Television and 'The Paranormal"

I get a lot of people who come into the store who have a cursory interest in what we call "the paranormal".  Generally, they mean ghosts or ESP, less frequently they mean UFOs or Cryptids.  It seems the word is malleable.  I consider it safe to use to cover any "fringe" fields and am comfortable with it it that role.  For me, though, I am interested in ghosts.  Ghosts, spirits, the survival of personality after death.  However you feel comfortable naming it, that is what my interest is.

Please don't assume then that I consider the study or interest in the those other subjects invalid.  I don't.  that is why on my shelves you will find a rotating series of titles on all subject matters that sit comfortably under the blanket of the "P" word.

But mostly, people come in for ghosts.  They want to know "Are they real?" and "Do I believe in them?" and often, "Are those shows on TV real?".  For the most part, the questions are easy to answer honestly for me.

"Yes, I believe ghosts are real.  What they are, I don't know, but they are real." That goes a long way to starting a good conversation.

The last question, though, causes a little bit of consternation.  You see, in my former career I worked in television.  Actually, I worked in broadcasting, television, radio, internet, all of it.  I focused on international sports and I was really good at it.  Because of this I feel it is important for me to answer the question of the truthfulness of the TV shows in a broad way.

My general answer is that I believe they are TV shows first and foremost.  The responsibility and goal of a television show is to attract viewers.  That is primary.  The next responsibility is to sell those viewers to advertisers.  The final responsibility is to  keep those viewers and most do this by being entertaining. This is it.  Every show is then created and guided by these three goals.  The individual show may be able to successfully achieve these goals and still maintain a totally acceptable protocol and satisfy those with a more than passing interest in the subject matter.  But it would be extremely difficult to do so.

Anyone who has been on an investigation will understand me when I say the investigating can be very boring.  It takes hours and hours and then you have to reveiw all of the recordings.  It is not scary and generally there is very little happening.  But sometimes, sometimes, something does happen.  It can be very subtle, in fact, it generally is subtle, quiet, barely noticeable.

You can't have a television show about that.  It won't work.  You can do a lot of things to add the necessary drama.  Music, cliff hangars, personality conflicts, all of these help keep a story going.  But they are not investigating. These are story lines for a television show.

The thing is, the television shows have been a double edged sword for paranormal interest.  First, the good thing: people now have a vocabulary with which to discuss the paranormal.  The shows have mainstreamed the interest and reached people that would never have acknowledged an interest before.  They have helped "de-fringe" the paranormal. And now, the bad thing: the tv shows have given a blueprint on how to investigate, but only a blueprint, just and outline. Investigative teams have take what they SEE and replicated it.  But you can't watch a TV show and just become what you see.  I used to watch House, but I rarely diagnose illnesses and almost never prescribe dangerous pharmecueticals.  What the TV shows DO NOT do is show the history of paranormal research, the studies, the people who worked on this before 2004.  There is plenty of history, plenty of knowledge and plenty of important works to be read.  

So the failing is not really in the TV show, but in the viewer who decides that they have learned enough about a legitimate field in an hour of television watching to go out and participate.  It isn't true.  You need more knowledge.  Sure, you can buy all of the equipment, the cameras, the detectors, everything, but why are you using that equipment?  Most people just don't know.  They see it on TV, they read a little about it on the internet, thats it. They don't teach critical thinking.

So, I think the TV shows are fun and they don't do a lot of harm.  Yes, I think they stage things on live shows.  I don't expect much from a TV show.  But they are not education, they are not knowledge.  It is up to you, the viewer, to pursue knowledge by looking both to the people who came before you and to the world that surrounds you.