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Home > Media

TVJism: Halloween

29 October 2004

There's something touchingly pathetic about the way satellite and cable channels try to capitalise on events in the wider world. Anniversary of the Battle of Britain? Time to put on 'Deadly Aircraft: The Messerschmidt ME-109'. A new probe is sent to Mars to collect some bits of dirt? Time for 'Roswell: Hidden Secrets'. The new version of Alfie comes out? Fuck it, let's show 'African Apocalypse: The Zulu Wars'. It's perfectly logical if you think about it.

And now it's almost Halloween, so we get a bumper fest of ghosts'n'ghoulies programmes on the Discovery Civilisation channel's Haunted Week.

You might think there's a contradiction in a channel that claims to be about civilisation running programmes about ghosts, but in sat-cab TV world, science is frequently taken to include the paranormal, whether it's UFOs, cryptozoology, Von Daniken, remote viewing and generally any topic that proper scientists simply can't be arsed with. Thus we get even more programmes with titles like Ghosthunters, Haunted Hotels and America's Favourite Haunted Places. In the God-fearing nation of the US, this, presumably, does not include Hell.

However, you begin to suspect it's not just Halloween that's responsible for satellite TV's love of the paranormal. There seem to be an increasing number of ghosts/afterlife shows, what with Jane 'Jonathan Ross's Teenage Wife' Goldman Investigates, Most Haunted and I'm Famous and Frightened on Living TV, plus the increasing number of psychics and mediums - and even a 'text now' psychic - inhabiting the netherworld which is satellite TV.

All these programmes reiterate tired, lame 'evidence' for the supernatural. One programme about mysterious, 'supernatural' big cats like the - yawn - Beast of Bodmin showed exciting new video footage of what was obviously a domestic cat shot on mega-zoom from a distance.

In Ghosthunters, the main evidence for the existence of ghosts appears to be that a bunch of odd-bods believe in totally arbitrary theories, eg. the idea that inanimate objects 'record' human emotions, such as battles or a violent death, and 'play them back' at a later date. This is amazing by any standards: it's taken 3.5 billion years of evolution to create the History Channel, when it turns out we could all be watching a full virtual reality version of the English Civil war just by finding an old rock from Naseby.

If there is photographic evidence of ghosts, it tends to be of the 'grey blob' variety that 'mysteriously' appears on video tape when a ghost hunter - sorry, paranormal investigator - attempts to record 'psychic events' in almost total darkness.

Sceptics are quick to say that this sort of TV supports the idea that we are fearful, credulous idiots who choose to live in a demon-haunted world, no matter how flimsy the evidence for the supernatural. But it's a bit more interesting than that. What people are prepared to believe in is a genuinely fascinating topic. And if ever there was a belief system for our postmodern times, it's this fragmented mish-mash of ghosts, UFOs, bigfoot, psychics and suchlike. And maybe it's good that ideology is dead: idly watching Jane Goldman drivel on about how 'the room suddenly felt colder' is probably less harmful than believing in Marxist-

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