Despite our reputation as a science-minded superpower, America has always had a predilection for the unseen.
Don’t be shy. Depending on your poll of choice, anywhere from a third to nearly half of you either believe in ghosts or are pretty sure you do. And if not ghosts, then aliens, mediums, or astrology, for which belief has either held steady or risen over the last couple of decades. More than two-thirds of Americans hold at least one paranormal—unsanctioned by religion—belief, according to the Baylor Religion Survey. That’s more than voted in the 2012 presidential election.
It’s not just belief: everywhere you look in the United States today, the supernatural is more culturally important, more acceptable, and just … more than it’s ever been before. Paranormal-themed media of all types have surged, in fiction obviously, but also in non-fiction too, where the past few years have brought us everything from The Most Terrifying Places in America to Psychic Tia to The Monster Project. Then there are the Bigfoot hunts, the ghost hunting tool reviews, the UFO spotting iPhone apps—we can’t get enough of this stuff.
This should come as no surprise. Despite our reputation as a science-minded superpower, America has always had a predilection for the unseen. It has ebbed and flowed with us for as long as this nation has existed, in the form of the 18th-century pilgrim mystics, the domesticated poltergeists that knocked on command in the 19th, and even in the academically inclined parapsychologists of the 20th. Whether you believe in these ideas or not is almost immaterial: the paranormal is an inescapable ingredient in the American identity that has shaped and been shaped by our society for centuries.
Perhaps that makes it all the more meaningful that today’s supernatural surge is not just another cycle of the same old thing, but a fundamental shift in how we approach the paranormal. It’s democratic, laden with jargon, and endlessly customizable—in short, it’s the DIY American techno-religion of the 21st century.