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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Susan Gerbic: Vampire Slayer

by Stephen Propatier

January 22, 2016

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Donate Susan Gerbic at The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has put out the call for all vampire slayers. Does this mean that we should all stock up on garlic, holy water and get some really high collars for our shirts? No, this type of vampire is not going to directly consume our blood. But, in my opinion, the type of vampire she refers to is more evil and harder to metaphorically kill than the traditional vampire. It is called a grief vampire, a.k.a. a psychic medium. This type of vampire feeds off of the grief of surviving family members and the natural fear of death that we all have. The E! Television Network is premiering and promoting a new show called Hollywood Medium with Tyler Henry. It's similar to The Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo, whose own show is off the air currently and facing litigation due to claims of fraud. I find those fraud charges ironic, since cold reading itself is merely a sham party trick, even without the cheating methods allegedly used by Caputo. I am personally disgusted by the displays on these shows. Susan Gerbic feels, as do I, that we need to nip these shows "in the bud," for obvious reasons.

I have no problem at all with cold readings done as a performance for entertainment purposes. Hollywood Medium is appearing on the E! Channel and not the Science Channel. Yet E! is not disclaiming it as entertainment only; rather, it promotes the "psychic, clairvoyant" Tyler Henry, saying:
The star of E!'s Hollywood Medium With Tyler Henry is a medium, a clairvoyant and a medical intuitive. The combination of this exceptional trio of skills allows him to feel, understand and communicate accurate messages to his celebrity clients from their deceased friends and family members on the other side.
If you put a disclaimer on your website/show/social media claiming that this is for entertainment purposes only, I'd dislike it but I wouldn't object to it. Better yet, if you are like James Randi and you openly state that it is a performance art, I'd enjoy the performance. Tyler Henry and E! do none of these things. His performance is promoted as speaking to the dead. Compelling for many previous people making this claim show consistently that it's a fake.

Why am I so confident? The evidence is frighteningly obvious. My favorite convincing argument against communicating with the afterlife was the great Harry Houdini. He spent most of his career trying to find a genuine spiritualist and yet repeatedly came up empty handed, drawing on his knowledge of stage magic and seeing through the obvious trickery at the core of the spiritualist routine. He famously promised that if there was any way to contact the living he would do so after he died. He gave his wife Bess a secret code phrase to know it was really him contacting her after death: "Rosabelle believe." His wife tried seances and psychics for 10 years after his passing, yet not one ever uttered those words.

I, like Houdini, would love proof, or even some slight evidence, that my loved ones are waiting for me on the other side. I don't let that deep desire to be reassured color my evaluation of mediums. Psychic mediums like John Edwards and the aforementioned Caputo have made a career off others' grief, and they are not even good at doing cold readings. There is zero chance that they are actually speaking to the deceased. I expect nothing different from Mr. Henry.

Henry is a good looking young kid—probably very charismatic and most likely a true believer, based upon his biography. His bio has a variety of New-Age mumbo jumbo, the traditional energy claim, and a new category of apparent nonsense "medical intuitive." I translate that to mean "medical guesser." They define it as someone who
the innate ability to describe the cause of a physical or emotional condition through the perception or feeling of another's energy, according to Martha Stewart. While performing a reading, Tyler can often physically sense the prior medical conditions of the spirits he is attempting to communicate with.
If Martha Stewart thinks it's real... Well, there is nothing like an anecdote of pop icon, convicted of fraud, to bolster your evidence. I think this is clearly a new beat to an old song.

So why should we be incensed? Why call them grief vampires? They take individuals' feelings of loss and use them as a prop to make money. In effect, they live off the grief of other people.

I think it is despicable for the E! and the performer to make money off of that sadness. It makes me sick to see a show that sells advertising space using a desperately grieving family that lost a small child. Although some would argue such a spectacle might help people cope with the colossal loss, I do not, especially if you're charging them money, or, in the case of E!, selling advertisment time. They are truly grief vampires, sucking money off of the death of young children. It's despicable, really horrifically despicable.

What can we do to end this travesty? Skeptics everywhere unite! Make your displeasure known. Get out in front of this, write the E! Network—show your disdain. Teach your friends and family that cold reading is not psychic power. Share these posts on social media and get the word out. Kill this show before it becomes another halftime show at the Superbowl. Demand that no more grief vampires are trotted out to sell some wares. Together, we can stop the corporate sale of grief for money. Slay the vampire right in its lair.

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You can follow me at Twitter @steveproacnp for a daily dose of skeptical nursing.

by Stephen Propatier

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