March 13, 2202: It is snowing and bitterly cold outside. A biting wind whips across Paul’s face as he begins to escape — once again — from a horde of wild hunters in a frozen field outside Utah. Covered in blood, sweat, and tears, he successfully manages to lose them by slipping into a gutter. After all, he is nothing but skin and bones. After a long wander, Paul finds a shelter. An abandoned ranch with a built-in charcoal burner. Suddenly, all his sorrows disappear. For the past year, hungry and desperate, the young man had been trying to avoid “the chosen” ones: a group of oppressive mega rich people partaking in the hunting season, a perverse new kind of evil sport intended to reduce earth’s overpopulation. Inside the ranch, Paul pulls out a lighter and bends over to light the burner. As the room starts to light up, he notices a large mirror placed over the fireplace in front of him. He feels a sudden spine-tingling fear invading his entire body. He knows what is going to happen next. His world suddenly crumbles away beneath him as he sees 20 or so people loaded with electromagnetic assault shotguns. He is on the ground long before he can even gasp in terror. Paul was just another target of a new government plan aimed to reduce population size through hunting licenses outsourced to contractors. The contractor’s sole business is to slaughter humans and so was created the death entertainment industry.
The dystopian scenario depicted above — worthy of an episode of Black Mirror — might seem distant, unrealistic and very provocative, yet hunting humans inside terror parks could become a big touristic business for the mega-wealthy in less than 150 years according to University of Central Lancashire’s researcher Daniel Wright. In a series of papers published in the scientific journal Futures, the academic points out several chilling scenarios in which our worst nightmares rise to the surface.
This form of entertainment is not necessarily new in human history. In fact, there are several well-documented examples throughout history where people have gathered either to kill or to witness murder. Roman gladiatorial games and religious pilgrimages or travel to witness medieval public executions are just a couple examples. The last public execution in France was in Versailles in 1939, when the German criminal Eugène Weidmann was executed in front of an eager audience. The staged event drew several hundred spectators.
“Death as a spectacle is not a new phenomenon in social spaces,” says Wright. Since the dawn of time, humans have been obsessed and morbidly fascinated with death and all that surrounds it.
“Death, just as much as life, is a defining characteristic of human existence.” — Jacobsen
Pointing to the past provides us with enough historical evidence that in the future there will certainly exist a market for suffering and death as entertainment. When it comes to dystopian visions, it is impossible not to think of the movie The Running Man. In the 1982 Sci-Fi classic — starring Arnold Schwarzenegger — criminals are made to compete in televised deathmatches for entertainment.
Although, perhaps the recently released trilogy The Hunger Games fits better with Wright’s futuristic society. In the film, young people are psychologically and ritualistically tortured in twisted reality TV sports event. The story revolves around an elite controlling and slaughtering civilians for their own pleasure and profit, something that might become a tangible grim reality in the next century according to Wright.
In the future: Humans will gradually become more accustomed to death as a form of spectacle
It is important to emphasize the role the media and the entertainment industry will have played if in the future hunting humans becomes a touristic activity. As Wright writes, “our present-day relationship with death through the movie industry, media and with the growth of technology is actively shaping the future of our affiliation to death as a form of entertainment.”
Technology will undoubtedly play the biggest role as it could enable detachment between the hunters and their victims and remove the emotional impact of killing someone by presenting it as similar to a computer-generated experience, which Wright’s paper suggests will ultimately make killing a common pastime by 2100.
The romantic display of mass violence and death in the media and the videogames industry will continue to normalize death as entertainment, making it easier for people to progressively engage in commercial death activities for purposes of pleasure and enjoyment.
Considerable changes in the environment will also lead to future social challenges, depleted food resources, lack of water and disparity between the wealthy and impoverished. Each of these factors will play a significant role in how we perceive ourselves and could widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Author Gössling Hall suggests in “Tourism and water use” that water shortage has the potential to ignite increased conflicts, which will be further aggravated by population growth and climate change.
If today there are still rich individuals paying huge amounts to hunt down and murder exotic animals in Africa — in a world where humanity has already managed to decimate large populations of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since 1970 — then it is not irrational to believe that in the year 2200 there will be a large and diverse audience ready to consume a new type of entertainment. Unlike our ancestors, humans could gradually become more accustomed to death as a form of spectacle. In fact, the global travel trend of dark tourism might be the first indication that we are moving in this direction.
But, what is dark tourism? According to Philip Stone and Richard Sharpley authors of “Consuming Dark Tourism” is the “act of travel to sites associated with death, suffering and the seemingly macabre”. In a world with less war, crime and violence, the dark tourism industry is currently booming both in demand and supply.
Visitors usually go to places where terrible things happened over the course of the century. The Holocaust and the Nazi death camps — like Auschwitz — The Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields in Cambodia are just some of the creepy sites people are willing to go to in order to experience and witness the traces of atrocity, torture, and death.
Authors John Lennon and Malcom Foley wrote in their book, “Dark tourism: the attraction of death and disaster”, that destinations commonly associated with war most likely constitute the largest single category of tourist attractions in the world.
The growing travel trend of dark tourism is just one indicator of how the continued portrayal of pain, death, and suffering will arguably influence the normalization of future dystopian scenarios and the desire to indulge in experiences that allow an individual to engage, with varying degrees of intensity, with representations of death, in diverse manifestations. Arguably, more elaborated forms of business and entertainment related to death could potentially develop in the next centuries.
The depiction of dystopian worlds is nothing new. Our fascination with death has been widespread across both time and space. Wright’s controversial premise might raise some skeptical eyebrows and criticism, yet his ideas and futuristic scenarios allow us to think profoundly about the future. A world beset by a collapsing environment, ravaged by economic and ecological disaster, and filled with enormous technological progress might drive us to seek such new forms of entertainment.
Fortunately, for now, those wanting to take pleasure in hunting humans activities will have to limit themselves to literature or movies where the portrayal of such unpleasant dystopian societies is a ghastly reality located in a long-distance dark future.