“Ghost Hunting: A Eulogy”
A recent death went largely unreported.
There was no outpouring of grief. No endless video loops in the network news feeds.
It went unnoticed because it was a death that had been slow and arduous, occurring over the last 20 years. Like a bedridden relative whose end was known to all, so that when it finally came it was of no surprise and everyone was glad to see an end to the suffering.
I am talking about ghost hunting.
In the period between 1880 and 1980, paranormal research was a science taken- at least in part- seriously among academics who loved the intellectual debate, albeit with a skeptical chuckle amid the discussions that took place in universities and scientific societies around the world. Hey, even the study of psychology and the treatment of mental illness was considered fringe science for decades.
In the 1990’s the reporting of paranormal activity became popularized in serious news-style shows like FOX Network’s Sightings. It became serious and respected. Then the new millennium dawned and reality television took over the airwaves like a cancer, spreading with reckless abandon and swallowing intelligence and reason within its darkness.
Ghost Hunters started with such promise. The first two seasons saw most places debunked and not much occurred by way of evidence. It was more telling of what really goes on in front of and behind the scenes of ghost hunting groups. Then it became popular. The network suits saw dollar signs and everything changed.
Over the years that show has become less about the science and more about the hype. Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab, Most Haunted, Paranormal State, and their like all followed suit with melodramatic acting, gimmicks, and sensationalistic nonsense.
Science took a back seat to ratings.
Ghost Hunters, for example, has a staging crew that sets up a place before their arrival. They’ve now added gimmicks like taking a dog with them on investigations. Forget the fact that Jason Hawes repeatedly said in the show’s beginning that they respect but stay away from mystical techniques; let’s also keep in mind that anyone knowledgeable in psychic abilities knows that cats are the animal to use in a ghost hunt, not a dog. I’m serious on that point.
Their latest Hollywood makeover is to have comedian Jerry Seinfeld do the show’s narration and they routinely have “guest investigators” who are actors on other SyFy series as a cheap and easy cross-promotional advertising tool for the network.
“I’m not a scientist. But I play one on TV.”
The “fans” just eat it up. Meanwhile the anti-science cancer continues to eat away at their critical thinking skills. The fans emulate their television heroes by breaking into abandoned homes and cemeteries in the dark of night and “investigate,” then have the grapefruits to proclaim to the world that they are scientists with unquestionable proof of paranormal events.
All of this led to August 21, 2013. That’s the date that ghost hunting lost its battle with brain cancer and was pronounced dead at 21:00 EST- that’s the moment the season finale of SyFy’s Paranormal Witness aired.
None other than Sebastian Smith himself directed the episode. Horror fans know who he is. For those who might need a reminder, in 2007 he was one of the minds behind the low-budget UK flick Dead Wood.
Seriously. A horror filmmaker is now directing “reality” television that’s supposed to be about science and fact. If there was any lingering doubt that reality television of any type wasn’t scripted nonsense it must surely be gone now.
The episode involves the “Lynchville Secret” and tells the story of a single mother whose dream of a new life for her and her daughters is disrupted by the presence of malicious spirits from the Old West and a one-hundred-year-old secret.
Boy, if that doesn’t sound more like a summer blockbuster and less like a scientific expedition.
I have books, parapsychology research journals, and other reference material going back decades in my office library. Not one of them has even a mention of the so-called “Lynchville Secret”. If this story/activity has been around for a century then surely somebody must have said or written something by now. Therefore, I took to the internet. No good their, either; just endless pages and links with reviews and airdates for the SyFy episode.
Shows like this need to have a Do Not Resuscitate clause in their contracts.
These “gimmicks” that these shows have been reduced to using are like feeding tubes and life support, keeping these shows going long after they should have been laid respectfully to rest. When you produce a show that’s supposed to be about learning and science and instead it must resort to smoke and mirrors just to keep it relevant then it’s time to just pull the plug. It’s the respectful and honorable thing to do.
So it is that we lay to rest the fad of ghost hunting. May it go quietly into the night and slip gracefully over the veil that lay across the great divide.
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions