You know which show I can't quit watching, but which is some oddly irresponsible television? A&E's new program Paranormal State features a team of college undergraduates who are true believers in the paranormal. Not UFO's, mind you, but they fancy themselves to be ghost hunters, but without any pesky skepticism.
Their goal is, ostensibly, "investigations" into the paranormal, but that's not really what seems to happen. Somehow the show has teamed up the undergrads with several other charlatans of the supernatural, and these folks are brought in to (a) assist in the investigations and (b) enjoy something of the limelight which they seem to be seeking.
The "director" of the Penn State Paranormal club is probably just a shade or two away from the sort of conviction in utter nonsense you really only find in con-men and people building compounds who don't let their flock speak to their families any more (for their own good). He leads the team with the charmless charisma that will one day make for low-level cult leader status as he rambles on about the presence of ghosts and demonic spirits, and plays the expert in mystical matters to not just his band of followers, but the people whose houses he invariably exorcises by the end of each episode. As an undergrad, I'm not sure exactly what his credentials are supposed to be (I've ruled out critical thinking as one of his strong suits), but his followers seem oddly devoted and willing to defer to him in all of the decisions for the group. No doubt, this guy is going to be asking them to sign over their worldly possessions in five years and buy matching purple jumpsuits.
What's really sort of out of whack is that the folks who the group comes to "help", are in fact, in need of real help. Generally these folks seem distraught by whatever it is they believe is living with them in their house. I admit that, in some twisted way, this means that the group of undergrads is helping the people in question. I just am not sure a seance and having some 20-year old kid semi-politely asking the "spirit" to leave is what these folks actually need. But, according to the show, whatever magic they work gets rid of what's ailing the subjects of each episode. Or, you know, the people just really don't want the nerds coming back.
Now, let me qualify this somewhat: I watch Ghost Hunters on Sci-Fi all the time. It's the only one of the basic-cable paranormal shows that I think applies basic logic to... uh... ghosts. At least there's some half-assed investigation put into it and not just "psychics" wandering about sensing angry feelings. And I give the show kudos for trying first and foremost to try to explain away the bumps and creaks in the night, and for understanding that sometimes people leap to bizarre conclusions. And sometimes people have really bad pipes and wiring in their homes.
In short, unlike most of these shows, I don't think Jay and Grant, of Ghost Hunters are crazy. Well, I do think spending your evenings running around some stranger's house with a video camera is a bit... odd. But their first inclination is not to believe every hiss in a tape is an attempt by the dead to communicate. But I also don't think they're outright fibbing in order to get exposure and money.
Sadly, I don't really believe in ghosts. But, I would like to make a buck off of other people's paranoid fears. Jason and I have often spoken of what we might charge for capturing and containing one of the departed in true Ghostbusters fashion.
"We're ready to believe you!"