Things that go ‘spark’ in the night: The Uncanniness of Electricity and Electronic Media in Ghost Hunting Reality Television
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“Things that go bump in the night” have a notorious reputation for being frightening. Yet what is it about these instances that make them such? Why things “in the night” and not things “in the light?” Why not things “that appear” but instead things that make indefinable noises “that go bump?” Why despite the fact we are arguably frightened by such instances are we curious enough about them to investigate and tell stories about them? What is it about these “things that go bump in the night” that have capture our attention and are so relentless about not letting go? And perhaps most importantly, why is it that when it is electronic media that are the cause of these “bumps” that we are even more frightened and intrigued? The answer lies in the uncertain, unpredictable, and familiar yet unfamiliar nature of the uncanny; specifically the uncanniness of the paranormal and its connection to the uncanniness of electricity and electronic media. I address and expand upon these issues through a case-specific study of the uncanniness of ghost hunting reality television programming. I will begin this exploration in Chapter I with the theoretics surrounding the uncanny. Chapter I analyzes the uncanny and sets a foundation on which the other chapters can build upon. It will address the uncanny within a Freudian (1919, 1933, 1939), Lacanian (1949, 1951, 1955, 1960, 1964, 1977, and Jentschian (1906) framework. Chapter II then continues by combining the framework of the uncanny from Chapter I with the subject of the ghost hunting reality television programming, the paranormal. It addresses why the paranormal is uncanny within itself (outside of the context of the programming), and how the Freudian, Lacanian, and Jentschian uncanny addressing in Chapter I is critical to understanding the paranormal. Chapter III then builds upon the momentum created by Chapter I and II and addresses the general uncanniness of electricity and electronic media. It explores the uncanny elsewhere of the television, and how electronic media are uncanny through the perceived consciousness and unpredictability of the nature of electricity. While the first three chapters consider the theoretical framework of the uncanny, the uncanny within the paranormal, and the uncanny within electricity and electronic media, Chapter IV and V offer a detailed application of these theories within the specific context of ghost hunting reality television. Chapter IV addresses the uncanniness of electricity and electronic media used in the medium. It considers how the use of the camera, lighting, and equipment crew can create uncanny instances for the viewer. It also addresses how the ability for sound to be separated from its source can be uncanny when transplanted through post production into the programming. Finally, Chapter IV addresses how post production gives time the uncanny ability to travel (in a spatial and temporal direction) within the programming. Chapter V then takes the uncanniness of electronic media and addresses it within the message. It considers how the use of electronic equipment by investigators in the programming is uncanny, linking the uncanniness of the paranormal in Chapter II with the uncanniness of electronic media and electricity in Chapter III. Chapter V also addresses how the presentation of evidence, and the evidence itself, is uncanny through its creation and presentation through electronic media. This thesis takes the reader on a journey through the uncanny and into the paranormal world of ghost hunting reality television programming. It explores the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to those things that go ‘spark’ in the night.