Monday, August 20, 2012

The Reality of Reality TV

By Paul Davis

When you turn on your TV nowadays it seems as if every channel you turn to has some sort of paranormal programming. The History Channel, SYFY, The Travel Channel, and the list goes on. Even Animal Planet has The Haunted! Really? Anyway, these shows are always listed as reality TV. But do they actually show the true reality? The short answer is no. What really happens on an actual investigation just would not make good TV. Imagine watching a full hour of people sitting in a dark room, looking at meters and talking to thin air. You would change the channel. I know I sure as hell would!

The investigators featured in these programs, even though they may start out with the best of intentions, are forced to make concessions in the name of ratings. Investigators spend an awful lot of time trying to get evidence that is worth showing their clients, never mind something sensational enough for TV network executives. The production companies have to do their jobs, and unfortunately that means getting those ratings, but the viewers don’t tune in to see the production companies. They tune in to see evidence. What does that mean for the investigators?

Unfortunately, activity does not happen all the time. Ghosts do not give command performances. Demons do not just show up for a “cameo”. Paranormal activity cannot be scheduled for the sake of weekly programing. Even though we all may like to walk into a house and catch a parade of apparitions on video complete with a marching band, but it is never going to happen. There is no magic switch to flip on or off.

Even though investigators have much many more experiences then the average person, it still takes many long hours of sitting in dark rooms and basements. Asking questions to empty rooms, in the hope of catching a disembodied voice. Endless hours are spent going over evidence, scrutinizing every frame of video and every photo. An investigator may go through eight hours’ worth of video and audio recordings, stills and anything else you can think of, only to find a bunch of dust orbs. Maybe even a strange noise that could possibly be an EVP.   

So now I ask you, what kind of pressures do these investigators go through in order to produce the next unbelievable piece of evidence? It is not surprising that the internet is inundated with reports of faked evidence. Someone keys up a walkie talkie in order to set off a KII meter. An individual off camera throws something across the camera lens. A mysterious shadow that happens to be the same shape as one of the instigators and may even be wearing the same style hat. I honestly believe that these things DO happen!

Why would somebody take the risk of destroying their credibility in this way? I don’t think the answer to this question is that simple. I know everyone wants to jump to the conclusion that it is for the money. In my opinion it is not that black and white. Money does come into play but I don’t think it is in the same way that you may think. As an investigator in the economic climate of today, we are often faced with the unfortunate choice of whether to take on a case or not based on location. Gas is expensive. Equipment isn’t cheap either. Batteries alone can cost a small fortune! How are we supposed to help the people in need when we are faced with the choice of purchasing a bunch of triple a’s and twelve gallons of gas or feeding our families? Now imagine that a TV producer approached you with a deal. They purchase your gear, gas and plane fair for you. Supply you with an office. You may think to yourself “I can have the best of both worlds. Save money for my family’s needs and still get out and help those in need.” But you have to deliver to them broadcast worthy evidence, and you have to do it over and over again.

Of course there are people out there that just want to be in the limelight and make a whole bunch of money while doing so. They do not really care about the credibility of their evidence and don’t really mind if they have to fabricate some shadows or even act like they are being attacked by some unseen adversary. All in the name of becoming rich and famous!

Do all the teams on TV act like this? Do they all fall to the pressures of producing the best and most shocking evidence ever? Fortunately, I don’t think so. But I do hope that I have illustrated just how easily such teams can rush headlong into the trap of television production. It can allow us to reach out to many more families and help to educate the public about what we do. It can also be a huge ego boost to be on TV. With all its benefits too many good investigators end up willing to sacrifice everything to keep the ratings up. But is it worth your reputation, or worse, your integrity? Is it worth the possibility of passing up providing aid to a terrified family in order to investigate a more sensational story?

I will close this blog by posing this question. Is it even possible to achieve and maintain an ethical balance?