Sunday, October 09, 2011

Is There A Cultural Bias in Ghost Hunting?

I went to Conclave yesterday and attended a panel on ghost-hunting. Listening to the two panelists, something occurred to me. I was struck by how most of the examples of hauntings occurred in settings which were not in areas with heavy Latino or African-American populations. Also, I was struck by how many of the identified "hauntings" occured in either wealthy or rural areas, or sites with ancient histories---old museums, old libraries, old mansions,etc.

What about some house in a depressed area in Chicago? What about a trailer park somewhere in Austin? What about an apartment in a low income housing complex in St. Louis?

It gave me pause.

Having lived most of my life in Detroit, and having done research on the metaphysical within the city, I know people who have either claimed hauntings, or beliefs in things which can be considered paranormal. Some white, some people of color, some poor, some well-to-do.

So, why, I ask, is ghost-hunting so "white bread?" At least that's my perception. I don't think I've ever seen the crew from the "Ghost Hunters" heading into a house in a depressed neighborhood. Sure, they've gone to a building in a rough area, but they were usually there to go to an old theater or factory owned by someone outside the community.

I posed these observations to the panelists. One responded that most ghost hunting shows were appealing to a certain demographic, and were therefore focusing on their pre-conceptions of what a haunting should look like. Or, it was offered, perhaps different cultures are less likely to be receptive to outsiders.

Maybe. But I think the door is left wide open for other conclusions.


Charles Gramlich said...

It's a middle class or upper class phenomenon. Poor folks don't have time or energy to be haunted.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia said...

There is a cultural bias in most horror, in general. We get lots of movies with upper class people, but except for a few exceptions (like the Candyman movie or The People Under the Stairs), poor people get forgotten. Sames goes for minorities, unless the story is filmed in another country (The Grudge, Cronos,etc). Some foreign movies like Dark Water do show you what it would be like to be poor and living with a haunting.

I've lived in some rough places and I would take a haunted Victorian mansion any day over some of the other places and shit we had to see.

Stewart Sternberg said...

What a great line for a short story, Charles.."Poor folks don't have the time to be haunted."

Silvia, you're correct. I think this is a subject which deserves more attention and discourse.

revelshade said...

I think Gramlich is onto something: hauntings are a classic first-world/white people problem, about equal parts misperception and half-aware self-delusion. I am also reminded of the old Eddie Murphy routine, what if 'Poltergeist' was about a black family:
Family walks into new house, Daddy says "I love this place...(demonic voice says GET OUT!)...too bad we can't stay." Family leaves. No movie.

MKeaton said...

Ghost hunting is definitely a cultural phenomena if for no other reason than if you go poking into an abandoned house on Cass, you're going to BE the ghost. Poor and ugly aren't photogenic and ghost hunting is a photogenic activity. I'll even go so far as to say it has more to do with money than race because in the Ozark mountians there is effectively no ghost hunting while nearby in the more affluent cities of Fayetville AR and Tulsa OK there are ghost tours. Likewise, St. Lou has haunted sites but none of them among the poor. That being said, the mountian folk have a very rich oral tradition of the supernatural, even ghosts, most usually related to wild places as opposed to buildings. But no "hunting", the stories are warnings. So, seperating ghost hunting out from the actual knowledge and tradition of supernatural events, ghost hunting is definitely an economic affectation. To paraphrase Charles, po' folk don't go looking for trouble. When you have to coon hunt at night to put meat on the table, you avoid the creepy place, not seek it out. Life already has "excitement" without importing it. I'll also add, my place could be haunted: how the hell am I supposed to tell the difference between a ghostly rattle and groan and the wind blowing off parts of my tin roof (again)? And is that draft poltergiest activity or has the possum been chewing through the underpinning again and making more drafts?

Let me add a tangent. In my research for the Jude St. James books I discovered that the Catholic Church, esp. in South America and the American South, deals constantly with what they call the "Latin phenomenon" (Virgin Mary sightings, bleeding statues, stigmatics, etc.) It seems that, within the church records, latin peoples have a much higher incident of "spiritualism" and many possible miracles aren't even investigated. Instead, they are dismissed as "a latino thing". Even Padre Pio was never formally recognized as a stigmatic because of that bias. (He was cannonized based on healings, not miracles during his own lifetime.)

Factoring that in, I'd say that the comfortable and affluent Powers That Be and their suburban contemporaries like to "play" with the supernatural, such as ghost hunting, where they can hold it at arms' length and be titillated with it but they have no interest in dealing with the "down and dirty" reality of the unknown, esp. if it involves poor people and real dirt.


(Missed seeing you at 'Clave. Discussing literature with you is one of the highlights of my year--no kidding.)