Marc E. Fitch, author of Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFO’s, and Bigfoot, makes the claim that the belief in the supernatural rises when our nation experiences traumatic events. This theory is a psychological explanation of why Americans follow trends of believing in supernatural beings. The author says that even though the supernatural takes different forms, it is a basis for many American’s faith and gives them a way to understand disastrous events about which they can’t always know the truth (327). For instance, belief in UFO’s increased after the Cold War, belief in worshiping Satan rose during the era of Communism and McCarthyism, and, in an earlier era, more people said they believed in psychics after Darwin’s On the Origins of Species was released.
The internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor was an atrocity, something that haunts the popular conscience of America and is thus often suppressed or forgotten, especially in mainstream media. An exception to this came in the third season of Teen Wolf, in which the primary antagonist is an internment camp’s vengeful spirit.
The following post is by Morgan Blair, an undergraduate from the University of Louisville, and it deals with the concept of the uncanny as it is utilized by writer Georg Heym and director Robert Wiene. The uncanny itself is an important facet to consider when studying the paranormal, particularly ghosts and hauntings. Morgan’s post provides an intriguing look at Freud’s theory and presents an understanding that merits further consideration.
If you were asked to picture a ghost it would more than likely be a white creation that looks like a bedsheet with eyes cut out. When Charlie Brown needed some dorky costume in his Halloween special, he tossed a sheet over his head and cut out 17 eyeholes too many. The idea of a white bed sheet being a ghost is rooted in our cultural consciousness as the most simple portrayal of something spectral.
How far can a vengeful wish reach? In Griffin Dunne’s film Practical Magic (1998), revenge can be carried on beyond the grave itself. This manifests itself in two distinct manners that are intertwined by the end of the film: in a family curse, and in the ghost of a murdered boyfriend who haunts the film’s main characters.
Almost 100 years ago, Freud analyzed the qualities of things considered uncanny. He referred to the uncanny in his study of the subject as the “Unheimlich,” saying, “‘Unheimlich’ is the name for everything that ought to have remained… hidden and secret and has become visible” (Freud 934). He later refers to the “Unheimlich” as closely associated with “ghostly.” Along with childlike tendencies and doubled reflections, he describes repetition as an essential quality. Often a part of childlike behavior and neurotic tendency, to repeat results in a “repetition-compulsion” is, “perceived as uncanny” (Freud 943).
The episode “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” (1998) of The X-Files is one that stands out from other episodes in that it is both a Christmas special and one in which the two agents actually encounter the monster of the week without any question as to whether or not it is truly supernatural. One particularly important theme is that both characters are forced to face their hypocrisy. The characters and their relationships are developed significantly.
In Alice Rayner’s article “Double and Doubts,” she grapples with the idea that the theatre provides a haunted experience. “Theatre, in all of its aspects, uniquely insists on the reality of ghosts,” Rayner explains, positing that ghosts are not merely a fictional element in theatre. Rather, in each of its facets and faces, one can find means to believe that theatre itself is haunted, as the actors work within the constraints of the perceptions and expectations of the audience, the playwright, and even themselves. The actors have a basic format to follow or an expectation to live up to that is based on the knowledge they and their audience already have. To briefly summarize and focus this broad idea, we can take a look at the well-known Shakespearian work, Romeo and Juliet.
“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
This opening narration, spoken by the great Federico Luppi, begins Guillermo Del Toro’s 2001 film El Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone), a ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War. The story centers around a 12-year-old boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) who is sent to an orphanage after his father dies fighting for the Reds in the war. The orphanage is run by Dr. Casares (Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes) who shelter children of the Republican militia. The orphanage itself is set in the middle of a vast desert, the nearest town miles away and filled with fascist supporters, meaning that the orphans are completely isolated in an island surrounded by danger.
It is common knowledge that our world is becoming more technologically advanced every day. What is considered modern now is almost obsolete in what seems like the blink of an eye. But with all of our machines and technology, there is still one thing that the modern world has never been able to understand: the world of the supernatural. Ghosts, ghouls, demons, and creatures of the night have forever remained a mystery to the empirical society that we are today, but that has never mitigated our interest in the uncanny.