Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits by Deonna Kelli Sayed is a book I really wanted to enjoy. Despite its redeeming qualities, however, it feels too much like a first draft. The book promises to be a fresh look at the paranormal in American pop culture, with an insider’s view of paranormal reality TV shows like Ghost Hunters. The interesting tidbits it delivers, however, are too often undermined by the author’s undeveloped writing style. Even as an introductory work, it fails to summarize the history of interest in the paranormal as succinctly or as accurately as other books on the subject.
Paranormal Obsession was published in 2011 by Llewellyn Publications. The author, Deonna Kelli Sayed, has lived in and traveled throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa (she describes herself as a “Global Citizen”). She was a paranormal investigator with Haunted North Carolina from 2008 to 2011. She has an academic background in social theory and postmodern thought, and this was her first book.
I found the chapter on SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters to be its most interesting section. As a skeptic of paranormal reality TV, I was eager to glimpse behind the curtain at The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) and its founders, Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes. Like many viewers, I assumed the show was fake, and like many others, I have frequently blamed Ghost Hunters for spawning hundreds of wannabe paranormal investigators whose knowledge of the subject goes no deeper than what they see on TV. Sayed acknowledges these criticisms while letting Jason Hawes tell his side of the story.
Sayed also explores the impact of media on the paranormal “field,” particularly the growth of public interest in the Internet and reality TV. She discusses the impact appearing on a paranormal reality TV show has on allegedly haunted places, and the controversy caused by paranormal investigation teams hungry to capitalize on their notoriety. She even includes a much-needed discussion on potential legal issues raised by paranormal investigation, and how unrealistic expectations on behalf of clients and dishonest claims by ghost hunting teams open them up to liability.
Another highlight of Paranormal Obsession was its exploration of religion and science and the paranormal. Sayed, a Muslim, includes a section on Islam and the paranormal, which is an often overlooked perspective. The section on science and the paranormal is more troubling, however. Pseudoscience has gone hand in hand with paranormal research since the 19th Century, perhaps even earlier. But while formal academic study of paranormal subjects has gone by the wayside, “citizen science,” or science conducted by amateurs with no formal training, has become increasingly popular. As a result, pseudoscience and “techno-mysticism” rules the day.
In the end, Paranormal Obsession contains many valuable insights into pop culture and the paranormal, but the book suffers from careless writing, poor organization, and lot of misstatements and grammatical errors. Llewellyn Publications should have had an editor go over this book before publication. More than that, however, I found the author’s background in social theory and postmodernism to be too intrusive in the text. She sprinkled some sections with academic jargon (often inappropriately), and relaxed into a casual writing style for others. It sometimes seemed as though there were two different writers at work. Paranormal Obsession was a great concept that was poorly executed the first time around. I look forward to a revised edition.
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