Sometimes the Gods whisper hints in your ear, other times they whack you over the head with a message. In my last post I mentioned the idea that the Pagan community is coming to the attention of mainstream media more and more often. Sometimes as a curiosity, other times as easy sensationalized cannon fodder, or (as in the recent Fox incident) as a joke. So when I heard that the infamous “Wife Swap” was doing an episode with a Pagan family THE VERY NEXT DAY, I took the hint.
(/written while nursing a lump on top of my head)
For those who either aren't brave enough to ford the waters of insanity, or who simply have no wish to subject themselves to reality TV, here's the basic structure of the show.
1- Two families are chosen and the wives are (predictably) swapped.
2- For one week, the guest wife lives in the manner which the host household is accustomed to.
3- For the second week, the guest wife is allowed to write a set of rules for how she wants the house to run, which the host household must follow if they want the money.
So, I feel I should make it known (as if you all hadn't figured this out already) that I don't watch shows like “Wife Swap”. In fact, I make a point of actively avoiding daytime, reality TV rags. In the spirit of proper analysis, however, I bit the bullet and watched 3 episodes. The first two were from the previous incarnation of the show, which is back in business after spending a year off the air. Both of these episodes featured Pagan (Read: Wiccan) families.
So, first and foremost, this IS reality TV. If there's no drama, there's no money. The families selected a chosen specifically so that there will be tension/conflict. The first two episodes didn't exactly help with my preconceived notions about reality TV. In the first episode they pointed at the “weird and kooky” witches, and essentially made a joke out of the community by choosing a particularly unbalanced family and portraying them as representative of the community. The next episode simply presented the witches as laughable. Knowing full well that I couldn't just let this one slide by after my last post, I grit my teeth and plunged into this weeks episode. Imagine my surprise when it actually wasn't (entirely) awful.
The Fireheart family was presented with their religious affiliations at the forefront of every scene. The show made a point to display various pieces of religious paraphernalia, ritual activities, and even common household beliefs in action. Now, if you're at all like me, the first reaction to this is to cringe at what looks like the beginnings of a sensationalist “Look how weird these people are” piece. After a few minutes of cringing, waiting for the whammy, I managed to take a peak. Wonder of wonders, the Fireheart family is being shown as a loving, relatively mundane, all American family.
Pagan Culture and Mainstream Media
The pieces of Pagan culture that shown mostly seemed to be a display of a colorful subculture. The majority of the viewing audience for “Wife Swap” isn't going to know much about Modern Paganism, and the pieces shown were meant to grab attention. The part which makes this latest episode different from it's predecessors, is that it was done without exploiting or condemning that culture. Without going into an in depth review of the whole episode, (Which you can watch for free via the link above) the religious tension was used to mark the differences in the two families without inherently mocking Pagan beliefs.
So what should we, within the Pagan community, take away from this? A single episode of a reality TV show does not a cultural revolution make, however it is an encouraging sign. While the Firehearts hardly represent all Pagans, they did represent many common aspects of the over all culture found in our community. They also did a wonderful job of showing a healthy, well balanced, family unit.
Coming so soon after the aforementioned Fox Fumble, one can't help but wonder; Have we finally achieved the point at which the complaints of our community are loud enough to be heard by those producing mainstream media? Given the radical shift in tone and tactic between the first two episodes featuring Pagan families, and this latest one, the idea doesn't seem as impossible as it might once have been.
What I think we should really learn from this, is that when we choose to come together over a cause of mutual interest, it's not impossible for even a minority voice to be recognized. The world isn't going to change overnight, and one episode of a reality TV show isn't a huge lunge forward, but it is a step in the right direction. Through the networks we form, both in person and online, we can enact real, visible, change.
Our community is finding its voice, and the media is beginning to recognize that there are enough of us around to matter. Once we have that recognition, once we become prevalent enough to warrant consideration, THEN we will have achieved the social foundation that we need as a movement to progress.