Have we not come very far, or have we gone backward? This cartoon, by Danny Shanahan, appears in the Sept. 24, 2012 issue of the New Yorker.
I was under the impression that society had, to some extent, moved beyond the idea of witches and Wiccans as old, green, scary hags. Yes, the Halloween “witch” lives on — but as a relic of the imagination, not as a representation of a modern-day faith. After all, we’ve had Samantha, Phoebe, Piper, and Prue, and many other portrayals of witches and Wiccans, right? Yes, they were sensationalized and inaccurate, but at least these witches were shown to be powerful, respectful, and human.
The Sept. 24 issue of the New Yorker had a big section devoted to cartoons, especially political cartoons. This one, in particular, is shocking. It’s true that Wiccans adopted the “Yes, Wiccan” phrase — a pun on Obama’s 2008 “Yes, We Can” slogan — and put it on posters, t-shirts, and bumper stickers (though some items murkily seemed to show support for candidate Christine O’Donnell, who claimed she “dabbled in witchcraft.”)
But none of those campaign puns depicted witches like this — undead-looking skin, hands resembling claws, pointy hat, long nose, warts. This is the pagan equivalent of blackface, and it shouldn’t be running in any publication — particularly not one of the New Yorker’s standing.
Over at the Racism School site, they explain some of the reasons blackface is wrong:
* Started at a time when Black people were considered “Less than human”
* Shows Black people have no and deserve no dignity
* Used to de-humanize, belittle and make fun of those that are “Less than”
* Caused (and continues to cause) pain to Black people
* Made black people into caricatures (not human, a symbol to belittle)
Despite the changing face of Wicca in popular culture, it’s certainly not out of the woods, politically or socially. Wicca, as a religion, is still considered less than, or dangerous; its members are targets for moral panics; and the Catholic Church still publishes screeds against Wicca.
As a society, we still need to move forward. With this cartoon, the New Yorker isn’t helping.