THEY study some funny stuff these days in higher education. You can become a ghostbuster with a specialist psychology degree or learn how to stack shelves with a Tesco arts degree.
There was even a course at Staffordshire University about the life and works of Victoria Beckham.
And at the other end of the scale is the very serious Institute for Dark Tourism Research at The University of Central Lancashire.
It promises: “Dark tourism is the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions that have real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre, as a main theme.
“Tourist visits to former battlefields, slavery-heritage attractions, prisons, cemeteries, particular museum exhibitions, Holocaust sites or to disaster locations all constitute the broad realm of dark tourism.”
Examples include visits to World War One battlefield sites, Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (burial ground of the famous), Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland or Ground Zero in New York.
More local to Lancaster University are the Pendle Hill Witches, slavery exhibitions in Liverpool and the Dungeon visitor attraction at Blackpool Tower.
Dark tourism could also, in my book, encapsulate a Saturday night walk down Blackpool’s Golden Mile in high season when it’s thronged with stag and hen parties. Not for the faint hearted.
Horror films, of course, are always a crowd pleaser. They may not win many Oscars but they put bums on cinema seats. Similarly popular are the dungeon exhibitions in York, Blackpool and London and Tussaud’s waxworks Chamber of Horrors.
These are entertainments recreated for the shock value rather than to cause reflection on a sadistic or violent past. But how could anyone want to become a dark tourist and go to the real places? And then I realised I had.
I’ve been to the slave museum in Liverpool – the city that was Britain’s major slave port – and to the Menin Gate at Ypres, walked First World War graveyards and climbed into trenches in France. These were moving experiences, not entertainment. Hardly tourism.
My visit to Belsen concentration camp in the 1970s has lived with me ever since. I was on a military trip and went with two British soldiers. No birds sang over the mass graves and shells echoed from the nearby NATO training grounds of Luneburg Heath, an echo of the past. There had been no ovens here – people had died in their thousands of starvation and disease. The silence was complete. As if the world had nothing adequate to say.
I don’t think I would go by choice to visit places of man-made horror such as the Pyramid of Skulls in Cambodia’s Killing Fields.
But some deserve a pilgrimage, rather than a tourist visit. If only to remember the victims and the inhumanity of which man is capable.