In the 2009 film He’s Just Not That Into You (a romantic comedy about the foibles of modern-day heterosexual-courtship), the following scene occurs: Jennifer Aniston is seated at a wedding reception. Her dinner-companion shows up. “Hi- you must be Beth.”
Jennifer Aniston (reading his place-card): “You must be Dan.”
Dan goes, “Well, sort of,” and explains, “I’m a Wiccan.”
Jennifer Aniston is confused. “Wiccan?”
Dan explains. “That’s a male Witch. So I have a Magickal Name too. That’s Brother Phoenix Eastern-Horse. [Making a joke] That wouldn’t fit on the card.”
Jennifer Aniston makes a grimace/smile. “I’m betting I’m going to be hearing a lot about that.”
Dan continues, “Wicca is based on pre-Christian Paganism.”
And the scene fades out, anticipating Jennifer Aniston’s increasing annoyance at learning all about Wicca.
I realize that some neo-Pagans might find this scene insulting, as the punch-line of the joke is- and the guy’s a Wiccan.
I find the scene interesting because it (1) it assumes that a sizeable portion of the audience will “get” what Wicca is, in order for the joke to work. It is (I think) an indication of how far we have moved into public consciousness that we form the punch-line to “here’s a really bad wedding-reception date” jokes- you have to “get” what Wicca is, in order to “get” the joke.
Again, I realize that some Pagans and Wiccans will chafe at finding themselves the butt of “The More Dominant Culture” jokes.
However- consider that humor is a non-threatening way to introduce someone to something. Moreover, since people tend to remember with fondness things that have made them laugh- one can argue that humor is actually an effective way to introduce a tricky or controversial subject.
In something like the same manner- when American television was first making itself comfortable with Gays in the 80s, it was often in the humorous context of encountering Gay people as a hitherto-unknown “Other.”
For instance- there was a Designing Women episode where Suzanne was teaching Mary Jo about meeting men in the grocery store. Suzanne spies a pair of likely candidates- then freezes in her tracks. “Oh no- not them.” When Mary Jo asks why, Suzanne replies: “Two men; one cart; fresh pasta- you figure it out.”
In the same manner that meeting the Unknown Other (Gays) for the first time in the 1980s stopped Suzanne and Mary Jo of Designing Women in their tracks (with the humor of the situation reassuring the audience that it’s OK to meet the Unknown Other)- the comic scene in He’s Just Not That Into You, when Jennifer Aniston finds herself socially out-of-sync with her (Wiccan) dinner-partner- reassures the audience that it’s OK to encounter neo-Pagans.
In examples such as this and the kind-of famous Simpsons episode where Lisa becomes a Wiccan- I believe that the Zeitgeist of the Universe is finding ways to utilize humor as a way of breaking barriers to understanding. If nothing else, people tend to be more receptive to things which they encounter in comedy- people like to laugh, people like things that make them laugh.
I remember a Malcolm in the Middle episode where the ditzy baby-sitter needed more money, because her Wicca class had raised its rates. I think it is interesting that the Unconscious Mind of entertainment is seizing upon all these various ways to introduce American culture to Wicca through humor. Comedy is the ultimate ambassador of good-will.