Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Celebrities in the Spirit of the Paranormal

Just a couple of nights ago medium James Van Praagh was a guest on Chelsea Lately promoting tonight’s E! Entertainment special Psychic Hollywood: The Search for the Truth. Interestingly, I don’t see a lot of hype around this show other than James’s guest appearance and some promos on E!. When you search for it on the Web, not so much comes up. Well, we’ll just have to see how it plays out. It airs tonight at 8 p.m., Friday at 11 p.m. and Saturday at 7 a.m.

Celebrity Ghost Stories airs on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. on Biography channel. I really like this show. It’s got celebrities and the paranormal. Put ‘em both together and wham! You’ve got a new sub-genre. Paranormal reality television has not yet been named as a genre as far as I’ve seen (and I’m looking), but it is. Every week you hear of new paranormal reality shows being added to the line up of even the most unlikely programming—i.e. The Haunted on Animal Planet. Animal Planet!!! It’s all about how the dogs and cats reacted to the haunting – but I digress. We’ll look at that one after I’ve had a chance to really check it out.

Celebrities have lives that fascinate people – who they date, who they marry, when they procreate, what their salaries are, what they’ve done wrong (Tiger?), where they live, how they dress…and on and on. Their personal encounters with the paranormal are not always very public, however. So I congratulate the GENIUS who put together the paranormal with celebrities and made it into television. We already know these people, we generally like them, we don’t normally see them as human, but when we hear them tell about being scared and having a weird, unexplainable incident happen to them, it’s interesting—more interesting than what they wore on the red carpet.

Some of the celebrities who’ve appeared on this show have surprised me. Joan Rivers talked about her experiences of living with the ghost of the woman who used to own the Manhattan building she lives in. Scott Baio told a very emotional story about experiences after his father’s death. Dee Snyder talks about his brother-in-law, who was murdered, and seemed to be trying to get a message to Dee and his family. Justine Bateman tells a funny story about the happenings after her grandfather died, and Ali Landry talks about a phone call she received from the godfather she was close to just after he passed away.

What I like about this show is that celebrities know how to tell a story. What critics don’t like about this show is that celebrities know how to tell a story. While my point of view is that this quality makes the stories that much more interesting to watch, one such critic mentioned to me that, “Actors are good at pretending, so you can’t believe what they are saying here.” That may be true in some cases – they may be stretching the truth to be featured on a show when their careers are lagging. But in other cases, you see the tears in their eyes and the genuine sincerity in their comments, “I am not crazy! I do not attend séances, and I don’t look for this kind of thing.”

The format of this program is a dramatic re-enactment of the story with a narrative by the celebrity. Other shows that do this are Ghostly Encounters, A Haunting, Animal Planet’s The Haunted, and other shows like Psychic Investigators. It’s a sort of documentary style and at the end the person who experienced the phenomenon usually sums up what it meant to them and very often they say, “I know now that there’s more out there than just this life,” or “I know my [loved one] is still around.”

When you think that celebrity endorsements pay top dollar because of their effectiveness, one might wonder what a celebrity endorsement of the afterlife, or spiritual activity or the paranormal might mean to a viewer. Inquiring minds want to know.

Let me know if you have an opinion about celebrities and the paranormal or if you’ve had your own paranormal experience. I’d be interested in hearing about it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ghost Lab vs. Ghost Hunters

Wow! I can't believe it has been more than a month since I last posted. Time flies.

Well, I've been watching all the usual paranormal programs, and Ghost Lab (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. on Discovery channel) has gotten a lot of new attention and provides some sort of competition for Ghost Hunters (Wednesdays 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Syfy).

Ghost Lab, with Brad and Barry Klinge and company from Texas, travels around the country with their ginormous black logo-emblazoned trailer/lab filled with expensive hi-tech equipment seeking to "probe the afterlife" in a scientific way. My take: Yes and no.

Ghost Hunters, with Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes and their T.A.P.S. investigative team from Rhode Island, does the same thing, and have expanded to international investigations with Ghost Hunters International, and now have a reality competition spin-off called Ghost Hunters Academy, featuring paranormal investigator wannabes vying for the privilege of being the next team member on the show. More on that in an upcoming post.

What I like about Ghost Lab is that they take prior baseline readings. They take a photo of each room in advance of the investigation. They take baseline readings ahead of time, though I've read on ASSAP that the proper method of taking a baseline reading is to do so over a 24-hour period. The Klinge brothers and company call it covering the location with a net. They will have EMF detectors lined along a path inside or outside a location, depending on the reports, and use the readings from the detectors along that line to notice if changes move. They consult with experts while they are on site, though i wonder how much editing they have done to those interviews. The Ghost Lab stays at a site for more than one night and they often try to include some sort of experiment in their investigation that is based on a theory -- such as higher paranormal activity during a storm or when there is energetic emotional activity in the area, or if recreation of a historic event in that area is done. Brad is definitely the lead character on the show. A large figure with a big voice and a big personality, he challenges purported spirits. He is excitable, but will usually note when his excitement was misguided. However, on a recent episode, he caught on a thermal camera a silhouetted image of what he said was a spirit. One of his team members said it looked like a water bottle. I think it looked like a water bottle. The expert they consulted said it looked like a water bottle but that they could not say for sure what it was -- there was something not explainable about the image. Yet Brad and Barry called it a spirit caught on the thermal imaging camera. I believe that is a big stretch and it made me respect their scientific stance less. The excitement by Brad and Barry may be good for promos, clips, and viewing pleasure, but I don't know that it makes it more believable.

Ghost Hunters by comparison is tame. Their equipment must be less subsidized by whoever provided Ghost Lab with their smart screen and hi-end technology trailer. Yet, in many ways, I find their lower-key approach to be more authentic and objective. Jason is not one to jump to conclusions. The T.A.P.S. people, though talking to supposed spirits haunting a location (addressing them respectfully, as opposed to Brad Klinge's often macho challenges), will spend time searching for ways to debunk what they find. Ghost Lab does this, too, but the whole thermal camera incident on Ghost Lab makes me wonder if they are out to debunk or out to find proof of spirits. That's really the key on ALL of these paranormal investigative shows.

A big disappointment with Ghost Hunters are the times that data is lost due to technical problems -- this past week, the DVR crashed the system for the Mark Twain House. Another time, as they were taking down the set-up, one of the team members unplugged the computers as data was being downloaded. Why, though, did it disappear? Wasn't there back-up? Wasn't there original data saved? They need to be more diligent with their technology.

However, I like the T.A.P.S. less emotional approach. One of their precepts is to go in and investigate and not to be excited or scared -- no running away -- as they reiterated after one episode when two investigators ran away from a possible paranormal interaction. On Ghost Labs, there is definitely more hype. OH MY GOD! is a big response to evidence. They are not as bad as Zak on Ghost Adventures, who is a bit melodramatic when investigating the paranormal--along with the fear displayed by Aaron. He's a lovable guy, but dude! what the heck are you doing this stuff for if you get so freaked out about it! I'm just sayin'. I don't claim that I would be any less afraid in that situation, but you're on television as a paranormal investigator. Perhaps his fear makes it seem that much more real.

How realistic things seem--I'm curious, how many viewers of paranormal television consider believability and realism to be important in determining their willingness to accept what they are seeing as evidence of something paranormal or something spiritual or of the survival of human consciousness. And if realism is a factor, which shows seem to be the most believable? I'd like to know what you think.

Upcoming -- Celebrity Ghost Stories, Ghost Hunters Academy, and that nasty paranormal investigation show that I can't even watch -- Extreme Paranormal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When All the World Watches the Paranormal

It is Halloween week again -- sweeps week for paranormal television programming. Ghost Hunters has their annual LIVE event (though, as this article describes, it is not like past years) and now Ghost Adventures is having one the night before Halloween. The Bio Channel's new show, Celebrity Ghost Stories, is also having a Halloween night marathon.

I actually like Celebrity Ghost Stories, which I will go into in more detail in another post, but it's a great idea -- mixing celebrities and the paranormal. People who are not necessarily well-versed or even interested in the paranormal might be interested in the celebrity aspect of the show. And people who ARE interested in the paranormal may be even more fascinated by celebrities reporting their own experiences. Celebrities help ratings, help popularity of an idea, and bring their own value to a story.

Cable television has a lot to offer this week. The History Channel has programs on haunted cities like Washington and Hollywood. They have shows on Haunted History of Halloween and a great Halloween History page on their website.

Even the Travel Channel has documentaries about hauntings for Halloween. Their website has its own Halloween page, including Haunted Travel Destinations, Haunted Hotels and the Top 10 Creepiest Places among lots and lots of other shows about haunted locations around the world. Plan your next year's vacation as you watch!

Lately, John Edward's show on WEtv (John Edward Cross Country) has been noticeably absent, but this Thursday and Friday several episodes are scheduled to be shown.

As this blog is only focused on reports of actual hauntings, communications and paranormal activity, these are the only programs and websites that are mentioned. But this week also invites a host of movies and other paranormal shows featuring ghosts, vampires, demons,crazy murdering masked men, and other productions that quite often are focused on death, spiritual activity and the afterlife. A listing on this Inside TV blog gives a more comprehensive schedule of shows that will be aired this week, many of which are only available intermittently throughout the year (though nowadays, between the Internet and Netflix, its often possible to see them "whenever").

Look for upcoming reviews on Ghost Lab, Celebrity Ghost Stories, and a report on my new LEAST favorite paranormal program.

Paranormal Activity

I don't normally tend to watch fictional films or television shows about the paranormal (like X-Files, Medium, Ghost Whisperer or vampire shows) -- I am most interested in programming that purports to be real people doing real investigations or demonstrations of evidence of the existence of spirits and/or the afterlife.

However, a companion of mine asked if I wanted to see the new film Paranormal Activity and I decided to go because in a way it fits in with my research on how paranormal-based reality television shows are used by viewers, and one thing that tends to happen with popular culture is that mainstream media copies what is big in popular culture. (Remember when people started wearing jeans with holes all over them -- it wasn't long before you could buy jeans in the store with holes and tears in them for a lot of money because it was the popular style).

Paranormal Activity was also different in the way it was marketed. Genius! You could only see it in a couple of venues on specific dates, originally, but if there was enough demand by the public, local theaters would begin to show it. Here is an example of the press that was sent out to generate consumer demand for the film on

Then the official movie site let everyone know that it was "because of your demand" that this movie was shown in more theaters. They took a film created in a format that mimicked the way people copy something from popular culture (e.g. investigating the paranormal) and they marketed it in a "grass roots" viral way -- the way elements of popular culture spread naturally, and they then rewarded the people who "demanded" to see the film not only by getting it out into local theaters, but by putting out press releases that said, "It was all YOUR DOING" that got the film out there. (Yeah right). The media had some things to say about that marketing technique in Entertainment Weekly, the Washington Post and in Newsday. As the articles describe, the film beat out major Hollywood films at the box office -- and obviously with a budget of about $15,000 raked in tons of money for the studio and, as MTV reports, didn't hurt the careers of those who made the film.

What worked for me was the realism of the couple -- obviously because they were improvising their lines. If this film had been scripted and produced by the big filmmakers in traditional Hollywood style, it would never have worked as a scary film. What I was wondering while watching it was are the people who are in theaters the same people who watch Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures and Ghost Lab on television? If so, were they actually scared by this film or disappointed (as I was)? For people in the audience who don't normally watch those shows, did they find the film scary?

The thing that was disappointing for me -- without giving away the actual ending -- was that I knew it was a story being acted out (improvisationally) by performers. The other thing that was a let down was how it ended, which I thought was a quick wrap-up after a long, drawn out lead up to a shocking end. For me, someone who watches shows about reportedly real incidents of the paranormal, this did not accurately fit the normal progression of changes and events that paranormal activity would, though the filmmakers seem to have attempted to build up to it, they should have done more research (or consulted someone who is more knowledgeable than they about such information)to get it right.

The characters were, for the most part, believable. However,as the activity was becoming more upsetting to them, their behavior became less believable -- especially the spirit investigator who was advising them. He just told them to wait for the one demonologist he recommended to return from being "out of the country" (why are academics always out of the country when you need them?). Why not point them in the direction of another expert or a PRIEST for that matter, if it was obvious to him that the entity was demonic? Even people who are remotely familiar with the paranormal know about the Warrens.

This film is being compared to The Blair Witch Project, in the way it was filmed and marketed, but initially that film was touted as being an actual documentary film that was found, which actually made it scary. Once it was revealed that it was a performance by actors, the scariness of it turned into more of a curiosity. The scariness of homemade video is its rawness and reality as much as what is shown on the video. I'm thinking that now a similar film that is fiction could not work as well, but the new film The Fourth Kind is saying that the film is documented by actual footage of people who actually experienced what is shown in the film. As that film is about alien abductions, I won't comment on it since that is not the topic of this blog, but I will say that alien abductions, if they are real, probably scare me more than spiritual phenomena.That's another conversation altogether. But if there is actual footage that the film is based on, that could be a way to make and market truly scary realistic films like this one. To be a re-enactment of a situation that has been documented on video. If it simply comes out of someone's imagination of what would be possible and paranormal, that does not interest me nor does it scare me.


Welcome to the Continuation of Life After Life

This is a continuation of the original blog Life After Life Ghost Hunter, which was too cumbersome a title to search for.

I will review paranormal television programs, news, authors, books, web sites and other topics related to life after life and spiritual beliefs. Keep checking back for information on an upcoming new venture -- an internet radio program on research behind the paranormal and spiritual beliefs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lucia talks about "Thin Through the Power of Spirit"

Aware Talk Radio Blog Talk Radio Feed

Shared via AddThis

Remembering Lucia

It's been awhile since I've posted. I have been very busy with coursework toward my doctorate and honing my dissertation topic of audience reception of paranormal-based reality media and the possibility of its being used as a form of death education. Speaking about these ideas in academia sometimes gets me an uncomfortable response -- just using the word "paranormal" in relation to academic research has caused even some of my closest friends to question my ideas and seriousness. One friend even said, "Why don't you choose a topic that would allow people to take you more seriously? Aren't you afraid of being discredited and losing respect of your peers?"

One person in my life who has always been receptive and open to these topics was also one of the most intelligent, well-read, and kind people I have met. Her spirituality and knowledge always amazed me. I spoke to her a week ago when she was going up to Lilydale in upstate New York, the town that is filled with psychic mediums.

In light of my dissertation topic, and having read a book on the history of Lilydale (and having relatives who have gone there), I have been trying to get someone to go with me to that place, but could not find anyone interested enough. This weekend at Lilydale, I was hoping to go with someone to see Jason and Grant from Ghost Hunters, who will be present there to speak and meet with fans. When Lucia told me last week she was going up to Lilydale last weekend, I was jealous and wished I could go along. I told her that I wished I had known she was going because I would have asked to join her, but then said, “Now that I know you would be interested in going, perhaps we can plan a trip up there together.” We were going to meet for lunch this week to talk about her experiences and catch up. Unfortunately, while Lucia was up near Lilydale, she and her friend were in a horrendous accident and they were both killed. It was very sad to hear, but I know she was spiritually in a good place. Teachers College did this tribute to her.

I am fortunate to have known her, and fortunate to have a podcast of her talking about her book, "Thin Through the Power of Spirit."