Culture/TV

A brief investigation into why we need ghost shows now, more than ever

“In 2018, paranormal series not only exist, but continue to multiply because our inability to understand what happens after we die seems almost embarrassing.”

November 29, 2018

I always want to be watching ghost shows.

I want to watch ghost shows about hauntings, about cursed buildings, and about the people who investigate hauntings in cursed buildings. I want to hear a ghost talk or watch a ghost appear or convince myself that the muffled recording acquired by ghost hunters is proof of a ghost. Also, I want to live vicariously through anyone whose job is to communicate with ghosts because I would rather pass away myself than engage with the dead.

I just don’t have it in me. Both to come face to (non) face with a spirit, and to be let down when I don’t.

Which is why I think that in 2018, paranormal series still not only exist, but continue to multiply. Because as we learn more and more about the world and the way things work, the more our inability to understand what happens after we die seems almost embarrassing. So we get desperate: armed with ECT readers and voice boxes and heat sensors, we look for proof of anything. And since most of us have jobs and lives that make ghost hunting as a profession impossible, we follow those who’ve managed to make it a career, clinging to them in hopes that we’ll figure something—anything—out.

I don’t know what I think about what happens after we die. I refuse to believe that this is it; that we’re all just here before going away and leaving a collection of antiques behind for strangers to comb through at markets on Sundays. If only to make the idea of death easier, I choose to believe that something else exists — someplace that isn’t here, that isn’t our realm, and that is so infinite that we can’t understand or explain because we can’t wrap our simple human brains around it.

I believe in ghosts, I think something happens after we die (that extends beyond, “We decompose and goodnight, nurse”). But I don’t want to do the legwork to make anybody else think the same way.

Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with a few restless spirits: babysitting one night, something (or someone) began toying with a doorknob next to the couch I was on, and at an antique store a few years ago, someone passed behind me in a mirror. (The lady at the cash desk told me a ghost named Ava liked to do that, if she was wearing red, which she was.) When friends tell me about their own ghost stories, I believe them entirely, and when I’ve felt sick or weirded out in old houses, I trust that it’s residual energy; that something or someone was left behind, and those who’ve remained get to reap the benefits.

But to confirm or deny the supernatural on my own isn’t something I’m interested in. In the same way we all tend to curate our collection of beliefs, I choose to keep mine in a place that I don’t feel the need to justify or prove. I believe in ghosts, I think something happens after we die (that extends beyond, “We decompose and goodnight, nurse”). But I don’t want to do the legwork to make anybody else think the same way. (Plus, have you ever tried to convince somebody to believe in something you do? I can barely convince people I love to watch The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel.) So I watch ghost shows and use them as low-key proof that I’m right about my own beliefs (and should sort through my grudges and grievances so I don’t end up haunting the homes of my enemies).

I invest only in storylines and findings that fall on the side of what I already think. I tell myself the guys on Ghost Adventures are totally on my team, despite learning that one of them was a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. (Which is a religious belief system I do not subscribe to, and that’s putting it mildly.) And then I tell myself that shows about possessions and exorcisms are not real because any display of emotion outside of sarcastic one-liners and passionate monologues about Leonardo DiCaprio are terrible. I use these series as testament towards my own perspective, but as further confirmation that like me, we are all desperate to figure everything out.

Which none of us will ever do. We know that the world and universe is sprawling and complex and complicated and unsortable, and yet we willingly invest our time into shows about the paranormal in hopes that we can make sense of something. Anything, actually, since what we can see is increasingly terrible. So if we can’t make sense of this life, maybe we can understand what happens after. Or, at the very least, we can watch a bunch of grown-ups try to communicate with lost souls who may or may not answer back, and tell ourselves that if we came up against a spirit, we’d probably do much better.

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