Working very hard to revise my fourth dissertation chapter (the first three are in the can, so to speak). Drastically overhauled the existing chapter this morning (believe me, it needed it) and here is an excerpt from the new introduction:
It is in the ghost hunter’s interventions into the heteronormative family that paranormal reality television most visibly engages with difference, found in the intersectionality of gender, race, and sexuality, among others. With ghost hunters primarily gendered as male, a range of masculinities are visible across the subgenre, ranging from the traditional masculinity of Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures and the less conventional, more empathic masculinity found in a program such as Paranormal State. Traditional masculinity is undermined through ineffectual aggression towards the spirits and displays of abject fear by male ghost hunters, followed by overcompensation typified by anger and the continued taunting of the ghosts. At the same time, while female ghost hunters are shown as largely subordinate to their male counterparts, they also emerge as principle figures in the emotional function of these programs and fostering empowerment from fear.
Racial difference is at last made visible among ghost hunters, but it remains contradictory even as it is advanced as benevolent, with the racial “Other” being a distinct minority among the majority of ghost hunters, implicitly raced as white. Represented in programs such as A Haunting and Paranormal State as shamans and otherwise mystical figures, persons of color occupy minimal space in the narrative and remain excluded, their knowledge and practices frequently appropriated by white ghost hunters and family members. Queerness is another contradictory display of difference: restoring the family rather than threatening it through previous associations between queerness, monstrosity, and horror, queer ghost hunters present and embody alternatives for families who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
Given this function and drawing upon various and interrelated forms of difference, the ghost hunter serves as an unofficial family therapist, providing empowerment to the haunted, those achieving catharsis through sharing their accounts of the paranormal and learning how to negotiate that which oppresses them. These interventions suggest how difference informs interactions between ghost hunters and the families who seek them out, with the ghost hunter marking intersections between forms of difference, the paranormal, and the heteronormative family. “Otherness” is frequently invoked as a means of combating the malevolent spirit world and addressing family trauma. Indeed, this is the one space in paranormal reality television where difference, rather than being used as a scapegoat, is allowed to be made visible, restoring the heteronormative family and advancing viable alternatives.