Dark tourism: Inside a new, morbid kind of travel
If your dream vacation involves a luau, dark tourism probably isn't for you.
- A new form of tourism that focuses on visiting sites associated with death and tragedy is growing in popularity.
- Some call it exploitative, and some call it respectful. Still others consider it to be far too dangerous for reasonable people.
- In any case, dark tourism showcases humanity's irresistible fascination with death.
Maybe you've saved your vacation time up for a while and are looking forward to flying off to some idyllic Caribbean island. Maybe Barbados or the Virgin Islands. You'll get to put your feet up on the beach, suck down a Pina Colada or juice straight from a fresh coconut. You'll probably go to bars at night that have been heavily influenced by Jimmy Buffet.
There's certainly one viable option for a vacation destination. But instead, you could fly to Eastern Europe to tour Nazi and Soviet death camps, maybe see a human skull or several thousand, or fly to Afghanistan and carefully plan out exactly which provinces you can visit to minimize the likelihood of triggering a roadside IED.
If the latter put a morbid smile on your face, you might be into dark tourism.
Traveling for fun and terror
Dark tourism is the practice of traveling to places associated with death and tragedy. Of course, Caribbean islands certainly have had their fair share of death and tragedy, but their terrible history isn't generally the reason why tourists visit those kinds of places.
If you were to travel to Choeung Ek in Cambodia, one of the killing fields where the Khmer Rouge executed over one million Cambodians, that would be an example of dark tourism. At this site, you can walk above the more than 17,000 murdered men, women, and children who were dumped into mass graves. Finding loose human bones in the fields at Choeung Ek is a fairly commonplace phenomenon. They also have kindly displayed the skulls of 8,000 human beings in a glass stupa, a kind of Buddhist monument.
Another dark tourism destination would be the Karosta prison in Latvia, a military prison where the Nazis and Soviets housed, tortured, and shot Latvian deserters. Now (after signing a form indicating your consent), you can spend a night inside the prison and receive insults and physical punishment for disobeying the prison guards.
Why dark tourism?
Writing for The Guardian, Professor John Lennon explains that "Our motivations are murky and difficult to unravel: a mix of reverence, voyeurism and maybe even the thrill of coming into close proximity with death." Professor Lennon wrote the aptly named book Dark Tourism in an effort to explain what it is about death and tragedy that so many of us find compelling.
"'Dark tourism' sites," he says, "are important testaments to the consistent failure of humanity to temper our worst excesses and, managed well, they can help us to learn from the darkest elements of our past." But he cautions that "we have to guard against the voyeuristic and exploitative streak that is evident at so many of them."
Netflix's Dark Tourism series, for example, has toed the line between respectful and exploitative. In the show, journalist David Farrier visits nuclear ghost towns near Fukushima, cultists in New Orleans who drink human blood, and other grim attractions. The show has been criticized as simply taking unfamiliar cultures and practices and framing them as sinister. Moreover, the very practice of dark tourism itself can be seen as an inherently sordid and cruel transformation of human suffering into amusement for rich Westerners.
A collapsed building in Fukushima prefecture. After the accident at Fukushima power plant, the area was evacuated. Now, it's a travel destination for dark tourists, who often come equipped with chirping Geiger counters.
(Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images)
Even darker tourism
Although dark tourism is already an extreme travel experience, there are some versions that push the envelope even further. There's no officiating body that defines what dark tourism is or isn't, but some dark tourists insist on distinguishing between "real" dark tourism and other types of tourism with increasingly grim adjectives, like war, danger, or natural disaster tourism.
These types of travel are relatively self-explanatory. Believe it or not, some dedicated tourists do travel to Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq, and other places that are either simmering with violence or in active conflict. Kidnapping is a real risk for these tourists, including Koda, a Japanese tourist who traveled to Iraq in 2004 and was beheaded by militants, and Colin Rutherford, a Canadian tourist kidnapped by the Taliban in 2010 and released in 2016.
The travel group Untamed Borders specializes in these extreme places, and their website offers travel packages to Somalia, Pakistan, and other unlikely destinations. In the FAQ section of their site, they acknowledge the risks of traveling to places like this:
"We take extra precautions in Afghanistan. We often split into smaller groups when walking around cities to keep a low profile. We keep the details of our itinerary to a few selected people. Also, when travelling between cities we take more than one vehicle so that we will not be left stranded in the case of breakdown."
While whether or not these kinds of experiences fall under dark tourism is up to the growing field of academics studying the phenomenon, it's clear that they bear some kind of relation. For whatever reason, people are attracted to getting as close to death—whether it's the deaths of genocide victims or their own—as possible without tipping over the edge.
Dark tourism is becoming more and more popular. Auschwitz, for instance, had its most visitors ever in 2017. As long as human beings remain fascinated by the concept of death, dark tourism will remain a lucrative industry.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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