UPDATE (editor) (2-Nov 2015): How did the broadcast go? Ratings are not in yet for cable but they WERE facing a World Series game and America’s Next Top Model. Both shows seemed to be more exciting according to reviews from Variety and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Hopefully, they won’t try such blatant sensationalism nonsense again.
Originally published Oct 29, 2015
Way back in July, Destination America, the new hub of paranormal programming, announced a “blockbuster” TV special to air October 30, 2015. They will be conducting a LIVE exorcism. Of a house. Ooooh, scary! “Psychic medium” Chip Coffey and the cast of Ghost Asylum, will “investigate” the “house” that “inspired” The Exorcist novel and film in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. That’s a capstone to a week of endless stories in the media about ghosts and “Halloween-type” silly stuff. No evidence required. It’s all just “entertainment”, right?
Whew! That’s a lot of ironic/questionable words there…
Russ Dobler of NYC Skeptics visited NY Comic Con and spoke to the people behind this really big sheewww….
A group of brave priests famously liberated a teenage boy’s soul of vile demons in St. Louis, Mo., in 1949. Sort of. Maybe. According to cultural historian Mark Opsasnick, the symptoms that inspired the book and film The Exorcist were thought by psychiatrists to be produced by the boy’s mental illness. In his 1993 book Possessed, Thomas B. Allen claimed that not even Father Walter Halloran, one of the principal exorcists of the account, was sure the events were of supernatural origin.
On October 30 at 9:00 pm, 66 years later, Discovery cable channel Destination America will air a program called Exorcism: LIVE! The primetime special features a team that will attempt to cleanse that same St. Louis house of the evil spirits still residing there. Maybe. I guess. From what the participants of this Friday’s show had to say at New York Comic Con on October 9, it’s hard to understand what makes them think there’s anything there at all.
At an Exorcism: LIVE! press conference, executive producer Jodi Tovay and “psychic medium” Chip Coffey seemed unable or unwilling to talk about what’s currently happening at the site of the original ritual. “I don’t want to speak for them,” said Tovay of the house’s current owners (who will not be involved in the program), when asked if they had been noticing anything unusual. Coffey spoke of the “weird” feelings of neighbors, and when asked directly if the homeowners had experienced issues, could only answer, “From what we’re led to believe.”
Former Ghost Adventures star Nick Groff wasn’t any more helpful. “I’ve investigated the location before” he said, “so I know, kind of, the negative things that are still lingering there.” He described the feeling of a “lingering dark entity” when he walked up the stairs of the home, one that caused him and even his distant family members to have nightmares afterward. While not claiming any of this happened to him, Groff also mentioned that other unpleasant consequences can be incurred from such an encounter.
“You start noticing things changing around you,” Groff said. “You might get a ticket randomly, your dog might pass away; just, like, bad things, you know?”
But isn’t it natural to be freaked out by walking through the house from The Exorcist? Enough to get a weird feeling and maybe even have nightmares about it? What about confirmation bias? Bad things happen to people all the time, but you start noticing them more when you’re actively looking for them.
“I know what I experienced and I know what I went through,” Groff said.
Is that it? No moving furniture or flickering lights? Not even a bump in the night?
“We also captured, on a spirit box, the words ‘Diablo’ and ‘devil,’ that came through,” Groff said. A spirit box is a device similar to a tape recorder that neurologist Steven Novella once said “seems to be deliberately designed to generate false positive results.” It basically shifts through radio frequencies quickly, providing lots of broken bits of language for a “ghost” to arrange into a meaningful message. But really it just takes advantage of our ability to perceive patterns that don’t actually exist – a phenomenon called pareidolia – as in the phony Satanic Led Zeppelin lyrics.
Despite using the term, it seemed Groff was actually referring to a simple digital audio recorder, which doesn’t really deepen the mystery any. Groff claimed that no one touched the device, while acknowledging that sound can travel far and yet not mentioning the settling of an old house, and wondered how the recorder could pick up “an intelligent voice that directly responds to your question.”
“How do you explain that?” he said.
The same way, really. When listening for an answer to a question, according to psychologist James Alcock, you’re primed to hear the words you expect. If you ask someone what’s for dinner, you’re a lot more likely to hear “steak” from a random response than you are “freight.” The mind is good at shaping stimuli into what it wants to perceive, and once it’s heard, you can’t really ever hear it as anything else again.
So a creepy feeling and a couple sounds that couldn’t even be heard at the time they happened – is that all it takes for Destination America to commission a two-hour exorcism special?
“Some stuff is just so out of this world you can’t explain [it] – you know, personal experiences,” Groff said. “Sometimes, that’s all I need, honestly.”
You can catch Coffey, Groff and the “Tennessee Wraith Chasers” of Destination America’s Ghost Asylum in Exorcism: LIVE! At 9:00 pm this Friday, October 30, if you’re interested. Or hate-watch it if you’re not, as Tovay suggested. Or just help your kids with their costumes. Whatever’s the best use of your time, all things considered.
Check out the full press conference from New York Comic Con below, complete with Groff’s thoughts on dark energy and dark matter. Maybe “quantum” is going out of style.
Catholic Bishop says made-for-tv event at infamous Bel Nor home is reckless and potentially dangerous
Exorcism and entertainment: How the distortion of a Catholic rite became a cottage industry
An upcoming live ‘exorcism’ will surely scare up ratings.
So many people have contacted the Archdiocese of Manila about exorcisms that it has begun recruiting new priests.