Friday, 13 November 2015
The Amazing Race 27, Episode 8
The Hague (Netherlands) - Krakow (Poland)
The first time The Amazing Race visited Poland, the reality-TV travel show visited the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This season, the racers were sent to the Krakow municipal historical museum at Oscar Schindler's Enamel Factory, where more than a thousand and Jews were saved from the death camps by Schindler's employing them in his factory and bribing SS officials.
The Nazi Holocaust is an important (if increasingly distant) piece of Poland's past, and there are good reasons for tourists to visits sites where that past is memorialized and to take the opportunity to engage with its meanings for the present and the future of our own countries.
The Amazing Race has also visited sites of memory of other Holocausts and horrors on other continents: slave pens at Gorée Island off Dakar, Senegal in West Africa and at Stone Town, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania in East Africa; the Peace Memorial at the site of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, Japan; and the cell on Robben Island off Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was confined for 18 of the 27 years during which he was imprisoned before he was released and elected president of South Africa.
The producers of The Amazing Race as a mass-market TV show deserve credit for visiting these places, raising these issues -- and showing that it's possible to do so, when you have the chance, without necessarily having that be the primary focus of your travels. ( I haven't yet been to Krakow, but I've heard it's a pleasant and interesting place to visit.)
What I struggle to understand, as much or more with respect to real-world travellers as with respect to The Amazing Race, is how and why it comes to be considered normal and even expected that visitors to some places will include sites of memory of events like this in their tour itineraries, while visits to such sites in other places are unusual.
The Amazing Race -- by way of example and not to criticize -- overlooked significant sites of memory of state terrorism against African-Americans in places it passed through in the USA, and has yet to visit any of the extensive and increasingly conspicuous network of sites of memory of state terrorism in Argentina and the other countries of the Southern Cone.
The former prison on Alcatraz Island is a "must-see" for visitors to San Francisco. Given that the USA has the world's largest prison population, it makes perfect sense for foreign visitors to want to understand US attitudes toward, and practices of, incarceration. For better or (mostly) worse, these are distinctive features of the USA and of our culture. But most people who live here, not to mention most foreigners, have never heard of the prison in Florence, Colorado, that has replaced Alcatraz as the most restrictive in the Federal prison system. Why? And why does no other US prison or museum of the history of imprisonment attract anything like the interest or visitorship of Alcatraz?
It's tempting to attribute this solely to the impact on popular awareness of Hollywood movies like Schindler's List and Escape from Alcatraz. There's some truth to that, but I think there is more going on than just pop-culture fads. It's also tempting to assume that tourists want a vacation from unpleasant thoughts. But that can't account for the interest in Alcatraz -- or, for that matter, for the perennial popularity as tourist destinations of some battlefields and sites of military history.
Travel isn't like watching a movie. It's easier to contemplate horrors or holocausts when we can distance ourselves from them as being part of another time, another place, or another culture. But the more we immerse ourselves in the place we are visiting, the more we try to see the world through our hosts' eyes, the harder it is to sustain that emotional separation.
Do you visit sites of unpleasant memory when you travel? Which ones? Where and where not? Why?Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 13 November 2015, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)