The Mad Aardvark

Critical commentary on culture…

Posts Tagged ‘christopher kaiser’

The Dying Art of Ghost Hunting

Posted by madaardvark on August 28, 2010

First, let me express my condolences to the family and friends of Christopher Kaiser, who died early Friday morning.  He was struck by a train in Statesville, North Carolina while he and others were walking along the tracks on a 300-foot bridge.  Reportedly, he showed incredible strength of character by sacrificing himself while throwing his girlfriend clear of the oncoming train.  She fell from the bridge and is now in serious condition, but she survived thanks to his efforts.

The group was investigating the rumors of a ghost train that is reported to race across the bridge on the anniversary of a massive crash that occurred in 1891.  They say that the sounds of a train, a crash, and more can be heard, and sometimes one can see the train itself.

“Professional” paranormal investigation teams point to the dangers of their profession and urge people to go through proper channels when investigating hauntings.  They also encourage safety, caution and preparation.

However, the explosion of ghost hunting is starting to fade away, at least in “professional” circles.  Of what constitutes professionalism I am not sure, but it seems that anyone who can assemble friends, promote themselves as an organization, and contact the proper authorities before entering purportedly haunted locations can call themselves a professional.  With these simple qualifications in mind, it is no wonder that the ghost hunting community is starting to splinter.  Television shows like Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted have been criticized by “real” ghost hunters as sensationalism and fiction, and I think it’s safe to say that we are hearing about those big programs less and less.  This may have something to do with fading interest by typical television watchers and active boycotts by “professional” ghost hunters.

That doesn’t mean the phenomenon of ghosts is going away.  The focus now has been on individuals rather than objective teams.  Two programs in particular, Celebrity Ghost Stories and My Ghost Story focus on an individual relating personal experiences, with no investigation, counter-examples, or even base interview as a balance.  Nor does the show need those things.  The idea is of a person telling a story that is a combination of what they heard and what they may have experienced (sometimes the storyteller isn’t even sure).

These stories are a great example of folk tales as tools of enculturation.  Many stories are similar, supposedly because the nature of ghosts is consistent.  Variations, of course, add to the mystique and suspense because,since ghosts can not be completely defined, the true nature of these things can not be determined.  The ghost tale is about confronting the unknown and coming to terms with it – especially the experience of death and what may happen afterward.

This experience is a personal one, which may be why ghost hunting as an institution is deteriorating.  This is also a result of postmodern religious thinking.  Either way, when a group begins claiming specialized knowledge that other groups within the same field do not have, that inevitably leads to in-fighting and unhealthy criticism.  Everyone disassociates themselves from everyone else, hostilely derides one another, and splinters off into their own factions.  The ones on top of the heap (namely the TAPS organization on the Ghost Hunters show) are both prime targets for criticism and often the most likely to criticize.

It’s a strange situation.  Scientific investigation relies on peer review processes.  Articles written for scientific journals receive such peer reviews both before and after publication.  There tends to be consent among scientists because of this reason, but new ideas are treated with the most critical observation, comment, and review.  Ideally, this would happen to paranormal investigations as well, and it seems to be occurring ever-so quickly.  Unfortunately, there is no consensus to even basic principles of that “discipline.”  Combine that with the aforementioned personal nature of the event being studied, and you have a flux of interest and communication.  Everyone claims authority, willing to afford it to none.

Such is what happens with a folktale developed for transmitting beliefs in personal validation.  How can a group or institution possibly sustain itself when what is perceived as a too rigid and impersonal draconic organization (science) is brought into question?   If the belief is to sustain itself, it has to relinquish some form of organizational authority and become one of personal validation and unorganized learned beliefs.  Even when ideas and ideals are shared and encouraged, the path to such knowledge has to be one of individual discovery.

That is one of the ironic manifestations of postmodernism.  How do we reconcile a group belief in individuality and unique experiences that must be reached through those experiences?  When the Truth that everyone shares is that there IS no Truth, or that Truth is subjective, how can we be sure of that?  It becomes a paradox unless one arbitrarily decides what that Truth is.  Some will allow for it to be whatever we decide it is, while others insist on their version of it.  Then Truth becomes synonymous with God.  (Is there Truth? How do we know what Truth is? Everyone has their own path to discover Truth.  Your Truth is not my Truth.  etc.)

And that’s where ghost hunting stagnates, at least as a manifestation of a belief system.  As a science, well, ghost hunting certainly leaves something to be desired, but that’s another post for another time…

Related Sites:

Ghost Hunters TV Show – Fake?

Don’t Watch Ghost Hunters Tonight!

Amateur “Ghost Hunter” Killed in Toronto

‘Ghost Train’ Hunter Killed in North Carolina

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Posted in america, pseudo-science, science, television | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »