Thursday, June 15, 2017

Performance Investigators: a Paranormal Element?

One thing there seems to be no shortage of in the paranormal: investigators. It might even be safe to say there are currently more amateur investigators in the paranormal than there are researchers working on cures for cancer. Yet the pursuit of answers in the paranormal are largely considered marginal and without value by those outside these fields, especially to those ladies and gentlemen involved with the many branches of science. Yes, we have some scientists these days becoming involved in the serious study of the enigma(s) but they are outnumbered greatly by amateur investigators. Of that rather large amateur category, serious and conscientious researchers are outnumbered by what I've recently come to call 'performance investigators' (PI) .

These performance investigators offer very little in the way of, well...even moderately substantiated raw data, but are considered by many in the paranormal fields to be of high regard. This speaks a little to the charisma factor discussed in the previous post, as the performance investigators are more about the action of being seen performing investigations than gaining or presenting results.

Think about that for a second. To be seen in the act of data collection or investigation is the main point for a PI. You'll see the them posting a lot of photos of themselves "in the field" on social media of every kind - but ask yourself how many times you've seen any real results? One particular figure in the UFO community has plenty of photos posted on Facebook with them collecting on-site material samples of all kinds - but that same figure has never once posted any kind of analysis result of those samples. It's all about being seen in the act.

Ghost hunters are rich with this sort of thing and the performance attribute is quite over the top. It's tough work apparently, to be seen bathed in that green night vision haze - to the point that one fairly public ghost hunter says she develops makeup for women that makes them look good through night vision cameras (if that doesn't tell you it's all about being seen, I'm not sure what will). It seems that many in that genre feel the need to have a well-filtered head shot, and post regularly about their paranormal exploits, as well as every conflict entanglement they encounter (which are often many - we've discussed this before here). Then you'll see the many posts threatening to quit the paranormal field because they 'simply can't take the drama anymore'. These posts are cryptically written to garner sympathetic 'are you ok?' posts from fans, begging them to stay. They of course had no intention of leaving anyway - it's all part of the facade that keeps follower entertained.

Most are not even remotely versed in parapsychological history, or any matter of investigative techniques such as (double blind location tests) and rely on results from fraudulent or faulty 'tools' such as ghost boxes, K2 meters and phone apps to name only a few.  The entire paranormal field (of which I include the UFO field as well) have long had their own ideologies based on very little - and those largely baseless notions have been built upon to the point where it becomes accepted fact. But the PI's have their own subculture of belief that is structured around them. They are the direct line of action with the phenomena they are allegedly investigating. But 'investigating' isn't really the right term when you see posts like: "the spirits at the (insert location here) were so responsive tonight and we're so happy to have re-connected with them again!". This is not investigation. Not when you're speaking of the phenomenon like it's an old college buddy. 

It's theater. 

Who said you have to ghost hunt in the dark?
Not only are they building a narrative that they connected with a paranormal entity, but they're building a brand - their brand. Not surprisingly, followers flock in droves to these PI, because they build (knowingly or unknowingly) a belief-based community support system for many. There are also PI that build a large following, not due to their 'investigations' or any footage or audio they may garner - but due to their physical appearance alone.

There I said it. Due to their physical appearance alone. We have male oriented ghost hunting groups with promotional photos that look more like a pro wrestling or Affliction clothing ad, and female ghost hunting groups or teams that look like the members are bucking more for a modeling contract than paranormal evidence. This is not to say attractive men and women can't be interested in the paranormal, or even that they can't present themselves however they want - but these groups and teams are often the most vocal in complaints that 'no one takes them seriously', or publicly pout when no one wants to hear about their new version of quantum theory which explains the paranormal (which often has nothing to do with theory and little to do with the accepted terminologies of science). 

How serious can you be taken if most of what you post on Facebook involves more about you and your public persona and less about the study you claim to 'live for'?  I think we'd all love to see one piece of interesting or compelling evidence, rather than another cross armed 'badass' ground perspective photo of you in low light, or another bikini body or boudoir shot from a 'serious investigator'. Yes, these folks have even taken to signing autographs at conventions. It's self-made celebrity at it's best.

Don't question, just circle the wagons
This kind of thing is relegated to show business. It's marketing and promotion. And sadly, it's gained a lot of ground in the paranormal community. These PI have a lot of sway over public opinion these days, because they appear to be doing investigations. They've achieved a low-level, cult celebrity status - and for that reason many attribute legitimacy to their 'evidence' where there is none. The false 'facts' are hardened and defended, if for no other reason than the PI says it is so. Any reasonable challenge to the status quo in that department is met with 'we don't care what you believe, go away!'. The wagons are circled, and the PI's heap praise on their fans for defending them against the evil folks who would question their 'results' or call out their nonsensical ideologies.

Now I'm sure you're asking 'whats this have to do with trickster theory and the paranormal?'

Because the 'performance investigators' are textbook examples of the marginal people attracted to the paranormal fields. They deem themselves 'professionals', but any educated professional in a field of serious inquiry would find the PI public persona and their 'research', an affront to anything meaningful or worthy of further examination. It's not only the content they produce, it's the face that the PI put on the field of research: an exceedingly marginal one. Through relentless self promotion, PI are often the most visible in our paranormal communities, and therefore present the most accessible target for fundamentalist skeptics to make examples of. The skeptical community will more often than not gravitate to the low hanging fruit for their examples of the easy dismissal of the paranormal 'myth'.

The commerce of the performance investigator
With the ease of use and accessibility of live streaming, and audio podcasts, PI have essentially started their own television channels with all the cult of personality you could want. Watch the show, live chat with the PI, and buy the shirt/mug/hat on your way out. One of the attractive parts of the show is that unlike Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures - you can actually interact with your favorite PI and get a response in most cases. They're accessible.

But they're accessible because they want your attention, and your support (financial and numbers to sustain their popularity). Your 'likes' and 'follows', and your 5 star reviews. Of course one of the main drives to the PI teams is the promise of a network television program of their own. Seeing that they aren't getting any attention from the network scouts, they'll tout associations with online networks and pay-for-investigate locations as some kind of major opportunity they've landed. Others will say they are 'on location filming' for whatever video they plan to release to YouTube or sell as a DVD. It's all a way to sound important, always relevant and in demand. 

Yes, without a doubt there is a multitude of human behavior issues at play here. No one is going to debate that - but it starts with the marginal figures that end up in these positions in the paranormal - those who can't seem to get arrested in any other field. You see these traits over, and over in the paranormal, and these people often end up in a position of influence or authority - despite the fact that they have not made any significant contribution to the understanding of the subject. They are also often lacking in any standing of academe. 

No. Just no.
This doesn't happen in medical science, biology, cosmology, aeronautics, astrophysics...etc. It happens all the time in the paranormal. And I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to see Neil deGrasse Tyson or Lawrence Krauss striking their best muscle tee poses.

But here's the rub: because the PI are marginal figures, it should not be discounted that they may obtain more interesting data or experience more paranormal activity (even though they may grossly overstate what they do get).

PI have an interesting set of common traits that might facilitate them potentially getting more paranormal activity:
  • are almost exclusively, very marginal figures.
  • often do not have full time employment, but supplement their paranormal income with part time self employment side jobs (i.e. - cosmetic sales/parties, online affiliate sales programs etc) which results in an inordinate amount of free time for self promotion. There exists an inherently anti-structural lifestyle for many.
  • buy into and often promote instrumentation that blurs the line of evidence into ambiguous (at best) and contentious data: Ghost boxes, Frank's box, 'communication' via K2 meter or any other device or app that provides what are considered false positives.
  • are frequently steeped in conflict (not an exclusive PI trait as we know).
  • are often not particularly well-educated.
  • try frequently to portray themselves in an academic light, but are often transparently not what they are trying to present. There is a public persona that rarely matches the reality.
These are commonalities anyone can note, but it doesn't mean they all apply to all instances of PI. But we know what seems to surround paranormal activity - and that it is prone to self-negation. It would be easy to dismiss out of hand, any 'evidence' brought forth by a PI. Under serious discussion of topics and issues known about in standard parapsychological circles for decades - the PI would likely not be able to participate. They are simply not approaching the study from that direction - the majority of them approach the topic from a very surface level perspective and no deeper: the ghost / EVP phenomena is the dead, the UFO issue is extraterrestrials, etc.

PI are often not familiar with even common terms for qualifying their results or tools. At right is part of a discussion I had asking if a particular ghost hunting app has ever had a double blind test of it's reliability. I was met with extreme hostility, not only from the app's creator and his apparent wife, but by those who were his obvious fans. I've obliterated the names here to avoid conflict (thats not what this blog is for) but have identified the players in the discussion. I have the entire discussion which is an astounding read - but this excerpt illustrates the point well. A question about a double blind trial being run on an app that claims to collect paranormal evidence (at the very least) is met with "You're asking kind of a stupid question". It's glaringly apparent that the app creator (the claimed king of paranormal apps) doesn't even understand the term, or the question. Any question beyond praise of his app by his fans is considered an insult or an attack. 

By the end of this 'discussion' the app creator's wife said it best: "There is no due diligence here"  in response to me saying that all I was asking for was some moderate due diligence on qualifying the application's results. It was very clear that neither the app creator or his wife had any idea what the very basic terms meant, because they made themselves look pretty foolish while trying to chastise me for even asking. Her last words are "The fact that you are asking about double-blind studies is enough to know idgaf (I don't give a f**k)"

That point, was crystal clear.

The entire discussion is not unique, and over the years (this example is from 2015) I've encountered more of this same type of discussion from the paranormal community PI contingency. It's an irrational argument from the very start - even if you are polite. 

You don't find this in other studies like you do the paranormal. Clearly, the above example of marginal people, not even remotely familiar with basic terminology of investigation (and critical discussion) are seated in positions of authority - and some are making the tools by which others depend upon to garner their results. It becomes a mess quickly, and those unfamiliar will pick up the tool, or pretense as factual or worthy of consideration.

I believe is that we can more or less categorize the end-results of certain people, and their effects on the public perception of the paranormal. Performance investigators could be called 'mudders'. With high profile appearances, they inject a lot of junk data. They dump a lot of mud into the water - many misconceptions, assumptions, and ideology building. But they also might have a predisposition to get real interesting experiences. Through their actions they taint the field(s) and assure it's continued marginal status. Through relentless self-promotion, they command a willing audience. The idea that all these things also line up with people who can't seem to get arrested in any other field? It's far too much to ascribe to chance.

All of this said, I am not naming names, or pointing fingers. That is not the point here - calling people to task is fine if you think you're going to change something. Many would argue with me on this point: there is no changing the way the field(s) work or who commands audiences in them. My intent here is not to enact change in anything that the field is - but to identify the consistencies of the effects and attributes of the field(s), what they do and how we can avoid issues the study of the paranormal subject presents. 

Look closer, you will.
The performance investigator - seemingly more prolific in the ghost research field than the UFO field - is only a symptom of something bigger. That bigger 'something' is still undefined, yet we can see the connective tissues all around it. Think of it like an explosion where there's all matter of damage and burn marks, but the ground zero point is devoid of anything. Or a better analogy is Obi-Wan's missing planet from Star Wars as he searched for the clone army creators on Kamino. All the gravity and stars were pulled to a point where a planet should be. But there wasn't one to be seen on the hologram map.

It was there, but hidden from the Jedi. The same could be said for the paranormal - we can see the pull, the effect, and the aftermath - but in the middle we see only thin air. When we become transfixed on the pull, the effect, the aftermath - we lose sight of the target.  This is where I think a good chunk of the paranormal public's focus resides.

We have so much more yet to discover - but the first steps are identifying the surrounding elements - some of them detrimental to any serious study - and learning how to work within them, around them and most importantly learning to expect them. Everything we have discussed on this blog is a symptom, and undercurrent. Possibly even the phenomenon itself is a symptom of something much larger, and far more complex.

Liminal people, places, and things. Anti-structural lives, situations and places. Societal taboos and the process of creativity, narrative and story. Charisma. Hoaxes, frauds and lies. Chaos, upheaval and disarray. A host of other things yet to be discussed here (including the numinous). These are all associated with the paranormal and involvement with it. To make forward momentum in study of the paranormal (sometimes by direct interactions), one has to be cognizant that these traits are inescapably intertwined

They are not reactions or responses to the paranormal - they are a part of it's face. 🔻