Introducing A&E's "The Lowe Files."
I'm sure very few of you need an introduction to Rob Lowe... I'll rephrase that.... I'm sure very few of you over 35 need an introduction to Rob Lowe. He's essentially a better looking, cleaner cut Robert Downey Jnr who never landed Iron Man. To say he wasn't on my radar would be an understatement. That was until this "news story" appeared in my social media feed.
All of the following clips are featured for the purposes of review, comment and critique and as such improving public knowledge, uses which are covered by fair use.
The first episode takes the form of an investigation into a "haunted boys reformatory" in California, I suspect the show isn't going to stick to this format though preferring a "jack of all trades" approach that insults seasoned investigators who concentrate on one area of study for years. Not only will this show not dwell long enough in one location to conduct a proper investigation, it seems it won't linger on an area of research either. It's the paranormal TV equivalent of a child with ADHD. Lowe investigates with his two sons, Matthew and John Owen.
NB- I know many of you can't watch the videos embedded on the blog so I've consolidated them into one Youtube linked video in the sources section at the foot of the post.
The show begins in suitably frustrating style (above clip). We see one of the Lowe kids lying on a bed "calling out" to spirits. Overlaid is footage of a beach ball that begins to drift towards a piece of kit, looks like an EMF detector. Dramatic movement tells us something eerie has happened. The truth is what we are likely seeing here is an example of Brownian motion (2). The extremely light ball is disturbed by an air current, or equally likely the static around the plastic ball is interacting with the electromagnetic field around the device next to it. This is how you've chosen to introduce yourself and your show to the public, with a completely unremarkable event. I find it hard to believe even the most fervent believer will accept this as paranormal.
The opening credits roll, Lowe explains his interest in the paranormal over various faked images. It was telling to see one that I've debunked here on this site before, namely the "rake" photo allegedly taken from a trail cam (3). With this image, I feel the show just cited its one of its major sources, viral stories on the internet and social media. Be interesting to see how this element plays out during the series.
The show does get extra points for choice of theme song, the awesome majesty of "Don't Fear The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult ensures I enjoy at least a minute of this dross.
John Owen then raises a question that I've asked myself, what makes them any more qualified to investigate the paranormal than "any other idiot" his words not mine. What's funny is the line is quite clearly ADRed. It's been added to the audio track after the recording. This could be because it wasn't properly picked up in the car, or because the show's producers are acutely aware the show balances on an extremely flimsy premise. Lowe points out it's because they'll have a shaman called Jon with them. Erm... great, but that doesn't really answer the question, as presumably any of these other "idiots" could also take a shaman with them. Lowe gives us a load of new age pseudo-babble about "drawing out energy" and "crossing the void" to explain the Shaman's presence. "No one has ever brought a shaman before!" Lowe tells us hoping that we don't just link shamanism to any one of the other religious systems and beliefs that have been dragged along on the paranormal circus train over the past decades. Lowe explains he's doing the show because he loves paranormal television. Presumably, he loves money too.
They then stop for doughnuts. Then they stop for lunch.
Unfortunately, as much as Jon seems to know about $58 bronze whistles, he knows nothing about conducting an investigation or the equipment used. "EMF meters" we are told "are the best way to detect ghosts" and if you get "any reading at all that's something." Seriously, this makes Nick Groff look like a seasoned professional. It would be laughable if it weren't so insulting. Of course, when Jon is handed the EMF detector later there is no indication the team has taken a baseline reading. Also, when he gets a reading of "17" later in the show, we have no idea what the significance o this unitless number is. There's no idea of what is normal for this area.
Lowe follows this with an explanation of the Ovilus ghost box, which he maintains allows ghosts, who speak in different frequencies to talk through it. Whether he knows that the Ovilus uses environmental readings to pull random words from its database, I don't know, but the cast does seem to allude to this later in the show. That doesn't stop them from using it as the body of the investigation part of the show. Every time it spits out a random word, Lowe assigns this word a great deal of significance and fills in the details ad hoc about what the word may mean.
In this clip, the Ovilus spits out the word "pie" clearly a completely random and meaningless word. Lowe asks his son where the kitchen is, he responds "down there" and points in a general direction. Lowe asserts the box said "pie" because they've reached the kitchen. Except they haven't reached the kitchen yet! It may well be somewhere in the general area, but they aren't there yet. That's the problem with the Ovilus, when the words have no apparent meaning, the user quickly supplies it meaning it can't ever be wrong.
The team take a tour of the location they are meant to be investigating, sharing lots of local stories and grim tales of drowned girls and shot children. This indulgence in local "colour" is clearly to provide an eerie atmosphere for the audience, but it's not helpful in conducting an actual investigation as it adds a layer of suggestibility to what is experienced at the location.
During an uneventful tour, the Lowes are shown an area on a wall adorned with a yellow/brown stain, which their guide assures them is a scorch mark that returns every time it is removed.
Whilst this looks like a burn, I'd suggest it caused by damp building up behind the wall. Possibly a rainwater leak pouring down and resting on brickwork or a lintel behind the wood panelling. If you look closely you can see areas where it seems like the moisture has seeped down past whatever this blockage is. Failing that, it may even be a burn, albeit caused by a hot water pipe behind the panelling. Either of these things would explain why the stain returns after it is cleared.
The Lowes then rendezvous with Shaman Jon outside the location, who spouts some metaphysical babble about thinning veils and then resorts to the ultimate cheap paranormal trope: the institute is haunted because it's built on a native American burial ground. I don't know nearly enough about Native American burial customs to suggest Jon is wrong when he states Native Americans typically used hills as burial sites, but I'd suggest that a list of categorised burial sites doesn't bear out the assertion. I'd also suggest that native Americans had a wide range of burial customs. Although hills, in general, could be considered sacred, that doesn't mean EVERY hill was sacred. Nor does it mean every sacred area was a burial ground. The "Indian burial ground" trope (5) is a deeply insulting one based upon the assumption that certain ethnic groups are somehow imbued with mystical powers.
When the main "investigation" is conducted, it's done so in the dark with night vision cameras, as one would expect from any ghost hunting television show at the moment. I think It would almost be heresy for a show to investigate in proper lighting conditions now. As is also common at this point, everything that happens, from a flickering lift light upwards is described as significant in some way. The team are suitably jumpy as required by ghost television standards.
Rob and John Owen set a Triboelectric field detector down on the floor, to detect static fields, which Rob assures us is a sign of "paranormal activity" neglecting to mention that they are also a sign of operating electrical goods, even rubbing a piece of plastic on a shirt can produce a triboelectric field. The triboelectric effect is the general description of the static field that occurs when a positively charged surface rubs against a negatively charged surface. Most static electricity is triboelectric in nature He tells his son to turn the torch off to prevent interference, despite the fact there are multiple cameras running and the detectors have been placed in front of black electrical cables! We can also see a torch or camera light shining on the detector when it triggers.
The triboelectric field detector is a really cheap piece of kit which comes in all sorts of weird and not so wonderful shapes or sizes. Of course, we've no more reason to suspect this item would be any more useful for detecting a ghost than an EMF, and like an EMF detector, there's a multitude of possible sources for the detected field including the operators themselves!
Rob tells us that it will trigger is the "presence" of paranormal entities, but depending on the sensitivity, it will trigger when it's anywhere up to 15 feet from a static field. In the video clip above, a group selling one of these devices inadvertently demonstrates he can set it off with his hand, or the clothing on his arm, that's how sensitive can be.
My favourite part of all this is when the show's "skeptic" Lowe, John Owen pulls his turned on iPhone from his pocket and is stunned when the detector responds to his movement. "It doesn't like that...." he exclaims. No, they didn't, perhaps even the spirits are surprised you're so dense you're trying to take measurements of EMF and static fields with a switched on cell-phone in your pocket!
Our next occurrence of paranormal activity is an alleged temperature drop of 3 degrees on a thermometer placed directly under a window. Again we've no idea if this is abnormal or not as we have no idea what the base line is for this area. Of course, Rob tells us this has always been associated with ghostly activity. It's also always been associated with drafts as well!
We then see Rob and Jon's devices "going crazy" coinciding with them being brought in proximity to each other. Quite possibly as both detect EMF fields they are detecting each other and the intersection of their own fields. Of course, by this point, it's all a bit moot anyway as we know that at least Jon Owen (and potentially any of the others too) has a switched on cell-phone in his pocket!
After this, there's some more fun with the static detectors, and we're done.
I've never been so grateful to see the credits roll on a TV show.
The Lowe Files isn't the worst paranormal TV show I've ever watched, but it may well be the least interesting and it's certainly the least professional. We must surely now be near the point of over-saturation of paranormal television. It's becoming abundantly clear that each new show is attempting to find a gimmick to stand out from a burgeoning crowd, and this show's gimmick: "here's a film star you know hunting ghosts/ Sasquatch /UFOs" may well be the weakest yet.
I couldn't get the image of Troy McClure out of my head whilst I was watching. I really expected Rob Lowe to utter "....you may remember me from...." at some point during the episode.
The message from the show is clear"Anyone can do this. No experience? No special skills? No background in science or investigation? That's fine. Just be passionate." This is a frustrating message to be receiving at a time when ghost hunting groups are rapidly increasing in number. It's clear that Lowe hasn't bothered to do the slightest bit of research into how his equipment works, and I don't even think the show's producers have the slightest clue either. Why else include footage of John Owen pulling a cell-phone from his pocket.
Lowe admitted as much about his amateur status in another puff piece for the show just before it aired. At a panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Lowe stated: "We're paranormal idiots (6)" When asked to clarify how a certain piece of equipment worked he added, "'Don’t ask me how, don’t ask me the science, I don’t know."
In a genre filled with rank amateurs, the Lowe Files and A&E as a whole manages to invent a new level to sink to. There was a stage when at least paranormal TV stars attempted to cover their lack of credentials. Watching this David Roundtree must wonder why he bothered to lie through his teeth about his qualifications. A shrug and a smile are enough. The ethos on display seems to be almost a pride in lack of expertise. When that is something freely admitted in any area of research, whether it's a hobby or not, or conducted in the media, you know that this flooded genre of television must be quickly headed for collapse.
In my opinion, this collapse can't come a moment too soon.