October is here, meaning spooky season is here, meaning VoxPopcast once again bring you vaguely Halloween-related episodes!
In October 2018, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix and the Charmed reboot on the CW premiered. The Magicians was still on air, and some streaming service really wanted me to start watching The Good Witch (and as Monica reminded me, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald was a thing, although to be fair, I think I wanted to forget it happened — almost my whole life, though, Harry Potter has never not been a thing). The next calendar year saw Disney announce a sequel to the classic film Hocus Pocus. And somewhere between the first season of The Witcher (which I admittedly didn’t finish) and the new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book The Witches (which if you’ve listened to every episode of the show … you know I have feelings about) premiering in 2020, I thought, “Witches and witch hunts are everywhere, doing an episode solely focused on witches in popular culture would be awesome.”
From MacBeth to, well, The Tragedy of MacBeth (opening in theaters December 25), witches have been a part of pop culture far longer than I’ve been thinking about this episode. But even in the very selective bit of media I’ve named above, it feels as if around 2018, there was a strong interest in stories about witches. Why was that? How do we tell stories about witches and magic? What does that mean? How do stories told about history — like Salem — differ from reality?
So, when Hannah proposed the topic of Witches in pop culture, I was immediately excited about it… and frankly, I kind of wonder how we never got to it before. But now that I’ve read her part of this blog I am immediately struck by a difference in how Hannah and I experience the trope of pop culture witch. I didn’t see it as having a particular resurgence these last few years… but mostly because I never noticed it really losing popularity (Hannah’s note: Perhaps it’s fair to say they went from popular to … more popular.). Sure, Sabrina had a big comeback year in 2018, but Magicians had premiered all the way back in 2015 and the book back in 2007. But obviously, there were Harry Potter movies in theaters consistently from 2001-2011, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on the air from 1997-2003 and one of my favorites, The Craft was released in 1996, coincidentally the same year that the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV show premiered.
And I could go on. Basically, like Hannah, I don’t remember a time when witches weren’t a big part of pop culture. I’m too old to have grown up with Harry Potter, but when I was a kid I was a massive fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz chronicles. Obviously there are witches galore in that.
But what I find really curious is that witches don’t really exist. That is, I’m not so much questioning the existence of witchcraft — I’m noting that the idea of witches as a media trope seems, at this point, like a concept wholly divorced from any “real-life” or historic counterpart… positive or negative. Yes… there certainly were historic practitioners of witchcraft and religious devotees to the occult. Yes, there were accusations of witchcraft and people being burned at the stake. Sure, there are some media artifacts that attempt to narrativize the historic witch hunts — most notably Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (though even that is actually just an allegory for McCarthyism) — but most media witches, be they pointy hatted green hags, or sexy teenaged goths, are more Hollywood invention than anything else, like cowboys with only a slight passing resemblance to its historic influence.
Of course, even more interesting to me is the way in which pop culture media backfed into itself. Much of the aesthetic culture surrounding Wicca has its origin in the Hollywood invention. Life imitating art. Again… like the cowboy. So yeah, what are some of your favorite witch media examples and how do you see it being influenced by or influencing other art and media. And yes… I’m sure I will find some way to point out that Sabrina totally is crossing over into Riverdale to continue her chilling adventures this season. After all, it is the best show on television.