Ghostworld

Watching hokey supernatural programme ‘Supernatural’ the other night, I was wondering why I watch hokey supernatural programmes like ‘Supernatural’. I even have an occasional ‘Most Haunted’ habit – the Blair Witch aesthetic transferred to seriously trashy reality TV. In memory, ‘Ironside’ is starting to look like ‘King Lear’. Oh, the tragic authority of Raymond Burr…

What grabs me about them is not so much plot or excitement; more, every so often a fantastic image or moment. In last night’s ‘Most Haunted’, for example, a beer barrel spookily rolling down an empty corridor, on its own, while the (apparently very freaked out) presenter mutters ‘Fuck me, I’m handling this well’ to himself.

But I always get a bit wound up with these programmes too; there’s always a need to set the weird stuff into a broader, rational framework. ‘Supernatural’ relies on narrative detective work – the two brother detectives discover the story of the ghost / demon / trickster / etc, which gives them the tools to defeat it. They’ve also introduced some loopy exorcism rules, whereby you can only get rid of ghosts by digging up the relevant corpses and burning them. Right…

In MH, chief medium Derek Acorah or similar usually pops up with some berserk back story or other (always entertainingly surreal) which gives the whole thing a basic narrative setting (I nearly said coherent, but that would be too charitable). ‘Of course it’s haunted… in the 11th Century, someone had a pagan altar here, so devil worship and human sacrifice continued even when this place was a Regency manor!’ – Ta, Derek, thanks for sorting that one out.

But I’ve run into ghosts; watched things that weren’t there walk across dark rooms; listened to nobody banging on doors in empty houses. What’s always stood out for me is the way that these phenomena absolutely resist narrative logic or coherence. Something happens; there’s no rational explanation for it; it can’t be fitted into any sort of resolved story; and that’s it. In memory, ghosts are odd little bumps and wrinkles, always sitting outside the structures we use to rationalise our lives for ourselves.

They’re impossible, yet they happened… a reminder of how partial and inadequate our explanations of the world are. That’s a good thing to be reminded of – and that’s why I watch these programmes, because every so often an image pops up that has an equivalent oddness to it – or someone acknowledges how helpless they are before the weird. ‘Fuck me, I’m handling this well…’ isn’t just about ghosts; it’s more than that, a baffled, wonderful response to the strangeness and unpredictability of life in general.

Oh, and what’s my favourite ‘Supernatural’ image? A classic Roswell style ‘grey’ alien torturing a fratboy by forcing him to slow dance to cheesy 70s disco, underneath a shimmering glitterball. Now that’s what I call supernatural…

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