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.