Closing in on the end of 2010, I thought I would take a moment to look back on the past decade in the terms of paranormal investigation of ghosts and hauntings. While it is not my goal to harangue my readers with personal frustrations, I must confess to these feelings nonetheless. I rest confident in knowing I speak for a great number of investigators and paranormal enthusiasts as I outline the following lament....
Since the zeitgeist of paranormal television sprang forth from the dark like a mugger to capture America's attention, more and more individuals have followed, joined, or started their own paranormal investigation teams. Now many long-standing teams sit back in the shadows, scratching their heads. They wonder how the slow-building respectability they had worked so hard to foster could be snatched from their grasps in the blink of an eye.
Prior to the likes of Ghost Hunters, there were teams (much like TAPS) that investigated these phenomena. Some wore matching t-shirts, to be sure, but many were simply comprised of regular folk seeking answers wherever they could. The gadgets existed, but they were largely experimental. The main pieces of equipment used were cameras (both video and still), audio recorders, and your wits.
When EMF meters were being trotted out back then, terms like "baseline readings" were bandied about. After all, there was no established protocol for these devices, inarguably calibrated for another use altogether. If they were to be used, an understanding of what was to be expected from these devices without ghostly activity present had to first be established. These days, one might be hard pressed to find anyone among the plethora of nascent teams that knows what is meant by that. "Certainly," they would ask, "you just whip this gadget out and when the needle moves, you've got a ghost, right?"
Gadgets now outnumber common sense and are proudly displayed in "tech" or "gear" galleries on the various web sites in an almost competitive fashion. After all, the one with the most toys wins.
When once video cameras, mounted on tripods, were employed passively to capture evidence of the paranormal, they now play an active role in capturing the investigators themselves. These videos--full of What-was-that's and Did-you-hear-that's--are then posted on their web sites and on YouTube. Without this, one cannot hope to mirror the red carpet status enjoyed by the likes of TAPS and the boys over at Ghost Adventures. After all, if the bio listed on your web site doesn't read like an actor's resume, you're not going to make it as a 21st century ghost hunter. You have to cite at least three different TV shows with which you have had even the faintest contact. Then, by all means, name drop.
Of course, matching t-shirts are dernier cri for anyone who wishes to be taken seriously. As well, it is now imperative to interject the appellation "International" to your group's name should any part of your team go on vacation and snap some pictures of haunted places. You must have a website with a black background upon which dripping green ecotplasmic fonts and every conceivable Hallowe'en clip art are mounted. Your team must be comprised of personnel with the following titles: Lead Investigator, Lead Historian, Lead Techncial Dude, Lead Psychic, Lead Obscure Shamanistic Ritual Cleanser, Lead Assistant To The Lead Videographer, Lead Videographer (the individual gesticulating wildly whilst holding the camcorder)... With so many leaders, one wonders who is following in these teams. Or is this what comes from an everybody-wins-a-trophy society?
Back in the shadows, the old guard waits for the fad to pass and common sense to become common again. However, after more than five years, there are now more television shows tackling the paranormal than ever before. Moreover, each day new groups join one of the various "families" of teams out there like members of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local. It looks like the old guard might have a bit longer to wait.
If I were to make a prediction, it would be that we won't see a significant let up until after 2012. Once our doomsday comes and goes without event, I think a lot of the steam will go out of that engine. True Blood, Twilight, Harry Potter and all that will have run its course. Something else will capture the nation's attention, becoming the latest fad. Americans are, after all, nothing if not fickle.
But it's a double-edged sword, and I would be remiss if I didn't touch on the increased profile and even the strange respectability these shows have given the oft-maligned field of paranormal investigation. More people than ever claim to have at least some belief in that which science cannot readily explain. This willingness has allowed investigations to enter unfettered into hot spots they once couldn't have paid to access.
From this, I can only hope, more data will arise to aid in a greater understaning. Unfortunately, I can't help but fear in whose hands these data lie. Individuals for whom Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures are weekly how-to guides? This doesn't bode well for scientific acceptance anytime soon. Ultimately, that is the caveat I present to anyone: enjoy the shows, but remember that they exist to entertain. They aren't instructional manuals. In fact, there are no instruction manuals and no rules and nothing proven. You can follow the well-worn paths of others through dark woods of disappointment or you can blaze your own trail through new territories.