Reality paranormal TV is an example of armchair ghost hunting. As a sub genre of reality TV, these kinds of shows depict ghost hunting as it happens, following paranormal teams on night time investigations in allegedly haunted locations. For legal purposes, these programmes are labelled as entertainment alongside other psychic services. Shows such as Most Haunted speciﬁcally leave issues of evidence and authenticity open to multiple meanings, allowing audiences to decide for themselves what may be happening. The tension between the entertainment frame and the reality claims in ghost hunting TV is the basis from which these shows are produced and engaged with by audiences. Audiences are invited to join investigations by watching and listening, using webcams, texting comments, and sharing their thoughts and feelings. Audience awareness that paranormal phenomena are extremely rare and difﬁcult to document makes the chances of a haunting being captured on camera highly unlikely. As one viewer said of ghosts ‘you can’t make them jump through hoops.’ At the same time hope is built into the production of the show and audience engagement with it in the possibility that something paranormal might happen on TV. As armchair ghost hunters audiences have ambiguous responses. In ‘The
Shawl’ by David Mamet the play follows encounters between a medium and their client. A woman wants to make contact with spirits to help her deal with bereavement and a medium exploits the situation, using fraudulent means to make money. However, the story is not what it seems as the woman becomes sceptical of psychic claims and the medium hides the true extent of his gift. In watching the play, the audience is put in an uncertain position. In a similar way, reality paranormal TV is based on the centrality of ambiguity. There are audiences who ﬁnd the shows entertaining, there are others critical of the way the media construct ghost shows. And there are audiences who also want to believe in spiritism and hauntings. In this sense, audiences have a common understanding of William James’ concept of ‘the will to believe’ (1898). As one viewer put it, people are ‘waiting for a haunting to happen.’ Ghost hunting TV is an
example of how this distinctive type of popular culture creates ambiguous cultural experiences. As such, the media are a resource for identity work and a playful experimentation with paranormal beliefs.