Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Consume. Produce. Share

The beauty of the Internet is the way you stumble serendipitously upon stuff that you didn't know was out there, but that speaks to who you are and where you are. This presentation by Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 had me nodding my head in agreement, because his explanation for the media and how it has changed and is changing and we are participating in that change explains why I blog, why many people blog and join forums, edit articles on Wikipedia, set up pages on Facebook or MySpace and build virtual homes in Second Life. The video is about 15 minutes long, but it's an enlightening and entertaining 15 minutes. It's not about the paranormal, but it is about why people like me create blogs like this one on a variety of topics. We are no longer content to WATCH; we want to participate, to move from consumption to producing and sharing.

Click on the title of this post to go to Clay Shirky's website.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Haunting Villisca

For some reason, last night I was thinking about the Villisca Axe murders. It is an uncomfortable haunting to think about, because it raises so many questions about loss of innocence, parents helpless to protect the children in their care, and extraordinary evil. There must be a tremendous amount of residual sorrow and inconsolable pain in that house. I've listened to EVP's taped in the house in which you can clearly hear the murderers laughing about the crimes they have committed and are about to commit, and the children whispering as they hide from the murderers, whom they know will be coming up the stairs to kill them next. It's bone-chillingly horrifying.

This morning as I began my initial research, I discovered a full-length feature film on the topic of the Villisca murders has been produced and was being shown yesterday, the same day I felt compelled to think about it. Is there a connection? I've had many experiences that carried a sense of serendipity with them and believe that ideas, once tossed out into the universe, bounce around and are picked up by others, so that people seemingly completely unconnected may find themselves thinking on the same things.

Here's what I found. Please click on the link under the title of this post and you will be able to learn more about the film, the documentary of the making of the film and when it may become available for viewing. It has won the "Silver Eddy" award at the Cedar Rapids Indpendent Film Festival.

Inspired by the unsolved 1912 Villisca Axe Murders and the present day paranormal investigations of the J.B. Moore Home, Haunting Villisca was shot on location at the crime scene and at the historic Montgomery County Courthouse where the trials took place, as well as in several other Iowa locations.

Haunting Villisca features well-known Hollywood actor, GregAlan Williams (Remember the Titans, Be Cool, Old School, In the Line of Fire, The Sopranos, The West Wing) and actors Michael Cornelison (Lost in America, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life, The Final Season ) and James Serpento (White Boyz, Iowa, The Final Season, Duck Farm Number 13) in addition to many other actors who now reside in the Midwest.

The award-winning behind-the-scenes documentary, A Ghost of Chance: The Making of Haunting Villisca, by Jill Jones, Elizabeth Hixenbaugh and Kaitlyn Busbee, three college film students known as JEK Films, will also screen on Sunday April 27 at noon in Reunion Hall.

A Ghost of a Chance follows the process of making Haunting Villisca and features interviews with cast, crew, filmmakers, and historian Roy Marshall, writer of the book, Villisca. The documentary also chronicles an overnight stay in the infamous Villisca Axe Murder House and evidence of paranormal activity in the Moore Home, including video footage and E.V.P.s ("ghost voice" recordings known as Electronic Voice Phenomenons) by the paranormal investigations group, P.R.I.S.M.

I share this information with you now, as I don't want to delay getting the word out about this movie. If anyone has seen it, please post a comment and let us know what you thought of it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Note to My Fans

Many thanks to Mother Nature for finally shooing Spring in. Persephone was unnecessarily tardy in exiting from the Underworld and kept us all waiting rather overlong this year.

This is a busy time for me at school, so not sure when I'll get another post up. Still waiting for inspiration. My focus right now is on the real world, rather than the virtual one. But, I assure you the spiritual world still holds its fascination for me and will still be there when I have a moment to think about it.

My interest in ghosts has always been about spirit, about the cycle of the seasons, about growth and relationships and how we all fit together in the universe.

Happy Spring, everyone. I wish you all peace and love.

Breathe deep, spend some time outside where the fresh air can hit your skin and the sun can do its healing thing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Badd Apple Meets Cyberbully

I don't like bullies, never have, never will. And I believe in standing up to them. It's been my experience that the bully you ignore will continue to harass; the bully you face will look for an easier person to bully. You'd think that once we grow up, that the schoolyard bullies would, too, but they have a way of growing into adult bodies, but not losing their bullying ways. They are everywhere, including on the Internet.
From Wikipedia:
Characteristics of bullies
Research indicates that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian, combined with a strong need to control or dominate. It has also been suggested that a deficit in social skills and a prejudicial view of subordinates can be particular risk factors.
Further studies have shown that while envy and resentment may be motives for bullying, there is little evidence to suggest that bullies suffer from any deficit in self esteem (as this would make it difficult to bully). However, bullying can also be used as a tool to conceal and boost self esteem: by demeaning others, the abuser himself feels empowered.
Researchers have identified other risk factors such as quickness to anger and use of force, addiction to aggressive behaviors, mistaking others' actions as hostile, concern with preserving self image, and engaging in obsessive or rigid actions.

Like dragons, bullies are self-centered, solitary, greedy creatures, kings  and queens of their own mounds, unwilling to share, demanding loyalty and deference from those they deem to be lower than themselves, and in return for all this, they may not eat you . . . if you are lucky.

From Wikipedia,
According to Canadian educator Bill Belsey, it involves the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phone and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites, blogs, online games and defamatory online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.
—Cyberbullying: An Emerging Threat to the Always On Generation

I've just been banned from a forum by the owner who yesterday posted a thread in which she claimed that two rival forums were sending out trojans (Trojan: A program that appears legitimate, but performs some illicit activity when run. ) and warning her members not to visit the two sites.

word has it that 2 paranormal sites on the internet are sending out trojans from their site, and indeed i clicked on one of these sites, and my antivirus immediately flagged and killed a trojan....the 2 sites in question are...*here she named two websites* beware if you visit those sites regularly... great way to encourage people to visit your site....not... I am not even going to provide the links for you guys cuz it might encourage you guys to click on it and if you really want a trojan to attack your will have to find these sites i am not linked to them.....and for a good reason now...

Her unhappiness with me surely stems from my asking whether she had notified the owner of the site, my insistence that the owners of both named forums be notified and asking for more details of her experience. Well, apparently that just isn't the done thing. She was clearly only interested in trying to get a rumor mill going to discourage people from visiting those sites. I got in the way.

*NEWSFLASH* There are no trojans or viruses at the other sites. This was simply an effort to defame two sites with which she is in competition and her action fits the definition of cyber bullying listed above.

Another characteristic of bullies is that they blame their victims. After slandering these two sites, she took objection when the owner of one managed to get into her site long enough to lodge a protest. Here is the bully's response to the owner's complaint. This is just a snippet, by the way. She rambled on a bit. I swear, I haven't changed so much as a comma.

Here is the lowdown....NOT everyone likes you, NOT everyone will like CAN'T MAKE people like you......them is the facts....
so why dont you just take a valium, gather up the 16 different personalities in your head, and move on..... You put so much negative energy out there by attacking anyone and everyone who says something about you....its no wonder you are gettin it all back. in spades....
quit trying to police the internet, tracking down people who don't like you. Just avoid them
maybe if you put all that pent up frustration into your website, you would have more than just the ABC's of this, that and the other to offer people
Some information on the paranormal might not go amiss... But if you just carry on gossipping and slandering people....well....I said it will only get that back.

Now, if that isn't crazy, I don't know what is. She used gossip to slander this woman's website and then turned around and accused her of "gossipping and slandering." And all that other stuff in the middle, absolutely out there. I hope she was standing in front of a mirror, because this is a talk she should be having with herself, not throwing at other people who would have been ignoring her if she hadn't targeted them. Wow. For what I really think, check out this list: HERE.

And then she closed and locked the thread with,

and now that all that is said...and it being MY forum....I shall have the last word....
this topic is locked....and you and police woman judy are banned.
Can't say its been nice knowing either of ya...

Queen of the mound, acid drooling, sounds like a dragon to me. I got to be the police woman! w00t! In other words, I drug her deed, done in secret, visible only to her minions, out of the dragon's lair and into the light of day where everyone can see it. Badd, badd apple. I'm not going to identify any of these forums or the author of the malicious posts. But, if you see that thread or similar unfounded accusations being made against a competitor's website, tread carefully. Dragons are dangerous creatures. 

If you are a reasonable person who expects better behavior from adults, join the crowd. There are many forums on the Internet and room for them all. They are all different: different styles, different members, different topics, and different owners. Take your pick. Don't let the watchdogs, who gave this bully five bones, tell you what sites to like. Remember, you're good enough, you're smart enough, and Badd Apple likes you, but watch out for hot and heavy breathing on the back of your neck. You, too, could be come the target of a hungry dragon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ghost Hunting and Reality TV

Reality TV costs much less to produce than scripted television, about 1/4 as much, but it is still costly, and so when a crew goes out to a site, they need to come back with footage that can be turned into an entertaining show. No company is going to just hope that happens. They are going to have a plan to be sure that it happens. The objective of the ghost hunters may be to find proof of a haunting, but the goal of the producers is entertainment. After all, without viewers, they are out of business.

The participants are cast members, just like cast members of any other show. They have rolls they play and their rolls are partially scripted, which is most obvious at the beginning and end of the shows, and some places in the middle, too. Make no mistake, there's a lot of direction going on. You can still enjoy the shows, but don't have to believe everything they say is true, like Donna has done all this great research . . . right, Donna went out and "found" this stuff all on her own, NOT! The research is done by the production staff before they ever decide to film the episode, and whoever is wearing the researcher hat that week gets to take credit for it on the show. (P.S. I really like Donna Lacroix. She's on Ghost Hunters International where the only problem is she's once again being bossed around by the men who always seem get to be the leaders . . . Hmm, I sense a blog on sexism in ghost hunting. MUAH, Donna!)

This shouldn't stop you from enjoying the actual ghost hunting segments, during which the cast sometimes have freaky experiences, collect video or EVP evidence, or not. It's still the next best thing to being there. My only complaint, you can't always tell what is actually going on with the spooky music and sound effects added to the footage later. Latest personal peeve? The fake heartbeat added by Ghost Hunters. Cut it out!

The first of these shows I was exposed to was Most Haunted, the British show, but I quickly found the star, Yvette Fielding, to be extremely irritating. That and the obvious fakeness of the medium, Derek Acorah, provided a quick turn-off for me. There have also been accusations of fakery, such as Yvette sighing and then saying, "Did you hear that?" DUH! Yvette and her husband are the producers of the show.

Ghost Hunters is a very popular show, starring the very likable Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes, who supposedly work as plumbers during the day and hunt ghosts at night. They are also the producers of the show, which is built around The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), which they founded, but is now a marketing bonanza with a spinoff series, Ghost Hunters International and other certified TAPS teams. They have built a huge following in large part due to the fact that they act from a skeptical position, trying to determine what is actually causing observed phenomenon and looking for natural causes that will rule out the paranormal. They only accept a paranormal explanation if they are able to gather physical evidence to support the observed phenomenon. They also come across as very sincere with their clients and as very comfortable in their relationship with each other. Trustworthy is the word for these guys.

That said, the show is still highly scripted and stiff during the segments that set up the beginning, the ride to the site, and the end. If they are sitting at a table or riding in a vehicle, you can almost see the cue cards. There's a lot of repetitiveness here, the same kind of information given over and over and over again ad nauseum show after show about what they do and what an EVP is. It eats up air time, but doesn't provide any new information for old viewers. My most unfavorite thing they do is compliment someone on how well they did during an EVP session, as though it is hard to learn to say, "Is there anyone here who would like to talk to us?" or "Could you please do something to prove to us you are here?" How hard is that? Can I have my diploma now? The tech stuff . . . that takes some knowhow, but still, we aren't talking rocket science here.

You also need to be aware that there is a great deal of editing being done and it isn't being done by the cast, but by the production staff, who decide what it is that you and I, the audience, will get to see. It includes highlighting personality quirks of the cast members or whose wife is having a baby, who is scared of spiders, etc. Connecting the viewers to the cast members is key to maintaining interest in the show, since you can't always count on the ghosts to manifest themselves. Sometimes these machinations are so obvious that I can't imagine the audience doesn't know what is going on, such as when Kris Williams, the pretty one who is often used as "bait," was supposedly trapped inside a room she'd had to use a chair to get into and couldn't get herself out of. She called on the walkie talkie for Jason and Grant to come help her . . . only she was being filmed by a cameraman who was clearly in the same room with her. He couldn't give her a leg up? Grant "had" to crawl in and lift her up and then was filmed by the same cameraman jumping up and squirming out. So, who helped the cameraman out? They are never truly alone. There is always a sound guy and a cameraman, who seem remarkably calm. I wonder where they find these guys?

The final show that I have watched is a new one, Paranormal State. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like this show, because right off the bat they were talking about demons and exorcisms. They also threw around a lot of holy water. It's basically a one-man show, built around student, Ryan Buell, with a couple of doe-eyed coeds, one Wiccan, and a tech guy. But, the focus is on Ryan (who comes across as steady, mature and experienced) and whichever medium they decide to call in. But, it's almost laughable when Ryan says something like, "I decided to call in so-and-so" to come help us and POOF they appear. It's all been planned ahead of time. Nobody's too busy to come, and even if they live across the country, they are there johnny-on-the-spot shortly after he declares they are needed.

I'm not knocking this little series. Remember, they are all scripted to some extent and the story line has been determined by the producers ahead of time. But, what the producers cannot script on any of these shows, and what keeps the viewers coming back again and again is the actual experiences they have . . . the unscripted parts of the show. You cannot fake the emotions of a scared teenager who is seeing the ghost of a murdered girl in her room, or the reluctance of a dog to enter a room, or how one of the investigators squeals like a girl and runs when touched by something that isn't there. They also occasionally capture a video or EVP that is compelling and some sounds that are unexplained may be heard audibly by the audience, as well as the investigators. 

What I like about Paranormal State, assuming that it is true, is that Ryan claims on several occasions that he and his team are there to help the family with whatever the problem is. That may include counseling and medical interventions. They stick around a site for a whole weekend, not just one night, and don't leave until they have determined whether it is safe for the family. Whether you or I believe that holy water, rosary beads or saint's medals will keep a bad spirit away is probably irrelevant. I think it is the energy generated by the people present and their belief that matters. The rituals probably help them focus that energy.

To sum up, each of these shows has a hook, a gimmick, which the viewers can expect.
Ghost Hunters is science-based. Their goal is to look for proof (period). Their gimmicks are to go "Lights Out" and spend exactly one night at the site, which more and more seem to be famous historical sites, and have "The Reveal" at the end (sitting around a table, of course). Whether they find anything or not, they leave. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. We had a good time. Good luck with your situation. They say they can be called on again, but we have no idea if anyone actually goes to them for more help with their problems. There's no follow-up.

Paranormal State is medium-based. They set up some instruments to gather evidence, and use them to verify paranormal activity, but their focus is on communicating with whatever spirits linger and helping them either to pass on or live harmoniously with the current residents of the home. Their gimmicks are "Dead Time" and the "Director's Log" which narratively carries us from scene to scene. They seek to resolve the problem of the haunting at the end. They stay for at least a couple of days, a couple of nights, and include psychological assessment of the people involved, as well as research including interviewing former residents of property. The places they investigate are often the homes of regular people. And the help they provide seeks to heal the whole family and provide some resolution to the problems they are having. They provide some follow-up information at the end of the show.

As long as they can keep their sincerity intact and be honest with their audiences, both of these shows may continue to experience success. I know I'll be watching.

Ghost Hunters
Ghost Hunters International
Paranormal State
Ryan Buell's Blog
Most Haunted