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Saturday, August 20, 2011

WITCH SLAP PT. 1

Curt Purcell recently did a blogpost reacting to this news-item,
"Wiccans are Displeased with TRUE BLOOD." I'll probably react to his reaction in another post, but for now I'll confine myself to the substance of this complaint, in which one practicing Wiccan is quoted as disliking the HBO show's depiction of a fictional witch, Marnie Stonebrook:

I'm absolutely disappointed with the portrayal of Marnie. When Marnie gives up her 'power within,' which is a witch's ability to practice the craft without harming others, it allows possession by Antonia who becomes the controlling entity. Marnie lets it happen. It's unconscionable a witch would act this way.


And also:

Since the new season of 'True Blood' began, I've seen an increase in new members who are in their teens and may be easily impressed by Marnie's display of power. It's dangerous when viewers think witchcraft, as Marnie does it, is so easy. For this reason she's a bad example.


Before analyzing the substance of this complaint, I'll state that I'm not acquainted with how this particular fictional witch is or isn't portrayed. I've watched the first season of TRUE BLOOD on disc and was so under-impressed that I thought of writing a blogpost entitled "True Blah." I don't think there was a witch in the episodes I watched, unless she was so unmemorable that I forgot her.

It goes without saying that there exist both sound and unsound ways to critique fiction's depiction of factions, whether of race, creed or religion-- though I'll confine myself to religion here.

The most reputable complaint is the argument from consensual fact. If a TV show depicts a Buddhist ritual in which the high priest pounds on a tom-tom, and a verifiable Buddhist high priest calls in to say, "We don't do that," then the TV show is at fault for sloppy research. In this particular example the fallacious portrait probably doesn't cause any literal harm, especially given that the viewers of the TV show probably don't take the program as a depiction of reality in the first place.

It is certainly possible to imagine, though, to imagine more offensive representations that would earn the program a lot more censure-- say, showing a synagogue holding a barbecue whose featured delicacy is "Christian baby-back ribs." The producer who allowed this level of distortion probably wouldn't work in that town again (one hopes).

The complainant here (who seems to have taken her witch-name from the HEAVY METAL movie, incidentally) doesn't quite have this level of consensual fact on which to draw. She claims that TRUE BLOOD's Marnie Stonebrook is practicing her magic in a way that is dangerous for young up-and-coming adepts. The immediate objection-- necessarily assuming that the complainant is absolutely sincere in her protest-- is that witch-cults in the U.S. are something less than centrally organized. Even if one had the utmost sympathy for the stereotyping and/or victimization of witches in modern American culture, it strains all credulity that any single witch could speak for all witches, or even all American witches.

I like to think I can understand why a modern witch would be no less aggrieved than the imagined Buddhist high priest to see a religious ritual misrepresented. Nevertheless, despite the complainant's declaration of serious consequences, she might have considered that to the vast majority of TRUE BLOOD's audience, the inaccuracy doesn't even register, or affect anyone's beliefs for or against Wiccans.

Similarly, the fear that The Kids Might Get the Wrong Ideas from any fictional production is a reactionary notion dating back to Plato's REPUBLIC. It remains wrong in most if not all applications-- see the "baby-back ribs" scenario for a counter-example-- whether the subject addressed is magical rituals or interracial dating.

The complainant may be utterly sincere in believing that somewhere, some young ritualist is going to fuck up his life by doing Bad Mojo. But regardless as to the reality of magic per se-- anyone who patterns any aspect of his or her life after a television show is looking to get kicked in the teeth by SOME aspect of reality.





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