Through American history, often in times of crisis, there have been periodic outbreaks of obsession with the paranormal. Between 2004 and 2019, over six dozen documentary-style series dealing with paranormal subject matter premiered on television in the United States. Combining the stylistic traits of horror with earnest accounts of what are claimed to be actual events, "paranormal reality" incorporates subject matter formerly characterized as occult or supernatural into the established category of reality TV.
Despite the high number of programs and their evident popularity, paranormal reality television has to date received little critical attention. Ghost Channels: Paranormal Reality Television and the Haunting of Twenty-First-Century America
provides an overview of the paranormal reality television genre, its development, and its place in television history. Conducting in-depth analyses of over thirty paranormal television series, including such shows as Ghost Hunters
, Celebrity Ghost Stories
, and Long Island Medium
, author Amy Lawrence suggests these programs reveal much about Americans' contemporary fears. Through her close readings, Lawrence asks, "What are these shows trying to tell us?" and "What do they communicate about contemporary culture if we take them seriously and watch them closely?"
Ridiculed by nearly everyone, paranormal reality TV shows--with their psychics, ghost hunters, and haunted houses--provide unique insights into contemporary American culture. Half-horror, half-documentary realism, these shows expose deep-seated questions about class, race, gender, the value of technology, the failure of institutions, and what it means to be American in the twenty-first century.