Ghost Hunting Shows

Ghost Hunting TV Reality Shows –

Ruining Credibility?

Last fall, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters International filmed a segment at Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon, BC.  At Brian McKinney and Deb McKinney’s insistence, the BCGHRS was invited along for the ride as they seemed to feel that we should not be left out of this opportunity.  After a lot of hedging, doubts, and examining my own feelings about Paranormal Reality TV shows, I agreed.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least, but it was also reaffirming in many ways.

While I am not at liberty to say anything about what went down during the filming, I will take this opportunity to speak about my personal feelings about Paranormal Reality TV shows.  With the air date looming, I figure it’s about time to come clean.

I have long doubted the validity of such shows.  Being an avid investigator/researcher of the paranormal, I personally haven’t had the wonderful opportunity of being involved in an investigation of such active, cut-and-dried proportions, complete with impressive evidence and conclusions that ends up in a neat little package ready to present to the client.  Real-life investigating is just not like that.  However, we are talking about ghost hunting and that was just one more obvious difference between real life and what is depicted on these shows. 

As with any other genre of TV shows, reality type shows like Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures, rely upon viewers and ratings.  Without them, the show would not survive – which is what happened to such shows as Most Haunted and the Girly Ghosthunters.  To ensure viewer interest, the TV producers put a lot of effort into creating these shows. Dramatic effects, artfully edited previews that are designed to hint at a particularly hair-raising find and carefully placed climatic moments right before each commercial break are used to draw the viewer in and then keep them planted firmly on the sofa.  The anti-climatic moments come after the commercial break when the frightening sound turns out to be animals rustling in the bushes, or the unexplained shadow is discovered to be caused by another team-mate’s unexpected return.  It’s all part of the intent of keeping the viewer rapt and engaged. 

Alternately, showing the viewer that not everything is paranormal also gives the viewer the impression that these groups are credible. Debunking at least something within the hour long segment is important because although it is likely done to add bulk to the show, it also seems to lend a sense of legitimacy to the team.  

A point that has been discussed among my colleagues is how the producers manage if they don’t find any evidence.  To my knowledge, there hasn’t yet been a show that didn’t provide SOMETHING substantiating.  To do so would surely disappoint the viewers. 

These reality TV shows can be damaging for a field that is not yet widely accepted as valid, so long as there are still groups in the real world emulating them.  While we work hard at obtaining credibility, we see more and more ghost hunting groups emerging who seem to think that imitating these shows somehow gives them credibility.  Along with using the same format, argot, and commercial ghost hunting gadgets (as seen on TV) as the reality TV shows use, they have T-shirt’s made up and merchandise themselves.  They cosplay their favourite TV show so seamlessly; it is evident that SOME groups take these reality TV shows very seriously.  We have come to consider this type of ghost hunting and their TV shows to be a subculture of the field, but have yet to convince the general public of this.  However, I think it is only a matter of time before these reality shows have run their course and they are no more.


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