Paranormal Reality Television and the Haunting of Twenty-First-Century America
The first scholarly study of the frighteningly popular paranormal reality television genre
Through American history, often in times of crisis, there have been periodic outbreaks of obsession with the paranormal. Between 2004 and 2019, over six dozen documentary-style series dealing with paranormal subject matter premiered on television in the United States. Combining the stylistic traits of horror with earnest accounts of what are claimed to be actual events, “paranormal reality” incorporates subject matter formerly characterized as occult or supernatural into the established category of reality TV.
Despite the high number of programs and their evident popularity, paranormal reality television has to date received little critical attention. Ghost Channels: Paranormal Reality Television and the Haunting of Twenty-First-Century America provides an overview of the paranormal reality television genre, its development, and its place in television history. Conducting in-depth analyses of over thirty paranormal television series, including such shows as Ghost Hunters, Celebrity Ghost Stories, and Long Island Medium, author Amy Lawrence suggests these programs reveal much about Americans’ contemporary fears. Through her close readings, Lawrence asks, “What are these shows trying to tell us?” and “What do they communicate about contemporary culture if we take them seriously and watch them closely?”
Ridiculed by nearly everyone, paranormal reality TV shows—with their psychics, ghost hunters, and haunted houses—provide unique insights into contemporary American culture. Half-horror, half-documentary realism, these shows expose deep-seated questions about class, race, gender, the value of technology, the failure of institutions, and what it means to be American in the twenty-first century.
"Ghost Channels helpfully hones in on a massive and very popular body of media that has not to date received concerted focus—and does so rigorously and persuasively. "- Murray Leeder, author of Horror Film: A Critical Introduction
"Amy Lawrence provides a cogent analysis of a timely reality TV subgenre, accounting for why paranormal reality TV is booming as a cultural form and what it reflects about larger anxieties in US culture. A lively and engaging study, Ghost Channels covers all the relevant variations on paranormal reality TV from 2004 to 2019, shedding light on a neglected subgenre in reality TV studies."- Leigh H. Edwards, author of The Triumph of Reality TV: The Revolution in American Television
"Ghost Channels . . . finds its target in the terrifying realities of everyday life, mediated through our television screens. We may indeed be haunted by specters more terrifying and intangible than any ghost."- Amber Troska, Ancillary Review of Books
"Ultimately, Ghost Channels is not interested in whether the paranormal—or even individual belief in it—is real; it instead finds its target in the terrifying realities of everyday life, mediated through our television screens…Media studies like Ghost Channels may not hold the ultimate answer, but as any good ghost hunter knows, sometimes you have to illuminate the dark places to find what lurks there."- Amber Troska, Ancilliary Review of Books
"Lawrence has delivered a compelling analysis of the genre and its underlying societal concerns."- Mike Pursley, The Fortean Times