Dark Tourism is a trend that has become incredibly popular in recent years. That is, going to sites of mass murder and horror. While many (I would say most) are there to educate themselves, a significant number of people go to gape. Dr. Phillip Stone refers to this as the “commercialization of death”.
To me, nothing displays this more than the modern selfie. Last year’s NCPH conference featured a presentation by Jennifer Evans, Megan Lundigren and Erica Fagan, which talked about the way the Holocaust is being remembered through digital media. What stood out most to me was the idea that the selfie had become a significant means of interacting with Holocaust history.
Of course, this isn’t unique to the Holocaust. People go to sites of horror all over the world and photograph themselves. Most recently, tourists gather at the Bataclan in Paris for photographs. On my trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I was shocked to see a man having his photo taken with a large smile as he held the barbed wired fence. Ground Zero, the Cambodian killing fields…all of these sites of horror have become a place where dark tourists come to photograph themselves.
What does it all mean or say about our society? Is it simply a homage to a horrific past? Is it a means of saying we’re important? The problem for me, is that suddenly the past becomes about us. The selfie shows how disconnected we are from our history. While I see where people are coming from when they explain why they’ve taken a photograph of themselves at a horrific site- something still doesn’t jive for me. It’s a way of saying, “Look at me! I was here where people died.” It is as though the photograph is a means of convincing people you remember an event rather than actually remembering and learning from it.
In an age where we are so engaged with our online presence and ourselves would it be so bad to step back and just respect history? To try harder to understand it and not try to prove that we do? What are your thoughts readers? Should places like Auschwitz revisit their photography policies altogether? Do you have a problem with the trend? Let me know in the comments below if you can.
Peace, love and history.
 Jennifer Evans, Megan Lundigren and Erica Fagan. “Selfies, Tweets and Likes: Social Media and its Role in Historical Memory.” Session at the National Conference on Public History, 2015. (I apologize if this citation isn’t full. No copyright infringements intended!)