The top show on my DO NOT WATCH list this summer is “Dark Tourist,” the Netflix series now streaming that takes us to places where bad things happened.
The eight-part series has impressive credentials. Host David Farrier is a New Zealand journalist who co-directed “Tickled,” a 2016 HBO documentary described by The Washington Post as “a crafty, unsettling bait-and-switch of a movie” about competitive endurance tickling.
Now Farrier is off to investigate “dark tourism — a global phenomenon where people choose to vacation in places associated with death and destruction.” Maybe, he muses, it’s like taking “a weird holiday before going back to your normal dull existence.”
Farrier kicks off the series in Fukushima, the Japanese prefecture that turned radioactive after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at a nuclear plant. Because, as the saying goes, there’s a sucker born every minute, a company offers bus tours to the town of Tomioka, a formerly restricted zone now said to be safe. The guide is a jovial fellow who says that if his Geiger counter reads 0.20 that “worries me.” But he really isn’t worried because he’s led tours before, and it’s not like he’s grown “extra horns or fingers.”
Then, a few minutes into the trip, one tourist’s Geiger counter hits 0.72! With stunning understatement, Farrier says, “Immediately, the nuclear tourists are concerned.”
As a huge fan of normalcy and dullness, I did not want to watch any more of these foolhardy people on a nuclear tour. So I skipped to Episode 2. Farrier heads to the U.S. for vampire tourism in New Orleans and JFK assassination tourism in Dallas, and a trip to Milwaukee to review the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Farrier travels with a woman who is obsessed with Dahmer and discusses his murders as if they were works of art instead of horrific acts of inhumanity.
Is there not an ethics editor at Netflix who could have suggested, “It’s always going to be too soon for an irreverent look at serial killing?”