I get out to the movies maybe 2 times a year. Actually, this year I think we managed to go 3 times, starting off the year seeing a special theater release of an episode of Sherlock with friends last January. At that showing, there was a preview for The Witch. After the trailer was finished, all four of us (3 graphic designers/artists + 1 musician who has been in relationships with at least two of those designers) whispered aloud in unison, “What’s up with the kerning on that film???”
So yeah, my typical response to most pop-culture stuff regarding witches has evolved to a shrug with a side of design critique. I don’t worry about fictional representation of “witchcraft” in the media for entertainment purposes, but I don’t mind poking at it either.
But due to our lifestyle, I’m rarely on top of these kinds of things anyway. We don’t get out much to the movies, and we don’t have “TV” at home (as in cable network, we do have Netflix) – not because we’re some sort of hipster media snobs, but we’re hardly ever home. As artists/musicians/performers, we’re frequently traveling to events and touring, and when we are home, we’re trying to get work done. And the Internet, while necessary for our work, is pretty much the biggest time-suck we can typically allow in our day.
The upside of the Internet is being in touch with the rest of the population’s response to any given thing. With The Witch, I garnered through social media a variety of opinions and facts – and adored much of the Black Phillip stuff that wandered across my feed. (Because Oh My Goat! Goats!) But it wasn’t until I was visiting a friend last week did I actually get to sit down and see the movie for myself.
So of course, months after it came out, well after the rest of blogosphere, I indeed have some thoughts. Most of them concerning technical issues regarding homesteading in New England and goat goring versus anything actually having to do with witchcraft. However, I was very much charmed by the last maybe 6-8 minutes (past the gore, the part where Captain Jack Sparrow moves in the shadows and onward to the end ;)). I would argue while the “live deliciously” line is awesome, I adore the “Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?” even more so. (I love butter, more than I love goats.) It definitely was an interesting mash-up of folklore featuring the worst fears of the times, but if any religious path had something to be concerned about how it was represented in the film, I’d say puritanical/radical fundamentalist Christianity was definitely the one in the cross-hairs. Seriously.
The other bit of media pop-culture I just caught up on was American Horror Story: Coven. We have many friends who have raved over AHS in general, so when it came on Netflix and we had some time to kill, we put on the first episode of the first season. I don’t think we made it through 10 minutes before we switched to something else. I’m really not into gore and senseless violence, even much less during those times when I’m looking to watch something to unwind. BUT last month I was listening to old podcasts while I worked on making art, and S6E1 of Modern Witch with Devin Hunter from early 2014 came on. I had earmarked that particular episode because another friend, Kim Perilloux, was featured on it, but I hadn’t really looked closely to see what they would be discussing. My hands absorbed in making stuff, I ended up listening anyway, and my interest was piqued.
So when I got a chance, I dialed up that particular season on Netflix, and while ignoring much of the gore, binge-watched my way through it, 3-4 episodes at a time. I love New Orleans, so that part was eye-porn for me, as were the graphics for the opening credits – and of course Marie Laveau. Damn! What a gorgeous woman! While the actual “witchcraft” was fairly lacking in much of anything visual/ritualistic (and could people really stop mislabeling belladonna by using some other plant that looks more dangerous but is completely harmless?), my eyes feasted on visual imagery used for some of the “voudou” scenes, as the feeling/visuals evoked aligned much more with my own experiences. (Though don’t get me started on Papa Legba, or the other side being only depicted as hell…) Really, my favorite moment in the whole thing was the last episode where young witches are lining up to go to the school. My heart, I tell you, it fluttered. I can also spot how the show affected fashion trends/aesthetics within and without the p-word community too, so that was neat.
I know some folks have embraced how in both The Witch and AHS: Coven show witchcraft as something dark, dangerous, and to be feared (also a trend in recent years in the p-word community). Realistically, I don’t think it’s the witch part that’s the true cautionary tale in either, but how human beings themselves can be truly dangerous and dark, regardless of the path they follow. (Truly, any path work walking in itself has dangers, it doesn’t have to be smeared in blood to prove it. Though sometimes it helps.)
Lastly, I don’t expect anything funneled through Hollywood (or any other mass market media outlet) to accurately depict witchcraft and other practices, but the fan fiction (so to speak) can be entertaining regardless. Yes, there will always be small-minded people who seem to take things clearly presented to them as works of fiction for fact, but there’s not much you can do about that. You can only represent the path you walk by how you walk it. And please, for the love of goats, exercise good kerning.