Along with several people in the blogosphere, I have noted the introduction of Destination America’s Mountain Monsters to the paranormal TV programming mix. I actually had a chance to catch an episode at a relative’s house. If you happen to be a fan of this program, you might want to stop reading now.
I am normally quite tolerant of paranormal TV programming. I understand that TV shows are made for entertainment purposes, that they are edited in a way that is supposed to give people a little scare and that they sometimes play off the supposed tensions between cast members to give more of the reality show feel.
From a magical perspective, some of the techniques used in the ghost hunting shows, such as spirit provocation, are questionable but unlikely to cause serious harm unless the TV team happens to blunder across a really powerful spirit. It is a bit of a dice roll but, given that most of the investigations that we see do not involve the signs of strong physical manifestation, the hunters in these shows are generally safe.
In the same way, when we look at shows like Finding Bigfoot, I would, honestly, be extremely surprised if that team ever actually sighted a Sasquatch. Coming across such an elusive creature, whether it is flesh and blood or something other, would require far more stealth and stalking ability than a group of people being followed around by camera crews could manage. I imagine that the local Sasquatch probably have quite a good time watching these jokers running around, snapping and crackling their way through the woods. I have an image of the local “monster” population sitting up in trees watching and eating popcorn, popping down long enough to get the team going with a howl or a tree knock and then lounging around watching the fun.
In both cases, the shows can be entertaining if they are done well, no one gets injured in filming and people who try to imitate the things they see on TV are not likely to harm themselves in the process. Of course, you will have the occasional person who gets busted for trespassing while exploring an abandoned building or who misjudges their preparedness for wilderness time and gets lost or takes a bad fall. These seem to be the exceptions to the rule, for the most part though, so we can say that it is all in good fun.
Until we look at something like Mountain Monsters. Regan Lee has made several damning indictments against this show but I want to focus on her first point: these monster hunters are armed.
When the Mothman craze was at its height, the local constabulary shut down the TNT area where the creature was most famously sighted for fear that armed citizens/hunters would end up killing each other in the dark. Anyone who has ever had real firearms training knows that night ops are risky and that certain protocols have to be taken in order to avoid “friendly fire” incidents. I see none of this in the referenced show. What I do see is a bunch of people running around with guns, in the dark, pointing the barrel at anything that startles them. While they do seem to run as a group and try to keep track of each other, the fact that I can see a barrel pointing in my direction (i.e. the general direction of a camera person) indicates to me that good safety protocols have not been established.
Now, for all I know, none of the guns is actually loaded (I did not see anyone open fire on the episode that I watched) and everything is perfectly safe. What bothers me about the show is that there are thousands, perhaps millions of people, watching. Some of those people are bound to own firearms of one sort or the other and many of those people are not going to be the experienced hunters that these guys claim to be. People are going to seek to emulate some of the tactics shown on this program and someone or more than one someone is going to take a round designated for the local monster.
There is already, in the Sasquatch community, a huge argument between the no kill and we need a body factions. Setting aside the arguments for and against shooting something like a Sasquatch (something that has proven remarkably hard to do – but that is another argument), when people go into the woods hunting their local monster, whether it is a Sasquatch or the Jersey Devil, and they go into those encounters armed, the chances of someone being hurt or killed rise exponentially. Given that approximately 1,000 people are injured in hunting accident every year (see various internet sources) and about 100 of those are fatalities, it seems very logical to assume that people who attempt to emulate the Mountain Monsters show will be placing themselves at some risk, especially since these folks will be out at night.
Some people will shrug and make some comment about the Darwin Awards at this time. I can not be so blase’; like or not, viewers take a lot away from what they see on TV and, in this case, what they are seeing can lead them into dangerous behaviors that could get them killed or seriously injured. I stop short of saying that the show should be pulled but I do not see any other good solution.