Being as Scooby Doo villains often use the media to their favor, this trend fits with reality. Tricksters have been pulling scams since the begging of civilization. Whether they take the form of double-talking oracles or pickpocketing fortune tellers, the otherworldly seems to be an easy market for these types of scammers. However, the creation of modern journalism and media have transformed this ancient scam in interesting ways. It’s spookular marketing, baby.
Can crooked people actually take paranormal hoaxes to that level? Can a group of teenagers realistically travel around in a van solving paranormal hoaxes everywhere they go?
The short and quick answer is, yeah. People are crazy. Let’s investigate
So, let’s get this out of the way: Scooby Doo is a show for children.
Joe Ruby and Ken Spears invented this classic as their version of the teen mystery genre for Hannah-Barbera Productions. The story was Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, but with a talking dog. I’m not here to argue the validity of a hyper-intelligent stoner Great Dane. Some may take the sci-fi route, like a cybernetic chip-enhanced super-dog (Scooby Apocalypse), but we’re going to hang out in the mystery genre for this one to keep it as close to reality as possible.
Let’s take a deep breath and except this as a cartoon. Talking dogs aren’t real… yet.
The plot structure is a teen mystery, utilizing small-town legends in crime stories. Each criminal took advantage of his or her community by turning their shared lore against them. Scoob and the gang, a gifted team of teenage sleuths, are famous for unlocking these mysteries and serving a hot plate of justice.
I loved this show as a kid, and recently I came across one of the movies: Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. I, as an adult in my thirties, spent a January morning watching this cartoon with a warm mug of coffee. In this edition to the franchise, Daphne and Fred have moved on to create their own tv show. It’s one of those “the band went their own way” scenarios, which come to think of it, was in the live action movie as well.
Scooby Doo on Zombie Island
The logical leap into the aging sleuth’s professional lives was clear. Fred and Daphne become famous, Velma is lost in a deep abyss of science and/or books, and Scoob and Shaggy still live in a van, picking up odd jobs wherever. Obviously, what hit me was Fred and Daphne, at least in Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. Of course, they’re shooting the same stories that filled their teenage years.
This sent my brain on a tangent. I thought to myself, I’d watch that show. I love that stuff. Then, I thought about all the YouTube channels that were supernatural in content, or cable shows, or documentaries. It’s all over the place. The PEOPLE love ghost stories.
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A History of Spooky Scams
In the 1800’s, Spiritualism was huge. Seances were commonplace in America. A couple hundred years and we go from burning witches to summoning spirits as a household pastime. Mediums were in high order as Americans flocked to speak with their dead loved ones. The art of the cold read was developing, and con artists found ways to exploit this.
Con artists like the Bangs Sisters, who grew up with a mother who also claimed to be a medium, supposedly painted portraits of the dead. The trick was merely a slight of hand, using images of the deceased to draw by. These two sisters became famous, or more so infamous, for the craft, especially since they were famously outed as frauds.
But, there’s that concept again: fame. The newspapers of the time ate the story up, for better and worse.
Fast forward a hundred years to the age of major motion pictures, and the artform evolved. The town of Amityville experience a horrible mass murder inside the residence of 112 Ocean Avenue. A family was slain by one of its own members. Dark stuff.
In 1975 George and Kathy Lutz purchased the house at a bargain, moving their young family to the odd-decision-for-a-home.
Then, the walls reportedly began to ooze.
The Oozy wall story…
George Lutz apparently had a history dabbling in the occult. Go figure. It’s a bit of a red flag when combined with the purchase of a horrific murder scene. But wait, there’s more. Reportedly, a whole slew of paranormal activity followed the oozing walls. People levitating in their sleep, bothersome ghost activity, some sort of pig-like creature with red eyes, all were reported around the house by the family.
The Lutz’s supposedly contacted William Weber, the attorney for the young murderer who previously killed his family and had a fantastic idea for a book. Selling their way to the top, the couple’s “true” story of the paranormal was a media firestorm. We’re still seeing remakes with a buff and fierce Ryan Reynolds (kind of recently).
This story is widely considered a massive hoax, one in which the Lutz family profited. Was it a crime? Nah, not so much. At worst not completely honest, but not a crime (they hold that the events were true). Either way, I can hear Velma in my head laying out this whole charade.
What’s the point in all this Amityville stuff if it wasn’t illegal? The point is to show that the paranormal is believable to a substantial percentage of the American population (at least in the 1970’s, per this specific example). Also, people are willing to exploit this for financial benefit.
2016: The Clown Outbreak
Does anyone remember this? It definitely happened and is a much more recent example of fear-based mass manipulation.
In 2016, a series of spooky clowns were sighted in odd locations—like fields outside businesses—and creeped people out. I remember seeing this on the news, along with tales of face-eating bath salt episodes and shrugged my shoulders.
The news… am I right?
Anyway, the story was a hit. People are absolutely terrified of clowns and they aren’t even supernatural. It seems to me that fear is the primary motivator, a reptilian part of our brain. It’s kind of a cheap shot to grab attention, and it worked.
As it turns out, the stunt was traced back to Green Bay, Wisconsin as a marketing ploy for a horror movie. The movie, titled Gags, was a low-budget project looking to market in creative ways. A marketer myself, I get the creativity aspect. The big dogs throw money at marketing—hiring uber marketing professionals and flooding the market with trailers and posters. The little guys have to find weird ways to make a splash.
The problem here is how much they underestimated people’s fear of clowns. Being scared can be fun in a safe movie theater, not so much at a public park. Look to the “Penn State clown riot” at how people react to being scared in public—in the real world where bad stuff happens. Those kids went clown hunting (only to find nothing but hype).
This was the same clown madness that started in Wisconsin, spreading like wildfire over the internet. Clowns create quite the visceral experience for many people. It’s no wonder 2017’s It was such a surprise hit at the box office—it may have benefited from Gags’ clown hype. The small guys may have inadvertently created a hit for a bigger studio.
The Rise of Paranormal YouTube
Whether ghosts, or any other unknowable being of another dimension, exist doesn’t even matter. We all know that YouTube is full of hoaxers. The trend never left us, and as long as the supernatural is plausible to most people it will be popular. I, for one, eat this kind of content up. It’s not necessarily that I’m a hardcore believer, I simply love the mystery of the unknown. It’s seductive and scary.
However, that leaves me wide open to be manipulated. Unfortunately, people are like that. It could be that the world is full of supernatural phenomena, to the point that the internet is brimming with videos and stories of the paranormal, which it is, but people are going to fake it, too. It’s human nature—a part of the world like the weather.
This is why we need a team of teenage super-sleuths with nothing better to do but catch hoaxers of the paranormal. It would be absolute YouTube gold.
To sum it up…
So, if it came down to a real-life Scooby Doo scenario in the 21st century, the gang would be operating online with live video feeds, traveling in their minivan and living off ad revenue. People will absolutely fall for a supernatural hoax, and other people will go to extraordinary limits for a high pay off.