January 26, 2014

The Only Thing Worse Than A Witch Hunt... A New Show About Salem Witches

I recently learned that a new show about witchcraft in Salem will be airing this spring. It's simply called "Salem", and will start on Sunday, April 20. Here's the trailer. Watch it in full-screen mode if you can, because the lighting is very dark.

I'll have to reserve my judgement until the show actually premieres, but the trailer gives me some mixed feelings.

First, the good feelings. I'm a horror fan, and the trailer is definitely creepy. Black magic? Pig monsters in the woods? Sign me up. More importantly, though, I'm excited to have a show about witchcraft in New England, and whether this show is good or bad I'll watch it. This area of the country has a rich folkloric heritage of magic and witchcraft, and I'm glad someone's drawing upon it for a TV show.

It also looks like they've tried to create some kind of authentic atmosphere, which I appreciate. So many films and TV shows about Salem witches are quite obviously not filmed in Massachusetts, but the brief glimpse of the town in the trailer gives me some hope the producers are trying to accurately recreate 17th century New England.

But obviously this show is not striving for complete historic accuracy, which is where I have mixed feelings. It looks like Ashley Madekwe plays a young, sexy Tituba, and all the actors have have good teeth and look really clean. When I watched the trailer again just now I was struck by how many people flash their pearly whites, but flouride, floss, and orthodontists just weren't available back then. I suppose Tituba may have been young and sexy, but it's not something the records indicate, and the people in 17th century Salem were probably dirty and pockmarked from various diseases. They were not the type of people a modern audience would want to watch in a show that promises "sensuality" and sexy witches. Well, at least most people wouldn't want to watch it.

"Salem" is made to entertain, so I can give the historical inaccuracy a pass, but the thing that makes me uncomfortable about this show is that in reality there were no witches in Salem. And this is where I have bad feelings. The tag line in the trailer is "The only thing worse than a witch hunt is a witch," which sound clever but just isn't true. Twenty-five people died as a result of the Salem witch hunt; zero people died because of witches. A witch hunt is much, much worse than a witch.

There are witches out there in the world. Some of them exist in folklore and fairy tales, some of them lurk in the deep archetypal recesses of our minds, and some of them are polytheistic nature worshipers who own herb shops in Salem. But none these witches can cast spells to make you sick, possess your children, or steal your spouse. They can't defy the physical laws of nature any more than you or I can.

Three hundred years ago the people in Salem didn't know this, or if they did they were too afraid to speak the truth. But we know this now and we shouldn't forget it, even when we get caught up watching a show with seductive witches and hideous monsters. So I'll watch "Salem", but I'll try to remember that history, with it's pogroms and massacres and witch hunts, is scarier than anything I'll see on TV.


skatha said...

Not that I can point to a specific document, but I'm fairly certain, if you were to query them individually, the people of Salem did know their neighbors were harmless, those same people condemned to die as "witches". They were subject to a religious fundamentalism that would suffer no "competition". The edits came down from their religious leaders, based on their interpretation of "scripture". Add to that the well known phenomenon of "mob mentality" and you get the recipe for atrosity.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Skatha! Thanks for the comment. There definitely was a mob mentality at play. The surest way to escape the gallows if you were accused was to confess to being a witch, and then name other people as witches. Those people would in turn accuse more people, and so on. All those people who confessed and accused others knew they were not witches but lied to save themselves. A terrible situation.

Anonymous said...

I agree there were no witches in Salem Village...but Satan was there!...Bill