Fun with the TV Ghost Hunters in St. Louis

November 2, 2009

Nice work if you can get it. The Ghost Hunters at the University of Missouri St. Louis.

A couple weeks ago, on October 20th, I attended a large public lecture by the stars of SyFy’s hit TV show The Ghost Hunters at the University of Missouri, along with fellow St. Louis Skeptics Mark McNamara, Michael Blanford (of the St. Louis Science Center) and Christina Stephens (of fame).

Repeatedly telling the audience of over 500 that they weren’t professional public speakers (which they actually are, by very definition), Ghost Hunters Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson gave a really polished, funny and engaging presentation on their version of paranormal investigation (which one might rather generously describe as pseudoscientific ). A few things stood out as I listened to and enjoyed their talk:

  1. They peppered their remarks with rudimentary kinds of skepticism, such as that sometimes a report of a ghost may just be a result of a claimant's “mental illness,” or that they “find equal success debunking something as they do finding credible evidence of the paranormal,” or that orbs -- which many mystery mongers tout as photographic proof of spirit-sightings -- are, in fact, merely dust, bugs, moisture, or reflections of light in the camera, and not at all evidence of ghostly apparitions.  This kind of skepticism seemed only to make their audacious paranormal claims all the more believable to the large audience. I mean, after all, they say they are skeptics!
  2. They were average joes, not know-it-all academics. Effectively pulling-off off a blue-collar schtick, they repeatedly reminded the audience that Hey, they were just plumbers, after all!, which made them seem approachable and likable and earnest in a normal-guy sort of way.
  3. They were just nice guys: I mean, they don’t even charge to conduct paranormal investigations! They investigate the paranormal only to help those afflicted by ghosts, and this fact got an approving applause after they announced it. (Why would they need to charge any money, I’d ask, since they are stars of one of the most popular cable TV shows!)
  4. They were really funny. Again, polished . Professional skeptics, many of whom are rather academic and armchair, when lecturing at a scientific skeptical conference or at a university lecture series, would be hard-pressed to craft a more entertaining and fun talk on these topics. I know of what I speak, having treated exactly these kinds of topics at public lectures at universities all over the U.S.  The Ghost Hunters' timing with one-liners, light-hearted ribbing of one another, slap-stick Three Stooges-like clips of pranks they (or ghosts?) have pulled on the various TV show paranormal investigators, and repeated sexual innuendos and fart jokes fit for plumbers, were all expertly performed to great comedic effect.
  5. They sold the audience on the idea that anyone can be a paranormal investigator, and that it is a really fun way to spend an evening with your buddies. If they could do it, you could, too, and you could enjoy yourself just as much as they do while hunting down the haunting dead.

There are some amazing things to report about their talk, which I will save for future posts.