Paganism, Wicca, and Magic on Television
Though Harry Potter film adaptations have been out for years, the prime debate over the use of magic in the story still exists. Those who oppose Harry Potter on religious grounds assert that the book and film series are different from others because the characters use magic in an actual time and place, not in a fantasy setting.
While most people in general do not criticize J. K. Rowling's work so harshly, some question certain television entertainment for similar reasons. Due to public awareness, many parents are rightfully concerned with the content of television programming viewed by their children. Parents monitor what children watch, assuring kids don't view excessively violent, sexual, or misleading programs.
Real, imagined, and folkloric beliefs contribute to popular magic-related media such as the Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and Lord of the Rings series, though parental audiences react differently to each series. Television also offers a variety of magic-inspired content, though the recent trend in entertainment shows that viewers prefer imagined or quirky happenings occurring in a realistic environment, ala Harry Potter. Furthermore, stories taking place in a realistic environment can be produced on a lower budget and have a chance of reaching a wider audience.
Three shows in particular feature the use of paganism, Wicca, and/or magic in a modern, realistic environment, inspiring controversy similar to that which surrounds Rowling's Harry Potter books. These shows are incredibly diverse in terms of content and audience, and this brief guide is provided to assist individuals and parents of various religious and spiritual backgrounds determine what is appropriate for view.
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
Based off of an Archie comic book series of the same name, Sabrina provides a lighthearted, more innocent look at the half-witch's life. Although this series takes place in the fictional town of Westbridge, the town itself is located in Massachusetts, a real American state.
Through her unique experiences with magic, Sabrina learns basic teenage life lessons applicable to any individual and experiences friendship and relationship troubles in a PG-format. The main character lives with her two aunts (also witches) and talking cat Salem, who acts as a mentor/troublemaker figure.
This show aims for a preteen and teen female audience and focuses on comedy and life experience.
Most audience members take this show as it is intended: lighthearted and funny. More conservative Christians dislike the use of magic and real Boston locations in the series, and many pagans dislike the 'fluffy' use of magic in the show.
The show debuted on ABC, but was later moved to WB and is currently shown in reruns.
This WB series, now on DVD and in reruns, is primarily geared towards a female teenage and twenty something audience. The main characters on the show exist in modern day California and identify themselves as Wiccans. Fans of the series assert that Charmed features strong, positive female role models, a fact confirmed when it became the longest running show featuring female leads in 2006 at series end.
The show's critics are various, ranging from conservative Christians blatantly opposed to any mention of witchcraft in media to Wiccans that feel the show misrepresents their own beliefs, images, and inner powers. Many also feel that the show has created the assumption that all female Wiccans and pagans feel as though they are like the main characters of the program. The female leads, however, are far from green-faced, warty women, and have therefore done something to positively redefine what it means to be a witch in today's society.
The Dresden Files
Most definitely intended as a work of fantasy, The Dresden Files runs on the Sci-Fi Channel. Based on a mystery/fantasy book series, main character Harry Dresden is the only wizard listed in Chicago's phone book. Working with any who seek his services (including police officers and journalists), Harry consults Bob, a spirit whom he owns.
The Dresden Files originally aired in January of 2007 and is intended primarily for an adult audience.
Reaction to the show has been typically neutral. Many think it's right at home on Sci-Fi. Though it takes place in a real city, The Dresden Files fits clearly into a fantasy genre.
Shows about magic are various-whether they explore specific aspects of Wicca or use magic as a prop for comedy, magic and pagan traditions are here to stay in our culture and on television. As time passes, a wider variety of magic-related content is becoming available on television, each striving for its own audience.