Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy and the Use of Metaphor

Whenever I get bored I know I can stir up shit by making a bold statement. It creates interaction on social media and tends to be harmless. Unless you say something along the lines of this.

THE ROAD is a zombie apocalypse survival horror movie and the novel by Cormac McCarthy shares this affiliation.

This starts up a shit storm each and every time. Without hesitation the naysayers come out of the gate and tell me how wrong I am without fully understanding what I am saying. Which is fine. They can do that. Nothing they will say will change my mind when it comes to this. And they can rot in their box of overused tropes. It comes down to one thing and one thing only. Metaphor. 

Defined as. 

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

And.

A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else especially something abstract.

What people forget is zombies and all monsters in fiction are a metaphor. They are symbolic of something else. It does not matter what that something is. THE ROAD is a realistic depiction of the end of the world. We all know zombies do not exist. However in THE ROAD the nature of man becomes akin to that of the zombie. Mindless. Destructive. Cannibalistic. Zombie horror is typically survivor horror. And THE ROAD is a survivor horror work of art.

The horror of THE ROAD is not the first time McCarthy has delved into the fears men hold in their subconscious. No Country For Old Men was a modern western mashed up with Silence of the Lambs. And BLOOD MERIDIAN a book considered by some to be the greatest of our era.

Art By Jarrod Owen

BLOOD MERIDIAN is an anti-Western and metaphorical horror story about the demons within all men and the devil they grow to be. It tells the tale of “The Kid” and his violent adventures across the southwestern USA as part of a gang of scalp hunters. Through the course of the story we frequently meet a man known simply as The Judge or Judge Holden. Heralding back to my earlier comments on metaphor Holden is an earthly manifestation of the devil inside all men. He is possessed with superhuman strength and diabolic wisdom and shows up in the story whenever it is appropriate.

This gets mighty spoilery from this point on. If you have not read BLOOD MERIDIAN and do not want to be spoiled I advise you to stop reading.

Art By Jarrod Owen

OK… You already read it or don’t give a fuck.

The book is written in almost a Biblical prose. It is also violent and graphic. But what brings forth more discussion from readers of the book is not its bleak portrayal of violence in the American West. It is the ending. The common belief among scholars is The Judge raped and murdered The Kid and left him for dead in the outhouse in Fort Griffin. I cry foul at this. And here is why. I do not believe The Judge was alive.

There is a point in the narrative where The Kid and his companion the ex-priest escape from the clutches of Judge Holden after an Indian raid. The Kid kills the Judge’s horses and stranding him in the desert. From here the wounded the Kid sees the Judge come visit him in jail complete with mystical visions. 

Art by Deimos R Emus

And this is where the psychological horror of BLOOD MERIDIAN is so subtle and brilliant. I don’t think the Judge was really there.  I think The Kid hallucinated it. I think The Judge died in the desert. The Kid was fucked up from an arrow wound at this point. He was delirious. So yes I believe in the last quarter of the book any time The Judge shows up he is a manifestation of The Kid and his imagination. 

Flash forward to The Kid becoming The Man in Fort Griffin. He murders a kid who was his age when he started his wicked ways. Then he goes to the saloon and low and behold the judge shows up. There is some fuckery regarding a dancing bear. The Man leaves and finds a whore and fucks her. Then he goes to the outhouse and opens the door to see The Judge waiting for him. The Judge pulls the Kid into the outhouse without ceremony. The Judge exits the shitter and returns to the party. Time to dance naked.

I do not believe The Man saw the actual Judge in the Saloon. I believe the Man was seeing himself from the outside. Seeing what he had become. In storytelling coming of age stories usually involved young men on a chase to lose their virginity. The penultimate scene in BLOOD MERIDIAN has The Kid aka The Man both murder a teenager and bang a whore. He makes a sacrifice and gets laid. He transcended into the embodiment of War. He moved on. He was no longer the Man or the Kid. 

Yes. 

It becomes FIGHT CLUB. But only in this The Judge equates Tyler Durden analogy.

I believe the Man became the embodiment of ideal The Judge. The Kid became the Man who became The Judge. The Judge is the physical embodiment of War and the evil that men do. He is a metaphor for the Devil or any God of war and corruption. This makes BLOOD MERIDIAN more than a hyperviolent Anti-Western. The last quarter of the book turns into a psychological horror story where the protagonist is transformed into the eternal antagonist. 

If you have read this book am I perceiving it right? Or am I high? Or did I come up with a theory you had not thought of yourself? Let me know in the comments on Facebook or below here on WordPress.

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Everything Dungeons & Dragons Is New Again

Has it really been 5, almost 6 years since D&D got its current edition? Here’s the article I wrote on the venerable game when 5th Edition hit… This game molded me like no other mentor. It taught me how to be a storyteller off the cuff. I was 47 when I wrote this… I’ll 53 this July.

There was a time in what is my memory, a mystical point wherein glass ceilings limiting imaginations failed to exist. This time period was decades ago, five to be precise, and to the youth of today, that was surely a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This post STAR TREK epoch supersedes the legendary 1977 release of STAR WARS and its resulting legacy, an era of creative Johnny Appleseeds planting the kernels of inspiration that we enjoy and relish in, to this day. This was the years surrounding 1974, perhaps the most influential era ever to exist in geek culture, a golden age of geek culture that has finally come full circle forty years later, an era that has influenced how you view and experience genre entertainment. Having just reached the graceful old age of 47, I am blessed with being the elder statesman of This Is Infamous, and it from this title that I am able to tell you stories of the days before cell phones, VCRs and video gaming consoles. Yes, there was a time without CALL OF DUTY, FINAL FANTASY or THE LAST OF US. And quite honestly, none of this would have existed without a seemingly innocuous little game that came to be in 1974. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, the first role-playing game and, in turn, a cornerstone of modern geek culture.

Everything old is new again, folks. Last month saw the release of the next generation of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS books. Now simply called D&D, this “fifth” (to some it is “sixth”) edition of the game has come about 40 years after the debut of the original game, further instilling 2014 as the year where everything old is new again. Forty years ago the fledgling TSR, or TACTICAL STUDIES RULES produced the game that would change the world and touch most aspects of entertainment you enjoy to this day. The game is now published by WIZARDS OF THE COAST, the HASBRO gaming company’s most profitable division and with good reason. WIZARDS OF THE COAST also produces the world’s first and most popular collectible card game, MAGIC: THE GATHERING. 

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was created by the late, legendary gentlemen Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson as an expansion for their fantasy miniatures war game CHAINMAIL, first published in 1971. 1974 saw them release a 3 book box set, essentially a collection of digest-sized pamphlets. Heavily inspired by fantasy works of the likes of JRR Tolkien, the popularity of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, or D&D as it was commonly called, soared faster than anyone could have imagined. A new box set was released in 1976 and then again in 1981, alongside hard-covered “advanced” rule books. A marketing juggernaut was created. In the forty years since its initial inception, D&D has gone through two publishing houses, no less than six rules editions and countless expansions and adventure settings, or “modules” as we used to call them back in the day. They set the standard on how to make people buy the same thing over and over again, sometimes this was simply achieved by changing the cover art on a book, other times the game-changing edition changes. Regardless of the method, D&D laid the foundation for how genre gaming is marketed to this day and nearly every tabletop role-playing game utilizes the same marketing credo.

How did DUNGEONS & DRAGONS get so popular, inspiring the creation of a plethora of other RPG systems? Mostly because of its unique aspects: the game had no winners or losers, the rules were “free form” and players were encouraged to bend them to fit their game. What mattered was the story, the backbone of the game. Your only boundary was your imagination and imaginations, as we know, are unlimited. D&D filled a gap missing from our lives, the opportunity to role-play and be someone else, even if just for a short time. This naturally increased the appeal of the game as you could be anything you wanted to be in a D&D game. You want to be a green-skinned alien princess making out with Captain Kirk? Sure! Do it! This desire to be something other than yourself has transformed into unfathomable aspects of geek counter culture and its community, with much of it leaking into the general populace. The RPG boom of the 1980’s was unprecedented. Games set in different settings from the fantasy in D&D itself, to science-fiction via the likes of Steve Jackson’s GURPS, to the superheroes of CHAMPIONS; all with subtly different rules yet all of them sharing the same basic fundamentals: They all had beautifully illustrated, thick rule books and utilized pencils, paper and sometimes miniatures to help visualize combat situations. 

Social acceptance of D&D and its kith and kin hasn’t always been positive, despite its brisk sales. A common myth of D&D is that it was for bookworms and nerds and back in the day if you had D&D books you could easily be a target for hazing by a sport affiliated jock in school. It’s ironic then, that today one of the most popular activities out there are fantasy sports leagues, essentially placing you in the role-playing position of uber-coach. leading your made-up team to victory. I like this comedic irony, as it has brought together two formerly disassociated social groups. Yes, I’m saying that fantasy football leagues and their ilk are D&D for jocks. D&D’s influence has manifested itself in bizarre manners, not that pretending to be a sports coach isn’t peculiar in its own right. But some people take things to an extreme. 

Sometime in the 1990s, Live Action Role Playing groups started popping up around the country, perhaps the most infamous of the lot would be the DAKKON group on the east coast, who gained attention from a documentary on the group a few years ago. The video can be found on Netflix and is an interesting watch. LARPING is a direct descendant of the role-playing first introduced in D&D, an example of players taking their characters too seriously. The family tree of geekiness doesn’t stop there, as LARPING eventually helped beget the now honored tradition of cosplaying and turned what was formerly a Halloween tradition into a cultural anomaly. I’m certain that STAR TREK’s Trekkies had the most influence on this activity, as well, but LARPING certainly made an impact on the social acceptance of such activities.

Ultimately, D&D was perhaps the most influential force on the evolution of modern video games and how we play them. D&D, as it was presented, wasn’t for everyone, that was a fact. Not everyone has a vivid imagination. But a video game that allows you to see what is going on, well that is a different story. D&D was filling a gap that we didn’t even know existed when it hit in 1974: the desire to go on a virtual adventure, kill a bunch of monsters and take their treasure. The first attempts to visualize the D&D experience on a console came with the first video gaming consoles and computers. The classic ATARI system ADVENTURE game is a perfect example of this, and though the graphics were horrible, the game sold like mad, eventually evolving with the consoles and becoming your SKYRIM and FINAL FANTASY games. Jump forward a couple years past the ATARI as the first CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN releases hit and we see the first-person shooter also evolving from the same dragon’s egg. This makes the ever-popular CALL OF DUTY a direct descendent of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. You can’t escape D&D’s influences in modern culture, geek or otherwise.

Me and that first D&D set…

I got my first TSR D&D set during the 1981 holiday season. Somewhere exists a picture of a young Token Tom in his Amazing Spider-Man blue PJs opening this venerable box, which I still own to this day. Admittedly, I wasn’t old enough when the game first came out in 1974 to play it, being seven I was more concerned with my Mego action figures and bionic Bigfoot. However, fall 1981 had found my good friend John Reed, whom I played RISK with regularly, getting his first D&D set. It was classic miss-inked “Pink” box with module B2, THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS and we played this game non-stop. John was the Dungeon Master, or DM, and our group consisted of local kids and friends. I begged my mother and father for this game. When I got my set that winter, DMing duties were turned over to me and I’ve rarely played other than as a DM since. The rest is, shall we say, faux-history. The kids I played with over the years: Joe Hahn, Joe Giordano, Doug DeVaul, Tim Nortz, Anthony Roe, Shane Perry, the late Richie Clark; all contributed parts of themselves to a great and long-lasting story, a pinnacle and massive D&D campaign spreading out over two decades. At Richie’s funeral a couple years ago, Shane, now a lead singer in a successful east coast touring rock band, and I had the chance to talk for the first time in decades. We reminisced about our youth and especially our D&D games. He told me “Tom, you always told the best stories.” 

And that is the final bit, the last piece of the puzzle, the keystone at the top of the arch for the forty-year success story of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. D&D allowed us to tell good stories and, even more so, to participate in a good story. Your game was only as good as your story, bottom line, and this trait continues into today, whether it’s a movie or a game or a book. If you have a good story, it will speak for itself and propagate. This can be said of any fantasy novel out today, from LORD OF THE RINGS to GAME OF THRONES. It is the secret to a successful video game franchise, as well. THE LAST OF US taking the prize for understanding that methodology and turning it into golden coffers for Naughty Dog and SONY. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is heavy on story, with this year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY leading the charge, showing you can have a story behind the explosions. Television is in a platinum age with shows like HANNIBAL and THE WALKING DEAD giving you more story sometimes than you want, but it’s a story all the same. The bottom line is, if it’s interesting enough and good, people will watch it or read it or will play it. 

Prior to getting that initial holiday gift of the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, I spent much of the early summer of 1981 with my Uncle Donny and his wife, Aunt Pat. While at their huge farmhouse I stayed in a loft in their attic. In the room were a couple items, almost magical things now that I think about them in hindsight, enigmatic pieces of a puzzle that gave me my nerd superpowers, tantamount to Hellenic gifts from the gods. There was a dreadnought acoustic guitar, a copy of Terry Brook’s SWORD OF SHANNARA and the 1976 “Blue” box release of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. I didn’t understand the game, and actually let it sit there, not sure what it was all about. I taught myself how to play the guitar and jammed the heck out it until the strings broke. I read the book from front to back, and the SWORD OF SHANNARA became my first exposure to high fantasy and the inspiration to my own future D&D campaigns. Finally, Aunt Pat bought me Ozzy Osbourne’s BLIZZARD OF OZZ album. She let me take SWORD OF SHANNARA and Ozzy home with me, but made me leave the guitar and the D&D set, as she played the latter with her sons. This column is dedicated to my Aunt Pat Dimon, she is as instrumental in my geekness as my father, and for that I am grateful. I also wrote this to honor my best friend growing up, he was my brother from another mother with the same surname and his memory, taken from us to soon by a freak fall on New Year’s Eve a couple years ago. Miss you, Richie. 

 

KONG: SKULL ISLAND & Franchise Titles: To Name Or Number?

A little more than 6 years ago, shortly after Comic Con 2014, Legendary shifted direction and changed the title of one of their upcoming releases… which led to this op/ed on movie franchises and the titles chosen for the films. I’m fairly certain this was written BEFORE we knew this movie was tied to the Godzilla universe.

Show of hands, please. Where did King Kong come from? Skull Island, that place west of Sumatra with a big giant mountain that resembles a skull, right? O.K., I just wanted to make sure we are on the same page. Let us keep in mind, however, that my reading audience is secular, targeting a specific demographic that would know this little tidbit. Legendary Pictures doubts the general public will know this trivial knowledge. The end result is Jordan Vogt-Robert’s film, starring Tom Hiddleston (THOR, THE AVENGERS), announced at Comic-Con as SKULL ISLAND, is getting a name change. Sort of. KONG: SKULL ISLAND is the re-title, adding the highly recognized KONG moniker to the project, so there is no doubt that the film features King Kong in some manner. It makes me ask a new question. Is middle American John Q. Public who does the daily 9-5 that clueless? The answer is, regrettably, yes.

It’s not that said representative demographic of movie viewers are dumb. But the adage of keep it simple stupid is truly the mantra that must be practiced in marketing when dealing with the public. Before you shake your head at this statement, take into account we’re talking about a culture that has to print the word HOT on coffee cups. Also consider not everyone is a movie fanatic or nerd, so to say. In the daily lives of your typical American, movies are only a recreational hobby; a family outing, the focus of a date, or something on that level. It’s simple advertising 101. It surely makes future franchising (Hollywood’s new catchphrase) simple, as upcoming films could be prefaced by the same KONG. The average American sees that brand name for franchise X and it registers in their mind that this is a film dealing with X. The brand name is what attracts people to a product be it food, cleaning products or heavy metal bands. This isn’t new with anything to deal with King Kong, either. King Kong sequels, be they movies or books, have, in nearly all instances, invoked his name in their titles. The first filmed sequel SON OF KONG, the infamous KONG LIVES, Joe DeVito’s beautiful book KONG: KING OF SKULL ISLAND. All of them tell us it’s about King Kong in the title. The brand recognition is there and so is the dollar advantage to the movie studio. King Kong is a studio creation and follows the template for films of that era, a time before numbers really dumbed down the creative process while making it easier for the marching ants of middle America to identify with a movie franchise.

Which makes me happy Legendary didn’t call it KING KONG 2: SKULL ISLAND. I would have had a conniption fit had they gone that route. The venerable practice of adding a number to the movie’s original title that started in the 1950’s with Hammer’s QUARTERMASS 2 and just went out of control in the 70’s and 80’s Annoys me to no end. There was a time when everything seemed to have a number. THE GODFATHER II, THE FRENCH CONNECTION II and so forth. To a movie studio, it ensures brand familiarity. But to a movie fan, adding a number is the dumbest titling, showing lack of anything creative. A number tells you nothing about the movie. The STAR WARS films were episodes, but they had titles, the Indiana Jones films had name invoking adventures after RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, something we’ll touch on shortly. But the titles in both examples at least gave you some idea of the story. Then there are directors of overindulgence, like Michael Bay, who utilize both the numeric and titular designation alongside one another. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, for example. Or is it T4? Or TRANS4MERS or TRANSFOURMERS? At this point, you not only have brand name recognition you understand some of what might be happening in the narrative. Jump forward to today with Marvel Studios, perhaps the most recently successful movie studio with its comic book adaptations. Marvel fell into this numbering pattern with the IRON MAN trilogy and subsequently seemed to have steered away from that practice. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and THOR: THE DARK WORLD gave us a clear direction of the story and the brand. Then the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’s sequel was revealed to sport a 2! Superficially this looks like lazy naming. However, in itself, this could be a simple homage to the movies of the 70’s and 80’s it derives much of its inspiration from. It also shows that sometimes simpler is the best route. Again, not everyone is a movie enthusiast, and a numeric designation makes them lose zero sleep.

I prefer this simplistic KONG renaming, it’s the old fashioned way, and frankly, a better manner to the franchise. Take the THIN MAN movies of the 1930’s. Utilized the brand familiarity by using a similar manner of adding THE THIN MAN to each subsequent film in the franchise both identify the franchise and the story to be told. The PLANET OF THE APES movies have also used this, both then and now, as a way to ensure that brand name recognition. The Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs used a similar method, with the titular character’s name gracing each title in some manner. JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN, TARZAN THE UNTAMED, TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR and so forth. By contrast, Burroughs tagged each of his John Carter MARS books with the planet’s name. 100 years later that decision would lead to a marketing disaster.

Disney’s JOHN CARTER is a glowing example of how changing titles can make or break a movie. The marketing campaign behind JOHN CARTER was a disaster. Initially called JOHN CARTER OF MARS, Disney changed the name after a series of previous films with the word MARS in their title flopped. And even though the film didn’t formally give us its title until the movie’s end, wherein it boldly declares JOHN CARTER OF MARS, the damage had already been done. The reveal ultimately came off like a cheap parlor trick in direct contrast to the poorly produced promotional posters and so-so trailers, with the latter failing to mention the story’s history and all it had inspired. In the end, worry that the word MARS would be the death Nell of the film actually caused it to falter.

Another recent film to suffer this indignity was the incredible Tom Cruise GROUNDHOG DAY with aliens and machine guns, EDGE OF TOMORROW. The original title, ALL YOU NEED IS KILL, was changed prior to release for whatever reason. Perhaps the studio felt the name was too violent, who knows. But EDGE OF TOMORROW failed as a title, leading to what is essentially a third name change when home video release added a preface tag line that declares: LIVE, DIE, REPEAT, overshadowing EDGE OF TOMORROW. This is a practice often used in music when an artist names a song with words often not in the composition. Record studios will put a catchy chorus or hook from the tune in parentheses next to the artist’s chosen title. Like (DON’T FEAR) THE REAPER. Blue Oyster Cult named the song THE REAPER. The studio added (DON’T FEAR) because the chorus of the song is, “Don’t fear the reaper.” And again we’ve circled back to Marketing 101’s rule to keep it simple, stupid. Brand it and propagate said brand name so the public can come back again and again for more of what the brand promises, be it giant robots, talking monkeys or giant apes. Welcome to the Franchise Era of Hollywood, boys and girls. Take a number or a name, if you will. You’re about to get more familiar with the rebranded “sequel” on a level as you’ve never known before.

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Flashback review: Brian Keene’s The Complex

A few years ago I took up a mentorship through the HWA at Rue Morgue. It was a great experience, I worked with Monica S. Kuebler as my mentor, and learned how to hone my craft. Covering Scares That Care 3 for the site proved to be eyeopening to me, and as a result, I switched my focus to writing fiction.

Some of my reviews went in the magazine, some went on their blog site. One of the positive reviews I wrote for Rue Morgue’s blog, was for Brian Keene’s The Complex. As this is no longer available on their site, what the heck… I’ll post it here. Brian called this review his favorite review for the book, so it needs a life online…What happens when you combine Dexter with Elric of Melnibone and stick him in Fort Apache/Assault on Precinct 13? Brian Keene’s The Complex.

With his new novel (out now from Deadite Press), Keene’s taking no prisoners. But this isn’t exactly the Keene we are used to; the prose is subtly different, almost reminiscent of A.A. Milne in its simplicity, an ingredient this story very much requires. He has cut off any fat that will distract you from the dire situation our protagonists are in. And don’t let the Milne reference fool you, by no means is this Winnie-the-Pooh on any level, rather the short sentence structure adds to the tension he’s building. It’s almost uncomfortable at times, but so is living in an apartment complex.

The plot is simple, the residents of an apartment complex suddenly and inexplicably find themselves under attack by a legion of crazed, naked people with one goal in mind: to savagely murder any clothed person they come upon. The survivors band together and board themselves into the complex, besieged by the horde, buying time to plan an escape. Unsure if the problem at hand is localized or not, the fellowship must do something before they are overrun. It’s a take on the classic siege story/last stand formula, but one that works exceedingly well. Although he takes the time in the opening chapters to delve into each person’s back story, allowing us to bond with this ragtag group, Keene quickly throws them into the blender of madness that is his twisted imagination.

A rich selection of modern archetypes drive the story: the despondent, suicidal author on his last leg; an aging Vietnam vet who has seen his share of nightmares; a young transwoman fighting against her own perceptions, as well as those of others; a rescued cat that has faced its fair share of tragedy; a mother and her young son; and an elderly woman with a surprisingly open mind. But it’s the character known to Keene’s fans as The Exit that shines in The Complex.

Continuing his recent trend of creating a shared universe of characters, a la Michael Moorcock, The Complex is an all-star affair featuring a trio of previously introduced characters for its fellowship, have been previously established in the Keene-Verse in his short fiction. There’s Grouchy old Grady Hicks from the Keene short “Customer Service Letter Written by an Angry Old Man on Christmas Eve,” Hannibal the survivalist kitty (“Halves”) and, the aforementioned Javier Mendez, aka The Exit.

An anti-hero previously shown in a trio of short stories and one novel (“I Am An Exit,” “This Is Not An Exit,” “Exit Strategies” and The Seven, respectively.), The Exit is Keene’s Elric of Melnibone. Fundamentally a serial killer, The Exit’s duty is to close spiritual doorways between our world and the cosmic horrors of the multiverse. He accomplishes this through what he calls “a sacrifice.” These sacrifices haunt The Exit much in the same manner as Stormbringer taunts Elric for souls, and try as he may, he cannot escape it. Because of this, much like with Elric, becoming a companion of The Exit is a surefire way to get yourself killed, as his neighbors in the complex soon learn. This McGuffin allows Keene to make some surprising decisions in the direction the story moves, adding to the shock factors as our heroes fall, one by one.

There is no explanation for the events that happen, they just do. And it ends as ambiguously as it starts, a wink to the infamous ending of his first novel, The Rising. The Complex is a welcome addition to Brian Keene’s body of work and is practically cinematic in its telling, and should he choose to revisit this Elseworlds setting, I’ll happily jump on for the ride.Brian Fucking Keene

Brian Fucking Keene

Battlestar Galactica… Then, Now, Forever. So Say We All…

If you know me, you know my love for Battlestar Galactica. I wrote the following piece to commemorate the show’s 35th anniversary… some 6 years ago. It’s hard to believe this show is now going on 42 years old! I don’t care if its Glen A Larson or Ron Moore, I love Galactica. I love this rag-tag fleet and the stories behind it. I love the spin-off movies and shows. And I’m looking forward to the reboots to come…

“There are those who believe… that life here began out there, far across the Universe… with tribes of humans… who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians… or the Toltecs… or the Mayans… that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids… or the lost civilizations of Lemuria… or Atlantis.


Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man… who even now fight to survive-somewhere beyond the heavens!”

Imagine, if you can, being an 11-year-old boy in 1978. The phenomenon known as STAR WARS had just hit the year previous. Our action figures from the movie had finally arrived, on playgrounds, we all became rugged smugglers or knights favoring the light or darkness. We were clamoring for more space opera, frothing at the bit for more science fiction adventures on the screen, be it large or small. Sure, we had STAR TREK, but that was becoming old hat and boring. Its over-syndication in that era when cable TV wasn’t as prolific as it is today was ridiculous.

The fall TV season of 1978 brought with it a new TV season, and ABC TV stepped up to the plate to deliver the goods we so wantonly desired. Television writer and producer Glen A. Larson had come up with the premise for a series he first called ADAM’S ARK. He subtly infused into it themes prevalent in his religious background as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Ancient Alien theories of Erik Von Daniken, and added a healthy dose of Cold War fear. The show eventually became the venerated BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

This week marks the 35th Anniversary of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The original series premiered on Sunday night, September the 17th, with the first episode, The Saga of Star World. It also had a limited theatrical run, earlier that summer in Canada, but for me, it was the United States network television premiere. I fondly recall watching the broadcast and being mad that ABC News cut into it for the historic Camp David Accords. While the three world leaders made peace in the Middle East, my buddies and I were on the phone, talking in wonder and awe at this visual feast that was before our eyes and would be on TV every week! THIS WAS AWESOME! The show eventually came back on, my parents let me stay up to watch it on a school night. My dreams that night were of flying a Viper and shooting Cylons. The next day at school every little geek boy and girl was talking about the show. I even went as far as to order the cardboard Viper cockpit from the back of a Trix cereal box. I became bitten and enamored by the adventures of Starbuck, Apollo, and Commander Adama. I eagerly awaited Sunday, then Saturday nights, nothing would come between me and that show.

The weeks went by, the stories and adventures went on as the Fleet searched for the lost planet, Earth. Episodes like The Lost Planet of The Gods in which our heroes discover an ancient Egyptian-like planet that was home to their gods. I cried at the death of Apollo’s wife, Serina (played by the forever beautiful Jane Seymour.) during the second part of the story. Or how about The Gun on Ice Station Zero, a western unlike any other. The fan-favorite though is The Living Legend in which we are introduced to Commander Cain and lost The Battlestar Pegasus.

The series shared so much of STAR WARS that it received criticism for it. John Dykstra, the special effects guru behind the then-fledgling Industrial Light & Magic jumped ship to do the effects, causing a legal battle. John Williams even did the score. Regardless, the series stands on its own in my mind.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ran its year-long course and drifted away, it’s large budget becoming prohibitive. It eventually came back, morphed into a low budget monstrosity called GALACTICA 1980. I remember watching that with my Dad. We both looked at each other and said, “This sucks.” I think we watched one episode, maybe two.

The dark wonder that was THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK allowed me to somewhat forget the debacle of GALACTICA 1980 and sucked me back into George Lucas’s saga. Something was missing though. More years passed and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA became a fond memory of my youth, like a seldom played song on a great classic rock album. If I thought of it, the show would bring a smile to my face. Syndication was rare for Galactica, you could catch repeats here and there. Video release was also limited and expensive. It wasn’t until the show got its re-imagined push from Ron Moore in 2003 that you were able to obtain the original series affordably.

The alternative to STAR WARS or STAR TREK, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA endears after three decades for reasons that are pretty obvious. With its pseudo-polytheistic-Judeo-Christian theology tied into the show’s premise of searching for our planet, I found I could closely relate to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA than I could to STAR WARS or STAR TREK. The setting and themes made my suspension of belief easier.

The Ron Moore BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is one of the first “re-imaginings” of the modern era and is still the best, in my opinion. It extrapolated on the concepts of the original series and turned a space opera into a military science fiction machine. The show further connected with me due to its correlation to 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Certainly controversial at times, adhering to true sci-fi as a social analogy of current world events; as well as being epic in scope yet intimate in its drama, the re-imagined BATTLESTAR GALACTICA became a flagship of the Sci-Fi Channel. Yes, Ron Moore did turn some of our beloved characters on their heels, especially by turning Starbuck and Boomer into females, just for example. But in the end, his decisions have been held up by the power of the actresses that took on the rolls, especially the ever-present Katy Sackhoff. It gave birth to the spin-off series, the short-lived CAPRICA, and at least two SyFy movies, RAZOR and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD & CHROME.

To further feed my Galactica needs, Bryan Singer announced last year he would be adapting the original series for the big screen (*2020 – FUCK BRYAN SINGER.). I’m looking forward to it coming to fruition. With JJ Abrams successfully breathing life back into the STAR TREK franchise, and the imminent heralding of Episode VII of STAR WARS, a new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA would be a welcome addition to the world of science fiction. Happy birthday, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. So Say We All.

“Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest…a shining planet known as Earth.”

Why Sucker Punch Is Smarter Than You!

The first op/ed piece I wrote for This Is Infamous some six and a half years ago, now, was the result of a challenge. Billy The Kidd Donnelly, the site’s owner, and editor,  hosted a movie review podcast. And he shit on Sucker Punch, hard. The night’s topic was the release of MAN OF STEEL and the beginning of the Snyder-verse of DCEU films. I called in to defend Sucker Punch, explaining to him WHY he didn’t like it. And the end result was this article. Something to note, this was written long before the Justice League or BvS films were even pipe dreams:

With the release of Man of Steel, I’m hearing the same scapegoat come up again and again in nearly every review I read, watch or listen to. We have to say something negative about Zack Snyder, so we dig for it. We can’t blame him for David Goyer’s shitty script, can we? Absolutely not, goddamnit, the movie was made so well despite the misfortunes of its TV movie of the week screenplay. So, in a move of desperation, it seems people have been falling back on acknowledgment of Snyder’s small portfolio in order to find something bad to say about him. 

They like Dawn of the Dead. They suddenly love 300 after a few years of mocking it. A sudden reversal on Watchmen. Once a long, boring mess, they now say it did the best it could at telling a difficult story and captured the visual essence of the venerated graphic novel. The cartoon with the owls (Guardians of Ga’Hoole) was neat, albeit a bit un-family friendly for an adaptation of a children’s story. That brings us to Sucker Punch, which, according to most every person with a professional opinion, literally sucks goat piss through a CG straw and is more than likely the worst movie of all time. Are you kidding me? We have to go there because you, Mr. Movie Critic, didn’t get it? For fuck’s sake, people, this is NOT Last Action Hero or Howard the Duck we’re talking about here! Those are truly bad movies and deserve every ounce of shit they get thrown at them. 

Sucker Punch is aptly named. Zack Snyder’s first original screenplay adaptation is by far his magnum opus. This movie is deeper on more levels than Nolan’s Inception, with as many twists and turns into surreal dream worlds. It tells two stories in three planes of fantasy warping reality. Thus, very few people get it. We are Americans. Of course, we don’t get it. Why? Because Sucker Punch, my friends, is a live-action Japanese anime with a Zen plot that most of us rooted in static reality can’t fathom. 

It’s easy to pass the movie off as loud and perverse, a fetish fantasy played out on the silver screen. OK, I can see how the imagery can form that opinion; but there is zero nudity or sexual scenes in the film! It seems so simple to just shake your head and proclaim the film as disjointed as its narrative and assume it objectifies women. We’re so used to The Hero’s Journey and Hellenic methods of story-telling, that we’ve forgotten that there are other ways to do it. 

Still, most everyone who allegedly dislikes the film cannot deny its beauty. I’m of the opinion they are so engrossed by its imagery, they miss the point. The movie makes you think because it is told unconventionally. Too many Americans don’t like to think during their movies anymore. It’s a symptom of how the Michael Bays of our modern motion picture industry have perverted the legacy of directors like Russell Mulcahy. Highlander had a story. It had character development. It was also panned during its release by critics for the techniques used in making the film: the quick editing cuts, the use of rock music to enhance the visuals, calling it a mess. Sounds like a review for Sucker Punch, doesn’t it? Funny that Highlander is now a classic movie.

For those unfamiliar with its plot, Sucker Punch tells the tale of a young woman trapped in a mental institution who fantasizes about escaping. To those ignorant to its secrets, our protagonist seems to be one Baby Doll, who accidentally kills her sister with a bullet meant for their perverse and sexually abusive step-father. He has her committed to the institution to hide his carnal secrets and concocts a scheme to silence her by paying off an orderly at the hospital to arrange a lobotomy. She is brought in to a common area, on the way we meet all the players that will be represented in our tale. Then, abruptly, the movie cuts to Baby Doll strapped to a chair; a physician hovering over her and sizing up a surgical ice pick to scramble her brains ala Frances Farmer.

A flash of light and an immediate change in the color palette is the first clue that something is amiss. During the prologue, and that is what the movie is up until this point, the colors are muted and gray. This is the moment where the movie changes ever so subtly that the general public misses it. The film essentially becomes Jacob’s Ladder meets The Wizard of Oz. We’ve left Kansas, people and are on a fucked-up ride to the Emerald City.

It is here that we also encounter the first problem many people have with the movie. The argument is “Why would women in a mental institution fantasize about being a stripper in a fetish club?” This is a common misconception. The reality is not all of the girls are sharing this vision! It’s a fantasy concocted by an emotionally damaged, dying brain reacting to a sharp object. She is having the assumed flashback of her life that one has upon death, just as Jacob’s Ladder was a “flash forward” upon death. In Baby Doll’s case, she is recalling the events leading up to that point, but they are influenced by the psychological grooming and sexual abuse inflicted upon her by the step-father. This is why the corrupt and depraved orderly, Blue, is interpreted as the club owner, it is why the step-father is represented as a priest and it is why the institution’s naive on-site doctor translates into a manipulated Madame and dance instructor. They’re all caricatures of their true natures.

Shortly after reaching the strip club we learn of another of Baby Doll’s defense mechanisms to protect her fragile mind from sexual abuse: hide it in a deeper fantasy. We enter the third level, featuring fantasies of battle and fighting back. It is during these points where the movie’s visuals take off full steam. Each and every sword-swinging, gun-firing, ass-kicking moment is Baby Doll’s way of blocking out horrible things that have been done to her. Instead of focusing on the abuse, she instead focuses on the items required to facilitate success for her escape. Her fantastic interpretations of this are what we see. 

Then comes the “twist” ending, the “reveal” that pisses more people off than you can imagine. Remember I said this movie had two tales to tell, it features two protagonists. Quickly, from this moment, it is no longer told from Baby Doll’s point of view . . . we’ve now moved on to the movie’s other protagonist, Sweet Pea, the girl who wasn’t supposed to be in the sanitarium to begin with. This left American audiences sitting in the chairs, shaking their heads. The Baby Doll they had bonded with doesn’t even get away? She gets the ice pick and the scrambled gray matter? WHAT? WE WERE ROBBED! Not paying attention were we, clowns? From the moment we go to Oz, the first character we see is Sweet Pea, not Baby Doll. Each scene in the club centers around or includes Sweet Pea. Sweet Pea calls the shots, tells them if she says it’s over, it’s over. Finally sounds like the Hero’s Journey to me, but with her story told from Baby Doll’s perspective! Baby Doll’s eventual self sacrifice to find enlightenment and happiness is a common Zen theme in Asian film. Baby Doll knows she killed her sister and could no longer live with that memory, she also knows that Sweet Pea doesn’t belong there. By allowing the lobotomy to happen was her salvation. She even tells Sweet Pea, “This was never my story, it was yours.” The thing is, we see and hear this from Baby Doll’s fantastic perspective, another storytelling point that drives Americans batshit, they feel they have to bond with the face most often on the screen. Forcing them to do otherwise causes mental implosions.

With the strike of a mallet, the color pallet again mutes and we return to the real world, bringing us to blissful closure for Baby Doll, a reckoning for the institution staff and Sweet Pea’s liberation.We close to the movie’s credits as it opened, calmly fading to black, sending the movie out with a whisper with Sweet Pea’s narration quietly questioning her place in the world. American’s hate anti-climatic endings. A need is felt to end action movies with big explosions and a ton of people dying. Not here. Sometimes a gentler approach is required, especially in a movie as epic with its internal scope as Sucker Punch The movie paced itself with over the top action throughout. Ending it on a softly played note was brilliant.

Zack Snyder is a genius. He has unlocked the secret to adapting animation and comic books to the screen. He is the master of this realm. Regarding Sucker Punch, we see nearly every element present in an anime from Japan. Foremost, they share young women with big tits and owl-sized eyes in schoolgirl uniforms kicking ass with samurai swords. Think of an amalgam of Sailor Moon and Blood, The Last Vampire and you have the template for Baby Doll. Anime and manga (on the comic book level) tend to jump between realities frequently; we have plenty of that here with Sucker Punch, delivering in a surrealistic manner not dissimilar to a dream. We’ve got more hot chicks with guns and swords to make Robert Rodriguez jealous, armies of robots, a mysterious mentor, giant mechanized battle armor, and a seemingly impossible quest with an enigmatic riddle for its final test. All ingredients to most any random anime, we’re only missing tentacle demons and Kaiju. Snyder was smart and other than the first fantasy combat that has a decidedly Asian theme (Most likely another hint that this is a live-action anime!), he incorporated familiar Western visuals and myth, and instead gave us German zombies and Dragons. This is another reason I believe that people tend to center on the visuals. We tend to latch onto what feels familiar to us. In the case of Sucker Punch, it is these very fantasy segments that distract the common American from the movie’s true story and leaves them dissatisfied with the movie as a whole. For myself, however, Sucker Punch is a masterpiece of subtle storytelling and visual imagery. The movie will gain notoriety and popularity over time. I rest assured, knowing the day will come when it is given four stars, not one, on a cable channel guide.

Is Paranormal Investigation Science Or A Fading Fad?

I love doing hard, feature journalism. Today’s blog post a fine example of me at my best. Six years ago I took a trip to Niagara Falls and visited with notable professionals in the Paranormal Investigation community… to find out if the over-saturation of Ghost Hunting programming, so prevalent throughout the last decade on television, has harmed the fledgling science…

Reality programming is notoriously inexpensive to create and is extremely popular, the bottom line is people love to watch other people’s drama, as THE REAL WORLD informed us.  MTV’s smash hit led to the now television norm of reality programming. Over the past decade, any flip of the channels could reveal show centering on a celebrity’s home life ala THE OSBOURNES or HOGAN KNOWS BEST.  Now, until about 10 years ago, if you mentioned ghost hunting to the average Joe on the street, they would have sung a reply, asking “Who ya gonna call?” It was, however, in 2004 that SyFy premiered a stalwart program on the network, their foray into the reality TV format that was so profitable for other networks, the paranormal reality television program GHOST HUNTERS, a chronicle of the adventures of the members of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society).  Starring Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the show has gone on to be one of SyFy’s most successful and highest-rated programs, spawning a pair of spin-offs and a legion of clones on a multitude of cable networks.  

Networks that you would think wouldn’t have a paranormal bone in their fabric suddenly had ghost-related programming.  GHOST ADVENTURES (TRAVEL CHANNEL), THE HAUNTED (on ANIMAL PLANET because why?) and PARANORMAL STATE (A&E) are but a few of the more popular programs that accompany GHOST HUNTERS on our flat screens.  This cash crop of ratings grabbers has created a new breed of television mark that professional wrestling promoters wish they could tap into. This has opened the doors to every type of paranormal, Cryptozoic bug hunt possible, with Bigfoot hunting reality shows finding themselves as prolific as ghost hunting now.  Too many programs clearly have less than factual intentions in their presentations with some selling staged reenactments as reality. This has created a huge integrity problem, creating an oversaturation of preternatural reality TV programming that is, at the least, giving our urban legends and myths a very bad name; not to mention actually harming the fledgling sciences that are attempting to explain the phenomena under study.

The paranormal money-making machine expands far beyond television, though.  The hobby itself has been around longer than the TV shows, with many groups claiming a 20 year or longer heritage.  Autumn Pilot, a member of CNY GHOST HUNTERS, has been a member of the venerable group for only a year but has practiced her own investigations for nearly 10 years.  It’s certainly not an expensive hobby. According to Autumn, she spends “$300-$500, if that. It just depends on the type of equipment you get. I mean, you don’t need a lot of equipment like they show you. GHOST ADVENTURES and those kinds of things make it look a little extreme, you don’t need all that equipment to do this.”  She personally own a K2 Meter and EMF detector, devices that aren’t readily used today as Cell phones and other electronics can set them off (they measure magnetic fields). But the key, number one item they use is a voice recorder. And a flashlight.    It is from similar roots that TAPS and GHOST HUNTERS grew, as well as other groups, such as BEYOND GHOSTS, hosts of the Para-History Festival at Fort Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY earlier this year.  Spokesman John Crocitto told me “The reason we do these events, like with the Para-History today is there’s still a huge need to have education aspect for the public and professionals in the field probably have a better idea of how things go down and why they go down as opposed to basing their opinions on what they see on TV.  Coming in off the couches and actually doing it yourself in real life is how we do this event, so in a way, they’re almost like experiential entertainment. So you watch something on TV like the GHOST HUNTERS programming and you yourself want to try it, what BEYOND GHOSTS, my company does is actually give you a chance to experience that in real-time.”

You would then assume that education and sharing knowledge are at the center and are the central focus for most casual ghost hunting hobbyist.  This is a far cry from what is often seen on television programming, much of which is over-sensationalized and produced leading to a complete desensitizing of the product and a raised eyebrow of speculation, or, even worse, that it’s true.  Crocitto told me if this ever led to difficulties in finding guests with credibility and integrity for a convention such as the Para-History Festival: “As far as the mainstream public is concerned, I think there’s plenty of room for people who are just basically dabbling in it and trying to get their feet wet in the first place, and as far as people doing it the “right way,” there’s education and research first so we don’t seem to have a problem with credibility, as long as people are from the mindset that we this is still basically a fringe science, this is not a matter of fact anything, let alone a science, so to keep an open mind is imperative, but getting people to come in here and just do it the right way as long as they have that particular mindset never seems to be a problem because the paranormal is very popular right now.”  His last sentence leads us to the heart of the matter. With the paranormal being so popular, has it led to an over-saturation of paranormal reality TV? John seems to think it’s in the semantics of how you look at it, “As far as the entertainment aspect of it goes, when it comes to paranormal entertainment, I think there are quite a few shows and there probably are a few too many shows than there ought to be at this point.” Spoken like a true wrestling promoter.  

Low-end hunter Autumn agrees, but bluntly explains the negative, “There’s way too many shows and half the time it’s all fake and it’s just baloney.”  

But how do the pro’s think of it?  And I use that word loosely because any good investigator will tell you there are no professionals in ghost hunting.  Even the pros themselves. Kris Williams is a genealogist and historian attached to the GHOST HUNTERS franchise, a former member of GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL, Kris left the program over an incident invaliding ritual bloodletting.  It’s this very type of over-sensationalized programming that has blurred the lines between reality and production and led to the canceling of the spin-off. Her personal interests in ghost hunting come from a far more personal place.  “I got into genealogy when I was 11, so I was always more of a history person, that’s how I got pulled into the team. But, the real reason I joined was the year before I jumped onto GHOST HUNTERS, we had 5 family and friends pass away in 11 months.  I’ve always been a skeptic, but my parents and my family have always been open to the paranormal, my Mom grew up in a house that was supposedly active, I say supposedly because I’ve never had anything happen to me there myself. It was kind of a thing I was interested in but on the other hand, I look at death as the end.  I don’t remember anything before I was born, so why’s it any different? You just stop. So it took those 5 people to make realize those two beliefs completely contradicted each other and I got into it for a more personal reason. It was more or less, “OK, I’ve lost all these people, I don’t go to church and I don’t have that background like a lot of people, so where do they go and how does it work?  I find myself more skeptical now after 5 years of chasing this stuff. I still have those handful of experiences I cannot explain, and that’s what keeps me interested in it.” Kris believes, “it’s gotten to the point where there’s a lot of people getting into the paranormal thinking it would get them on TV, so they’re actually getting into the field for the wrong reasons which is hurting us in a lot of ways.”     The charming and ever arachnophobic Adam Berry came out of the GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY to become part of the core program and can be seen on current episodes of the venerable show.  His interests in the paranormal are innocent as well. “I came in as, I would say, I believed something but I don’t know what it is. So I like starting from a place of skepticism because that way you don’t jump to conclusions, you get excited for the right reasons, so I’m still at that place of skepticism but I’m also at that place of “I really I don’t know what it is,” Is it a ghost? It could be.  We’re getting verification, it’s telling us names, it’s giving us information, but I also believe in a lot of other things; it could possibly be an angel or someone else, it could be anything.”   

He believes the contrary when comes to the over-saturation,  telling me, “I think everyone has their own techniques and as long as we’re all working together for the same goal which is to find out what really is out there and we’re all doing it for the same purpose and the same goal, so no.”  Though he warns “You have to do it for the field rather than the fame.” And that’s key, as former GHOST HUNTERS ACADEMY para-sensitive, Jane Riley also told me, “… everyone wants to jump on the train and it’s a little too much right now.  You don’t even know what to watch, it’s all become polluted in a way and you don’t know what to watch. I guess that’s just how it is with television.”Jane is a sweet, but extremely shy, young lady.  A talented musician, she is also carrying the weight of being an “empath,” a term used in the metaphysical community to refer to a person who is “in-tune” with the emotions and feelings of others, to include spirits.  They are as much a part of a ghost hunting team as the aforementioned flashlights and tape recorders. Jane told me, “If the team has been working with a medium or psychic for a long time, they know that person, they know what they have to bring to the table, they know they’re honest then they’re a component of the team and ultimately it can help solve what’s going on.  The client may not be into that approach, but either way, whether they like it or not, a true sensitive, will be able to help them.  The scrutiny, when I watch these shows, is I’m like, “Oh, my God, this person’s full of shit.”  I can tell they are lying. I consider myself sensitive, whatever that means.  I don’t label it anything.  Intuitive? Call it that? I’m more correct about my intuition and my feelings towards something than not.  So usually when I feel a certain way about someone and I can confirm it, later on, that’s empathy and that’s proven.  It’s like when you have a certain feeling about someone and you mention it. I don’t know what you would call it. I call it common sense.”  And that is the true key to much of what alleged psychics play in a ghost investigation. They often study and analyze the parties involved and are used to rule out mental illness or other natural occurrences, to include taboo topics that often can include domestic, or some other, abuse in the “haunted” household.

Regrettably, more often than not, team para-sensitives can cast a shadow of scrutiny over an investigation.  Jane approaches this in the only manner she knows how “I’m honest. I stay true to what I know and what I feel. I don’t make money off of this and I don’t advertise it.  People have questions and I’m more than happy to answer them to the best of my ability. I just approach in a sense of honesty. As I said, I don’t get paid to do this, I don’t benefit off of it in any sort of way. I write music all day.” 

Regardless of the alleged “powers” that some team members may or may not have, the essence of being a ghost hunter is in that of the skeptic and debunker.  Adam believes “we come from a place of science, I would say, we don’t jump to conclusions, and honestly, I’d love for every place that we visit to be haunted, cause that’s what I love, but it doesn’t have to be.”  Williams further supports this thought process, “I say we come more from a place of common sense, and I think it’s lacking these days because there’s such an oversaturation of shows, people believe everything and anything, and that’s unfortunate.  Because before people would question, and I liked it when they would question evidence, now it’s like I could put something completely bogus in front of somebody and they would just run with that because people don’t question anymore. It’s kind of the reason I got out.”  Science is just that, a desire, a yearning to learn the truth about a matter or subject, and ghost hunting is no different.  When asked what she saw of the future paranormal research, Williams told me, “I honestly feel it’s going the same way of spiritualism is, in a lot of ways, it’s following the same pattern.  I think it became very popular for certain reasons, it was just kind of the right time, it took off. You see this whole surge of new tools and approaches and all this stuff, but you also see a lot of people that are fame chasers coming in and they’re getting into something that it’s not and I like I said; it’s hurting us in a lot of ways, it’s bringing us backwards in a lot of ways, and I think people are losing faith in the field in general because of it. So I think there’s kind of a danger of it crashing and burning for that reason and if people don’t stay skeptical and honest with it, there’s no reason to believe it.  It’s scary.” Adam agrees, “Everything has an ebb and flow,” Adam said, “eventually it will come back around to where it started, but I don’t know how long that’s going to take.”

It all begins with the hobbyists.  As long as they can differentiate between produced fiction and actual reality, they can be at the forefront of the educational battle for mainstream acceptance of para-science.  But the process of actually doing a ghost hunt investigation is long and tedious, and one must keep in mind that what you see on TV is quite often a day or two of investigating packaged for your pleasure. “It’s all the time.” Adam told me. “Because sometime you don’t always know what’s going on, so you sit there and you talk and you try different tactics and you explore different ways to communicate and sometimes it’s like beating a dead horse, you don’t get anything from it but that’s ok, because really at the time you don’t know if you’ve gotten anything, you have to review your evidence and see and it’s not as easy as it looks, it’s not as exciting as it looks.  We have 9 hours times two days dropped into 45 minutes. You are seeing the best of the best of our investigation, when really sometimes it is painstaking. But I’m OK with that, when it’s exciting, it’s really exciting and the pay-off is amazing.” He further elaborates, especially regarding an atmosphere like Para-History that includes a massive ghost hunt. “When we investigate in these big groups, there’s people that are really going to want something to happen, and the first thing I say to them is everyone take a deep breath and don’t expect anything and that is maybe when something will happen. The moment that you force it, the moment you try harder than anyone else in that room to have something happen, you’re going to walk away empty-handed because you’re going to focused on your goal and you’re not going to be looking at what is happening in front of your face, you’re going to miss it.  You’re not going to be looking where you’re supposed to be looking; you’re not open. It’s a fun thing to do, it’s definitely a hobby for a lot of people, and I encourage it but I really want people to do their research and move past the orbs.”  Hobbyist Autumn fully understands this. “Most of the stuff that happens to us, a lot of the time we don’t even catch it on film and it pisses us off because it will happen to us personally and we’ll be like “Hey, did you see that?” And somebody else has seen it, but we didn’t catch it and it’s frustrating.”  

Kris isn’t as enthusiastic about the number of ghost hunting groups that have sprouted up as a result of the TV programming.  “The whole thing is people are believing anything now, I think that if you want to believe something enough you’re going to hear it and see it and feel it.”  She continues to say, “It’s good and bad. It’s good because it’s obviously to the point where people aren’t afraid to talk about this stuff, it’s bad because anyone can have a t-shirt printed up and call themselves a professional.  There is no professionals in this field. There’s no way of proving what we’re doing, so when people throw the word professional or expert at me I can laugh at them, I’m like, “No, we’re not.” Adam adds again to the “professional” argument, “There’s no such thing, we’re all learning, that’s why I like to do these things, there’s some reputable teams here and we learn things when they have equipment we’ve not seen and we have things they’ve not seen and they want to ask us questions and they ask us questions. That’s why I think no matter how many people are doing this, as long as everyone is doing it for the right reasons then we’re all going to succeed.”  But what’s the right reason? He says, “I think it’s for finding out really what we’re talking to and who’s out there and what it is that we’re trying to find. I don’t think it’s for having a TV show or being on TV or being famous because that’s not the purpose. My purpose is to go in here tonight and to connect with something that’s there. And if that’s not your purpose and your purpose is to impress people with your equipment and to get people to visit your website, that’s OK, but that’s not the purpose for an investigation.”

Despite all the skeptics, there are still things that can’t be explained by the ghost hunters, and it doesn’t matter if you are on TV or not.  The paradox about it all is the lack of fear the investigators have of the paranormal, something that would take an otherwise “normal” person and stick their hair on end, causing them, to tuck tail and run from the haunted premises.  Autumn has experienced things that has made her skin crawl. “There’s been a couple of occasions, at Fort Ontario, where it was a calm day and the wind wasn’t blowing at all and I kept hearing footsteps behind me and there was nobody there. I’ve been touched on many occasions and there’s nobody around me, and you can just feel it.  To me that’s believable, but there’s always explanations for something. You don’t know if it’s definitely paranormal, we don’t say, “Hey! It’s paranormal!” But you find when there is no explanation for something, that it can be paranormal, but we never come out and say it’s definitely paranormal. We try to rationalize it, but a lot of times there’s just no explanation for anything that’s happened.”

Adam approaches the unexplained moments with curiosity as well.  ” I’m not scared of ghosts, look at her shirt,” he motions to Kris, her shirt reads GHOSTS DON’T SCARE ME, PEOPLE DO, “what does it say?  “Ghosts don’t scare me, people do,” and that is the most honest statement. There have been some people who own houses that we’ve investigated that are absolutely out of their mind, there are animals that are rabid and raccoons and things like that, those things frighten us.  The other stuff might get us very excited, but really, I want that to happen, so I’m not scared of it, I’m scared of people.” When they do get a result, ” You want it to happen again, no matter how frightening it was, you’re trying to make it happen again and again, and it comes to a point where you’re like, I’m so sorry I have to keep asking you to do this, and I know you did it once and really that should be enough for us, but we sadly need verification again, so do it again, please.”

Kris told me, “I’ve seen a few, I’ve seen shadow figures walk out of one corner and into another and vanish.  There’s one case where I heard a voice just come out of nowhere and it sounded like it was right in my ear and Amy (Bruni) and I caught it on tape.”  Adam agrees, “Uh huh. That’s happened to me before.” Kris continues, “There’s been a few things. Part of me is like, I’ve had those experiences so there’s something to it, I don’t know what, but the other part of me is, as a human, we can’t handle not having answers and when we don’t we create stories around them so that we are OK with it.”

Kris smiles, “As far as investigating when something happens it’s usually not as big or in your face as some teams would like to make it seem.  It’s usually just enough to get your attention and then you’re going through all the rational possibilities, so by the time you get to the part where you realize you can’t explain it, you’re not scared, you’ve already been in the room for another 20-40 minutes, if it was going to kill you it would have done it already.”   

Who will win the preternatural reality TV war?  Will it continue to grow out of hand, misinforming its audience, or will the next generation of ghost hunters steer it on a more acceptable path and turn it from fringe to mainstream science?  I asked Adam and Kris what mystery might be explained first, would we find positive proof of spiritual activity or discover Bigfoot? Their ever-skeptical answer? 

“Aliens.”