When my Grandma died last month my relatives—the ones who had gathered by her bedside—said they saw a ghost. “It was more like a bright window opened for an instant, and then disappeared.” When my Grandma opened her eyes for a couple hours the night she passed away, she didn’t say anything—as though her soul had already departed her body.
“I believe” was the common refrain heard around the table, long after midnight a couple nights at later at my Grandma’s wake.
I poured myself more coffee—steering clear of the plentiful booze on the kitchen table—and just listened without judgment. As insane as they may have sounded to rationalists (“was there a glare off the wall?, you’d been up 18 hours, right?”), you have to remember this was my loving, intelligent, salt-of-the-earth family. Who was I to say what they had or had not seen?
Which brings us to the Travel Network’s Ghost Adventures. I don’t have a television at home, so when I’m back at my parents’ house I catch up with the rest of the world. During Thanksgiving, it was Honey Boo-Boo. For Christmas, the Travel Network’s Ghost Adventures. And after watching approximately three seasons’ worth, I have to say I’m absolutely shocked that more people aren’t talking about this show, which, if I seemed to gain the premise correctly, is basically single-handedly proving (and/or disproving, depending upon your fidelities to blurry images moving across cameras and/or generous faith in the eyewitness accounts of D&D hobbyists) the existence of a spectral universe that co-exists with our very own. In other words, God.
Ghouls, ghosts, spirits, souls, if you will (for, and I don’t really have the time to commit to this document a long history of connections between say the major religions, miracles, and the other-worldly, but let’s just ask, who puts the Holy in Ghost?) aren’t, according to Ghost Adventures, even that scary. Though, the show, essentially a Paranormal Activity spin-off, with increasing sincerity (I hope) has had to tread that line between, are-we-doing-this-to-scare-the-shit-out-of-each-other-and-stay-up-late-on-Red-Bull or do-we-actually-believe-in-the-idea-of-a-human-existence-apart-from-the-physical-and-thus-shouldn’t-be-hi-fiving-each-other-when-someone’s-dead-perhaps-murdered-great-great-uncle-from-the-Civl-War-communicates-to-us-through-the-subtle-movement-of-tea-spoons. Instead, ghosts are imbedded in the nearly-imperceptible whispers on microphones, inexplicable orbs of light (think extra bright moths floating around at night), in your standard horror film retinue of the basements of condemned mental hospitals, European jails, wild west hotels, and an odd jukebox music hall in Kentucky (the trio’s strongest evidence pulsates out of a place called Bobby Mackey’s World of Music, a honky-tonk nightclub outside Wilder, Kentucky, where they claim to have found an actual portal to Hell; video evidence simply shows a measly little dig-site of dirt, but when they turn the lights off they start clawing each other and shit and getting short of breath, so you know, Hell). The supernatural is, essentially, inhabiting the machines and the mind, but not the in-between.
But, what’s weird is that it’s more than that. The team—essentially three dudes who began as amateur filmmakers almost a decade ago who now travel to all these haunting “hotspots,” spend a night locked in with the ghosts (and/or randomly-rupturing furnaces), document their findings using night-vision cameras (like the Iraq War but instead of surface-to-air missiles you’re looking at the silhouette of the girl chained to the wall 250 years ago, or more precisely you’re looking at a black-and-green-tinted couch BUT if you look more closely you can see this swirling mist, and yep, that’s her), electro-magnetic measuring equipment, and like super-powered audio recorders—is finding some crazy stuff. Early in their career, they filmed a full-bodied apparition (the “holy grail” team leader Zak Bagans says of paranormal evidence) of someone who “checked in but never checked out!” to a hotel in Nevada; they actually replay this image on their opening credits sequence. I’ve also seen heat-sensing technology show floating warm spots, which are sometimes like ghost dogs or something, and heard eerie voices talking about dying and revenge and the like.
Anyway, my point is not to discredit this program. But rather to say, Jesus Christ! Is this for real? I mean, for a second, let’s be a bit aspirational and throw out the window (and right, this is a big-throw-out-the-window) cynical debunkings that say the show producers doctor the film (they’ll often hear spooky, almost encrypted EVP readings—electronic voice phenomena—that could be spirits from beyond the realm menacingly taunting the name of lead paranormal investigator Zak Bagans, OR, it could just be the proof of white noise pops and hisses that are picked up by any lousy old microphone).
And that’s what I mean to say. Is that, whenever you start talking about ghosts, you’re also (unfortunately) talking about God. Because being a ghost implies there’s something we can’t see, touch, that’s not some weird chemistry experiment, AND there’s (albeit greatly diminished and kinda creepy) life beyond what we know. And this seems to be one of the chief benefits of having a God that promises heaven—an incentive that runs like this, You’ve still got somewhere to go—the big show, but you better behave, otherwise you can’t go there, I’m serious, I’ll turn this car right around if you make eyes at her again and drive your ass back to a hot furnace and shove you right in. Except not all the ghosts make it to the big show. Some get stuck, hanging out in Virginia City, Nevada brothels or wearing scrubs at L.A. County hospitals.
So, anyway, what I’m saying is why aren’t more people making a bigger deal about this show?! Okay, so far, this show seems inconclusive, but even that seems a wild victory for the ghost-believing crowd in and of itself. I mean for an oh-I’m-scared, it’s like a 7 outta 10. I watched with the lights on. But only because my parents re-arranged the furniture, and I don’t know how to find my way upstairs anymore, especially if I’ve been drinking.
But no other show on television—not the umpteen Trinity Broadcasting Network specials or History Channel specials on the End Times—no other anything offers a more incisive and persuasive view on the strong bifurcating faultline still running through society. You have, on one hand, your skeptics, atheists, rationalists, all saying, “We’re all walking around with iPhones and cameras as empirical documentarians of our every waking moment, where’s the proof all you cryptozoologists/believers?” And then you have from the other side this gelled-hair, possibly straight-edge film crew with overtoned biceps saying, “See, right fucking there, man—did you see that flash of light? It was a window. And if you listen closely to the audio playback, you can hear a muffled sound, yah it might be a mouse scampering across the floor, but if you really slow down the file, it might be a lonely voice saying, “Goodbye, my love.” Eh? What do you think now!?”
And I sort of like that. After how many thousands of years of human existence, we’re going to figure it all out, what’s it’s all about, on a sorta tacky television show on an obscure cable network, that really isn’t even playing shows that match its original theme anymore anyway and leads into a show about a guy who travels across the world filming himself eating gross stuff.