TV has a new obsession, and it’s magical, with the Charmed reboot, the Sabrina adaptation and the latest series of American Horror Story, everyone is getting a little witchy.
-First of all hey!- For anyone particularly interested in the lack of posts I just seriously haven’t had the time, I love this blog, and I love TV, and I have every intention of updating- anyway on with the show.
Supernatural TV shows have a tendency to appear in waves, Vampires, Werewolves or Wizarding Schools. They can go both highbrow and lowbrow with a certain historical element to appeal to the intellectual and the leniency of ‘a wizard did it’ to cover plot points. Plus, the sexiness factor and all that jazz…
But witches have always had an enduring appeal and are seemingly cyclical in pop culture and always have an impact but why do we (more specifically me!) love them so much.
Witches through the ages
So as I mentioned witches had been part of pop culture and TV with the most notable first example being Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz and pretty much every female Disney villain.
I’m not going back to the influence of the Salem trials on TV (well not yet)
The witch is kind of the perfect archetypal villain in terms of gender stereotypes, she’s mean, she’s ugly- if not ugly then terribly seductive=, and she often subverts traditionally maternal roles. She was the opposite of everything a woman should want to be
In my head, the 90s and early 2000s really cultivated the “modern-day witch” women who lived in the real world, pursued relationships, made mistakes and did it all with great power.
Of course, there are examples before this- Witches of Eastwick being the one that springs to mind
Although similar premises for witches in modern-day settings had happened before the 90s really defined it, with technology, Gen Xers attitudes and the rise of feminism juxtaposed against the ancient rituals and prejudices of witchcraft the whole thing just sort of worked.
Ask literally any millennial ever about Hocus Pocus, and they’ll profess an eternal love and an annual viewing. A teenage boy accidentally frees a coven of witches on Halloween in Salem; they race against time to stop the witches from becoming immortal. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, they were a send-up of every witch stereotype ever to exist. Starting off the decade with such an overt caricature of witches gave room for a lot of reimagining of tropes.
Charmed told the story of three sisters, the Halliwells who discover they are the proverbial chosen ones and the most powerful witches ever to exist. However, it’s also a show about sisters, immense pressure and romance. Charmed balanced the traditional femininity, ideas about children and jobs with ideas of glorious purpose. It was Clark Kent and Superman with a hella lot more nuance.
Again a story of sisters, Practical Magic might be the best thing to watch on an autumnal afternoon while dressed in a warm cardigan and with a pumpkin spice latte. Okay, I’m a basic white girl shoot me. Two sisters with a family curse and a hell of a lot of magic, any man who falls in love with them will die, they know Practical Magic but not much else. Again Practical Magic is about discovering the power and the unmistakable power of sisterhood.
The teen witch
Of course, the above movies and shows represent one aspect of the modern witch mythology on TV its the teenage witch. Magic and female teenage puberty are two things that go hand in hand (again, one day I will go further into this whole deal and how far it stretches back.) But the idea of changing bodies, periods and hormones can make the average teenage girl feel like she’s becoming a witch and subsequently she’ll find herself identifying with the protagonist.
Again the 90s had teenage girls at the forefront of pop culture, Britney Spears was gyrating in her school uniform while talking about staying a virgin until she was married. You were supposed to have everything figured out even if you didn’t. It’s a confusing time, and there seemed to be a witch for every type of teenager in the 90s.
Furthermore ancient magic perfectly contrasted against the fluffy problems of high school is super fun…
Peak 90s teen witch, The Craft is the story of four outcast girls who form a coven and start using witchcraft to rule the school. The film is perfectly complete with 90s teen slang and fashions for a while the magic helps they get what they want whether that’s beauty, love or money. However absolute power corrupts absolutely, and things slowly start to crumble. The Craft is definitely a unique take on witchcraft, the concept of female power and when it can turn.
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
A personal fave of mine (I was a 90s child shoot me) half witch Sabrina Spellman navigates high school while coming into her powers. Everything from the humour to the acting was broad, to say the least, the magic here represented the ‘secret’ side of a teenager, something we all have. Sabrina herself as portrayed by 90s staple Melissa Joan Hart and flowed with the trends of the time. It lasted for so long as it embraced the dichotomy of girlhood with the magic and had fun at the same time.
So what comes next
The next generation of these programs will soon hit our screen, and I’m willing to bet they aren’t as concerned with balancing their love lives.
American Horror Story Coven and the subsequent Apocolyse series shows us the mean, evil witch that we’re now officially rooting for. Whether Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Legacies or Charmed 2.0 find themselves tapping into that remains to be seen but a Witch show needs to understand the women it’s reflecting/
Teenage girls today are educated, commitment to social issues and the world at large tend to define them.
More than anything witch stories are defined by female power and the confrontation of said power.
A new generation of women didn’t see their gender as a detriment; there was no wish to have it all- they were never told they couldn’t. A generation that believed they were going to elect the first woman president, who believed in equal pay, women’s rights and assault against them deserved punishment. A generation of women who’d been betrayed.
The women seeing their lives reflected back are from a generation that believed they were going to elect the first woman president, who believe in equal pay, women’s rights and assault against them deserved punishment.
A generation of women who’d been betrayed.
In recent days and weeks, women across the country have summoned rage they’ve discovered a new part of themselves.
And maybe, just maybe there’s power in that.