Dark Tourist, where is the line?

Dark Tourist forces us to question our own limits.

A dark tourist parks their ethical considerations for the chance to experience something which sets them apart from their fellow travellers.

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There’s a scene in new Netflix travel show Dark Tourist where the affable Kiwi host finds himself on a Cambodian shooting range investigating a particularly enduring traveller’s tale.

For enough money – travellers in this part of the world tell each other – the range will purchase a live cow for you to mow down in a hail of bullets.

Those seeking even greater thrills, meanwhile, can opt to dispatch the doe-eyed bovine target with the aid of a rocket launcher. Messy.

Needless to say, our host soon discovers that the tales are most certainly true.

Milk shake? 

An unsuspecting cow is led out onto the range and tied to a stake in the ground. The intrepid filmmaker raises the AK47 supplied to him by the range, looks squarely down the sights and teases the trigger.

He hesitates.

“I’m not going to do it. It’s too much,” he tells viewers, lowering the weapon. “Does anyone normal really find this fun?”

The fact that the host of a Netflix travel show opted not to slaughter a cow for fun is of no surprise to anyone who can imagine the media storm that would have erupted over the alternative.

But viewers’ sensitivity over the death of a cow is certainly not shared by the steady drip of tourists to Phnom Penh who have kept this rather gruesome tourist experience alive.

AKs, serial-killer worship, cartels, the usual

And it’s far from the only ‘edgy’ experience being offered to foreign visitors around the world.

From walking tours of the former haunts of some of the US’ worst serial killers to cartel-themed tours around South America’s most cocaine-ravaged regions, business is booming for tourism providers offering a glimpse into the more macabre aspects of life.

Of course, experiences in foreign lands which may present ethical dilemmas to novelty-seeking travellers are nothing new.

It’s OK, I’m on holiday

Most visitors to Southeast Asian countries where dog meat remains a delicacy will balk at the thought of tucking into a dish considered highly taboo in their home countries.

But how many tourists decide to park their ethical considerations for the chance to experience something which sets them apart from the vast majority of their fellow travellers?

Similarly, while shark fin soup has been condemned for its needless cruelty to an endangered species, the very campaign to outlaw it has unintentionally raised its profile- especially amongst those who seek culinary novelty then they’re abroad.

Immersion or subversion?

Travelling means immersing yourself in a culture which is alien. Attitudes towards animals, minorities, women, the poor, and hundreds of other things differ greatly across international borders.

Of course, that means we’re often confronted with behaviour or customs which would be thoroughly unacceptable in our own country.

Unscrupulous tour providers, meanwhile, mean that local communities often find themselves reluctantly playing host to tours which capitalise on grim recent histories.

Whether it’s shooting a cow, glorifying cartel-violence or chomping down on endangered animals, our responses to these ethical conundrums tells us a lot about ourselves.

As the proverb goes: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but, as the host of Dark Tourist is forced to ask himself: Where do I draw the line?

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