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Making it Look Good: Television and the Paranormal

A good friend of mine, Javier Ortega, recently featured an article at his website Ghost Theory that discusses fakery going on in the world of televised paranormal reality dramas.

The show in question in Javier’s article, Paranormal State, has come under scrutiny based on a letter from a former client of the team featured on the program, who asserts that one individual “play acted at being psychic” on camera. “He was given every bit of information regarding our case,” the letter reads, “and the identity of the ghost of the past-previous owner of our home who died 28 years before we bought our Gold Beach, Oregon home.”

I have heard a variety of stories along these lines that allege fakery on the set of such television programs, but this certainly doesn’t mean that all shows dealing with supernatural themes are bogus. But how is one expected to know the difference?

Just earlier this week, my colleagues with the L.E.M.U.R. team and I were featured on a new National Geographic program called Paranatural which, I’m proud to say, was by far one of the best presentations we’ve been a part of in the eight years I’ve worked with them. The name National Geographic, both in the television industry and elsewhere, is recognized for being associated with a high quality product that strives never to be overtly credulous. That said, I can attest to the professionalism exhibited by the film crew I worked with; the most we were ever given so far as instruction from our producers (who were genuinely interested in the subject matter, and have maintained contact with us since the initial shoot) was “make it look good for the camera.” I don’t feel in any way that this led to any false impressions being construed to the viewing audience, and overall, I was very happy with the shoot.

So one must ask, why would one program adhere to a stricter regiment of accuracy and honest integrity, while others may not? I think the answer is pretty simple: television, no matter what the content, is always meant to be entertainment.

I know from being involved in regular, very involved research of the supernatural for the last decade that seldom, if ever, do first hand encounters and experiences with unseen forces or otherwise strange phenomena occur. Still, I’ve been lucky enough to have brushes in my life with things I’d deem strange, but my relative lack of interaction with strange phenomena has instilled in me a far more skeptical approach to studying the natural world. This, however, is not a bad thing, in my opinion.

If anything, taking a more skeptical approach to my pursuit of the unexplained has allowed me to rationalize the oddities of this world enough that I feel more justified when I do encounter something truly inexplicable. One might even say that by keeping my hopes down, so to speak, I’m all the more amazed when something credible pops up!

However, those who I call “pseudo skeptics” (i.e. the James Randis of the world) will use things like the recent admission featured in Javier Ortega’s article as fodder for lambasting all research of the unexplained, citing it as evidence of charlatanism which, no doubt, might be traced all the way back to the nineteenth century spiritualists (and earlier). It’s very easy to create a peripheral argument like this, citing one moment of weakness occurring on a television program intended to entertain as “almighty proof” that nothing exists beyond our five senses worthy of wasting time and money on. This is sad, of course, because the most revolutionary research that strives to unravel the mysteries of the universe around us gets prime-time television spots far less often than the rank sensationalism that, in many cases, has less truth and integrity behind it.

Therefore, I simply say, if it’s on TV, take it with a grain of salt and be done with it! Credible news sources around the world provide commentary and insight into strange happenings and fringe science every day, and to be honest, I’d rather read twelve of those for ever one television show you could force me to watch, no matter what the content may be.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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