Tag Archives: Charmed

New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface

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.

Must be the singing of the witch

Is Glee going to the witches? Or will the show’s writers raise hackles among Wiccans as they did in the disabled community?

What’s that funny pentagram that has been popping up on posters recently on Glee? Some sharp-eyed viewers say it’s an ad for a “Wicca Club” at the fictional McKinley High School, where those golden-throated kiddos give their diaphragms a workout.

We’ve seen plenty of representations of “Wicca” in television and film before, from the witchy wedding in The Doors to the girl-power-gone-wrong in The Craft. Both Charmed and Buffy The Vampire Slayer put witches front and center. These were definitely stylized Wiccans though, many of them with fantasy-style magic powers that make for good fiction, but don’t exactly represent the Wiccans you might bump into at the corner market.

So, how will Glee represent this minority faith, if the show’s writers decide to run with the idea of a “Wicca club” on campus? Will they tackle it in the same way they’ve handled a number of controversial topics? Will Wiccans come out feeling misrepresented, as some in the disability community have done? And, if they’re the stars of an episode, what will they sing? “Witchy Woman?” “Santeria?”

Glee has millions of viewers, giving the show a chance to change minds by showing Wicca in a fair, positive, and even fun light. Whether the writers will manage it remains to be seen. After all, starting out with an upside-down pentagram — typically associated with the Left-Hand Path, not Wicca — doesn’t bode well.

What’s behind our “teen witch” obsession?

Why do we fear the occult — and the teenage girls who dabble in it? Sady Doyle has some clues. Photo by Flickr user alicetiara.

In my research for Backward Messages, I came across more than one story about groups of teen girls who became temporarily obsessed with the film The Craft. This was before Harry Potter. Indeed, it was before Charmed, the show which brought young, attractive, savvy witches to television screens everywhere. Having a teenager suddenly enthralled by witches definitely worried some parents — but most admitted it was a phase, and it passed.

Still, truths are hidden in our scary movies (even if The Craft doesn’t really fall into that category). Sady Doyle, who writes at the blog Rookie, tackles this topic personally and gracefully in one of her latest posts, “The Season of the Witch.” In it, she writes about her own teen obsession with witchy films — as well as the cultural anxieties that are often behind horror films and our fears of them.

Before there was The Craft, there were the Salem witch trials, which started because the young girls of the town were engaging in unearthly, demonic behavior—such as “screaming” and “throwing things.” You know. The sort of thing you’d never do as a 12-year-old, especially not if you were stuck in a freezing-cold Puritan settlement where the funnest activity was churning butter.

Doyle smartly addresses the stories of cultural figures like Annelise Michel, a teenage girl who died in Germany in 1976 of neglect and starvation because her staunchly Catholic parents insisted that her adolescent behavior (and epilepsy) was the work of demons possessing her. In a more fictional account, there’s The Exorcist, which Doyle views thusly:

Once you realize that The Exorcist is, essentially, the story of a 12-year-old who starts cussing, masturbating, and disobeying her mother — in other words, going through puberty — it becomes apparent to the feminist-minded viewer why two adult men are called in to slap her around for much of the third act. People are convinced that something spooky is going on with girls; that, once they reach a certain age, they lose their adorable innocence and start tapping into something powerful and forbidden.

In our society, women’s sexuality and the occult remain two subjects many people understand less well than they should — and we fear what we don’t understand. It makes sense that these two should be combined, or serve as metaphors for one another, in our films and fiction.

The question remains: why do we fear teenage girls so much? I’ve seen this asked many times, but haven’t found a comprehensive answer. Certainly, it is a topic we revisit in horror films. What’s interesting is, some films are obviously there to allow people to explore these fears in a safe, fictional way. And other films — such as The Craft — help teenage girls come to grips with fears about how their bodies and minds are changing as they enter adolescence and, eventually, adulthood. Although it would be great to leave these fears behind, we haven’t — and this is how we’re dealing with it, for now.

Do these films contribute to actual girl-hatred and girl-fear in our culture? Or do they simply reflect and (hopefully) exorcise the fear that already exists? I suspect it’s more the latter. What do you think?