Recipe for a Paranormal TV Show
I have done something for you. I have used precious time in my life to watch 5 episodes of a television program called Alaska Haunting. I know what you're thinking, "Alaska? Haunting? Boy howdy, it's two of America's Favorite Things, combined into one!"
WHY ARE WE LIKE THIS?
It's a re-enactment show, with regular folks just like you and me relaying their personal and unbelievable ghost stories. Why did I watch just 5 episodes? Why don't you watch one and see if you can make it to the end without a few questions of your own?
Thing is, I didn't just watch them off-hand for my pleasure, as bathing in lava would be more appealing. Rather, I grimaced through 200 minutes of this show with a list of what I consider to be Typical Paranormal Tropes, or cliches, stereotypes, etc. Upon watching just ONE EPISODE of Alaska Haunting, I found that 42 minutes contained almost the entire list of tropes I never imagined could be packed into that amount of footage. Some, I had thought of and expected, some were presented through the episode and added to the list. How I found the strength and fortitude to continue through 4 more episodes is beyond my comprehension.
Here's all the premium, non-GMO, grass-fed ingredients you need to complete a paranormal re-enactment TV show:
A Dream Home
Low Quality CGI Effects
One Skeptical Family Member
Physical Interaction with Ghosts
A Ghost Hunting Team or Investigator
Dark Feelings in One Spot
Tight Crawlspace or Hidden Location
"Research" into the History
Medium or Psychic
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE:
An Escalation Phase
Angry Spirit or Demon
A Murder on the Property
Native American Lore or Burial Ground
Subsequent White Guilt
Brothel *extra points*
A Suicide on the Property
While watching episodes 2 through 5 of season 1, I checked off every trope as it came up. What I uncovered is that every episode of Alaska Haunting I watched, (and tbh probably those I will never watch), contained at least 8 of these tropes. With amateur actors being the most prevalent aspect, episodes all contained phantom voices, items moving, a visual apparition, and physical interaction with the supposed spirit as far as paranormal activity goes. They also maintained that the rogue entity causing all of this is due to a NEGATIVE FORCE or DEMON. Not one mild grandfather spooking his grand kids for fun. Not a polite but misunderstood spirit just bobbing in for help from the living, or to re-experience their former dwelling. Nope. It's always a demon, and it always wants to consume your tasty, fragile human soul.
Also contained within every episode are a ghost hunting team who introduce themselves as though they're the foremost preeminent members of a world-renowned society that accepts their spooky hobby as valid and necessary work for the good of all humanity. (Hot Tip: I highly doubt that society will be formed in our lifetime, but folks have tried, I'll say that much). People who investigate the paranormal (MYSELF INCLUDED, OK) are generally seen as at least unnecessary, and at most, straight up fucking cuckoo to society at large. But I digress. These paranormal teams always emphatically share that they did RESEARCH like the real scientists do, so Googling a few public records and relaying the information counts as being, like, so professional.
Now, to make an entire paranormal television show you need a few directions to go with that ingredient list. When all added correctly, this recipe is sure to be rife with exaggerations, false witness accounts, magical thinking, outright lies and extremely hard-to-watch computer generated post-production. This is where critical thinking is, without overstating, critical. Anyone who's investigated the paranormal, even minimally, becomes acutely aware that the entire previous list of events is just too concise, and too easily wrapped up at in the last 5 minutes of each episode. However, production has to make these episodes in such a way that they establish the setting or intro, an arc, and a resolution. The interior of each episode needs several of those tropes, or ingredients, to fulfill a quotient of entertainment. Will enough people watch this that our ad revenue is justified? Is a second season justified?
The directions to lead the previous list of tropes where they need to be, peppered throughout the episode, are as follows:
You must have the interviewees say "creeped out", "heavy feeling" and "I knew it was there" at least twice an episode.
Find a small crawlspace or attic where darkness and evil hides.
Find some long-lost object in said crawlspace that you can blame the evil on. *Bonus points for finding BONES. Much Satanic. So unease.
Connect every possible dot between different information point so as to create a map of completely randomized data that have no context to each other besides an overall creep-factor. A murder several blocks away is a go-to favorite for blaming a ghost on some random dead person. Works every time no one's died in your own house.
This will make your brain feel comforted with a false sense of logic and rationale. It's really not BUT YOU DON'T HAVE THAT FIGURED OUT shhhhh.
Be sure to tie it all up neatly in a bow of dramatic music and spooky sound effects; complete with jump scares to keep it edgy.
You have to have a death. Without a tragic murder or suicide, who's going to be the scapegoat of your inability to discern reasonable explanations, paranormal or natural, for the shit that freaks you out in your own home or business?
What I found also ridiculous yet predictable are the Highly Probable Ghosts who are consistently to blame in each episode of Alaska Haunting. They are the result of baking up this pile of tropes. In fact, you've probably heard of some of these Highly Probably Ghosts:
Murdered Prostitutes *Bonus points if she was pregnant
Some kid who drowned tragically (Does anyone drown gleefully? Why do we say this?)
A Dead Serial Killer *Seriously, this was in an episode
Someone who died 10 blocks or 5 cities away and has zero legitimate connection to the haunted location.
A woman in LITERALLY ANY COLOR DRESS because in 2018 we discern a woman's identity solely through her fashion sense, just like the Victorians. (That's not sarcasm.)
There you have it. Alaska Haunting is a disarray of paranormal cliches. The list is long and it is contained within so much of one show, even in just the episodes I could sit through, that it's astounding. Each episode makes it to primetime, playing out nearly exactly like the one that aired the week before. I really would have thought more people would be onto this by now, and have tuned out enough for a network to notice. No dice.
You're welcome to apply the same ingredients and directions to any other paranormal re-enactment program and see what kind of similar aspects and patterns you find there as well. Results may vary, but it'll all end up in the same wheelhouse of paranormal reenactment TV, exploiting the potency of human belief in an attempt to stay tasty and relevant.