Ghost Hunters: Paranormal Pop Culture for Normal People

Amongst the familiar mythologies in all of reality television, Ghost Hunters ranks in the top 10. Love the show or loathe it, it is popular culture and has earned a spot in the reality TV pantheon.

Ghost Hunters: Season Five, Part One

Distributor: Image
Cast: Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson, Steve Gonsalves, Dave Tango, Kris Williams
Release Date: 2010-02-23


Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: 2009-06-16

It’s the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Technically, it’s a vinyl bank of Mr. Stay Puft from Diamond Select Toys, and he hangs out on my desk – a paranormal plump, puffed sugar relative of Bib the Michelin Man – simultaneously offering to give me a hug and destroy my world. Mr. Stay Puft was acquired at last week’s Toy Industry Association Toy Fair in New York City where, amongst all the action figures, board games and plush dolls, I noticed a theme: Ghosts are good for business.

Whether they are scary, cuddly or funny, we ain’t afraid of no ghosts. In fact, we love them.

The allure of spooks and specters has returned in a big way in the last five years. Even Ghost Busters, the 1984 comedy from whence Mr. Stay Puft originates, has experienced pop-culture revitalization with last year’s successful video game, next year’s sequel re-teaming much of the original cast and with several toys on display at the aforementioned Toy Fair.

Perhaps ironically, the old Ghost Busters required the new ghostbusters to return spooks to the forefront. Set in both famous locales and private homes, each week the reality show Ghost Hunters explores those bumps in the night, and they’re ready to believe the crazy sounding claims of frightened people. Much like Venkman, Stantz and Spengler, the 'Ghost Hunters' have a famous logo, use an array of gadgets, drive around in a signature vehicle and – most importantly – bustin’ makes them, and audiences, feel good.

It has also made the Syfy network feel very, very good now that the hit reality-TV show will reach the milestone of 100 episodes on 3 March 2010, with the premiere of the sixth season – which will be celebrated with an episode at Alacatraz along with an interactive fan viewing of the case.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have covered the Ghost Hunters, the two spin-off shows Ghost Hunters International and Ghost Hunters Academy, and much of the show’s TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) team on several occasions since stars Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson began their televised mission of paranormal investigations in October 2004. In that time, I have frequently wondered what makes the show so compelling to me as a writer, and to the three million viewers they draw each week.

Even though the show has its detractors, there has to be sizable momentum for anything to last 100 episodes. Beyond the curiosity of “what’s beyond?”, what is it that inspires fans to spend small fortunes to travel across the country to join Hawes, Wilson and the rest of their TAPS group at lectures, signings and ticketed ghost hunts at haunted locations?

Based on personal interactions, I accept the image of the approachable, blue-collar family-men who are plumbers by day, ghost busters by night as legit. Even if the ghost hunter characters were complete orchestrations of an imaginative producer, it would be worth watching.

Additionally, the interplay of the paranormal unknown, the personalities of normal team members and the relateable blue-collar attitude succeeds in drawing about three million viewers each week. And the show’s personality and formula of investigation, evidence review and reveal has been spoofed and imitated by a dozen other shows -- each attempting to add their unique spin to the paranormal TV genre.

Yet amongst the familiar mythologies in all of reality television, theirs ranks in the top ten. Love the show or loathe it, believe it or call it bunk, Ghost Hunters is a product of popular culture and has earned a spot in the reality-TV pantheon (which may be a dubious distinction considering the company).

Moreover, while true that paranormal investigative groups existed long before the Ghost Hunters show, it did spearhead the mainstream awareness of – and to a growing degree, acceptance of – these groups. The show ushered in something of a new wave of Spiritualism, the movement that began in the mid-19th century when séances were held in homes and people gathered in concert halls to watch a medium speak to spirits. However, this time the movement inspired people to form their own ghost hunting communities to help troubled home owners cope with undead squatters, or to spend nights exploring historic landmarks.

Maybe it all comes back to Ghost Busters. Yes, the appeal of exploring the unexplained connects to all of us on some level, but the Ghost Hunters show realizes and breathes life into those fictional pop icons. Anytime a “real life” James Bond or Batman pops up on the news, we take notice.

When life imitates art, it’s intriguing. If Gozer the Gozerian ever shows up to ask us to choose our destroyer, we’ll have some guys ready to strap on the proton packs for our supernatural elimination needs.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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