Paranormal Paparazzi, which debuted on the Travel Channel last night, is perhaps the worst paranormal show I have seen in years. It is very clearly modeled on the sleazy syndicated magazine TMZ, down to the rapid-fire story teases and the gathering of reporters in a newsroom to report to the "boss" (PP’s is both a rip off of TMZ’s red newsroom and also a completely fake cable TV set). An over-the-top narrator reads the stories of the paranormal, apparently to save money on production by centralizing the stupid in the Travel Channel’s offices. No, I take that back. It’s because none of the on-camera personalities is half as articulate as your average local news reporter and could never read copy coherently into a microphone.
The stupidest touch: The show is supposedly shot by roving reporters carrying handheld cameras, but a professional cameraman is filming the reporters shooting poor quality handheld video. This is an unprofessional affectation and unforgiveable.
Unlike competitors such as Ghost Hunters or Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, the stories are presented so superficially that it is impossible to understand what is going on in most stories, except for one or two featured tales. In the first episode, the longest SOT (sound on tape) came from the “teenage exorcists,” some deluded girls who have never read Michael W. Cumeo's American Exorcism (2002) or T. K. Oesterreich's Possession: Demoniacal and Other (1966) and genuinely seem to believe that everyone is plagued by demons the way Scientologists are encrusted with engrams, or old boats with barnacles.
Host Aaron Sagers asks if exorcism is the “extreme sport of the paranormal world,” and the team debates whether teen exorcists are being ethical in casting out demons on camera, or if they are merely trying to become “paranormal celebrities.” The debate gets no further than the question because the hyperkinetic editing throws us immediately to the next story, about “shadow people” haunting a high school.
Sagers told the Hollywood Reporter this week that he is a “skeptic,” but there is no evidence of this in the first episode. He never questions the assumption of the reality of the paranormal, only the motives of those whom he sees as exploiting demons or ghosts for celebrity. As a longtime entertainment reporter, in his world the only true sin is not being Hollywood famous.
This is disingenuous. By presenting the assumption of the paranormal without question—even so far as to pontificate on “more comfortable” ways of describing ghosts (as shadow people or some such), and the ethics of the right way to exorcise demons—Sagers reinforces the idea that the paranormal is real, a far cry from his publicly neutral stance.
Mixed in with stories of the paranormal are Hollywood headlines about supernatural themed media, unintentionally suggesting that the stories of the “real” paranormal are every bit as fake as the Hollywood horror the show also covers in a nod to its origins as a supernatural TMZ rip off.
Superficial, uninformed, and uninterested in anything but cynical exploitation, Paranormal Paparazzi combines the worst of TMZ with the worst of Ghost Hunters to create an unholy hybrid of reality trash that is actively trying to rot your brain.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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