Chris Mooney makes a point about the supernatural thriller genre.
Indeed, nearly five years ago I wrote a column entitled “Conversion Fantasies” in which I made the following point: In movies and TV series about the paranormal, the sterotypical “skeptic” figure always seems to convert into a believer by the end. And why does this occur? Well, because in fiction, the author can control the laws of nature, and in these fictional narratives (which show an abundant lack of creativity), the supernatural always turns out to be real.
I think an excellent example of this trend is the Scooby Doo cartoon. Way back when I was a young’un, they always ended the same way: the Scooby Doo gang would always discover that the monster/spectre/alien was actually Old Man Cargill, dressed in a costume, trying to keep visitors away so they wouldn’t discover his secret uranium mine, and they always led him away in handcuffs at the end, while he muttered, “If it weren’t for those darned kids, I would have gotten away with it.” I know, the cartoon was cheesily and cheaply animated, the plots were boring and predictable, and the characters were annoyingly trite, but at least they had a consistent message that the supernatural wasn’t real.
That changed last time I saw it — the ghosts were “real”. It was very strange: it was a badly done cartoon, waning in popularity, and instead of trying to reinvigorate it by, say, coming up with creative plots, or getting better artwork, or making the characters more interesting, they chose to throw away the one novel element of the show. The supernatural resort is often the act of lazy hacks.
I’m not going to be quite as down on the supernatural in fiction as Mooney is — I do like a good cheesy horror flick now and then — but I agree with him that the conversion narrative always seems to run in one direction only, and it’s gotten a bit tired. How about a movie where a confirmed, praying, ghost-fearing, gullible person sees the evidence and is enlightened, and sees at last the sufficiency of natural mechanisms? I don’t just mean discovering it’s Old Man Cargill under the sheet, but gets their whole worldview shaken up and realizes that hey, looking for material causes works.
That would be a hard one to write, I suspect, and me and Chris Mooney don’t represent a very big share of the market.