Sci-Fi (Horror, Mystery and Suspense) is a popular genre, especially around Halloween; there is a thrill in being scared from a safe distance, and as a fan, I watched last night’s episode of A&E’s Paranormal State with the same chilling uneasiness I felt when I watched The Exorcist for the first time. I never thought I would witness (nor wanted to, really )a real life exorcism, let alone one on TV; it’s easier to digest this stuff when it’s made up. However, while I watched with interest, I felt uncomfortable for being “entertained” by the content of this episode. Paranormal State both blurs the line between life and art, as well as bridges the gap between paranormal hoaxes and true human experience.
The success of Paranormal State is two fold: 1) “I Am Six” was entertaining as a classic horror drama and 2) “I Am Six” appeared to responsibly document the rite of exorcism, with empathy toward the victim. By airing this episode, PRS hoped to encourage open dialogue on a subject that, in the past, has been relegated to the Science Fiction genre. “I Am Six” was a story that was presented honestly and edited seamlessly with minimal (thankfully) lame special effects from previous episodes.
Blogger, “Dr. Atlantis,” a skeptic, criticized the producers of Paranormal State for using these effects to up the “scary factor” of the show. He compared Paranormal State to Ghost Hunters, a Sci Fi Channel hit series, by the ways they both cut to commercial just as the investigators discover something spooky. The producers have yet to realize that with the invention of TiVo, we can fast-forward to the next segment. Thankfully, these effects were kept to a minimum (with the exception of the annoying reminders that the number “6” is associated with evil). The difference between Ghost Busters (TAPS) and Paranormal State (PRS)is that TAPS sets out to “de-bunk” false claims of paranormal activity, whereas PRS focuses on a client’s personal experience with the paranormal. Ultimately, both organizations want to help people not to let the paranormal world prevent them from leading happy and productive lives.
What was intrigued me about this particular episode was that the normally stoic Ryan Buell was visibly shaken by
what was happening to the victim, Lara. On his blog, Buell, director of the Paranormal Research Society (PRS), stated his reservations about airing this episode. He was smart enough not only to call in his usual reinforcements, but to be humble enough not interfere nor take credit for the process. Assisting (or “co-starring”) with Buell and PRS were psychic medium, Chip Coffee,an Episcopalian priest, a psychologist, an ENT, and renowned Demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Walden.
For “personal reasons,” Buellchose not to promote “I Am Six” on the media circuit, a decision that surely affected ratings. To his credit, Buell’s motives are not to achieve celebrity status from the notoriety of PRS, especially in light of last season’s possession episodes “The Name” and “The Devil in Syracuse” helped to put PRS on the map. Buell clearly states he has a calling to help people and has managed to stay true to his calling amidst the sensational abet exploitative nature of reality television.
However, it is the impetus, Ryan Buell’s own experiences with the paranormal, that remains a mystery. A book by Buell, due out in February 2009, will hopefully disclose more about the event(s) that gave him a unique direction and purpose.
On his blog, Buell states in so many words that he did not appreciate the “shit” people wrote about him in their blogs as a reaction to the possession episodes. He especially does not appreciate bloggers who hide behind their avatars in order to spread negativity. However, not all bloggers are “haters” and my personal reasons for writing under an avatar have less to do with subterfuge, and more to do with wanting to write from a certain perspective. Ironically, it is easy for one to tell Ryan, lighten up–you put yourself out there-deal with it, for precisely that reason. I am interested to see how Ryan Buell handles the ensuing public reaction to “I Am Six.” Perhaps he will serve as a role model and pave the way for those “shit writing” bloggers to emerge from behind their avatars and stand up to