I recently delivered a talk at Boring VIII in London titled ‘Insects Caught on CCTV’. The conference was a sell-out despite audience members not knowing who was going to be speaking, or what they were going to be speaking about. The idea of the event is ‘Interesting people talking about boring things’, and to give you a good idea of how it worked, I took to the stage after a talk about doormats which followed a talk about call centres.
My talk wasn’t just about insects caught on CCTV, but about insects caught on CCTV that aren’t ghosts but that people think are ghosts. I have a collection of these because I think they’re awesome and this is what I was sharing with the audience.
Why are they awesome?
Well, they’re funny once you realise they’re insects. However, they also tell us a lot about how people view death and their own mortality. And although that may seem a little deep for what is essentially a fly walking across a camera screen and looking a little bit weird, it’s true. I believe that we humans fear being forgotten above many other things.
Ghosts and hauntings are an almost-noble way of remembering the people who have been here before us and have passed away. Just as people leave behind their legacies (both good and bad), another way to honour a person’s memory is by not forgetting them and allowing them to live forever more in the form of a potential ghost. Again, this is true of people who did good and bad. I noticed quite early on in my time as a paranormal researcher that people with an interest in ghosts (which goes beyond simply believing in them) often focus on hauntings and ghosts of people they either personally knew or of people who did something incredible in history or who suffered terribly in history (such at witches or murdered children.) In this way, a lot of us are guilty of stereotyping the ghosts we think we come into contact with. Male ghosts are usually angry or un-male and feminine (and it is their gentleness which is focused on during the seance or whatever), while Female ghosts were either usually the victims of some tragedy, or were unfeminine and strict/mean.
In this way, people show a willingness to not forget what has happened in the history of whatever location they’re in, and they’re honouring the deceased by behaving in a way that suggests that legacy is literally still living in some mysterious, ancient, ethereal way.
What does this have to do with insects caught on CCTV? A lot, actually. So keen are people to acknowledge what has come before that they’ll often grasp at straws and interpret whatever oddity they find as being paranormally-relevant. I’ve often written about a ‘need to believe’ that causes people to also interpret all oddities as significant, but I do think there is a balancing act here where the need to believe in ghosts and to have that belief supported through personal experiences of the spooky kind meets with the want to honour and acknowledge the lives of the people they think haunt the places they visit. For as long as we acknowledge what happened then it cannot be forgotten and we’ve done our duty to the dead.
A really good example of this can be found in one of the videos I shared during my talk at Boring Viii in which a blue oddity is caught on a CCTV camera at a gas station in the US. Watch it below:
When the reporter interviews the public about what they think it could have been, one chap points out that the area used to be an “Ancient Indian Burial Ground.” By linking the alleged (not)ghost with the spirits of deceased native Americans who were displaced and treated poorly, the eye-witnesses could be said to be alleviating the guilt they feel about what has happened in the area before, acknowledging that there is something that happened that a ghost would have a reason to be angry about.
This is a response that can be found across the board with such videos. When an insect lands on a CCTV lens, or flies too closely to it, and appears as a white blob, people rush to find some folkloric or historic tragedy to link it to. “See, we remember” they seem to say, “and we’ll be remembered too.”