Monday, 4 May 2015

The Enfield Haunting- Part 1

I don't want to judge an entire three-part series on its first episode, but I was deeply disappointed by Part One of The Enfield Haunting. I won't say too much until I've seen all of it, but so far so bad. The true story of the Enfield poltergeist is a fascinating one, and that is why I demand that any fictionalization of it be respectful and rational. This series enjoyed max-hype by the TV networks and their press, and so everybody was fondly anticipating it, especially those with an interest in the paranormal especially if they are familiar with the real Enfield case. This however was crude and very pretentious attempt at a post-modern filme noire. There was lots of false-suspense, prolonged facial close-ups and other pat pseudo-intellectual abstract devices. I do wish modern TV producers would stop showing us how clever they are and started being more sensible. The pace was achingly slow, to the point where it almost ground to a halt several times. Some of the shots were so badly lit that I couldn't even see what was going on. The script was clich├ęd and lame: "Wot's goin' on 'ere then?"... "We're tryin' to contact the poltergeist."... "Oh, well I'm just gonna go and do me 'omework." was fairly typical of the dialogue level. That was merely annoying, but what disturbed me was an element of cultural Marxist daring which is all too common in modern TV drama. I'm not that bothered by the injection of controversy for controversy's sake alone; I just consider it boring and regard it as something bad writers use as a substitute for a proper story to engage the viewer; however when it involves children that's another matter. There were entire scenes in which Janet Hodgson and her family discussed her menstruation that were gratuitous and unrealistic; they hinted at sexualization. The underage characters swore several times and in one scene we were shown Janet, an eleven-year old girl, using the toilet; is that kind of thing really necessary? What point are they trying to make here? It's all extremely distasteful and frankly sinister; it reeks badly of Common Purpose. I'd have respected the producers if they'd made even a minor effort to resist it, but they didn't. The one bright spark was the casting of the veteran actor Timothy Spall, best known for his outstanding performances in Wind in the Willows, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and The Sheltering Sky. His portrayal of the demure and troubled psychic investigator Maurice Grosse was excellent. The interaction between him and his colleague Guy Lyon Playfair was passable, In the story Playfair is manifestly based on Gilderoy Lockheart from Harry Potter. I feel churlish about my criticism in a way because I really wanted to like this programme. It is faithfully told from the point of view of the family and the viewer is left in no doubt that the poltergeist is real. It might improve in Parts Two and Three. Source: http://features.sky.com/enfield-haunting/.

Before the programme even hit the air, a prelude was published in The Guardian, in the form of an article by Deborah Hyde, the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine and known online as the blogger "Jourdemayne", often described as a "Skeptic witch", see: http://www.jourdemayne.com/. I've encountered her myself several times, for example see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/consciousness-beyond-individual.html. Unlike me she rather enjoyed The Enfield Haunting. She also differs with the suggestion that the paranormal is ignored by mainstream science and gives examples, including some of those that I discuss in the background links below. As you can see in those links I totally disagree and I explain why. She's right about the phenomenon not being repeated under controlled circumstances, ie in a laboratory, but this is unfortunately inherent in the nature of the subject. Spectral entities are not usually obliging enough to turn up for appointments at scientific institutions; I think paranormal investigators do the best they can under the inescapable circumstances of their trade. As you can see from my HPANWO Radio interview with Don Philips and Steve Mera, link below, methods have been designed over almost two centuries of psychical research to channel the subject into a form where it can be examined effectively in the field. Parapsychologists do control for the critiques made by Skeptics, as Don and Steve explain. For instance Don knows how to eliminate electromagnetic interference from his EVP recordings by making them in a Faraday cage and even underwater. Don plans to record one while scuba diving! Skeppers like Ms Hyde appear to be oblivious to the real practices of parapsychology, or she seriously underestimates them. She provides examples of people who have been fooled by hoaxes; she gives the case in point of the Cottingley Fairies, which was also perpetrated by a pair of young girls, just like the Fox sisters were too. Leaving aside the distinct possibility that the Fox sisters' confession may well have been false, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/paranormality-by-prof-richard-wiseman.html, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1920 study of the Cottingley Fairies hardly compares to an investigation using modern electronic detectors; Maurice Grosse himself was a computer engineer. Ms Hyde suffers from sleep paralysis, like I do, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/sleep-paralysis-and-shadow-people.html, and puts some of the experiences Janet suffered down to that. She might be right in a few of the individual occurrences if judging them separately, but viewed holistically with the entire phenomenon that explanation does not fit. The Hodgson family had recently experienced upheaval after the acrimonious breakdown of the father and mother's marriage; the mother was bringing up all four children on her own. Poltergeist activity is often focused on people with emotional problems, particularly girls in early adolescence, but Ms Hyde's suggestion is that the entire Enfield poltergeist case might simply be a hoax played by two upset youngsters, and for that same reason. Grosse and Playfair were kind and attentive towards their young charges; perhaps they alleviated Janet and Margaret's yearning for their absent father. Maurice Grosse had also been recently bereaved of his own teenage daughter, also named Janet, in a motorcycle accident and therefore possibly developed his own transference problem with the girls.
Armchair psychological supposition is very fashionable nowadays, and it's all very well, except that it deviates the narrative from the underlying point which is whether the evidence for real paranormal activity is there or not. If the evidence is there then these fantasy Freuds will have to take a back seat. Like Deborah Hyde I was not there at the time. We only have Playfair and Grosse's study to go on; the books they write for example. In the article Ms Hyde insinuates that Guy Playfair, one of the original psychical investigators of the Enfield case, appeared on the This Morning TV show in 2012 because he was motivated by a desire to market his new book about the poltergeist; I wonder if she would have made that same observation if a Skeptic like Prof. Richard Wiseman wrote one on the matter. If the investigators don't write those books we have no easy access to the information. I'm sure Ms Hyde does not object if we read all possible information available and make up our own minds; I'd never try and dissuade anybody from reading her Skeptic magazine, indeed I occasionally pick up a copy myself. However she then has to respect the rights of people to put their own side of the story into print. Another thing that really troubled me was that Ms Hyde quotes somebody at the time: "...Several psychiatrists and health professionals thought that the whole thing would stop if Grosse and Playfair just left the situation alone..." She doesn't name these people. However what is being suggested here is that the investigation of the supposed poltergeist was a child welfare issue; for whoever originally said that, it is bordering on slander. I would say to them, whoever they might be, dispute the evidence for the reality of the poltergeist before resorting to defamatory slurs. So make your own mind up, dear HPANWO-reader, but if you decide that there's nothing to the case except fakery and delusion then go ahead and think that; but if you do so try to concentrate on the lack of evidence thereof rather than the personal flaws of the people involved.
And: http://hpanwo-radio.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/programme-135-podcast-don-philips-and.html.

12 comments:

Don Philips said...

"The first thing to note is that the occurrences didn’t happen under controlled circumstances. People frequently see what they expect to see," = Quite an assumptious generalizationin,used by way of an attempted instant dismissal of any claim. Although misidentification could happen for a variety of reasons, lets not let biased asumptions be the jury,judge & executioner of all reported phenomena, an easy habit to adopt! Finally > a poltergiest under controlled circumstances? a suggestion as to what controls in what (uknown) circumstances could be an interesting read. :)

Xylomet said...

Thanks for the post Ben. I didn't realize the series was on T.V. It is an interesting and compelling U.K case. What happened at this address clearly could not be explained by science in its context at the time, but a lot of discussion about it both presumes that 'fact' rests upon scientifically 'un-provable' or 'unverifiable' assertions, viz. When we look, we cannot find the 'ghost in the machine' that is triggering the phenomena and so we might as well accept the 'machine' which is labelled as hoax, or general assumption . Don Phillips who has posted above is challenging this acutely. Cheers Ben

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

That's it, Don. Skeptics raise the bar every time. You sore a goal they move the goal posts.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

You're welcome, X. (And thanks for tuning in to HPANWO Radio last night.) Strangely enough, if you go to the house on Google Street, 284 Green Street, it is partially pixelated. The upper right window can't be seen from directly opposite.

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

paul rawes said...

Great review, Ben!

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Thanks, Paul