Simply Paranormal UK, who charge the public to attend ghost-hunting themed events at allegedly haunted places across the country (“act like what them people on the TV do for a night and pay us for the privilege”) have caused offense after referring to a now-closed mental health treatment centre as a “lunatic asylum” in their publicity of an upcoming event in Leicester.
The Leicester Mercury reported that ‘in a posting on Facebook, Simply Paranormal UK used the term when announcing an event in May this year. The posting said: “We are pleased to announce another Mental Asylum. The Towers Lunatic Asylum in Leicester – Ghost hunting never got even more exciting.” The Towers began its life in 1869 as the “Leicester Borough Lunatic Asylum” but its name has changed over the years.’
Ghost hunting… never got… even more exciting…
Terrible sentence structure aside, the name change was prompted, I’m sure, when it became obvious that describing those with mental illness as “lunatics” wasn’t actually very helpful or nice. But why on earth would a paranormal tourism company give a crap about what is helpful, decent or right? Ghost Tourism event companies never cease to scrape the barrel when it comes to decency! I’ve previously written about a similar company called Compass Paranormal who ran an event in what used to be a Prisoner of War camp… and let’s not even get started on the company saying “…another mental asylum” as though these places are collectors items. Ugh.
It’s not just Most Haunted though. You can watch any of the range “reality” ghost hunting shows out there and the chances are that you will see the hosts put on a show of bravado and “confront” ghosts and “antagonise” ghosts because their priorities lie with having a scary, fun time and not with being decent people. Of course the companies who make a fast profit by imitating these television shows are going to behave in the same way.
They don’t care about the legacy of the people whose ghosts they claim to be chasing, they just want to ramp up the fear factor to sell tickets and you don’t do that by saying “hey everyone, we’re investigating a premesis in which people received treatment for a variety of mental illnesses that will probably have little or no impact on our event.” The fear factor comes from referring to such a place using outdated language like “lunatic asylum” which loosely suggests that mentally ill dead people are scarier than regular ghosts and there aren’t enough adjectives in my dictionary to describe how fucked up that is.
For the last nine weeks I have been scouring the news to find the worst ghost related news items to report on. It has been quite a depressing experience that doesn’t bring very much to the table but from which I have drawn a number of interesting conclusions, as follows.
It seems that the ghost hunting community has changed a lot since I was involved in it ten years ago. Back then you would go to the newspapers if you thought you’d found something interesting on camera, but it seems that today more and more ghost hunting teams approach the media just because they’re conducting an investigation at a location before they’ve even set foot inside or drawn up a plan. It’s such a bizarre thing, but as I scoured online news sources each day I would have to skip past all of the news items about people who were going to conduct a ghost hunt at some historic location, or the press releases from the plethora of paranormal themed event companies who take the public on “ghost hunting nights” that are as realistic as Mickey Mouse. These things are not news worthy.
Then again, neither are many of the ghost related news items that I would report on. It also became abundantly clear to me in the last few months that the media cannot keep up with the demand for 24 hour rolling news and therefore any ghost story will make it to print, no matter how ridiculous it is. If there’s an interesting photo, story or video involved it seems the press will happily report on it without even analysing the story critically. They will even publish obvious hoaxes just to fill the demand for content! This isn’t a ground breaking discovery, but it is something that was really brought home when I found myself reading the most ridiculous, straw grasping news coverage of absolute nonsense.
It begs the question: is 24-hour rolling news making society see ghosts in the slightest odd encounter instead of dismissing it or trying to rationalise it, making us contact the local paper? The answer is that as a collective, our species has always been this superstitious, this willing to make leaps of logic, to see meaning when there is none and to take comfort from it, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve been given an international platform from which to share this. Let’s just hope that not everybody believes everything they read in the newspapers, though judging from the conversations I overhear that might just be the case.
This has led to my decision not to continue with the Weakly Ghost Bulletin because it just seems a fruitless task and a waste of time. I will, of course, write about those media stories that I think are interesting to examine but I won’t do so in the style of a weekly summary because it often felt as though I was scraping the barrel and I really don’t want to share the habits of the ghost-happy media.
A popular reaction to the piece I wrote regarding comments made by Amy Bruni has been to assume that I believe in psychics and that I was writing from that perspective. Some even went as far as suggesting that “deep down” I was a believer even if I claim otherwise.
The truth is that I don’t believe in psychics, or the ghosts and monsters that I investigate but I did come to my skeptical position from a position of belief in such subjects. I guess that’s why people think I am “defending” believers when actually I’m just pointing out that they might have a point in their criticisms, or when I say things like “belief is complicated” in response to people acting as though it is anything but.
Weird, isn’t it, that when you show empathy with those who believe in psychics or ghosts some people are unable to get their heads around it? As though you’re either with or against the psychics, with or against the believers. It’s irrational to deal in such absolutes. Another would be that “all psychics are con artists” which leaves no room for those people who aren’t psychic but genuinely believe they are and aren’t intentionally scamming people. It’s a lazy generalisation.
Anyway, I digress. The point I was making in my previous blog post on this subject was that I didn’t think the ends justified the means when it came to the Guerilla Skeptics “stings” on Chip Coffey. This wasn’t to say stings shouldn’t be used as people seem to have assumed I was saying. I absolutely think that sting operations can be justified and are a useful tool of expose but I do not believe they are a method that should be deployed without careful consideration and experience. Daniel Loxton wrote a great piece about this over at skeptic.com
I also wrote that although they’re trying to reach the middle ground- people who neither believe or disbelieve- I thought it was more likely that the outcome of their actions wouldn’t make the waves people were expecting because, after all, they didn’t actually reveal very much that people didn’t already know. It’s also naive to presume that believers will not listen to skeptics. When I ran Project Barnum- a now closed educational resource about psychic trickery -I was sometimes contacted by people who had believed in certain psychics who had started to question that belief because of our resources or because they had spoken to someone handing out our leaflets outside of a theatre show. People also used our “learn how to be psychic” horoscope game to demonstrate to their relatives who believed in certain psychics how easy it was to fool people.
I’m not an expert when it comes to educational engagement but I have enough experience to know that it’s really difficult to get it right and really easy to get it wrong. I am living proof that people can be inspired to change their minds when presented with the right information in the right manner and because of this I am not so keen to chalk up believers as some sort of a lost cause, or as people who need to be rescued from themselves. Maybe they do but I don’t think that’s my call.
If you disagree with me about any of the above I’m totally fine with that because I’m not egotistical enough to demand that you accept that I am right and I won’t bombard you with comment after comment about how wrong or ignorant you are.
However I do think it is odd that some involved with the Guerrilla Skeptics seem really keen to launch sting operations against other psychics at the drop of a hat as seen below.
It almost seems personal and that can be unwise… but what would I know? I’m clearly just a believer deep down*.
GHOST CAUGHT IN PHOTO BEHIND MUSICIANS
Many people are convinced that the photo above (as well as a series of other photos that can be seen by BELOW) show a ghostly figure in the window at the back of the room.
The “figure” appears to move across the window in different shots but event though it does look quite odd it’s most likely to have been a reflection of something inside or just outside of the room that has been lit up by the camera flash. You can see what appears to be the reflection of a wall or polished surface next to the “figure” (to the left of the window frame) which has also been illuminated by the camera flash.
PARANORMAL GROUP INVESTIGATES LIGONIER THEATRE
TRIB Live reports that ‘members of the Westmoreland Paranormal Society conducted a recent investigation in an attempt to record the existence of paranormal activity.’ The team who inaccurately describe themselves as scientific in their approach claim that the above photo is ‘honestly the best piece of evidence that we collected at the theater. We sat on the stage and asked if the woman who sings could come to us, this is what we captured.’
Um… what? Where is the ghost supposed to be? Well, apparently it is in the bottom left of this photo but all I see is a shaky, wobbly photo taken in the dark in a venue that the newspaper themselves describe as ‘dusty’.
IS ELTHAM McDONALD’S HAUNTED BY GHOST OF HEADLESS PREGNANT WOMAN?
Prize for most tasteless ghost-related headline so far in 2015 goes to… News Shopper! Congratulations.
So-called Spirit Medium Sally Cudmore claims that the Eltham branch of McDonald’s, where staff report sensing an entity of some kind (but don’t seem entirely bothered by it), is haunted by a headless pregnant woman. Well… I say that, but it could have been a woman whose name begins with J who had a pink baby who liked the basement or died in the basement and was strangled or beheaded or, or, or…
By the way, last week I failed to spot the story of the “mysterious rolling bottle of juice” captured on video at a UK pub but Skeptic’s Boot has a great summary of the story here.
I don’t know whether or not I would have an abortion and I don’t know if I would have an abortion based upon predicted gender. I’ve never been in that position and I’ve never had to make that choice. Perhaps I wouldn’t care either way what gender my child was? Either way, I’m not egotistical enough to think that other people should live their lives just as I live mine and that’s why I’m pro-choice.
Fiona Bruce MP & chairwoman All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group has proposed an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which aims to make abortion on the grounds of gender a specific criminal offence, a move that has been dubbed a ‘trojan horse attack’ by Abortion Rights who have today called upon their supporters to urge their MPs to vote against the amendment.
‘It might appear to be pro-women but its purpose is to reduce reproductive rights. This amendment is nothing more than an anti-abortion campaign tactic. Designed to impinge upon a much-fought-for choice.’ Abortion Rights
An open letter from a group of medical professionals and academics was recently published in the Telegraph outlining the significant legal concerns of this move. Concerns included that it is likely to undermine professional integrity, lead to ethnic profiling and alter the UK’s legal definition of pregnancy.
The letter also rightly points out that MPs should seriously consider if they want to take that step, particularly when there already exists legislation that already makes it illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion. This is, after all, the issue that seems to be at the centre of Bruce’s campaign to push for the amendment, that she is acting in the best interest of women being preyed upon by the bad abortion people. It’s awfully deceptive.
To add your voice to the fight to stop this amendment visit the Abortion Rights website today. You just need to enter your postcode, a few details and you can then send a pre-written letter to your MP asking them to vote against the pro-life amendment. Alternatively find your MP and their contact details by looking on They Work For You and write to them about your concerns. The vote for the Report Stage of this bill and amendment is Monday 9 February 2015.