No doubt you’ve been hyped up about the new season of “What Not To Wear” on TLC, especially when you heard they were off to Salem, MA to fix a Witch. What? You’re not hyped? Well, it’s understandable. The show takes people who don’t care about how they look and glam them up by throwing away all their old stuff and making them buy new things. Seem shallow? Perhaps. But the people always seem to come away learning something, while Stacy and Clinton remain the experts on everything. I suspect that most of the actual teaching goes on off-camera, and most of the juicy judgment gets put on the air.
But I love me some Witches on TV, so I had to watch. The show aired last Friday and I wanted to digest it a little before I talked to y’all about it.
So we have Leanne, a full time Witch, psychic, and mom who loves the pointy hats and corset look, and when she’s not dressed in pleather dresses from Hot Topic she’s wearing pyjama pants. Now, I am absolutely not dissing her here. I too have owned pleather dresses, velvet skirts and corset tops that I purchased from Hot Topic. And at this very moment I am wearing pyjamas…and have been all day. So I absolutely get where Leanne is coming from. In fact, I LOVE her pointy witchy hat and want one of my own. Do I have style? No way!
The part that gets me is when they “purge” her closet. Stacy couldn’t understand why any woman needed striped socks ever. Or why a vampyre-y dress was good for a Witches Ball. I knew she was throwing away a long-collected pallet of black. I know how much she’s paid for some of those things (which, by the way, they don’t really make in sizes most people can actually wear). But I was on board with Stacy and Clinton, especially when Leanne was open to change.
I loved Leanne’s Pagan philosophy behind her transformation, and I think she definitely took it in the spirit it was intended (and who says no to free clothes??). She discovered that the magic and mystery was inside of her, and that her clothes were a mask that pushed people away. She asked how she could be a Priestess if she didn’t accept everybody, yet she purposefully gave them a reason not to accept her? She got it right on the nose.
But part of me misses her stripy socks. I wonder what she’ll wear at the next Witches Moot or Dark Moon rit. I’m at this moment taking a class on cultural diversity and ethnicity, which taught me that everyone, even white people, have a cultural identity. I know it is wrong to stereotype, but when I saw Leanne in her stripy socks and velvet corset, I knew she was one of mine. No doubt a little more out-going than some Pagan folks I know, but she was totally embracing the Witch identity. I adore her for that. Would I come to her for guidance and advice? That I’m not so sure.
With her new look, I still register her as “one of mine”–after all, you can’t fake luscious hair like that and not be a Witch. She looks happy, and that’s what counts.
Still, I can’t help but think that when Stacy and Clinton threw out her stripy socks that they were dissing our culture. I mean, we really do have a culture. Guy with long hair and a goatee? Check! People with velvet capes? Done! Kilts? Filk music? Drumming? Fairie wings? Laughter? Loving the earth? Loving each other? We have our own attitudes and beliefs about the world. We have our own fashion style. We interact with each other differently than we interact with muggles (or cowan’s if you are old fashioned). These things give us pride. But, again, do I take spiritual advice from these people?
I think in the end I look up to people who bridge the mundane with the magical, who are individuals and professionals. I expect them to have grown out of the monochrome wardrobe, and the “dress to scare” approach to style. Creating in and out groups based on how you look is teenager stuff. Adults to me are practical, wear pieces because they like them and look good in them, and are appropriate to the situation. Of course, Pagans are fortunate enough to have situations wear pointy shoes and striped socks are appropriate, but an elder knows that a PTA meeting is not the time or the place.
As a new religion, we are still in the process of creating and establishing our identity. Sometimes fashion goes our way, but mostly it doesn’t. I’m all for proclaiming an identity through clothing, but it is hard to be taken seriously when you go to the grocery store in your pointy hat. I mean, where are we going with this? What does it mean to us? We’re already cultural outsiders without making it harder for ourselves. While there is no need to simply blend in to the dominant monoculture, we still have to learn to negotiate within it. I think there is more power in being subversive and covert, than in being loud and obvious. When you look kinda like they do, they’ll have no idea that you are working to make the monoculture more environmentally friendly and accepting of differences. I’d rather get a TV interview because I had good content than because I was sensational looking. Over in Salem, that’s what they are selling, but I hope the actual Practitioners are looking beyond their own skins.
I sometimes watch Wife Swap on ABC, because my Seminary teacher, Bella, was on the TV show. Lucky for you, I have it posted to YouTube . When I posted the show to YouTube for Bella to have easier access to it, I was surprised at the kind of comments I got from it. And I STILL get comments on it! When it first came out, Bella posted this explanation to the group list, and I reposted it to my personal blog. Mind you, Bella is a Wiccan High Priestess, whose home is, literally, a church. She lives her religion every day in service to others. She thought the show would be a wonderful way to let people see what Wicca was about. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much say over the final product. The producers sensationalized a lot of things, but at least in this episode no one really ended up the bad guy. But, having insider information, you WOULD NOT BELIEVE just how much was edited, twisted and just plain faked. Here’s what Bella sent out back in March of 2006:
So now that you’ve seen it, know that I watched the show with my mom, dad, kids and the coven. Kenny didn’t want to take off work to watch it.
The plate that was broken was Kenny’s personal plate, our coven plate is green with a pentagram in the middle. He was pissed off from some conversations that he had had with a couple of coven members, who weren’t respecting our space. He was also under a LOT of stress. Him and Alison
didn’t get along at all, and he actually cried the entire night after the table meeting.
Alison said something about the fairies being made up to occupy the kids because the parents are never around. Kenny does work all the time, but I am here with my kids everyday all day long.
The coven hasn’t been banned from the home, nor did they break the rules. The coven left Tuesday and never came back during the rest of the shoot. And we wouldn’t let them film the coven during the update, because we felt that they kept trying to sensationalize our religion, and make fun of it.
The footage shown of Daniel and Dusty breaking the rules was taken from Tuesday morning. The reason they were here was because the production company called them every morning demanding they show up. The conversation they were having didn’t even correspond. It sounds as though they were calling someone named Gardner a Warlock. That was taken out of context, and edited to try to explain why Kenny went crazy and broke the plate.
The flying broom that they made such a big deal of, rarely leaves the wall, where it’s hanging. And the downstairs “Bella Land” was completely contructed by the production crew. I had no intention of making such a place in the home. They surprised me with it right before rule change.
I clean my own house everyday, Kenny doesn’t ever do ‘chores’. But, he will help out on occasion. The coven ‘helps’ around the house when there is something special happening, but not as an everyday occurance. The production company asked them to cook the meal that you saw as a going away dinner for me, which they didn’t film.
Kenny is invited to eat dinner with the family every Sunday, sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. But, me and my children eat dinner together at least 4 times a week. The other times they want to eat in front of the TV, it’s a privilege and I let them because it’s fun for them.
Luaxanna’s “wiccan schooling” involves a 6 hour day of Math, Chemistry (which sometimes involves brewing potions), Mythology, English, Literature, Spelling, Home Ec, PE, and Arts & Crafts. Nowhere on the list of school work that she was assigned for the week did it have her making a wand. Luaxanna would like for me to sit there and do her work with her all day, but that is why she’s being home schooled. She has to learn to be self-directed, instead of letting everything distract her, and needing constant supervision. But, I am right there to answer any questions or
offer any help that she needs, all day long.
As for the roaches, it was one of coldest weeks we had in Georgia that week, and the house didn’t get sprayed that month, because of all the chaos with the filming.
We cleaned the house for 2 straight weeks, I personally scrubbed the floors, and it was spotless when I left here.
The truth is: I AM spending more time with my children, and all of us gained a new appreciation for what we have as a family. The show did bring us closer together. The girls are continuing cheerleading practice, and enjoying it. Kenny still works 12 hour days, 6 days a week. But, we’re trying to make it to where he spends more time with the kids. No, we aren’t back together. [edt. I believe they are divorced.]
There may be more, but that’s all I can think of at the moment.
Jamie here. So what do you guys think when you see Pagans depicted this way? Does Bella look like a Priestess of the Goddess representing Wicca? Or does she look like a self-promoting oddball?
Bella told me that every time she was crying on the show, it was in reaction to something the production crew did. She also says she still keeps in contact with the Askam family, and that she’s learned a lot from the experience. What being close to her experience has taught me is that you can’t believe everything you see on TV.
I saw a show a few months ago called The Secret Lives of Women (on WeTV) which talked about women in the occult. They talk to the requisite Satanist, Vampires and Wiccans. And Tyra Banks did an episode of her show with Fiona Horne. For a full recap of these shows and excellent commentary, click here and here. I wonder what these witches set out to do, and how did it all fall out when it was all over?
Following just about every portrayal of Pagans, Wiccans or Witches on TV come the inevitable blogs (I know, I’m now totally one of them) and with them the public bashing. It seems that people in our community who end up on TV also end up having their dirty laundry aired on the internet. I suppose that is fame. In the end, it becomes a place for discontent ex-group members, slighted acquaintances, or even perfect strangers to say whatever negative thing they believe. Folks often decry that the offending person on TV has “ruined the religion for the rest of us” and “doesn’t deserve to represent us”.
So I ask you: who should represent us? Who would you put up on TV and on what show to tell the world about our community and our ways? I bet you no two people could agree on the same person. We live in a community where we don’t recognize our elders, nor do we have a way to verify that people claiming to be Priests or Priestesses have good intentions, educational foundations, leadership skills or counseling skills. Yet when someone tries to organize something like that, such as a seminary, church body, or ordination requirements, lots of folks get their panties in a twist. What is it, exactly, that you want to see on TV? What do you want from your elders? How best to represent ourselves to the mainstream public? Maybe these reality shows help us figure out what we don’t want, but it is our responsibility to turn it around and figure out what we do want.
Personally, I really enjoy seeing people like me on TV, but I always analyze it with the eye of an outsider. I ask myself what my mom would think of my people (for I think us all as being in the same tribe) if she saw this. But my mom likes oddballs, so maybe I need a new barometer. And then I think about all the solitaries out there, who have no community beyond their online connections, and I’m grateful for these people on TV. Maybe they look like fools (or perhaps they are made to look that way), but at least witches are part of the mainstream fabric. They can serve as some kind of rolemodel…even if that model is what not to do.
I continue to enjoy seeing us on TV, but until we get our own channel and shows, I’m afraid we’ll have to do with the ways outside observers portray us. It’s easy to get frustrated and insulated and go back to the times when things were more covert. But I think coming out of the broom closet has been good for us. It’s made us more accountable, given us more clout, and helped bolster tolerance. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there. The truth is that we are building our collective identity as we go, and creating our own reality. And you can’t fault reality TV for that.