Hello there, good readers! I am back to the blog after a whole year hiatus; much has happened in my life, but in summary the two most important forces to have influenced my new life are Prozac and Protestantism (I’ve always had a thing for alliteration, I guess). I’m jumping right back in with a good ol’ OMPCR. One of the most hotly debated topics in Protestant Christianity (indeed, all Christianity) is the idea of predestination—in particular in relation to “chosen-ness”. The two biggest names in the Protestant Reformation in fact came to their own interpretations of predestination via studying the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo, revered by Catholics as one of the greatest teachers of the faith: however, as usual, Luther and Calvin could not reach a common consensus (Luther went for single predestination, whereas Calvin advocated for double predestination). As Western Christianity celebrates Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, today, I thought it a great time to look at the idea of a Chosen One embracing their destiny—today the Western churches proclaim Jesus entering into Jerusalem to begin the culmination of his destiny as Messiah through the trials of Holy Week leading to the resurrection of Easter. Let’s look at some other Chosen Folk and see how they are both chosen and choosing.
I’ve talked a little before about how Charmed, with three women characters being the most powerful magical forces for Good, could have been a truly feminist and women-powered show. While it did well on some parts, like showing a diversity of life choices for women when it comes to balancing careers, love lives, and battling the forces of darkness, there was often an overarching male-dominated power structure, known as the Elders, pulling the strings in the sisters’ lives. You want so badly to root for the Charmed Ones as icons of female power, not as examples of female pawns in male power games. So, finally, I have finished watching the last season. Is there redemption? Yes, I believe there is. Follow me as we explore gender in the eighth and final season of Charmed. Spoilers for Season 8.
Three sisters born from a long female dynasty of powerful witches to be the greatest force to fight the demons and powers of darkness that threaten our world: seems like a feminist fantasy geek’s dream come true. What more could one ask for—magic powers, strong female bonds, and the fact that passing the Bechdel test is an actual likely possibility! Add in gorgeous and (in my opinion) talented actresses and the inimitable fashions of the late 90s/early 2000s, and Charmed goes down in history as one of the most memorable supernatural dramas to grace our small screens. But was it really the feminist dream-come-true it had potential to be? Let’s take a look.
I’ve been re-watching a lot of the early seasons of Charmed lately, specifically the first through fourth; to be honest, they’re the only ones I’ve watched before. Though I did make sure to keep abreast of everyone’s favorite Bay Area witches even after I stopped actively watching, for this post, I’ll focus on the the seasons I know best. As anyone who has ever watched this show (or any show that used to air on the WB) knows, relationship drama was often a big plot point. The sisters found themselves in a variety of dating scenarios, from the very casual to extremely serious, but said scenarios were almost always fraught with complications of some sort. How do the portrayals of some of these relationships engage with gender issues and tropes?
Spoilers for Charmed, especially seasons 1–4.
A few weeks ago, Lady Geek Girl wrote a nice article describing the precarious position of witches in current pop culture media. Witches only finally started to reach some level of acceptance (still a work in progress, that’s for sure) largely thanks to the enormous expansion of the religion of Wicca in the past fifty years or so. This led to a curious occurrence: witches weren’t just in fairytales and fantasy books anymore; they were bookstore clerks and nurses and teachers too. It opened the doors for the possibility for modern people to reclaim and identify with the word “witch”. We can see other seemingly outdated or maligned words being used by contemporary folk, from druid to heathen to shaman (though words like sorceress and wizard seem to be lagging in popularity), but I would argue none to quite the degree of “witch”. So while I believe that Wicca was a large—I would say the primary, in fact—reason for the modern reclaiming of this word, I think it is inappropriate to treat “Wiccan” as a monolithic synonym for “witch”. There are simply too many witches out there who are not Wiccan.
Hello lovely readers! Since it’s been roughly one week (and 2000 years, give or take) since one of the most famous resurrections, I thought I’d talk a little about some slightly more recent examples from pop culture. More specifically, I’m gonna talk about that awkward moment in a sci-fi/fantasy show when a character gets resurrected, and then, a season or two later, some other character does not get resurrected. Whoops. This is even a scenario that takes place in the Bible. We have stories of Jesus raising Lazarus in one of the Gospels, and the daughter of Jairus in the others, clearly establishing Jesus’s ability to raise the dead. But how many other people around him and his followers died without being resurrected?
This happens frequently in any story world where resurrection is possible. Why does this happen? Oversight? Quota filled? Price hikes? Join me on a tour of some of the more notable instances of this phenomenon in some of geekdom’s favorite shows. Character deaths are obviously major spoilers, so spoiler alerts below for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13, and Charmed.
We’ve mentioned previously that sometimes pop culture likes to replace religion with magic. Specifically, we talked about magic and Christianity. Lady Geek Girl stated on the matter:
[Magic] is a part of Christianity. In fact, it’s a part of every religion. Special prayers, powerful objects like crosses or holy water, and even the Church building itself all are seen to carry some sort of supernatural power. These things contain not only God’s power, but also are meant to protect us from evil. These are all magical elements.
Lady Geek Girl went on to further discuss the issue here as well.
So it is not inherently wrong to show magic and religion as being tied to each other. Most shows and movies—such as Supernatural, Hocus Pocus, and to some extent, Buffy—like to portray witches as both female and evil. However, at the same time, they turn religion into a good form of magic that wards off demons; i.e., crosses and holy water in Buffy are dangerous to vampires.
In many ways, Charmed tries to turn this concept on its head. It’s not always that great at it. Let’s face it, Charmed is a very inconsistent show. But while it is mostly about four different women, it does introduce male characters who are also capable of magic, and our main characters are not evil. Magic can be used for evil, but it can also be used for good. I might not be happy with how Charmed handled a lot of its own content, but I can say that I think its take on magic and how it works, as well as its connection to religion, could have been very interesting had the show been better made.
Earlier this month, the Catholic Church celebrated the Memorial feast of the guardian angels—it’s like a holiday to celebrate that spiffy angelic being given the job of poking you in the direction of Heaven. In honor of it, my mom planned a lesson for her fifth grade Sunday School class about what the Catholic Church thinks about angels, particularly guardian angels. Afterward, she told me that her students had all kinds of weird ideas about who and what angels are, none of which were really drawn from our own faith tradition at all.
You see, most people in America tend to think of angels as cute baby cupids from old, beautiful art, and as beautiful people who fly around, sit on clouds, and play the harp. They also tend to think that nice people turn into angels when they die, so that they can watch over us. But while those first two ideas clearly come from artistic representations of angels throughout history, the idea that humans turn into angels when they die really doesn’t have much religious basis… in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. In the big three Abrahamic religions, angels (and demons, also known as fallen angels) are completely separate created beings. To any of these religions, it’s a bit like saying a dog turns into a human when it dies—it just doesn’t work in any of our cosmologies. And while it’s a nice, comforting idea that angels are beautiful, harp-playing souls of the much-loved departed, at the end of the day it’s a rather boring concept. Comforting, yes, but boring. But why must we stop at boring? Even if we don’t want to get our ideas of angels directly from religious faith, there are plenty of much more interesting examples of angels in pop culture.
It never ceases to amaze me how our pop culture tries to insert what are clearly Christian themes into comics, TV shows, and many other forms of media, but then, in order to not offend anyone, tries to pretend that those Christian elements aren’t really there. It’s maddening!
Two examples of this that always bugged me were in Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Charmed featured White Lighters as major characters in their series and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s last season had Buffy doing battle with The First, the very first evil.
White Lighters are clearly angels. Just call them angels. The minute you hear what they are, you think angel! White Lighters are beings of the light who guard their charges, healing and guiding them when necessary. Am I crazy or does that sound like a guardian angel? It does, doesn’t it?
And perhaps you could say that many mystical beings have these sorts of functions. But the White Lighters have certain imagery to them that obviously shows that they are at least inspired by Judeo-Christian angels. Most obviously, their realm looks like fluffy white clouds and the wear robes of pure white that look like clerical vestments. The only thing missing is wings.
Now onto Buffy, where we have The First, a force that appeared before time. This being first appeared to Angel and tempted the vampire into trying to kill Buffy. This same being reveals to Angel that it is the reason that Angel escaped from Hell. When The First later appears in Buffy, it employs a second in command, a defrocked priest named Caleb. Though this one is more ambiguous, it is pretty clear that this being is Satan. It existed before time, like the angels in Judeo-Christianity (including Lucifer); furthermore, this is the being from which all other evil stems. And if this wasn’t enough, the connection with the Caleb, the defrocked priest, makes the connection to Christianity very clear.
Now there is nothing wrong with trying to make TV shows, books, or other media more open and watchable to people who are not of a Judeo-Christian background, but that isn’t what is happening in these shows. They are creating new characters or myths, but simply using the same Christian ones and then saying they aren’t. To anyone with a basic understanding of Christianity, these references are obvious. So writers of any shows, comics, movies, or books, just call a spade a spade or use more diverse or original religious themes in these shows.
Mystical pregnancy. I have talked about this particular trope before, but only in conjunction with mpreg fics. This time I want to go into more detail about how harmful this trope is to women, especially since, beyond its popularity in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, this trope is being used more often in recent popular culture.
In case you are unfamiliar with the Mystical Pregnancy trope, watch this video first. Anita explains things better than I ever could.