The Reality of Fiction

Possibly the most frequent question and source of discussion that I receive as a paranormal investigator, one on television especially, is whether or not what we experience and capture in terms of the supernatural is real. I’m approaching this from a unique perspective, not only from having started with the Ghost Hunters teams as an enthusiast and amateur investigator, but as a writer and poet.

But before I get into the topic, I need to clarify that first of all, I have never faked evidence nor been around such happenings. I can only speak to those cases and episodes I’ve been involved with, and to nothing that happened on any other shows nor episodes, and that as I further this discourse, my perspective on honesty is by no means a condonation.

The two different discussions I get into about the reality of my work come firstly from those skeptical about what may exist beyond the veil, and secondly from those who want to know if what they’ve seen on the television is true. To address the former, I personally cannot say for certain that I know there is something out there. I’ve never had the experience that has solidified my belief and might be able to encourage your own. I do not have the proof you want. But I do believe, and there are other people out there who have those stories and materials that might be more persuadable, but you won’t find them with me yet. It’s not yet my job to convince you.

Of course, the nature of the field is to deal with the question of whether or not these entities are real, and the shows maintain honesty. The drawbacks to dishonesty are easy. Obviously dishonesty is shameful and frowned upon. The paranormal field too is largely represented to the general populous through the television box with these reality shows, some of them hits, some of them immediate flops. Right now, I’m not afraid to call the popularity of the paranormal a fad.

Many people watch paranormal programming for one of two reasons; they’re either looking for persuasive evidence or they want to be frightened. If they’re looking for evidence it’s likely they’re just as on the fence as most, curious to have their own beliefs or experiences validated, or simply interested in this unknown (as I think we all are to varying degrees), eager for the persuasion that the nature of the show promises. For most, I feel safe to say that any belief they might carry may well be due in large part to what they’ve seen on television and if they find that their belief was built on lies, how easily it will crumble. In the same way that the “fad” of the paranormal was built upon trust in these television shows and now-famous teams, so easily can it come raining down. And to the truly passionate investigator, this can be a devastating consequence, for support is a wonderful thing, one that’s been altogether absent for years before now.

I’m a paranormal investigator. I’m passionate about the work. I want to have my beliefs validated as well, and it would be an equal devastation to me to have all credibility collapse. I’m all for honesty.

But there is another side of me that’s an artist and a writer. I’m a poet. I’m a novelist. I write short stories. I illustrate the truth with lies, and so I look at these programs from another perspective: that they’re entertainment – and not simply that, either, but as with many forms of entertainment, act as a vehicle for truth.

That alone can be more interesting than simply watching the shows for fact or truth, evidence or debunk. Watching television to compel you to reasons of faith isn’t a wonderfully solid idea to begin with, anyway. If you have a belief, if you have a drive toward something and you want justification, seek it out yourself. Make your validation come to you from the source, not a cable box. It’s much more moving when it happens. Of course, I think this philosophy is applicable for television in general, but that’s starting to get past my point.

You might suggest that there are no stories to be found in paranormal programming, that many of them are pseudo-scientific investigations and make a point to stay away from the story and focus on the technology, process, and results, and that sometimes even character-to-character drama is too distracting. I disagree. I think there’s lots of story. There’s very human elements, and a very compelling situation week after week that makes the entire premise very engaging. Real people walk into the darkness of night, sometimes into the unknown, the rotting, the ancient, and sometimes – even better – into our own homes, digging up this unknown right next to us, within what we think we know and hold safely.

Paranormal programming can keep us as engaged and challenged as an effective horror novel, or – if I may broaden my net to those who look down on the horror craft – a resonant drama or tragedy. It’s relatable, yes, but not only is it so, it goes after the same thing that true art or storytelling does: truth. It goes after the kind of truth that we’re all searching for, be it the secret of life (if I may be so trite), be it how to be happy, be it how to love better, be it how to help people, or darker; what happens to us after we die? what is on the other side? Is there another side and what is its nature? Are we alone? And equally as important, the implications that those suggest, morality issues and further, questions of God and faith. Of history and culture. Anthropology and science.

Perhaps that’s a bit much to put on a handful of cable reality shows, but I don’t think I’m out of line. A lot of these questions are relatively simple, they supply us motivation and enthusiasm, often they’re fuel. They don’t need to exist in complex storylines and dialogue.

These pursuits are given further fuel in that the characters and personalities on the episodes are chasing down the answers to the very same mysteries about which we wonder. They’re fueled by the same experiences, the same curiosities, and this makes it personal for the viewer. But what makes these shows unique and interesting are perhaps the only redeeming reason for dishonest evidence. It’s the same reason for the runaway success of fall 2009’s Paranormal Activity, the effect every author in history has strived for (popular fiction, literary fiction, and non-fiction alike), what turned Orson Welle’s Halloween radio play into a nationwide panic, where the producers’ motivations luckily intersect with the pursuit of truth: the very possibility that what you’re seeing could be real.

This brings it all home. It’s what makes you curl up in your seat, uncomfortable, afraid perhaps, or sit closer to the edge to see what might come next, or what will be the piece of evidence captured before the commercial break. You lean in to see when the unknown is probed, the likes to which you’ve never been exposed or have never seen; ancient castles across the ocean, up to ten times older than any location you’ve ever visited, ruins constructed by cultures incomprehensible, like the depths of the ocean where the sunlight can’t reach, there might just be something there – but what? You curl back in your seat because you’re introduced to the possibility that the same untouched darkness of the primordial could be closer than you ever imagined, that even in the warmth of what you’ve always known and trusted, holding fast to what you were raised to believe as a child, if you closed your eyes and reached out your hand, perhaps something might reach back. Fear puts in perspective those things which we cherish most. It boils us down to our most basic desire and faith. The reality is not the shadow on the television or the croaking inhuman voice from the speakers, it’s the possibility that the unknown may be right next to you in your living room. It forces you to consider what the presence of that darkness means to us, personally, as a society, as a part of history.

Producers are happy because their audiences are frightened. The audiences are happy because they’re engaged and thinking. It’s here, and likely only here, that the honesty of the episode doesn’t matter, because honest or not, they’ve taken something truly powerful and in its relation to your own life, made it speak directly to you and prompted you to ask questions.

Let me reiterate that of course I’m not making a case for the acceptability of presenting fraudulent evidence. At the end of the day, honest or not, you must remember it is still television. If you trust what you see, that’s wonderful, everything I know and likely far more indeed has been very honest. If you do not believe, that’s fine too, it is of course up to you. But one way or the other, despite your hesitation or faith, you can still reach deep and find a resounding and personal meaning and a call to truth within your own life.

There is still far too much unknown in our world to be content. As long as there is conflict there will be the pursuit of truth. I’m not suggesting that the implications of the possibility of ghosts will solve world peace, but I am suggesting that pursuing those things that ring true within, that spark thought and basic curiosity, will not only set you where you need to go but will send you in pursuit of something greater than yourself, and with that you cannot go wrong.

Copyright 2010 karl pfeiffer

One thought on “The Reality of Fiction

  1. Mark Rushing says:

    I can't imagine this being said better. Wonderful insights that were previously only in clouds on the edge of my interests in this. Thank you for the honesty. Thorough and delicious.

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