The 'Spectacle' of Death in Dark Tourism

Stone, Philip orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9632-1364 (2019) The 'Spectacle' of Death in Dark Tourism. In: he Thrill of the Dark: Heritages of Fear, Fascination and Fantasy International Conference, 25-27 April 2019, University of Birmingham.

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We live in a dominion of the significant ‘Other’ dead. We ritualize the dead with a memorialized afterlife, where the deceased depend upon the living to maintain their memory. The dead have always acted as our immortal custodians by maintaining our social and cultural order. Yet, in contemporary Western secular societies, touristic deathscapes are appearing as spectacular ‘dark spaces’ of the dead that, in turn, have become places of agency and exhibition. Indeed, the dead are returning to the feast and ghosts remembered as symbolic spectacles hitherto referred to as ‘dark tourism’ – the act of travel to sites of fatality. Thus, drawing upon the work of Philippe Ariѐs, Michael Jacobsen and Tony Walter, my presentation outlines how successive deathbed histories reveal a contemporary age of the ‘spectacular death’. In particular, spectacular death exists where many of our mortem traditions, practices and beliefs are reinterpreted to fit new socio-cultural circumstances. In so doing, I suggest dark tourism is a defining institution of spectacular death through three key features of (i) mediated/mediatized visibility of death, (ii) commercialization of death, and (iii) the re-ritualization of death. Consequently, spectacular death in dark tourism exposes mortality regulated by difficult heritage production, yet at the same time commodifies the darkness of death as a form of visitor economy consumption. As such, I offer a theoretical blueprint to locate dark tourism in a new age of the spectacular death. Ultimately, I suggest dark tourism joins a family of mediating institutions in which a spectacular death mentality ushers in open-mindedness about mortality, as well as tourist encounters with fatality.

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