Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"The Othersiders": Exploiting Naïve Children for Fun and Profit

After water, oil, coal, gold, and oxygen, and probably bread, children are our most precious resource. I don’t care for children personally, although I am related to a few that are capable of being quite charming, especially in small doses. That said, most people like children very much, or at least pretend to. For that reason, when I see children being mistreated or exploited, I become upset, or at least pretend to.

There is a new show on Cartoon Network called “The Othersiders” that is exploitive trash, representing a new low in entertainment, as it takes advantage of a group of very naïve children, for the cynical purpose of chasing ratings.

It follows a group of five kids from southern California who go around looking for “evidence” of “ghosts.” It’s sort of like “Ghost Hunters,” except these poor kids are still young enough to not know any better.

I believed in ghosts when I was a kid, but I outgrew it. For awhile, up until about my sophomore year of college, I believed that UFOs occasionally visited the earth. This is embarrassing for me to admit, but I actually once had a conversation with a friend of mine in which I made the statement, “Some crop circles are obviously caused by humans- but there are a few that have unexplained radiation around them, and are too elaborate to have been created by anything other than ETs.”

Oh, boy.

But I learned. I moved on. I stopped reading crap like “Fate,” and “Above Top Secret” and started reading “Skeptical Inquirer” and “Skeptic.” I discovered the work of James “The Amazing” Randi, Martin Gardner, and Michael Shermer, and I started reading the investigations into “hauntings” done by Joe Nickell. I grew up.

These poor kids on “The Othersiders” will hopefully meet with similar fates. In the meantime, Cartoon Network, the producers of the show, and, most importantly, their rotten parents, ought to be ashamed of themselves, for allowing these credulous children to be manipulated in this way.

I was only masochistic enough to sit through one full episode, in which the kids were inflicted upon the famous Queen Mary. This is a big boat docked in Long Beach that now serves as a hotel and a place for hosting parties and “paranormal tours.” Given the fact that the “paranormal” features so prominently on the ship’s website, you will I’m sure be unsurprised to learn that the credulous kids find enough “evidence” to call the place “haunted.”

But, the appearance of impartiality must be maintained, so the voice over asks, “Can the team collect the evidence they need to call this boat haunted? Or, can they find the evidence that will sink the ship’s lore?”

Just how impartial are they? During their briefing at “Othersiders HQ”, Riley, the “team leader,” impartially lays out their mission: To pick a “haunted” location “to find cold, hard facts to help us decide if the place is haunted or not.”

That kind of open-mindedness is important in any search for the truth.

Of course, this is typical of these types of shows. You gather together a group of credulous people who are in no way qualified to carry out an actual scientific investigation and turn them loose with flashlights and “EMF detectors” and let them find anything, and then call it “proof.” The jerks on “Ghost Hunters,” for instance, are- or were when the show started- plumbers. In no way do I want to be perceived as disparaging plumbers- they are necessary and do a great job. They perform a useful function and I am grateful for their service.

Plumbers, in essence, are the opposite of “ghost hunters.”

But as smart and as skilled as they might be, they are not scientists. You need only watch a few minutes of their show to see that this is the case.

And just as you start to feel a little bad for these kids, that they’re in over their heads and being exploited, KC, who is 16 years old, comes on the screen and says, smugly: “Some people in southern California like to go surfing, but we do something different. We go out and investigate reportedly haunted locations, searching for the unknown.”

We’re not doing anything frivolous, like going outside and getting exercise and experiencing nature. We’re walking around in dark buildings while being followed by a camera crew.

This is the same thinking that allows people like John Edward to say, with a straight face, that their exploitation of misery is actually a service- that they’re helping to provide “closure” to people who have lost loved ones.

Another "Othersider," Sam the webmaster, says he wants to meet a girl on an investigation, but worries she would probably be “invisible.” But don’t worry, Sam- I have a girl for you:

Anyway, while scouring the web in a totally unscripted scene, the team does some “research” on which “haunted” place to “investigate” next. The Queen Mary, they learn from one website, is very haunted. “Paranormal experts say there’s 150 known spirits lurking on the ship.”

I thought that the website from which they gathered this compelling information might be the official Queen Mary website, but I found a lot of websites that claim the “150” number.

And on the Queen Mary website, I found a page in which one “world-renowned psychic,” Peter James, claimed to have “identified more than 600 resident spirits haunting the ship- 150 he said he had spoken to personally.”

Since the number is made-up anyway and can’t be verified, why not go with the “600” number? Maybe this is yet another example of their impartiality and open-mindedness. The “600” number was only reported by one person (and he’s dead now, so they can’t consult with him- wait a minute…), and is therefore the less credible number.

Anyway, “the Othersiders” are after EVIDENCE, so they bring their “equipment,” and their senses. On the way there, riding in the car, they discuss how excited they are to get to the boat and see the over 150 ghosts. So they’re not exactly going in with the open mind you’d expect from a group of people who are dispassionately searching for evidence of the unknown.

In fact, it’s almost as if they’re actually expecting to see ghosts. To quote Joe Nickell:

The power of suggestion can help trigger ghostly encounters. According to noted psychologist and fellow ghostbuster Robert A. Baker, "We tend to see and hear those things we believe in."

To that end, they meet with “Queen Mary Historian” Dustin, who probably works in the Queen Mary’s publicity department (or perhaps he's Dustin Officer, described in this article as a "tour guide"). He gives them information that is in no way intended to influence them- it’s all merely for historical/research purposes: There have been “52 recorded deaths, not to mention hundreds of deaths of the soldiers as well…Quite a few real ‘hot spots’ on the ship, if you know what I’m talking about. One of them is the pool; they’ve got a vortex area there. Also, there’s a little girl who’s known to visit the pool…”

Well, now they know what to look for- and they’ve gotten this insight from a “Queen Mary Historian,” and we all know how sober and dispassionate historians are. They are seekers of the truth, not tourist dollars.

They set up their basecamp, in the dark, and then get to work. Cameras are set up in a few rooms, to catch any stray movements or light changes that might occur directly in front of said unattended cameras. These stray movements or light changes can easily be interpreted as “evidence” all on their own, but watching hours of footage of a dark room lit with eerie green light is boring, so the kids suit up with lights, microphones, and cameras pointed at their own terrified faces- everything a good ghost hunter needs. Then they’re followed by a camera crew.

The first room they enter is the Pool Room, which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a little girl called “Jackie.” Supposedly she was murdered there. Since she’s a little girl (can the dead age? if you die while still a “little girl,” do you remain a little girl?) “the Othersiders” decide to leave her some toys to play with. One of them takes photos of the toys with a digital camera, another piece of their “equipment.” If the toys have moved in subsequent photos, then that’s more proof.

They also use a thermal camera, because temperature change could mean that there is a spirit nearby. It could also mean that the room is not the same temperature all over- a not uncommon occurrence in such a massive space as a room in which a giant swimming pool is located. The thermal camera does pick up a “hot spot,” but despite this amazing evidence the intrepid investigators press on. They need more evidence!

So they break out a voice recorder to engage in some “Call and Respond.” This consists of the living twerps singing “Ring Around the Rosy” and waiting for the dead twerp to join in. That’s compelling television, watching a couple of kids sit in the dark and sing “Ring Around the Rosy.” They get through at least two verses, too.

Someone supposedly died in the Engine Room, and on occasion one can hear “strange noises like the engine turning on, even though it no longer works.” Wow- that is strange. A room with sounds. In a working hotel, restaurant, and events hosting site!

Time to break out the “EMF detector.” We are told in the caption that this device “measures surrounding magnetic fields to detect a possible spirit’s presence.” You have to give it to the producers for slipping that “possible” in there. What they’re measuring could be spirits, or it could be- um, well, I guess it could be something other than spirits.

So why are they using this equipment to detect spirits?

When the investigators hear a sound like the engine turning on by itself (why would ghosts turn on the engine of a ship that cannot move, anyway?), they can take the eeriness no more, and flee for the safety of their basecamp.

Next they hit the Boiler Room, where supposedly people have heard sounds like footsteps and seen glowing eyes. The two kids in this room are Jackie and Riley, and they’re both scared, in particular Jackie.

I don’t blame them. It’s a big room, and it’s dark. Being in the dark is scary, even I think so and I know that ghosts are not real. But that brings up another trait of these shows- the “investigators” always do their “investigating” in the dark. That’s fine, I guess- maybe ghosts only come out at night, or something (since so many ghost sightings are just the result of dreams, that makes sense. again, from Nickell:

The experience is a common type of hallucination, known popularly as a "waking dream," which takes place between being fully asleep and fully awake. Such experiences typically include bizarre imagery (bright lights or apparitions of demons, ghosts, aliens, etc.) and/or auditory hallucinations. "Sleep paralysis" may also occur, whereby there is an inability to move because the body is still in the sleep mode.

), in which case, sure, have the “investigators” stumble around in the dark with terrified looks on their faces.

But then why not turn on the lights and see if you can find any explanation for the “unexplained” phenomena you’ve “witnessed”?

They don't want to see what scared them.

“The Othersiders” become terrified by any stray noise. Despite this, they use their last investigative tool, their senses, to make some powerful observations: “Maybe someone’s trying to get our attention.” “I don’t see a loose piece…I didn’t see anything fall.”

Finally, Riley breaks out the old, reliable “voice recorder” and says, “If there’s someone here with us, please show us a sign or do something previous that you’ve done before. If you could throw something up from above that’d be great.”

That is a verbatim quote. These kids are so scared, they have barely retained their powers of coherent speech.

Anyway, they decide to leave, because, they claim, they have a lot of “evidence” to go through. They do not remain to investigate the rooms with the lights on.

They do not consult with anyone like Michael Shermer, The Amazing Randi, or Joe Nickell.

Instead, they check out the thermal camera footage.

To their credit, they decide this “evidence” is “not credible,” since that hot spot could be anything- a pipe or a wire or something electrical (hey- why not consult an electrician?).

Next, they check out some of the “weird footage” from the cameras they set up in the rooms. They see shadows that seem to move in the dark! In big rooms, they see shadows and tricks of the lighting, so that “evidence” is called “credible.” Did they check their equipment (cameras and eerie green lights) for defects? Did they examine the rooms in the light to see if they could find anything that might have caused the light to change or a shadow to move (could there be rats in the Queen Mary? hope not- it’s a working hotel and restaurant and event center)? No, they did not. They just checked their footage- the camera doesn’t lie.

They didn't even check to see if there were any insects in the room:

Next, they listen to the sounds they recorded using their “voice recorders.” During the “Ring Around the Rosy” song, they hear something. That’s “credible evidence!” Although it sounds to me like the sounds of a party going on in another room of a working hotel, restaurant, and event center, the investigators insist it must be the murdered girl.

Then, they hear the words “Get out” on the second recording, the one made when the “team leader” asked the “ghost” to “do something previous that you’ve done before.”

Naturally, the investigators are spooked by this compelling evidence of ghostly activity.

Riley the leader comes close to reasonableness, when he states, “Who knows; it’s really old, it echoes, so it could have been coming from somewhere else…” But then, he gives in to peer pressure and goes along with the other four, calling the place “haunted.”

An old boat docked in Long Beach, used as a hotel, a restaurant, and event center. That has regular “paranormal tours” for which it charges, in some cases, over $100 to participate, is a location at which sounds are heard. That’s all the proof you need.

I wonder if anyone has told these kids that Barack Obama is Satan? They should really look into that next- since there’s so much proof of it. “Reverse Speech experts” have found it- caught on tape!

Sylvia Browne pic source.


shampoo said...

even though the queen mary is docked, it's still in the water. some of those areas are below sea level. even though it's massive, they spend much of their time in "hard" areas that are made of materials most rooms are not. in this case, mostly steel. basically they spend time in an underwater steel basement full of creepy old stuff.

well I have never been on a ship, so I asked my father what it feels like to be below decks on a ship since he was in the navy. he says it does feel different than being somewhere else but you get used to it.

he did say the size and luxury of the queen mary would make it seem less strange. he actually has been on some luxury ships almost as large while they were in dock to visit with people who were on them.

i'd like to see them bring in someone who has similar life experience and see how that person reacts to these areas. i'm pretty sure we're talking about millions of people here. just pick a reasonably intelligent and observant person and send him in... granted, you might have to pay HIM to do some of this pointless stuff.

oh! my father has even been in the swimming pool area of a ship like this (he was 17 at the time so it just seemed like the coolest thing ever). the pool was drained at the time which I think the queen mary's is too. did they show it with water in it?

even if we could all be absolutely sure there were or weren't ghosts there (let's say we could prove this with evidence to everyone's satisfaction) sending children to be frightened by their presence or not presence is just an extremely bad idea on so many levels. because why do people think ghosts have to stay in any particular place (if it's an "intelligent haunting" and they can "communicate" in some manner and aren't stuck repeating an old incident over and over... as hauntings are explained on these shows*)? if you had been mucking about on an old ship for years with no one to talk to and someone showed up who wanted to be friends might you not leave with them? (this would be you as a living person with very odd habits.) if a ghost is intelligent why wouldn't they do the same thing? (*not saying I agree with them.)

ghost hunters are at least adults. being plumbers they have actually pointed out a lot of mundane things make weird noises. such as pipes. haha they've found the source of cold spots (drafts) and found wiring that was the source of people's weird feelings. so basically a lot of people don't examine their own environment, they just jump to the conclusion IT'S GHOSTS.

they once discovered some fool's "woman in white" was a (living) friend of his next-door neighbor. grant scolded him for not opening the window to see what she wanted (the neghbor knew, she wanted to introduce herself) because a) what if she needed help? and b) surely that would have convinced you she was an ordinary human and then we wouldn't be here explaining in a city you are surrounded by people. it was a hilarious episode.

Ricky Sprague said...

Wow, thanks, shampoo- your comment was actually more reasoned and well thought-out than my original post. Thanks for that.

That's a good point about the boat still being in the water- that could explain every "weird sound" right there.

I have been on the QM, and in some of the areas the Othersiders hit on their show, but only during the Halloween haunted areas they have set up, and I have to say that they do a really effective job with those. They know how to do "scary."

The pool was drained.

You made another good point that I didn't even think of (because I just don't believe in ghosts): If there really ARE ghosts in these places, and these ghosts do strange, unpredictable things, then sending minors into these places is profoundly DANGEROUS and amounts to CHILD ABUSE. Again, the parents and producers ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Unless, of course, they don't believe in ghosts themselves- in which case they're just cynical. Hard to believe, but that's show business.

I haven't seen an episode of Ghost Hunters in years- maybe 3 or 4 years ago. I am glad to read that they've pointed out that sources of cold spots and other "phenomena" can have mundane explanations. Of course, I think that ALL of those strange occurrences have mundane, non-supernatural explanations.

A.Jaye said...

What are you doing watching Cartoon Network?

Ricky Sprague said...

Looking for cartoons.

shampoo said...

Thank you. :)

I've been thinking it over and I've decided that it doesn't matter what the producers or parents believe. The kids believe in ghosts and it sounds like they're very much encouraged to do so.
If they read about the paranormal, they'll soon find stories about things that follow people home. They'll also hear about difficulties and dramas some people experience.

Children are often described as particularly sensitive and able to pick up on things adults cannot (I'm not saying I agree with this.) So, they may disregard adults' opinions. Adults can't see/hear/feel what they can (so they've been told)!

As you know, children engage in "magical thinking" and are known to repress trauma to the detriment of their own adult emotional health. If they had a vivid experience they are going to BELIEVE. Sometimes, I think, it's possible to be very, very scared without there being any sort of reason. All the closet and under-the-bed monsters, for example.

There are just so many problems with the whole concept. I think there are things in this world we don't fully understand. Getting overly involved at such a young age... I just worry about that.

I think the pool is significant. Maybe due to air distribution from having a (nicely tiled) hole in the floor?

I tried looking up the Queen Mary's construction. I believe they started on it 1930. I was wondering if it's double hulled and if there are empty areas like on the Titanic. I have heard of things being accidentally left in such areas by the workers who made the ship.

I haven't watched Ghost Hunters in a few years, but unless they've changed, they try to discover the (usually mundane) source of people's experiences. They also try to recreate things people have described. Sometimes they're able to do this in a way not everyone would consider. Their show has some failings, of course, but it seems to be the best of its genre.

Unfortunately, some people try to copy things on their own. I saw something about a lady who had become obsessed with making EVPs in her house. Now, I think if you make enough tapes some will have something on them. But, sometimes in our house we can hear the neighbors talking if the wind is blowing the right way. Their house isn't close enough to hear them all of the time. IRL, they sound normal. What would they sound like on tape? Their conversations are really not that interesting (no offense to them, just I don't know what they are talking about). I don't see how ghosts having the same sort of conversation would be all that interesting.

I think people really need to consider what they're paying so much attention to and what they hope to accomplish. I don't think anyone has to go looking for trouble. I think they put too much faith in rules supposedly followed by the unexplained. To do this themselves, as adults, is one things. But to send children? I don't even think adults should be made to do it (like on Charm School) if they don't want to. Some people really get very, very scared.