Movies, Television, and the Paranormal

Sceptics contend that many reports of paranormal phenomena are the result of people having seen depictions of similar events in movies or on television. The example they most often cite to support this is the 1964 case of Betty and Barney Hill, a married couple who made the first widely publicized report of an alien abduction. Three years after the supposed abduction, when Barney was asked to describe under hypnosis the alien he had encountered, he drew an alien that looked almost exactly like one that had appeared in the science-fiction television show Outer Limits just twelve days before he was asked to make the drawing. Although the Hills subsequently denied being influenced by the media, sceptics say this proves that their abduction was a product of a media-induced fantasy.

Similarly, the television show The X-Files, which, during its nine seasons on the air, portrayed a wide variety of paranormal phenomena, often seemed to trigger reports of paranormal experiences. For example, in 1996, after the show featured a mysterious creature known as the chupacabra, several people in the United States reported sighting one. Previously, the animal had been primarily reported in Latin America, and most cryptozoologists who study chupacabra reports do not consider the post–X-Files sightings to be genuine.

Because the media can trigger reports of events that most likely never took place, government authorities have often attempted to play down reports of strange occurrences in order to avoid mass hysteria. (A classic case of panic over a supposed landing of an alien spacecraft occurred on October 30, 1938, when CBS radio broadcast Orson Welles’s dramatization of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds; Wells’s depiction of aliens invading Earth caused intense panic in New Jersey and New York among people who mistook the fictional story for an actual news report.) Some ufologists suggest that the public will never know for sure whether extraterrestrials have actually visited Earth: Government officials, they say, will keep this information secret.


  • Literature and the Paranormal


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning