Watched part of a thing about Black Moon Manor, now contemplating the blurring of fiction, authenticity, and parody tied up in modern ghost hunting.

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Summary: A house that had a small-pox hospital [of death], a creepy funeral home, and unmarked graves? A hodgepodge of urban legends surrounding one place, or something of a mockery of the whole ghost hunting shebang?

BLOT: (12 Sep 2013 - 12:11:12 AM)

Watched part of a thing about Black Moon Manor, now contemplating the blurring of fiction, authenticity, and parody tied up in modern ghost hunting.

One of the paradoxes about me is that I do not like ghost hunting shows. Hate is a strong word, but I grow tired of them very quickly. I love ghost stories, though, and study a lot about the lore and history of them. I do not believe in ghosts. I do believe in the weird, and could believe, through various stages of proof, that certain parts of reality have really weird characteristics, but not ghosts-as-in-the-souls-of-the-restless-the-wronged-and-the-damned. I've spent nights in graveyards and tracked down old husks of wood shacks buried in swamps—on my lonesome in the dark of the woods. I had a cast iron spike from the fence of an old Civil War cemetery as one of my prized possessions for years. If you tell me about a haunted place, I am your man, just make it entertaining. If you tie up ghost stories into a semi-scientific rigmarole with sound clips that have to be interpreted or fuzzy photos, I'll tune you out, unless you make it really good. Generally, I will hold forth this quote from The Brothers Karamazov, one I have seen affirmed in all walks of life and in all worldviews from the most religious to the most scientific:

It is not miracles that generate faith, but faith that makes miracles.

Read it how you will.

I admit we are in a second-wave of modern ghost-centric spiritualism's second-wave. Maybe it was Amityville Horror. Maybe it is people just needing joy in their lives at the thought of an afterlife [note: said afterlife involves horrible living conditions and terrifying anyone who comes near you, I guess?]. Maybe it is the preponderance of personal recording devices. Maybe it is our expansion of Daniel Dennett's Intentional Stance to tangible, doesn't-feel-right spots, literal projections of the bad-place horror fiction that developed and was honed over the twentieth century. Maybe it's just a thing, you know, and a weird thing because it always seems to involve bad-stuff ghosts at the core.

I don't know. Bah to it. I'm old and cranky. I mean, look at Grave Encounters. Half the people seem who love it think it is a dead-on parody of the ghost hunt genre. Half the people who love it think it is a dead on homage to the ghost hunt genre (some Venn diagram overlap seems likely). I just think it was silly to have CG mouths and a five times too long ending and lot of build up with about twenty-minutes of good ideas buried inside a movie trying to be an authentic portrayal of an inauthentic ghost hunter type. It's like that earnest movie with Steve Martin where he plays a cynical fake healer who learns to respect what he preaches, except heartless and too prone to making fun of its audience and its subject, and the best part of the plot begs for Poe [pun!] to sing about 5 and a half minute hallways. It is also possible proof that, in a shout out to Poe's Law [wait, or is that the pun?], that you might be unable to make a fictional authentic version to contemporary ghost hunting that doesn't seem as simultaneously as legit as the real thing and to be making fun of the real thing [goddamned CG mouths notwithstanding].

I started thinking about this because I watched the first few minutes of this video:

Now, I'm not slagging them off in any way [I dislike the genre, I'm not crapping on the players], but as Kitsie Duncan counts off the bad-stuff that went down on the house, we have:

  1. A small pox hospital, with a doctor who injected patients and family members with small pox.
  2. A funeral home where children were locked up inside during creepy-ass funerals.
  3. A man who fought dogs, there, leaving corpses stacked up.
  4. A cemetery where the headstones were moved, but not the bodies.
  5. A well whose stream runs under the house, generating spiritual energies.

Other sites switch out the deadly doctor with a better guy, but then add in stuff like like the last member of the bloodline dying out in 1978 during a blizzard. another website backs this last bit up, kind of, but puts the tombstones back in place and interjects the troubles of an Eates Family. Man, James Herbert would have been self-conscious throwing all that in. How can we hear/read that and not think it sounds silly, that even if something bad happened there, surely 200 dead is bad enough? Locked up children and the end of a bloodline and dog fighting and desecrated graves? What is the mode of telling, here? What is the meaning? That one bad act begets another? That spiritual energy becomes contaminated? Can we cure it? Should we? Does it hurt us? Is the suffering of others, hundreds of others, exciting? Elucidating? A test of will? Even leaving aside the fact that Black Moon manor has been demolished, and that some people who contacted the actual owner before said demolition were told that the whole thing was faked [supposedly, said link offers about as much straightforward proof as the others]; I find this fascinating because I suppose that most haunted place stories, once they reach something of a critical mass, will develop in such a way.

M.R. James once wrote, in "Ghosts, Treat Them Gently":

If there be ghosts—as I am quite prepared to believe—the true ghost story need do no more than illustrate their normal habits (if normal is the right word), and may be as mild as milk. The literary ghost, on the other hand, has to justify his existence by some startling demonstration, or, short of that, must be furnished with a background that will throw him into full relief and make him the central feature.

If you think about that, we have flipped the mode. We once believed in ghosts, so simply admitting there was something that could be heard sobbing for a long dead wife in the distance was a enough. Our fiction, though, had to spice it up, to add conflict and character development to the dead-as-well bereaved, make him a villain, or a wronged-one. I suspect now we no longer believe in ghosts, not in the way that we never doubt them [to roughly quote a scene from A Single Shot: "Do you believe in ghosts?" "As much as I don't."], but have become in awe about what the might mean about the fragility of understanding and the vastness of the universe. Many ghost hunters naturally swing to a degree of bragging, they swap tales like a Southern man swaps complaints. We tell true stories in the mode of fictional tales. Once a place because "bad", we have to elaborate on why it is bad. Not only does the very faith that we are in a bad place tangle with the doubts about what that means and open us up to the negative-miracles associated with most hauntings, but we also accrete the stories by blending non-related tales in, but making them more exciting, by opening ourselves up to variations of the truth in an attempt to not seem closed-minded ["not close-minded", in some circles, is more important than "is open-minded"].

To a degree, the ritualization of ghost science leaves us there at that cusp of parody, authenticity, and fiction. It is lovely, and terrifying, and enjoyable, and humanizing, and delightfully social. It is also not for me. If there is a horror story for me, wrought from reality, it is this: we are tiny, and there is an infinite dark before us and behind us, and at least up until now, there is nothing that any human has yet to done to guarantee that, once we are gone, there will be left any relic of us that will ever be seen past our tiny corner of all reality, excepting fuzzy, background radiation devoured clips of our prime time entertainment. There's my ghost, the ghost of the future born dead.

On Talking and Arguing about the Big Things


Written by Doug Bolden

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