Follow TV Tropes
Upon first seeing Red Lights suggested for me on Netflix, I could already tell how it was going to end. Why? Because all the Hollywood films dealing with the magical, paranormal or supernatural all seem to end the same way, summarized as: The Skeptic Is Always Wrong. Most films, this one included, do give us a number of "red herrings" for the skeptics to debunk, but that only sets things up for the real thing, inevitably revealed in the finale. This is tiresome, but of course Hollywood caters to popular culture, which seems to be clearly against skepticism. Would it have worked for the film to expose Simon Silver, while having some creepy, seemingly paranormal things along the way, which turn out to have natural explanations, with a conclusion which upholds critical thinking and skepticism? I have to admit, while it is possible, that might have been a less appealing film. However, we cannot know for sure until it's tried, and it seems clear, as with The Ledge, that even when Hollywood presents a positive representation of something usually disliked (skeptics here, atheists there) it still does so in such a cliched, melodramatic form, instead demonizing the opposing view.
I would argue against popular culture being anti-skeptic, since the "debunking detective" seems to be popular in TV and literature. Regardless, too many works that are pro-skepticism or pro-paranormalism seem to make it a goal to demonize the other side (I consider being portrayed as incredibly gullible as demonization).
I wonder if it were possible to tell a story about a paranormal event or object where it's completely ambiguous as to whether it's real or not, where the focus is on the conflicts between skeptics and paranormalists. Could you sell that to a large audience?
Aside from Scooby Doo, I can't think of any media in which alleged paranormal phenomena is consistently disproven. They're the only "debunking detectives" I know of whose stories don't end in Real After All, Skepticism Failure or suffer from Arbitrary Skepticism in their portrayal. Of course I'd love to hear about other examples. I find that leaving it ambiguous is the usual choice when skepticism isn't outright shown to be wrong, or even if the plot-central phenomena is ever disproven, it's shown that it may exist out there anyway, e.g. a YA story I read in which a girl is thought to be a "real" witch, then it's shown that she isn't, but a flying witch on a broom stick which the protagonists sees remains unexplained. That one's a particular twist on the Real After All finale. Obviously any work that has an axe to grind is likely going to display bias, from whatever direction-proponents of the opposite position don't generally come off well. Leaving it mostly or wholly ambiguous is how many works start out, Red Lights included, though I don't think people would accept there just being no resolution as to whether the plot-central phenomena is real or not. They would probably feel cheated by that. Despite my frustration as shown in the review, I can't honestly blame Hollywood. I'm not sure a work in which the skeptics are right, or it's left ambiguous like you suggest, is going to sell for audiences. Oh well.
I would argue that in most cases, skepticism is simply boring. Demons, ghosts, wizards, psychics, and things that go bump are more fun than rational explanations.
Well, there are a quite a few horror videogames where all of the supernatural elements are just inside the person's mind, though I'm unsure if it counts. (and no, I don't mean Silent Hill style, where supernatural exploits protagonist's mind). Rule of Rose is an pretty good example, for instance.
Also, while it's not drama or horror, have you seen Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes? (the first one, not the inferior sequel)If not, then trust me, it's going to be right up your alley.
Leave a Comment:
Community Showcase More
How well does it match the trope?