Friday, October 19, 2007

Bold New World

I guess with the "rant" style blog, it's pretty easy to go off into something a little too heavy. If "something really bothers me" it lends itself to that, maybe.

But here's something that's been bothering me that should be in a lighter vein: Contrived TV programs purporting to be something else. Two shows in particular, lately.

I probably shouldn't admit this [I'll use the word "almost"] but they "almost" had me going on these shows for a bit. Certainly I was almost buying in to a Court TV program called "psychic detectives" or some similar title. This program shows true crime stories where the police called in psychics to help them crack unsolved cases. Now from some books I've read [not from one of the shows] I did know that some weird, unexplainable things have happened, such as the lady who was helping the Green River detectives and wound up literally uncovering one of the bodies. She was accompanying them to a dump site and said she was getting vibes and "try here," just walking up to a little area. She was so shocked that a body was there she never helped them again, refusing to do so, totally shook up. Maybe it was just a coincidental thing. Anyway, you have to wonder, sometimes.

This Court TV program is something else, though. Story after story of psychics helping crack cases, that assistance varying from astonishing to perhaps less than astonishing, but story after story. Probably because there were just so many stories, finally I became convinced it was just too much. The sincerity of the police who were claiming the help was really appreciated and valuable was a puzzle at first, though. It finally occurred to me that there were a couple of explanations for this:

*in some cases the cops just seemed to like the "good yarn" themselves and did what they could do help that story along.
*in other cases, they were victims of talented operators who knew how to get over on these guys. In at least a couple of the shows, it seemed to me that the psychics were using the technique of secretly discerning what the detectives knew and then repeating it back to them, claiming the source of the knowledge was some sixth sense.

Is it possible that ESP or something really helped? Well, in some cases just repeating back to the detectives what they already were starting to suspect might have helped in an odd way, it seemed to me.

For an even more cynical put-down of these shows, and more on techniques that are used, see

Now, for a TV Program that "really bothers me" but to which, at times, I am nonetheless drawn for brief, irritating, spells, that's gotta be "Ghost Hunters." Now this program on the Sci-Fi channel is in the reality TV form [that could be a whole other blog] and the boldness of the real dishonesty of this particular program is mind-bending. An organization calling themselves "TAPS" puts on a show that so earnestly portrays what they are doing as being on the level it has to be seen to believe. These people would have you believe that they are using the latest scientific equipment, and the latest techniques. With special know-how they are able to document "para-normal" events right and left. They clearly have a considerable following amongst those who just cannot seem to come to realize: no reputable group has ever been able to do this. It's the sheer amount of shown para-normal activity alone that just begins to scream "fake!" Not to mention the total lack of credibility given to the program outside of, well, themselves. But I have no doubt they have many true believers.

One very clever aspect: they include debunking as part of the program. In other words, they go to a site to do a show, and they always make sure they debunk some phenomenon there that has been reported. Absolutely brilliant!

Some criticism at Wikipedia shows them no mercy:
"Ghost Hunters has attracted various critics and skeptics. Some question the scientific validity of the investigations conducted by the TAPS team, its methodology, and particularly its use of instrumentation, as there is no scientifically-proven link between the existence of ghosts and (for example) cold spots or electromagnetic fields (which Hawes and Wilson say are not necessarily paranormal). Of ghost hunting in general, skeptical investigator Joe Nickell says, "...the approach of the typical ghost hunter—a nonscientist using equipment for a purpose for which it was not made and has not been shown to be effective—is sheer pseudoscience". Others contend that the show's claimed evidence of the paranormal could be easily hoaxed, since third party review of evidence collected by TAPS is not encouraged, and those who have contacted the group asking for full footage from everything recorded at the haunted locations have also gone unanswered. With each new season, critics of Ghost Hunters continue to publish skeptical analyses and theories on the Internet, often employing frame-by-frame analysis of episode footage which they believe debunks the show's findings." [footnotes deleted]

You finally realize watching the show that for a fact these people have to be fully aware that they are really completely in the business of deceiving the public. The last time I started to watch the program, they began with reading an email from the such and such grade class from so and so Florida Elementary school. Clearly a whole class of students and their teacher was getting duped into believing this program was for real. Not a hint of irony [or shame] crossed the faces of our ghost-busting "investigators" as they continued to pretend it was all for real. I had to turn it off.

Seems like today we are heading for the Age of Misinformation. The internet has been famous so far for providing plenty of baloney; people have to decide for themselves what is for real and need to be ready to "snope" out stories that don't sound right. I guess for TV more disinformation is what's come with the age of cable. Don't expect any concept of integrity to pull any programs, it's clear that the integrity of the producers is getting diluted in the massive volume. Shame on the History Channel, for example, for showing over and over again a terrible program years ago on the Kennedy Assassination. I think we are really in for it.


Louise said...

I don't watch those kinds of programs usually, because I believe you can make anything seem real on t.v. The "psychic" shows, like your Court TV one, remind me of infomercial where they have "real customers!" swearing by some product, but you can totally tell that they're just crappy actors who can't get a real job.

There's some show being advertised now where that spoon-bending guy is competing against some magic dude for a made-up title. I really don't understand that one. Like I said, you can make anything seem real on t.v, so spoon bending/magic tricks just don't work for me unless I see them in person.

As an aside, I like to pretend I don't believe in ghosts. But I always worry that I'll make the mistake of buying an older home that's haunted. I don't think I could handle apparitions showing up on my stairs.

Carl W said...

I havent tried to watch Magic on TV in forever... last time I tried to watch it, a million years ago, they just seemed to use trick photography. Whaaaa? I couldnt understand why they would do that.