Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Handy Guide to Ghost TV

I'm not a skeptic when it comes to the spirit world, I'm an unbeliever. I believe that some people see things they cannot explain and that seem to be ghosts. I don't doubt that for a second. I just don't think that it's ghosts and I assume there is some better explanation - something grounded in reality that, given the right exploration, can be explained away as something very much "normal" and not "paranormal". My wife does not share this belief with me 100%, instead believing that ghosts and spirits may exist, though more in the form of energy and not as conscious, intelligent beings that are stuck between life and the afterlife. She's seen things that have scared her to death that she cannot explain and that seem VERY much to be paranormal. I have not, so I state my belief with a certain amount of humility and respect, knowing that had I seen the things she had, I may be singing a different tune. 

I may be in the minority when it comes to these beliefs given the popularity and success of the recent explosion in "reality" shows about the paranormal. Or maybe not when one takes into account that the top four shows about "ghost hunting" are far more entertaining and dramatic than a show grounded in physics, cosmology, biology and/or chemistry might be. Were there a program where a group of brilliant scientists entered someones home to explain the bumps in the night and dark shadows being seen, the results would likely be pretty unremarkable. So maybe we all recognize that there is a certain amount of belief that must be suspended to enjoy these shows. Blah blah blah - let's take a look at the top four:

Ghost Hunters on the SciFi Channel. First clue that this show may be strictly entertainment: it's on the SCIENCE FICTION channel. Second clue: the dudes going around investigating the goings-on are not trained experts, but plumbers. They are joined by some volunteers who hunt apparitions in their spare time. They go into each investigation with the expressed purpose of "debunking" everything they can. I don't like this approach. It seems to me, that if you really want to get to the bottom of something, you go in with a wide open mind seeking to explain what is happening, not to debunk it. The other problem I have with the show is that when they can't debunk something (debunking usually boils down to high electromagnetic fields emanating from a fuse box, or a set of pipes banging against the basement floor) then the only other explanation they have is that "it's a ghost". Still, they seem to approach things with more of an open mind than some of the other programs, and I appreciate their attempt to keep things at a scientific level.

As a television program, it's pretty well done. I've found, after several seasons, that I've grown to really like the people on the show. Jason and Grant seem like good guys - guys who need a lesson or two in the art of shaking hands, but good guys nonetheless. Steve, the main "tech" guy, seems like a decent, if slightly simple fella and his goofy banter with fellow investigator Dave Tango (yes, always by first and last name) is mildly entertaining. And, I will admit, they have captured some things on audio and video that - IF REAL and that's a big fucking IF - are pretty creepy and weird. See video below as an example. 

There is a new spin-off called Ghost Hunters International (or GHI to those who like to use acronyms). GHI is basically the same schtick as the original show except they travel all over the world instead of sticking to the U.S.  The people on the show are not as likable, but are just as entertaining in a strange way. For example, Barry, the Irish dude (already like the guy) seems to have some sort of "experience" every single episode that no one else could ever prove - "Something is touching my leg" "The room just got much colder where I am standing" " I just heard the voice of a child say 'get out'", etc. etc. 

I have to admit, however - I'm hooked on both shows and never miss an episode, despite the fact that I know everything that is going to happen and the constant, never-ending, non-stop marketing that takes place during each show. Seriously people, is there something in the contract between TAPS (the Ghost Hunting Group that all of these people work for) and SciFi that states "all of our people, whenever they are on screen, must wear some article of logo-emblazoned clothing that is sold online"? I also still watch even though I doubt the sincerity of the people on the show. Do they really believe what they are doing - is this real or is it part show? I don't know. Maybe maybe not. Does it really mattter? Regardless, it's damn entertaining and I continue to enjoy both shows. Sue me. 


Paranormal State, on A&E and produced by the same people who brought you some lame MTV shows, centers around a group of Pennsylvania college students who, in between classes, drive around to investigate haunted locations. Much of the same techniques are used by these kids as are done on Ghost Hunters - EMF detectors, infrared cameras, digital recorders, trying to provoke a response from "spirits" (always a favorite), etc. The big difference here is that they bring in a psychic who 'reads' the locations. They have a few stock peeps they bring in, but it's mainly Chip Coffey, a 'well-known' psychic who is the grandson of another 'well known" psychic....I don't know psychic culture so this is really up to interpretation I suppose. 

There also seems to be a big emphasis on religion on this show - specifically Catholicism. Exorcisms have taken place and houses have been "cleaned". It's sort of like Scooby Doo with a dash of Jesus tossed in.  

PS is the least entertaining of the four. It's not that it's kids investigating these things, it's not that their Occult specialist is named "Elfie", it's not that the people who request their help will say or agree to anything that the kids tell them, it's not that there seems to be an abundance of "indian burial grounds" at these locations, and it's certainly not the "clients" themselves who are often some of the scariest people on Earth - no, it's that nothing ever happens. Evidence is rarely captured and the entire program feels much too over-produced and scripted. And poorly acted at that. In a word, Paranormal State is a "dud". 

Next up, Most Haunted, on the Travel Channel -  the granddaddy of the shows, the one that made it cool. A UK import, MH has a team led by Yvette Fielding who seems sincere enough. That is to say, the people investigating the locations seem to really buy into what they are experiencing, and there are generous moments of "freaking out" that are always entertaining. 

The best part of Most Haunted, however, has been missing for some seasons now which is a shame. This would be Derek Acorah. Derek is an ex-Footballer turned psychic medium. For a while, it was guaranteed that he would wind up possessed and speaking with some dopey accent while he went nuts and had to be "brought out" of his trance. Eventually, rumor has it, this became too much for the producers of the show who decided that he was too great of a charlatan to be taken seriously - or, I suppose, for the general audience to take seriously. And they surely did not want to lose viewers. Derek went on to have his own program for a bit, but ratings were poor and it eventually faded away, like a misty figure in a dark room....

Most Haunted is interesting because it is from the UK, where interest in the paranormal is significantly greater than it is here in the U.S. And yet, as a population, the UK is much less religious and superstitious and more inclined to agnosticism than the U.S.  I don't really know what that means. Maybe nothing. Maybe I'm over-thinking what is basically a ding-dongy show about spooks. 



The last show to make my top four is, arguably, the best and, alternately, the worst. Ghost Adventures on Bravo, is a spin off from the "documentary" released some time ago (see review here). Imagine, if you will, a fat guy with a goatee whose lexicon is limited to "dude" and "duuuude", a skinny guy whose vocab is slightly more extended, and steriod-rage-fueled douchebag from Las Vegas who dresses like a poor man's Bret Michaels and fits better on VH1's Tool Academy than a show about the paranormal  - and voila! You have Ghost Adventures the show. 

The premise for this show is simple: the three Bros will be locked into a haunted location for one night, armed only with their cameras and tape recorders. Before being locked in, we are treated to a cursory, and often incorrect history of the location (the Edinburgh episode was terrible) complete with interviews. Often the people interviewed are random people pulled off of the street ("yeah, I heard it was haunted, but I ain't going in") and the stories told almost always illicit the same response from Roid-Rage: "Whoooooaaaa. No waayyyy!"

Once locked in, the three jerks, basically, attempt to bully and kick the ass of the spirits. Like Paranormal State (and Most Haunted for that matter) there is rarely any compelling "evidence" caught. The only good part of the show is how deeply terrified these guys get. A tape recorder will tip over on the ground and they will jump 5 feet out of their chair, screaming like 8 year old girls. Do steroids turn guys into total pussies while making them huge? Dunno. Either way, this show is poop. Although, I must admit that Roid-Rage is endlessly entertaining. I mean, he wore a bowler hat in one episode . . . 

- Complaint Dept

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