Most genres have a built-in fan base. But is any as enduring — and as vigorous — as the “weird crowd”? I’m talking about fans of the paranormal. You know, psychic phenomena, extraterrestrials, ghosts, doppelgangers, urban legends and monsters. So it was only a matter of time before something like Fringe emerged, again, on prime time.
The show, which premiered last week on Fox, has the X-Files demographic in its aim. It’s a blend of sci and sci-fi and takes its name from “fringe science,” sporting phenomenon like mind control, invisibility and reanimation. And, by the way, Fringe is getting great reviews.
The staying power of this genre has always intrigued me. Why do we keep coming back to the strange and the supernatural? Polls continually reveal that the U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the world, with the majority of citizens having some belief in God, angels, heaven, hell and the devil. Significant numbers also profess belief in reincarnation, astrology, ghosts and UFO’s. In an article entitled Supernatural Science: Why We Want to Believe, the author notes, to his apparent dismay:
In a 2006 study, researchers found a surprising number of college students believe in psychics, witches, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas. A full 40 percent said they believe houses can be haunted.
As much as some would like to tout science, medicine, and education as end-alls, underneath our “rational” veneer lies a vibrant sub-culture of the superstitious.
Apparently, the Hollywood intelligentsia keeps its finger on our paranormal pulse. Why else would there be such an endless parade of aliens, angels, ghosts and bogeymen in pop culture? What often gets lost in the statistics and commercialism is the implication of it all. I mean, what does it say about us that we are so interested in things we cannot see? Are we escapists, dreamers or just plain primitives?
C.S. Lewis argued that the hunger for heaven is evidence for the existence of heaven. All cravings have a correspondent fix. The hunger for Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk exists, because the ice cream in question does. Likewise, our unshakable, intuitive sense that powers greater than ours lurk on the fringes of the everyday, may be the best evidence of their existence. Of course, believing in extra-terrestrials does not make them so. Nevertheless, it is the consistent hunger for a superior mind, a perfect world, something more, that we can’t seem to shake.
Frederick Buechner tells the story of the young man who shot and killed his father in a fit of rage. Later that evening in his prison cell, the boy was heard crying, “I need my Dad. I need my Dad.” It’s very likely that what is going bump in the night is our eternal longings flailing against the void; we’ve evicted God, and boy do we miss Him. America’s hunger for the supernatural is evidence of this spiritual vacuum.
Perhaps more than any other genre, Paranormal reminds us of our religious bent. There IS someone out there, beyond the stars. There IS something waiting on the other side. There are dimensions, beings, possibilities, beyond our wildest imagination. We are all living on the fringe.