The deceptive world of paranormal reality TV

After finishing A Haunting in Connecticut, I started to explore the world of ghost hunting/exploring shows and it is massive. So after that and the sad coincidence of the great James Randi’s death, I felt like I needed to make this post.

Now, before I start, I felt like I had to say that this is in no way made to stir up a discussion on if ghosts are real or not nor is it make to “debunk” religion or something similar. My focus is purely on the shows themselves and how/why they are made. In fact one could argue that they accomplish the opposite of what they want to do.

One would think that these shows are very limited and with a small audience but it would appear that paranormal reality TV is a very big and lucrative business. There is a huge number of shows but for now, I’ll start with the biggest one – Ghost Hunters to give you a glimpse into the world of ghost hunting. It is a show that started in 2004 and has over 240 episodes.

It is a very interesting example because it starts off with just two plumbers struggling to juggle their regular job and their paranormal investigating. Fast forward to today, when we look at one of them like Jason Hawes we can see that his net worth is over 3 million dollars. But sure, you could say that the money came after and their original goal was not to profit but the search for truth, at the start it certainly seems that way, but reading about the seasons and how it progressed even fans of the show admit that it became more exaggerated and manufactured.and  Of course the crew member Donna LaCroix coming forth and saying that the show is fake does not help its case too, nor does the alleged script that was leaked. That might just be one show though not all of them right? They are not all the same. 

Let’s take a look at the formula that most of these shows follow and see just that. We have the ghost hunters who find out about a family that is being plagued by some sort of entity, they set off and speak with the family before setting up the cameras and their equipment. In most of the cases, we would see scenes of a door opening and closing, some ball rolling by itself or a shadow just at the edge of the screen and they are always in complete darkness.

So why is this bad? Well if you had to fake a ghost video how would you do it? They always go for the simplest ways to make it seem like there is a ghost and all of the episodes follow the same script. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

And what about the equipment? They can’t fake the findings they get while exploring right? The most common tools used in these kinds of shows are EMF sensors, flashlights, audio recorders, and cameras. Ignoring the fact that none of those have any scientific backing that they are helpful in paranormal investigations we can examine them and see just how easily they can be exploited to fake or at least embellish a scene. For example, there are a plethora of things that can affect an EMF sensor even your cellphone or a radio. And yet this has also become a huge business where the gear is sold for a lot of money to amateur ghost hunters. 

You would think that they would want the latest and best technology for things such as these but no, that would not make it interesting. Noises and static noise can be abused much easier, the power of suggestion is a powerful weapon that is why most of the ghost hunters tell you what they want you to hear so that it can propel the story. If you want to hear a much better explanation from people that know how they work rather than just me explaining it poorly on the technological aspect of ghost shows and how it does not make sense combined with some humor I highly recommend watching this:

But at the end of the day if it is entertaining and the people know its fake then what is the problem? Sure, I can definitely see that point, in fact there are shows like this that I genuinely enjoy but they are a dime a dozen. Shows like VH1’s celebrity paranormal project are shows that don’t take themselves too seriously yet are genuinely entertaining. It has Gary Busey and Gilbert Gottfried in it what else could you want?

The problem arises when people see the vast audience that shows like this attract and how easy they are to make. Then the market becomes over-saturated with manufactured scenarios that anything that possibly resembles authenticity disappears. How can they compete? This can be easily seen on YouTube where anyone can create a 10 minute paranormal video, put little to no effort in their videos and yet can get away with them because they can dismiss any sort of criticism with throwing shade on the criticizer by saying that they are going after their religion or beliefs:

It is absolutely mind boggling that a channel such as this that has been exposed multiple times for faking other kinds of videos and hiring actors make such a poorly acted video and gather millions of views because they pray on people’s beliefs and insecurities. It is much easier to find these people on YouTube rather than television because they do not have entire production teams to polish the content. And the people who actually do videos like these are YouTubers with backgrounds of faking fatal illnesses and faking the death of their partners. They move away from one con to the other.

This is where the biggest problem lies. It has created an entire empire made up of scam artists that prey on vulnerable people, from “Ghost hunters” that visit houses of families who have recently lost family members to psychic making up ridiculous stuff just so that they can get paid. And things such as these have consequences, these people have no problems saying that a missing person is dead even if they are not real just so they can get a few thousands of dollars yet none of them took up the James Randi challenge of 1 million dollars to prove that their powers are real. These programs allow for people to move past television and YouTube to real life where they pose as psychics to solve cases and they end up doing more harm than good:

Even if there are genuine psychics out there (I am open minded) in most cases the psychics called end up wasting time and valuable resources: and as the article states some psychics are credited with the solving of the case even though many of their “clues” end up being incorrect.

And that is the bottom line. Much like in any other genre and media the fake and edited takes over and gets all the eyes on it and they set the norm to what can be seen as real and fake (look at how the equipment used in those became a norm out of nowhere) only here there is a much darker undertone to all this. Con artists flourish because their critics are dismissed by the fans that they gather by praying on their faith. But as always I could be looking too deep into it so I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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