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Dark Tourism
January 5, 2006 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Katrina Tours! As has been widely reported, tours of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina have begun. What motivates people to engage in "dark tourism"? Is it harmful or helpful to the region? Is it just plain creepy?
posted by ND¢ (32 comments total)

 
Discussed exhaustively in this dissertation.
posted by ND¢ at 8:57 AM on January 5, 2006


I remember an old science-fiction story on the subject. A group of time travelers would pop in just in time to see disasters unfolding, then pop out before they were killed. It seems that their future world was so cynical that disaster watching was the only real pleasure any more.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:08 AM on January 5, 2006


MrMoonPie, that would be Catherine Moore's "Vintage Season", which is actually kind of spooky. She was a true master. It's available in one of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame volumes -- I think volume 2b, but don't hold me to that.
posted by lodurr at 9:15 AM on January 5, 2006


Yup, I think that's it, lodurr. Did I remember the plot line correctly? It's been, like, 20 years since I read it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:19 AM on January 5, 2006


What motivates people to engage in "dark tourism"?

Morbid curiosity? The same phenomenon that causes them to slow down and gawk at car wrecks?

Is it harmful or helpful to the region?

$3 from each ticket sold goes to relief. Are they getting in the way of recovery efforts? Maybe helping.

Is it just plain creepy?

Depends on your perspective, I guess.
posted by fixedgear at 9:20 AM on January 5, 2006


Yep, you got it. Moore had a great feel for the edges of what it meant to be human, including that kind of dark cynicism and its counterpoints. She also manages to communicate the nuances of that type of voyeurism -- one character is a composer who makes recordings of the tragedy into something resembling symphonies, and another gets banned from the time-trips for interacting with the locals too much.
posted by lodurr at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2006


New Orleans needs tourism, so I'm fine with it. Whatever brings in money and raises the city's profile. The only thing that concerns me is that large vehicles will be rumbling past teetering, half-destroyed buildings. Although I suppose if they've survived fire trucks and hummers, buses will be okay.
posted by brundlefly at 9:26 AM on January 5, 2006


Damn! That's Creepy!

Now excuse me while I get back to my tour of Auschwitz.
posted by HTuttle at 9:33 AM on January 5, 2006


People see stories about the schools reopening and the zoo reopening and the carnival season starting tomorrow they think things are _normal_.

The more people who see the extent of the problem and understand and take this back to the rest of America to show that we still have years of work ahead, the better off we will be.
posted by caderoux at 9:34 AM on January 5, 2006


Exactly, caderoux.
posted by brundlefly at 9:50 AM on January 5, 2006


I agree being here in NOLA and living with it 24/7, i've come to the conclusion that anyone who's ever lived here or cared about this city at all really HAS to see it in it's current state. It's really two cities now - one is vibrant, alive and almost back to normal, and the other is still Pompeii 2005.

When friends come into town, as they did over the holidays, they get the personal Katrina tour from me, including visiting my grandmother's flooded home in Lakeview. No amount of news coverage, photography or writing can ever possibly express the vastness and completeness of the destruction that has happened here. It simply has to be seen to be understood. If you haven't been here, you don't understand it. And obviously, the more people that understand, the better our chances of actually getting what we need to bring the city back.

So please, come to New Orleans - both of them - and tour away.
posted by ab3 at 9:51 AM on January 5, 2006


Local view:

http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news-4/1136446413259690.xml

These are respectful, educational and worthwhile tours.
posted by caderoux at 9:55 AM on January 5, 2006


I don't remember such hubbub over tourism around Ground Zero. What's the big deal?

People all over the country heard about Katrina and its effects daily for months...not to mention the number of families and lives it affected. Seems quite natural to me that people would want to see more than what static newspaper photos and CNN/Fox/MSN chooses to show.
posted by NationalKato at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2006


I just wonder about reconciling the positive effect for non-residents of seeing the damage first hand, versus the negative effect on residents (I am not one, and obviously those that are can speak to this better than I can) that could result from turning someone's personal (for them at least) tragedy into an exhibit for people to gawk at. I saw it expressed well here:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
posted by ND¢ at 10:03 AM on January 5, 2006


I don't remember such hubbub over tourism around Ground Zero. What's the big deal?

The difference, or one of the differences, is Ground Zero was turned into a memorial (though I'm sure there's people who visited only for morbid curiosity, and there were tacky mementos being sold, and all that crap). Like the station in Madrid that was hit by bombs. It's quite another thing.

Don't even get me started on calling 'disaster tourism' a tour of Auschwitz, uh. What a silly comparison.
posted by funambulist at 10:18 AM on January 5, 2006


Despite the image of the sign posted, I think you'll find New Orleanian's have an overwhelmingly different viewpoint and the majority approach life with a sense of humor and enjoy what they have been given.

c.f. the refrigerator art, the tuba and guitar half buried in the yard on Fontainebleau and decorated with lights.

And contrary to the sign, New Orleans (including most affected neighborhoods) was a tourist destination before Katrina. It was a tourist destination because of our unique culture and attitude to life.
posted by caderoux at 10:19 AM on January 5, 2006


Well, indeed, then why would people want to go there only to see the damage? It is a little creepy, isn't it?

Still, whatever the motivation, all tourist money is good.
posted by funambulist at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2006


I think most people are taking the bus tour IN ADDITION to regular tourist activities: riding the vastly reduced streetcar route, shopping on Magazine, visiting Bourbon street, eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde, visiting the Cabildo, visiting Mardi Gras World, etc.

The alternative is renting or driving. But just like anything, it's easier to sit back and look and learn than try to drive at the same time.
posted by caderoux at 10:41 AM on January 5, 2006


I remember an old science-fiction story on the subject. A group of time travelers would pop in just in time to see disasters unfolding, then pop out before they were killed. It seems that their future world was so cynical that disaster watching was the only real pleasure any more.
Wasn't that plot featured in an Outer Limits episode, too?
posted by nlindstrom at 10:55 AM on January 5, 2006


During the First Battle of Bull Run in Mannassas VA (about 30 miles from Washington DC), the city social elites rode out in horse and buggy and set up a garden party on the hills overlooking the battlefield to watch the "field of honour". I dont remember what happened but such frivolities were less common afterward (perhaps the true horrors of battle were displeasing to the sensibilities of ladies and gentlemen).
posted by stbalbach at 10:59 AM on January 5, 2006


Its a little morbid but I think the upside is that more people will know how badly damaged the city really was and is and how much work will need to be done to get it back up and running.

I saw on the news the other night that 71% of New Orleans previous population was still displaced.
posted by fenriq at 11:40 AM on January 5, 2006


Don't even get me started on calling 'disaster tourism' a tour of Auschwitz, uh. What a silly comparison.

I'm not clear on why the comparison is so silly. I think there are clear differences - time being the main one - but not as many differences, I'd say, as there are similarities. What reasons do you have for dismissing the comparison?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:46 AM on January 5, 2006


I'm actually going to be touristing in the area in 2 weeks and I've been planning to go to New Orleans to check out what it looks like. Don't know if I want the grand tour though. I would rather try to sense what the mood is like and how people are coping than look at the levees.
posted by bering at 12:19 PM on January 5, 2006


don't remember such hubbub over tourism around Ground Zero. What's the big deal?

That's because 9/11 wasn't as shameful. Imagine seeing busloads of gawkers when you have been abandoned by your governments.
posted by srboisvert at 12:32 PM on January 5, 2006


nlindstrom, MrMoonPie, lodurr: "Vintage Season" was the basis for the movie The Grand Tour starring Jeff Daniels. It's one of my more favorite sci-fi flicks and really worth renting if you can find it. The cable channels occasionally run it along with the campy Millennium.

In regard to Dark Tourism -- it's human nature. The Haunted Hollywood Tour has been operating forever and I don't think that any of the $45 per head goes to a worthwhile cause. Don't want to spend $45? Buy the book.
posted by KevinKarl at 1:53 PM on January 5, 2006


i'm attending a convention in nola in march. we've been having it there every year and the organizer, who is from there, figures continuing to have it there will be, you know, good for things. as part of the last day of the convention, we will take a bus tour of katrina damage outside the convention district. the purpose of this is to raise awareness of the convention goers as to the slow rate/lack of progress. these convention goers will be coming from all over the u.s. and beyond. people need and want to see this, not so much as some cynical "dark tourism," but as a civic responsibility to be informed. too many people are speaking from ignorance. we need more direct witnesses.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:16 PM on January 5, 2006


jacquilynne: sorry I didn't elaborate, I was referring to that "Damn! That's Creepy! Now excuse me while I get back to my tour of Auschwitz" comment, I thought it was obvious what I meant...

Now, whether these Katrina tours are a classic example of "dark tourism" or "disaster tourism" or not (maybe they are, maybe they aren't, or maybe they are but not as much as other examples, I don't know! it does sound like the advertising relies on sensationalism and morbid curiosity, but who knows, maybe it's just a not so creepy part of a regular tourist visit like caderoux says) - I just cannot conceive how anyone could consider visits to Auschwitz in that "disaster tourism" category anyway.

It's a memorial and a history lesson all in one. People go there to mourn their dead. Teachers take their students there. People go to see the remains of something they only read of in books. There is no thrill, or sensationalism about it. Maybe there are people who go for a morbid curiosity, you never know, but that's definitely not the purpose of the tours and they certainly don't have to rely on advertising the thrills of "seeing the devastation". It's just something that was left there standing as a memento because it has an historical and political significance that has nothing to do with "disaster tourism" in actual populated areas hit by disasters and being rebuilt, I thought that was obvious. (It's not even tourism really).
posted by funambulist at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2006


From the "dark tourism" link in the post:

The difference between what is acceptable and unacceptable as a tourist attraction is often only a matter of chronological distance. Walking tours of Jack the Ripper's London are enduringly popular. The world he inhabited is distant enough from our own for his exploits to be deemed entertaining. A Yorkshire Ripper trail would be seen as highly inappropriate by most people.

Over half a million people visit Auschwitz Birkenau each year. The standard two-and-a-half-hour guided tour gives an audience at best an abridged understanding of this vast and sprawling site. What a tourist can comprehend in such a brief visit is questionable.

posted by ND¢ at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2006


It is obviously an abridged understanding (it's not like people wouldn't know a thing about the Holocaust before visiting Auschwitz anyway, you don't just happen to stop there by pure chance on the way to a weekend clubbing in Krakow...), but I think it's ludicrous to put it in the same category as Jack the Ripper tours.

The article does at least recognise that "the operators of these diverse sites have become the custodians of history, and this carries with it certain responsibilities" and that it's monuments for commemoration.
posted by funambulist at 2:59 PM on January 5, 2006


I'm curious as to the content of the tours. If it's anything like the other New Orleans tours, the spiel will probably include Marie Laveau and Satchmo flying around rescuing people from roofs. Oh yeah. And Napoleon was there too.
posted by brundlefly at 3:32 PM on January 5, 2006


I'm not clear on why the comparison is so silly. I think there are clear differences - time being the main one - but not as many differences, I'd say, as there are similarities. What reasons do you have for dismissing the comparison?

I guess you don't fully understand the 'Politically Correct'.
posted by HTuttle at 9:27 PM on January 5, 2006


(??)
posted by funambulist at 2:14 AM on January 6, 2006


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