Where Did All the Strong Women Go?: Women Paranormal Television Personalities
By Robin Strom-Mackey
"I want it understood that this editorial is not meant to bash the females that make their fame and fortune [or at least their fame] on paranormal television shows, nor the men, but the television producers who go out of their way to cast women in comely, subservient roles - who do this knowingly and pointedly."
My son and I sat down the other night to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the action flick with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. It is one of my son’s all time favorite movies, so we watch it often. If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it involves a couple who are under-cover assassins. In fact, they’re so under cover that neither know what the other does for a living, nor that they‘re actually working for competing organizations. Of course, during the course of the movie they come to realize the truth, and then set about to do the only rational thing two undercover assassins can do; kill eachother. In one hilarious scene they actually beat the living tar out of one another, meanwhile destroying their home. It’s only after they’ve shot bullet holes in the refrigerator and broken every glass in the house that they realize that they’re made for one another. What I really enjoy about the movie is the fact that Jolie gives as good, if not better, than she gets.
Why am I going on about an action movie in a paranormal blog? Because Jolie is one sexy, strong woman, and it is that strength that makes the movie so intriguing to watch. Granted Angelina Jolie has the face of an angel, and could make a cat food commercial look sexy. But anyone familiar with Jolie’s personality both onscreen and off, must realize that it’s not just the face and body that make her so interesting to watch; but the strength of her personality. I’m not trying to set her up for hero worship. Certainly some of the things she has done during her career, especially early on, were (to be candid) rather…odd. But while a fan might not always understand or agree with her actions, one must always contend that she makes things interesting. Certainly there’s no denying that her character is both fascinating and strikingly sexy, in a dangerous, bone breaking way.
Things are not always that interesting in the world of women and paranormal television shows. Ghost Hunters is back with a new season, and their producer’s have made more of their predictable improvements, setting Jason and Grant up for most of the big, evidential finds, and the minor characters up for… comic relief? When was the last time or Steve and Tango did anything but set up the equipment and complain about spiders? And the women… What a big, sad sigh over the women. Lovely, shapely, 20 something’s Kris Williams and Ami Bruni, are a matched pair of milk and white bread, decorative and bland; they are about as interesting to watch as grass growing.
Gone are the days of Donna La Croix. I’m not sure there are any fans of the show’s early years that don’t miss La Croix. Donna didn’t necessarily have a in-your-face, strong personality, it’s just that she did have a personality. She had a kind of homespun, girl-next-door simplicity that made her interesting to watch. Also gone was the older lady who graced the early seasons, Kristyn Gartland. Again, a woman with personality; but, sadly, not 20 and not a size 2.
I, like many of my fellow investigators, have been watching the reality show competition of “Ghost Hunter’s Academy” with somewhat bated breath, wondering where this new dimension of paranormal television might lead.
The first thing I noticed is that “reality” is a term to used lightly. All the candidates are 20 and comely, it’s American television after all. Second, they chose the two male tech directors of T.A.P.S. to run the competition, Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango. Not only do they come with a male bias, but I’ve observed that they tend to hold technical abilities as the litmus test for success for paranormal investigating. Of course none of the women candidates appear to have a strong technical background, so some may argue that they entered the competition at a disadvantage.
I’ve also noticed that the number of comments by Gonsalves and Tango, the judges on the show, are about two to one negative comments against the female candidates versus the male candidates. In one of the early episodes Gonsalves and Tango literally call a male contestant out of an investigation in order to berate him for agreeing with a female contestant. And another episode is pointedly entitled, “Drama Queen” in honor to the candidate named Jane Riley. Riley had a good idea which her male counterpart apparently ignored. Feeling slighted, and wanting to gain an edge, she bluntly told the judges at the setup conference that it had been her idea and that the male contestant had tried to slight her. Gonsalves responded by saying that Jane had thrown her male counterpart, “under the bus,” and that they must learn to work together with their team members.
While this might be true on a team of paranormal investigators, it’s markedly not true in a reality show competition where all of the competitors but one are to be eliminated, and where the very atmosphere must needs be one of every woman for themselves. I think, for this type of competition, the real ability is the cool use of duplicity, the ability to pretend one is a good teammate, while all the while searching out ways to show ones self to advantage over the other contestants. Arguably, Jane was far too forthright in her behavior and won only animosity for herself.
There are seven contestants on the show, three being women, with a fourth added later in the season. Of the four women, only two seemed to have a strong personality. The first was Heathyr Hoffman who granted made some errors in judgment and was the first to be eliminated. Hoffman, a self-professed medium was arguably not a good fit for the T.A.P.S. team, which leads me to wonder why she was chosen as a candidate in the first place - out of a pool of god only knows how many candidates. The second is Jane Riley. Riley, who I mentioned before, has not made many friends and will likely be the next one to go. This will leave only one female contestant and three males. Susan Utemark, while intelligent, appears to fit the more traditional female role of follower to her male counterparts. When Gonsalves and Tango were asked to comment on who they thought were the strongest contenders, they listed only two males.
The Lasses Are Not To Blame
I want it understood that this editorial is not meant to bash the females that make their fame and fortune [or at least their fame] on paranormal television shows, nor the men, but the television producers who go out of their way to cast women in comely, subservient roles - who do this knowingly and pointedly. In a telling interview on the pod cast Crossroads Paranormal Radio, Shannon Slyvia of Ghost Hunters International 2008 series said that while making the shows they had the cameras trained on them for hours on end. She explained that the television crew waited and watched for signs of weakness in her ,which were then edited so as to be interpreted by the audience as fear or questioning. Slyvia contends that she had as much training and experience as the team leader, Robb Demarest, but that clips were edited to look like she was seeking his direction. Slyvia also speaks of one investigation in Scotland in the middle of the summer. It being high summer, Slvia had brought lighter clothes, not realizing the Scottish climate to be chilly. In simple terms she was undressed for the conditions, and was cold. The camera operator caught Slvia shivering and edited the scene to look like she was scared or spooked.
Why Weak Women?
Television seems to relish its traditional roles of women as lovely, dumb and subservient, and television producers are still going out of their way to set women up in these roles. The why is what I would like to know. During an age when we have women in the Supreme Court, the House and the Senate, when women hold top management positions in huge corporations, when Angelina Jolie and several bold others have demonstrated that a woman can be strong, intelligent and interesting, are the producers of television shows still afraid to demonstrate this onscreen? The problem is that the weak female roles on paranormal investigation shows might arguably be making it tougher for the rest of us poor, non 20 something, non size 2, women in the paranormal field by downplaying the abilities of women as paranormal investigators. We watch “reality” shows on TV, and like it or not, both women and men internalize these behaviors. I really don’t want my ability as a paranormal investigator to be based on my ability to set up an I.R. camera - although with 15 years in the television industry I could probably show both Steve and Tango a thing or two about camera setup; which is exactly why I’ll never be chosen to make an appearance on their TV show.
Strom Mackey is owner and operator of Bianco Spirito Productions, Wedding, Event & Corporate Videography. She is also a former broadcast journalist and Television Production Instructor.