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 dreadcentral.com.

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.