Last night I finally got around to watching Drag Me to Hell. I was excited to finally watch Sam Raimi’s return to horror since I’m a big fan of the Evil Dead series.
The film had great tension and made me jump quite a few times. (My boyfriend, who had seen the film already, turned to me and said, “You look really nervous.”) While some people might have trouble falling asleep after a horror movie like that, I slept soundly. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a believer in the paranormal and Drag Me to Hell‘s plot is heavily contingent on the existence of demons (and, obviously, hell). In fact, this is often my problem with horror films: If they’re not good at making you jump, you’re left with mystical creatures that have no basis in reality.
Oddly, it seems the kind of viewer I am — someone who loves to watch fantastical or sci fi series and movies but doesn’t actually put stock in the existence of the supernatural — isn’t as common as I’d like to believe. A 2005 Gallup poll suggests Americans believe in paranormal phenomenon like haunted houses, with 37 percent of Americans professing such a belief.
In possibly one of the nerdiest academic papers of all time [PDF], Corrine Dalelio examined the increase in paranormal or pseudo-scientific shows that occurred in the 1990s — TV shows like Buffy, The X Files, Charmed, and Touched by an Angel as well as films like The Sixth Sense, The Craft, and The Others — for Rutgers University and how such a proliferation of paranormal themes correlates with beliefs in the paranormal among the general public.
Because the paper was published in 2004, it looked at the 2000 version of the Gallup poll, which found a similar percentage of the American public (34 percent of women and 27 percent of men) believe in ghosts. The 2000 Gallup poll also noted that there had been a spike of belief in the paranormal in recent years. More troublesome, Dalelio writes, is the fact that reports of witnesses claiming to experience supernatural phenomenon are increasingly making it into standard news outlets.
Granted, this paper is a few years old now, and if anything television lineups have been swinging back toward realism (the sleeper success of the film Paranormal Activity notwithstanding): Recent Nielsen ratings put America’s Got Talent, hard boiled crime show NCIS, and The Bachelorette in the top five shows last week. The Big Bang Theory, a comedy rooted in science (but that has endured accusations of sexism), squeaks in at number six. Mad Men, which is possibly the most critically acclaimed show of the year, prizes itself on its historical accuracy.
Still, it might be stretching it a bit to say that the popularity of these shows is causing beliefs in the paranormal or the the supernatural. It certainly seems odd that as more and more of our world is explained through science that there’s a sudden spike in the belief of the paranormal among the American public — something some groups are trying to educate against. There’s a podcast called The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe that attempts to increase public understanding of science and critically examine pseudo-scientific reports of everything ranging from homeopathic treatments and haunted houses.
Applying critical thinking is always a good thing — and increasing education in science can’t hurt. I appreciated Drag Me to Hell‘s ability to make me jump in my chair, but I’d prefer leave the belief in demons and ghosts to the fictional realm.