TAKING THE PULSE OF THE ZEIT-POLTER-GEIST



The aging of Baby Boomers has led some of us to a more poignant appreciation of how fleeting indeed is our time to strut upon this stage. Personally, the approach of the Great Beyond has made me more cognizant of an exponential growth in hair coloring products. Plus, I’ve noticed a lot more reality TV shows about ghosts. Just as alien spaceships promised an earlier generation that there would be survival of consciousness after our species' extinction in nuclear winter, watching the pseudo-scientific search for "the undead" helps me cling to the belief that somehow, someway, my hair will survive and remain suitably dark.

There are 20 different non-fiction ghost shows now airing. Not specials – but regularly scheduled programs. 20. Don’t force me to name them. OK, I need a thousand words for this article, so I will: Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Hunters Academy, Destination: Truth, Paranormal State, Extreme Paranormal, Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal, Ghost Adventures, Most Haunted, Most Haunted USA, We Live Here In Fear, X-Testers, Ghost Lab, Ghost Stories, Ghostly Encounters, Haunted History, Psychic Investigators, Celebrity Ghost Stories, Dead Famous, and Ghost Trackers.

Most of these series center around intrepid ghost hunters who are filmed on the job late at night in abandoned jails, prisons, and psychiatric hospitals, bathed only in camera light. Frequently there will be excited pointing at weird stuff in the immediate vicinity of the hunter. But alas and alack, neither the nearby camera operators nor the helmet-mounted “head-cams” capture these apparitions in time. Ever. At which point, cut to the ghost hunter looking into the camera to relive that moment just passed, explaining what it was he saw and how perhaps it might turn up on other equipment he brought along, which includes, but is not limited to: video goggles, thermal imaging cameras, portable digital voice recorders, parabolic microphones, electro-magnetic field detectors (aka “K2 meters”) and of course, black and white cameras mounted on one’s head. For a full list, go to ghost-mart.com. The hunted apparitions, much like their space brothers from Zeta Reticuli, have proven to be quite camera shy, however. And yet, equivocal shapes and truly obscure images sometimes do appear, particularly during ratings sweeps.

A less prevalent format features dramatic reenactments intertwined with on camera comments by the real protagonists, who fondly recall their chilling ghostly encounters. New shows in this vein feature unemployed actors and singers, many of whom I thought were dead until I saw them on “Celebrity Ghost Stories,” describing vague shapes they sort of remember in between their stints in rehab. Not surprisingly, this category appears to be on the decline. What’s needed is a countdown show of “The Top 100 Hauntings of All Time.”


The cable stations love these countdown shows because they fill up a lot of air time and once you watch a few minutes you can’t help but wonder what will be the number one computer game of the 1990’s or whether the hula hoop will outrank the slinky among “The Top 100 Toys of The 1950’s”. I remember when the Weather Channel counted down “The Top 100 Weather Stories In History” and some cataclysmic event that wiped out most life on Earth in some former epoch was ranked way behind a long-forgotten cold wave in the northern plains. Usually that happens because they can’t find somebody from 20,000 BC to appear and reminisce about the cataclysm and there’s very little newsreel from that time. But that’s exactly the kind of controversial programming that these tired reenactment series need. Some forward thinking programmers could then follow up with a hybrid, like a countdown of “The Top 100 Songs From The 1980’s About Ghosts.”

As these shows have proliferated, certain niche markets are now being exploited. The creepiest is a show called “Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal” in which youngsters who see dead people are told by older mediums and clairvoyants that their gift should be used to do good, and are urged not to appear as guest commentators for ghost count-down shows on other channels.

The most recent trend has been the appearance of moronic provacateurs who have decided to get tough with the undead. In “Ghost Adventures” for instance, Aaron, Zak and Nik run around in video goggles screaming at the spirits to show themselves like real men and then bump into rakes which they claim the ghosts have somehow moved in their path. Zak is very buff and quick to doff his tight tee shirts to show ghost bruises caused by rakes, vowing revenge. For some reason, this show is on the Travel Channel and not the Gardening Network.

“Extreme Paranormal” on the other hand is a sort of hybrid that melds MTV’s “Jackass” with that reality cooking show where the snobby Australian chef yells at the contestants and then throws food at them. In “Extreme,” Shaun, Nathan and Jason invariably start fires, drink poison and bury each other alive just to get the ghosts to come out and play. In “Ghost Lab”, brothers Brad and Barry Klinge visit spots other ghost hunters have investigated and always come away with slightly less equivocal recordings and shapes than their competition. How do they do this? The Klinges look for the reason why the ghosts (which they just can’t seem to capture on film – ever) are haunting a particular place: it has something to do with water. Where there’s a lot of water, you’ll find lots of ghosts nearby, especially surfer ghosts.

But will this ghost boom last or go the way of The Western? Already, one sees disturbing signs of decline: in one week, two shows visited the same sites in Gettysburg. Two others featured The Merchants House at 29 E 4th St, a Washington Square brownstone in The Village. The “Ghost Hunters” episode found no ghosts there, but while unloading the van containing their high tech gear on East 4th Street, a well dressed passer-by non-chalantly picked up one of the head-cams and walked off with it. The “Ghost Hunters” spotted him a few seconds later and gave chase. Amazing how two cameras just happened to be filming the unloading of the van, not an activity usually associated with high drama or ratings. Maybe the camera men were sensitive to impending evil or something, like the “Psychic Kids”.

Anyway, before the craze peters out, I hope the “Ghost Adventuring Hunters” respond to my e-mail asking them to investigate my garage. Two cars died right at the entrance. And the stopped-up drain always provides a big pool of water. Plus, there’s a lot of rakes in there to step on.

PS For a good laugh, take a look at http://current.com/items/91251941_i-aint-afraid-of-no-ghost-shows.htm or http://www.hulu.com/watch/104473/infomania-i-aint-afraid-of-no-ghost-shows#s-p3-sr-i1

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