Author Topic: Ghost Adventures  (Read 1654 times)

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Offline PPI Karl

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Most of you who know me already are well aware of how much I despise shows like Ghost Adventures.  I'm prone to making a smart-alecky remark about Zak Bagans whenever the opportunity presents itself, usually without apology.  Today, the Travel Channel has been running an all-day marathon of the show, and I've been tuning in and out throughout the day, just to take my turn at poking fun.  However, by the end of the day I realized how important it was to put into words what the real source of my disdain is for this type of paranormal investigating and for the shows that promote it.  I can say unequivocally that I hate what these guys do to "investigate" paranormal activity.  Here's why:

Right out of the gate, the show calls itself Ghost Adventures.  I can certainly empathize that some adventurous spirit is required at first to investigate paranormal activity, particularly if the environmental conditions are uncomfortable or potentially hazardous.  But that's as far as my sense of adventure goes, I'm afraid.  Zak Bagans and his crew live up to their standards of adventure, it's just that I don't much respect their standards. Calling yourself a "ghost adventurer" implies that you see ghost hunting primarily as a form of entertainment, to be enjoyed for its own sake more than for its scientific value or its outreach capability.  Seeking adventure treats "ghost hunting" more like a safari--one in which spirits are solely quarry, not subjects of study.  In this way, the investigators represent themselves as kind of "big game hunters," but not in that introspective, self-reproachful, Hemingway-esque way; rather, the whole factor of risk is sentimentalized, and danger is not so much a matter of strategy and caution as it is just an addiction to adrenaline.  And, let's face it, there really isn't any danger in the things they do except for illusion of it:  they may think of themselves as big game ghost hunters, but it's really just a canned hunt at a paranormal "game ranch."

Furthermore, I take extreme issue with the whole concept of "extreme ghost hunting" espoused by the ghost adventurers.  It took me less than five minutes to figure out what made for their team dynamic.  It's all about hyper-masculinity and alpha male superiority.  The megalomaniac Bagans is militantly domineering and confrontational, not because it makes dramatic reality TV, but because he cannot be otherwise.  It's one thing to contrive a method of provoking spirits when the need arises, but when it's your only way of interacting with people, especially your colleagues and friends, obviously there's a pathology at work here.  The team's beta males alternately challenge Bagans's authority and compete for his attention, making the team dynamic more akin to a prison pod.  Needless to say, beyond the misogynistic epithets team members lob at each other like simian excrement lies a tightly suppressed homoeroticism that detours into the familiar territory of aggression whenever someone becomes too sensitive, too afraid, too "feminine".  In the cellmate atmosphere in which they commonly operate, these behaviors prevent one from becoming the group's "prison bitch."

All of this I could tolerate (but not like) if the show were a good model of scientific method, but, alas, I've heard more compelling reasoning from an Abdomenizer infomercial.  True to their predatory image (you'll note, I haven't used the eye-rolls emoticon even once so far, but I don't know how much longer I can hold out), their technique emphasizes risk factor over methodology.  Like many other paranormal reality shows, the crew showcases reaction to potentially paranormal situations rather than to any actual evidence of them.  The only difference is that, since they're extreme lads, their reactions are more hyperbolic.  Consequently, emotions have a pre-eminent status in their universe, and subjective experience holds equal sway to empirical observation.  If it evokes the "F" word, it's fact, and persuasive experience is given far more importance over hard evidence.  Admittedly, they do pull out an interesting device or two as a nod to the experimental technology seemingly crucial to the field these days, but the use of these devices is held to no particular standards except a belief that they are working under paranormal "energies"--energies that would surely choose Zak Bagans to represent the sport of ghost hunting on the Wheaties box if they could.

The summary findings presented on Ghost Adventures reinforce conclusions about paranormal activity that are not actually conclusions, but rather gut feelings felt keenly by an emotionally constipated young man.  The presentation of evidence on the show always puts dramatic effect and hyperbole over hard evidence and the facts.  Irrational appeals to emotion are an entire classification of logical fallacy unto themselves, but Bagans makes them an integral part to his cult of personality.  Weak or incomplete logic about what the evidence proves is lathered over with aggressive postures and threatening hand gestures--everything from finger wagging to actual fist-pounding.  If a colleague is upstaging his presentation with logic of his own, Bagans habitually conjures up a bellicose, even belligerent, tone of voice.  "Extreme Ghost Hunting," it would seem, is not only the method by which evidence is allegedly captured; it's also the sophomoric (though, I want to say "soporific") means by which you'll be bullied into respecting the evidence's veracity. 

All of this points to an underlying philosophy about paranormal investigating that I begin to find offensive.  While Bagans claims in the very beginning of each episode he is an ardent skeptic about ghosts and the afterlife, the attitudes, techniques, methodologies and apparent mission of the team are far from skeptical.  They are, in fact, "extreme" in their devoutness.  The routinely reinforce a fundamentalist temperament (largely Christian) about the afterlife, about Hell, about demons, and about divinely exacted justice.  Such a mission may, in fact, be purely subconscious:  I can't imagine that Bagans can easily make himself aware of his own filters, cultural or otherwise.  The primary mission of the group, however, is to self-aggrandize, and like so many despots gone before him, Bagans works it so that, if the viewing public doesn't respect his reasoning, by god they'll fear it.  Clearly, his modus operandi is persuasion through intimidation:  the viewer is brought to heel about the "truth" in the same manner as alleged spirits.  Just as all big, white, safari hunters do, Bagans sentimentalizes the deaths of other once living human beings, and therefore exploits them, opportunistically, without any further commitment, stewardship, or sense of responsibility to them after the filming has ended.  And the very premise of the show encourages this attitude in others.  Hence, I would add that, not only is his attitude about spirit hunting fundamentally and devoutly religious, his shtick about extreme ghost hunting proselytizes this attitude, encouraging us to do the same, and to reap the rewards of picking fights with the dark.  No thanks.  I'm not fourteen years old.

Probably the most obvious factor in all this is Zak, himself, and his obsession to fill every screen pixel with his testosterone.  Zak isn't just ghost hunting; he's marking his territory and pissing on headstones.  He's made a sizable investment in cultivating the body image of an ultimate fighter, and even in the presence of actual authorities on paranormal topics, he cannot seem to help but prance and preen his lithe, muscular body and his bristling biceps for the voyeuristic camera, as though he's ready to kick-box any expert who might contradict him. It doesn't take a keen understanding of psychology to interpret this behavior as psychosexual, I suppose.  Every situation and every environment into which he enters feels so redolent with his musky sexuality, I would go so far as to propose that only one basic insecurity could lead to this sort of . . . well, behavior. (Oddly enough, it's his slightly husky, easily convinced friend with the video camera that I find myself wanting to hug paternally and promise to help him escape from his abusive relationship with Zak.)  I give him credit for not festooning his body with bad tattoos.  Perhaps there's hope for him yet.  Perhaps a summer of basketball camp with Ryan Buehl, making macaroni art and s'mores and occasionally bawling into one another's arms about their grade school gym teachers, might just do the trick.

Okay.  Having fallen back now into my comfortable routine of ad hominems about Zak, I'll simply end here.  It's unworthy, and too easy--like shooting fish in a barrel.  (Now who's going on a "canned hunt," Karl?!)
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

Offline PPI Jason

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Wow Karl,

I think Zak Bagans just got verbally kick boxed right out of his bed. He's probably lying on the ground somewhere with a giant shoe print on his head wondering where the hell that came from.

I think the epitome of Zak's antics, as you so eloquently described them, was shown very clearly in the episode where he sat down with the Bishop of the American Catholic Church (I want to say it was James Long but I can't remember for certain). Zak sat down with the bishop and showed him some scratches he had just gotten from a demon. Bishop Long told Zak that he should be screwing around with these types of things. Then Zak said something to the effect of, "I know it's dangerous. But I have to do this. I'm not afraid and I can't turn back now" or something similar. Drama, machismo, and a trite view of what he thinks makes a hero all mixed together in just a few short seconds. It was enough to send me out the door. I haven't watched that show since.

But what also concerns me is the fact that we, as a society as a whole, accept him. He wouldn't have a show if people didn't tune in and continue to watch. Every con man needs an audience. P.T Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute." I expect Bagans to be an idiot. But Barnum's statistic is what really concerns me.   :(
Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.
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ljiljanac

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I don't think I have ever watched "Ghost Adventures".  It sounds to me like.....hmmmmm   ::|   U.F.C. vs. Casper.  I think I'll pass.

Offline PPI Karl

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I don't think I have ever watched "Ghost Adventures".  It sounds to me like.....hmmmmm   ::|   U.F.C. vs. Casper.  I think I'll pass.

Lillie, there's an old German expression:  No one is useless, for you can always use him as a bad example.   ;D

Jason, I agree with you:  the fact that there's an audience for this kind of show is disturbing.  I have to admit, I might be more tolerant of Ghost Adventures if I were more generally tolerant of "paratainment," but even the Ghost Hunters franchise is beginning to bore me.  For the Ghost Hunters, at least the overall demographic is age 24 - 54.  With Ghost Adventures, that "sucker born every minute" was probably a male born 14 to 18 years ago, hence the adolescent appeal of the team's behavior.  However, I think once you start niche marketing the concept like this, it's yet another indication that the wave of interest has long since crested, and TV producers are just trying to squeeze out a few dregs of profit before putting the idea to bed altogether.  I mean, c'me on!  The Othersiders, on Cartoon Network?!  Is the Shopping Channel going to pick up its own series next?  Haunted ESPN?  I mean, I got an invitation in the mail last week to come out to Phoenix to judge a paranormal cake competition for the Food Network!  When you look at Zak Bagans and his Straight Edge street gang of ghostniks, it's no wonder paranormal investigating is quickly becoming kitsch. 
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

Offline PPI Tim

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Great post Karl,
Have you considered sent your complaint to the Travel Channel?
I watched one episode and then couldn't bring myself to watch more.
I think we are not finished with new show from the field of Paratainment.
Sounds interesting...Go on.

Offline PPI Karl

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Great post Karl,
Have you considered sent your complaint to the Travel Channel?
I watched one episode and then couldn't bring myself to watch more.
I think we are not finished with new show from the field of Paratainment.


I've actually written letters of complaint to the Travel Channel and the History Channels before.  Basically, if you go to any trouble to write a sincere and reasonably well-supported letter of complaint, they send you a five word, blanket response assuring you that they accommodate of the beliefs of the majority of their viewers and that your complaints are in the minority.  And that's it.  It's the equivalent of the chef spitting in your food and sending it back out slightly warmed over. :-X
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

Offline PPI Brian

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Gee, Karl. Don't mince words. Tell us how you really feel.  ;D
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan