May 182010

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.

  6 Responses to “Wicca in Movies: He’s Just Not That Into You”

  1. Good post. Humor is vital.

    My favorite part from that Simpsons episode: Lisa does her research on Wicca-Pedia.

  2. I remember that seen in “He’s Not that into You” but I’d forgotten it by the time I walked out of the theater. I remember chewing on it for a second and thinking, “Yeah, someone who made the movie went on a date with a Wiccan. That really is how we come off sometimes.” I wasn’t offended by it at all. I disagreed with the characters statement (I don’t think Wicca itself is actually pre-Christian, another ball of wax for another time) but in terms of its presentation within the movie, it was fine. I even thought it refreshing that the Wiccan character was male.

  3. I missed that Simpson’s episode. My viewing has always been sporadic. That Lisa ended up Wiccan doesn’t surprise me.

    Anistons reaction is not that unusual, and Dan’s unsolicited prompting isn’t either. I get as annoyed as she did if, out of the blue, someone starts talking about their religion or any other non-germane subject for that matter. The funny thing is, that I have seen that happen a lot, and yes its funny. I’ve even done it myself several times, and I probably will again. For that reason I can laugh. We can be so serious and so studious sometimes and assume everyone else around us is too. And then we get blank looks. Or comments on our pentagrams “I didn’t know you were Jewish” etc. That kind of thing is just not unusual, and my annoyed, long winded response has changed over the years from righteous indignation to “Yeah, sort of, whatever”.

    But you are right, it is a gentle way of easing Wicca into conscious American culture.

    But what ticks me off now? South Park hasn’t ripped us a new one yet. Sure, we are not close to Islam or Scientology, but come on!

  4. “Or comments on our pentagrams ‘I didn’t know you were Jewish’ ”

    I remember about 10 years ago when I was in college I there was a girl sitting in front of me in a class who was very Christian. So one day she sees my pentagram and thinks that its a Star of David and she reaches over and touches it and says something like, that’s a beautiful Star of David etc. After admiring it for a few seconds she seems to realize that it was a pentagram and her fingers were off that thing so fast you’d have thought it burned her.

  5. [...] a firearm. At The Juggler they’ve covered Paganism “coming out” on television, Wicca in the movies, the new Robin Hood film, and mixing art with ritual. Lastly, at Warriors & Kin they’ve [...]

  6. Not that this is an integral point of the story, but I thought it was kind of left to debate whether or not Lisa Simpson actually converted to Wicca or remained Buddhist. Either way, those of you whom didn’t get to watch it have the oppurtunity to watch it on anytime. The episode title is “Rednecks and Broomsticks” if I’m not mistaken.

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