In the late stages of the 19th century, psychics and seers were fashionable as well as a subject of scientific interest. These spiritualists would often conjure up ghosts and spectral figures for entertainment at parties or for the benefit of those studying the paranormal. And this style of paranormal exploration and exploitation is seeing a return depicting real life portrayals of the paranormal in television shows that follow real ghost hunters with their spiritualist 21st century counterparts. But is this an avenue for serious scientific inquiry? Or is it simply a smoke and mirrors style magic show?
The Fox Sisters, commonly credited with single handedly giving birth to the spiritualist movement were known for their incredible ability to communicate with the departed who had shed off this mortal coil to live in the veil between worlds, occasionally returning to rap mysteriously on objects or make a full appearance before frightened and yet intrigued audiences. And since that time much has changed. Now shows are broadcast in serials that follow teams which possess their own personalities, and those performing are not merely psychic or spiritual in nature, but technological as well. Evidence is not fleeting in a spiritualist’s box or through a ouija board but appearing as heat readings, electromagnetic outlines, and mysterious ghostly figures caught on videotape. But one key element has shifted. Now the images are broadcast to millions in an industry that stands to gain or lose millions of dollars based on whether the ghosts appear or not. The industry has created all types of ghost hunters from the mavericks who throw etiquette and rules to the wind to those who simply fabricate paranormal entities out of thin air. The inevitable showmanship that follows makes it even more difficult for the honest and yet less dramatic ghost hunting ventures to stay honest and still get the same coverage.
As the spiritualist movement progressed, new phenomena would appear as well. Rapping and disembodied voices would soon become ectoplasmic materializations that would appear from thin air – a phenomenon that rarely occurs today and virtually never on film. Now it seems the prowess of showmanship has evolved from creating a show to going out and seeking the paranormal in different locations. The art of ghostly manifestation has turned from the laboratory or the parlor to the dark haunted locations around the world which eventually are broadcast and reach the homes of millions of viewers worldwide. Is this transition conducive to proper scientific inquiry? And more importantly, is it likely to be corrupted as the spiritualist movement was with charlatans and magicians hoping to make a quick buck by suspending disbelief in a subject that may require serious scientific investigation?
The new paranormal entertainment is no longer something that travels with a person who can then enter a home to perform feats of magic. Instead, the nature of highly mobile television crews has brought the paranormal back to the haunted locations. Rather than take the individual to the paranormal, the paranormal is brought to the individual through that neon grinning face known as television.