Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who believes in paranormal activity?

You won't catch me going off topic very often, but in this case I can't resist. Last night I finally managed to see Paranormal Activity 2, a movie I'd been wanting to see since back when it was in theaters.

I was initially impressed. The setup seemed more intriguing than the original, with its extended cast of characters, additional security cameras to more fully document the goings-on, and an interesting wrinkle where some of those who witness the spooky events - notably the baby and the dog - can't tell anyone about it. Unfortunately, as the hours of video footage fast-forwarded by, my excitement about the possibilities waned with the realization that I wasn't being scared.

Boredom gave me an opportunity to think about the underlying assumptions at work here. As the movie progresses, more and more characters come to believe that the unexplained phenomena in the house are paranormal in nature, until finally the most skeptical of the lot is convinced. The order in which the characters turn into believers offers a case study in stereotypes. Here, according to Paranormal Activity 2, are the people most likely to perceive (and thus believe in) the supernatural:
  1. Animals
  2. Children
  3. Minorities
  4. White women
  5. White men
Depending on how you would like to be offended, you can substitute "religious people" for "minorities" as #3, as the character I'm thinking of was both Hispanic and a devout Catholic. Incidentally, a character with the same profile appears in the recent horror movie Devil, and guess what? He's the first to recognize that something strange is happening (there were no dogs or kids in that one).

Now, you could argue that Paranormal Activity 2 actually inverts the stereotype, because after all, the people who believe in hauntings turn out to be the smart ones! But you'd be wrong. The film doesn't make the case that demons are real. Despite the pseudo-documentary trappings, this is pure fiction, with its implied "what if?" As in: "What if my dog were barking his head off over an invisible demon, instead of the sound of a plastic bag blowing around in the backyard?"

Am I off-base here?

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