Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pagans in the Media

Ok...on one of the member lists I'm subscribed to - for one of the largest pagan organizations in the US  - a call came in from a media firm looking for "interesting" pagans and witches for a possible reality show. 

I about spit out my tea. My opinion follows:

I guess TV is getting tired of pawn shops, auction hunters, bachelors/bachelorettes, housemates, housewives, honey boo boos, kardashians, child-exploitation pageants, women who view their wombs as clown cars, repo companies and similar reality shows, and are looking for a new genre to exploit and make money off of. After all, they have the Long Island Medium, right? Why not witches?

Much as I am all for equality and maintain hope that someday our beliefs and ideologies will be respected by mainstream society, I fear that such a project will be nothing more than a scripted freak show. These television producers don't want "interesting" pagans - they want the freaks who are completely removed from what pagans really are. Because let's face it, most of us are good, ethical people, with jobs, who pay our taxes and are pretty boring, and that doesn't sell advertising blocks. Most pagans I know are "interesting" - and by that, I mean, intelligent, insightful, spiritual, moral, thoughtful and kind people who operate their lives with integrity. That's not what these TV people want...they want people who will provide a shock value at whatever cost. And unfortunately, there are a lot pagans out there who are more than happy to oblige. Especially if there’s a few bucks in it for them.

Over the past few years, I've met people who have participated in "reality" shows of many different types...and my conclusion is that "reality" shows are nothing of the sort. They are heavily scripted, use multiple takes to get it "right", and they make changes to the location and activities to make it exciting for viewers. Trust me, no television show wants to see me, albeit very pagan, at my regular nightly routine: usually watching a documentary on the Science Channel, crocheting gifts while my geriatric cat sleeps on my lap. They want to see someone concocting potions, performing hexes, being rowdy and lascivious, breaking all societal rules, and all this with amazing pyrotechnics and other high tech effects every night before retiring. In my 30+ years of being a pagan, I haven't met anyone fitting that description. And so, I truly hope that this project fizzles before it even starts.

Remember about 15 years ago or so, when witches were the topic-du-jour for movies? Practical Magic, The Craft and other knockoffs really made a splash. Some witches thought the media exposure would help our cause - but let me tell you what it really did, at least in Southern CA and in Minnesota, where I was very active with the pagan community at that time. What these movies did was attract a bunch of guys who were hoping to score with a Nicole Kidman lookalike or young girls who wanted to magically change the color of their hair or some such nonsense. Supposedly, pagan women looked like Sandra Bullock, and pagan men looked like Tom Cruise as Lestat. They thought the drivel they watched in the movies was real and then were completely disappointed when they found out that we were just normal folks.

That disappointment then turned into cynicism and then complete derision.

Tons of people would attend public pagan events not to learn and to worship, but to spy on us "weirdos". They wanted to see if pagans were really as whorish as they were led to believe (to be an easy score). Do pagans really run around nekkid in public and doink everything that didn't put up a struggle?  Or maybe pagans are really just full of crap because they didn’t summon a corporeal Baphomet in the middle of Ridley Park on a Saturday afternoon.

What these gawkers found were a group of people who were simply honoring the Gods and the Earth through song and dance and ritual, and used community to network multiple Traditions that would normally never intersect. We talked about books, compared spiritual experiences, shared information, discovered mutual friends, and discussed life in general. How horrifically boring. One year, we had over 500 people show up for a Beltane ritual - I would say fully 2/3 of those people were there only due to the "freak factor". It saddens me to this day.

Ultimately, putting Paganism in the media ended up cheapening what it is we do. What we ALL do, whether you are a part of the media depiction or not. People WANT to believe that we do all those freaky stereotypical things, because "freakier than thou" sells - not boring. They think our homes are replicas of Medieval Times. The mainstream WANTS to think we dress like Renaissance Faire participants all the time, and run around hexing people indiscriminately; we all have warty green noses and always wear pointy hats; we bathe in virgins blood (wait...wasn't that Snow White, or something...?); we all have black cat familiars; we have a broom that comes when called; we are constantly casting spells; and we have a cauldron in our living rooms. Ok, that last part might be right in some cases. Whatever. You guys know what I mean.

Regular folk don't care that we do the dishes, have jobs & mortgages, get pissed off at our kids for being knuckleheads, and essentially do the same stuff that everyone else does. Heck, the only difference between me & my neighbor is that I have a few more gods than they do. The worst part of this is knowing that television shows will cast only the biggest wingnuts in our midst - those who are the most polarized and goofy, and those who LEAST represent the majority of good, loving, honest pagans out there. Still....whoever those television people choose - mainstream is going to assume we are ALL like those wingnuts, and they will make a snap judgement, for good or ill, based on that perception. It's not going to help us, or make us more acceptable - in fact, it may do the opposite.

I'd rather be one of the "hidden children" than to expose my belief system as a sideshow. What will it do to people who already live precariously - in communities that are already outright prejudiced against them? What will it do for Seekers who are looking for other ways to connect to Divinity only to be given the perception that Pagans are nothing more than out-of-time hippies who have blurred the line between real life and a D&D game? What will it do to those who are really trying to walk the Path of the Gods - the Rough Hewn Path? What will it do to the future of our belief system, for without Priests and Priestesses of Consequence, what we have is a shell of a religion, a pantomime of something that was sacrificed to the highest rating?

I think that putting paganism (or what they want to portray as paganism) out there may harm us more than help. I fail to see how this can do any good to Paganism as a whole. Your opinion may be different, and I hope for all of our sakes that I am wrong in this estimation.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) Flags, Flax & Fodder,
(¸.•´ (¸.•`Kaerwyn Silverwood, HPS
Coven DragonVeil
1734 Tradition
Maryland, USA