatantly exploit the intrigue of death. Although these sites are branded as “museums” and “memorials” they do very little to educate or respect the dead. Choeung Ek features a pyramid of thousands of skull of those who were killed in the fields. This is clearly a tactic to fascinate visitors and bring them closer to the tragedy, and it violates the religious views of most of the people whose remains are on display. Elizabeth Becker, a travel writer who heavily criticized Cambodia’s dark tourism industry, points out that Buddhists believe that cremation is necessary to pass into the afterlife and be reincarnated; therefore, this exhibit, which supposedly commemorates the victims, directly contradicts their religious beliefs (107). Becker’s brings up fundamental religious concepts to identify yet another way that Choeunk Ek lacks respects for the innocent people who died there. Nearby, in Tuol Sleng, portraits of the prisoners line the walls. The Khmer Rouge regime kept extensive records, including these photos of the victims, often times within days of their death. Despite these extensive records, those who designed the museum elected not to include any names, or other personal information. Another key feature of Tuol Sleng’s exhibits are the tools with which the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed these innocent people. This is clearly sensationalizing the tragedy and magnify death rather than creating a deferential environment to the victims.

Within the last decade, many factors have come together to give Cambodia the opportunity to improve these dark tourism sites, and make them more meaningful and substantive. Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek have recently been taken over by a Japanese company, which means that this transitional period is a great time to propose change. Puy Kea, a reporter for the Japan Times writes that this private company charges for tickets and makes a profit, yet it has made a clear effort to try and rejuvenate the local population by rewarding scholarships to young students (Kea). It is too early to give up on ameliorations to these locations because Cambodians have clearly demonstrated that they want change. Youk Chhang, an official in an NGO focused on Cambodian rejuvenation, asked, “How can we learn from history so that it cannot be repeated if we continue to fail to understand that the memory of those who have died cannot be commercialized?” (qtd. Becker 107).  Chhang contends that commercialization and the focus on money is what detracts from creating a meaningful experience for visitors. He and others have expressed their support for converting these sites into more than just places to face death and suffering. Dark tourism has the potential to have educational value and the capability to serve as a warning for future conflicts, and there is serious interest in integrating these aspects into the industry in Cambodia. In some ways, Cambodia’s reputation on the international level is reduced to the genocide since most people have rudimentary of Cambodia beyond it. However, it is possible to use the genocide, and the remaining sites related to the genocide to focus on Cambodian culture and make an effort to alter Cambodia’s international reputation. Although Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek exist solely because of the genocide, they can still be used to promote other aspects of Cambodia’s history and its people by completely redesigning the sites to integrate these features. In practice, Choeng Ek and Tuol Sleng could include much more about the traditions and practices of Buddhism, delve into Cambodian music, and explore dance other distinctive aspects of Cambodian culture. While these sites might be attractive to tourists because of their dark history, they should also be used to educate visitors and champion the inimitable qualities of Cambodia. Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng would become centerpieces of Cambodian tourism that would use entertainment to draw in tourists, but do much more than exploit tragedy. Presently, the Cambodian government does not even these two attractions on its official tourism website, most likely in an effort to derail the stereotypes of violence and death. However, if these sites were to be converted into real memorials and museums that do more than just feed off of entertainment, where people can learn about and celebrate authentic Cambodian culture, then there would be increased support from the government, and positive attention worldwide.

Due to these various, developing circumstances, Cambodia has the opportunity to become the model of dark tourism done right. They can use this tragic past as a tool to promote their culture and educate the international community about the progress that has been made and the true identity of their nation by adding individuality to their exhibits, including traditions, and other methods. They can move away from their explicitly exploitive past and completely rebrand their industry. Cambodia is opening up to the world through film, literature, and authentic cultural and artistic expressions worldwide, which makes it clear that this is a pivotal point in time for the country to make an impact internationally. Although the Cambodian dark tourism industry is currently not as developed than the Holocaust’s dark tourism, they have means and materials to create their own brand of dark tourism, and advances the goals and reputation of the country.

Works Cited


Becker, Elizabeth. Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism. New York:

Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.


Kea, Puy. “‘Privatized’ Killing Fields Site Tries to Quiet Critics.” Japan Times. N.p., 13 Jan.

2006. Web. 4 May 2014.


Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley. Dark Tourism. London: Continuum, 2000. Print.

May 5 2014

Dark Tourism & Media by Audrey Vitalo



The goal of any media – journalism, literature or film – is to garner the attention of the largest number of people, a contributing factor to this goal being profit. The fastest way to attract attention is through high entertainment value. However, high entertainment value often coincides with a direct account not being given and another possible version of events being recounted instead. Journalism, literature and film also have the ability to bring international conflict down to an individual level, thus it would only make sense that media creates a natural interest in the struggles they chronicle, ranging from total war to plane crashes. Lennon’s book, Dark Tourism, defines this effect as “the intersection between the global and the local,” (Lennon 9). The desire to visit tourism sites is not born out of respect for the victims or a wish to educate, but instead out of interest in entertainment. Media also shapes “what are the significant sites in the political history of the twentieth century,” (Lennon 20) and it is this media attention that in part, produces the social importance of these sites in comparison to others. In evaluation of these claims, this essay will examine the effects of three major types of media – film, literature, and journalism – on dark tourism, with a focus on film. It will briefly look at one example of journalism and media, each relating to a different historical trauma that have fostered burgeoning dark tourism industries with a deeper analysis of film’s effects. Film’s goal of generating profit and thus its additional detrimental effects to the dark tourism industry will be analyzed. The combination of high entertainment value and personal connection to trauma, both generated by media, create a desire to visit dark tourism sites to fulfill a curiosity, with the popularity of media working to shape which sites society deems more important than others.

As the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide passed on April 6, 2014 media coverage on the events in the country skyrocketed. However, more than just news companies picked up the story. Media journalism companies were quick to capitalize on the story and National Geographic ran stories on Rwandan commemoration of the genocide for weeks before and again after. One of the articles National Geographic published in its “online photography experience,” PROOF, is titled Revisiting the Rwandan Genocide: How Churches Became Death Traps. The idea of this piece is to show, both through pictures and words, how Rwandan churches during the genocide were “death traps” in comparison to their modern uses as places of peace and remembrance. Gwin, the author, also writes about Guttenfelder’s, the photographer, experiences in Rwanda during the genocide and the extent Rwanda has changed since, which provides an individual connection for the reader to make to the piece. The pictures included also make the reader feel more involved in the story and garner attention. All of the factors discussed here contribute to the readers’ development of a desire to learn more about the Rwandan genocide and even to visit sites of dark tourism. This desire is heightened by the fact that Rwanda is safe now and healing from its ordeal, which is something that Gwin comes back to over and over in his writing and Guttenfelder shows with his photography. However, although the article paints the churches where killings occurred as a tourism site to be visited for its entertainment value, it also shows consideration for Rwanda’s ordeal. It does this by quoting a local guide, Bellancilla Uwitonze, in her reasoning for why she gives tours of these churches. She tells Gwin and Guttenfelder, “it is very difficult to relive the genocide every day. I do it because young people must know what happened and that they can never let anyone divide us as Rwandans ever again” (Peter Gwin, David Guttenfelder). When the reader looks at it from this perspective, he can see that the sites are meant for education, not entertainment, showing the balance between entertainment and education that media journalism maintains.

Vaddey Ratner’s novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan is based on her own childhood during the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge. The book tells the story of a young girl, Raami, who at the beginning of the book is only seven years old. Books, more so than movies or journalism, allow the reader to develop a deep connection with the characters – in this case, with Raami. Especially because the book is told through Raami’s eyes, the reader feels a connection with her and through her, her family as well. Ratner’s condensation of her own experiences, although based on true events, is not exactly historically accurate and instead paints an alternate reality to what really happened. Although Ratner does not explicitly state the reason that she condenses her experiences and her family members except to “simplify,” it can be assumed that she does it for the reader’s benefit, which helps them to better understand her ordeal and the ordeal of all Cambodians (318). The reader’s improved understanding is beneficial in that they are better able to comprehend what individuals went through during the Cambodian genocide instead of only seeing facts and figures, and in this way Ratner’s book shines a light on the effects of the genocide and proves to the reader its value as a historical tragedy from which to learn. However, Ratner’s novel also holds an unmistakable element of entertainment, as all novels must. By peaking readers’ interests in Cambodia, especially in comparison to Ratner’s personal experiences returning as an adult, In the Shadow of the Banyan, using personal connection to the events and entertainment value, affects the readers’ desires to visit firsthand sites like those Raami experienced. Nonetheless, these desires are not as shallow and entertainment-seeking as those that stem from film, as books do allow the reader to be faced with an authentic experience of the tragedy.

The 1997 film, Titanic, tells the story of young lovers aboard the ill-fated ship. It focuses on Jack and Rose’s relationship throughout most of the movie until the ship hits the iceberg and begins to sink. The movie is considered to be one of the greatest love stories of this decade due to its ending – Jack dies of hypothermia in the arctic waters so that Rose may survive, and as a result she remembers him fondly for the rest of her life as her true love. Although this movie is based on the historical sinking of the ship, the story of Jack and Rose is completely fictional, as is the story of practically every other character onboard the ship in the film.  The true story of the Titanic is a tragic one – thousands died on a ship that was supposedly indestructible – yet the film industry has turned it into urban legend, or even a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet. When most people think about the Titanic, they link the historical tragedy with the film version of events. The film adaptation has also worked to turn the disaster into a historically important event. Admittedly, the sinking of the ship and loss of so many lives was tragic but in the grand scheme of things there were many other tragedies that have had arguably more impact than the sinking of the Titanic did, especially given the time period. Ultimately, the abundance of film about the event has caused a tragedy to be transformed into a source of entertainment.

What has made the sinking of the Titanic such a well-known historical event is the media coverage that surrounds it, especially the film adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which ultimately gave the event its reputation as a source of entertainment. The love story between the two youths and the easy personal connection the audience is able to make to them is proven in the scene where Jack gives up his own life in favor of Rose’s. This personal connection heightens the entertainment factor of the film and serves to distance people’s view of the Titanic from historical accuracy even further. Lennon and Foley write that movies like these “are consumed precisely for the danger in which the characters are placed and in which some are expected to die,” (Lennon & Foley 6). This shows that people do not make the connection between a very real historical tragedy and the drama of a film. The failure to make the connection between historical tragedy and film drama is due to the producer’s use of representation and presentation. In terms of representation, the producers may have portrayed a truthful account of the sinking of the ship, but the method of presentation in which they did so had a goal of entertainment instead of “paying tribute to and understanding the predicament of the victims,” (31). The film’s popularity and its ability to turn the tragedy into a source of entertainment come together in tourism packages that companies began to offer following the success of the films. Guests were able to go on Titanic Cruises where they could eat the same food and listen to the same music as the passengers upon the real Titanic did. This is obviously a form of dark tourism due to its roots in historical tragedy, but the purpose of this tour is not respect for the victims, nor is it in search of education so that occurrences like these are not repeated, but instead there is a sort of romanticism that surrounds the sinking of the Titanic that stems from the film industry’s interpretation.

Granted, the fact that the Titanic sank over a century ago may affect the way in which the public views it, which Lennon and Foley discuss, however they also note that this time lag serves to accentuate the effects of media on dark tourism. Lennon and Foley argue that the memory of the sinking of the Titanic had become obscure until a 1958 film, A Night to Remember, revisited the event and “turned the relatively impersonal and largely forgotten sinking into a series of individual ‘stories’ of fictional characters upon the vessel” (18).  The sinking of the Titanic, as well as other older historical tragedies, has entered the public’s memory through television and film rather than historical facts (79). The more film that is produced on the topic only serves to solidify the event as a source of entertainment.

Through the three examples of different types of media – journalism, literature and film – each looking at a different recent historical tragedy, it can be seen that media has a profound effect on dark tourism. Because media is created with the aim of attracting attention, its composition must include entertainment. This entertainment factor, combined with the personal connection media establishes between global and local leads to increased desire to visit dark tourism sites where the events that the media was based upon occurred. This desire is born out of curiosity and longing for entertainment rather than education and respect for the victims, which are the intentions with which these sites are created. The medium of film is especially detrimental to the dark tourism industry given its ability to turn historical tragedies into profit-generating dramas, an example of which is Titanic. Through these past examples of media, and especially film’s, effects on dark tourism it is possible to predict the direction in which the industry of dark tourism is moving. As events become less painful and there are less survivors and people who were alive during the time of the tragedy, as is the case with the sinking of the Titanic, the historical event will become more and more capitalized upon by the media industries, turning what was once a trauma into a source of entertainment.






Works Cited

Gwin, Peter, and David Guttenfelder. “Revisiting the Rwandan Genocide: How Churches Became Death Traps.” PROOF: n. pag. Web.

Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley. Dark tourism. London: Continuum, 2000. Print.

Ratner, Vaddey. In the Shadow of the Banyan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.

Titanic. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet. 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, 1997. .




May 5 2014

Developing Dark Tourism by Will Blommer


Developing Dark Tourism: Evolution and Significance

Coined by J. John Lennon and Malcolm Foley, in 1996, dark tourism is a relatively new field of study that examines tourism involving places associated with death and violence. Though it is hard to pinpoint exactly when death tourism began, it is clear that humans have always been fascinated with death. Death related tourism has occurred ever since the beginning of travel yet the term “dark tourism” has only recently entered conversation (Philip R. Stone 1567). This death related travel has evolved throughout time due to changing cultural, religious, and political factors and has grown in popularity with the rest of the travel industry. Dark tourism, also called thanatourism, seems inherently negative and makes the industry seem like it only functions to capitalize on suffering. While that is a major criticism of the industry, it is by no means the sole function of dark tourism. Today, dark tourism has become a profitable industry and as Tony Walter describes it, “a contemporary mediating institution between the living and the dead” (qtd. in Stone 1566). By providing a safe outlet to contemplate and commemorate death, dark tourism has evolved to fill the function of religious mortality mediators and has assumed a role of education and peace promotion.

In pre-modern times, death permeated all aspects of society. With primitive medical care, life expectancy was much shorter and as a result, the general population was much more comfortable with death. As well, society as a whole was more religious during this era and had formalized and public systems in place to cope with death. One of which was pilgrimage. Pilgrimage as described by Lennon and Foley, “is often (but not only) associated with the death of individuals or groups, mainly in circumstances which are associated with the violent and the untimely” (Lennon and Foley 3). Essentially, many forms of religious pilgrimage exist to commemorate significant death and to drive home religious principles. Because these deaths are of religious significance, permanent sites were erected near the location of the death for followers of the religion to visit. The concept of traveling or pilgrimaging to these memorial sites, then can be considered one of the earliest forms of dark tourism (Stone 1567). Pilgrimages can be “mandatory as a requirement of religious adherence” and are very ritualized , sometimes occurring at certain times of year (Lennon and Foley 4). This journey is not only a spiritual one, but also a public one that brings together members of the religious community. As society evolved, however, and modern medicine was able to prolong life expectancy, these pilgrimages and religious practice in general began to decline.

With modern medicine, life could be prolonged and death could be postponed, resulting in a different attitude towards death and spirituality. In fact, Father Bob Pagliari argues that the collective Self has become “death-denying” and due to advancement in medicine society has entered a “death-defying” era (1).  In other words, “death” became a taboo subject that the collective Self began to ignore and actively avoid. As a result, death and the personal grief associated with it became privatized and society as a whole (but particularly the medical field) has turned its focus towards achieving immortality. As Philip R. Stone sees it, “religious institutions which once formed sacred canopies of mortality guidance, have largely been negated for the secular Self” (1566). By moving away from religious institutions, society lacked a formalized system to contemplate mortality. During this process of modernization and dynamic societal change, travel became more prevalent and instances of “significant death” had a profound impact on society. To cope with the tragedy of this “significant death,” memorial sites were created at the location of battles, genocide, or other forms of violence. In bereavement, tourists flocked to these sites and dark tourism began to take off.

Due to the nature of the events that occurred at dark tourism sites, it is impossible to ignore death when visiting these locations. This immediate confrontation with death, forces the collective Self to push aside its “death-denying” attitude and think about its own mortality. While morbid in nature, dark tourism sites fill the role of pre modern religious institutions as a place to contemplate death and the value of life. In many dark tourism sites, through exhibits, photographs, and marketing materials, a narrative is told that highlights certain individuals in the context of a violent event (Stone 1576). For instance, the U.S. Holocaust Museum assigns each visitor an ID card with the name of a real Holocaust prisoner which reveals the fate of his or her assumed identity, many of which are grim. The narrative that this and many dark tourism sites tell help to place the visitor at the scene of the macabre event and show them that “behind the massive statistics are real people” (USHMM). In doing so, visitors are faced with the gravity of this historical event on an individual level and can better consider their own mortality. While the social filter that dark tourism provides explains the role this type of travel has taken on, it does not fully explain why dark tourism has grown. The answer to that question has to do with commercialization and dark tourism’s ability to satisfy curiosity.

As early as the aforementioned pilgrimages, people sought to capitalize on dark tourism or as Professor Graham M. S. Dann considers it, “milking the macabre” (Stone 1569). As soon as merchants and business owners caught word of the routes pilgrims journeyed on, they jumped on the opportunity to take advantage it. Merchants, inns, and food stands opened up along the pilgrimage routes in order to capture the business being provided by dark tourism sites (Lennon and Foley 5). Eventually, the business evolved from capitalizing on pilgrimage routes to physically creating and maintaining dark tourism sites. Conservationists and entrepreneurs alike realized that people have a deep interest and intrigue regarding death. As mentioned before, as society became more secular, death became more private. The intrigue with death, however, persisted yet was seen as taboo. To effectively portray this significant death, Stone argues, “requires inoculation and thus rendering into something else that is comfortable and safe to deal with and to contemplate” (Stone 1569). As a result, dark tourism grew not only to memorialize the victims of violence but also to provide “a safe socially sanctioned space to consume and otherwise taboo topic” (Stone 1578). Dark tourism as an industry provides “edu-tainment” that captures the visitors interest but also educates them about significant historic events (Stone 1578). There are however, varying shades of the “edu-tainment” value of dark tourism ranging from purely entertainment at the expense of the dead to purely educational that fails to pique visitors’ interest.

Presently, a dichotomy exists with dark tourism. It can either exploit tragic events for profit or offer a memorial that educates visitors and helps them cope with death. Due to the commercialization of the industry, both forms of dark tourism have been packaged and marketed as mainstream tourist attractions, part of the larger traveler economy (Stone 1580). For instance, in Paris, for a small fee, a visitor can ride in a black S-class Mercedes Benz along that same route that Princess Diana did on the day of her death. As well, adventurous tourists can take a cruise to the site of the wreck of the Titanic while enjoying the same music and food that the passengers of the real ship did as they sailed to their demise (Lennon and Foley 164-5). This tasteless exploitation of a tragic event is the type of activity that mars the image of dark tourism. On the other hand, locations like the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps do not charge an admission fee but use shock to evoke emotion within its visitors in an attempt to educate them. This macabre and depressing experience at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operators of the site believe, make visitors alert to how things were during that time and provides “an anticipation that such genocide can never occur again” (Stone 1581). Sites like Auschwitz-Birkenau function as a tool of education and peace, seeking to prevent future violence while sites like the Princess Diana drive only consider their bottom line. Both tourist sites share the same goal of attracting tourists, yet differ in their motives for doing so.

Ultimately the motive for Auschwitz-Birkenau is to memorialize the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. These events however take on different meaning as a time progresses compared to experiencing them first-hand. As a result, Alex King makes the distinction that “remembrance is not memory” (qtd. in Stone 1579). Because most visitors today did not experience the Holocaust, they do not have memory of it and have to “remember” it via memorial sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau. Remembrance then, according to Walter, “entails commemoration and memorialization of those whose suffering and death one may not have personally witnessed” (qtd. in Stone 1579). In other words, the best way to remember events that one did not personally experience is through proper commemoration. With that in mind, in order to memorialize and commemorate such tragic events, dark tourism sites are crucial. For instance, the 9/11 terrorist attacks are recent enough to be considered memory. The creation of the Ground Zero memorial functions as a way to mourn the loss of life during that day but also to educate future generations of the horrible events that transpired. In fact, at Ground Zero, Stone observes that “moral narratives are provided to ideas of hope, tolerance, and peace” (Stone 1581). Sites like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ground Zero essentially “gives the dead the authority to afford guidance and moral instruction to the living” (Stone 1580). By preserving these locations and erecting memorials that tell a narrative to its visitors, dark tourism sites essentially empower the dead to pass on their story and exert an influence on the visitors. As well, Paul Williams argues that memorial museums are able to do so because “educational work is stimulated by moral considerations and draws ties to issues in contemporary society in a way that is uncommon in standard museum presentations of history” (21). The moral aspect of dark tourism works to educate its visitors much more effectively than traditional history museums. To effectively achieve this goal however, these sites need to partake in the commercialized travel industry. This means understanding their target demographic and subsequently advertising the entertainment value of their sites. Though commercialization typically has a negative connotation in respect to tragic death, in this modern era it is necessary for dark tourism sites to do so in order to fulfill their mission.

In the modern, politically charged society, some dark tourism sites have to be considerate of biases in their presentation of tragedy. These biases are not necessarily intentional but can sometimes go overlooked in the creation of memorial sites. In this day in age, Lennon and Foley elucidate that “those with responsibilities for tourism promotion and development may have a previously unrecognized ethical dilemma- that of adjudicating in debates over ‘whose history’ prevails in interpretation.” (Lennon and Foley 162). Before the internet and mass media, alternate perspectives of historical events were not widely known and dark tourism sites could get away with only presenting one side of the story. While these inaccuracies still exist in less developed countries and at sites of lesser known significant death, the internet and mass media has put pressure on more developed dark tourism sites to tell the whole story. Lennon and Foley claim, “shifts from national embarrassment over past conduct to public admission and acknowledgement of reprehensible policies may be presented as evidence of emerging tolerance, rationality, and progress” in dark tourism sites as a result of the information now available via the internet and mass media. This trend shows that as information is more readily available, there will be more pressure on dark tourism sites to maintain integrity and be morally considerate, leading to more effective and educational dark tourism locations.

Dark tourism is not free from some of the negative implications of the commercialized travel industry, but ultimately serves a higher and nobler function. Dark tourism sites will always spark debate as to the ethicality of their existence, but it is clear that they have grown to serve a valuable role and will continue to in the future. Death, particularly violent and significant death,  is not an easy subject to address. It is sad, confusing, and very personal. Death however, is inevitable and having an institution in place to cope with and contemplate death can be immensely helpful. As tragic events occur, dark tourism sites are crucial to the remembrance of such events for future generations and serve as a warning so that history does not repeat itself.

Works Cited

“Identification Cards and Personal Stories.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust                         Memorial Council, n.d. Web. 05 May 2014.

Lennon, J. John., and Malcolm Foley. Dark Tourism. London: Continuum, 2000. Print.

Pagliari, Bob. “From a Death-Denying to a Death-Defying to a Death-Deriding Society.” Catholic New York. Catholic New           York, 1 Apr. 2004. Web.

Stone, Philip R. “Dark Tourism and Significant Other Death.” Annals of Tourism Research 39.3 (2012): 1565-587. Web.

Williams, Paul Harvey. Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities. Oxford: Berg, 2007. Print.