Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ghosts and Dust

Dust particles. Microscopic pieces of pollen. Glare produced from a light source. Mistakes in film processing. None of these common occurrences seem very frightening or mysterious when they are described as what they truly are. However, all these annoyances of both amateur and professional photographers take on a completely different air when they are depicted as “ghost orbs.” An orb, as defined by The Skeptic’s Dictionary, is, “…an alleged ghost, spirit energy, or multi-dimensional being invisible to the naked eye but visible as a ball of light on film.” For some strange reason, pictures of dust particles illuminated by camera flash pass for acceptable evidence for the existence of ghosts nowadays. I can’t help but laugh when the host of a television show such as Most Haunted marvels when an insect or piece of dust particulate in the air illuminated by the production lights floats past the viewfinder of the camera he or she is holding. “Oh, we got one!” or “Did you see that?!” the host usually blurts out, as though he or she had seen the ghostly image of some long dead celebrity. Alas, neither the shades of James Dean nor Marilyn Monroe are ever captured on film. Instead, all the viewer witnesses is further proof of the fact that the main point of such shows is not to search for evidence of the paranormal but to merely increase there ratings.











It is rather peculiar to think that the ghost photos of the 1920s and 1930s, double exposures(Figure 1) or pictures of alleged “ectoplasm” (Figure 2), are found to be humorous and na├»ve by modern ghost hunters. However, if a ghost photographer in the 1920s or ‘30s produced an image displaying an “orb” and expected to sell it to the local newspaper, he would most likely be laughed out of the editor’s office. Why, as technology has increased, has the standard for evidence of paranormal phenomena decreased? Shouldn’t the public expect a higher degree of evidence than that which was acceptable in the 1920s? What if the fields of medicine and physics had not advanced in eighty years? If the field of paranormal investigation, or parapsychology as it is sometimes called, wants to be considered a legitimate science, they certainly have some catching up to do.



Picture Sources
Figure 1: source
Figure 2: source

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Monday, October 30, 2006

The Scariest Places on Earth

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when numerous television networks air shows that involve either a single person or a group of people going into supposedly haunted locations and screaming, talking to nothing and marveling at dust particles illuminated by the camera lights. Fortunately this year there seems to be less of these types of shows than in previous years. Unfortunately though, the networks that run these programs seem to be running them in marathon format. Such an occurrence made itself evident last night, Sunday, October 29th, when one watching the ABC Family channel between the hours of 7:00 pm and 12:00 am could treat themselves to five, count ‘em five episodes of The Scariest Places on Earth.

Luckily, my absolute favorite episode of SPE aired in that five hour block. This particular episode involved a family of Italian descent, I believe, exploring the castle of the famed Vlad the Impaler. The laughs begin early when the excruciatingly horse voice over begins her work. For and idea on how exactly she sounded, imagine that tiny, small-voiced woman from the movie Poltergeist on eight packs of cigarettes a day. This was not what made this episode my favorite; every episode of SPE uses the same voice over actress. Nor was the fact that the producers of SPE dug up Linda Blair to host the show. No, this episode was my favorite because of the family itself; in particular one member of the family. I cannot remember his name at the moment but let’s just call him Tony to keep things simple.

Tony and the other four members of his family started the episode pretty much like any other. They were introduced briefly, obviously to prove to everyone watching that they were not actors. They were taken to the location and cameras were strapped to them. The camera rigs involved in SPE are the most complicated I’ve ever seen in a reality show. They’re basically backpacks that contain the guts of the camera equipment and metal rods that extend about a foot past the wearer’s chest which support the cameras themselves. There are two cameras per rig: one facing away from the wearer, so we can see what they see; and one directed toward the face of the wearer, so we can see their reactions to anything that happens. The participants are hooded and lead very dramatically to separate places of the castle. Once at their destinations, they are told to explore the castle and find each other. This is the majority of the show. Scared people with pounds of camera equipment strapped to their backs wandering around a gigantic castle. About a half hour into the show things began to get interesting. Not interesting in the sense that odd, unexplainable things began happening. Every bump, creak, and bang heard by the family had dozens of explanations, none of them involving ghosts. When I say interesting, I mean our man Tony began yelling at non existent beings. And I mean yelling. On numerous occasions he actually started challenging the “ghosts” to show themselves and confront him. Of course he did all this while sprinting full speed through the courtyards and corridors of the castle. It was quite a sight. Of course once the show ended, everyone was fine. Each family member provided a brief testimonial of their individual experiences, all involving multiple encounters with so-called “cold spots” and feeling like they were being watched.

No physical evidence of the existence of ghosts was produced, but that really isn’t the point of these shows. The point of these shows, in my humble opinion, is to popularize and normalize such reactions toward perceived paranormal phenomena. Absolutely no views to the contrary are presented in any of these shows. These types of programs operate on the assumption that ghosts exist. Occurrences such as unexplained noises or gusts of wind are presented as if they were paranormally produced. As far as the producers of the show are concerned, there is absolutely no other explanation. Such behavior is not entirely the fault of the shows’ creators. Of course, they could provide the slightest skeptical point of view, but the really have no obligation to do so. There are merely provided what the viewers, us, say they want. The only way to provide a balanced look at the claims of the paranormal is to ask for; nay scream for it. All these shows have websites and that means they all have e-mail addresses. It is our duty, if we want to call ourselves responsible television viewers, to petition the creators and producers of such programming to alert them to there shortcomings. Sure I watch shows like this occasionally but it is only for the purpose of exposing them for what they really are; and sometimes for a good laugh.

So, everyone reading this enjoy your Halloween and the paranormal-themed programming that goes with it. Just remember if you’re as annoyed or even angered as I am about some of the programming out there, you can do something about it.
-Jeremy

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The is my very first post for my very first blog, ever. I don't really have anything important to say, I just kind of jumped into this thing.

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