Do Forteans Represent A Particular Social / Personality Profile?

gattino

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#1
I'm using the term Fortean here to mean people with a greater than average interest in the parananormal and related subjects...people who actively buy magazines and books on a variety of such topics, read the FT and lurk upon this and other themed blogs and forums.



As for what I mean by social type, I'm not entirely sure..just wondering out loud.



On the thread about Transgender people it went a little off topic into areas of sexuality and so on and it was pointed out that a large number of transgender individuals are in the "occult community" and that the essentially accurate stereotype of the clairvoyant or medium is of a woman or a camp man.



Although "forteans" per se have little cultural presence as a class in the media, there is currently a pair of entirely comic relief characters in the soap opera Coronation Street, Mary the shopkeeper and the editor of her favourite magazine "The inexplicible" (I suspect largely inspired by our own favourite publication) who are bonded by their common belief in supernatural mysteries. Their mutual admission to having once been sceptics (revealed as a shameful secret) is enough to drive them into each other's lusty middle aged embrace. Their passionate interest in bigfoot and orbs etc are in other words symbolic of them being a variety of comical social misfit .



Though the term Geek is often now held up as a badge of pride, comic book and sci fi fans - with whom there is clearly some overlap in the pages of FT - are very much percieved of, rightly or wrongly, in those terms. The Big Bang Theory shows us what to expect fans of such material to be like...unsporty, socially awkward, unable in the case of men to relate to girls very much, living at home too long et etc. Similarly when someone is identified as a train spotter, their entire personality and home life is presumed in largely mocking or pitying terms in our minds.



I don't sense the latter is true of people interested in the paranormal..too many people are..but my question is ...allowing for countless individual exceptions including everyone here :p .. do you think there is a similar set of personal characteristics that eitehr are OR ARE PERCIEVED TO BE typical of people who take an active interest in the stuff we all do? Is the average follower of these themes more likely to be - or be seen as being - academic? socially inadequate? kooky? a loner? outgoing? eccentric? Are the majority of forteans, indeed, another variety of geek?
 

gattino

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#5
Going off the initial question about "us" for a moment, I was trying to think what the common nature of the "spotter type" and the "fanboy type" is. I think the former - often claimed to be related to mild aspergers - is just a more solitary form of the latter. What they share in common, which may be the origin of the mocking tone in which they're often discussed, is that they are characterised by the habit of collecting encylcopedic knowledge on their chosen subject and regurgitating its minutiae to each other. To those outside of the chosen subject this is both boring and slightly disconcerting in terms of mental health. But it occurs to me there is another type of obsessive fan who does this but exist in such large numbers they are seldom if ever held up for ridicule or seen as inherentaly socially awkward. The football fan.

I seldom ever pass two middle aged men in the street or the supermarket who aren't talking about the game, some player, a manager, what formation should have been used, or how something compares to the second goal in a match from 1976. The interest of the sports fan may be seen as obsessive to those not interested but is seldom assumed to indicate he doesn't know how to talk to a girl or keeps his mother in his attic. Perhaps its simply that sports are considered grown up and trains or superheros belong to childhood.

So where does that leave ghosts and ufos? Could any of us be considered "fans"?
 

Ghost In The Machine

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#7
...The interest of the sports fan may be seen as obsessive to those not interested but is seldom assumed to indicate he doesn't know how to talk to a girl or keeps his mother in his attic...

That's really interesting (and true). I suppose the sporty men are confirming the cultural 'norm' or stereotype. Blokey blokes doing bloke things in a blokey way. I suppose, culturally, the supernatural has always been associated with the feminine, culturally and even though we are a long way from our culture's roots, we still echo that. Sun/daytime = masculine; night, moontime and the weird things that happen in it = feminine. That kind of thing. We're no longer conscious of it, but it's probably broadly true across European cultures, that the 'unknown' has been equated with femininity.

I have thought about this a bit as I have 5 sons and three are what anyone would term "geeky"; two are football mad - one being very obsessive about remembering stats and football history of his chosen team, as well as being one of the better players in his year at school. So my kids divide into these two camps - geeks v. Sportacus. All had the same (geeky) upbringing. But they are very very different.

My geeky sons (all in their early 20s) are all total sceptics and not remotely 'woo'. They openly laugh at my stories of ghost cats, etc. Oddly, the sporty football loving two are the ones who ask to hear my ghost stories over and over... But know it's cool to diss woo. My older sporty son had what can only be described as a Black Shuck encounter himself (and before I'd told him anything about Big Black Dogs in folklore). So he remains more open to woo than most.

Why are people with an interest in the supernatural seen as comic characters? I guess because ever since the Industrial Revolution, the old lore of these islands has been dying out. And now it is almost dead. Just as Darwin essentially killed religion (some of it is just taking a while with the death throes), he killed superstition too, in a way as science and rationality became the new gods. So we're seeing a perfect storm of a number of factors.

Also, religion and superstition have long been exhibited as symptomatic of mental illness. Think of all those Victorian asylums full of people suffering from 'religious mania', or people who saw fairies, or demons, or what have you. Culturally, we expect mad people to see unaccountable things, or imagine these things are 'real'.

Personally I'd love to be a sceptic and all my instincts go that way but then I have seen stuff I simply can't explain as have people I trust and believe. My knee jerk reaction is to find a rational explanation when I can but even that is just conforming to some cultural norm, I guess, that anyone intelligent or educated must, by definition, be a sceptic.

A sketchy, crap, rambling answer to a brilliant question. But that's the best I can do pre-caffeine.
 

GNC

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#8
It's funny, you'd think with Forteans neither true believers nor arch-sceptics we'd be appeasers, go-betweens, but we're probably more at an interested distance from the subject, looking for a bigger picture of weirdness than either of those and not trusted by them.
 
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#9
But it occurs to me there is another type of obsessive fan who does this but exist in such large numbers they are seldom if ever held up for ridicule or seen as inherentaly socially awkward. The football fan.
Exactly. I was making the same point myself recently in a conversation about autism and the train spotter stereotype of one (almost invariably male) obsessed with the memorising and marshalling of statistics and trivia. It's precisely the same behaviour you get with football bores, but when expressed within a sporting context is not generally considered 'sad' or pointless. Very strange.
 

gattino

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#10
It's funny, you'd think with Forteans neither true believers nor arch-sceptics we'd be appeasers, go-betweens, but we're probably more at an interested distance from the subject, looking for a bigger picture of weirdness than either of those and not trusted by them.
Yes, it occurred to me when writing the question that I already knew the answer. The concept of "fortean", even the word, is probably not known at all to the general public. And the adherents to the principles of the magazine and these forums are clearly in a different category to the caricatures currently in Coronation Street.

The "kook/geek" traits that provide for the invited amusement of the tv audience is clearly modelled on people who are in ghost hunting clubs or pursue ufos in Area 51 etc, who I suppose could be presumed to have the same traits as all the other devotees of something specific but of minority interest.

Wheras "forteans" as we understand the term tend not to form social clubs particularly and - though we may individually be convinced of a specific phenomenon through personal experience - when it comes to all the other weirdness that captures our interest, it tends to manifest in curiosity and speculation rather than absorbing information.

So perhaps we're the only non-geeks around. :p

"All the world is queer save thee and me - an even thou art a little queer."
 
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#11
From my understanding of personality types I'm an 'outgoing introvert', as are most of the people I get on with particularly well. Very introverted people can be hard work in social situations and out-and-out extroverts can be extremely tedious too. But I can think of people I like who might fit into both of those extreme end-of-the-spectrum pigeonholes.

Thinking of people I know who are, shall we say active in Fortean fields there are two that stand out - both thirty to fortysomething men. One was training to be a medium (not sure if he's persisting with it) although he's only '70%' convinced there is anything at all in it and is an actor and writer and quite the extrovert. The other is seriously involved in paranoramal investigations and is a singer/songwriter and author of books about hauntings - another outgoing introvert I would say, and a Christian. He's sceptical as well, but has told me one of the best IHTM ghost stories I have ever heard, which I won't repeat here without his permission as it involves his family.

Other than that I can think of a few women who are interested in paganism in a slightly 'witchy' way - some of whom are quite shy and others quite loud and er, 'ballsy' - not a word I've ever used before!
 
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Spudrick68

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#12
A limited number of people I know are aware of Forteana. Some who are aware of it but not interested talk a caricature of a nerd. They say things like "Oh God its really tedious. In 1649 28 pebbles fell on a house in Hull" type stuff, in a mock nerdy voice.
 

Ulalume

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#13
As far as social types - or social stereotypes - go, it may vary somewhat from culture to culture, or with the times. Certainly I grew up with an idea of Forteans as learned professors, usually British, members of the SPR who spent a lot of time in wood-paneled libraries and occasionally embarking on expeditions to Parts Unknown. This stereotype still turns up at times, like Professor Bruttenholm in Hellboy or Giles in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. This is a stereotype that appeals to me, and one I do wish applied in my case.

However, my own experience is quite different, much more of a mix. Almost all of my friends over the years have been interested in Fortean subjects. A portion of them have spiritual beliefs that allow for a mutable nature of reality - not just Wiccans or other neo-pagans, but Hindus and Buddhists as well.

Then there are others, who have no particular spiritual beliefs, but are intellectually curious and have had enough strange experiences to convince them that not all is what it seems.

Many of them have been somewhat on the fringes of society in the places where we lived - either because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs or simply not "fitting in" somehow. Others seem more typical on the surface, but their interest in Forteana comes out when you get to know them.

Most of them are highly intelligent, educated people. None of them are particularly gullible, and only a few of them are crazy. :)
 
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Ermintruder

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#14
My theories about 'Forteans' (using the term in broadchurch)...I think they/we display fairly-cophrenic sociopathologies with mainstream scientists and priests. The difference is, they are paid to play (and follow) single tracks. The word "No!" is the strongest and most-common tool in their vocabulary/mindest/universe. They are born (or dropped into silos) that require, insist upon, compliance, worship and respect. They work in absolutes.

We are the inverse function of this. Our mantra, our mission is "Maybe". Even after the "No!" horn has been blasted, we, amateur (mainly) hunters, wanderers and wonderers, still cherish possibilities. We never entirely accept the case is lost, the battle fought and finished.

Scientists are former Forteans who have had their angel wings clipped so as to fit into the coffins of conformity. They (despite claiming only to follow fact) are victims to fashion: extreme examples of this include theoretical physists (a wonderful oxymoron) and exobiologists....tenured babblers of projected possibility, who look down, derisively, upon followers of religion, who (whilst being equally-deluded) know their place in the current heirarchy, and just keep raking-in the loose change of those that want to buy absolution.

Forteans are birds of many feathers, and although we have much in common, I think we are being eroded numerically. Much of the newest incoming generations know they own the world, and think they understand it. For them there are only known unknowns. All the answers may well fall into their laps even in their lifetimes. It must be true, because the good book told them (Facebook/iBook)
 
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Zeke Newbold

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#16
I don't fully fit into the `geek`stereotype either: on the one hand I am, for sure, rather socially inept (tragically so when it comes to women) but, on the other, I take no interest in facts and figures for their own sake, am slightly technophobic,I left home at nineteen, and, whilst I don't like sport, I am reasonably athletic.

It seems to me the `geek` is a bit more the domain of the science-fiction fan - who are a different breed really.I used to attend a monthly Science Fiction and Fantasy Group for some years. There were only about two of us in it who took a passing interest in such things as UFOs. However, whenever the topic would be raised it would meet the familiar supercilious derision, or even outright hostility.Indeed, one prominent member was also a member of some sceptics organisation. A lot of S.F fans take pride in their hard-headed lack of credulity and will only consider mainstream science as worthy of consideration. It is almost as though they are trying to compensate for the self-perceived flakiness of their hobby.
 
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Coal

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#17
I rather dislike the term 'geek' applied to technically skilled people. As it's generally a job which requires intelligence and degree level qualifications (or the talent and work to gain such), it come across as a means of stigmatizing and controlling folk smarter than the user of the term 'geek'.

I don't like the stereotypes of technical folk all being socially inept either. It's self perpetuating and all of us are socially inept at some point in our lives and often those that consider themselves socially 'ept' are dreadful bores who can't see it.

For the last few years whenever a colleague used the term geek I'd chuckle to myself and if the bait was taken, explain that 'us' technical people call non-techies 'norms'.
"As in 'normal'?"
"As in 'Norm' in 'Cheers'"

(Obviously I have an 'attitude problem' :D)
 

GNC

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#18
I rather dislike the term 'geek' applied to technically skilled people. As it's generally a job which requires intelligence and degree level qualifications (or the talent and work to gain such), it come across as a means of stigmatizing and controlling folk smarter than the user of the term 'geek'.
Wasn't a geek originally a performer who bit off the heads of live chickens in a freak show carnival act (as in Katherine Dunn's cult novel Geek Love)? Come on, admit it, who among us still does that?
 

Roland Deschain

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#21
Ok not focussed on Fortean but in the centre where I have my business those who love to yak about the pointless children's GAME* that is football do seem to be the less creative but more social section. Very few engineers engage in it IMO.

* yes it was a game designed to pick the best students for business/ military/ politics in posh schools. Working class love of soccer is very misplaced, if only they realised!
 

Squiddy

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#22
...The interest of the sports fan may be seen as obsessive to those not interested but is seldom assumed to indicate he doesn't know how to talk to a girl or keeps his mother in his attic...

That's really interesting (and true). I suppose the sporty men are confirming the cultural 'norm' or stereotype. Blokey blokes doing bloke things in a blokey way. I suppose, culturally, the supernatural has always been associated with the feminine, culturally and even though we are a long way from our culture's roots, we still echo that. Sun/daytime = masculine; night, moontime and the weird things that happen in it = feminine. That kind of thing. We're no longer conscious of it, but it's probably broadly true across European cultures, that the 'unknown' has been equated with femininity.

I have thought about this a bit as I have 5 sons and three are what anyone would term "geeky"; two are football mad - one being very obsessive about remembering stats and football history of his chosen team, as well as being one of the better players in his year at school. So my kids divide into these two camps - geeks v. Sportacus. All had the same (geeky) upbringing. But they are very very different.

My geeky sons (all in their early 20s) are all total sceptics and not remotely 'woo'. They openly laugh at my stories of ghost cats, etc. Oddly, the sporty football loving two are the ones who ask to hear my ghost stories over and over... But know it's cool to diss woo. My older sporty son had what can only be described as a Black Shuck encounter himself (and before I'd told him anything about Big Black Dogs in folklore). So he remains more open to woo than most.

Why are people with an interest in the supernatural seen as comic characters? I guess because ever since the Industrial Revolution, the old lore of these islands has been dying out. And now it is almost dead. Just as Darwin essentially killed religion (some of it is just taking a while with the death throes), he killed superstition too, in a way as science and rationality became the new gods. So we're seeing a perfect storm of a number of factors.

Also, religion and superstition have long been exhibited as symptomatic of mental illness. Think of all those Victorian asylums full of people suffering from 'religious mania', or people who saw fairies, or demons, or what have you. Culturally, we expect mad people to see unaccountable things, or imagine these things are 'real'.

Personally I'd love to be a sceptic and all my instincts go that way but then I have seen stuff I simply can't explain as have people I trust and believe. My knee jerk reaction is to find a rational explanation when I can but even that is just conforming to some cultural norm, I guess, that anyone intelligent or educated must, by definition, be a sceptic.

A sketchy, crap, rambling answer to a brilliant question. But that's the best I can do pre-caffeine.
On a side question, I wonder how many Forteans are interested because of direct weird experiences, and how many are here despite having had none?
What are the percentages?
I for one havent seen anything, though people close to me have :)
 

rynner2

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#23
On a side question, I wonder how many Forteans are interested because of direct weird experiences, and how many are here despite having had none?
What are the percentages?
I for one havent seen anything, though people close to me have :)
I suspect that when we are young and less wordly-wise, many things seems strange and inexplicable, and although most of us grow out of being fluffy woo-woos as we mature, there's probably a dim memory of those more credulous days still embedded in the subconscious of us all, even in hard-line skeptics.

But paranormal stories go on down the ages, so does this show that there is some phenomenon behind them? Or are the stories the real phenomenon, just reproducing themselves as memes from generation to generation?

We may never know! :p
 

Coal

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#24
On a side question, I wonder how many Forteans are interested because of direct weird experiences, and how many are here despite having had none?
What are the percentages?
I for one havent seen anything, though people close to me have :)
The same. I've never seen a ghost or a UFO (although I've been spooked once or twice). I've met people who've seen both, but of the many who claimed such experience, I only ever believed one.
 
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Mythopoeika

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#28
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Squiddy

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#29
I suspect that when we are young and less wordly-wise, many things seems strange and inexplicable, and although most of us grow out of being fluffy woo-woos as we mature, there's probably a dim memory of those more credulous days still embedded in the subconscious of us all, even in hard-line skeptics.

But paranormal stories go on down the ages, so does this show that there is some phenomenon behind them? Or are the stories the real phenomenon, just reproducing themselves as memes from generation to generation?

We may never know! :p
Here's to never knowing :D LOL
Though on second thoughts, even if I havent seen Nessie or a yeti, I dont think I've ever understood anything enough to call it wholly explicable either :p
 

Ghost In The Machine

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#30
On a side question, I wonder how many Forteans are interested because of direct weird experiences, and how many are here despite having had none?
What are the percentages?
I for one havent seen anything, though people close to me have :)
That's a good question.

I can't remember whether y interest in the paranormal pre-dated seeing/hearing some weird stuff - or the other way round. As I grew up in a house where we heard some very unaccountable things but I actually can't remember when we concluded it was 'paranormal'.... When I was about 9 my dad got that series of magazines 'Man, Myth & Magic' - which was surprisingly well written, in retrospect, and I spent hours reading those. Whether that primed me for later events or not I have no idea.... Be interesting to see what others here say about their own experiences.
 
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