Spooktober 2014: Ghost Adventures

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Ghosts, am I right? Always haunting places and shit.

Luckily the mildly spooky and decrepit houses of the world are regularly visited by brave souls willing to combat the paranormal for the sake of world security! Referred to as Spook Warriors (by me), they use an expert combination of bullshit junk science and wandering around aimlessly to uncover ghostly activity! Sometimes TV channels offer them money to star in reality TV shows, further undermining their already shaky credibility.

Okay seriously though, some “ghost hunters” are actual skeptics who track down the mundane causes behind 99.999% of purported hauntings and will only ascribe the remaining 0.001% to paranormal activity when they find concrete evidence that such events are actually happening (ie never). And frankly, ghost hunting seems kind of fun. I’d sure as hell do it if someone asked me to, and I don’t believe in any of this shit. When else are you going to get to wander around a spooky house in the dark waving expensive science machines?

But the reality TV shows based around the exploits of these people are generally awful. Hilariously awful. So I decided to watch an entire season’s worth of one of them, for the lulz.

I went with with imaginatively named Ghost Adventures because it was apparently something of a template for a lot of similar shows that came after. A while back there was a bit of a hubbub when viewers were shocked– just shocked– to discover that a guest investigator (inguestigator?) might have been faking a supernatural encounter, because apparently the format of the show wasn’t enough of a give-away already. My assumption going into this is that it would be treated like professional wrestling, ie a scripted narrative presented as genuine, with the viewers fully clued in and engaging in various levels of immersion into the fiction as part of the enjoyment of the story, but apparently we are actually supposed to believe this is all real, and many people are happy to buy that pretense.

(Weirdly I found this article, which is from an Onion-style satirical news site but describes more or less how I’m assuming the show is actually made; the only fake part is the fact that one of the leads admitted it and got fired)

Also, before we go any further I feel like you all need to see this quote from the show’s wikipedia page:

In 2010, the program won two Spooktalkular Parawards.

Anyway, let’s get acquainted with our three brave investigators:

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That’s Zak the Lego maniac. Everything you need to know about Zak is summed up by this photo. He is exactly the sort of person you think he is based on that photo.

Zak’s shtick (at least for the purpose of the show) is that he’s on some sort of Ghost Crusade to vanquish evil, so when the crew encounter “evil” ghosts he gets pissed off and yells a lot. It’s really funny.

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This here is Nick Groff, who is sort of Zak’s more stable, less swole second in command. According to wikipedia he previously worked on something called “Vegas Stripped” which I guess is good practice for hunting ghosts.

Nick and Zak have a kind of comedy duo routine going on, where Zak is the hyper-aggressive one and Nick gets scared easily and runs away whenever anything remotely frightening happens. Which is fine, but if you’re the sort of person who gets spooked easily I have to question why you’d want to be on a TV show that requires you to be locked into haunted locations at night.

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Last but not least is Aaron, who started out in this first season more as a camera and technical guy (unlike a lot of these shows, the three “investigators” do their own filming and are genuinely alone at the haunting sites) before apparently becoming more active later on.

Aaron is the quietest of the three and by far the least prone to freakouts of all varieties. The only person to appear on-screen in this season who isn’t either pathetic or slightly unsettling to watch.

For the purposes of this post I’m really only going to look in-depth at the first episode, because to be honest if you’ve seen one episode of Ghost Adventures you’ve pretty much seen them all; when your entire premise is “three dudes wander around haunted houses except nothing happens because ghosts aren’t actually real” then you don’t have a lot of scope for variety.

It takes place at a spooktacular music establishment and demonstrates a lot of the absurdities of the show, as well as ghost hunting in general. For example:

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Pro-tip: if you put a sign over your shop saying “this place is totally fucking haunted” people will report ghostly activity, because you just told them they were going to. Naturally our brave trio don’t comment on this obvious bias in their data.

All of the episodes spend a lot of time on interviews with (supposed) Real People talking about their ghost experiences. Assuming these are actually Real People, I don’t have any problem with them. There is a lot of strange but thoroughly natural stuff people can go through that they interpret as paranormal simply because they’ve never heard of it before. For example, roughly 90% of alien abduction stories can be explained as particularly bad waking dreams or hympnopompic hallucinations combined with the phenomena of sleep paralysis. Many people experience this once in their entire lives and then never again, so it’s easy to see why they’d readily interpret it as something much scarier.

The gang also usually interview “experts” in the field of ghostology, which is where things quickly jump off the deep end. In the first episode the “expert” blithely asserts that a murder victim’s severed head was offered to the devil as a blood sacrifice, after which our boys claim that the location of the sacrifice is now a portal to hell.

We’re less than three minutes into the episode.

Less then ten minutes in we get to the bit where Zak starts announcing that he wants to “taunt the hell” out of the ghosts to teach them a lesson for possessing people while the establishment’s owner looks kind of baffled and shuffles around awkwardly. I’m beginning to suspect the annoying boyfriend character from Paranormal Activity was based on Zak.

Over the course of the next half an hour our heroes interpret pretty much anything that happens as evidence of paranormal activity, which means they’re either credulous rubes of the highest order or they’re making shit up for the cameras. For example, here’s Zak experiencing the wonders of pareidolia and talking about the screaming face he sees in the wall:

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A lot of the show is like this, with one or more of the investigators (usually Zak) claiming to see or feel something paranormal that is not in fact visible on camera. Any other people nearby are usually only too happy to go along for the ride. I’m sure the presence of those cameras can’t be a factor in that.

Eventually, once all the preliminary faffing about has been taken care of, the “lockdown” begins. Our heroes conduct their investigation alone, supposedly unable to leave until they hit a certain time limit. Which is fair enough, it’s a dramatic flourish for TV. But then we learn that these particular ghost adventurers use the same methodology as most other TV paranormal investigators, in that they investigate a) alone b) at night and c) with the lights off. Because obviously this won’t psychologically prime them to start seeing spooky shit whether or not any is actually there.

Let’s take a look at the scientific spirit detection methods in use by today’s cutting-edge ghostologists:

First up we’ve got EMF detectors. It’s well known that ghosts cause electro-magnetic disturbances. How does anyone know that? Because paranormal investigators detect electro-magnetic disturbances in haunted locations. How do they know ghosts are causing them? Because ghosts cause electro-magnetic disturbances.

Isn’t this fun?

Next up we’ve got EVP, or Electronic Voice Phenomenon, which is where people record silence in empty locations and interpret the vague static and feedback that results as voices. Now to be fair these can sometimes be kind of creepy, but only in the same way that the baby-like wailing of a cat is creepy: because it resembles a human voice just enough to be recognizable, but is distorted enough that there’s something seriously strange about it. It’s basically audio uncanny valley.

Then you’ve got equipment trouble. Yes, malfunctioning electronics is a sign of ghost activity, like in the first episode where the boys are exploring a drainage pipe (for no discernible reason) and claim to hear a female voice screaming over the sound of running water. Upon rewinding one of their cameras they can’t hear anything strange, which of course means that ghosts are messing with their equipment and not that they’re credulous jackasses.

(The team frequently claims to hear noises like these; when their cameras actually pick something up it sounds more like floorboards creaking)

Cold spots? If it gets cold, that means that ghosts are, like…..sucking the heat out of the atmosphere, or something. I guess ghosts are endothermic. Either that or old buildings tend to not be very drought-resistant, but surely that couldn’t be the explanation, right?

And lets not forget about possession! Yeah, all three ghostvestigators have supposedly been possessed. Needless to say they never display any behavior during these episodes that indicates anything paranormal is going on.

On the rare occasions when something actually happens the usual reaction is for Zak to start loudly taunting the “ghosts” to come get him (because he’s such an ALPHA MALE you guys) while the other two guys who aren’t Zak try to run away.

Of course when I say “on the rare occasions” I mean “all the god damn time” because as far as the Ghost Squad are concerned they’re under non-stop paranormal assault from the moment they enter a haunted location. Anything that can possibly be interpreted as supernatural activity will be; no alternative explanations will be considered. One of the team found a scratch on their back? It was a ghost scratch (and never mind that they’ve been poking around a cramped basement in the dark). Feeling dizzy? It’s ghost-dizziness. Unusually cold? Ghost-cold. Unusually hot? Ghost-hot. Creaking floorboards? It’s ghost-creaking. Caught some dust on your camera? It must be ghost dust.

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As such a lot of every episode consists of “DUDE. DUDE DID YOU JUST SEE OR HEAR THAT GHOST THING THAT JUST HAPPENED? DUDE I DID DUDE OH MY GOD DUDE DUDES DUDE WHAT THE HELL DUDE”.

If you believe in ghosts and want to watch a show about legitimate attempts to detect them, Ghost Adventures isn’t going to do anything for you. The “investigators” are far too credulous and the “evidence” they uncover is miniscule at best. If you’re just looking for something creepy to watch at night the show will also leave you cold (GHOST COLD) because the heavy-handed spooky music that plays over most of every episode robs the night-vision scenes of any tension they might have had.

Really, the only way you’re going to get any entertainment out of Ghost Adventures is if you enjoy watching dudebros make fools of themselves on TV.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Spooktober 2014: Ghost Adventures

  1. Austin H. Williams

    I’ve really, really wanted to enjoy these shows, but it’s like the format forces the melodrama and the hype. No one wants to see a show where people get to the creepy old place, have a decent night’s sleep, get up the next morning and say, “Well, it’s definitely not haunted, but what a great B&B!”

    Reply
  2. Signatus

    I’ve had my share of paranormal experiences. I’m pretty sure there is a rational explanation for each one of them. Particularly vivid was the “footsteps on the stairs” experience, when I was about 15 years old. My cousin was with me, and HE heard them too.

    We have neighbors living upstairs, it’s also a douplex house so… perfectly rational explanation is that my neighbor was walking down the stairs and the night’s silence magnified the sound, making it appear as if it was happening inside my house.

    Anyways, I do enjoy watching programs about paranormal stuff. Ancient Aliens is awesome. No, I don’t believe anything about it, but simply commenting everywhere (I see) they’re wrong about something or other is fun.

    This program doesn’t sound like I’d enjoy it tho.

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      Apparently a lot of ghost footsteps are caused by draughts mashing floorboards creak in succession. Even knowing that though it can be very creepy.

      Reply

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