The paranormal is unexplored territory, like deep space. It is the dark matter of popular culture. Yet at the same time in this environment participation is central. You don’t have to be an astronaut, you don’t need special permission or masses of money. You can be a plumber by day and ghost hunter by night. Television, tourism, images and audio, web and print forms, theatre and live events, shape the paranormal as the ﬁnal frontier. Products, services and experiences are opportunities for great explorers. The search for explanations to paranormal phenomena is a driving force in people’s cultural practices. We are ‘constantly looking for explanations’ (26-year-old male vision mixer). For those who claim some form of paranormal belief, the search is a process by which their beliefs are made and remade. For those who don’t know what to believe, the search is an exploratory process with open-ended results. People who profess to be sceptics are part of the search process, investigating and debunking claims. People search for explanations and in the process participate in the shaping of beliefs, practices and experiences. There are several sociological explanations as to why people engage with the
phenomenon of the paranormal at this juncture in time. Some of these explanations are about our engagement with life and death. All of us use various cultural practices to process our own mortality. In Nothing to be Frightened Of Julian Barnes wrote of death: ‘there are so many possibilities to choose from – to have chosen for us; so many different doors, even if they are all marked exit’ (2008: 122). Popular culture provides possibilities for exploring many doors marked exit. One person summed up: ‘nobody knows when you die, so everyone wants to know’ (18-year-old female sales assistant). The ﬂip side of fear of death is the feeling of being alive. Cultural engagement with the paranormal can be a moving experience. As one participant on a live ghost hunting event explained: ‘I felt a wash of emotions. My eyes were streaming, it was a great kind of sadness.’ These explanations about fear of death and feeling alive work together in the various
ways people explore themselves. Where there is a door marked exit there is also one marked entrance.