The Supernatural on Television: A Skeptical Reassessment

By Colavito, Jason | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The Supernatural on Television: A Skeptical Reassessment


Colavito, Jason, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


THE SUPERNATURAL TOOK OVER U.S. television this year in the wake of the success of ABC's Lost. Programs about psychic detectives, alien invaders, monster hunters, and mysterious creatures proliferated on American airwaves, and a wary public braced for a science fiction renaissance rivaling only crime-based television in the number of prime time hours devoted to it.

This invasion of the paranormal prompted immediate cries from television critics that the shows' monsters were television's way to explore the aftermath of the War on Terror. Skeptics countered that the success of otherworldly shows indicated that broadcasting had slipped back into a quagmire of irrationalism, posing a danger to America and civilization as we know it.

Purdue University communications professor Glenn Sparks sent out a press release warning that this fall's television shows "could encourage people who can least afford it to start spending money on psychics." Sparks also warned that teenagers were susceptible to the shows' influence, and he said "networks should consider posting disclaimers about the reality of the shows." (1)

Many skeptics who issue such dire warnings and oppose televised supernatural fiction often engage in uncritical and fallacious thinking that undercuts their rationalist message. Attacking these television shows, or even the idea of supernatural fiction in general, risks insulting the audience skeptics wish to reach, and it suggests an elitist, condescending attitude that continues to give skeptics a bad name.

British television critic Ian Bell was particularly scathing in his review of NBC's Medium, a drama about a psychic consultant, based in part on alleged real-life psychic Allison DuBois. He called the show "hogwash": "In my world," Bell wrote, "there is a real and growing problem caused by the bizarre things ordinary Americans are, apparently, prepared to believe." He did concede, though, that "it's only TV." (2) Skeptical Inquirer's Joe Nickell also blasted the show because it "shamelessly touted" DuBois as though she were actually able to psychically solve crimes. (3)

Let us begin by dispensing with the caveats. First, both CBS's Medium and its Ghost Whiaperer are supposedly based on tree stories. Skeptics are right to attack these false claims. Second, many of these shows are not very good, based solely on their merits as drama, not as science. Others are excellent, like Lost and the WB s Supernatural--probably the purest and best-made horror series on network television. But too many skeptical critics question the very right of fictional programs to include supernatural elements, as though their existence is an affront to science and reason.

Here's the Problem

First, such complaints reinforce an image of skeptics as self-appointed elitist priests guarding the temple of reason, who have a condescending attitude toward average Americans--and to fellow skeptics who enjoy supernatural fiction. It suggests that skeptics believe viewers of these programs are too ignorant, stupid, or enthralled by the flashing pictures to differentiate between news and drama. It is one thing to point out that such things are not "real"; another to suggest that viewers who enjoy "irrational" entertainment, are less worthy than the austere rationalists who disdain it. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Supernatural on Television: A Skeptical Reassessment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.