October 25, 2010 3 Comments
By: Peter Parker
So, I got dragged by a friend to go and see the film Paranormal Activity 2, despite the fact that I never saw the first Paranormal Activity. In the long run, I don’t think my missing the first one mattered all that much. Without giving away too much, the plot centers around a family whose house is being haunted. Initially they mistake the haunting for a home invasion and respond by purchasing a high-tech security system with cameras and microphones in every room, recording their activity 24 hours a day. The film purports to be real footage of real events, edited together from the security camera recordings. As I understand it, this is basically the same premiss as the original Paranormal Activity.
In presenting itself as being composed of real footage, PA2 is also similar to such pseudo-documentaries as the original Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, District 9, and the The Fourth Kind. On the one hand, this recent attempt by Hollywood to blur the line between fiction and reality, can simply be taken as a way of giving a movie a creepier atmosphere. Even viewers who enter the theater with the understanding that they are watching a fictional story, might find themselves being drawn into the film’s pretense of reality. Our minds have been culturally conditioned to receive documentary style narratives as something more than a mere fantasy concocted for our entertainment. Thus, even if it is only on a semi-conscious level, the story presented by a “pseudo-doc” is often able to fly under the radar of our suspension of disbelief. The more believable a film is, the greater the emotional response from the audience or so the theory goes anyway.
Of course that’s just the superficial examination of the pseudo-doc’s ostensible purpose. Readers might be familiar with the methods of deeper textual and pre-textual analysis applied to various Hollywood films elsewhere on this site. These readings operate under the assumption that mass cultural itself is often used as a covert tool to inculcate the public into some form of elite agenda or philosophy. If we consider both the first and the second Paranormal Activity in this light, we see a film series which normalizes the idea of the so-called panoptic state. The very nature of the pseudo-doc acclimatizes the audience to a voyeuristic mind-set (a necessary ingredient for any functioning panoptic state) but Paranormal Activity 2 goes a step beyond this. In presenting 24 hour video surveillance as the only natural recourse to a supposed home invasion, PA2, lowers the bar where our standard of personal privacy is concerned. Seriously, not one member of the family even bats an eye over the idea that they’re all going to be recorded at all times from now on. Frankly, they should be more scared of that prospect than any (SPOILER WARNING) first-born son stealing, invisible demon thing. PA2 is not the only recent film psychologically preparing us for a surveillance state, the incredibly popular 2008 film The Dark Knight, has Batman (a character who is the very symbol of moral justice itself) converting all of Gotham city’s cellphones into an omnipresent sonar network. Read more of this post