17 November 2010

A&E Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal. Credulity as entertainment.

It seems harmless enough, a cable station producing a reality show about kids who are alleged to have psychic powers, being mentored by three adult psychics who have been there and done that. Joining these three adult psychics is a psychotherapyst. Perhaps the producers are being led by some dim need to achieve scientific balance, or perhaps they are simply trying to recapitulate the popular late 1960s, early 1970s formula for psychic dramas, which constantly had several psychics and at least one scientific protagonist. For an example of this very specific formula, I would direct you to the dated but fairly engaging Hell House by the influential horror writer Richard Matheson.

However, shouldn't we suspect the motives of any network, or coven of producers that begins their program with the following disclaimer:
The views of the occult and the supernatural documented in this show are not necessarily those of A&E Network. (Emphasis added)

Shouldn't we be trained by this kind of disclaimer to realize that what we are about to see, at the very least, is purely a money making endeavor that will not be even slightly edifying? It seems likely that we might also expect that any specific claims made by any such program that follows such a disavowal are very likely to be bullshit of the most unadulterated variety. This is exactly the stance that we should take, especially given the subject matter. But judging by the comments on clips of the show that exist at youtube, there isn't as much reservation about these things as one might hope given that the year is 2010.

As cheap entertainments go, it would be difficult to imagine an endeavor more casually harmful to everyone involved from viewer to participant to producer. The only people who may benefit are those members of a profession that has been tainted from its foundation by charlatans of every concievable stripe.

In the clip above Travis discusses the satisfaction he feels at giving up information to people, and is largely unconcerned if it is validated. "Maybe I help give a spirit some peace." He says. He also likes the idea of the sense of closure (almost as bogus a concept in itself as the psychic phenomena that are alleged to take place in every show)he helps people achieve. His favorite example of his talents is of a letter he recieved containing a missing person notice. He was compelled to loose his considerable psychic talents on the subject and "discovered" that the young woman had been attacked by an older man. He called the police, who it appears were nice, with this trenchant observation. After telling the viewer about this story he makes a pretty strange admission. I don't know if the information I gave helped in anyway, but he sure felt good having given it to the nice police officers. What a pathetic waste of time, and energy. Travis's vinette also doubles as a fine example of New Age solipsism. Does any one even need powers to make such a banal and obvious prediction? The statistics on missing persons makes Travis' "prediction" simply a safe bet. This prediction boils to this: young woman attacked by older man. It is possible to say less helpful or useful things about a missing person's case, but not easily. That is but one way Travis and his fellow psychics fail to help the police, and families. They also, when they can insert themselves into desperate investigations, waste investigators time. Given the horrid track record of these so-called psychics isn't that time that could be better spent following more reliable leads?

Here is one of the leading psychics proving why they should never ever be trusted.

Adding new levels of exploitation on top of old, Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal goes beyond the standard objections. Not only does the show often exploit victims of all sorts of traumas, it exploits the very children it purports to help in a manner that can only be described as callous. Of course the show exploits victims by dragging them through a suite of emotional pain for cheap ratings, while "demonstrating" the extreme powers of the kids and their mentors. It exploits the kids by essentially ignoring whatever kinds of real troubles they are having and affirms their dubious world views in absence of real evidence. In effect it condemns the kids to a life where, unless extremely lucky or bright, they will be largely marginalized, while teaching them how to part credulous fools from their money, and well-being.
PSYCHIC KIDS: CHILDREN OF THE PARANORMALâ„¢, profiles children who live with an incredible secret: they have psychic abilities. Feeling scared and isolated, these kids have nowhere to turn...until now. Help is on the way in the form of psychic/mediums Chip Coffey, Chris Fleming and Kim Russo, who themselves grew up with these senses, and licensed psychotherapist Edy Nathan, who has more than 20 years experience. (Emphasis added)

Lets assume that this show has actually identified adolescents in crisis, and who suffer some kind of estrangement from family and former friends. Does this show help them? How could it? It reinforces their beliefs in the paranormal on nothing more than wishful thinking, and it insulates them from critical thinking. If the producers of the show at A&E, or Chip Coffee, Chris Fleming, Kim Russo and Edy Nathan were truly interested in the well-being of these kids, and the well-being of the lives they molest they would go out of their way to make sure that everyone involved who claims to have magical powers actually had magically powers. It would go beyond breathlessly stating on no evidence whatsoever, that "they have psychic abilities." A responsible show, operating under the umbrella of a responsible network would go out of its way not to be encouraging delusional thinking of such troubled kids. Because teaching the kids to believe any old thing on shitty evidence is no real help for them as they grow older. Maybe some of these kids are actually psychic, maybe none of them are, wouldn't it be better to know the truth than to be encouraged to live in a fantasy that could potentially harm them, or others? It seems the answer to this question has to be yes.

While A&E, and the grotesque Chip Coffee et al profit off of the troubled kids and the damaged families the show and the network also do an active disservice to the public at large by peddling such uncritical trash. The design of the show is all about reducing critical thinking in the audience. It presents the principles, Chip and his low rent, vaguery spouting X-Men, in the most favorable light possible. It is slickly edited, and scored. The kid's troubles are highlighted, along with their earnestness. It is a troubling exercise. And if it is as popular as A&E suggests, it is contributing to the overall credulity of our public. If the show's popularity rises, we may see increasingly credulous people turning to a profession that is historically not even remotely honest to solve very real problems. It isn't hard to imagine that as shows like this become more popular the resultant interest in the paranormal will hinder investigations into missing persons and hard to solve murders, waste valuable resources of law enforcement agencies who will eventually research the possiblity, find it lacking (probably) only after the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. But it gives some of the people involved peace of mind some might say. Is peace of mind so cheaply achieved worth even the potential cost of hindering one real investigation? Is it worth the expenditure of anyone's hard earned money? Do we want more tax payer dollars to ever fund men staring at goats (look it up)?

There is no evidence for the claims of psychics, they have no documented success at helping solve any case at all. All shows like this do is increase public credulity and Increasing the credulity of society is never a good idea. It often adds to the general misery.
Shame on you A&E.

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