While on a $28 tour of Alcatraz, S.J. Culver considers our attraction to dark tourism:
The popularity of these types of destinations is enduring, the earliest perhaps being the Egyptian pyramids, the Catacombs of Rome, and the Tower of London. Today, the dark tourist’s choices are greatly expanded: for around $160, you can tour the Chernobyl zone; for $2, you can visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school in Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge tortured thousands. In 2011, when tickets became available for the 9/11 Memorial, the first days of reservations were booked solid within a few hours.
The Alcatraz tour fails to mention that "one in forty-three adults in this country is behind bars or on probation or parole." Her takeaway on the missed opportunity to educate the prison's visitors:
Here is one of the few social spaces in the country where people with real political power (those who can vote, have disposable income, etc.) seek out information about incarceration; it’s a disappointment that what they get instead is entertainment. The real problem is our complacency, and perhaps it’s bigger than any tourist attraction could hope to correct.
(Photo by Jeff Vier)