Paranormal State

Most self-respecting Universities had quietly eliminated their Parapsychology departments long before I was even born.

Penn State has no self-respect, apparently. They not only had sanctioned student club called the “paranormal research society” in the last decade, but they let these students use the Penn State name in a reality series called Paranormal State. The students clearly identify themselves as “being from Penn State” when contacting people and so the University appears to have condoned a show where their students “investigate” hauntings, get their Jesus on in ways that would make Damien Karras cringe, and document their ghost-busting exploits for the camera.

I described the show to a friend and she said she doubted it would last very long. Then I told her it’s starting it’s FIFTH season. Then we both sat quietly for a few minutes.

Since it’s Ghost Month here at, I thought I’d watch a whole season of Paranormal State while Husband was out doing his Superstar DJ thing.

I barely got through one episode.

You couldn’t pay me to watch a whole season of this show.

So here’s the thing, I don’t care if a reality show is a fabrication (as long as bystanders aren’t being taken advantage of on the show). I don’t think that the presence or absence of paranormal or ghost-hunting shows have any real impact on whether or not people believe in ghosts. (I do worry about people with The God encouraging parents to punish or in essence torture their children for behavioral or medical issues that they believe are demonic in nature. Whether this show supports that unfortunate worldview or encourages that kind of behavior, I can’t say. I didn’t get past the first episode, but I wanted to mention that troubling aspect to things like this before I move on. For more on that subject I’d suggest a book such as Michael Cuneo’s American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty).

What I do care about right at this particular moment is whether the show is good fun or entertaining or even remotely interesting. This show is none of those things. This show is the antithesis of those things. This show made me want to hit myself on the head with a hammer just because it would feel great when I stopped.

Plus it’s full of people praying the devil out of each other, and I don’t need to waste my valuable television-watching time on this. I can see that anytime I want by just riding public transportation.

Nevertheless, I decided to drive my truck around in the tubes of the interwebs and see what others had to say about the show.

The New York Times review makes this excellent point:

It’s too bad that “Paranormal State,” a new series on A&E, is unlikely to find a mass audience, because the parodies it would inspire on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” if it had the requisite level of public recognition, would be delicious.

Listen, even ghost hunters and devotees of the paranormal think this show sucks. A site called Ghost Theory blogs about the show being called out for allegedly blatantly faking an entire episode – called out by the people who were in the episode.

I found a review at ActionSkeptics that sums the show up very well:

Short Version: A&E’s new show “Paranormal State” is the worst, stupidest, most ridiculous fucking thing I have ever seen in any of the myriad forms of visual media. And I’ve seen Plan 9 From Outer Space and about 15 minutes of a Dane Cook stand-up special.

Long Version: I pray to the FSM [flying spaghetti monster] that this show is, as one comma splicing Wikipedian claimed before a recent revision, that the show is, in fact, a Blair Witch style fiction. Beleving that there are people this fucking stupid out there who not only made it to college but then got a TV show all to themselves makes me just a tad homicidal.

The premise (hopefully fictional) is this: Penn State University has the country’s “only collegiate paranormal research society,” a claim I find completely dubious. Some douchebag (referred to hereafter as “Douchebag,” because I can’t be bothered to look up his name), the founder of said organization, only wants to help people who are haunted as he was haunted as a child. He is “searching for answers,” which, as usual in the “Unknown and unsolved” crowd, means he’s already found them.

Let me be completely candid: Douchebag and his buddies make Mario and Luigi from “Ghost Hunters” look like Neils Bohr and Alan Turing. Douchebag is an uber-serious, self-obsessed narcissist, their “methodologies” are more laughable than rods and orbs put together, and, to add insult to injury, they pray and spread around holy symbols like a fucking DnD cleric.

I think he actually makes it sound better than it is.

Variety points out that Paranormal State is brought to us by the same production team responsible for Laguna Beach. That’s quality.

Given that Penn State’s football team has been decidedly mediocre in recent years, students are to be forgiven for finding alternatives to pass the time, and let’s face it, scaring classmates witless is a tried-and-true method for attempting to get laid.

The same excuse hardly applies to A&E, which continues to drift further toward TV’s dark side in its endeavors to entice younger viewers. Even with a regular pre-episode disclaimer, the channel lends credence to paranormal poppycock that consistently generates just enough of an audience to prompt every demo-chasing basic cabler to weigh in with its own straight-faced reality variation on the theme.

“We are students. We are seekers. And sometimes, we are warriors,” Buell says earnestly in the opening credits.

That’s right: The ghost-busting Penn State Nittany nitwits. Hear them roar.

Far more interesting than the show itself is the website Paranormal State Illustrated which turns a critical eye on every episode of the show. This may sound like a ridiculous endeavor, but when you see how clearly disturbed some of the “clients” are and consider the emotional, psychological, financial or even physical harm that psychic scams can do to people, you realize that sites like Paranormal State Illustrated serve an important purpose.

Paranormal State Illustrated has this note on the front page:

According to the Paranormal Research Society’s Web site, the PRS is no longer a student-run Penn State University club. They say that in 2008 it “transformed itself as a professional organization.” What they don’t tell you is that most of the PRS members had already earned their college degree by the time Paranormal State first aired in December of 2007. Also, there is no mention that the PRS club failed to turn in a form listing club officers for the year 2008. Without officers, there could be no members. Without enough officers or members to keep the PRS club active, it became “inactive.” So, it was due to a lack of interest in the Penn State Paranormal Research Society (PRS) club that caused the club to cease. To be clear, there currently is no Penn State Paranormal Research Society college club at Penn State’s, University Park campus in State College, Pennsylvania.

I can’t find an official comment from Penn State about the show, but I did find this guardedly positive (in my opinion), news release from when the show’s star spoke on campus in 2009. Since this was a news release, presumably for wider distribution, and because things like this sometimes get archived in a way that makes deep-linking impossible, I’m going to take the liberty of pasting the whole thing so you can judge the tone for yourself.

Founder brings ‘Paranormal State’ to campus

October 15, 2009

The founder of the student Paranormal Research Society at Penn State University Park and now a producer and cast member of “Paranormal State” on the A&E Network, Ryan Buell recently brought his spirit-hunting message to Penn State Harrisburg.

Buell’s quest to examine and explain paranormal activity began when he was a child in his Sumter, S.C. home one night when he was in bed. He saw something standing in his doorway. “Its face was wide and it had a huge grin,” he recalls. His screams brought his mother to his room, but she saw nothing and went back to bed. Minutes later, “the thing rose up from the foot of my bed,” he said. All he got was a spanking from his mother.

That fear fostered a longtime fascination with things he can’t explain. During his sophomore year at Penn State, he started the Paranormal Research Society, a group of Penn State students and alumni who now travel the nation to investigate claims of paranormal activity.

That led to “Paranormal State” which premiered in December 2007 and now draws an estimated 3 million viewers. He explained that each episode features a different client – bar owner whose wine glasses won’t stay shelved; a young woman whose barn houses black mists; and a couple whose religious relics are burned without explanation.

“There are no official qualifications for being a paranormal investigator,” Buell said. “I’ve spent the last ten years training myself, working with highly regarded professionals in both the paranormal community and in other professions, [including] Catholic exorcists, law enforcement [and] psychologists, to become a well-rounded individual.”

During his presentation, Buell profiled the different types of spirits – ghosts, spirits, and poltergeists while listing for those in the audience typical signs of a haunting which include a sense of being watched, hearing voices, seeing things out of the corner of your eye, witnessing objects levitate and/or move, and even unusual odors.

He pointed out that formal paranormal investigation dates to 1882 in London with the creation of a society of research and spiritualism began in New York in 1848 with a pair of sisters.

He concluded with a series of reasons “spirits return” – unfinished business, to deliver information, to punish living enemies, to protect loved ones, and even the result of a painful or tragic death. And the comment that ghost hunting is “all in a day’s work for him and his cast members.”

I thought about calling Penn State for a comment, but then I realized I no longer cared enough to pick up the phone.

When I was in school we’d get calls from individuals wanting their hauntings documented – sometimes these calls ended up with us in the Physics Department. Confidentiality, and basic human decency, prevents me from blogging the conversations I had when I caught one of these calls, but I can tell you those were interesting days.

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  • I can’t stand Paranormal State.
    Also up there on ‘can’t stands’ is Haunted Evidence.
    However- Psychic Detectives?
    I will watch that ’til my eyeballs turn into rasins. I haven’t seen it since court TV became TruTv which makes me sad.