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Monday, April 27, 2009

Grief tourism or simply the thing that you do? Are war memorials the new churches?

"I reckon grief tourism is a void filled by a lack of religion or interest in religion. It's the thing that you do when you can't be bothered going to a church on your travels. I think it's still all about entertainment. I don't think it's about actual grief," wrote a reader, Sandy, in response to my posts about Australia's Anzac Day last weekend, here and here. I've been reflecting upon Sandy's comments all week. Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance (as you travel around Australia you'll see the words "Lest we forget" on every war memorial) to honour the 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders who died at Gallipoli, Turkey, during World War 1. Over the years it became a day to commemorate those who fought in other wars serving our country. When I was young it was always a day that was for older people, those who'd fought in the first and/or second world wars and their children (my grandparents/parents), and the grandchildren (my parents/my generation) always seemed to be dragged along reluctantly to parades and dawn services. But for a young generation of Australians, the great-grandchildren of the Anzacs (and younger), participating in Anzac Day, and travelling as far as Gallipoli for 25 April, has become a cool thing to do in recent years. So much so that in 2005, 17,000 people, mostly young Australians, were at Anzac Cove at Gallipoli for the dawn service. What was once a solemn ceremony turned into a day of drunken debauchery with the music videos screened to entertain the crowds creating a party atmosphere fueled by alcohol (officially banned). Following negative media coverage, numbers declined with just 10,000 Aussies present in 2008. However, it was clear that Gallipoli had become a magnet for Aussie backpackers and their behavior had become so bad that in Lonely Planet's recent Turkey guidebook, author Virginia Maxwell urged Aussie travellers to consider their impact as tourists and stay away from Gallipoli on 25 April 2009, and instead visit at other times of the year. (See Gemma Pitcher's story on NineMSN's travel: Lonely Planet: Stay Away from Anzac Service.) Behavior was modified and last weekend's ceremony at Gallipoli was considerably more sober, despite numbers remaining high. But how do we explain the popularity of Gallipoli amongst backpackers who once upon a time would rather have been partying on a beach in Bali, or Goa, or Koh Samui... Has Gallipoli become 'the thing that you do'? Are the tours there a form of 'grief tourism', an opportunity to appreciate what it was really like for those who fought and died at Gallipoli - to feel how cold it could get, to understand how hard it was to climb up those hills - or is it just another key sight for travellers to tick off on a long list that includes everything from the Eiffel Tower to St Peter's Basilica? In the absence of religion, and the lack of knowledge about and disinterest in churches that a young generation must have, are those extravagant European cathedrals now passe? Are war memorials the new churches?

Update: if this topic interests you, you might also be interested in this story "'Drunk, drugged-up Kiwis' treat Gallipoli' as party", published 6 April 09, which was motivated by comments from NZ Herald readers, including one New Zealand traveller on their way to Gallipoli last week who was embarrassed to be part of a group who had no idea what Anzac Day was all about and were simply going to get "hammered".


Robert Reid said...

Great piece here. Never heard of concept of 'grief tourism' before.

I think many people go to churches/monasteries/temples while traveling just bc they're free and the most interesting architecture in some places -- not sure that'll change anytime soon, but I tend to visit them less than before.

marina villatoro said...

I know that for veterans day in Washington DC it has become like a biker weekend. I'm sure a lot of the me reminisce about their buddies that died during the Vietnam war, but it has now become a place of chaos, beer guzzling and other crazy things to do.
Like everything in life, it's moderation. It's what you put into these memorials.
When I went to the Yad Vasham Memorial in Israel for the holocaust, there was no way it was just a cool thing to do. You remember the pain and horror and sadness of what happened in each step.
It's really all about the people and the way it's remembered.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi FBO - Thanks! But don't get me wrong about churches - I know a lot of travellers find them boring, something they feel they have to do, rather than want to do, but I actually love them for the architecture, and in Italy they are always full of so much art, they can be like visiting a free art gallery.

I guess what Sandy was suggesting - and what I agree with - is that visiting a war memorial has become a bit like visiting a church - it's become that thing you do when you travel.

Grief Tourism or Dark Tourism has been on the increase for a few years, although I can't be too sure when the two first came about, but I want to do one final post on this subject, so I'll provide a definition and some links for you.

I'm curious - if you're visiting churches less than before, what are you doing (seeing) instead?

Thanks for commenting!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Marina

I totally agree with you.

Anzac Day certainly has that element of the biker weekend too.

But funny you should mention the Yad Vasham memorial, because we had a strange experience at Auschwitz which you've reminded me about, which I'll post on next actually. And then I think I better move on from Grief Tourism. I think it's depressing my readers... :(

Thanks for sharing!

Jen Laceda | Milk Guides said...

Oh god, grief tourism? If they have coined a word for it, then that means it's now 'mainstream'.
I'm in Paris at the moment, and last night at our hotel, we listened to some Midwestern Americans rave about their guided tour of the D-Day Beaches & cemetery in Normandy. Grief tourism, huh? I guess, whether we like it or not, it's here to stay.
But I'm not so fond of crowds and I don't like what happens when there is a crowd. No matter what nationality you are, the 'pack mentality' seems to prevail all the time. 'If you say jump...'
Let's pray (pun intended) that people grow some common sense.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Jen

Good to hear from you! If you're commenting from Paris I hope that means you're also blogging - I'm going to have to go read your posts now!

Yeah, Grief Tourism actually came about a while ago - I guess it's a relation of Dark Tourism, which came about in the late 90s perhaps, but there's certainly been a rise in both these last few years, which is interesting in itself. I might have to do a post on that, perhaps?

What I want to know is whether those tourists you overheard were old or young?

I'm not a fan of crowds either, anymore, to be honest.

Well, I'm going to go see what you've been up to in Paris...

Sandy O'Sullivan said...

I've been thinking about this a lot too... and just wondering if it's really been around a long time. I'm not entirely sure that The Crusades weren't a heaps early version of it. Okay, maybe not, but still... it does seem to revolve around a fascination with the macabre.

Even when the experience is truly profound one (like visiting the Holocaust museum) there are still a lot of visitors for whom there is a significant distance and no real memory, but it still seems to be a side trip rather than a focus destination for a lot of folks. I wonder how many tourists who don't have a direct connection to the events of WW2 visit Poland just to go to Auschwitz - and I especially wonder what it will mean for them in a hundred years? Not that there isn't something remarkable about experiences that are less about remembering moments of sorrow and more about another kind of horror or grief... something to do that will be forever inscribed on them or something?

I think sometimes churches do provide that, and a good example of a cross-over of the two is the people pilgrimaging to see places like the shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa, Poland. I went there, and felt entirely ghoulish, as there were people there for some serious god-related reasons and I was just kind of there to look at them really... I could say it was to see the Black Madonna, but seriously, how could anyone not want to stare at someone crawling on their hands and knees for a mile in the snow to look at a bit of wood... it's a remarkable thing! But it wasn't just another church... not that I would have done that same pilgrimage, but there were a lot of tourists there... and if it wasn't exactly grief, it was something a little bit like it. It was, I think, the profound experience that people want from those other moments that are framed as grief tourism.

Jen Laceda | Milk Guides said...

Hi Lara,
They were young people, perhaps, in their mid to late-20's.

Yes, I am in Paris, and I can't stop reading your blog (nor Terry's).

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Sandy

Great examples, and fantastic insights, as usual - much appreciated, thanks!

I've found one academic reference which puts the earliest example at the 12th century, which I'll post about.

I'm sure you're right - I'm certain there was an element of it there at The Crusades - but then you have a whole new kind of tourism going on there, don't you? Religious adventurism? The zealous adventurist? Wow, I wonder if anyone has been researching that?

Crusaders, colonizers, missionaries, even mercenaries... I imagine a passion for travel would be on all of their CVs and a desire to discover and explore must be part of their motivation, don't you think?

Thanks for your comments!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Jen

Oh, how interesting.

And thanks for following - even while you're travelling!

I'm loving your posts by the way!

Mark H said...

Sandy has captured eloquently the same feeling that I had when I went to Lourdes which I have never been able to really describe. I felt strangely remote and uncomfortable watching crippled and wheelchair-bound people take waters and other folks crawling down a long path to the cave where the apparation appeared.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Mark

She did do a wonderful job, didn't she?! I had the same feelings in Mexico at the day of the Virgin Guadeloupe many years ago.

Thanks for dropping by!