Witch Cinema 20: Come Over to the Dark Side…
Article ID: 9180
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,122
Times Read: 14,308
Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: April 17th. 2005
Times Viewed: 14,308
Well, hello, fellow media consumers and witches! Long time no rant-at-ya. Life has been very busy and interesting these last few months. As we approach Earth Day (what I consider the true arrival of spring as we tend to get at least one snowstorm after the Equinox where I live) it’s time to reflect on the last several months of TV and movies and see what we saw. Er, look at what we looked at. I am sorry it has taken me a while to do the media round-up but now that my work schedule will be a bit less busy I hope to bring you more of the latest news and my own opinions on the world of witchy and pagan media. You all know, of course, that Wren’s Nest is still the place for the most up-to-the-minute developments in all things pagan! (Including updates on the forthcoming film version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which will star Tilda Swinton as the White Queen, Brian Cox as the voice of Aslan, and others. Ooh, can’t wait for this.
My busy schedule this winter has included teaching a course on representations of the Occult in film and TV. I have been very intrigued lately by a number of shows that have had some supernatural story elements or themes. Like Medium on ABC, which features Patricia Arquette as a housewife whose psychic visions help solve crimes. It is a smart and sexy show, everything Tru Calling was not, which may be why this one is getting good reviews. Then there is Rescue Me on FX, the show about NYC firefighters which stars Denis Leary. In this show, Leary’s character often has conversations with his partner who died in the 9-11 attacks. He also occasionally sees other dead people after his initial encounters with them on the job. Some shows still going strong which feature these same sorts of Magic Realism or supernatural storylines include Six Feet Under (HBO) and Joan of Arcadia (CBS). Then there is the brand new show which debuted on BC last week and which has been much ballyhooed before its premiere, Revelations (more on this in a bit). Not since the heyday of Chris Carter when The X-Files and Millennium were both enjoying wide popularity has there been such a boom of dark subject matter on network TV.
But along with these shows that specifically have a weirdness factor built into their original design, I have noticed a trend in other TV shows lately, shows that were never intended to be all that “dark, ” to incorporate various occult storylines. And shows that don’t usually go all that “dark” (like Joan of Arcadia) are starting to play with fire a bit.
Did I say this was a good thing yet? Okay, I am getting there.
First, Joan of Arcadia. A show that is becoming a favorite of mine, it is worth watching because of its fine cast and smart writing, and an admirable refusal to resist getting all WB-smarmy like most of the shows about teens on the various networks now. The premise: Joan is a pretty, smart high school girl who has been approached by God to try and make the world a better place. Arcadia is her town; the “Joan of Arc” pun works nicely since Arcadia is also associated with the pastoral forests of antiquity. Here’s the thing: No one else knows Joan talks to God, and God appears looking like any old person she encounters at school or on the street; there’s elderly white lady librarian God, black middle-aged janitor God, bus driver God, teenage Goth God (my favorite), and radio DJ God, among others. Just like the show’s theme song suggests, “What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, ” we can’t really now the true nature of another person and what their impact be upon our lives or others. But even though the show has dealt with some heavy topics (rape, teen suicide, a drunk driving accident that left Joan’s brother paralyzed), it has not actually included any occult elements—until now. Last night found Joan’s ex-boyfriend Adam (they broke up when he cheated on her with another girl) lost on a mountain in a rainstorm. A fellow hiker named Ryan Hunter helped him find his way out. When God shows up as a forest ranger, Hunter looks at him strangely and tells Joan he’ll be seeing her. The music at that point in the scene sounds a bit like the opening instrumental to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil, ” but maybe not. The following day, Joan finds Adam sitting in a tree (Hanged Man imagery, maybe?) drawing a pencil sketch of Ryan. She relates the lesson God gave her (her girlfriend Grace had told her she kept too many secrets from her friends and this put people off, so this might have been Joan’s way of “sharing” her secret talks with God) about how everyone is connected, like the yarn strands in a scarf. She gives Adam a scarf she knitted. He tells her “He’s in my head” when she asks why he draws Ryan. Then the Stones comes on in full form. So, after two years of Joan’s struggles with God, we may at last see a manifestation of Satan on the show. I can’t wait!
But Joan of Arcadia at least has a precedent for spiritual content. What’s up with Third Watch? This smart, very suspenseful crime drama on ABC deals with cops, EMTs and firefighters in NYC. It’s really well-directed, often using long, wordless sequences with music to advance the characters’ stories. But recently there has been an odd preoccupation with the occult. This week’s episode featured a Latina detective who is suffering from cancer and keeping it from her co-workers. When she investigates a murder in a botanica, she is repulsed but also fascinated by the presence of Santerian religious objects. When she sees one woman’s body laid out on the floor surrounded by lit candles, she keeps seeing her own body there. Is it just dizziness from the chemotherapy she may have started? One of the botanica shop owners invites her to come to his shop for a ritual, suggesting she may be helped by its healing powers. The episode ends with her dancing amid a crowd of Santeria practitioners drumming and chanting. That would be unusual enough, but next week’s preview shows an episode in which one police officer’s daughter gets involved with a group of vampires—not misfit kids who dress in black and wear red contact lenses, but who actually drink human blood! Can’t wait!
So is this where we are headed on primetime? Satan and Santeria and blood-drinking vampires? All I can say is, it has been a while since we saw this much occult stuff on non-occult shows. Remember the witch involved in a child custody dispute on Judging Amy? Or the witchcraft scandal on JAG? These episodes came at a time when Wicca and witches were getting loads of mainstream media attention. So why all the dark stuff now?
Maybe the answer lies in the premiere of Revelations. This show stars Bill Pullman as a Harvard professor whose daughter has recently been kidnapped and murdered by an avowed Satanist. There is also a nun who studies paranormal phenomenon related to the coming apocalypse as described in Revelations, that section of the bible that tells us what will happen before the world ends. She tries to get a father to keep his daughter alive on life support following her bring struck by lightning. Even in her comatose state, the girl is speaking Latin and apparently revealing all sorts of apocalyptic pronouncements. Pullman’s work has partially been to discredit the apocalyptic imagery by offering scientific explanations for the floods, fires, plagues of locusts, frogs and so on experienced in biblical times. But the nun insists we are headed for the “end of days.”
I know, I know. We all have been told the world is going to end a hundred times. But this time, astrology may be offering some additional clues. We have been crossing over into the Age of Aquarius (from the Age of Pisces) for some time now. The Age of Aquarius will officially dawn in 2012. Apparently the dawning of a new astrological age is always fraught with widespread decimation and destruction, like it was 6000 years ago. Pisces, the fish, is said to symbolize the Christian era. Prior to that, Aries, represented by the ram, is said to be associated with the Greco-Roman era of pantheism and animism (is the Ram a stand-in for Pan?). Taurus was before that: the bull was a symbol of many matristic cults of antiquity in Crete, Mesopotamia, etc. Gemini came before that, and so on. What will the Water Bearer bring us? Some say it will be an era of new understanding and insight, a unification of knowledge of all worlds. Can’t wait!
The show is a bit hard to follow, but with very interesting ideas and with some good acting. I am hoping the writing gets a bit more clear cut and that the show will ultimately have an open-minded message to deliver. The opening montage includes a number of occult symbols, including a pentagram. Will contemporary paganism and witchcraft be included in this show’s sweeping survey of all the signs of the impending apocalypse? Can’t wait!
Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
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