Dark tourism is a phenomenon in which individuals have been attracted to locations where natural disasters and other tragic events have occurred throughout history.
Due to the pandemic, an increasing number of tourist attractions are opting to develop virtual tours, allowing individuals to explore these sites from the convenience of their own homes.
Nicole Basaraba is an assistant professor in digital humanities at Trinity College Dublin who previously studied at the University of Alberta.
Basaraba, originally from the hamlet of Ardrossan, Alta. 30 kilometres east of Edmonton, studied dark tourism as seen online through paranormal investigative videos on YouTube.
She spoke to CBC’s Edmonton AM on Friday. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Could you provide some information on the concept of dark tourism?
Dark tourism is basically sites where visitors go to either connect with or learn about deaths that have happened there. They’re also sites of disaster or areas with difficult heritage and history.
Some of the most common ones in academic literature that people might be familiar with are visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and Poland or Chernobyl or the World Trade Centre in New York. These are all dark tourism sites.
I am currently studying the rise of dark tourism in the realm of paranormal activities, which involves topics such as spirits, death, dying, the afterlife, and the investigation of these subjects.
What specific aspects did you explore regarding this subject?
I observed how individuals on YouTube, commonly referred to as bloggers, are now venturing into haunted locations and producing cinematic videos that document their investigations of supernatural occurrences at specific sites.
What was the reason for your interest in this subject matter? What initially attracted you to it?
I specialize in studying cultural heritage sites and exploring their digital narratives.
I came across a YouTube channel named Sam and Colby, which had seven million subscribers at the time. Currently, they have reached 10 million subscribers. It’s been a year since then, and recently they even showcased one of their YouTube videos in cinemas across the United States.
I was surprised to find a significant number of people interested in this particular content, which I initially thought was quite specific. Therefore, I decided to delve deeper into it.
Edmonton AM6:33Dark tourism
What discoveries or findings were made regarding the approach used in this particular area?
They merged various forms of storytelling methods.
Certainly, YouTubers engage in breaking the fourth wall by addressing the camera directly. They incorporate their unique comedic charm into their storytelling, while also positioning themselves as part of the audience. They approach the situation with skepticism, unsure of their beliefs regarding the presence of something.
They [are relatable] since they’re content creators, but they’ve also done long videos, so there are about 45 minutes to nearly an hour and a half and they create a narrative arc that brings you along and kind of like a tour guide style journey of the haunted place they’re exploring.
Did you notice anything that was common among them that stood out for you?
For the Sam and Colby channel, they have a lot of the historical research behind what happened, usually at a private home or at a hotel where they’re going. They’ll do research into who passed away there and what the stories are or maybe some myths or legends about it.
They proceed to examine the stories to determine their legitimacy, allowing the audience to accompany them on their journey. Throughout their investigation, they unveil additional information and employ various paranormal detection methods involving specialized equipment.
In conclusion, they summarize their findings and provide their thoughts on what occurred or what they discovered as investigators.
What are the ethical considerations surrounding videos related to dark tourism? This is particularly relevant when these videos feature locations where people have lost their lives.
In my paper, I specifically addressed several points regarding this aspect.
They’re going in with small teams to investigate this, but there are dark sites that have large groups like group tours. Since I study cultural heritage [for me it’s] understanding that it’s about the cultural respect, about what’s happened there, particularly at these dark sites.
If a visitor lacks understanding of the seriousness or the sorrowful event that has occurred, the visitor’s actions can be perceived as either less or more ethical. Additionally, there is also the aspect of making money from such websites.
There are numerous ethical concerns regarding the tourism aspect of these somber locations, but they have gained significant popularity in many large cities over an extended period of time.