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From Parlor Tricks to Primetime: Fame, Gender, and the History of Ghost Hunting
02-11-2019, 08:34 AM
Post: #1
From Parlor Tricks to Primetime: Fame, Gender, and the History of Ghost Hunting
From Parlor Tricks to Primetime: Fame, Gender, and the History of Ghost Hunting

When you read the words ghost hunter, what kind of person springs to mind? I’ll wager many of you picture what I do: someone between the ages of 21 and 35, probably white, lit by the eerie glow of a night vision camera asking, “Did you guys hear that?”

Oh yeah, the ghost hunter is always a guy. Why is that?

I initially doubted that impression, figuring I had to be exaggerating, so I researched modern ghost hunting groups (groups operating within recent years and using gadgets like Electromagnetic Frequency Meters to conduct their word). My search of the ghost hunting teams receiving media attention (particularly television shows) brought back one all-woman team, a few teams with a token woman, and a lot of all-male groups. Reassured that I wasn’t imagining that mainly men got to be high-profile ghost hunters, I set out to see if I could figure out why.

There’s no obvious reason for this gender gap, no requirements or goals of the profession that favor a specific gender. Ghost hunting is at its heart, a search for answers to questions as varied as “Is there life after death” to “What the hell is making that noise in the attic.” It’s also a way that we share and spread ghost stories. Those stories, according to Colin Dickey’s excellent Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, are as much a way for us to make sense of our culture and history as they are a way to scare ourselves at sleepovers. Like any stories, they can reinforce or challenge accepted ideas about gender, race, or class. Famous ghost hunters develop a sizable platform to tell the stories of the places they investigate. The risk is that when one group dominates that platform, those stories lose their detail and context and get parred down to flat, palatable versions. The woman killed by an abusive husband becomes the ghostly remnant of a lovers’ quarrel, the murdered slave becomes a “trusted servant” whose ghost haunts the house where she was forced to serve. The way we talk about the dead influences how we treat the living. That’s why it’s crucial to examine who tells the stories and how they choose to frame them. If the only stories we have reinforce the status quo, we end up erasing the experiences of marginalized people in the past and the present
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