Everybody thinks they're a good tourist - it's all the other ones who are inappropriate and embarrassing. This applies especially to the phenomenon David Farrier calls "dark tourism", a kind of morbid sightseeing, which he explores in his new Netflix documentary series Dark Tourist.
Remember Logan Paul, the thundering YouTube idiot hauled over the social media coals last year for posting a video of himself gawping at a corpse in Aokigahara, Japan's notorious "suicide forest"? That was dark tourism, and Logan Paul the world's worst dark tourist.
Farrier visits the same forest in the first episode of his new show. It's basically the complete opposite of the Logan Paul video; he doesn't find a dead body, nor does he wear a stupid hat. He's open-minded, inquisitive and respectful - a good tourist. But you still can't help but wonder: is this okay?
It's a question Farrier grapples with throughout the series. Earlier in the Japan episode he goes on a bus tour around Fukushima, visiting towns devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami or rendered uninhabitable by the subsequent nuclear radiation leak. At one point the tour stops on the coast, where the tsunami hit. It's eerie and sad, huge piles of debris lining the road. A couple of the other tourists get out and start taking selfies.
This is part of what makes Dark Tourist such a good and textured travel series. It captures the authentic anxieties and contradictions of everyday tourism that most other shows of this type would gloss over. "Get any good photos?" Farrier asks the pair back on the bus, a roundabout New Zealand way of saying, "Have you no sense of decency, you horrid ghouls?"
In the parking lot at Aokigahara he meets a trio of Canadians returning from their own corpse-spotting expedition in the forest. "We didn't see any bodies, [but] you see the ropes that people drag in with them," one explains. "It was neat."
Neat! Bloody hell. But is Farrier, nosily peering through the windows of a car deserted in a distant corner of the lot, really any better?
His motives for wanting to visit the suicide forest really aren't that different from Logan Paul or the bearded Canadian guy in the Bob's Burgers T-shirt. He's more detached and critical and self-aware about it than they are, but does any of that really matter?
This is the grey area "dark tourism" exists in. It's a global phenomenon, and the series finds plenty of similarly macabre hotspots across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In the first of two US episodes, Farrier is excited to go on a Jeffrey Dahmer-themed walking tour in Milwaukee, only to find out this is primarily a raucous hen's night activity where the guide uses divining rods to "communicate" with the notorious serial killer.
A lot of the time Farrier comes away seeming like he's not really sure what to make of things, how to feel about them.
In this way, Dark Tourist might be the most relatable travel show ever made.
Dark Tourist is streaming via Netflix.