2020 Supernatural Studies Conference Not-Proceedings
by Various Authors
2020 Supernatural Studies Conference Not-Proceedings
We are excited to bring you the ghostly spectre of our third-annual conference, which would have happened in March at Iona College, New Rochelle, NY. New Rochelle was the epicenter of the pandemic in the greater New York City area, which at the time we thought would last maybe 6 weeks. Oh, the naivete of people who leave their homes every day!
Laura Kemmerer, content developer for the indie horror zine What Sleeps Beneath, was going to join us at the conference, so when the conference was canceled, we began discussing a collaboration, the journal’s part of which we present to you now. In addition to an outline of the day’s sessions, we bring you a selection of participant abstracts and a few full confer-ence presentations, Olivia Zolciak’s discussion of mother-hood and The Babadook; Jeffrey Canino’s essay on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s supernatural fantasies, which would have been the capstone to a panel featuring Canino’s under-graduate students also presenting on Gilman; and Antares Leask’s fantastic analysis of the Tennessee Wraith Chasers as a model of the classism that informs so much reality television. What Sleeps Beneath provided an additional platform for Q&As for readers to learn more about speakers and their work, in lieu of being present at the conference.
While this is not the same as our day of sessions and a keynote from Murray Leeder, University of Manitoba, on “The Cinematic Séance,” we hope that this collection gives our readers a sense of how great it would have been.
Leah Richards, Supernatural Studies
Laura Kemmerer, What Sleeps Beneath
Panel 1, The Horror of Families and Going Home
Nothing may be scarier than the supernatural forces in family homes, and as these presentations show, this is an international truth.
The Writer, Haunted, in Marianne
Lawrence Lorraine Mullen, State University of New York at Buffalo
Home Is Where the Horror Is: When Scary Gets Sentimental
Ryan J. Torres, horror author and poet
The Babadook: Exposing the Realities of Monstrous Motherhood through Psychoanalytic Relationships
Olivia Zolciak, University of Toledo
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) is a ground-breaking film that reveals a socially unpopular opinion: that the joys of motherhood are socially manipulated, and being a mother is not always the pinnacle of womanhood. Amelia Vanek, a single mother to a misunderstood and troubled child named Samuel, became a widow after her husband died from a car accident en route to the birth of their son. Even as a single mother, Amelia is faced with the expectation that she “will be an attentive, highly-involved caretaker … [and her] parenting is up for critique by all those who come across it” (Treleaven). Although Samuel has tender intentions as demonstrated by his oedipal relationship with his mother, Amelia cannot help but resent her son. She is living in a prison where the police mock her, school authorities question her, and the little family she does have cannot stand being around her and Samuel. On top of this lack of support, she also struggles with her son’s erratic behavior. He experiences insomnia and becomes obsessed with a monster in a children’s pop-up book, Mister Babadook. This monster, however, is more than just imaginary for both Amelia and Samuel—it is a definitive [page 102] aspect of their relationship, which is defined by an atypical Oedipus complex and exposes Kleinian temporality of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. The Babadook, the beast that lurks behind closed doors, represents the monstrosities of motherhood and the socially taboo mother who resents her child. Thus, using Freudian and Kleinian psychoanalysis, I argue that the film exposes the unspoken realities of motherhood and contends that these feelings cannot simply be eliminated through love, which is indicated through the eventual acceptance of the metaphorical beast.
There are many instances in the film that exemplify Amelia and Samuel’s complex, Oedipal relationship. The Oedipus complex specifies that “[t]he life of the husband is threatened by an organic malady” (Freud 124), but because Amelia’s husband died in route to Samuel’s delivery, there is no perceived threat regarding the father. Samuel consistently attempts to put himself in the stereotypical position of the husband, as demonstrated by his desire to protect his mother. He often refers to the impending monster by declaring that “I’ll kill the monster when it comes. I’ll smash its head in,” or “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, mom … I’m going to protect you” (The Babadook). Samuel also desires his mother’s affection, and he attempts to gain her attention after presenting her with flowers—a conclusion to one of his magic tricks. As he gives her the flowers, he strokes her face then wraps his arms around her, hugging her tightly. Amelia resists as she yells, “Don’t do that!” (The Babadook). Their positions in this scene are significant and further demonstrates the complex, Oedipal relationship between Amelia and Samuel. When Sam strokes his mother’s face, she is kneeling on the ground and he is above her, almost taking on a parental position.
There is ultimately no desire to kill what is beloved to the mother as Freud’s theory would suggest. However, Amelia experiences an alternate version of the Oedipus complex, wherein her repressed desire is to kill her son to be reunited with her husband. In Freud’s “The Dissolution of [page 103] the Oedipus Complex,” he explains how “[t]he boy regards his mother as his own property; but he finds one day that she has transferred her love and solicitude to a new arrival” (173). Amelia’s transferred feelings are embodied in her repressed ego, the monstrous Babadook. Whereas Freud emphasizes that these dreams belong to a child’s psyche, it is evident that Amelia takes on the role of the child in her dreams/hallucinations of killing her son. Before the first moment of possession, Amelia enters the abysmal basement that holds every piece of her husband’s memory. She witnesses a form of the Babadook, disguised as her husband, and as she embraces him, he says “You can bring me the boy.” This phrase is repeated to indicate an exchange—Amelia should kill her son in order to be with her husband again. Traditionally, the Oedipus complex suggests that the son desires to kill his father so that he can marry his mother. The son eventually realizes that this fantasy cannot come to fruition, and the Oedipus complex is resolved when the child identifies with his same sex parent. Because Samuel cannot identify with his father—though he attempts to when he imaginatively plays in the basement—his role is unclear, especially given his mother’s estrangement in the relationship. Thus, Amelia’s desire to return to her husband is manifested in the Babadook, which physically embodies Amelia’s repressed feelings.
Amelia’s dreams and hallucinations continue to worsen as the Babadook consumes her and reaches the surface. In one scene, she believes she has woken up to a horrific slaughtering of her son, only to discover that she was hallucinating. Her state of reality precedes the hallucination, and she is standing above Samuel, screaming as she holds a knife in her hand. These delusions “show us the occurrence of a very unusual state of things; they show us that the dream-thought created by the repressed wish completely escapes the censorship, and is transferred to the dream without alteration … the dream-censorship is there-fore unprepared for this monstrosity” (Freud 86). Amelia’s [page 104] hallucination is indicative of daily residues, where “the repressed and unsuspected wish is … frequently met half-way by a residue from the day's experience, in the form of some concern for the life of the beloved person” (Freud 86). In this case, Amelia’s wish for the death of her son is indicated by the daily residues of his disobedience and overall erratic behavior.
Amelia’s role as the child bleeds into her reality as well. During a difficult shift at work, her male coworker offers to cover for her so that she can go home to her “sick son.” Grateful, Amelia leaves work, but her first instinct is to purchase an ice-cream cone. She sits alone on a bench, wearing her child-like work uniform, licking her cone in innocent, childless bliss. Once again, her ambivalence towards motherhood is evident in this scene, and her desire to revert to her childhood, where there is less responsibility and caretaking, is indicative of an alternate conception of the Oedipus complex. In another scene, Amelia is wary of the Babadook’s presence, and she hides under the covers. Her attempt to hide from the Babadook ultimately fails, and as soon as Amelia peeks from under the covers, The Babadook consumes her by entering her mouth. Amelia lost the battle by trying to suppress her emotions, and she went directly against the book’s warning that “[t]he more you deny, the stronger I get” (The Babadook), which resulted in her embodiment of the metaphorical monster.
The moment that Amelia attempts to be her own person and explore her sexuality as an adult woman is when she masturbates. However, when she is about to climax, Samuel jumps on top of the bed, screaming “Mom!” and cries that the Babadook is in his room. Samuel’s intrusion immediately cuts Amelia off from pleasure, which represents another aspect of the Oedipus complex as Samuel associates the mother’s body with pleasure and ownership. In an analysis of the Oedipus complex, Zapf et al. explain that the mother regards her son with feelings that are derived from her own sexual life: “she strokes him, kisses [page 105] him, rocks him and quite clearly treats him as a substitute for a complete sexual object,” and “children often react in their Oedipus attitude to a stimulus coming from their parents.… In the same way as Freud eliminates the father’s activity from the oedipal drama, he excludes the mother and portrays her merely ‘as the unwitting target of her son’s lust’” (694). What Amelia lacks in her sexual and romantic life is transferred to her estrangement from her son. Samuel’s intrusion thus corresponds to their strained relationship, and ultimately, Amelia becomes a target of disruption in so many facets of her life, including her sexuality and her freedom.
Freud’s conception of the Oedipus complex, however, fails to develop beyond sexual drives. Melanie Klein, the first analyst in the 1920s to talk about the relationship between a mother and child, discussed fear and aggression as important forces in a child’s psychological development. While Klein and Freud differed, analyzing the dichotomy of their theories in conjunction with The Babadook helps to reveal how Amelia (and her alter ego) and Samuel’s relationship functions. One aspect of childhood that Klein focused on is child play because “[p]lay, like dream-thoughts, can be a manifest expression with a latent unconscious content. In using it, we have to consider each child’s game in connection with its particular emotions and anxieties” (Mitchell 19). Throughout the film, Samuel’s play is rather violent compared to that of a typical child. His “toys” are weapons that he has created using ordinary objects in the house, and he uses them as preparation and defense against the Babadook. Therefore, Samuel’s interest in weapons and magic “not only represent things which interest the child in themselves, but in his play with them they always have a variety of symbolic meanings as well which are bound up with his phantasies, wishes, and experiences” (qtd. in Mitchell 18). These toys function as his desire to protect himself and his mother, and during his playtime in the basement, he explicitly states, “Don’t worry [page 106] dad, I’ll save mom” (The Babadook), alluding to his attempted role as the father. Eventually, child play becomes a reality as Samuel uses his toys against his mother to aid in controlling the Babadook.
Magic is another form of play that Samuel is preoccupied with, and its function is particularly significant in the mother-son relationship. Samuel’s favorite DVD is of a magic show, and he repeats the infamous magician’s line while he plays in the basement and at the end of the film: “Life is not always as it seems. It can be a wondrous thing, but it can also be very treacherous” (The Babadook). The placement of this quote in the film renders further analysis, especially since magic is an illusion, and it applies to how we choose to see the world around us. Before the Babadook consumes Amelia, the film is dark and menacing, and Samuel’s trick at the beginning of the film is not enough to extract these repressed feelings. At best, they engage his mother by distracting her from the impeding control of the Babadook, which is obviously not enough. However, after the Babadook is banished to the basement and Samuel shows his mother a magic trick outside, the setting is almost ethereal—it’s full of sunlight and livelier colors. In this scene, Samuel produces a gold coin and a dove essentially out of thin air, which is an impressive trick at such a young age. The setting juxtaposed with Samuel’s illusion may demonstrate the way that Amelia chooses to see the world now that she’s finally nurtured her grief and resentment. Furthermore, the trick represents Samuel’s desired relationship with his mother, which is indicated by the manifestation of the dove and coin: the dove is associated with peace, while the coin indicates that Samuel will take on the role of the patriarch and provide for his mother. These “feelings of love and gratitude arise directly and spontaneously in the baby in response to the love and care of his mother” (Klein and Riviere 65). Finally, Amelia can positively interact with her son after identifying with her grief and resentment. Samuel and Amelia’s relationship also [page 107] demonstrates the destructive impulses in Klein’s work: in both the child and the adult, “there exists a profound urge to make sacrifices, in order to help and put right people who in phantasy have been harmed or destroyed. In the depths of the mind, the urge to make people happy is linked up with a strong feeling of responsibility and concern for them” (Klein and Riviere 65-66). Given their recent encounter with the Babadook and the damage they caused one another, the end of the film symbolizes an attempt to make amends.
Klein’s conception of the defense mechanisms, which include the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions, are evident in both Amelia and Samuel. According to Klein, the ego makes use of these defenses “to cope with the inner world and the constant interaction between inner and outer.… It fears that the object on which it vents its rage (e.g. the breast the goes away and frustrates it) will retaliate” (Mitchel 20). To protect itself, “it splits itself and the object into a good part and a bad part and projects all its badness into the outside world so that the hated breast becomes the hateful and hating breast” (Mitchell 20). While these positions develop in the first months of life, “they always remain as part of our personality, of our normal and our psychotic development” (Mitchell 21). The temporality of these positions is relevant in the film, especially as Amelia utilizes them just as much as Samuel. For example, Amelia uses splitting by associating the “bad” with the loss of her husband and her negative feelings. She attempts to suppress these feelings by associating her son with “good” thoughts, but this ultimately fails because she tends to associate him with the death of her husband. Toby Ingham, author of a review of The Babadook “from a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Perspective,” explains that “we might link the more projective processes and dissociated feelings that are evidenced initially to the paranoid-schizoid position” (270). Thus, the Babadook functions as an object for her negative feelings that she must learn to acknowledge and nurture to see Samuel as a whole person. [page 108]
Samuel also employs the paranoid-schizoid position by attempting to separate the “good” mother from the “bad” mother based on Amelia’s spouts of rage. Before Amelia snaps at the privileged mothers during her niece’s birthday party, Samuel literally clings to his mother and will not let go. He recognizes that the “good” mother will leave and holds onto her for as long as he can. Therefore, Samuel associates the Babadook with the “bad” mother, and consistently yells “Don’t let it in!” in the hopes of preventing the Babadook from taking full control of his mother. What he realizes in the end, however, is that the Babadook, and ultimately his mother’s grief and resentment, is a part of her. This realization is indicated in a few moments throughout the film. When the Babadook has full control, Samuel yells, “You’re not my mother!” (The Babadook). Amelia draws out a loud scream in reply: “I am your mother!” (The Babadook). In this moment of agency, Amelia validates that every part of her being, even the bad parts, are Samuel’s mother. Because the Babadook cannot be completely eliminated, Samuel and Amelia start to work together, and “in a strange symbiosis, the son eventually helps to literally contain her” by tying her up; he says to her, “I know you don’t love me. The Babadook won’t let you. But I love you mom, and I always will” (The Babadook). Still attempting to kill her son, Amelia strangles Samuel when she gets the chance, but his delicate touch as he strokes her face causes Amelia to reject the Babadook from inside her, as indicated by her purging a horrific black liquid from her mouth. At this moment, Amelia “starts to process and manage the now internalised Master Babadook, and by extension her grief.… The journey to a more freely acknowledged grief [is] a movement towards the depressive position as mourning becomes possible” (Ingham 270). By the end of the film, both Amelia and Samuel are “able to take in the whole person, to see that good and bad can exist together in the same person” (Mitchell 20), especially because the Babadook dwells in the basement, and is forever a part of [page 109] their relationship.
Amelia and Samuel’s relationship alludes to the struggle of motherhood, particularly when it involves trauma and loss. As Orna Donath writes in Regretting Motherhood, “[M]otherhood may simultaneously be a realm of distress, helplessness, frustration, hostility, and disappointment, as well as an arena of oppression and subordination’ (Donath 344). This is particularly true in Amelia’s case, because not only is she suffocated by her responsibilities as a mother, but her means of employment is another form of caretaking. As a caretaker for the elderly, Amelia’s public life is a constant reflection of her domestic sphere at home. These tensions build until eventually the Babadook takes control. The Babadook thus serves as a metaphor for the monstrosities of motherhood and the perpetual resentful thoughts experienced by several mothers. The children’s book Mister Babadook first shows images of the monster lurking behind the basement doors or underneath the staircase. Like the lurking monster, depression and resentment associated with motherhood hide beneath the surface, typically because “opprobrium is still poured upon mothers who dare to complain about mothering … [and p]ublic airing of abhor-rent maternal experiences may still be regarded as obscene.… Similarly, regret may be seen as the result of a personal failure to adapt to motherhood in general and to the good mother paradigm, with its implication that the mother should try harder” (Donath 362). Although these thoughts are present, “Human beings bring something with them, but the mind’s divisions are set up by the encounter with the world, with the commands, phantasies and wishes of others—with humankind’s culture, laws, and prohibittions” (Mitchell 17). Additionally, these thoughts stay hidden as individuals “have even accused these mothers of committing child abuse for daring to utter such thoughts” (Treleaven). Therefore, coming face-to-face with the monstrous realities of motherhood requires us, as the monster claims, to “[c]ome see what’s underneath” because [page 110] “[t]he more you deny, the stronger I get” (The Babadook).
Ultimately, the forced repression of these feelings -causes a rupture, which is detailed in the next version of the pop-up book. More specifically, Mister Babadook shows Amelia graphic images of her snapping her dog’s neck, strangling her child to death, and then eventually killing herself. This is where we begin to see the physical manifestation of the Babadook. Once Amelia is consumed by the monster, her inner most thoughts about her child and her experiences as a mother are exposed. For example, she tells her hungry son to “go and eat shit,” holds a knife over him, and finally tells him “you don’t know how many times I wished it was you not him that died,” referring to her deceased husband (The Babadook). Obviously, “[T]here is no sole connotation or unified experience of motherhood (McMahon 1995) and no single emotion that children inspire in their mothers” (Donath 343), but Amelia’s traumatic experience of the death of her husband coupled with the birth of her son produces ambivalence towards motherhood, which is not a static state of mixed feelings but “a dynamic experience of conflict with fluctuations felt by a mother sometimes almost moment by moment at different times in a child’s development and varying between different children” (qtd in Donath 353).
Instead of eliminating the monster and arguing that a “mother’s love” overcomes the toughest obstacles, Kent concludes the film with the acceptance of the metaphorical beast. Samuel even asks when he will get to see the Babadook again, demonstrating his acceptance of the beast that lurks in the basement, and Amelia responds, “Soon” (The Babadook). Amelia and Samuel encounter immeasurable obstacles in their relationship to get to a point of acceptance of one another and are finally able to see each other as “whole,” which reflects the transition from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive position. Because Amelia confronted the Babadook, she gains control over him and her feelings, which drives the monster into the [page 111] basement. Her care for the Babadook by feeding him represents Amelia coming face-to-face with her feelings and taking care of herself—metaphorically, she is feeding her grief and resentment. This serves as the most significant message in the film: just as Mister Babadook claims that “you can’t get rid of The Babadook,” these feelings felt by mothers everywhere cannot and should not be ignored.
The Babadook. Directed by Jennifer Kent, Screen Australia, 2014.
Donath, Orna. Regretting Motherhood. North Atlantic Books, 2017.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex.” The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay, W.W. Norton, 1989.
---. The Interpretation of Dreams; and On Dreams (1900-1901). Hogarth P, 1995.
Ingham, Toby. “The Babadook: A Film Review from a Psycho-analytic Psychotherapy Perspective.” Psychodynamic Practice, vol. 21, no. 3, Aug. 2015, pp. 269-270. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14753634.2015.1005485.
Klein, Melanie, and Juliet Mitchell. The Selected Melanie Klein. Penguin, 1986.
--- and Joan Riviere. Love, Hate, and Reparation. Hogarth P, 1962.
Treleaven, Sarah. “Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids.” Marie Claire, 28 Sept. 2016.
Zepf, Siegfried, Burkhard Ullrich, and Dietmar Seel. "Oedipus and the Oedipus Complex: A Revision." The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 97, no. 3, 2016, pp. 685-707. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/1745-8315.12278. [page 112]
Panel 2, Supernatural America
This panel furthers the impossibility of arguing whether New England or the American South is more haunted.
“You must take my place, Jo…’”: Little Women’s Beth and Spirit Possession
Margo Masur, Hilbert College
Spilled Beans and Mermaids: The Role of the Supernatural in The Lighthouse
Michael J. Dalpe, Jr., and Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick,
The College of New Jersey
Abstract: In Robert Eggers’ 2019 film The Lighthouse, the supernatural aspects of the narrative obscure a deeper meaning: that of engagement with a long tradition of self-sufficiency and New England stoicism which, when undermined and challenged, produces a disorientation that speaks to wider systems of knowledge. The crux of the film is Willam Dafoe’s Thomas Wake delivering the stoic perturbation of, “Why’d ye spill yer beans?” to Robert Pattinson’s character, Ephraim Winslow, upon the reveal of the latter’s murderous past. The issue, with the two of them on an island in the North Atlantic, is that Wake is then burdened with the knowledge of Winslow’s crime, which in turn upsets their already tenuous relationship. Drawing on uncanny and supernatural maritime stories, including Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Melville’s Moby Dick, and various works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, this film shrouds the juxtaposed desires and fears of being known within the supernatural. Visual references within the film allude to various pieces of art and literature, but ultimately, the supernatural is used as a vehicle for the human desire to be both known, and the mortifying ordeal of burdening others with one’s own problems. This is further complicated by the gendered systems within the film as well: the only women are potential hallucinations of mermaids and tentacles; women, and the sea itself, become metonyms for [page 113] larger gendered anxieties, which is hinted at by the director Robert Eggers’ assertion that, “Nothing good happens when two men are trapped in a giant phallus” (Rife). Within the context of Eggers’ other well-known film located in New England, The VVitch (2015), this creates a larger structure of meaning that points to a particularly stoic view of disclosing information to others, instead favoring an individualistic, isolated worldview.
Supernatural Elements in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction
Heather Ostman, Westchester Community College
Abstract: In the last fifty years, Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel, The Awakening, has become one of the most widely read and widely taught texts in the United States. First heralded by feminist readers in the 1960s and 1970s as a banner for women’s autonomy, the novel has since been reconsidered from a variety of perspectives, in particular for its religious elements. The lens of Catholicism illuminates not only the author’s implicit critique of organized religion, but it points to the elements of the supernatural and the divine in this work and in several of her short stories. While the novel’s antagonist Edna Pontellier becomes increasingly aware of deepening levels of consciousness, she perceives figures of “half humans” and other elements in the spirit world. These types of figures and other supernatural occurrences arise with greater frequency, though, in several of the author’s short stories, in which characters perceive spirit entities and beings that may or may not be physically present. In particular, Chopin’s short story, “Madame Martel’s Christmas Eve,” features a widow who actively engages the ghost of her dead husband and even struggles against the idea of the occult as a popularized, reductive phenomenon. This paper will briefly explore the presence of spirit entities in selected Chopin short stories as they point to the author’s [page 114] appreciation of the “unseen” as well as a divinity beyond the realm of the Catholic Church.
Editor’s Note: This presentation anticipated Ostman’s book, Kate Chopin and Catholicism, which was published this spring by Palgrave.
Panel 3, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper and Beyond
This session brings together undergraduate authors from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, with their professor for a panel on both “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s less known but equally creepy tales.
Madness as a Means of Liberation
Meghan Ebeling, undergraduate student, Marist College
Abstract: “Madness as a Means of Liberation” argues that Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” describes an oppressive society in which women can only escape the confines of masculine dominance through madness. In this patriarchal society, women are discouraged from recognizing their inequal position to men. Women often conform to the limited female role in order to avoid the harsh truth of reality. However, when the narrator attempts to find her identity apart from society’s expectations, women and men alike force her to submit to female stereotypes. Without a supportive environment, the narrator can only find salvation in the form of madness. The narrator’s ability to separate herself from Jane indicates her escape from patriarchal influences and complete descent into insanity. Only within the yellow room is the narrator able to live out her illusions of freedom and assert female dominance. The outside world remains unsupportive of feminine desires for liberation and the narrator finds emancipation only within her mind. [page 115]
Haunting Fear: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Gothic Strategies
Gabriela Cunha, undergraduate student, Marist College
Abstract: Gothic literature contains many elements to cultivate a sense of mystery and generate fear in the reader. Authors can describe supernatural situations to provoke fear or they can prey upon readers’ psychological terrors to do so. This paper “Haunting Fear: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Gothic Strategies” analyzes the ways Charlotte Perkins Gilman creates fear through various strategies in her stories “The Giant Wisteria,” a story about vacationing couples who happen upon a ghost story and a terrible secret, and “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman’s famous story about an oppressed woman’s descent into madness. While both stories utilize effective elements to evoke fear, “The Yellow Wallpaper” focuses to a larger extent on psychological strategies of generating fear rather than simply supernatural ones, which proves to create a more impactful reading experience.
Phantoms of Progress in Gilman’s Supernatural Fantasies
Jeffrey Canino, Marist College
Throughout her long and varied career as a writer of fiction, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was regularly bewitched by the possibilities of the supernatural. Her reader can glimpse the shadows of the uncanny and the inexplicable creeping between the lines in several key works, both short-form and long. While the bulk of her fictional output can be labeled as strictly mimetic (if often fanciful and didactic in its stretching of 19th century social mores), it is her supernatural exercises that have come to most widely identify her to the modern reader. Her chief work of supernatural fiction, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), “rises to a classic level,” in the words of H. P. Lovecraft, by delineating the reality of its supernatural manifestations to [page 116] the mad mind of its narrator (1078). An earlier tale, “The Giant Wistaria” (1891), posits the supernatural as a reverberation of intergenerational intolerance and violence: a rattling wail that crosses a century in order to carry on its ghostly lament. Both tales have received a wealth of critical attention over the last half century, with the majority of readers finding their Gothic supernaturalism employed in service of stories that create “female victims,” as Joyce Carol Oates anoints them (191).
While female victimhood and its familial, spousal, and societal authors is the core of these tales, such representations are far from the only subject that Gilman turned her pen towards when writing of the supernatural. In fact, as Sari Edelstein notes, Gilman’s “generic restlessness” sometimes subverted gothic conventions with a comic tone, serving as “a signal of her desire to reimagine women’s roles and the world itself, as a grasping for physical and intellectual space, and as a longing for new narrative possibilities” (137). Such a reorientation of the supernatural’s function in the gothic tale is what the reader finds in two of Gilman’s neglected works, “When I Was a Witch” (1910) and “If I Were a Man” (1914). In contrast to the grim limitations placed upon women’s freedoms and futures in the earlier supernatural tales, both “When I Was a Witch” and “If I Were a Man” employ the uncanny as an imaginative vehicle through which to explore the possibility of collective social change. The first-person narrator in each story discovers she possesses an inexplicable power: a wish-making ability in the former and the capacity to possess and influence the mind of another human being in the latter. These newfound powers are then unleashed by the narrators upon an American society hesitant to grapple with its ills, in particular its oppressive classification and treatment of women. Through their actions, these women threaten to transform the social fabric that has produced so many female victims over its centuries of stasis. As such, these later, comic supernatural tales bear a more striking relation [page 117] to Gilman’s contemporaneous social theories, which anticipated the further evolution of human society beyond the deemed “traditional” gender dynamics that had kept women so long oppressed. While “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Giant Wistaria” used the supernatural to dramatize what was the social reality for women in the 19th century, “When I was a Witch” and “If I Were a Man” imagine what could be the future of women freed from their invisible chains of gender distinction. Through Gilman’s magic, these two tales engage in a form of speculative play, conceiving the supernatural as a manifestation of an inevitable, reanimate spirit of human progress.
To understand this shift in narrative representation and generic formulation, one must be familiar with the basics of Gilman’s social philosophy at the turn of the century, most significantly outlined in her wildly popular and equally controversial bestseller, Women and Economics (1898). In this work Gilman wrote, from her Reform Darwinist perspective, of the “maternal energy” that had made gentle the male of the species, allowing for the survival of humankind and its evolution from savage to civil society. She wrote that “into the male have been bred, by natural selection and unbroken training, the instincts and habits of the female, to his immense improvement.” In this conception, and by appealing to several examples from the larger animal kingdom, Gilman presents the female, not the male, as the dominant force in the development of human society. Gilman goes on to explain that the temporary subjection of woman was part and parcel to this schema, a sort of grand maternal sacrifice, for “if the female had remained in full personal freedom and activity, she would have remained superior to him, and both would have remained stationary.” But, with women stepping back into a falsely dependent role in the cooperative alliance between the sexes, the male “has been forced into new functions, impossible to male energy alone. He has had to learn to love and care for someone besides himself. He has had to learn to [page 118] work, to serve, to be human.” The problem, as Gilman saw it, was that this once necessary but artificial subjection of women had been codified over the centuries into human social politics, economics, religion, philosophy, science, medicine, and custom. Gilman saw the woman of the nineteenth century as one blinded to her central role in the development and progression of human society. Her nonfiction writing echoes the sentiment of the refrain from her 1889 poem, which reads “She walketh veiled and sleeping / For she knoweth not her power.” Gilman explains the consequences of this process of species and social evolution when she writes:
The sexuo-economic relation has debarred [woman] from the social activities in which, and in which alone, are developed the social virtues. She was not allowed to acquire the qualities needed in our racial advance; and, in her position of arrested develop-ment, she has maintained the virtues and the vices of the period of human evolution at which she was imprisoned.… [W]oman was cut off from personal activity in social economics, and confined to the functional activities of her sex.
This idealized “angel in the house,” according to Jill Bergman, “represented so much of what Gilman detested and battled against: docility, domesticity, acquiescence to male authority, a lack of intellectual curiosity, willful ignorance disguised as innocence, and no work outside the home” (4). By Gilman’s reckoning, the evolutionarily stunted woman was the final obstacle for the human race to overcome in its progress towards perfection. In Women and Economics, she laments, “Humanity means being together, and our unutterably outgrown way of living keeps us apart. How many people, if they dare face the fact, have often hopelessly longed for some better way of seeing their friends, their own true friends, relatives by soul, if not by body!” She goes on to suggest:
It remains for us to develope [sic] a newer, better [page 119] form of sex-relation and of economic relation therewith.… The true and lasting social progress, beyond that which we have yet made, is based on a spirit of inter-human love, not merely the inter-sexual; and it requires an economic machinery organized and functioned for human needs, not sexual ones.
With this, Gilman gave full-throated support to the nascent women’s movement, and in the rest of Women and Economics and throughout her next quarter century of social writing and lecturing, she argued (in Bergman’s words) “for new places and spaces for women, where women could earn their economic keep, be free of financial control and domination by men, and exercise their minds, bodies, and desires” (4). Gilman’s social writing presents these theories and prescriptions with an uncanny air of certitude and inevitability, an attitude reflected in her subsequent supernatural tales of the early 20th century.
“When I Was a Witch,” a supernatural fantasy penned in 1910, presents the conventional figure of the female spellcaster as an agent of social change, a righteous editor of human society’s wrongs. As Edelstein argues in an extended meditation on the text, the story develops as a sort of “parodic gothic,” subverting the expectations of female-centered gothic storytelling, which stresses domesticity and submission. “Rather than highlighting the horrors of marriage and domestic spaces,” Edelstein writes, “When I Was a Witch” focuses “on the shortcomings of public spaces” and the titular witch’s autonomous actions to resolve them (138). The story’s narrator is introduced at the outset as an unusually conscientious woman of the period, fully cognizant of the inequities plaguing her urban environment of New York City. From her vantage point on the roof of her top-floor apartment, the narrator is geographically separated from the generic realm of the gothic (the home) and planted into the wider public world, which the story pinpoints as suffering from far greater dysfunction than any [page 120] old creaky manor house in the country. It’s here, above the urban space, that the narrator, fueled by her “state of simmering rage,” begins to wish forms of justice upon the population and situations below, initially unaware of her burgeoning power to make those wishes true (21). She first works her magic to punish the parties abusing work horses and to correct the human intervention that has led to an uncontrollable population of feral and domestic pets: in the first instance, those giving the horses the lash are compelled to feel the sting themselves, and in the second instance, the city’s entire population of cats and dogs drops “comfortably dead” (23). As Edelstein suggests, these urban animals bear for the narrator (and for Gilman) a resemblance in their “unnatural lives … cut off from sunlight, fresh air, and use of limbs” to the “unnatural lives of women” in turn of the century America (137). The witch, realizing her power and enlivening her sense of civic duty, then enacts an entire regimen of social reforms, from resolving transportation deficiencies to holding the press to higher standards of journalistic integrity, all through the use of her magical imagination. As a result of her supernatural editorializing, a “new wave of humane feeling” washes over the city’s bewitched population (26). The narrator exclaims with satisfaction, “There was a sudden conscientious revival all over the country. The dry bones rattled and sat up” (27). Her program of reforms has allowed for an injection of feminine social consciousness into a human environment that has long barred women’s participation. A society designed and run with the input of none but men will result in a society proceeding at half its potential for human problem-solving. As Edelstein argues, “the story suggests that women ought to have a stake in public spaces and should be troubled by inefficiencies and inequalities beyond the home,” as the witch is (138).
But, in demonstrating the value of a woman’s perspective in the operation of society, the witch oversteps her magic’s limitations in the story’s final lines. Advancing [page 121] beyond smaller-scale societal ills, the witch takes aim at what she finds to be a greater injustice: the social, economic, and political bondage of women. She says:
Being a woman, I was naturally interested in them, and could see some things more clearly than men could. I saw their real power, their real dignity, their real responsibility in the world; and then the way they dress and behave used to make me fairly frantic. 'Twas like seeing archangels playing jackstraws–or real horses only used as rocking-horses…[:] the greatest power on earth, blind, chained, untaught, in a treadmill. I thought of what they might do, compared to what they did do, and my heart swelled with something that was far from anger. (31)
In consequence, the witch wishes, with all her strength, “that women, all women, might realize Womanhood at last; its power and pride and place in life... that they might see their duty as human beings, and come right out into full life and work and happiness!” (31). But rather than this wish materializing into the world as her others did, it instead reverses the witch’s previous magic and leaves women’s lives untouched. The spell backfires, with the witch blaming its failure on her attempt at “white magic” steeped in “humane feeling” rather than the earlier, successful “black magic” rooted in anger. This cynical ending, sitting like a grim punchline, calls into question Gilman’s motives with this whimsical foray into the supernatural. As Edelstein asks, “Why can’t the witch use her supernatural powers to awaken women to their full capacities as human beings?” Well, she continues, “According to this story, the goals of feminism cannot be achieved merely through magic, nor can anger alone effect social change … Rather, true social change must emerge from positive action” (141). This reading seems aligned with Gilman’s social writing. As pleasant as it is to fantasize, for Gilman there is no magical solution to societal faults, nor is there a simple step to [page 122] creating widespread consciousness on issues of gender inequality. Gilman saw that any positive action in this arena must be led by an enlightened vanguard of those women and men who recognize the value of gender equality to human society. Such a vanguard was necessary, she believed, because of the inherited wisdom of sexual custom. In her 1911 book The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture, Gilman, regarding the possibility of a mass movement advocating for women’s political equality, states, “It is a sociological impossibility that a majority of an unorganized class should unite in concerted demand for a right, a duty, which they have never known.” Nevertheless, Gilman asserted that it was possible through advocacy and education to organize enough people to demand change to women’s standing in American society. Crucially, her conception of this vanguard for social and political transformation included both women and men.
Nowhere in Gilman’s fiction is the necessity of men’s participation in reshaping a gender-equitable society clearer than in “If I Were a Man” (1914). The joining of men to feminist causes generally manifests in Gilman’s realistic fiction through male characters who witness with astonishment the unlikely success and self-sufficiency of their wives, mothers, or sisters in some economic endeavor and then quickly (either with little or no protestation) signal their support and affection. These stories can all be read as capitalist fantasies that rarely look deeper into the American woman’s situation than the conditions of their middle-class subjects allow for. Moreover, their fairy tale outcomes often fail to extend beyond the narrow range of the family, leaving the broader society unchanged by the miraculous events described. “If I Were a Man,” however, provides an atypically public argument about the necessity of an adjustment to society’s perception and treatment of women and a suggestion as to whose voices are beneficial in announcing it.
The tale begins with tears: Gerald Mathewson, after an [page 123] argument with his wife over a concealed and unpaid bill, leaves “pretty little” Mollie Mathewson weeping as he rushes into town to deal with the day’s errands. Frustrated, Mollie falls into the subjunctive mood, wishing she were a man so that the whole domestic squabble could have been prevented (presumably by her ability to pay her own exorbitant hat bill). And, just like that, she is transported, supernaturally, into the consciousness of Gerald Mathewson. All at once, Mollie, a “true to type … true woman,” (32) defined by all the generic qualities and limited life experience expected of a wife and mother, possesses the body and consciousness of a man. Residing for the moment in the back of Gerald’s mind as an “odd mingled consciousness,” Mollie begins her education (33). As her husband moves about the public sphere, Mollie broadens her emotional intelligence through her new “open-eyed acquaintance” with her husband and other men: their “superior pride” in domestic interactions and conflicting thoughts about women generally (“tenderest emotions and exquisite ideals” in one chamber, “base traditions, coarse epithets, and gross experiences” in the other (36), accessed and shared only in the company of other men). Her experience of inhabiting her husband’s body, which initially gives her a “funny sense,” soon feels unquestionably “the right size” in an androcentric world designed down to its seats in train cars to accommodate male bodies (33). In one extended reflection, Mollie marvels at the usefulness of pants pockets, which she had been culturally conditioned to poke fun at but had secretly envied (33). What freedom they add to one’s movement and possibility as a woman out in the world, especially when stuffed full of one’s own money! By way of this passive education, Mollie learns the benefit of being the gendered entity “man” in social relations.
But what began as a passive glimpse into the way the other half lives evolves into an active possession as Mollie’s morning wears on. Through Gerald’s mouth, Mollie is able to articulate her own distaste for the pointless ornamentation [page 124] of women’s hats—a distaste she has awakened to by being able to view them through her husband’s eyes. How useless and impractical they are, with their feathers and their plumes “like the decorations of an insane monkey” (34) and how hypnotized she’d been by the particular fashion expectations of “true women”! Later on, in a conversation with a fellow man who is griping about his wife, Mollie recognizes the pull of Gerald’s sympathies towards the man’s position and chooses to “struggle violently with this large dominant masculine consciousness.” Being also a woman, Mollie recognizes that her true sympathies lie with the neighbor’s wife, and “she begins to resent with increasing intensity the serene masculine preoccupation with the male point of view” that her husband’s mind demonstrates (36).
It is at this point that Mollie’s consciousness pushes to influence Gerald’s speech and actions. Though disconcerted, Mollie is not shocked by the revelations she gathers from her husband’s mind and her interactions with other men. She sees them as an inevitable condition of men’s divided lives regarding women. If anything, the contradictions she discovers reveal the artificial, constructed nature of men’s gendered perceptions of women. For Mollie, these assumptions are the problem to be overcome, and over-coming them means understanding where they come from and finding arguments to disprove them. Thus, Mollie descends deep into Gerald’s bank of men’s “knowledge” of the world—and, suddenly, “the world opened before her” (36). She uses this accumulated knowledge to counter the biases and arguments of an assortment of men in the train car she’s riding on: a few gentleman, a doctor, and a reverend, all trotting out shallow and sexist arguments against men’s “weak sister,” the latter two appealing to their particular fields in order to denigrate women. The men of the train car find it difficult to rebut Mollie’s words as they slip from Gerald’s mouth: “‘It’s time we woke up,’ pursued Gerald, still inwardly urged to unfamiliar speech. ‘Women [page 125] are pretty much people, seems to me’” (38). Mollie ends the story as a “spirit rising up in Gerald,” a “stirring in him which he [does] not recognize—yet [cannot] resist” (38). In the story’s final line, the reader learns that Mollie has loosened her grip on her husband’s will, but stays commingled with his consciousness, both of them benefiting from the connection: “All day long in his business, Gerald was vaguely conscious of new views, strange feelings, and the submerged Mollie learned and learned” (38). Gilman concludes her tale by reaffirming the two tenets of her positive program for progress: women’s education about worldly matters previously denied them and men’s allyship promoting women’s (and thus humanity’s) progress. Gerald Mathewson submits to a feminine influence over his sentiments and sympathies, and his transmission of these “new views” to the wider public arena he belongs to bodes well for humanity’s future.
While Gilman did not believe that social progress for women and men could be achieved through magic, there was a touch of the supernatural in her thinking, visible in the conclusion of “If I Were a Man.” In Women and Economics, Gilman speaks of an almost phantasmagorical “social consciousness” that “is at last so vital a force in both men and women that we feel clearly that our human life cannot be fully lived on sex-lines only.” For her, this “social consciousness” was an inevitable spirit of progress that to try to suppress would be foolish, like swiping at ghosts. She writes:
And many … will ask, if it is so clear that the subjection of woman was useful, that this evil-working, monstrous sexuo-economic relation was after all of racial advantage, how we know that it is time to change. Principally, because we are changing. Social development is not caused by the promulgators of theories and by the writers of books. When Rousseau wrote of equality, free France was being born,—the spirit of the times thrilled through [page 126] the human mind; and those who had ears to hear heard, those who had pens to write wrote.… The common consciousness of humanity, the sense of social need and social duty, is making itself felt in both men and women. The time has come when we are open to deeper and wider impulses than the sex-instinct; the social instincts are strong enough to come into full use at last.
Thus, she argues, “the woman’s movement … should be hailed by every right-thinking, far-seeing man and woman as the best birth of our century.” Gilman’s spirit of progress would move humanity through the 20th century, possessing the minds of those “far-seeing” men and women and inspiring in them new views and sympathies that they would not resist. For Gilman, from her station at the century’s beginning, the supernatural tale provided not only thrills, chills, and condemnation of patriarchal practices, but also a strange and amusing outlet for portraying the rising specter of a unified humanity.
Bergman, Jill. “Introduction: A Woman’s Place is Not in the Home.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman and a Woman’s Place in America, edited by Jill Bergman, The University of Alabama Press, 2017, pp. 1-10.
Edelstein, Sari. “‘A Crazy Quilt of Paper’: Theorizing the Place of the Periodical in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Forerunner Fiction.” Charlotte Perkins Gilman and a Woman’s Place in America, edited by Jill Bergman, The University of Alabama Press, 2017, pp. 131-145.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “If I Were a Man.” The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader, edited by Ann J. Lane, Pantheon, 1980, pp. 32-38.
---. The Man-Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture. Project Gutenberg, 22 Jan. 2013, www.gutenberg.org/files/3015/3015-h/3015-h.htm.
---. “When I Was a Witch.” The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader, edited by Ann J. Lane, Pantheon, 1980, pp. 21-31.
---. Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. [page 127] Project Gutenberg, 16 Sept. 2018, www.gutenberg.org/ files/57913/57913-h/57913-h.htm.
Lovecraft, H. P. “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” The Complete Fiction, Barnes & Noble, 2011, pp. 1041-1098.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935).” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. 2nd edition, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Oxford UP, 2013, p. 191.
Panel 4, Recent Trends in the Fantastic
This session is a reminder than now is a wonderful time to be alive if you are interested in supernatural media and scholarship. The world may be on fire, but there’s great streaming media to comfort us as well as scholars to remind us that it has been for centuries.
On a Roll towards a Posthuman Future: An Analysis of Ashley Too and Artificial Intelligence
Michelle C. Ausman, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“Not Under Me, but on the Earth”: Death and the EcoGothic in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wuthering Heights
James M. Devine, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Monsters of the Empire: Recent Trends in Arab Horror
Greg Burris, American University of Beirut
Abstract: Although the Arab world is not typically known as a major producer of horror fiction, recent years have seen the release of several supernatural horror texts across North Africa and the Middle East. These include an Iraqi horror novel (Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, 2014), a Jordanian Netflix series about ghosts (Jinn, 2019), and a Tunisian witchcraft film (Dachra, 2018). Against all expectations, some of these cultural products have been tremendously successful. Saadawi’s novel won the prestigious International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and Dachra became the highest grossing local film to hit the Tunisian box office in more than two decades. In this essay, I examine [page 128] these three texts with specific reference to the historical-political context in which they are appearing. Why has the Arab world been relatively absent from international horror production? How and why is this changing, and—most importantly—what role can these examples of supernatural horror play in our current era of war and revolution?
Panel Discussion, Session 5, The Specter of Fame: Teaching Edgar Allan Poe’s Obsession with Celebrity
Next, we planned another professor-student collaboration from Marist, a discussion of a class examining the rock stars of nineteenth century America, specifically Edgar Allan Poe.
Sessions on pedagogy are a hallmark of the conference, and we look forward to more sessions like this in the future.
Patricia Tarantello, Marist College,
featuring Olivia Bond, Victoria Rey, and Jillian Simon,
undergraduate students, Marist College
Session Description: Edgar Allan Poe is most often taught today in an American Gothic context. While Poe’s dark and mysterious writings certainly had a major and lasting impact on the American Gothic literary tradition, students tend to view Poe as a very one-dimensional writer. In an attempt to deepen my students’ understandings of Poe as an author, I introduced Poe to my students in a different way this semester: as an aspiring nineteenth-century literary celebrity. Of course, my students read Poe’s Gothic writings and learned about his impact on writers who came after him, but they also learned about his life, his complicated position in society, his complex feelings about fame, and his drive to succeed in the literary marketplace. They also considered Poe’s legacy and the various forces that shaped that legacy, including the infamous obituary of Poe written by his literary rival, Rufus Griswold. Overall, my class got a much deeper and more balanced perspective on Poe and were therefore able to appreciate his writings, not just as [page 129] examples of Gothic tales, but as the sum of Poe’s efforts to write appealing, but meaningful stories. They could analyze his work in a much more significant way through the lens of celebrity culture.
My presentation will outline my three-week lesson plan on Poe, detailing the primary and secondary texts that we studied, and describe the assignments that I used to guide my students in developing a more complex view of Poe and his writings. Furthermore, my presentation will incorporate students’ perspectives on how these lessons and activities contributed to their overall sense of who Poe was as a writer and a literary celebrity and their views on why this context is essential to knowing Poe. As my class discovered, and as I hope to convey through my presentation, Poe was motivated to write for fame, even as he despised popular contemporary writers for the way they seemed to pander to the public. He sought to stay true to his ideals in his writings, even as he looked to entertain the masses. He looked to expose writers who puffed themselves and their friends to audiences, even as he wrote his own reviews and puffed himself. Poe’s work is haunted by the specter of fame; in his writings, we can see the evidence of Poe’s desires for, frustrations with, and efforts towards making himself into a literary celebrity.
Panel 6, Realities
Truth, we are told, is stranger than fiction, and our day was scheduled to end with three distinct intersections between the supernatural and the real.
The Transnational Ghosts That Haunt the Theatre: Spectralization & the Supernatural on Today's Global Stage
University of California-Santa Barbara [page 130]
The Skepticism of the Catholic Church towards Claims of Supernatural Events
Edward Zukowski, College of Mt St Vincent
Abstract: One often hears skeptics dismissing religious people as gullible or relying on “blind faith” when it comes to alleged supernatural events such as miracles, possessions, and apparitions. This cannot be said of the Catholic Church. In fact, the academic strategy of “the Devil’s Advocate” derives from the nickname given to the person charged with raising every possible objection during the investigations involved in the canonization of a saint.
The primary purpose of this paper is to outline some of the procedures used by the Church in investigating alleged supernatural events which exhibit a skepticism that even the most ardent atheist might admire. These procedures are not simply a response to modernity, but in fact date back to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758). Although updated in the modern era, they still essentially reflect the principles enunciated by Benedict. They include not considering the possibility of the supernatural “until you have exhausted the possibility of the natural.” They therefore require investigations by scientific experts and conclude with a judgment that the “miracle” is “worthy of belief” and not a definitive positive judgment binding on all believers.
The presentation begins with some brief remarks about some a priori assumptions on the part of both skeptics and believers as well as both theological and practical reasons for the skepticism of the Church towards alleged supernatural events. It concludes by suggesting that in the final analysis the Church concurs with Stuart Chase who wrote: “For those who believe no proof is necessary; for those who don’t believe no proof is possible.” [page 131]
“Chasing Ghosts Without Proper Training Will Get You Killed”: Tennessee Wraith Chasers and Classism in Paranormal Reality TV
Antares Leask, University of Texas at Arlington
The Tennessee Wraith Chasers entered the paranormal reality TV scene in 2013 after adapting their pilot Ghostland Tennessee (Animal Planet) to become Destination America’s Ghost Asylum and later, Haunted Towns as well as Haunted Live for the Travel Channel. The appeal of the team and the shows on which they appear is their self-proclaimed “serious backwoods Southern know-how.” This is the stereotypical “redneck” paranormal show, as evidenced by the fact that Animal Planet ran it before Gator Boys, and that the goal of this team is to catch the ghosts in a contraption of their own design. If the spirit is good, they perform an exorcism. If the spirit is evil, they take the box out into the woods and blow it up with explosives. Although they only actually went through with this act once (season 2 episode 8), it features heavily in the marketing of their shows, where they also warn viewers that “chasing ghosts without proper training will get you killed.”
Making assumptions on a person’s belief in the paranormal based on their social class is nothing new. The locations investigated and the technology used on paranormal reality TV often also depend on the social class of the investigators, and the quality of the investigation may depend on the social class of the witness. All classes purport to have had experiences, but how they are investigated and reported varies by socioeconomic status. Owen Davies, in his book The Haunted: A Cultural History of Ghosts, looks at class demographics throughout the history of paranormal research, noting the paranormal snobbery of the Victorian era: “Those who provided the SPR [Society for Psychical Research] with information were predominantly from the middle and upper classes. Their social, educational, and religious experiences undoubtedly shaped their views on the [page 132] nature of ghosts, and consequently how and why they were thought to manifest themselves. The SPR sources tell us little about the experiences, beliefs and legends of the rural and urban working classes, in other words the majority of the population” (Davies 9). The SPR, considering themselves serious investigators, were not interested in the experiences of the lower classes.
In earlier times, belief in the paranormal in the eighteenth century was divided by gender, but more importantly, by socioeconomic status. For example, Davies writes that: “The educationalist Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810) provided a moral ghost story in her periodical The Family Magazine, which was produced ‘To counteract the pernicious Tendency of immoral Books, &c. which have circulated of late Years among the inferior classes of People.’” Trimmer’s story centered on “Robert the ploughman and his sweetheart Betty.” Poor Betty is already an underdog; she is lower class and female. But she finds an escape in “reading about spirits and witches late at night and tells Robert about how she had been much frightened one night the previous week. As an owl screeched, the door creaked and the wind whistled down the chimney she thought she heard ghostly footsteps; all was explained by a dog scratching a piece of furniture.” This plays into the stereotype and literary trope that Betty, a young impressionable woman, brought the supernatural activity on herself, although it was easily debunked. Those around her are afraid to leave poor Betty to her own devices and call in the Church to lead her back to the proper path: “The dame who looks after her requests the parson to come and give her an instructive talk. He tells her that it was ‘very wicked, as well as very foolish, to be afraid of ghosts’ and orders her to burn all her story books, dream books, and fortune-telling books. Robert agrees that the parson had, indeed, provided very good advice” (Davies 139-40).
While Trimmer tells a clear tale of censorship of paranormal stories for the reader’s own protection, literature has been used both for and against the [page 133] paranormal. Mark Edmundson writes that, “The function of eighteenth-century terror-Gothic, suggests Leslie Fiedler, was ‘to shock the bourgeoisie into an awareness of what a chamber of horrors its own smugly regarded world really was’” (Edmundson 55). The paranormal has been used to show the upper class the reality of the world, while still allowing them to look down on those who believe in ghosts, not too far from those in our time who look down on reality television.
Trimmer is just part of a long line of intellectuals who considered the lower classes too uneducated to know any better when it comes to the supernatural. Davies writes that Thomas Hobbes was not “expressing anything particularly radical when he stated that the ‘opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghosts, and goblins’ was born of their ignorant inability ‘to distinguish dreams, and other strong fancies, from vision and sense’” (Davies 145).
This trend has continued into the modern era, as belief in the paranormal leads to immediate stereotypes: “certain sections of society were more uncomfortable than others about the way their beliefs might be perceived. It is significant that [Geoffrey] Gorer’s survey in the early 1950s indicated that ghost-belief was slightly higher among the poor and the upper middle class,” yet Gorer’s survey also yielded the information that “that those most sceptical about ghosts and religion in the early 1950s were prosperous working-class men” (Davies 242). This aligns with Ghost Hunters, the first paranormal reality show to gain prominence in America, whose two leading men are both portrayed as the most skeptical of any other paranormal show, but also work (or worked, when the show started) as plumbers.
There is a clear relationship between social class and how ghosts are hunted. A séance in a private home is an acceptable upper class activity (which calls to mind Sarah Winchester’s séance room—as much urban legend as cultural touchstone). Jason Hawes of Ghost Hunters writes, [page 134] “The talking board became a big hit in the late 1800s--and not just among the middle class. It was also seen at the parties of the rich and powerful, who were intrigued by its promise of predicting the future” (Hawes 111). Communing with the spirits in an upper-class drawing room is more historically acceptable (and literary, even Jane Eyre did it), than seeking out ghosts in their natural habitats. Those who have the means to communicate with the spirits in the comfort of their own homes--with the most fashionable psychic intermediaries present to assist—those who are able to bring the ghosts to them, are a higher class than those who are forced to seek out ghosts in the wild. Paranormal reality TV has moved the audience to this upper class; the ghosts are brought into their home for their entertainment as they watch those of a lower social class search them out.
As now, all ghost hunters have not been equal, and locations depend much upon class and access. Davies explains, “‘Respectable’ spirit investigators were happy to visit haunted farmhouses and middle-class homes, but they would not be seen dead searching for ghosts in the streets and churchyards of Victorian cities. If they had, they would have found themselves in tumultuous and boisterous company. While the pious or earnest investigator was drawn to haunted bedrooms for profound truth or lies, the urban working classes gathered on the streets for sensation and entertainment” (Davies 90). Paranormal reality TV exists for the same sensation and entertainment, and access is one of the main differences between reality shows fronted by white males in comparison to those with minority casts. Ghost Hunters investigates the Queen Mary; Destination Truth explores the tomb of King Tut, but a show such as Ghosts in the Hood, with a multicultural cast, settles for a funeral home in Compton.
Ghost Hunters was the first widely known and most prolific paranormal investigation show, airing on SciFi/SyFy from 2004-2016. Its hosts, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson’s, occupations as plumbers, played up early in the show’s [page 135] tenure, helped establish them as average middle-class Joes—real life versions of the GOP’s 2008 Joe the Plumber—and the show as representative of everyday America’s hopes and fears. Early in the original run of the show, the team focused on helping homeowners. Defending one’s home, from invaders normal, paranormal, or imagined, is paramount to the Ghost Hunters mission, at least in the early seasons, and is a defense on the class status that home ownership confers. Shelter and safety are foundational concepts on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and a household ghost undermines both of these very real needs. Moreover, homeownership is foundational to identity in our society. Colin Dickey writes in Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, “Home ownership has always been intertwined with the American dream; we have magnified this simple property decision in part because it represents safety and security. The haunted house is a violation of this comfort, the American dream gone horribly wrong” (Dickey 18). For Ghost Hunters’ first few seasons, the stated purpose was to help homeowners understand and rid themselves of possible hauntings—especially if there were children in the home. As plumbers, Hawes and Wilson could use their work expertise to identify leaky pipes or bad wiring as the cause of spooky feelings, and their primary mission was to use their skills to debunk reported hauntings.
And unlike the Real Housewives or the Kardashians, to steal a page from celebrity magazines, “They’re Just Like Us!” Their ghost hunting past-times mixed with their normal working class lives and 40-hour a week jobs only endeared them more to their viewership, as the combination of reality TV and what Owen Davies comments is historically plebeian: “Like these other working-class festive events [Guy Fawkes celebrations, etc.], the authorities and the press saw ghost hunts as uncouth and vulgar, a disgraceful mix of ‘superstition’ and a lack of civility” (Davies 92). Hawes and Wilson brought ghost hunts to the [page 136] larger American public, but still not to the mainstream. This is nowhere more clear than in James Hibberd’s article “SyFy Will Never Stop Airing ‘Ghost Hunters’” where he notes that, Ghost Hunters, whose peak average was three million viewers per episode, is SyFy’s “longest-running non-wrestling series” (Hibberd). The link between SyFy’s successes—with wrestling and ghost hunting—echoes the working-class appeal of both. Hibberd’s title was not as prophetic as he thought, as Ghost Hunters ended its run on SyFy in 2016; the subsequent revival with original cast member Grant Wilson and a more multicultural cast airs on A&E, while Jason Hawes and two founding Ghost Hunters team members created Ghost Nation on the Travel Channel.
There is a consideration of both the social class of those investigating and those being investigated. For the former, their class can change. Ghost Hunters started out investigating family homes; their goal was to protect that aspect of the American Dream and to help homeowners. But as their status (and ratings) rose, they moved to more famous locations. Not every paranormal group makes this leap and change in focus.
The danger also exists of investigators judging those they are claiming to help based on their social class. Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures claims, “Some say that the people create the environment, but after all my travels, I think it’s the other way around--the environment shapes the people. Those who live in a dirty place tend to be meaner, less trustworthy, and more violent. People who are brought up in a nicer place are likely to have better manners and care more about helping others” (Bagans, I Am Haunted 46). Clearly not coming to his investigations with an open mind, Bagans does not acknowledge that his own sense of class impedes how openly he views others.
With a few outliers, most paranormal reality television personalities are North American, and this does bring certain stereotypes with it: When Britain first established the Society for Psychical Research is was written “Why this [page 137] landmark in the history of the paranormal occurred first in England, not America was perhaps because Great Britain was a much older and longer established society and, some suggested, ‘better organized’ by the nineteenth century” (Birnes 302). So to some extent, in certain circles, being American has always put one at a lower social class to start. In contrast with Native American traditions, the stereotypical American would rather shoot Bigfoot, or blow up a ghost in a box, than commune with the natural, or supernatural, world.
As paranormal reality stars Tennessee Wraith Chasers describe themselves in the “talent” section of the Travel Channel website: “The Tennessee Wraith Chasers (TWC) is a serious team of paranormal investigators that doesn’t take itself too seriously” (“Tennessee Wraith Chasers' Bio”), with a stated goal on their own website that they “Research and Investigate Paranormal claims all around the south using scientific methodology along with good old fashion common sense.” (“What It Is to Be a Wraith Chaser”). Shows featuring the Tennessee Wraith Chasers (Ghostland Tennessee, Ghost Asylum, Haunted Towns, and Haunted Live) also have a strong religious background, something most paranormal shows shy away from (with the notable exception of Paranormal State and occasional exorcisms or religious/spiritual ceremonies on other shows). The team’s website explains this with the statement that, “TWC takes pride in that they base their paranormal knowledge on methodical testing and a strong Christian faith in God” (“About”). While Christianity is prominent in American culture, it is seen as less valid in shows that claim to be scientific investigations at heart, and actually makes them a minority in the genre. While the team’s focus on Christianity would normally put them on the privileged side of society, since it is featured prominently on their shows in a positive light, it is a detriment among other paranormal shows that claim to be purely scientific. Tennessee Wraith Chasers are considered true paranormal believers because [page 138] they’re good ol’ boys from the South who are hyper-religious, but it hurts their credibility. Tied up in the group’s “reality” shows are questions of class and religion. Marketed by the Travel Channel as “Good Ole Boys Chasin Ghosts,” Tennessee Wraith Chasers primarily appeal to their niche demographic through performance of class and belief.
The Tennessee Wraith Chasers’ career began with primarily investigating locations in, as expected, Tennessee, such as the Old South Pittsburg Hospital in Pittsburg, Tennessee (a site that has been investigated by so many ghost hunting teams that it has rebranded itself the “Haunted Old South Pittsburg Hospital Paranormal Research Center”), and All Access Coach Bus Leasing in Gallatin, Tennessee, although their new show, Haunted Towns, has them traveling across America, making a point to investigate sites other paranormal teams have not, which is refreshing in a television community where teams regularly compete over whose investigation of a particular site is more valid.
Unlike the vans used by Ghost Hunters, TWC travels in fully stocked pickup trucks, again both a nod to their Southern heritage and a clear stereotype. The group uses technology that is state of the art, often homemade, and has at least once been used to explode a spirit. When asked by Kelli Marchman McNeely of the website Horror Fuel about this contraption, the Devil’s Toy Box, one team member, Doogie, explains how the group meshes their technological interests and spiritual beliefs, with a criticism of the techniques of other paranormal reality shows:
Well, that was kind of a thing that was put together years ago. It’s based on different belief systems. That thing is made of mirrors on the inside and outside it is all wood and usually has scriptures written on it. If anything gets in, it holds it in. The mirrors confuse the spirit. When it looks into the infinite the spirit can’t get out. From history, we’ve always heard that mirrors are a portal, a gateway to hell. It’s [page 139] something we put together when we heard about it. I did a lot of research on it. People always say they want to help you out, but are you really helping someone when you say ‘Hey, you’ve got a haunting, good luck with that.’ You’re not really helping. You’re explaining some things to them, but we actually want to help them. With the Devil’s Toy Box we have a shot of containing it and we’re getting outside the walls of the place and we can let the spirit go where it needs to go. (McNeely)
He further explains that the one time they blew up the box in the woods it was at the request of the homeowner, but had a theoretical background, “We also have heard that you can take an energy and burst that energy with a stronger energy. That was the theory behind blowing up the box as well. We don’t always blow things up. [laugher]” (McNeely). Tennessee Wraith Chasers Leader Chris also laughs and unwittingly acknowledges the stereotype that they are performing: “We’re Tennessee boys. We gotta do something explosive now and again” (McNeely). Since he says the box “usually” has scripture written on it, this implies that the Devil’s Toy Box is used often, even if it’s not always blown up.
The team member’s last names are available on their biographies on the Tennessee Wraith Chasers website—which appears to have been taken down as of May 16, 2020—and on the “Travel Channel Hosts” page on the Travel Channel website, but not the Destination America website for Ghost Asylum, as if the channel wants to keep the TWC more down-to-earth and boy-next-door. The channel’s website literally forces viewers to be on a first name basis with the team. On the current Destination America website for Ghost Asylum, TWC is just listed as Chris, Doogie, Porter, Brannon. This omission, keeping their full names hidden from their adoring fans and nosey academics, both helps keep their folksy personas intact and is different from other paranormal teams who are clearly [page 140] enamored with their own fame as TV personalities. Finding accurate and timely information about the members of the Tennessee Wraith Chasers has been daunting since their website was very recently taken offline, and some of the information on the Travel Channel website is the same as Destination America’s (both Discovery Inc. channels), but not all.
Authors aren’t listed on the Travel Channel Talent page, so the biographies are likely provided by the talent themselves (or their publicists), but the Tennessee Wraith Chasers’ biographies -- focused on their beliefs in ghosts and religion—feel very different from those of other Travel Channel Talent, such as food personality Andrew Zimmern. His talent page focuses on awards and accomplishments. The late Anthony Bourdain’s page doesn’t have text at all, just links to a blog post and several recipes. On one hand, this makes the information posted about the Tennessee Wraith Chasers more intimate, while weakening their credibility as serious investigators. They don’t have a list of achievements and accomplishments in the paranormal field, just a system of beliefs.
Chris Smith is the leader of Tennessee Wraith Chasers, and like most paranormal investigators, came to the hobby because of a childhood experience he couldn’t explain. The way he explains it, the sighting also helped him find his team’s name: “While in his grandfather’s barn, he came face to face with a ‘shadow person,’ a shadow-like humanoid figure also known in some cultures as ‘wraiths’ that are usually seen in peripheral vision” (“Chris”). Chris elaborates on this experience in his typical folksy manner: “I knew what I saw and it scared the hell out of me. I tell people that after I went home and changed my drawers, that I had so many questions. I really was curious. The first thing you experience is fear and the second is curiosity. That curiosity really fueled me to go out there and try to find answers. That was the starting point for me” (McNeely). From this initial experience, he learned his trade on the Ghost Hunters [page 141] spin-off, Ghost Hunters Academy (SyFy) under GH cast members Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango (currently on Ghost Nation on Travel Channel with fellow GH alum Jason Hawes). Chris only appeared on one episode of Ghost Hunters Academy (2009) and declined an invitation to return for a later season. Chris, Doogie, and Porter won an episode of Travel Channel’s Paranormal Challenge in 2011 (“About”), continuing their reality show education through competing on reality shows.
Chris’s belief statement notes that “Though a skeptic by nature, he’s receptive to the idea that spirits are among us but seeks hard evidence to prove it. Chris is a native of Gallatin, Tenn., where he was raised in a strict missionary Baptist household” (“Chris”). His religious upbringing comes up in interviews often, even in discussions of technology. Chris likes the digital recorder, but “I also tell people that your own senses are the best piece of equipment you have, what you see, what you hear, what you smell. Trust your own God-given senses” (McNeely). Even in a discussion of equipment, his religious views feature prominently.
Chris provides more information about his reason for choosing the team’s name to Horror Fuel:
It’s a word that not a lot of people are familiar with. We get wrath chasers a lot. The reason why I liked it so much is that when I was sitting around trying to figure out what to call this thing, there were so many paranormal teams around at the time. I was researching paranormal names at the time and they all sounded the same. They all had the paranormal, or research, or ghost in it. A lot of people back then would see those words and shy away, like “Ah, it’s just another one of those crazy ghost people.” But I thought that I had to find something different, something that stands out (I have a background in marketing). I know you’ve got to brand things for people to be curious about it. So, I wanted something that would make people see the name and wonder, [page 142] “What’s this about?” Online I was looking around for different words and things. I thought it was cool and connected to what we were doing and that came up and I was like “I like that word.” Not everybody knows what it means, but everyone is going to want to know. (McNeely)
Importantly, Chris acknowledges the importance of marketing and branding in the world of ghost hunting and paranormal reality TV. While all team members state their purpose is to help people or solve the mysteries of the unknown, in the end, Chris Smith understands that his team’s success comes down to marketing, branding, and TV ratings.
Steven “Doogie” McDougal, TWC’s co-founder and Chris’s second in command, has also had lifelong paranormal experiences. His biography on the Travel Channel website explains that “Doogie’s interest in the paranormal began at a young age during his upbringing in a historic, and some say haunted, area of Tennessee. He has believed for many years that the house he shares with his wife and son is haunted (“Doogie”). Like other believers, he hopes to help “other people like him” who have had paranormal experiences. He is the team’s people-person, as he “implements his uncanny people skills to put clients at ease. His number-one desire is to find hard evidence and reveal the truth behind the unexplained, whether or not it’s supernatural, to calm the fears of others and strengthen his knowledge in the field” (“Doogie”). Doogie tells his very Southern backstory to Horror Fuel:
My story happened twenty some odd years ago. I grew up in a haunted area. We owned a couple of Civil War forts. I had heard all the stories and always had questions, like how do people see stuff? My grandparents lived right at the bottom of one of the forts. After my grandad passed away, she would see stuff in her house and had interactions. That really got me curious because my grandmother was [page 143] living by herself and she was scared. I wanted to figure things out, but before I could she had passed away. I made it my life’s mission to figure out what this stuff is and why certain people can see it. She’s probably got it figured out by now, but it makes me feel better that I’m still fighting the fight for her and to figure out what she was going through and what she was talking about. (McNeely)
Most paranormal reality show teams focus on helping other, unrelated, families in need, so it is unusual and endearing that Doogie’s first “job” was to help his own family with their paranormal experiences.
Team researcher and historian Scott Porter came rather late to the paranormal game; his first experience didn’t happen until college when he saw his mother cooking breakfast in a pink robe, left the room, and came back to “find the kitchen empty.” Porter then realized that his entire family had left earlier that morning to run errands and his mother didn’t own a pink robe (“Porter”). Porter’s biography seems somewhat contradictory in that “He now studies other strange occurrences like his and looks to historical record and the Bible for answers. He hopes to help others who have had paranormal experiences by finding evidence that will substantiate what they have experienced, be it natural or supernatural. Porter brings an analytical mind to the team and quite often plays the devil's advocate when studying evidence” (“Porter”). From a scientific standpoint, it is hard to reconcile his “analytical mind” with his use of the Bible to find evidence, but this dichotomy again plays into TWC’s performance of Southern stereotypes.
In contrast to the openly religious views on the paranormal by members such as Porter, and to temper the overall religious overtones of the show, one of the team members, Brannon Smith (younger brother of team leader Chris Smith) “is a physics and engineering major currently attending College [sic]. He plans to eventually earn a master's degree in electrical engineering and a PhD [page 144] in Theoretical Physics” (“Bios”). The younger Smith’s educational plans are in line with his hobby, and while his goal is a PhD in Theoretical Physics, he plans to use it to continue creating equipment to contact and contain (and, if necessary, destroy) spirits. Brannon performs as more of a skeptic than Porter, despite his religious childhood:
Like Chris, Brannon was raised in a strict missionary Baptist upbringing and is a skeptic of the paranormal. A student of physics and engineering, Brannon approaches each investigation like an experiment with a hypothesis that needs proving. He looks for logical explanations for what might seem like a haunting and tries to label them using theoretical physics. Only after exploring every possibly scientific avenue will Brannon entertain the idea that something could be paranormal. (“Brannon”)
Brannon is also similar to Ghost Adventures’ Zak Bagans in his confrontational spirit contacting techniques: “To help collect evidence, he often challenges supernatural entities head-on to provoke a response and gather data using ghost-hunting gadgets” (“Brannon”). Brannon’s profile had been taken down from the TWC website, but he is still listed on the Travel Channel TWC talent page.
Chasey Ray McKnight was a TWC member and fan favorite from 2011-2015 but left the team and show to focus on his full-time job, wife, and four kids, explaining in a video to fans “I’m doin’ for me and mine” (McKnight). Of the members of the TWC team, Chasey performed the least like a TV star and his biography makes him seem the most normal:
Chasey was born and raised in an historic area of Tennessee. He has served as a volunteer firefighter, county EMA operative, and an EMS first responder. His curiosity about the paranormal is fuelled by an unexplainable event he witnessed while with his ill mother several years ago, and he’s been looking for [page 145] answers ever since. (“Chasey”)
This anti-reality star persona aligns with his departure from the show, much to the disappointment of fans, who found him the most relatable. Part of TWC’s appeal is their informal language, such as when Chris discusses the need to change his drawers or Doogie recalls investigating small black shadows in Rocky State Penn: “That’s where I got ass punched by a ghost [laughter]. Yeah, something punched me right where my leg meets my butt, just bam” (McNeely). TWC’s down-home diction is part of their charm and audience appeal. However, in the Ghostland Tennessee pilot introduction, the rest of the team makes fun of Chasey Ray’s extreme southern dialect and claim they often can’t understand what he’s saying.
Although they make fun of Chasey’s speech patterns, and while Brannon is studying engineering to be more mindful of the team’s needs, Chasey gets top billing in this area, and his biography notes that “Chasey is extremely tech savvy and very knowledgeable in relative physics and applied science, making him the Wraith Chasers’ go-to guy for building new equipment used in investigations.” Chasey is the most down to earth and relatable TWC member—he is asking the same questions as the audience and “takes a very skeptical approach but is curious to learn about the factors that surround our mortality and what truly waits for us at the end” (“Chasey”).
Chasey was replaced by Mike Goncalves, who does not have a biography on the Google-cache of the offline TWC website, although his Travel Channel information explains how his music background helps him as the TWC “tech guru” and the unique experience that “Mike has spent 15 years in the music industry touring the world and sharing the stage with some of rock’s most notable icons. It was his countless hours spent in recording studios with state-of-the-art technology that made him curious to see if this advanced audio visual equipment would help uncover evidence that the typical paranormal investigator was missing” [page 146] (“Tennessee Wraith Chasers' Bio”). Similar to his co-workers, his talent information also notes, “Mike is a family man, animal lover and follower of Christ along with his fellow Wraith brothers” (“Tennessee Wraith Chasers’ Bio”).
The Tennessee Wraith Chasers are a product of their environment, geographically, religiously, and in time. When asked about their scariest experience, Chris says they were so frightened that “We were about to go Scooby-Doo and there be some Doogie and Chris size holes in the wall” (McNeely), putting them within a clear timeframe of kids who grew up watching Scooby-Doo in its various incarnations, while still young enough to have watched the Scooby gang battle real paranormal foes rather than the earlier generation who knew the villain was just an old white guy in a mask. Their appeal is in their performance of being good ol’ Southern boys, riding in pickups and blowing up things in the woods. As part of this persona, they lose the privilege they would normally claim as rational white males, instead moving to the marginalized identities of Southern, working class, and too overly religious to be considered serious scholars. While the stereotypes associated with these identities hurt their status in the scientific community, it elevates them in the eyes of the fans—and the ratings.
TWC’s performance equating social class and belief in the paranormal is not a new comparison. William Birnes and Joel Martin write of this relationship in the past and today in The Haunting of America: From the Salem Witch Trials to Harry Houdini: “While Enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Voltaire influenced America’s Founding Fathers, psychic practices were relegated to astrologers, fortune-tellers, and assorted healers, again left to drift aimlessly, and to serve mainly the ‘lower classes,’ although anyone who has researched the paranormal knows only too well that psychic experiences cut across all socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries. Perhaps because of the Enlightenment, the educated and elite did not want to be associated publicly with a belief in the supernatural; an [page 147] attitude that many stubbornly cling to today” (Birnes 111). This stereotype is too deeply ingrained to die, and it actually helps make paranormal investigators who perform as believers more relatable to their audiences.
The Tennessee Wraith Chasers connect to viewers through their performance of Southern stereotypes of overly religious paranormal believers willing to blow stuff up when necessary. Social class is also evident in discussions of religion, which damage the ethos of those who claim to be conducting serious scientific investigations into the paranormal. The educated and elite are willing to be associated with investigating the supernatural, but openly believing in it is still relegated to the lower social classes.
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