Archive for February, 2010

Get Your Training from TV?

Posted in Commentary, Investigations with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2010 by S. P.

Many times I feel like people watch a couple episodes of one of the “paranormal” shows on TV and think that somehow constitutes “training” and qualifies that person as a “ghost hunter.”  There are several problematic issues with this line of thinking.  Let’s look at some of them.

First, you need to understand the “paranormal” programs are television shows produced for entertainment.  There are not documentaries.  Every “paranormal” series I’ve seen has much more in common with reality television than a true documentary.  These programs are produced, shot and edited in such a way to attract viewership in order for the sponsoring network to generate ratings and sell commercial spots to sponsors.  That’s how television works – and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you understand that’s how it works and that these programs are for fun and entertainment, not education and training.

What you see on TV is not necessarily reality.  The “personalities” on these shows refer to themselves as “cast members.”  That should tell you something right there.  “Cast members” play roles.  They are not simply “real people” reacting to “real” situations.  They are actors in a television production.  When’s the last time a real investigation required a producer, director, cameramen, soundmen, and editors?

Additionally, these programs present hours and hours of research, investigation and evidence review condensed into an hour or a half-hour spot.  They do not present the reality of an investigation.  Frankly, if they did show unedited, full-length investigations, not many people would watch as a real investigation involves hours and hours of nothing much happening highlighted by perhaps a few moments of activity, followed by hours and hours of monotonous evidence review looking for the proverbial “needle in the hay stack.”

Speaking of editing, along with showing only the highlights of the most entertaining happenings, these programs are also heavily edited to present characters in a certain light (again, remember they are cast members). Brian Harnois from Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International presents a perfect example of my point.

If you watched those programs, Brian continually came off as something of a bumbling, but lovable fool.  If someone caused that many issues on a team, would you really keep that person around?  In reality, Brian was one of the earliest members of TAPS, long before the Ghost Hunters program even existed.  Also, if you read interviews with Brian, he actually comes off as a very intelligent, diligent, serious researcher and investigator who made the decision to leave the programs in order to spend more time with his family (as a former active duty Air Force officer, I completely understand his decision – being gone from your family, especially when you have young kids, is far from fun).  Despite all this, the producers felt highlighting Brian’s mistakes would introduce a bumbling, but lovable character and “create tension” thereby making the program more entertaining for viewers.

On top of this, the quality of nearly every investigation shown on television (I say “nearly” in case there’s a show out there that’s actually good which I haven’t seen) is, to put it kindly, poor.  The earlier episodes of Ghost Hunters did a fairly good job of showing people if evidence is questionable in the least bit, it should be tossed.  However, it’s difficult to keep ratings up (and thereby sell commercial spots) if you have show after show where the protagonists prove there’s no actual paranormal activity (which is the end result of most real investigations).  Therefore we’ve come to point today in “paranormal” TV where every location is apparently haunted, no matter how flimsy or ridiculous the “evidence” presented to viewers.

For example, an episode of Ghost Adventures recently featured the protagonist Zak Bagans becoming “possessed” during an investigation of the Preston Castle in California.  As the screen showed the “possessed” Bagans sitting in a chair, his voice-over narration claims viewers can see an “orb” float down, turn 90 degrees and enter his head.  Wow!  What an amazing “orb!”  I could literally see its wings flapping!  Sorry, gang, an insect flying around in an old, deserted building is NOT paranormal.

Another recent program showed an “investigator” walking around with an EMF meter, which she actually described as a “ghost detector.”  Again, sorry everyone, an EMF meter is NOT a “ghost detector.”  It is an electro-magnetic field meter.  The only things it detects are electro-magnetic fields.  Entities might alter EMF and therefore an abnormal reading on an EMF meter might indicate the presence of an entity, but that does not make it a “ghost detector.”  Even in this case, the meter is still only registering the associated EMF, not the entity itself.

Is it any wonder we have so many “paranormal thrill seekers” running around claiming they’re “investigators” but instead simply imitating the antics of their favorite paranormal TV show character?  Real paranormal research does not involve walking through an old building, waiving around a light-up “ghost detector,” all while uttering a non-stop string of profanity.

One of my goals with this blog is to help people who really want to learn about paranormal research.  I’m also working on some presentations to help teach others about the field while avoiding what passes for “investigations” on TV.  I hope it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

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