My wife enjoys watching those shows about the ghost hunters and since I love my wife, I try to make sure that I am not in the room when it comes on. I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to claims of the supernatural. If you haven’t seen the show, there’s a group of guys from Boston who – by day – work for Roto-Rooter. By night, they are TAPS. It stands for something scientific (like NASA, they use a lot of acronyms). They drive around in a black SUV and find people who claim their ancestral home, shoppe, bed and breakfast is haunted. The TAPS professionals listen to the claims and take them very seriously. They take everything very seriously on Ghost Hunters. Very seriously, they set up cameras and digital recorders and then turn off all the lights and proceed to walk around in the dark with their Specter Detector (sorry, wrong show, but you get the idea) and record their observations with night vision cameras.
And pretty much every show, they find something.
Now, before you run to your television and set your TiVo to record all episodes, I’d like to point out that I – personally – have seen some weird stuff in my day, but all of it can be explained in one of three ways.
Lack of sleep. One time when I was in college, I stayed up for about three days straight. I had papers to write and a test to study for. On top of that, our radio station was getting ready to celebrate its 25th anniversary and I had twenty five separate little productions to put together. I was already tired when I started and so about fifteen or twenty pieces in, I started noticing this green moss-like substance growing on the walls of the production studio. If I looked directly at the walls, it wasn’t there, but – out of the corner of my eye – I could see it slowly spread across the edges of the walls and around the shadows, up to the ceiling and over the lights.
Grief. Right after my brother was killed, I was in a very odd emotional state. I hadn’t cried yet; I didn’t cry until we actually saw his body at the funeral home. I just had a tight feeling in my chest and neck. Coming down the stairs from my bedroom, I could look down into the family room where we had our couch and television. The morning after he was killed, I came down and saw David lying on the couch as I’d seen him hundreds of times before. For a brief moment I thought the whole thing had been a bad dream… but then I turned back and the couch was empty.
In general, the supernatural doesn’t film well. In Ghost Hunters it is pretty much limited to barely audible snippets of sound, flashes of light and the occasional shadow. In any given “case”, the sum results of a night’s work usually reveals about nine seconds of footage that is repeated over and over with atonal thumps and eerie squeaks playing on the soundtrack. This is very seriously presented to the client in the same manner I’m sure they explain – by day – how much it’s going to cost to fix the plumbing.
The Ghost Hunters show is an hour long. If the real stuff only takes up nine seconds, what – you ask – do they fill the other 59 minutes and 51 seconds with? Commercials are probably 20 minutes of it (that’s another blog in and of itself), but the rest is primarily shots of their observations. Actually, no. The rest is primarily shots of the ghost hunters in the act of observing and that brings me to the third possible explanation.
Getting psyched up and psyched out. My friend Dave and I liked to do this to each other when we were growing up. I remember one time we were walking through Gray Farm Park at night. There was a paved path, but swamp grass grew eight feet tall on both sides of the path. It was a wetlands area, so there was any number of animals living in the shadows. I mentioned this to Dave. He upped the ante with a story he’d heard about crazy people living in the forest preserves. I raised him another hair-raising story and he did likewise.
Now, I don’t know exactly what came out of the grass behind us. The next thing I remember is finding myself running with Dave about three blocks away, both of us screaming at the top of our lungs.
The observations in Ghost Hunters tend to follow this pattern. A typical shot is two guys, eyes glowing from the night vision, talking to each other in low tones.
“This is the room where they get the most activity.”
“Yeah. She said that they get some freaky stuff going on in this room.”
“Yeah. The whole house is freaky like that. And this area has to be the prime focus of the activity.”
“Yeah. Hey! Did you hear that?”
“Oh my god. That thump. Did you hear that thump?”
“Holy s—! Did you see that?!”
Invaribaly, we the audience at home do not hear the thump. And we very rarely see what they see; just their reaction of what they see. And I’m sure they thought they saw something. I’m sure they think they’re being scientific… and they’re right, just the wrong discipline. Parapsychologists can probably keep channel surfing, but if there’s any psychology major out there watching, there’s probably an A paper in there for you somewhere.