Netflix’s Dark Tourist and the trouble with ‘extreme’ travel TV

David Farrier’s series follows in the footsteps of Ross Kemp and Vice by making titillating television from war zones and disaster sites. It’s shallow and sordid

One of the most unpleasant rumours I can recall emerging from the Balkan wars of the 1990s was of a German agency who organised trips for tourists to “visit” the conflict and even participate. There’s nothing quite so appalling as that in David “Tickled” Farrier’s new Netflix series Dark Tourist, although it does venture into the grotesquely bizarre. He looks at the trend for Nuclear Tourism, for example, in which people flock to soak up the radiation left behind following the disaster in Fukushima, as well as the tourist industry that has built up around the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. He also visits locations in Africa and South America associated with death and destruction that some tourists find somehow attractive, a shameful attraction the makers of Dark Tourist assume is shared to a degree by the viewer.

Although there are strong hints of Louis Theroux in Farrier’s chin-scratching demeanour, overall the series is part of a recent trend for making titillating TV from the world’s troublespots. Its soundtrack and graphics fit the bill: pummelling, Wagnerian motifs knocking you back like Tequila slammers, bursts of brutal fast cuts. It feels a little sordid, as if the miseries of the world are mere fodder for some televisual equivalent of the thrills of extreme mountain biking. On the other hand, you feel a bit chastened in your armchair watching Farrier enduring privations such as a voodoo ritual or narco tours in Pablo Escobar’s old neighbourhood.

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