No matter where you turn, it seems like reality entertainment based on the paranormal is everywhere. From long-running television shows like SyFy’s Ghost Hunters to Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Dead Files and YouTube channels run by investigation groups, the options for the paranormal enthusiast are everywhere.
And while a segment of the population is strongly skeptical, a Harris Interactive poll indicates that 51% of the public, including 58% of women, and 65% of those aged 25 to 29 but only 27% of those aged 65 and over, believe in ghosts, while a Live Science article from 2011 indicates that 71% of Americans believe they have experienced some sort of paranormal phenomenon.
The popularity of paranormal-based entertainment seems to reinforce the empirical evidence. These shows are long-lived because the target audience is growing. And now that science is beginning to make a concerted effort to explain paranormal phenomena, that belief is growing. Whereas once, ghost hunting was done by groups seeking knowledge, now it’s big-time entertainment with big-time dollars – and not just in Hollywood. A October 31, 2014 Fortune article entitled “The Boo-tiful Business of Ghost Tourism” by Melissa Locker makes this clear.
Ghost tourism is its own cottage industry that stretches from coast to coast. San Diego’s Whaley House, home of the city’s first public gallows, runs ghost hunts for $50 per investigator with extra-spooky activities running throughout the month of October. Pennsylvania’s Eastern State Penitentiary is a boon for amateur and professional ghost hunters alike. The crumbling prison’s Halloween activities even have corporate sponsors, including the expected (Spirit Halloween stores) and the unexpected (Peanut Chews).
While supernatural attractions are cashing in on the public’s interest in the paranormal, the actual business of paranormal investigations isn’t really a business at all: “It’s a very expensive hobby.”
Paranormal tourism is taking off, and many families are starting to see the appeal. John Williams of Kennesaw, Georgia took his wife and youngest son on a paranormal vacation last year. “My kid watches paranormal TV shows and was interested. My wife was thinking, ‘Whatever.’ But it was a great bonding experience for us as a family. We went to nine haunted sites in seven states. Best money I’ve ever spent. Great family experience, even though we had no experiences of our own.”
Many allegedly haunted sites offer ghost-hunting overnight stays if you’re an amateur investigator – another side of the ghost tourism business – and haunted location owners are cashing in. For example, The Sallie House in Atchison, Kansas is run by the local Chamber of Commerce and charges $189 per person per night.
Ghost-hunting groups have to pay those fees too, along with the cost of their equipment which can be extremely expensive. The added advantages of new video technology don’t come cheap. One night-vision camera can cost up to $500, while the thermal FLIR camera can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000. These groups have tens of thousands of dollars of equipment without the benefits of a production company’s backing. And as most paranormal groups don’t charge to investigate a site, their hobby is very expensive indeed.
But most people live vicariously through ghost-hunting shows, and not all of those shows are on television. I’ve got a history of shredding poorly done paranormal shows like A&E’s Cursed: The Bell Witch (a legend I am intimately familiar with as I grew up in the area) and Destination America’s laughable Exorcism Live. Even the longest-running television paranormal shows have come under scrutiny amid accusations of faking evidence and hoaxing – both prospects being much easier with production company equipment and the drive to produce payoffs for each weekly episode.
Williams watches both televised ghost-hunting shows and online investigations. “It doesn’t seem like online groups have as much incentive to exaggerate,” he explained. “We love televised programs, but it seems like they would have more motivation to fake stuff. Shows like LiveScifi seem totally sincere.”
I agree. That’s why I believe the best paranormal shows can be found on YouTube. It’s where you’ll discover anything about ghost investigations you could possibly hope for – and in many cases in such a fashion as to preclude the possibility of hoaxing. To these groups, the money is unimportant. What they’re after is information – and knowledge. But you have to know how to negotiate the tangle of groups looking to cash in on the paranormal craze and find the few that balance more on the side of investigation than entertainment.
LiveSciFi Bloody Mary Ritual Investigation
One channel I enjoy a great deal is LiveSciFi. LiveSciFi offers a multitude of different investigative styles. Its founder, Tim Wood, does frequent Ouija Board sessions that he live-streams on YouTube. Feeling brave? Here’s a link to the terror. What makes those sessions interesting to me is that he also runs a voice recorder at the same time, and catches multiple EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) in most shows.
But even more interesting are the LiveSciFi live feeds from haunted locations, where viewers can watch uncut, unedited film for 48-72 hours as the investigations are occurring. LSF has done live feeds everywhere, from the infamous Sallie House to the Whispers Estate in Mitchell, Indiana. And for Creepypasta fans, his ritual live streams about legends like Bloody Mary or the Midnight Man are a lot of fun. LiveSciFi is the largest paranormal channel on YouTube with over 300,000 subscribers over its 10-year life span and over a billion views. The Sallie House alone provides hours of binge watching opportunities.
Living Dead Paranormal Investigation of Haunted Willow Creek Farm
The Living Dead Paranormal group is another outstanding online option. Comprised of three brothers – Josh, Rocky, and Shaun Fourman, who lived through a serious haunting in their childhood home – and a friend, Jeff Brown, their body of work is impressive. Their investigations are presented as documentaries, with high production values. The two investigations they’ve done at the Monroe house in Hartford City, Indiana are among the best work I’ve seen. (You can find those investigations here and here.) If you’re made of sterner stuff, a recent demonic haunting investigation is guaranteed to make you jumpy.
We’re not talking about Elvira, Mistress of the Dark shows here. We’re talking about regular guys in sweatshirts and jeans, alone in reputedly haunted locations, and only those guys. No tech crew. No directors. No producer hanging out in the background pulling fishing line attached to props. And trust me: You may watch for hours and see not one darn thing, which makes the things you do witness that much more interesting.
I approach most paranormal claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. You have to if you ever intend to sleep with the lights off. I’m not a gullible person, but my life experiences have led me to an interest in the paranormal – a search for validation of things I’ve seen or witnessed that defy logical explanation.
That doesn’t mean that I automatically accept everything I see; in fact, the jury is still out for me on Bigfoot and UFO sightings. I’ve laughed myself silly at some poorly executed hoaxes on television and at many, many paranormal “investigators” I’ve seen on YouTube. Kind of hard not to. Early Most Haunted shows are great for that, by the way. Never underestimate the comedic possibilities with a Derek Acorah or a Chip Coffey.
But there are groups out there that might make you think – if you know where to look and what to look for. Hint: If the lead investigator looks like a high school sophomore or is obviously costumed in front of a set that looks like The Munsters, it’s probably best to just move on.
If, like me, you find the paranormal fascinating and entertaining, stop looking in your TV Guide and do a check on paranormal YouTube channels. You can experience all the aspects of an investigation from the comfort of your living room, and sometimes even simultaneously with the ghost hunters, without all the curse words getting beeped out. Because they can approach these alleged hauntings without the obligation to get bang for their buck, their credibility factor is higher. And believe me, if nothing has happened during the first three hours of a live stream, you’ll know that too – which is about 99% of what happens during any investigation.
That’s what this boils down to.
Instead of spending thousands of dollars on equipment and insurance, instead of staying up all night and evaluating scores of hours of footage, instead of walking around in the dark with instruments and talking to whatever inhabits an alleged haunted building, paranormal reality shows allow you to investigate without ever leaving your home. That, in turn, inspires some viewers to either explore paranormal tourism, at sites that now are charging fees so people can enjoy them for themselves – or to actively investigate, spending their money on equipment. And even if you stay at home and live secondhand through television, you’re subjected to commercials up to a third of the show’s running time. Paranormal investigating has turned into big profits for everybody involved.
Except the independents, the ones with their YouTube channels and blogs. That’s where the best paranormal reality can be found. But you have to know where to look as much as what to believe. And while each webisode has both creepy moments and uneventful ones, there’s unexpected fun too – the hilarity of finding out a big guy who hunts for ghosts is terrified of birds, or someone walking face-first into the corner of a wall, or sometimes just the nervous laughter that happens after they’ve been spooked. The entertainment factor of these independent channels is undeniable. The reality part I’ll leave to you to decide.
And that’s what paranormal reality shows are changing in our culture.
“My belief has definitely increased. I was a skeptic. I’ve gone from assuming it’s all BS to belief. Watching Ghost Adventures and then LiveSciFi shows – they’re hard to refute,” Williams explained. “In our family, we say, ‘Okay – whether it’s true or not, they seem to believe.’”