A word in your ear - April 26, 2012

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BLACKPOOL is au fait with just about everything there is to know about tourism.

From the legend of Kiss Me Quick, to the less innocent Stag and Hen, surrounded by lashings of candy floss and fairground fun.

There are very few things Sandgrown’uns have not tried to pull the punters in.

But are our neighbours ready to steal a march with a whole new alarming concept? Well, hardly.

Headlines this week from down the road appeared to shed light on to Preston’s dabbling with the dark arts in the name of crowd-pulling.

“Preston to become centre for Dark Tourism” certainly stopped me in my tracks. That was until I realised it was a college course.

“Dark Tourism” – where visitors travel to sites of death, brutality and terror – is to be the subject of a dedicated centre for academic research at the University of Central Lancashire.

Researchers say they want to examine why people “feel compelled to visit sites like Auschwitz or Ground Zero”.

Apparently there has been a rise in the number of holidaymakers who combine their annual break with a visit to sites where horrific events have taken place.

Philip Stone, who co-founded the new institute, said many people want to empathise with victims, and understand what motivated the perpetrators, but are glad to return to their own lives after.

“It’s a way for a secular society to connect with death,” he said.

There is a “blurred line between memorialisation and tourism,” he added. But does it really matter?

Why we are drawn to scenes of major disasters or tragedies is a complex one, given we have our own reasons, be they to remember a lost relative – as with the trenches of the Great War – have an historical interest, or simply want to quantify what we’ve seen in the news.

I’ve been to Ground Zero, I went there in 2002, 11 months after the terrorist attacks on New York.

Whether it is the fact I’m a journalist by trade, or a curious rubbernecker I don’t know, but I guess it was a hard place not to be drawn to. When myself and my wife climbed the steps from the subway station you could taste the dust still in the air, or so it seemed, while pictures of missing loved ones were attached to nearby railings.

It was one of the moments where words were not needed, so I kept my mouth shut and held a dignified silence alone with my thoughts.

More so than the American woman – from Texas I believe – who took pictures of her husband near the memorial sign and then blurted out “Hank, make yourself look scared.”

“How dear?” he responded.

She let out a large shriek and waved her hands in the air as if to mimic a terrified scream.

This less than touching vision has stuck with me longer than how the hole in the ground, as Ground Zero was a decade ago, looked.

Memorialisation, or tourism, you could ask. I think Mr Stone had better come up with another category marked “Grief Reveller” for our crass American friend.