Archive for the ‘pop culture’ Tag

Six Problems with CAOS

CAOS — that’s Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in case you’re blissfully off the grid, out of contact with modern media, and indifferent to fandom’s predilection for abbreviations. Six “problems” — does this mean I won’t or don’t watch it? No. Otherwise, I couldn’t write about it here with anything valid to say. I’m on my second viewing, in fact. I want to like it, and to give it a fair chance. (I’m even holding out very shallow hopes for the Holiday Special tomorrow.) But too many things about it trouble me, and if you’re a sympathetic reader of blogs like this one, at least some of them should trouble you, too.

Come on, I hear you grumble. It’s just a show. OK, don’t waste your time reading this, then. Allow me my occasional rant. Pop culture holds tremendous shaping power over our psyches — it deploys light, sound, imagery, metaphor, archetypes, emotion — a type of magic all its own.


1–Let’s start with the show’s name: I can form my own judgments and supply my own adjectives, thank you. Not that there’s much really chilling here. Some stuff in poor taste, yes. Sometimes out of character, inconsistent, aiming for cheap thrills at the expense of story. New Adventures of Sabrina? Fine. Actually descriptive. Sabrina: The Dark Years? Justifiable, and usefully vague. But chilling? It’s not even accurate as irony.

2–High Priest Faustus Blackwood’s pronunciation in Episode 2 of Samhain as “Sam-main”: Really?! Let me grab my athame “ay-thame”! A minute’s Google search, by showrunner or writer, would have avoided that absurd mistake. It’s a known Irish and Pagan word. A smallish detail? Maybe, but representative of a larger sloppiness. The High Priest of the Church of Night can’t get it right? What authority does he deserve to hold? You don’t want to be jerked out of a created, secondary world by careless errors like this. The Norman Conquest … in 1067. Lincoln assassinated … in Chevrolet’s Theater. You get the idea. A small wrongness like that mangles the whole scene, out of all proportion to its size. I don’t know about you, but that predisposes me to distrust future, larger details. I had a long-term substitute high school English teacher who pronounced epitome as “eppy-tome”. Sorry, but some errors are so blatant they deserve to be pilloried.

Click-baity posts like’s “20 Things Fans Forgot about the Original Teenage Witch” might more aptly be titled “20 Things Producers and Jaded Viewers Simply Don’t Give a Damn About Today”. A better and much more informative read is Indiewire’s guide to all the references, episode by episode. The show actually includes many such references, to the delight of allusion-hunters everywhere. Why be sloppy with such a prominent one as Samhain?

3–The worst stereotypes of medieval witchcraft and magic-as-Satanism: Book of the Beast. Dark baptism. Blood sacrifice. Covens. (And oddly, patriarchy intact. Why no High Priestesses? Witch Queens?) Goth fashion, out of date well over two centuries ago, but continuously retweaked, now for the 21st century. Magic for selfish reasons, not the good of the whole. Treachery. Betrayal. Magic dependent on outside forces, not mirroring energies found within the self. Magic, in a word, as … dark. The stuff of monsters under the bed. Low astral dreams. Bad trips. Christian nightmares, not the universal, world-wide spiritual technology that’s the birthright of all.

original Sabrina

Cast of the original Sabrina, 1996-2003

4–Sabrina, apparently sprung full-grown from Artemis’s brow, second-decade-of-the-21st-century wokeness (mostly) intact. Girl-power rampant, speaking truth to patriarchal school principals and Witch Priests, fighting injustice, moral code pure and untainted — despite an upbringing by her two often clueless and Satanically-bound aunts, one of whom happens to murder the other occasionally. Not the role models that would ever have produced this prodigy. Not the role-models of the original series, who served as mentors to their niece. Despite a sit-com trend fishing for irony or social commentary, with feckless adults raising enlightened children, it hardly ever works out that way. Add actor Kiernan Shipka’s preternatural maturity lending her portrayal of Sabrina a curious post-Puritan moral absoluteness — until it must conveniently fail, whenever the plot requires chilling. See next point.

5–Justice for all — except apparently when memories need purging, or throats need slitting. Sabrina erases her boyfriend Harvey’s memory when it could prove troublesome — though we’re led to believe she really does love him — and in Episode 8 sacrifices Agatha, one of her Academy of Unseen Arts classmates, without hesitation or reflection, by ritually slitting her throat. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as in real life, actions have real, fascinating and plot-thickening consequences. Not so, too often, for Sabrina. In some ways that’s the most — well, not chilling — perplexing aspect of the show: cause and effect are often in abeyance. What cosmos is this, anyway?

6–“Magic’s not for Mortals”. But for half-mortals like Sabrina, it’s fine! See John Beckett’s Dec. 2 post, “My Biggest Complaint with Magical Fiction”.  All right: you’ve read my takes on magic in previous posts — no need to rehash them here.

Is anybody disposed to argue on behalf of the show and tell me where and why I’m over-reacting?

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IMAGE: Original Sabrina.

“The Name’s the Thing”

From a distance, Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming looms over the landscape, prominent against the horizon, but once you enter the park surrounding it, it seems to vanish, only to reappear in fits and starts at first, peeping over colorful hills and cliff faces.

Geologically, we’re told, the tower is properly an igneous intrusion or eroded laccolith, two fun pieces of scientific jargon, technically descriptive, but lacking something nonetheless. And “Devil’s Tower”?  Why should the baddie of Judeo-Christianity get any credit at all for this splendid rock formation?  Let him stick to devilled eggs and devil’s food cake.

Those of us over a certain age may recall the Tower’s appearance as dramatic staging in the final portion of the ’77 Spielberg sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a pop-culture association that now seriously dates us.


bearlodgeMy wife and I arrived late in the day, which helped throw the tower’s dramatic vertical striations into high relief. A park information kiosk quietly points out that the English name “Devil’s Tower” is comparatively recent. Native names from several different tribes associate the formation with the bear — the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Crow and Lakota all call it some variation of “Bear’s Lodge” or “Bear’s House” and their traditional stories describe bears marking the great stone with their claws.*  (You can read several versions under the section “Native American Folklore” here.)

Both name and thing started shifting for me as I read this: a good name illuminates the thing, and the thing itself lives more brightly and fully under a good name. I can still feel the association “stick” — now a piece at least of that older (and to me more apt) story has become part of this landscape.  Devil’s Tower, yes.  But the “real” name, well, that’s a different matter.  Invoke the place in memory by the older name — in this case a good one — and its naming story comes with it.  Misname something, or someone, and you may not be able to see that thing or person clearly or truthfully.


Bear’s Lodge, now I pass along a little of your story to others, so they too may enjoy the rightness of a good name.

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*The tower remains a sacred site for several tribes.  “In 2005,” the Wikipedia article notes, “a proposal to recognize several Native American ties through the additional designation of the monolith as Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark” faced political opposition and the argument that a “name change will harm the tourist trade and bring economic hardship to area communities.”

Image:  Bear over Devil’s Tower — park info kiosk.

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