Ghost, Demons & Aliens, Oh My!

By: Matthew Battles
March 30, 2011

Earlier this week I wrote an essay for the technology channel of about the pop-paranormal that pervades YouTube, where videos purporting to capture ghostly hauntings, demon possession, and shape-shifting aliens rake in tens of millions of views. The video vernacular of the demon-haunted world is knotty, rich, and surprisingly sophisticated; many of these short flicks are outright fabrications created with prosumer video-editing and special effects applications. But as I write over at the Atlantic, “perhaps the most interesting paranormal spectacles on YouTube focus on the uncanny nature of video itself.”

Buzzing with glitchy signals, pixelated visions and otherworldly tones, television’s cool stream of imagery has always mixed with the weird and the worrisome; even the droning fugue of tones offered up by tests of the old Emergency Broadcasting System can chill the marrow of late-night viewers. In a world of ubiquitous video coverage, where CCTV, camcorders and cellphones are always switched on, the possibility of uncanny error has increased exponentially. For many, such irruptions of unintended imagery aren’t nuisances, but objects for a kind of esoteric contemplation.

Hearkening back to Spiritualism’s uses of photography, YouTube forges an age-old connection between technology and esoteric faith. In a time of seemingly limitless possibility and soul-crushing complexity, we’re susceptible to a condition of “continuous partial credulity”: everything is possible, sorta.

Well, I hope you’ll go check out the rest of the essay— and the gallery of spine-tingling (or at least cringe-inducing) videos we compiled for the piece. Thanks to Atlantic senior technology editor (and HiLobrow contributor) Alexis Madrigal for taking the piece.