Writing a short conclusion for the dissertation, which I will be defending in late May. Turning in “final” revisions (until after the defense) Wednesday of this week.
DEAD TIME: A CONCLUSION
“Dead Time” is the hour between three and four in the morning, in which the Paranormal Research Society (PRS) of Paranormal State holds their most decisive hour of investigation, sitting in the darkness, cameras rolling, listening for any sound to help the team determine what is happening. The results of this period are then used in determining how to handle the haunting: do they hire a priest or go in a more alternative direction? Should they bring in a medium to communicate further? At the very least, the conclusions reached from this “dead time” help family members to make sense of what is happening in their home. My conclusion to this project, then, stands as my own personal dead time, attempting to make sense of family trauma and the paranormal and what the ghosts can tell us. Given the ongoing nature of both the paranormal (with residual activity continuing in many cases) and the effects of trauma (as Judith Lewis Herman notes in Trauma and Recovery, recovery from trauma is never complete), it would seem rather difficult to produce any sort of definitive conclusion to this project, any satisfactory summation of what it is and what it all means.
Paranormal-themed horror, with its long and diverse history dating back to mythology, folklore, and literature before film and television, continues to evolve, representing society’s most closely-held fears through the process of articulation as described by Stuart Hall, activating a chain of meaning that substitutes the paranormal for, in this case, trauma taking place in the heteronormative family. In lieu of ghosts and other entities, paranormal reality television articulates family trauma through the paranormal, standing in for the trauma and violence often lurking within the hegemonic family ideal. As a site of converging genres and modes, paranormal reality is, despite its chilly reception by critics, a space in popular culture for working through family trauma whose articulations I have examined closely in terms of genre/subgenre and narrative while also considering how paranormal reality negotiates difference in connection to the heteronormative family experiencing breakdown.
The paranormal family horror film of the 1970s and 80s articulated breakdown and trauma in the family through the cultural anxieties of its period, following a pronounced increase in public discourse concerning family violence. Films such as The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, US, 1980) and The Amityville Horror (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, US, 1979) depict a perceived crisis of white masculinity following social and economic shifts during those decades, particularly the women’s rights movement, which were seen as pushing the white, procreative, middle-class family ever closer to cataclysm. Failed fathers and husbands became possessed by the paranormal and attempted to destroy their loved ones, driven by money woes, alcoholism, and an underlying resentment of any resistance or threat to patriarchal control. Many times, the trauma articulated through the paranormal was then displaced onto signs of difference, including race in the commonly cited desecrated Native American burial ground as motivation for a haunting. Despite being produced and released in a period of increased public discussion of family dysfunction, paranormal family horror films of the late 1970s and early 1980s articulate family trauma through substituting the paranormal for direct signs of dysfunction. Decades later, paranormal reality provides similar articulations in the face of economic recession, a rapidly shrinking middle-class, and most important of all, continued rates of family violence and abuse alongside highly-publicized accounts of mothers and fathers killing their own children and other family members.
Critics have suggested that in recent years, the paranormal has been mainstreamed, particularly in television, moving from the margins to popular serials including Supernatural (2005-) and American Horror Story (2011-), along with reality television series such as Ghost Hunters (2004-) and Paranormal State (2007-). Although many of these programs air on cable, their success represents the increased visibility of horror on television. Part of this new visibility, paranormal reality is where elements of horror, melodrama, the gothic, and reality programming, informed by psychoanalytic concepts such as displacement and projection, intersect to articulate family trauma within domestic and familial milieus. Using ghosts and other entities, paranormal reality de-familiarizes the people and places that television has helped us to take for granted, taking a closer look at the heteronormative family home and the horror one might find there.
 Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery (New York: BasicBooks, 1992), 211.
 This has become such a familiar narrative element that, as stated in Chapter II, when many viewers recall Poltergeist (dir. Tobe Hooper, US, 1982), they remember the family’s haunted tract home being built over a Native American burial ground. In actuality, the cemetery on which the neighborhood has been built was a rural cemetery and, from the few ghosts we later see in a procession marching down the family’s staircase, would appear to be primarily occupied by the remains of working-class whites.