An excerpt setting up the final section of this chapter, on reception. The whole kit and kaboodle should be done by Friday afternoon.
Paranormal reality television, a subgenre including such programs as Paranormal State and Ghost Hunters, presents a seemingly endless series of haunted family homes, depicting each family’s traumatic encounters with and attempts to expel occult forces from their home (through either their own efforts of the intervention of outside authorities, whether religious or “ghost hunters”), a process that often involves the excavation of past trauma in the family. To conclude this chapter, I examine how these accounts are received by viewers, as metaphorical representations of oppressive domesticity or as campy horror stories? Examining online fan interaction and commentary, I suggest that, much as these programs themselves, paranormal reality’s reception by viewers proves complex and highly contradictory. Textual analysis can yield observations of paranormal reality television’s potential for articulating trauma and critiquing the nuclear family, yet it is only through interrogating discourses of audience and reception that suggestions can be made regarding the subgenre’s appeal and function in its cultural moment.
Janet Staiger, in Media Reception Studies, notes: “Finding evidence for reception that has taken place in the past is difficult. Lack of evidence is usually the case; audiences watched movies and television programs but left no material traces of their thoughts or feelings.”[i] However, the reception of paranormal reality, having emerged relatively recently and in the age of the internet, can be studied through online fan commentary at websites such as Television without Pity along with a host of other official and unofficial sites devoted to individual programs.
Staiger also references the work of Henry Jenkins on categories of fan behavior, particularly “the constitution of ‘a particular interpretive community’,” of which she writes: “Fans usually have developed a network of colleagues, and these groups discuss, debate, and, for newcomers, teach perceptions of variation among the formulas, explanations for aspects of the text or performance, and predictions of future encounters with it.”[ii] While the “interpretive communities” formed online in response to paranormal reality television may be more loosely organized than those described by Staiger and Jenkins, they nevertheless provide a sense of how these programs are being received by viewers and how they interpret intertwining narratives of the paranormal and family trauma.