Thursday, March 5, 2009

Television Ghost Hunting Leaders

What a breakthrough it was when TAPS got the gig for the "Ghosthunters" show. No one had taken the field as anything of interest before that. Shows like Britain's "Most Haunted" tended to actually scare people away from the biz. After all, it was all overacting, dramatics, and Derek (won't even go there).

Since the launch of "Ghosthunters" some folks have really made a name in the field and their techniques are being mimicked by investigators in the field. The shows that most often come to mind are; "Ghosthunters," "Ghosthunters International," "Paranormal State," and "Ghost Adventures." There have been other shows here and there, but these seem to be the ones being picked up again and again for seasons and exposing us to many ways to hunt ghosts.

Top of their field as far as being publically viewed are the leaders of TAPS, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. The charming and introspective college student, Ryan Buell, from Penn State Paranormal Research Society is quickly becoming a recognizable researcher. Then, there's Zak Bagans of "Ghost Adventures" (sorry, don't know if they even have a research name--not really an actual ghost hunting team, more like hired wranglers).

If we break it down, Jason and Grant have obviously been at this longer, back into the 90s. That gives them a huge jump time-wise on being in the field. Of course, time can be wasted in the field, so it isn't necessarily indicative of knowledge, but I would say that in their case it is. They've surrounded themselves with consultants and people with knowledge in science and engineering, religion and occultism. They have a good group to work from and they aren't afraid to try new things. Following their gig at the Manson victims' haunting, they adopted the KII meter and have found it valid enough to continue using it in the field. They've tried the Geiger counter and put that one away. They've bought a mac-daddy of thermal cameras and were willing to admit along the way as they were learning it, that sometimes it reflects on shiny surfaces and bounces back body heat. They're reasonably skeptical. The time they heard what sounded like a bouncing ball on the ceiling of the Birdcage Saloon in Tombstone, Jason readily admitted they'd heard that kind of suspicious sound before. Just like Ashley Simpson shouldn't be taken as a top talent because she's so overcommercialized and there are plenty of better singers out there that don't get her attention, I am certain we can say that Jason and Grant probably have some competition from the more serious and diligent and science-educated folks doing research in the field. Still, as popularly accepted examples go, Jason and Grant are good folks. Even if they don't appear to have a lot of scientific education, they are willing to ask questions and get answers from the experts in their fields. They're humble and they're real and what's most impressive about them is their desire to separate fact from fiction and find the real phenomenon. They sit down, hang out, and talk to ghosts as if they were shooting the breeze. I don't know anyone who wouldn't want to respond to people who aren't keyed up, aren't angry, aren't condescending, but folksy. I hope they never lose those attributes because they do make good role models in the field. Their assets are that they're folksy, skeptical, logical, curious, and have a great group of people backing them. Their weaknesses are probably that they don't seem to know how to form a team as serious as they are about the phenomenon, other than Steve and Tango who seem genuinely interested. I also think that they could work a bit more on their counseling skills. I know they're Yankees, but they could be a bit more gracious and comforting, I feel.

Ryan of Penn State is in the early stages, kind of like how Grant and Jason felt the first season. He seems to have his own take on what hauntings are and a very in depth understanding of people's mental states and emotions. I don't think we've ever seen Jason and Grant interview someone who was terribly overcome with fear, except perhaps the lady with the noises in her attic and the faucet turning on, but even she seems pretty reasonable. Ryan, however, has a way of falling into a setting and the folks around him just crumble. I'm not sure if it's his approach which will be spiritual and mystical or if it's that he chooses cases that show signs of bad family dynamics and sometimes mental illness. It certainly makes for a moody atmosphere, but more like an episode of "A Haunting." I think his assets are that he's great at getting people in to help, whether they're psychic, demonologists, or counselors. He understands the emotional aspects of hauntings and the need for people to feel resolution. He also does a great job of interviewing past residents, checking on the history of the place, and considering all these elements. His weaknesses, I believe, are simply experience and open-mindedness. He seems to truly believe that burying coins in the corners of a property might help make things better. I'm not sure what book of sorcery that comes from, but it should be hocum to most serious folks in the field.

Zak. What can I say? I find him highly entertaining. It's a huge family watching night when he's on "Ghost Adventures" because we honestly keep hoping he'll fall through a floorboard. Zak isn't a real ghost hunter. He's a publicity hound and perhaps a budding hopeful documentarian, but he's certainly showing no signs of learning about the field. Sometimes the things he says about equipment and what ghosts are or aren't is hilarious. He's rather misinformed. I have to admit, though, that he's onto something with his taunting and anger and fear. Emotions really do seem to stir things up. Go ghost hunting on a night when you're grieving or just had a fight. Or ladies, you know what time you should ghost hunt--when you're most vulnerable emotionally...It's true. Stirring things up produces results. He's in this for an assembly line of sounds and reactions. What he's doing, as mortifying as it is (like taunting a man who hung himself with a rope), can get results. If you're not interested in the preservation of humanity past the physical state, go for it, Zak. If you have respect for even the confused and perhaps angry who have passed on, you don't want to watch his show. Zak's assets are that he's got equipment and he's got access to interesting places and he uses emotional techniques to drive things into the open. Zak's weaknessses are that he's not a real ghost hunter, he's very disrespectful, and if I have to hear "dude" from a 30-something-year-old man in baggy pants again, I'm going to scream.

There's good and there's bad in all the ghost hunters that are out in the public's eyes. I know people who swear by Ryan's techniques or think Zak is the next coming in ghost hunting, but I must admit my admiration is with Jason and Grant, and newly earned by Robb. After this past season of "Ghost Hunters International" I feel that the team's base not only has chemistry, but Robb and Joe have this kind of sensitivity that attracts stuff like Jason and Grant. I'd like to see Joe and Robb teamed up more often together. I think they'll be the next dynamic duo.

It's level heads, intelligence, skepticism, and respect that will win us over. Keep it up GH and set the standards for researchers in the field.


  1. I don't have access to broadcast television often, but when I do I tend to watch TAPS on Ghost Hunters. (Scrubs too, for a more prosaic viewing pleasure.) I enjoy Jason, Grant and Co. as people as well as investigators. The only thing that is a minor irk to me is that even unflappable Jason seems to be labeling more and more places as "haunted" in recent seasons, whereas before he'd be hard pressed to say "yes" and most times he'd give only a grudging "maybe." On the other hand, maybe he's simply changed a little in his philosophies as a result of being able to investigate full time now.

    That British show I watched only to see some of the fantastic locations they would tour. I love architecture and their investigating of old castles and manor houses put my inner Frank Lloyd Wright in heaven. I had to mute the show half the time because that self-labeled psychic guy made me laugh rather than feel moved or intrigued. I really liked it when he claimed to be channeling some angry-as-hell spirit and he'd grunt and snort and shake his head like an angry ham.

    I'll have to see if I can catch the others, be they good or ill. It'd be good to branch out.

  2. Celyn;
    You can probably find them online too. Most shows show them online, as well. I agree with Most Haunted. I used to watch it just for the locales but then that blonde woman who was always hearing things and telling everyone to hush up, was really annoying, not to mention Derek's theatrics. I agree about Jason being quick to the use the "H" word. He used to say "paranormal activity." What used to be so charming was when they'd try hard to get him to use the word as if it were sacred and rarely brought out for use. Very observant! P.S. I used to work in an ER, so I appreciate Scrubs too. We used to do some zany things there! Oh my gosh!

  3. I am and will always be a Ghost Hunters fan. I'm very excited about that show returning next Wednesday. I do watch Most Haunted but don't take much of what they do seriously. As for Ghost Adventures, I find Zak entertaining. I have noticed that he lacks in knowledge about the equipment he is using and ghost hunting skills. All and all, I do enjoy watching these shows.

  4. I agree, so long as we're as skeptical about their methods as they are about ghost hunting, we'll gain some great knowledge and experience by osmosis. I do agree though, I'll watch anything about ghosts--it's always entertaining, even if sometimes Zak is a spaz and Derek is a drama queen. I just hope others don't take them too seriously. They make people a bit afraid of demons and possession and other such rot and continue to sully the field of ghost hunting as a legitimate science. I suppose real hunters will know the difference, though.

  5. Even though I have been doing paranormal research for a very long time, I will say Jason and Grant got me watching these shows on TV.

    Zak, Nick and Aaron, through a now personal friendship, made me stay with it and realize there is more to it than a weekly TV show.

    Spoken as as a viewer, TAPS has too many people in the camera crew contaminating evidence. I also do not understand them not fighting SF producers on ditching the background music. It really ruins it for the viewer. Their recent upheavals in crew and all the drama behind the scenes is unappealing as well, but I do realize this happens anywhere you go in life. I still watch out of a deep respect for their investigative values and for Steve and Tangos escapades. GHI? can't make it through one episode no matter how hard I try.

    GA (overlooking lack of wardrobe dept. of course) is most interesting to me as an investigator because we get to follow the crew through their personal learning journey as they are investigating locations some of us will never get to see in real time.
    Their emotions are raw and real. 3 of the nicest, most sincere and kind people you could ever meet and talk to. They are definitely interested in finding answers to what is really out there. Not just boosting there possible C list careers on VH1 in the future as some may predict.

    As for Ryan B. and Co.? They simply have a different approach to the answer seeking. They too are making great contributions to many families out there that need answers, comfort and resolution to the haunting's or unexplainable occurrences they are experiencing.

    What most TV viewers may not understand about us investigators, is how many countless hours of absolutely nothing happens on a true investigation. They are lucky on their end to get the scaled down edited results weekly on their screens. I appreciate it because I have other sites to visit and do research on and I personally like to see what other teams find.

    All of us dedicated teams are merely seekers attempting to further the strides taken to bring knowledge to paranormal studies.We should thank GH GHI GA PRS and yes.. maybe even MHL... all for being high profile contributors to the research. It is a difficult job being away for weeks without your families, selling out your identities and privacy as well as be the victims of unnecessary mudslinging by all walks of life.

    To all of them, I am thankful for what they proved and do for us behind the scenes.

    Thank you for your write up !! Very interesting read !!

  6. Rouxlette;
    Well said. I admit to having some difficulty going from watching GH where they investigate much as I do (sans the sound/film crew) to watching "Ghost Adventures." These three men may be salt of the earth, but anyone who investigates knows that a deep respect for the history of a place and those who have passed there is essential. Their plans to go in both guns blazing and stir things up can be effective, but also offensive. In their kick off documentary when they truly had no idea what ghost hunting was, Zak sat in a bathtub and mocked the woman who slit her wrists. Really poor taste. They go in with a feel of thugs and I half expect them to have spray cans and tag the place like other locals who've snuck in over the years. I think there is definitely a place for taunting, but they need to refine their skills and they need to learn a lot more about ghost hunting. They're such newbies that a lot of what they're spouting is inaccurate. It's almost impossible to imagine that they see themselves as ghost hunters and not just adrenalin junkies. They don't seem to want answers, just responses (from themselves when they get scared or from sounds in the environment that they misinterpret). A person can climb a mountain and see every ledge and bird's nest on the way up or he can rapell down the mountain at breakneck speed and miss it all. I'm afraid that they'll need another season or two to earn my respect. For now, they're amusing and I'm a big fan just to see them freak out like babies and get access to sites I haven't seen yet.

  7. Great post as always Autumnforest -hehehe -I got a big smile with what you said (wrote) i should say about Zak;-) your blog is really taking off and you deserve it!! Please keep up the writing too-if nothing else for yourself -but I love reading people's creative works-just realized as i am writing this comment that i was at library to get good fiction to read to see me through this exhaustion phase I am going through-and dangit -this library has a great book of Dylan Thomas poetry and I forgot it -well next time-thanks for reminding me of him he is great-best to you as always and I so enjoy your blog -amazing and interesting work! still chuckling about Zak comment:-) I do think Ryan of P State is sincere-maybe too open minded like you said -his biggest prob is going to be getting a team together that is as into it as he is.

  8. Hey Devin;
    Thanks for the support. It's fun to have a place to talk about stuff that others are into also. I know so few people who are into anything paranormal that it's great to get the internal dialogue out of my head. I hope to add a new article today, part of a series, where I can write in spine-tingling description about something that happened on a ghost hunt. Each article a different incident.