Over the past five years I’ve spent far too much time watching an endless series of television programs about ghost hunting and spirit hauntings. They all promise the same thing: actual evidence that ghosts or spirits exist. I’ve yet to see a single show which has produced the goods.
One of the most recent and seemingly popular follows a female spirit-medium as she walks around spooky places and talks about the ghosts-spirits with whom she supposedly is interacting. As far as I or anyone else can tell, the whole revolves entirely around her imagination and storytelling. The ratings were apparently good enough for another season. This tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the viewing audience.
Because these spooky-supernatural programs are so predictable and formulaic, I had never bothered to consider the genesis and evolution of the genre. Fortunately for us, Adam Curtis has posted a brilliant multimedia piece on the genealogy of spirit-poltergeist shows in the United Kingdom. It’s a fascinating romp through the sociocultural thickets of psychic-TV, a place where fiction makes fact and viewers fall prey to the War of the Worlds chimera.
All this aside, Adam’s Medium and the Message blog is a fantastic find; he has an astute eye for weird cultural detail and his mixed-media storytelling really pushes the boundaries. Spend some time with The Bitch, The Stud and The Prawn and you’ll know what I mean.