Friday, 8 May 2015

Ghosts: why do fiction and real life remain consistently different?

VigilWhen I started doing investigations into the paranormal, mainly ghosts, I noticed that real cases are radically different to their fictional counterparts in the movies and in books. Others have found the same - a consistent and persistent radical difference between real paranormal cases and the 'movie version'. It's fairly obvious that the 'movie version' derives from long held cultural beliefs. But why is it not influenced by the real thing? And why are reports of real cases not obviously influenced by the movies?

In the movie version of ghost cases we see unambiguously paranormal events, like talking transparent apparitions or people clearly levitating in front of multiple witnesses. In real cases such things seldom, if ever, occur. So why the difference? I once heard an author say in an interview that the events of real ghost cases just aren't interesting enough to use in fiction. That explains part of it but there is something specific to visual presentations, like movies or TV, that I think contributes a lot. It is point of view.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to produce a video recreation of a real case. If you video a scene where we see a witness looking at a very obvious ghost, transparent perhaps, the audience will inevitably think that the film maker intends them to believe the ghost is paranormal. That's because they are effectively acting as a second witness. And because they see the same thing as the first witness, possible explanations like hallucinations can be ruled out straight away. Misperception is still possible a possible xenonormal explanation but most of the audience are unlikely to be aware of it. Without even considering various likely explanations they will tend to think that something unambiguously paranormal is being portrayed, even if the facts of the real case are more open to question. You could video the ghost from the point of view of the witness, and this is done sometimes. But, I suspect it is less dramatically satisfying to film makers and would get tedious for the audience, if done repeatedly. So, whether intentionally or otherwise, something as simple as the point of view chosen by a film maker can have a big effect on how an audience interprets whether a scene shows the paranormal or not.

These sort of factors may explain why fictional portrayals of the paranormal are not easily affected by real cases. But why movie versions of the paranormal appear to have much effect on real cases? The sort of things reported in hauntings and ghost sightings have remained the same for centuries, before and during the era of mass media. It implies that we must be dealing with a real phenomenon. Since we know that most phenomena in haunting cases turn out, on investigation, to be xenonormal in origin, this makes sense. There will always be plenty of natural sources of odd sounds heard in buildings, for instance. If people were imagining such sounds then they might well be influenced by what they'd seen in the movies. But the sounds are real, and recordable. It's just that, in most cases, they are not actually paranormal in origin. Anyway, just my thoughts on why ghosts remain so different in fact and fiction.

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