Yet another quick link to the difficult subject of respect and “dark tourism”. This article discusses a personal reaction to seeing selfie sticks at Auschwitz. The author had a similar reaction to my own on seeing tourists at Pompeii experience the plaster casts purely through their camera lens, as I wrote here. Both of us were angered by what we interpreted as a lack of respect for the people killed, but slowly came to reassess our assumptions.
In the case of Auschwitz, the author points out that soon there will be no survivors of the Holocaust left, and people will only be able to learn about it from textbooks. Does this mean that people marking their presence at these sites gains more meaning as survivors slowly disappear? What does this mean for archaeological remembrance? There are no survivors of the Vesuvius eruption – they are lost to time.
Really, the problem boils down to intentions. We as heritage specialists philosophically understand that people learn and process difficult events and emotions in different ways. The idea that people need to mark difficult events in our past in different ways makes sense, and we are open to that. But as some of the specialists in the previous article point out that they are sceptical that people visiting Auschwitz in order to document the story and bear witness.
Does it matter what people’s intentions are?
Do we police behaviour based on intentions?
Are selfies always disrespectful? Or are they ok if the subjects are processing the events? What sort of timeline do we expect? What if 15 years later, the selfie subject looks back and remembers their experience and has an emotional reaction to their visit, even if at the time it had no impact?
Does that make it ok?