As I have mentioned in another thread, I am currently reading a Dutch book called 'Eko Eko' by Jan de Zutter. Although I think the book is a wonderful read, there is much in it I disagree with. Today I'm only addressing one of those points; the influence of popular media on the perception of Neopaganism.
Zutter takes a few pages to discuss the influence of the journalistic media and then moves on to children's books, both positive and negative. As all examples are typically Dutch I will not relate them here. Those interested may ask me in the comments and I will provide the names. I'm making a note here that Zutter continually uses the term 'Wicca' to describe either Neo-Wiccan practices or Neopaganism in general. Terminology used in quotes is all his.
Finally, Zutter moves on to discuss Harry Potter and television shows featuring 'Wicca'.
“Wiccans have never really liked the Harry Potter books. Not because they aren't fun to read but because they feel their religion is unjustly linked to the fantasy world created by J.K. Rowling. The Potter books may have caused the traditionally evil image of a witch to fade but it has nothing to do with a Paganistic religion. This is different with the film The Craft (1996) or American television shows like Charmed, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. These images flirt openly with the Neopaganistic legacy. In Charmed the Halliwell sisters use a magical book they call the Book of Shadows, a name directly taken from Wicca. In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a teenager battles vampires and demons alongside Willow and Tara who are called Wiccans on the show.”
Zutter explains that research has shown that children between the ages of 11 and 16 feel highly drawn to 'the occult' because of these shown and that many young women (especially women) find their feminist roots in these shows. “The witch has become an avatar of glamour, power and style”. In a world where the demand on teens is high and the steps to adulthood need to be taken fast, 'Wicca' offers them a way to ease their mind into their responsibilities.
Today I will not bring you an essay; this is a sharing of thoughts.
I have heard this reasoning before. This one and many others. Television shows like Charmed and BtVS seem to be attributed many positive and negative powers of persuasion by not only journalists and researched but also by us as Neopagans themselves.
- They empower young women
- They encourage thought of the occult
- They bring teens to Satan
- They send positive messages about witches
- They send negative images about witches
- They create fluffbunnies and whitelighters
- They create teens looking to learn how to shoot fireballs from their hands
- They could possibly lead people to Neopagan paths.
There are more, I'm sure, but the idea is clear; ask a certain someone about the influence of these series and films and you'll get a dozen answers. If not more. I've heard of those vehemently against these shows, I have heard those who think these shows can help and I have heard those who don't care either way because all these shows influence is the stereotypical image of a witch and that stereotype is not related to the Neopagan path.
Now, television is a glamorized medium, we are all aware of this. Because of the thrilling stories, it's not hard to want to sink into the worlds portrayed on the screen. It would be cool is I was able to shoot fireballs out of my hands and it would be awesome if I was able to solve a triple homicide in two days tops or save a patient in concrete from dying.
I have doctor friends who can't stand watching any hospital series because of the ludicrous cases and solutions presented to the viewer. I'm not talking solemnly about Scrubs here, this also means ER and, of course, Grey's Anatomy.
I'm sure it's the same for cops who cringe at the work done in Hawaii Five-0 and Law & Order series, or Marshall’s who sure as heck don't have the experiences of the characters on Chase and In Plain Sight.
With every new series come teens who wish to be just like that, be it cop, doctor, witch or vampire. Some people keep that dream and put it to action, others eventually let it go. Those who put it into action can and will eventually find out if this path is for them and either grow into the real-world version of the profession of spiritual path or they drop out, disillusioned.
So why are we more prissy when it comes to television shows about witches? Everyone has seen cops spend boring days on the street in ridiculous outfits that are either too hot or too cold for the season. Most people have seen doctors and hospitals and realize it's not the same as television shows. The problem with portrayals of witches is that the Neopagan paths closest to that image are largely unknown to the general public.
Because of the initiatory nature of the basic Neopagan paths, teens can only get their hands on fluffed up outer circle stuff and can continue to 'practice' in this vacuum for a long time before either dropping it or growing into their own Pagan path, abandoning what they saw on TV. While in this vacuum they are, however, the most destructive to the reputations of actual practitioners.
It's my opinion this is not their fault. As an often closed and closeted religious path, it's hard for teens to find proper information and even harder for the general (uninterested) public to get a proper feel for the Neopagan paths.
We are creating our own fluffbunnies. We leave them no place to turn to but those fluffbooks and Yahoo groups. If they come to forums like these, they generally find their bubbles bursted at the earliest opportunity and often without an opportunity to step further into their path. They books they read are wrong and there is no one to teach them so the choice is to hang around and see if something clicks, continue their practice on their own in the vacuum or drop a path they have become invested in. When imagining myself in their shoes, none seem attractive to me.
Of course there are training programs online and mentors who are willing to take these youngsters under their wing should they ask for it. This is a good step and one encouraged by me. It keeps the young ones with potential interested and educates them tot he point where they have enough information to start developing their own path in a constructive and coherent way. I'm just not sure if it's a solution.
I feel these shows are not the problem, not more than the CSI's and NCIS's are. They're not trying to represent us, after all, they use The Witch as a stereotype to tell their story and make a boatload of money. I'll write more about the difference between The Witch and the Neopagan faiths in another post but let me suffice for now in saying that The Witch was not and will never be based off of us. She is a construction of myth and desire and can and will not operate in our world.
As long as we continue to mystify our practices, we will have those interpreting The Witch as truth. They have nothing to offset it with. That is why my greatest concern about the influence of popular media the one it has on us.
The popular media are causing a divide; one to come out of the broom closet,t he other to hide our practices even more. The fluffbunnies will work themselves out but we have the power to destroy this beautiful way of life from the outside-in. If we should be worried about the influence of television on the perception of Neopaganism at all, it should be because of this. The rest follows suit.
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