Pagans in the Media
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More Thoughts on Buffy: Now What?|
Review by Peg
Well, the season finale aired and the world didn't end. Although, when Willow drained Giles (Giles is back!) of all the energy a coven in Devon, England had imbued him with, it seemed touch and go there for a bit. But Willow's anger and vengeance was redeemed by Zander's loving friendship (a most unsupernatural emotion, although I still have not figured how he was able to appear at the big ole satanic temple she erected on the hill; complete with inverted pentagram on the steeple! It actually looked pretty cool) and she will have to endure her grief and sorrow like any other mortal. Oh, and Spike has a soul now. And Giles is back! Can't wait until September.
But it seems pagan fans of the show are still a bit concerned about this use of the word "Wiccan" (and, when it suits the writers, "Wicca" as when Anya referred to Willow as "one powerful Wicca"). Though on at least one list I belong to this evolved into a very interesting etymological discussion of these words, the fact remains we are concerned about how the average fan or even indifferent viewer might misunderstand what we do, as a result of hearing this word thrown about in such a cavalier fashion on what is otherwise a very well-written show.
I don't have an answer to all this just now, but I have recently been giving a lot of thought to the impact of the media upon us as a community, and the ways that Hollywood has slowly been appropriating the more shallow aspects of our beliefs and practices into their weekly money-making entertainment ventures. Perhaps it all broke free when The Craft came out (remember that??? Every urban teenage girl with a set of plastic rosaries, some Doc Marten boots and a botanica in her neighborhood was declaring herself a mistress of the dark arts). But no matter how it happened, this is where we are. And if our wish to worship as we choose in the privacy of our own homes, or in public parks, is worth anything to us, we must resist the urge to shrug our shoulders and say "Oh well, that's just Hollywood, no one takes any of this seriously, it's only entertainment." If our efforts to educate the public about who we are (and aren't) is to have any effect or ultimate purpose, we have to acknowledge that the great American pastime, watching television, is part of that effort.
I invite anyone who has an opinion on these issues to email me in the next couple of weeks, as I work on an essay addressing the portrayal of witches and witchcraft on television, and the impact these portrayals have on public opinion and perhaps most importantly, public prejudice.
In the meantime, I have collected a few more comments received this week, including advice on writing to the networks and some sample letters. (I have also used magical pseudonyms).
"I too was irate when I saw the promotional tag, however it seems that many of us might be just spinning our broomsticks and not flying anywhere. "Norsefox" writes:
The comments that I read from concerned viewers mostly assigned responsibility to Joss Whedon or Mutant Enemy Productions. I did see a few at the top of the commentaries that addressed UPN directly.
I went to the UPN website www.upn.com and found the channel for Maine, the state I live in. From there I found a Web site and an e-mail address to write my concerns to.
I encourage other viewers to go to www.upn.com and find their state local UPN Website and e-mail the company. Not sure if anything will happen, but an effort must at least be made.
Here is a copy of the letter which I sent to my local broadcast station of UPN.
Dear UPN Executives,
I am writing to express my extreme disappointment in your advertisement for the season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which aired this past Tuesday, May 21, 2002.
The tag line that ran prior to the episode was, "hell hath no fury like a Wiccan scorned." Let me expressly state that the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has made it clear that Willow's character is *not* Wiccan. Furthermore, it is an extreme injustice and in poor taste to those who follow the religion of Wicca, and refer to themselves as Wiccan, to be associated with demonic powers, black magic, and extreme acts of evil, as portrayed by the character Willow on the television show.
People who aren't familiar with the television show, potentially now have an inappropriate view of what a Wiccan is, whether they watched the show or not. The tag line alone was enough to conjure an inappropriate image in the minds of people.
It is extremely poor advertising, and I sincerely doubt that you would ever show a tag line about a post September 11th show that reads, "Since the attacks, hell hath no fury like that of an American-Muslim." It is in poor taste, as was the tag like using the word Wiccan.
I sincerely hope that I can expect to see better advertisements from your network in the future."
"My 2 cents... "Songflower" writes:
I watch Buffy regularly and I was very disappointed in the whole magic can make you a junky thing (allegorically drugs I suppose) and seemingly badmouthing Wicca... however, to save Willow, Gilles gets help from a powerful coven who infuse him with magick that was love/earth based to diffuse her powers that were fueled by her anger and pain. The Wiccans won and she is on the way to healing and the Earth is saved (yet again). One must look at what their doing with intelligence and an open mind. Although they could have done it differently... "
I teach at a local K-8 school and the above statement is a true concern. One of the 6th graders is an enormous fan of "Buffy" (admittedly, so am I) and is fascinated with anything having to do with witches or witchcraft. Of course, being a teacher all I can say when she expresses her interest to me in studying about Witchcraft is "well, if you are interested in something that much, I think it would be worth your time to investigate it". I've never had to directly deal with the "Witch-fascinated teeny-bopper crowd" before her, but it's a fact that Wicca has become a trendy thing because of shows like "Charmed", "Sabrina" and "Buffy". (BTW..."Teen Witch" is actually an EXCELLENT book for 13-18 yr old Wicca-wannabes). "Seven Moons" writes:
Personally, I really don't think the Wiccan community is going to be under serious threat by these 11-18 yr olds anytime soon. ;) As for the show, you can blame the writers. After Buffy was moved to UPN, I think Joss Whedon (who IS a wonderful writer) is trying his best to let the show die. It's become cheezy and boring and about as entertaining as watching soup boil."
"Well this is probably old news anyway, but I'm good with 2 cents. ;) When I read the replies on "Dissed by Buffy" I had to laugh. Remember what happened when "Last Temptation of Christ" came out? Everyone was in a tizzy! Same thing happened when "Jesus Christ Superstar" came out on Broadway and on film . I really don't like to see my brothers and sisters get in a tizzy or dizzy about a television show that barely explains the path; is more for entertainment than education; and, like most television, is more concerned with ratings and advertising markets then conveying a message to what Wicca or Witchcraft is anyway. Let's not ape our critics, I mean the only time Witches, Wiccans and Pagans have a chance to explain anything real on TV, or a documentary on the history of Witchcraft is aired, is usually the week of October 25th to the 31st. So, don't take the pleasure box so seriously, the more we stand in a defense, the more our critics are satisfied." "Spooky Woods" writes:
"I've got a PoV which probably isn't too popular...and I don't apologize for it. I just think I should speak up. "Charon" wrote:
There are a few things people may have either overlooked or underappreciated:
1) Buffy is a fantasy show.
* We all know real magick doesn't work like that. It's not showy and obvious and against the laws of nature; it *is* nature. I don't think that getting up in arms about a fantasy show is a good use of our energies. Sure, do what you can to allay the fears and question of those around you, but let it go if your efforts seem in vain. If someone can't tell the difference between fiction and fact, no amount of help from us will change their minds. (Media Coordinator's note: I respectfully disagree; the very reason people often can't differentiate between the two is usually ignorance or lack if information; only education can change that.)
2) There are Wiccans who perform negative magicks who aren't 'bad Wiccans' -- they just accept the consequences and do what they think is *right*
* The Wiccan Rede, "and ye harm none, do what ye will" is, for me, an ideal. I wish we could all do this, but it's virtually impossible, and here is why. We have to kill to eat; and I'm sorry, plants count. (Doesn't *everything* have a spirit?) When we mow our lawns, fight an infection, or merely use soap, we kill.
Also, I'm one of those Witches (and I prefer the term "Witch" to the word "Wiccan, " but will use it on the easily frightened) who believes in the old saying "A Witch who can't hex, can't heal." Wicca is a religion that has a philosophy of balance; the balance of all things, including positive and negative. Wisdom is knowing that Balance, and striving for it in your own life and circumstances...and that Way of striving for Balance is different for everyone. That's my PoV on that, anyway -- your mileage may vary.
3) If someone takes information about Wicca from a fantasy tv show and looks no further, all the talking and clarifying in the world by real-life Wiccans, Witches and Pagans won't do anything; they're already going to believe what they want.
* People will believe what they want...and what the media tells them. IMHO, educating people in the media, not the entertainment industry, is more important. When Buffy is aired, having the news that follows at 11pm (Or prior at 6 or 7pm) explain how real-life Wiccans feel about the show is MUCH more important than how we're portrayed in Buffy itself. Getting the chance to communicate with a wide audience is crucial to getting the public to understand what we are not (tv spellcasters), and even what we are (which is different to each Wiccan). The controversy surrounding the portrayal of a Wiccan on the Buffy show should be used as a tool to educate, even locally. How many of us will take the time to not just talk to people we know who watch the show, but to go out and perhaps have a program at a local library explaining the differences between the 'fantasy' Witches on Charmed, Buffy and in Harry Potter, and the real-life Witches and what we do? (Peg sez: an excellent suggestion! The local adult education center asked me to do just that. I see no reason why pagans who enjoy giving talks and workshops shouldn't deign one like this and propose it to your local community.)
Ok, I'm getting off my soapbox because I feel a long diatribe coming, and I'll spare you that. *smile* Let me just sum-up by saying I think there are better things we could be worrying about and spending our energies on, like REAL education of the public and using the negative press (who was it to said there is no such thing as negative press??) as a spearhead to public and private education. (We all know how much the media likes controversy...'Buffy vs. Real Witches' could be the stepping stone we need..)"
"I am curious as to why you expect more from Whedon based on this show's past few years? Is he a Wiccan? Does he have some on staff as writers? If so, then he should be more careful, but since I suspect he does not except maybe as a magickal sounding board, and that he has never, ever as long as I have been watching this show ever made any connections between willow and the religious aspect of Wicca I wonder why you expect more? (I think I may have heard a passing remark in the context of British witches, but that is all) "Callisto" wrote (on the "W" word issue):
The folks in Hollywood will never ever get the full picture of Wicca and witchcraft...it is just another marketing tool for them to cash in on...and we are not the only religion targeted this way.... "Touched by an Angel" ring any bells?
This is a TV show...like Charmed, Sabrina, and The Craft before it....sit back and enjoy it, but don't take it to heart."
"Wicca has gained the added definition of referencing one branch of Witchcraft. But it is the Old English word for male witch/practitioner. And males are entitled to call themselves witch. I do know BTWs who do not use the modern "Wiccan" to denote practitioner or "Wicca" to mean the Craft. Rather they use "the Craft" or "Wiccaecraft" for the practice and (the) Wicca for practitioners. "Roan Lake" writes:
But yes, if we're talking about pandering to the masses, in the prevalent vernacular, Wicca is used as the name for a type of Witchcraft. Though even then, it's debatable whether it implies a certain "set" of standards, philosophy and moral code -- given the widespread prevalence of eclecticism and its subsequent permutations. There are a lot of people professing to practice some form of Wicca that often bare hardly any resemblance to one another, and even scarcer any perceivable underlying commonality.
It's not the first time the word has been misappropriated, either by the show or elsewheres, and it won't be the last. Unfortunately, the common generalising of the word permits such misrepresentation, be it in the media or by individuals. :-\
(Hollywood) doesn't care. The downside to being a non-centralised form of practice (read minimal political clout) is that we're still relegated to "fringe group" status."
"How/why is anyone upset by this episode? There isn't a program on television that presents ANYTHING completely accurately. Buffy is for entertainment only; it simply isn't the writers' job to educate the public. It's not like you all watched a PBS documentary on Wicca and/or modern witchcraft. No one is being deceived--by the writers, any way; if people choose to make decisions about Wiccans based on this, they're as stupid as the kids who jump off cliffs because they saw the coyote do it... Besides, who the hell wants to watch a show with good witches? What fun is that?" "Grey Rainbow" replies:
"Granted, television is for only entertainment. Intelligent people realize this and take TV shows with a grain of salt. My concern is with the many stupid people in the world who believe whatever the media -- and, yes, I'm ripping on my own alleged trade here -- tell them. (Grey Rainbow also wrote a letter on the Buffy website)
Whenever an "evil witch" is shown in the media, it confirms the stereotypical beliefs of the not-so-intelligent people in the world and it reinforces the subconscious prejudices of the (non-pagan) otherwise intelligent people in the world.
That is my concern."
"To Mr. Whedon, on Wicca and Witchcraft Letters can be posted at www.buffy.com, or at the UPN website (www.upn.com), and I daresay there are many other places to make your words heard. Remember, written letters always have more impact than email, though! Be respectful, factual, and express your thoughts clearly (it is helpful to have a friend read your letter before you send it). Be clear who your beef is with: the writers? The network? Remind whoever you write to that you are a loyal viewer (if that is the case) or a frequent watcher of that network, as well as a consumer who buys products advertised on that network. Proofread for errors. Indicate that you'd appreciate a response. Angry letters don't tend to receive the same attention as courteous (but concerned) ones.
I am a practicing Wiccan, and also have been a fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" since the first season. I heard that you occasionally post on this message board, and wanted to ask you several questions that piqued my curiosity because of my religion and media studies during college.
Please keep in mind that I am not attacking you or the show -- I love the show -- I am just curious about several things.
1. Regarding the Willow-Tara story arc, why did you specifically call their practices "Wiccan" and not use the more general "witchcraft, " of which "Wicca" is a subset? What made the writers decide to use "Wicca" when general "witchcraft" is more known in general society?
2. Did the writers read any material on the Wiccan religion, such as books by practitioners such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente or Janet and Stewart Farrar? Or did the writers assume that Wicca and witchcraft are one and the same? Or that Wicca is the "good" form of witchcraft? (Both statements are misleading.)
Please do not take offense to these questions. As I said, I am simply curious as to how certain things made it into a show I love.
From a ratings standpoint, it would have made sense to deem what Willow and Tara did as simply "witchcraft, " because views would recognize the term. But to use the term "Wicca" -- a word with which most people are unfamiliar, and which is my religion -- seemed odd. So I am curious as to why that happened.
If you have a moment, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these questions -- either personally or on this message board."
Until next time,
Keep those emails coming!
Media Coordinator - The Witches' Voice
Monday, May, 27th 2002
Email: [Staff Email]
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