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.