Thursday, June 2, 2011

Watching and Waiting for GH and Evaluating the New Kid on the Paranormal Block

Syfy aired a new Ghost Hunters episode last night that caused a bit of an uproar. Why? First, because it was aired at 8:00 p.m. EDT instead of the usual 9:00 p.m. Next, it was believed by many to be the first episode of the NEW season, and oops! no, that won't begin until August 24th, apparently, with GHI episodes beginning in July. Third, the team investigated a museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and we viewers never saw the Reveal because at the end, Jason and Grant received a call from Steve (who was not with them due to his reluctance to fly), that there was an emergency case involving a young child back east who was experiencing interactivity with unseen entities. So neither the Reveal nor the new case was shown. It feels as if we're all holding our breath--waiting to exhale, so to speak--to know what evidence was uncovered in the Pearl Harbor investigation and what is happening with the young child case. Why didn't Syfy just make it a longer episode? Or why not have a special second day of Ghost Hunters to give us the reveal? Even Jason Hawes seemed caught off-guard by the strange scheduling in his Facebook post about the show.

Only those in TV-land know for sure, but one reason may have been the debut of Haunted Collector, a show about yet another paranormal investigation team, this time one that investigates items that may be the source ofparanormal activity in a location. John Zaffis says he's been doing this work for about 40 years. He oversees the Zaffis Museum in Stratford, CT, where he has on display the items that he has removed from locations because they've been causing problems for those who've owned them. Ironically, we don't know from the show whether or not these items continue to wreak havoc once placed in the Zaffis Museum (the web site says they are cleansed for display purposes--I assume that means "spiritually cleansed"). And, how is it that he gets to keep these pieces--some of them apparently being valuable antiques? I question the process. He goes in, determines through his own methods that an item has a spirit attached to it, takes the item from its owner, and puts it in his museum on display. Does he charge admission to people to come see these items? Seems as if the former owners should at least get a tax deduction for donating to the museum.
One place featured in last night's inaugural episode was the Deep River Public Library (not li-berry) in Deep River, Connecticut, where children were reportedly afraid to stay based on sitings of a shadowy woman in black on the stairs and in one of the rooms. A typewriter in the attic (a valuable antique in excellent condition) was also making noises in the attic as if someone were throwing the return carriage and causing it to "ding." A large built-in cast iron stove in the back kitchen was also a significant item of interest in the building. John ended up with the typewriter for his museum, though I'd bet if he could have wrangled that stove out of the library, that would have ended up in the museum, too, as an item related to the haunting.

I really wanted to like this new show. I know people who have had items in their homes that purportedly caused strange occurrences to occur. It makes sense to me that it could be possible for a spirit to become attached to something--enough living people do so (to their cars, their homes, their jewelry, etc.). But I got the sense that this was a less-than-satisfying copycat version of the typical paranormal investigation program, except focused on individual antiques as the source of the problem--rather than, as most of the paranormal shows allude to, past issues involving violence, extreme emotion, or high energy. However, John did attribute an emotional attachment to the typewriter by its assumed former owner as the reason for the haunting and attachment to the object. For me, it was a stretch. And it bothered me to see him take the typewriter from the library for his museum.

The other investigators working with him were his son and daughter, and two relatively attractive others--a tech guy, Brian Cano, who I'd bet was brought in to attract an audience of both males and females; and a young attractive woman, Beth Ezzo, "lead investigator" who may or may not be intuitive -- it was suggested but denied at the same time. Having the family working together on the show and its subject matter being paranormal brought to mind Mary Knows Best, the reality show about psychic Mary O and her family. The difference was that Mary Knows Best seemed to be showcasing the family issues and less the psychic readings than Haunted Collector is doing. However, there does not seem to be much new information imparted by Haunted Collector to differentiate it from say, Ghost Hunters--the apparent reigning paranormal investigation program of the day. And, as a matter of fact, the presentation is less detailed and clear than that of Ghost Hunters or GHI.

All that being said, I don't believe that it is impossible for this show to craft itself into a better and more unique offering that does not ride on the coattails of Syfy's other paranormal investigative programs. It is too similar at this point and, therefore, too easy to make comparison to Ghost Hunters. It is also taking over the 9:00 p.m. slot normally reserved by one or another Ghost Hunters-related program, and GH fans may not like their comfort level being toyed with.

I would be more interested in seeing John Zaffis talk about the items in the museum and how he acquired them, with interviews with the former owners of the objects and any footage of those investigations. I also found it interesting on his Zaffis Museum website that he has the items cleansed so that they will be "safe" to view. The website also says that some items are not displayed because they cannot be cleansed to such a degree of being non-threatening. Now THAT is interesting. Don't give me a poor imitation of Ghost Hunters; give me something NEW in a new way--like how the objects are cleansed, what the research is that such objects may be...possessed (?). Give me some advice as a possible owner of such a haunted object. And let us know how to find the right people to deal with these things. John says on his website that there are reasons not to destroy these objects--that burning or destroying them in some cases could unleash some undesirable consequences. Such as what? Educate the public with the show, don't just pacify them with yet another of what has worked elsewhere -- a paranormal investigative team with meters and cameras, SYFY guys and ladies. Think a bit outside the box, like you did with Fact or Faked Paranormal.

What people want to see in paranormal reality television is whether or not there are trustworthy people giving information that viewers are seeking to find out about, in a believable and informative way. Reality TV, to many people these days, is almost as important as news or educational television.

So, John Zaffis and team, I wish you the best in your endeavors to make your area of expertise more widely known, however, I am not a fan of the format being used in the show. But, I believe with some tweaking ,it could work in its own right.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Celebrity Ghost Stories: Cure for Withdrawal

I'm a big fan of Celebrity Ghost Stories, and right now the only shows airing are re-runs that I have already seen. Today, I wanted to check to see if Ernie Hudson from the movie Ghostbusters had been featured on Celebrity Ghost Stories because in an interview this week with TMZ Ernie Hudson said he didn't believe in the paranormal. But I remembered seeing him on the show, and I was right. I remembered that he had stayed in a haunted hotel with his family and they were scared by an apparition in the middle of the night.

While searching the Celebrity Ghost Stories website I found some short videos that are exclusive to the website with stories told by some of the featured celebrities that were not part of their aired segments. It was great, because it was like a new episode or two of the show was available with all new material.

I guess my favorite was Tracy Nelson, who said she dreamed of her father, the singer Rick Nelson, after his death. In a series of dreams he would call her on the phone and tell her she was very sick and needed to see a doctor. She had few symptoms but went to see doctors asking them to check her out, and they repeatedly found nothing. In the final dream, her father was yelling at her to find a doctor to treat her, that her life was in danger. She finally found a doctor who discovered a large tumor behind her heart and she was treated for cancer after that.

I also had a dream in which my former mother-in-law called me on the phone on the first anniversary of her death. When I heard her voice on the phone, I said, "Did you come back?" She was crying and saying that she was worried about her youngest son who needed some help, and that he had no place to live. In the dream I assured her that he was fine. She told me, no, he had misspent his money and had no place to live. Two days later, her youngest son showed up at my door saying he needed a place to sleep because he had been living outdoors for awhile and he was cold. So that was interesting to me. The dead calling on the phone to reach us in dreams.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Paranormal TV Update

In the Paranormal-O-Sphere of reality TV, new episodes of My Ghost Story are being aired on the Bio Channel these days on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. with re-runs of the past weeks' show at 9 p.m. These are usually pretty freaky stories, although my feeling is that some of them are exaggerated or fabricated. Last week featured a couple that bought a big old house that they wanted to turn into a haunted attraction. In spite of the fact that they had some really vicious experiences, they said they still wanted to open it to the public as an attraction. Are they not concerned about exposing the public to activity that seemed almost demonic? Or are they just trying to drum up business?

This week, two stories were related to St. Augustine, Florida, where the lighthouse is supposed to be the most haunted lighthouse in the country, there was also a woman featured who takes video of water that she lightly disturbs. On the video there are frames that show pictures of people and animals. While I have never seen that exact technique, I have heard of using water or a mirror as an oracle for connecting to the other side or the use of videotape and static images on a screen.

While watching My Ghost Story I noticed that they are encouraging viewers to tweet their own ghost story to the Twitter address. Viewers of paranormal reality shows seem really interested in telling their own stories -- often anonymously, but more and more they are willing to be public about it even to the point of getting their 15 minutes of fame in doing so.

Ghost Hunters is airing its last episode of this recent season. The new format includes more interesting graphic frames and the addition of Jason's dog, Mandy, being used on investigations -- I suggested that TAPS use animals on investigations in a prior post here, based on the popularity of Animal Planet's The Haunted and the apparently obvious sensitivity of animals to paranormal activity evident in those stories. I made the suggestion on a Facebook thread for Jason Hawes about a year ago. I think they actually do listen to viewer comments in the web discussions and social media chats and threads. In some of the web discussions I had seen the complaint that the background music was distracting when investigators claimed to have heard something, and it didn't allow viewers to hear the sounds, as well. Now the production people are shutting off all music just prior to any allegedly inexplicable sounds that the investigators are hearing. The background silence signals something is about to occur, and viewers can focus their ears accordingly. I also noticed that Jason is much more animated in these recent episodes, and whether it is because of his increased fitness level due to his stringent workouts or because people posting online about the show complained that J&G were no longer "in it to win it," he apparently is more hyped up when he is pursuing a possible entity.

Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files follows the Ghost Hunters slot, and it was announced last week that they had record-breaking audience levels for four weeks consecutively. Not sure exactly what the "record breaking" means, but they had 1.4 million viewers for this past week's show, which was 6% higher than the previous week's show. Fact or Faked features a team made up of a photographer, tech expert, journalist, scientist among others who review web video claiming to depict paranormal and inexplicable phenomena and they determine which cases might be possible to investigate as hoaxes or truth. There are a lot of UFO and alien videos examined as well as those with ghosts and other odd occurrences.

Syfy has a new show starting Wednesday, June 1 at 9 p.m. -- Haunted Collector, which depicts the investigation of haunted objects causing problems for owners. The show features John Zaffis, who has been a paranormal researcher and demonologist for the past 30 years. Haunted Collector will precede the Hollywood Treasures show, which airs at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays. This is normally the Ghost Hunters slot--and I believe GHI or Ghost Hunters Academy usually follows right on the heels of the last Ghost Hunters episode of the season. However, it looks like GHI will be back around July, but I don't know if GHA will be.

Animal Planet's The Haunted is airing new shows now on Friday nights at 10 p.m. Last night's show featured a house that was built over a graveyard. A young child and her mother were experiencing activity and, of course, family members thought she was crazy, especially her husband. When the woman's sister experienced things, herself, she wouldn't go back into the house. In spite of other people having personal experiences and being visibly shaken by what they experienced, the husband didn't believe any of it. It always amazes me when they say, "This was different. Now it wasn't just my wife telling me she saw something. I actually saw it MYSELF." What does that say about his opinion of his wife or their relationship? Even the woman's mother was laughing at her until she felt a burning sensation and found teeth marks on her body. Not laughing now. In my research I looked at what makes people believe something is true or realistic, and it often has a lot to do with the trustworthiness people feel is exhibited by the source providing the information. Testimony + trustworthiness + evidence affect belief. Obviously, for him, the evidence was missing, but there was testimony from someone one would assume is trustworthy to him.

I'm a big fan of I Survived...Beyond and Back, which airs on Sunday nights. It is in re-runs now but it has the least production effects (background music is minimal and there is no re-enactment, just graphic images to enhance the story). The story is told solely by the person who had the NDE and a person who was involved in the accident or death event or who was involved in the resuscitation. I think the minimal treatment these stories get (based on the same production techniques used in the I Survived program) are very effective to keeping the focus on the story and the person telling the story rather than being an enhanced interpretation of the story that is dotted with comments by the actual people involved.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tapping In To Your Inborn Sensory Powers on New Age Cafe 3/3/2011

Pete A. Sanders, Jr., a graduate of MIT, who studied biomedical chemistry and brain science, turned down acceptance to Harvard Medical School to pursue research in the development of mind/body awareness methods. In 1980, after traveling the world for five years field testing his techniques, he founded the Free Soul NonProfit Mind/Body Education in Sedona, Arizona. He has produced multi-media resources such as books (including "You Are Psychic") , tapes, CDs, and videos along with in-person training to help others develop their own potential. Pete will join us to discuss his work in this field, upcoming projects, and why Sedona, Arizona, was the best location for this kind of work.

Tapping In To Your Inborn Sensory Powers 3/3/2011 - Diane Dobry Internet Radio Blog Talk Radio

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Survived...Beyond and Back


Bio Channel has emerged as an interesting place on which to watch real life stories, beyond biographies of famous people or celebrities. The requisite paranormal show phenomenon for cable stations has not bypassed Bio, and what this station offers is refreshingly interesting and relatively free of hype and sensationalism. When you watch a typical documentary type paranormal show, like say The Haunted on Animal Planet, you ge t the creepy music and sound effects with the scary low angle shot of the house with the clouds speeding by at dusk, as if the invisible entities are just waitingfor the sun to set for their time to get jumpy.

I have two top choices from the Bio Channel (now that newer episodes of Ghostly Encounters are not being aired--another favorite that I wish would come back, with those calm, sensible Canadians telling their stories). The first is Celebrity Ghost Stories and the second is I Survived...Beyond and Back, which takes a life or death situation beyond the death part and gives us a glimpse of the brief experience of the afterlife described by those who are featured. I've already written about Celebrity Ghost Stories. I still stop whatever I'm doing to watch it because, again, most of these celebrities know how to communicate to an audience. I would say that I believe what I'm hearing from them in all but one or two cases--who my intuition tells me, with their waning career opportunities, were just trying to get more face time on television. Most of the stories, however, sound pretty believable.

I Survived...Beyond and Back is the answer to the afterlife evidence questions many of us have. It is the ideal format for a serious look at near death experiences (NDEs) without a host, without drama, without experts giving background knowledge. It is just the story as told by the person who experienced it and one or two other people who were involved. A few location shots, hospital shots, and occasional real video or news footage related to the story enhance the person's first-hand account. In addition to graphic frames providing some transitional information and further details, the only enhancement is the graphic image and sound of a heartbeat and flatline with a clock ticking off the amount of time since the person's hear stopped. In a few cases, it goes beyond the 5 minutes that usually mean brain damage is likely to have occurred, with one case even going to more than 20 minutes without a heartbeat. Some people awake to find themselves being readied for the morgue.

Most describe a pleasant experience, a life review, a conversation with a relative or friend who has died, a being of light or sometimes God--all the traditionally reported experiences. Most say they were told it was not yet their time and they are sent back to their bodies (kicking and screaming in some cases), which they relate to the feeling of being slammed into a concrete block. Ouch. The question that ocmes to mind is if it is not yet their time, why did they have this experience in the first place? To be witnesses for the rest of us? To let us know what we all might experience?

One man featured on the show described a hellish experience (I've written about Howard Storm's hellish experience in an earlier post). But, obviously, he got out of hell alive to tell about it and to describe the "happy ending" besides coming back to his body. I wonder if he would have been featured at all on the show if his story about hell would have been without some hope. Some critics of paranormal television shows suggest that they are sometiems designed and edited to present a good vs. evil storyline and that anything paranormal or non-physical is related to evil and that it is neceassary to use religous means to counteract it. I'm not saying that this man didn't have the experience he did, and I personally was relieved to hear that he felt there was some chance at redemption or some guardian "cavalry" -- he believed it was God -- to come to the rescue. I'd like to see more people who've had hellish experieences appear on the show to compare stories--and I'd also like to know that there would be the same chance of escape for anyone who is in the scarier side of death. (Yes, religions offer their own prescription, and then they fight about it on this side of the veil, so I think what some of us are looking for is a kind of confirmation from someone who's been there).

These kinds of experiences have been reported throughout the ages. Otherworld Journeys by Carole Zaleski (Oxford University press, 1999) describes reports of NDEs from the middle ages and modern times. In reading Ram Dass" Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I've wondered how such a detailed look at the afterlife could have been compiled and described by the Tibetan Buddhists, for whom preparation for death is the main purpose of life. Perhaps they, too, got their information from such experiences. A paper I read about NDes in Tibetan culture talks about accounts of people called delogs who have been dead for several hours or days and who come back to life sontaneously with stories about their journeys to the "otherworld."

This show makes sense, especially for Americans and our typically death-denying culture, since we all will die. And if we come to the point in our lives where it is imminent, will we be mentally ready to know what may come after? Will we be shocked to find out what comes after? Some who believe that NDEs are a product of the brain (I've read literature that illustrates a case in which there was no brain activity at all and the blood was drained from the body during an operation), insist that there is no way to know, and many scientis refuse to believe what cannot be proven by known physical science. Some go so far as to express their belief that death is the end of life completely and there is nothing beyond. Yet others, like Gregg Braden and a number of quantum physicicsts ocnsider the possibility that our consciousness does not reside in our bodies, but in a universal energy field, the Divine Matrix. And like the film The Matrix, our consciousness is connected to a body--the one we are using now. (Sounds like a SIMs avatar). Psychics speak of the silver cord connecting our consciousness to our body, so that those who have out-of-body experiences, like NDEs or deliberate OBEs (which are also known as astral travel), remain connected to the body by the silver cord. If that is not connected to the body, there is no way for the conscious body to return to the physical body.

I'm excited to see more of these programs that allow people to talk about death and their experiences. It signals a readiness for more programming that addresses what may occur beyond death, and the consideration that ghost stories may not be just "scary stories" but a possibility of missing hte bus to the next level. (On my first day of first grade, we were sent outside to play after lunch. Apparently a bell rang and the next thing I knew, everyone had gone inside and a couple of boys and me were standing outside confused about what just happened and where everyone went. We searched around for an adult to tell us what to do and where to go. Perhaps it is a similar state of confusion for people who have not considered what the death experience will be like).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Report and Video on Paranormal Research Presentation

Here is a small piece of a talk I gave during Halloween week on Research and Musings behind Paranormal Television. (click on link to read article and watch video). I was hoping to show how traditionally schooled scholars have explored things like telepathy, communication with the dead, crisis apparitions, near death experiences, and more. My next talk at Teachers College looks at Death in Popular Culture on or around February 3rd in the Gottesman Libraries.

Ruminations on the New Year

Christmas is a week away, and New Year's Day, two weeks. My 18-plus months of unemployment has kept me focused on the spiritual, the paranormal, the dead and the meaning of life, mostly through my readings and writing for my dissertation: How Do Fan/Viewers Use Paranormal Television and Related Media to Interpret Death and the Notion of an Afterlife.

In between, I have watched television and dvds related to these topics, as well--obviously television is the research focus, but I really am interested in finding answers and other ideas from cultures around the world.
I enjoyed watching a DVD called All is Made Beautiful: Native American Traditions with Oh Shinnah Fast Wolf and, after consulting the related web site, began doing some morning prayers of thanks, asking for blessings, and blessing my food. (Growing up, my parents said the traditional Christian prayer before meals--"Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord, Amen"--which my ex-husband described to my then future sister-in-law as, "They say mass at the dinner table."). For many reasons I like Oh Shinnah's blessing of the food--first you rub your hands together to generate energy. John Edward does this prior to his readings. I wonder if Reiki master's do it, as well.

Second, you create a mudra with the forefinger and thumb of each hand and hold your fingers wide open over the food, picturing a green healing light penetrating the food. I've always heard of green as a healing light. In relation to Archangel Raphael, the healing angel, and in relation to other "New Age" traditions, as well as the heart chakra emanating a green light. And the heart is the strongest source of energy in the body. So this felt right to me.

Third, you circle the food three times saying three times per rotation, "to help and to heal" for a total of nine recitations. 3 x 3 = 9 Three in the Bible is completeness. Nine in numerology is a complete cycle. So three threes, three cubed, total completeness. It makes sense numerically. It makes sense, spiritually to bless food and recognize its value to life.

Fourth, you take some of the food and give it back to the earth. It feeds the earth as the earth as fed you. It's the basis of composting, it's balance, it feeds the insects and creatures that keep the earth healthy which keeps us healthy. It's the cycle of life.

My family members think I've gone off the deep end by seeing things this way, but if we don't all begin to see things this way, WE will be the ones who are eliminated so that the earth and its non-destructive creatures can go back to the balance that its health requires. The planet won't die, necessarily, but we certainly will not survive unless we do the right thing.

About eight years ago, I had read about another Native American tradition in the book Write it Down, Make it Happen. It was a Native New Year ritual for eliminating things from one's life and bringing in new things. I really wanted to do this ritual when I read about it, but there were challenges. First, I needed arrows with black feathers and arrows with red feathers on them. Not something you can pick up at the corner store. I also needed tobacco. No one in my family smoked, thank goodness, but that meant finding a place that sold loose tobacco leaves. And third, I needed to be up before dawn on New Year's Eve day to do this ritual, which was best done on an uneven area of land. I could have easily done it in my own backyard, but my yard was flat without even a mound of dirt. So the creative side of me kicked in and I fashioned six arrows from long, pointed wooden skewers and I taped blackened paper to three of them (to represent feathers) and red-colored paper to the other three. I stopped at a cigar store in Huntington, NY, to get some loose tobacco. (I actually could have gone to a shop with Native American spiritual items in Huntington, too, but I guess it hadn't occurred to me then).

I then wrote down the things I wanted to eliminate from my life and wrote down the things I wanted to bring into my life. There was something about doing a drawing of it to keep. And something about writing each request on a slip of paper.

On New Year's Eve day -- December 31, 2002--I got up around 5 a.m. and drove, in the frigid morning hours, to a nearby state park, which was gated. However, while I couldn't drive into the park, I could walk around the gate, which I did. I went in just far enough to be away from the road but not too far in to be at a safe distance from my car. I could barely see. But I found an area that had a low spot and a slightly higher spot of land. I sprinkled tobacco in a circle on the low area and stuck the three arrows with black "feathers" into the ground with the requests for what I wanted to rid my life of. At that point I was supposed to say a prayer and burn the arrows. Not wanting to be arrested for starting a fire in a public park, I instead, as the writer of the book did, buried the requests in the circle near the arrows. I then moved to the higher ground area and did the same ritual with the red arrows and the requests for what I wanted to bring into my life. I said a prayer and buried the papers. I then hurried back to my car and drove home, back to my warm bed with the hopes of fulfillment of my requests dancing in my head. The Great Spirit instead of the Great Santa (or Santini) doing the work.
The next day, New Year's Day, I mentioned my early morning ritual to my mother-in-law, whose ideas of the world were more along the mundane, everyday expectations of most Americans. Why I mentioned it to her, I don't know. I think she asked me what I did for New Year's Eve, expecting to hear something about champagne and partying. When she heard I drove to a state park before dawn, her first response was, "Weren't you afraid of being raped?" (Not in that cold weather that early in the morning in the suburbs--but you never know, I suppose). When I told her about the ritual I had performed and why I had done it (to ask for change to come into my life for the new year), she said, "Why don't you just pray to Jesus like everyone else does?"
Cracked me up. I'm sure people do pray to Jesus with the same intention, but the act of actually making the preparations, writing down what I hoped for, and making the effort to go out into the cold in a natural setting kind of stirred up the intention within me. And I believe it is not the ritual or the words, but the INTENTION and the level of FEELING surrounding it that matters most. And apparently, that's what all the New Age writers are saying these days.

I doubt I will go out into the early morning hours to be planting arrows in Central Park in a circle of tobacco leaves this year. But I would like to continue bringing in new ways of seeing the spiritual side of life and bringing its possibilities into my physical reality.