M/C Journal https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal <h1>M/C Journal</h1> <p><em>M/C Journal</em> was founded (as "M/C – A Journal of Media and Culture") in 1998 as a place of public intellectualism analysing and critiquing the meeting of media and culture. <em>M/C Journal</em> is a fully blind-, peer-reviewed academic journal, open to submissions from anyone. We take seriously the need to move ideas outward, so that our cultural debates may have some resonance with wider political and cultural interests. Each issue is organised around a one-word theme (<a href="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/issue/archive">see our past issues</a>), and is edited by one or more guest editors with a particular interest in that theme. Each issue has a feature article which engages with the theme in some detail, followed by several shorter articles.</p> M/C - Media and Culture en-US M/C Journal 1441-2616 <p>Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:</p><ol><li>Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licenced under a <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/" rel="license">Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivatives 4.0 Licence</a> that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.</li><li>Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.</li><li>Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (see <a href="http://opcit.eprints.org/oacitation-biblio.html" target="_new">The Effect of Open Access</a>).</li></ol> The Magic of Media and Culture https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3018 <h1><strong>The Magic of Media and Culture</strong></h1> <p>In his book <em>The History of Magic </em>(2020), Chris Gosden contends that magic is a product of human connection with the universe, offering answers to questions of meaning and reality, and surviving for centuries because of its capacity for constant renewal. Furthermore, magic has been, and continues to be, tied to the activities and beliefs of a myriad of cultural groups, guiding their understandings of, for example, transcendence, transformation, and transactions – cultural, social, political, or otherwise. Yet, despite magic accounting for any extraordinary occurrence, both good and bad, this notion has often garnered a negative reputation in examples such as fairy tales, as well as fantasy novels, films, and television series, where it often intersects with notions of evil, greed, and corruption. Of course, magic is not limited to the mythic, supernatural, scholarly, and philosophical, and equally captures the talents of illusionists and magicians with their misdirection and ability to challenge peoples’ perceptions and common sense.</p> <p>Indeed, multifaceted notions of magic permeate media and culture, depicting and shaping world views for a vast array of individuals and groups. In this respect, magic functions as “a critical category” that “distinguishes things, practices, or ways of thinking from others” (Otto and Stausberg 1). Forms of magic are represented across popular narratives, from film to television, comics, animation, and beyond. Within this dichotomies of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ often occupy a central position, as do intersections with the supernatural. Magic is central to storytelling belonging to the fantasy genre, as iconographies connected to witches, wizards, and sorcery interweave to form complex representations, often connected to gender, race, and ethnicity. Magic is, to some extent, a matter of ritual practice, and depictions of magic in media and culture have the ability to take this idea as reflecting matters connected to religion and mysticism, as well as memory, history, and heritage. One would be hard-pressed, arguably, to forget the connection that ideas of ‘magic’ hold to social, cultural, and anthropological understandings of ‘witchcraft’, as often painful historical recollections emerge in the process. Magic can also be interpreted, metaphorically speaking, as a channel for discussing matters connected to technology, performance, and entertainment, as well as ecological representations that reflect anxieties and hopes connected to the environment.</p> <p>It is against this backdrop that this issue of <em>M/C Journal</em> aims to consider the place that ‘magic’ occupies in our contemporary moment. We aim to explore how recent media offerings shape our understandings of magic, conjuring, and the supernatural, as well as social and cultural depictions of the everyday. From illusionism to spells, from artistic representation to techno-social incarnations, from fantasy television to forms of animation, magic is an idea that mutates and transforms according to time and context. And while a universal and “unanimously agreed” (Otto and Stausberg 1) definition of what magic ‘is’, ontologically and epistemologically speaking, may be difficult to produce, this concept’s versatility makes it a powerful representational device.</p> <p>The issue opens with our feature article, “The Power of Chaos: Exploring Magic, Gender, and Agency in Netflix’s <em>The Witcher</em>”, where contributing editors Angelique Nairn and Lorna Piatti-Farnell provide an analysis of magic and sorcery in connection to the character arc of Yennefer in the popular series. Built on a critical framework that engages with historical echoes and complex media representations, the argument in this article explores how Yennefer’s pursuit of magic both maintains and challenges gender stereotypes, particularly as they pertain to sorceresses and witches. </p> <p>The next article begins with “Conjuring Up a King: The Use of Magic and Ritual in the Coronation of King Charles III”. Here, authors Lisa J. Hackett and Jo Coghlan analyse the coronation ceremony of King Charles III as founded in socio-historic practices that seemingly draw from ‘magic’ and ritual to inform the legitimisation of the British monarchy. Notions of rituals, spells, and representations also inform the following five articles in the issue. The article “‘You Know There’s No ‘It’ Right? ‘It’ Was Just Us’: Magic as a Tool for Audience Empathy in <em>Yellowjackets</em>’, authored by Alexander H. Beare and Amy Brierley-Beare<strong>, </strong>provides a textual analysis of online fan discourse in order to investigate the role of magic in the television show <em>Yellowjackets </em>and as a channel to explore the experience of grief and trauma. In “‘I Love Every Part of You’: Curse as Disability in Disney’s <em>The Owl</em> House”, Chloe Rattray and Katie Ellis discuss how the idea of magic is used in the titular animated series as a ‘narrative prosthesis’ in order to explore themes of inclusion and belonging connected to the representation of disability.</p> <p>The next article, “Magic and Spells in <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> (1997-2003)”, authored by Louise Child, focusses on how the television series offers a number of tropes that resonate with several anthropological examples of magical practice, and reflect upon relationships between spirituality, power, and gender, both personally and politically. The complex nature of spells as part of a representational cultural framework is also explored by Brennan Thomas in the article “The Transformative Magic of Education in Walt Disney’s <em>The Sword in the Stone</em>”, where the discussion explores how the animated film defines magic not as ‘nebulous spells or hexes’, but by interpreting it as a facilitation of societal advancement and transformative powers for the educated mind. The animated medium is also the focus of André Vasques Vital and Mariza Pinheiro Bezerra’s article, entitled “Climate Change as Dark Magic in <em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug</em> &amp; <em>Cat Noir </em>Animation”; here, the analyses surveys how ‘black magic’ serves as a means to bring about climate change, but the messages of the animation also offer a cautionary tale around anthropocentrism, nature, and power relations.</p> <p>The next five articles in this issue explore magic in terms of artistic expression. In “Magic and Metamodernism”, author Shaun Wilson considers magic in relation to metamodern theory, and uncovers the nature of magical power: a critical component of a metamodern affect in contemporary art. The understanding of visual art ‘as magic’ is also at the heart of Sue Beyer’s article, entitled “Metamodern Spell Casting: The Blockchain as a Conceptual Medium for Contemporary Visual Artists”; the article considers a Non-Fungible Token (a cryptographic digital asset) as a form of Metamodern spell casting and a magical instruction that transforms an object/s or idea into something else.</p> <p>In “Music as Magic: Breaking and Recasting the Spell of Live Music in Naarm/Melbourne” authors Shelley Brunt, Mike Callander, Sebastian Diaz-Gasca, Tami Gadir, Ian Rogers, and Catherine Strong argue that the idea of magic can be used to make sense of music’s intangibility, as well as the mystery of creative music-making and the transformative effects on audiences’ music culture. In particular, the article explores how the negative effects of the pandemic lockdowns on music in Naarm/Melbourne uncover pre-existing challenges in music work and break the “magic spell” associated with the craft overall.<strong> </strong></p> <p>The final three articles in the issue explore the broad idea of ‘magic and technology’ in art, media, and culture. In “Art is Magic: The Conjuring and Mediated Deception of Janet Cardiff and George Miller”, authors Alex Davies and Alexandra Crosby base their discussion on the work of two Canadian artists who suggest that deceptive illusions created through ‘magic techniques’ can be an effective means of creating compelling and engaging experiences, where the framework of ‘magic’ provides valuable insights. </p> <p>Magic performances and techniques are at the centre of Sasa Miletic’s article, “Just an Illusion? The Politics of the Magic Trick”; here, the author suggests that the structure of the magic trick – from the classic sleight of hand up to levitation in front of a live TV audience – can be useful in understanding politics and ideologies, and how (in turn) the critique of ideology can help to rehabilitate the notion of “illusion”. Socio-political approaches to technologies and persuasion also inform the final article in the issue, entitled “ChatGPT Isn't Magic: The Hype and Hypocrisy of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) Rhetoric”. Authors Tama Leaver and Suzanne Srdarov explore how AI technologies can be perceived due to their impenetrability, and survey how generative AI was deployed across the first six months of 2023 as either utopian or dystopian, but never trivial.</p> <p>While different in topic, approach, and – often – disciplinary in focus, the articles in this issue all share a thread in exploring multidimensional interpretations of ‘magic’ in media and culture. Together, they provide a comprehensive view of the hold that magic maintains on our imaginations, mixing the historical, the metaphorical, and the socio-political in one influential representational package.</p> <p>The editors would like to thank all the reviewers for their time and expertise. </p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Godsend, Chris. <em>The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present</em>. London: Penguin, 2020.</p> <p>Otto, Bernd-Christian, and Michael Stausberg. “General Introduction”. <em>Defining Magic: A Reader</em>. Eds. Bernd-Christian Otto and Michael Stausberg. London: Routledge, 2014.</p> Lorna Piatti-Farnell Angelique Nairn Copyright (c) 2023 Lorna Piatti-Farnell, Angelique Nairn http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3018 The Power of Chaos https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3012 <p>In 2019, Netflix released the first season of its highly anticipated show <em>The Witcher. </em>Based on the books of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the fantasy show tells the intersecting stories of the Witcher Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), the princess of Cintra Ciri (Freya Allan), and sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), who is commonly referred to as a ‘mage’. Although not as popular among critics as its original book incarnations and adapted game counterparts, the show went on to achieve an 89% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and was subsequently renewed for more seasons. Although the general success of the show is clear among viewers, <em>The Witcher</em> was not without its detractors, who accused creator Lauren Hissrich of developing a <em>woke</em> series with a feminist agenda (Worrall), especially because of her desire to emphasise strong female characters (Crow). The latter is, of course, a direction that the Netflix series inherited from the video game version of <em>The Witcher</em> – especially <em>The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt</em> – even if the portrayal is often considered to be biased and “problematic” (Heritage).</p> <p>Supporting the view that the show focusses on the character trajectories of independent and capable women is the analysis offered by Worrow (61), who attests that “the female representations in season one of <em>The Witcher</em> offer prominent female characters who are imbued with agency, institutional power and well-developed narrative arcs”. Although Worrow’s analysis offers a clear critical account of Yennefer’s story arc – among the other female characters – what it does not consider is the relationship between women and magic, which has historically seen the mistreatment and ostracising of women as practitioners, and which tacitly informs representation in <em>The Witcher</em> by providing a gendered view of magical power. In response to this, the purpose of our article is to consider how Yennefer’s pursuit of magic both maintains and challenges gender stereotypes, particularly as they pertain to sorceresses and witches. The analysis will focus primarily on the episodes of Season One.</p> <p>Through the course of Season One, audiences are introduced to the character of Yennefer as she transitions from a deformed woman into a ‘beautiful’ sorceress. Alienated by her community because of a hunched back and cleft palate, Yennefer remains mistreated until she exhibits magical tendencies – or “the ability to conduct Chaos” (Guimarães). This is an aptitude that will later be revealed to be a direct outcome of her Elvin heritage (Worrow). Having gained the attention of Tissaia (MyAnna Buring), the Rectress of the magical school Aretuza, Yennefer is purchased from her family and relocated to Aretuza to train as a mage. Initially, Yennefer struggles with the magic training, where magic itself is referred to as “chaos”. In particular, she specifically finds it hard to “control [her] chaos”, as the series puts it, because of her emotional tendencies. After a short period of time, however, Yennefer develops into a strong, talented sorceress who is later instrumental in the final battle of Season One against the Nilfgaardian forces that are at war with the city-state of Cintra (Chitwood); the conflict with the kingdom of Nilfgaard is a central plot development in <em>The Witcher</em>, running across multiple seasons of the series. Throughout Season One, audiences view Yennefer’s character development, as she sheds her kind, naïve personality in favour of becoming an agent of chaos, who is fully immersed in the political intrigue that influences the Continent – the broader geographical land where the events of <em>The Witcher </em>take place.</p> <h1><strong>What It Means to Be a Sorceress</strong></h1> <p>For the purpose of this article, we will be using the terms “sorceress” and “witch” interchangeably (Stratton). It is important to mention here that several strands of anthropological research contend that the two terms are not synonymous, with “sorcery” referring to the ability to “manipulate supernatural forces for malicious or deviant purposes” (Moro, 2); the term “witch”, on the other hand, would preferably be used for “people suspected of practising, either deliberately or unconsciously, socially prohibited forms of magic“ (Moro, 1). Nonetheless, historians and sociologists have long equated the two because of their prepotency to describe magic users who channel power for productive and nefarious purposes (Godsend; Lipscomb). We cite our understanding of these important terminologies in the latter critical area, seeing the important social, cultural, and political interconnections concomitantly held by the terms “sorceress” and “witch” in the context of magical practices within <em>The Witcher</em> series. ‘Mage’, for its part, seems to be used in the series as a gender-neutral term, openly recalling a well-known narrative trajectory from both fantasy novels and games. </p> <p>Regardless of whether they were deemed witches, sorceresses, mages, or enchantresses, and despite historical records that prove the contrary, practitioners of magic, as such, have predominantly been gendered as female (Godwin; Stratton). Such a misconception has meant that stereotypes and representations of magic and witchcraft in popular culture have continued to show a penchant for depicting witches not only as female but also as powerful and intimidating beings that continuously challenge hegemonic power structures (Burger &amp; Mix; Stratton). Historically, and especially so in the Western context, individuals labelled as witches and sorceresses have been ostracised, in some instances eradicated through mass killings, to ostensibly contain their power and remove the threat of the <em>evil</em> they inevitably embodied and represented (Johnson). This established historical framework is tacitly embedded in the narrative structure of <em>The Witcher</em>, with examples such as Yennefer often being portrayed as <em>out of control </em>because of her magical powers. The series, however, acknowledges unspoken historical truths and reinforces its own canon, as it is made clear throughout that men can also be magic users; indeed, the show includes a variety of male druids, sorcerers, and mages.</p> <p>Where a potential gender divide exists, however, is in reference to the <em>Brotherhood of Sorcerers</em>, who seemingly control the activities and powers of magical practitioners. Although there is a female equivalent in Sapkowski’s novels, called the <em>Lodge of Sorceresses</em>, the first season of <em>The Witcher</em> does not openly engage with it. Such an omission could be construed as a gender concern in the Netflix show, as a patriarchal group seemingly oversees the activities of mages. As Worrow argues, the show implies that “The Brotherhood controls and legitimizes the use of magic” (66), and by being referred to as a ‘brotherhood’, creates a gender imbalance within the series. This interpretation is not unexpected, bearing in mind that gender studies scholars have consistently pointed out how structural inequalities exist, even in fictitious offerings. In social, cultural, and media contexts alike, these offerings subordinate women in favour of maintaining ideologies that advantage hegemonic masculinity (Connell; Butler). </p> <p>Where the stereotypes of women diverge in <em>The Witcher,</em> however, is in the general characterisation of these powerful witches and sorceresses as empathetic and compassionate individuals. Across the history of representation, witches have been portrayed as cruel, evil, manipulative, and devious, making witches one of the most recognisable tropes of <em>evil women</em> in storytelling, from fairy tales to film, TV, novels, and games (Zipes). While a number of notable exceptions exist – one should only think here of <em>Practical Magic</em>, both in its book and film adaptations (1995/1998), as examples of texts exploring the notion of the <em>good witch</em> – the representational stereotype of witches as wicked and malevolent creatures has held centrally true. A witch’s activities are generally focussed on controlling and bringing misfortune upon others, in favour of their own gain (Moro). As Schimmelpfennig puts it, the recurrent image of the witch is that of someone who is “envious” of others: “nobody loves, likes, or pities her. She seems to have brought disaster upon herself and lives on the margins of society, [often] visualised by her residence in the woods” (31). The common perception, as cemented in fictional contexts, has been that witches have nefarious and villainous intents, and their magical actions (especially) are perpetually motivated by this.</p> <p>Although she was initially alienated by both her magical and non-magical communities, Yennefer’s character development does not adhere exactly to the broadly established characterisation of witches. Admittedly, she does act in morally ambiguous ways. For example, in the episode “Bottled Appetites”, her desire to have children leads her to attempt to control a jinn regardless of the dangerous costs to herself and others. And yet, in the following episode, "Rare Species", Yennefer changes her mind about trying to slay a dragon whose magical properties could help her, and instead works with Geralt to defend the Dragon and its family from Reavers. She also confronts injustices by helping to defend the territory of Sodden Hill which is threatened by Nilfgaardian forces ("Much More"). Rather than being <em>purely evil</em>, as witches have long been considered to be, Yennefer offers a more nuanced and relatable depiction, as both a witch and, arguably, a woman character. The moral complexity of Yennefer as a magical figure, then, not only makes for compelling viewing – with such magical characters often being an expected presence in mainstream programming (Greene) – but her continued growth, and the attention given to her identity development by showrunners, challenge gender stereotypes. On screen, female characters have often been treated as auxiliaries to their male counterparts (Taber et al.); they have fulfilled roles as mother, lover, or damsel in distress, reducing any potential for growth (Nairn). <em>The Witcher </em>Season One gives Yennefer her own arc and, in doing so, becomes a series that elevates the status of women rather than treating them as, to borrow Simone de Bauvoir’s famous words, ‘the second sex’. </p> <h1><strong>Power &amp; Empowerment</strong></h1> <p>Differentiating Yennefer from the stereotypes of female characters, and witches/sorceresses more specifically within the broader popular media and culture landscape, is her obvious agency within <em>The Witcher</em> series. Gammage et al. argue that agency can be understood as “the capacity for purposive action, the ability to make decisions and pursue goals free from violence, retribution, and fear, but it also includes a cognitive dimension” (6). Throughout <em>The Witcher, </em>Yennefer does not act subserviently and will even oppose the will of those around her. For example, in the episode “Before the Fall”, she gives advice to young girls training to be mages to ignore the instructions of their tutors and "to think for themselves" (26:19-26:20). She follows up by later telling the young mages about how Aretuza takes away their opportunity to bear children, to ensure the mages stay loyal to the cause. As she puts it: "Even if you do everything right, follow their rules, that's still no guarantee you will get what you want" (29:42-29:51). This exposes her character as not tied to traditional patriarchal notions of subservience. And while personal motivations may laterally aid the conception of witches as egotistical, her actions still stand out as being propelled by individual agency.</p> <p>Female characters on screen have often been portrayed as submissive and passive, and this includes iconic on-screen witches from Samantha in <em>Bewitched</em> to the titular character in <em>Sabrina the Teenage Witch</em>. It is not uncommon to see <em>good witches</em> in popular media and culture, in particular, as still defined by male relationships in terms of cultural and social value (for instance, Sally Owens in <em>Practical Magic</em>, and Wanda Maximoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). As Godwin puts it, these characters embody the expected gender roles of a patriarchal society, with storylines, for example, that favour love potions or keeping house. As far as <em>The Witcher</em> is concerned, being submissive and passive is often in direct contrast with Yennefer’s preferences. For example, in “Betrayer Moon”, she intentionally ignores the decision of the Brotherhood to act as the mage in Nilfgaard by intentionally catching the eye of the King of Aedirn: the King then asks for Yennefer to be his mage. Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni), who was supposed to be the mage in Aedirn, is forced to go to Nilfgaard instead. Yennefer's behaviour not only defies The Brotherhood in favour of her own interests but also demonstrates her unwillingness to conform to the expectations placed on her. Such depictions of Yennefer acting with agency make her, arguably, relatable to audiences. Female characters and witches such as Yennefer become emblematic of independent, competent women who use magic to take control of their own destiny (Burger and Mix) and can be praised for opposing “oppressive societal norms” and instead advocating for “independent thought” (Godwin 92).</p> <p>It is possible to argue here that what drives Yennefer appears to be her sense of Otherness, as an intrinsic difference that is central to her being, both physically and emotionally. Although initially her <em>othered nature</em> is seemingly the product of her deformities and ethnic background (with elves being socially, culturally, and politically ostracised on the Continent), she openly admits to feeling <em>othered</em> throughout the series, even after her physical disfigurement is <em>cured</em> by magic. Her individualised agency makes her inevitably stand out and becomes a marker of difference. This representation is not dissimilar to the feelings expressed by women across First, Second, and Third-wave Feminism (Butler; Connell). Indeed, Worrow observes that “<em>The Witcher</em> encodes female characters with power as ‘other’, enhancing this otherness through magical abilities” (61). It would seem that, in essence, the show surreptitiously gives <em>voice</em> to the plight of minority groups through the hard work, dedication, and determination of Yennefer as an <em>Othered</em> character, as she struggles and defies expectations in pursuit of her goal of becoming a powerful sorceress. Her independence and agency tell a story of empowerment because, like other fictional witches of the last decade in the twenty-first century, Yennefer “refuses to pretend to be someone or something they are not, eschewing the lie to instead embody the truth of themselves, their identity's, and their unapologetic strength” (Burger and Mix 14). This profoundly diverges from other representations where being the ‘other’ was seen as a justification for punishment, marginalisation, or mistreatment, and amply seen across the historicised media spectrum, from Disney films to horror narratives and beyond.</p> <p>Nonetheless, although it appears as if Yennefer has agency and is empowered, there is the argument that she is a conduit of magic, and as such, lacks real power and influence without a capacity to control the chaos. As Godwin contends, witches are often limited in their capacity to be influential and to have true autonomy by the fact that they do not possess magic but are often seemingly controlled by it. At various times in Season One, Yennefer struggles to control the chaos magic. For example, while being beaten up, she inadvertently portals for the first time. During her magical training, she can't manage a number of magical tasks ("Four Marks"). Here, the suggestion is that she is not completely free to act as she chooses because it can produce unintentional consequences or no consequences at all; this conceptual enslavement to magic as the source of her power and individuality seemingly dilutes some of her agency. Furthermore, instances of her trying to control the chaos within the show also conform to stereotypes of women being ruled by emotions and prone to hysterical outbursts (Johnson).</p> <h1><strong>Aesthetics &amp; Sexuality</strong></h1> <p>Stereotypically, and in keeping with fictional tropes in literature, media, and film, witches have been described as “mature” women, “with bad skin, crooked teeth, foul breath, a cackling laugh, and a big nose with a wart at the end of it” (Henderson 66). Classic examples include the witches depicted in the works of the Brothers Grimm, Disney’s instances of Madam Mim in <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> and the transformed Evil Queen in <em>Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs</em> (1937), the witches of Roald Dahl’s eponymous novel (1983), and (even more traditionally and iconically) the hags of Shakespeare’s <em>Macbeth</em> (1623). Yet, more recently the witch aesthetic has altered significantly in the media spectrum with an increased focus on young, alluring, and enchanting women, such as Rowan Fielding in <em>Mayfair Witches </em>(2023 –), Sabrina Spellman of <em>The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina </em>(2018–2020), Freya Mikealson of <em>The Originals</em> (2013–2018), and of course, Yennefer in <em>The Witcher</em>. These examples emphasise that female magic users, much like a significant ratio of female characters in popular culture, are sexualised, with the seductive nature of the witch taking precedence and, in some cases, detracting from the character's agency as she becomes objectified for the male gaze (Mulvey). The hiring of actress Chaltora as Yennefer, although designed to challenge racialised beauty standards (Kain), does not dispel the treatment of women as sex objects as she is filmed nude during some magic rituals and in intimate scenes.</p> <p>Importantly, and as briefly mentioned above, when Yennefer’s back story is told, she is introduced as a young woman with physical deformities. As part of her ascension to a sorceress, she is required to undergo a physical transformation to make her <em>beautiful</em>, as conventional beauty and allure appear to be requirements for mages. As Worrow (66) attests, she is seen “undergoing an invasive, painful, magical metamorphosis which remakes her in the image of classical feminine beauty”. Unsurprisingly, the makeover received backlash for being ableist (Calder), but the magical change also enforced stereotypical views of women needing to be “manicured and coiffed” (Eckert, 530) to have relevancy and value. Yennefer’s beautifying procedure could also be interpreted as paralleling current cultural currents in contemporary society, where cosmetic interventions and physical transformations, often in the form of plastic surgery, are encouraged for women to be accepted. Indeed, Yennefer is shown as being much more accepted by human and mage communities alike after her transformation, as both her political and magical influence grows. In these terms, the portrayal of Yennefer maintains rather than challenges gender norms, making for a disappointing turn in the plotline of <em>The Witcher</em>.</p> <p>The decision to submit to the transformation also came at a cost to Yennefer. She was forced to forfeit her uterus and by extension her potential to become a mother. Such a storyline conforms to Creed’s long-standing perspective that “when a woman is represented as monstrous it is almost always in relation to her mothering and reproductive functions” (118). Here, even after achieving the expected beauty standards, Yennefer is still treated as abject because she can no longer “fulfil the function dictated by patriarchal and phallocentric hegemony” (Worrow 68), which further contributes to the widespread ideological perspective that women’s roles are to be nurturing and child-rearing (Bueskens). Of course, motherhood remains a contentious topic for Yennefer as, although she made the decision to forgo her uterus in pursuit of power and beauty, she later comes to regret that decision. In the episode “Rare Specifies”, Yennefer admits to Geralt that she feels loss and sadness over her inability to reproduce, which contributes to the complexity and inner turmoil of her character, while equally reinforcing the perception that women should be mothers. Her initial independence and choice are undermined by her attempts to regain her uterus and later, in Season 3, by her adopting the role of mother figure to Ciri. </p> <h1><strong>Conclusion </strong></h1> <p>In many respects, the story arc of sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg conforms to what McRobbie describes as female individualism, and Gill considers post-feminist. That is, Yennefer has choice and agency. She makes decisions out of a sense of entitlement, and privileges her desire for power, beauty, and freedom, sometimes above all else. Much like other post-feminist icons, Yennefer is empowered and challenges gender stereotypes that charge women with being passive and submissive. Yet, despite the fact that 60% of the writing credits are held by women on <em>The Witcher</em> (Worrow), Yennefer’s character is still objectified. Although the male gaze might not always be privileged, there are examples where her sexuality is exploited; by being portrayed as physically attractive, desirable, and promiscuous, she still conforms to gender norms about ideal beauty standards. The sexuality of her character maintains perceptions of witches and sorceresses as seducers, and while she is not cavorting with Satan, as many witches have historically claimed to be (Stratton), her depiction maintains the adage that <em>sex sells</em> – at least as far as media production goes.</p> <p>Ultimately, the character of Yennefer in <em>The Witcher </em>appears to be an attempt to respond to a tacit cultural desire for strong female characters with relatable storylines, without ostracising male fans. Despite the desire to include empowered female characters in the show, however, Yennefer is also depicted as a continuously unhappy and unfulfilled character, as her <em>value</em> becomes entangled with notions of motherhood. The balancing of these competing adages continues to simultaneously maintain and challenge stereotypes of witches and sorceresses, as representational exemplifications of women’s experiences in media and culture. </p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>“Before a Fall.” <em>The Witcher</em>. Created by Lauren Hissrich. Season 1, episode 7. Netflix. Little Schmidt Productions, 2019.</p> <p>“Betrayer Moon.” <em>The Witcher</em>. Created by Lauren Hissrich. Season 1, episode 3. Netflix. Little Schmidt Productions, 2019.</p> <p>“Bottled Appetites.” <em>The Witcher</em>. Created by Lauren Hissrich. Season 1, episode 5. Netflix. Little Schmidt Productions, 2019.</p> <p>Bueskens, Petra. <em>Modern Motherhood and Women’s Dual Identities: Rewriting the Sexual Contract</em>. London: Routledge, 2018.</p> <p>Burger, Alissa, and Stephanie Mix. “Something Wicked This Way Comes? Power, Anger, and Negotiating the Witch in American Horror Story, Grimm and Once Upon a Time.” <em>Buffy to Batgirl: Essays on Female Power, Evolving Femininity and Gender Roles in Science Fiction. </em>Eds. Julie M. Still and Zara T. Wilkinson. North Carolina: McFarland, 2019.</p> <p>Butler, Judith. <em>Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. </em>New York: Routledge, 2006.</p> <p>Calder, Lily. “Still a Trope, Still Tired: Ableism in ‘The Witcher’.” &lt;<a href="https://medium.com/@paperstainedink/still-a-trope-still-tired-ableism-in-the-witcher-9570eef962fb">https://medium.com/@paperstainedink/still-a-trope-still-tired-ableism-in-the-witcher-9570eef962fb</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Chitwood, Adam. “’The Witcher’ Season 1 Recap: The Refresher You Need Before Watching Season 2.” <em>The Wrap, </em>17 Dec. 2021. 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.thewrap.com/the-witcher-season-1-recap/">https://www.thewrap.com/the-witcher-season-1-recap/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Connell, Raewyn. <em>Masculinities. </em>Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995. </p> <p>Creed, Barbara. <em>The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis</em>. Routledge, 1993.</p> <p>Crow, David. “The Witcher: Netflix Series Brings Magic and Feminism to Fantasy.” <em>Den of Geek, </em>23 July 2019. 5 Aug. 2023 <a href="https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-witcher-netflix-series-magic-feminism-fantasy/">&lt;https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-witcher-netflix-series-magic-feminism-fantasy/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>De Beauvoir, Simone. <em>The Second Sex. </em>France: Vintage, 1949.</p> <p>Eckert, Penelope. “The Problem with Binaries: Coding for Gender and Sexuality.” <em>Language and Linguistics Compass </em>8.11 (2014): 529-535.</p> <p>“Four Marks.” <em>The Witcher. </em>Created by Lauren Hissrich. Season 1, episode 2. Netflix. Little Schmidt Productions, 2019.</p> <p>Gammage, Sarah, Nalia Kabeer, and Yana van der Meulen Rodgers. “Voice and Agency: Where Are We Now?” <em>Feminist Economics </em>22.1 (2016): 1-29.</p> <p>Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” <em>European Journal of Cultural Studies </em>10.2 (2007): 147-166.</p> <p>Godsend, Chris. <em>The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present</em>. London: Penguin, 2020.</p> <p>Godwin, Victoria L. “Love and Lack: Media, Witches, and Normative Gender Roles.” <em>Media Depictions of Brides, Wives, and Mothers. </em>Ed. Alena Amato Ruggerio. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012.</p> <p>Greene, Heather. <em>Lights, Camera, Witchcraft: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television</em>. Woodbury: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2021. </p> <p>Guimarães, Elisa. “The Witcher: Yennefer’s Magic Explained – How Does It Work &amp; Where Does It Come From?” <em>Collider, </em>30 Dec 2021. 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://collider.com/the-witcher-yennefer-magic-explained/#:~:text=While%20Geralt%20gets%20his%20powers,the%20ability%20to%20conduct%20Chaos">https://collider.com/the-witcher-yennefer-magic-explained/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Henderson, Lizanne. <em>Witchcraft and Folk Belief in the Age of Enlightenment: Scotland 1670-1740. </em>Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.</p> <p>Heritage, Frazer. “Magical Women: Representations of Female Characters in the Witcher Video Game Series.” <em>Discourse, Context &amp; Media</em> 49 (2022). &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2022.100627">https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2022.100627</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Hudspeth, Christoper. “What Happens in ‘The Witcher’ Season One? Let’s Go Back to the Continent.” <em>Netflix Tudum, </em>23 June 2023. 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/the-witcher-season-1-recap">https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/the-witcher-season-1-recap</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Johnson, Forrest. “Reanimating Witchcraft: Creating a Feminist Embodied Experience in Marvel’s Scarlet Witch.” <em>The Superhero Multiverse: Readapting Comic Book Icons in Twenty-First-Century Film and Popular Media. </em>Ed. Lorna Piatti-Farnell. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2022.</p> <p>Kain, Erik. “’The Witcher’ Casting Director Says Yennefer Casting Was to ‘Challenge Beauty Standards’ Which Is Completely Insane.” <em>Forbes, </em>27 July 2023. 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2023/07/27/the-witcher-casting-director-says-yennefer-casting-was-to-challenge-beauty-standards-which-is-completely-insane/?sh=23ceb8bf55f1">https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2023/07/27/the-witcher-casting-director-says-yennefer-casting-was-to-challenge-beauty-standards-which-is-completely-insane/?sh=23ceb8bf55f1</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Lipscombe, Elizabeth. <em>A History of Magic, Witchcraft and the Occult</em>. London: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2020.</p> <p>McRobbie, Angela. “Post-Feminism and Popular Culture.” <em>Feminist Media Studies </em>4.3 (2004): 255-264.</p> <p>Moro, Pamela A. “Witchcraft, Sorcery and Magic.” <em>The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. </em>Eds. Hilary Callan and Simon Coleman. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018.</p> <p>“Much More.” <em>The Witcher</em>. Created by Lauren Hissrich. Season 1, episode 8. Netflix. Little Schmidt Productions, 2019.</p> <p>Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” <em>Screen </em>16.3 (1975): 6-18.</p> <p>Nairn, Angelique. “Super-Heroine Objectification: The Sexualization of Black Widow across Comic and Film Adaptations.” <em>The Superhero Multiverse: Readapting Comic Book Icons in Twenty-First-Century Film and Popular Media. </em>Ed. Lorna Piatti-Farnell. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2022.</p> <p>“Rare Species.” <em>The Witcher</em>. Created by Lauren Hissrich. Season 1, episode 6. Netflix. Little Schmidt Productions, 2019.</p> <p><em>Rotten Tomatoes. </em>The Witcher. 8 Aug. 2023. &lt;<a href="https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_witcher/s01">https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_witcher/s01</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Stratton, Kimberly B. “Interrogating the Magic-Gender Connection.” <em>Daughters of Hecate: Women and Magic in the Ancient World. </em>Eds. Kimberly B. Stratton and Dayna S. Kalleres. New York: Oxford UP, 2014.</p> <p>Taber, Nancy, Vera Woloshyn, Caitlin Munn, and Laura Lane. “Exploring Representations of Super Women in Popular Culture.” <em>Adult Learning </em>25.4 (2014): 142-150.</p> <p>Talukdar, Indrayudh. “How Did Yennefer Turn into a Motherly Figure for Ciri in ‘The Witcher’ Season 3?” <em>Film Fugitives, </em>30 June 2023. 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://fugitives.com/the-witcher-season-3-character-yennefer-explained-2023-fantasy-series/">https://fugitives.com/the-witcher-season-3-character-yennefer-explained-2023-fantasy-series/</a>&gt;.</p> <p><em>The Witcher. </em>Created by Lauren Hissrich. Netflix, 2019-present.</p> <p>Worrall, William. “Netflix’s The Witcher Finds Universal Acclaim on Twitter Despite Criticism over ‘Feminist Agenda’.” <em>CCN, </em>23 Sep. 2020. 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.ccn.com/netflix-the-witcher-finds-universal-acclaim-twitter/">https://www.ccn.com/netflix-the-witcher-finds-universal-acclaim-twitter/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Worrow, Kirsty. “’Pretty Ballads Hide Bastard Truths’: Patriarchal Narratives and Female Power in Netflix’s The Witcher.” <em>Gender and Female Villains in 21<sup>st</sup> Century Fairy Tale Narratives: From Evil Queens to Wicked Witches. </em>Eds. Natalie Le Clue and Janelle Vermaak-Griessel. Bingley: Emerald, 2022.</p> <p>Zipes, Jack. <em>The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. </em>New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2013.</p> Angelique Nairn Lorna Piatti-Farnell Copyright (c) 2023 Angelique Nairn, Lorna Piatti-Farnell http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3012 Conjuring Up a King https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2986 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p>The coronation of King Charles III was steeped in the tradition of magic and ritual that has characterised English, and later British, coronations. The very idea of a coronation leverages belief in divinity; however, the coronation of Charles III occurred in a very different social environment than those of monarchs a millennium ago. Today, belief in the divine right of Kings is dramatically reduced. In this context, magic can also be thought of as a stage performance that relies on a tacit understanding between audience and actor, where disbelief is suspended in order to achieve the effect. This paper will examine the use of ritual and magic in the coronation ceremony. It will discuss how the British royal family has positioned its image in relation to the concept of magic and how social changes have brought the very idea of monarchy into question.</p> <p>One way to think about magic, according to Leddington (253), is that it has “long had an uneasy relationship with two thoroughly disreputable worlds: the world of the supposedly supernatural – the world of psychics, mediums and other charlatans – and the world of the con – the world of cheats, hustlers and swindlers”. While it may be that a magician aims to fool the audience, the act also requires audiences to willingly suspend disbelief. Once the audience suspends disbelief in the theatrical event, they enter the realm of fantasy. The “willingness of the audience to play along and indulge in the fantasy” means magic is not just about performances of fiction, but it is about illusion (Leddington 256).</p> <p>Magic is also grounded in its social practices: the occult, sorcery, and witchcraft, particularly when linked to the Medieval Euro-American witch-hunts of the fifteenth to seventeenth century (Ginzburg). Religion scorned magic as a threat to the idea that only God had “sovereignty over the unseen” (Benussi). By the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, intellectuals like Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Max Weber argued that “increases in literacy, better living conditions, and growing acquaintance with modern science, would make people gradually forget their consolatory but false beliefs in spirits, gods, witches, and magical forces” (Casanova). Recent booms in Wicca and neopaganism show that modernity has not dismissed supernatural inquiry. Today, ‘occulture’ – “an eclectic milieu mixing esotericism, pop culture, and urban mysticism” – is treated as a “valuable resource to address existential predicaments, foster resilience in the face of the negative, expand their cognitive resources, work on their spiritual selves, explore fantasy and creativity, and generally improve their relationship with the world” (Benussi). Indeed, Durkheim’s judgement of magic as a quintessentially personal spiritual endeavour has some resonance. It also helps to explain why societies are still able to suspend belief and accept the ‘illusion’ that King Charles III is appointed by God. And this is what happened on 6 May 2023 when</p> <blockquote> <p>millions of people looked on, and as with all magic mirrors, saw what they wanted to see. Some saw a … victory for the visibility of older women, as if we did not recently bury a 96-year-old queen, and happiness at last. Others saw a victory for diversity, as people of colour and non-Christian faiths, and women, were allowed to perform homage — and near the front, too, close to the god. (Gold 2023)</p> </blockquote> <h1><strong>‘We must </strong><strong>not let in daylight upon magic’</strong></h1> <p>In 1867, English essayist Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) wrote “above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it, you cannot reverence it … . Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic” (cited in Ratcliffe). Perhaps, one may argue sardonically, somebody forgot to tell Prince Harry. In the 2022 six-part Netflix special <em>Harry and Meghan</em>, it was reported that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan have “shone not just daylight but a blinding floodlight on the private affairs of the royal family” (Holden). Queen Elizabeth II had already learnt the lesson of not letting the light in. In June 1969, BBC1 and ITV in Britain aired a documentary titled <em>Royal Family</em>, which was watched by 38 million viewers in the UK and an estimated 350 million globally. The documentary was developed by William Heseltine, the Queen’s press secretary, and John Brabourne, who was the son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten, to show the daily life of the royal family. The recent show <em>The Crown</em> also shows the role of Prince Phillip in its development. The 110-minute documentary covered one year of the royal’s private lives. Queen Elizabeth was shown the documentary before it aired. The following dialogue amongst the royals in <em>The Crown</em> (episode 3, season 4 ‘Bubbikins’) posits one reason for its production.</p> <blockquote> <p>It’s a documentary film … . It means, um ... no acting. No artifice. Just the real thing. Like one of those wildlife films. Yes, except this time, we are the endangered species. Yes, exactly. It will follow all of us in our daily lives to prove to everyone out there what we in here already know. What’s that? Well, how hard we all work. And what good value we represent. How much we deserve the taxpayer’s money. So, we’ll all have to get used to cameras being here all the time? Not all the time. They will follow us on and off over the next few months. So, all of you are on your best behaviour.</p> </blockquote> <p>As filming begins, Queen Elizabeth says of the camera lights, “it’s jolly powerful that light, isn’t it?” In 1977 Queen Elizabeth banned the documentary from being shown in Britain. The full-length version is currently available on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ez4TBvCkRxo">YouTube</a>. Released at a time of social change in Britain, the film focusses on tradition, duty, and family life, revealing a very conservative royal family largely out of step with modern Britain. Perhaps Queen Elizabeth II realised too much ‘light’ had been let in.</p> <p>Historian David Cannadine argues that, during most of the nineteenth century, the British monarchy was struggling to maintain its image and status, and</p> <blockquote> <p>as the population was becoming better educated, royal ritual would soon be exposed as nothing more than primitive magic, a hollow sham ... the pageantry centred on the monarchy was conspicuous for its ineptitude rather than for its grandeur. (Cannadine, "Context" 102)</p> </blockquote> <p>By the 1980s, Cannadine goes on to posit, despite the increased level of education there remained a “liking for the secular magic of monarchy” (Cannadine, "Context" 102). This could be found in the way the monarchy had ‘reinvented’ their rituals – coronations, weddings, openings of parliament, and so on – in the late Victorian era and through to the Second World War. By the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, aided by television, “the British persuaded themselves that they were good at ceremonial because they always had been” (Cannadine, "Context" 108). However, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was very much an example of the curating of illusion precisely because it was televised. Initially, there was opposition to the televising of the coronation from both within the royal family and within the parliament, with television considered the “same as the gutter press” and only likely to show the “coronation blunders” experienced by her father (Hardman 123).</p> <p>Queen Elizabeth II appointed her husband Prince Phillip as Chair of the Coronation Committee. The Queen was opposed to the coronation being televised; the Prince was in favour of it, wanting to open the “most significant royal ceremony to the common man using the new technology of the day” (Morton 134). The Prince argued that opening the coronation to the people via television was the “simplest and surest way of maintaining the monarchy” and that the “light <em>should</em> be let in on the magic” (Morton 135). Queen Elizabeth II considered the coronation a “profound and sacred moment in history, when an ordinary mortal is transformed into a potent symbol in accordance with centuries-old tradition” (Morton 125). For the Queen, the cameras would be too revealing and remind audiences that she was in fact mortal. The press celebrated the idea to televise the coronation, arguing the people should not be “denied the climax of a wonderful and magnificent occasion in British history” (Morton 135). The only compromise was that the cameras could film the ceremony “but would avert their gaze during the Anointing and Holy Communion” (Hardman 123). Today, royal events are extensively planned, from the clothing of the monarch (Hackett and Coghlan) to managing the death of the monarch (Knight). Royal tours are also extensively planned, with elaborate visits designed to show off “royal symbols, vividly and vitally” (Cannadine 115). As such, their public appearances became more akin to “theatrical shows” (Reed 4).</p> <h1><strong>History of the ‘Magicalisation’ of Coronations</strong></h1> <p>British coronations originated as a “Christian compromise with earlier pagan rites of royal investiture” and in time it would become a “Protestant compromise with Britain’s Catholic past, while also referencing Britain’s growing role as an imperial power” (Young). The first English coronation was at Bath Abbey where the Archbishop of Canterbury crowned King Edgar in 973. When Edward the Confessor came to the throne in 1043, he commissioned the construction of Westminster Abbey on the site of a Benedictine monk church. The first documented coronation to take place at Westminster Abbey was for William the Conqueror in 1066 (Brain).</p> <p>Coronations were considered “essential to convince England’s kings that they held their authority from God” (Young). Following William the Conqueror’s coronation cementing Westminster Abbey’s status as the site for all subsequent coronation ceremonies, Henry III (1207-1272) realised the need for the Abbey to be a religious site that reflects the ceremonial status of that which authorises the monarch’s authority from God. It was under the influence of Henry III that it was rebuilt in a Gothic style, creating the high altar and imposing design that we see today (Brain). As such, this “newly designed setting was now not only a place of religious devotion and worship but also a theatre in which to display the power of kingship in the heart of Westminster, a place where governance, religion and power were all so closely intertwined” (Brain).</p> <p>The ‘magicalisation’ of the coronation rite intensified in the reign of Edward I (Young), with the inclusion of the Stone of Destiny, which is an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy, used for centuries in the inauguration of Scottish kings. In 1296, King Edward I of England seized the stone from the Scots and had it built into a new throne at Westminster. From then on, it was used in the coronation ceremonies of British monarchs. On Christmas Day 1950, four Scottish students removed the stone from Westminster Abbey in London. It turned up three months later, 500 miles away at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey. In 1996, the stone was officially returned to Scotland. The stone will only leave Scotland again for a coronation in Westminster Abbey (Edinburgh Castle). The Stone is believed to be of pre-Christian origin and there is evidence to suggest that it was used in the investitures of pagan kings; thus, modern coronations are largely a muddle of the pre-Christian, the sacred, and the secular in a single ceremony (Young). But the “sheer colour, grandeur, and pageantry of Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 was such a contrast with the drabness of post-war Britain that it indelibly marked the memories of those who watched it on television—Britain’s equivalent of the moon landings” (Young). It remains to be seen whether King Charles III’s coronation will have the same impact on Britain given its post-Brexit period of economic recession, political instability, and social division.</p> <p>The coronation channels “the fascination, the magic, the continuity, the stability that comes from a monarchy with a dynasty that has been playing this role for centuries, [and] a lot of people find comfort in that” (Gullien quoted in Stockman). However, the world of King Charles III's coronation is much different from that of his mother’s, where there was arguably a more willing audience. The world that Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in was much more sympathetic to the notion of monarchy. Britain, and much of the Commonwealth, was still reeling from the Second World War and willing to accept the fantasy of the 1953 coronation of the 25-year-old newly married princess. By comparison today, support for the monarchy is relatively low. The shift away from the monarchy has been evident since at least 1992, the <em>annus horribilis</em> (Pimlott 7), with much of its basis in the perceived antics of the monarch’s children, and with the ambivalence towards the fire at Windsor Castle that year demonstrating the mood of the public. Pimlott argues “it was no longer fashionable to be in favour of the Monarchy, or indeed to have much good to say about it”, and with this “a last taboo had been shed” (Pimlott 7).</p> <p>The net favourability score of the royal family in the UK sat at +41 just after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Six months later, this had fallen to +30 (Humphrys). In their polling of adults in the UK, YouGov found that 46% of Britons were likely “to watch King Charles’ coronation and/or take part in celebrations surrounding it”, with younger demographics less likely to participate (YouGov, "How Likely"). The reported £100m cost of the coronation during a cost of living crisis drew controversy, with 51% of the population believing the government should not pay for it, and again the younger generations being more likely to believe that it should not be funded (YouGov, "Do You Think").</p> <p>Denis Altman (17) reminds us that, traditionally, monarchs claimed their authority directly from God as the “divine right of kings”, which gave monarchs the power to stave off challenges. This somewhat magical legitimacy, however, sits uneasily with modern ideas of democracy. Nevertheless, modern monarchs still call upon this magical legitimacy when their role and relevance are questioned, as the late 1990s proved it to be for the Windsors. With the royal family now subject to a level of public scrutiny that they had not been subjected to in over a century, the coronation of King Charles III would occur in a very different socio-political climate than that of his mother. The use of ritual and magic, and a willing audience, would be needed if King Charles III’s reign was to be accepted as legitimate, never mind popular. As the American conservative commentator Helen Andrews wrote, “all legitimacy is essentially magic” (cited in Cusack). Recognising the need to continue to ensure its legitimacy and relevance, the British royal family have always recognised that mass public consumption of royal births and weddings, and even deaths and funerals are central to them retaining their “mystique” (Altman 30). The fact that 750 million people watched the fairytale wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981, that two billion people watched Diana’s funeral on television in 1997, and a similar number watched the wedding of William and Catherine, suggests that in life and death the royals are at least celebrities, and for some watchers have taken on a larger socio-cultural meaning. Being seen, as Queen Elizabeth II said, in order to be believed, opens the door to how the royals are viewed and understood in modern life.</p> <p>Visibility and performance, argues Laura Clancy (63), is important to the relevance and authority of royalty. Visibility comes from images reproduced on currency and tea towels, but it also comes from being visible in public life, ideally contributing to the betterment of social life for the nation. Here the issue of ‘the magic’ of being blessed by God becomes problematic. For modern monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth II, her power arguably rested on her public status as a symbol of national stability. This, however, requires her to be seen doing so, therefore being visible in the public sphere. However, if royals are given their authority from God as a mystical authority of the divine right of kings, then why do they seek public legitimacy? More so, if ordained by God, royals are not ‘ordinary’ and do not live an ordinary life, so being too visible or too ordinary means the monarchy risks losing its “mystic” and they are “unmasked” (Clancy 65). Therefore, modern royals, including King Charles III, must tightly “stage-manage” being visible and being invisible to protect the magic of the monarch (Clancy 65). For the alternative narrative is easy to be found. As one commentator for the <em>Irish Times</em> put it, “having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state” (Freyne). In this depiction, a monarch is a work of fiction having no real basis. The anointing of the British monarch by necessity taps into the same narrative devices that can be found throughout fiction. The only difference is that this is real life and there is no guarantee of a happily ever after.</p> <p>The act of magic evident in the anointing of the monarch is played out in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, episode 5 of the first season of the television series <em>The Crown</em>. The episode opens with King George VI asking a young Princess Elizabeth to help him practice his anointing ceremony. Complete with a much improved, though still evident stutter, he says to the young Princess pretending to be the Archbishop:</p> <blockquote> <p>You have to anoint me, otherwise, I can’t ... be King. Do you understand? When the holy oil touches me, I am tr... I am transformed. Brought into direct contact with the divine. For ... forever changed. Bound to God. It is the most important part of the entire ceremony.</p> </blockquote> <p>The episode closes with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Watching the ceremony on television is the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, who was not invited to the coronation. To an audience of his friends and his wife Wallis Simpson, he orates:</p> <blockquote> <p>Oils and oaths. Orbs and sceptres. Symbol upon symbol. An unfathomable web of arcane mystery and liturgy. Blurring so many lines no clergyman or historian or lawyer could ever untangle any of it <br />– It's crazy – <br />On the contrary. It's perfectly sane. Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose when you can have poetry? Pull away the veil and what are you left with? An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination. But wrap her up like this, anoint her with oil, and hey, presto, what do you have? A goddess.</p> </blockquote> <p>By the time of Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, television would demand to show the coronation, and after Elizabeth’s initial reluctance was allowed to televise most of the event. Again, the issue of visibility and invisibility emerges. If the future Queen was blessed by God, why did the public need to see the event? Prime Minister Winston Churchill argued that television should be banned from the coronation because the “religious and spiritual aspects should not be presented as if they were theatrical performance” (Clancy 67). Clancy goes on to argue that the need for television was misunderstood by Churchill: royal spectacle equated with royal power, and the “monarchy <em>is</em> performance and representation” (Clancy 67). But Churchill countered that the “risks” of television was to weaken the “magic of the monarch” (Clancy 67).</p> <h1><strong>King Charles III’s Coronation: ‘An ageing debutante about to become a god’</strong></h1> <p>Walter Bagehot also wrote, “when there is a select committee on the Queen … the charm of royalty will be gone”. When asking readers to think about who should pay for King Charles III’s coronation, <em>The Guardian</em> reminded readers that the</p> <blockquote> <p>monarchy rests not on mantras and vapours, but on a solid financial foundation that has been deliberately shielded from parliamentary accountability … . No doubt King Charles III hopes that his coronation will have an enormous impact on the prestige of the monarchy – and secure his legitimacy. But it is the state that will foot the bill for its antique flummery. (The Guardian)</p> </blockquote> <p>Legitimacy it has been said is “essentially magic” (Cusack). The flummery that delivers royal legitimacy – coronations – has been referred to as “a magic hat ceremony” as well as “medieval”, “anachronistic”, and “outdated” (Young).</p> <p>If King Charles III lacks the legitimacy of his subjects, then where is the magic? The highly coordinated, extravagant succession of King Charles III has been planned for over half a century. The reliance on a singular monarch has ensured that this has been a necessity. This also begs the question: why is it so necessary? A monarch whose place was assured surely is in no need of such trappings. Andrew Cusack’s royalist view of the proclamation of the new King reveals much about the reliance on ritual to create magic. His description of the Accession Council at St James’s Palace on 10 September 2022 reveals the rituals that accompany such rarefied events: reading the Accession Proclamation, the monarch swearing their oath and signing various decrees, and the declaration to the public from the balcony of the palace. For the first time, the general public was allowed behind the veil through the lens of television cameras and the more modern online streaming; essential, perhaps, as the proclamation from the balcony was read to an empty street, which had been closed off as a security measure. Yet, for those privileged members of the Privy Council who were able to attend,</p> <blockquote> <p>standing there in a solemn crowd of many hundreds, responding to Garter’s reading of the proclamation with a hearty and united shout of “God save the King!” echoing down the streets of London, it was difficult not to feel the supernatural and preternatural magic of the monarchy. (Cusack)</p> </blockquote> <p>Regardless, the footage of the event reveals a highly rehearsed affair, all against a backdrop of carefully curated colour, music, and costume. Costumes need to be “magnificent” because they “help to will the spell into being” (Gold). This was not the only proclamation ceremony. Variations were executed across the Commonwealth and other realms. In Australia, the Governor-General made a declaration flanked by troops.</p> <p>“A coronation creates a god out of a man: it is magic” (Gold). But for King Charles III, his lack of confidence in the magic spell was obvious at breakfast time. As the congregation spooled into Westminster Abbey, with actors at the front – kings tend to like actors, as they have the same job – the head of the anti-monarchist pressure group Republic, Graham Smith, was arrested near Trafalgar Square with five other republican leaders (Gold).</p> <p>The BBC cut away from the remaining Trafalgar Square protestors as the royal cavalcade passed them by, meaning “screen[s] were erected in front of the protest, as if our eyes — and the king’s — were too delicate to be allowed to see it” (Gold). The Duke of York was booed as he left Buckingham Palace, but that too was not reported on (Ward). This was followed by “the pomp: the fantastical costumes, the militarism, the uneasy horses” (Gold). Yet, the king looked both</p> <blockquote> <p>scared and thrilled: an ageing debutante about to become a god [as he was] poked and prodded, dressed and undressed, and sacred objects were placed on and near him by a succession of holy men who looked like they would fight to the death for the opportunity. (Gold)</p> </blockquote> <p>King Charles III’s first remarks at the beginning of coronation were “I come not to be served, but to serve” (<em>New York Times</em>), a narrative largely employed to dispel the next two hours of well-dressed courtiers and clergy attending to all manner of trinkets and singing all matter of hymns. After being anointed with holy oil and presented with some of the crown jewels, King Charles was officially crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury placing the St Edward’s Crown upon his head. The 360-year-old crown is the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels. It stands just over 30 centimetres tall and weighs over two kilograms (Howard). In the literal crowning moment, Charles was seated on the 700-year-old Coronation Chair, believed to be the</p> <blockquote> <p>oldest piece of furniture in Europe still being used for its original purpose and holding two golden scepters as the glittering St. Edward’s Crown, made for King Charles II in 1661, was placed on his head. It is the only time he will ever wear it. (<em>New York Times</em>)</p> </blockquote> <p>The Indigenous Australian journalist Stan Grant perhaps best sums up the coronation and its need to sanctify via magic the legitimacy of the monarchy. He argues that</p> <blockquote> <p>taking the coronation seriously only risks becoming complicit in this antediluvian ritual. A 74-year-old man will finally inherit the crown of a faded empire. His own family is not united, let alone his country. Charles will still reign over 15 nations, among them St Lucia, Tuvalu, Grenada, Canada and, of course, steadfast Australia. The “republican” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be among those pledging his allegiance. To seal it all, the new King will be anointed with holy oil. This man is apparently a gift from God.</p> </blockquote> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>Magic is central to the construction of the coronation ceremony of British monarchs, a tradition that stretches back over a millennium. Magic relies upon an implicit understanding between the actors and the audience; the audience knows what they are seeing is a trick, but nonetheless want to be convinced otherwise. It is for the actors to present the trick seamlessly for the audience to enjoy. The coronation relies upon the elevation of a singular person above all other citizens and the established ritual is designed to make the seemingly impossible occur. For centuries, British coronations occurred behind closed doors, with the magic performed in front of a select crowd of peers and notables. The introduction of broadcasting technology, first film, then radio and television, transformed the coronation ceremony and threatened to expose the magic ritual for the trick it is. The stage management of the latest coronation reveals that these concerns were held by the producers, with camera footage carefully shot so as to exclude any counter-narrative from being broadcast. However, technology has evolved since the previous coronation in 1953, and these undesired images still made their way into various media, letting the daylight in and disrupting the magic. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this will have on the long-term reign of Charles III.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Altman, Dennis. <em>God Save the Queen: The Strange Persistence of Monarchies</em>. Melbourne: Scribe, 2021.</p> <p>Benussi, Matteo. "Magic." <em>The Open Encyclopedia of Anthropology</em>. Ed. Felix Stein. Cambridge 2019.</p> <p>Brain, Jessica. "The History of the Coronation." <em>Historic UK</em>, 2023.</p> <p>Cannadine, David. "The Context, Performance and Meaning of Ritual: The British Monarchy and the 'Invention of Tradition', c. 1820–1977." <em>The Invention of Tradition</em>. Eds. Eric Hobsbawm and T.O. Ranger. Canto ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 101-64.</p> <p>———. <em>Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire</em>. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002.</p> <p>Casanova, José. <em>Public Religions in the Modern World</em>. U of Chicago P, 2011.</p> <p>Clancy, Laura. <em>Running the Family Firm: How the Monarchy Manages Its Image and Our Money</em>. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2021.</p> <p>Cusack, Andrew. "Magic at St James's Palace." <em>Quadrant </em>66.10 (2022): 14-16.</p> <p>Edinburgh Castle. "The Stone of Destiny." <em>Edinburgh Castle</em>, 2023.</p> <p>Ginzburg, Carlo. <em>Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath</em>. U of Chicago P, 2004.</p> <p>Gold, Tanya. "The Coronation Was an Act of Magic for a Country Scared the Spell Might Break." <em>Politico </em>6 May 2023.</p> <p>Grant, Stan. "When the Queen Died, I Felt Betrayed by a Nation. For King Charles's Coronation, I Feel Something Quite Different." <em>ABC News </em>6 May 2023.</p> <p><em>The Guardian</em>. "The Guardian View on Royal Finances: Time to Let the Daylight In: Editorial." <em>The Guardian </em>6 Apr. 2023.</p> <p>Hackett, Lisa J., and Jo Coghlan. "A Life in Uniform: How the Queen’s Clothing Signifies Her Role and Status." <em>See and Be Seen</em>. 2022.</p> <p>Hardman, Robert. <em>Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II</em>. Simon and Schuster, 2022.</p> <p>Holden, Michael, and Hanna Rantala. "Britain's Bruised Royals Stay Silent as Prince Harry Lets 'Light in on Magic'." <em>Reuters </em>10 Jan. 2023.</p> <p>Howard, Jacqueline. "King Charles Has Been Crowned at His 'Slimmed-Down' Coronation Ceremony. These Were the Key Moments." <em>ABC News </em>7 May 2023.</p> <p>Humphrys, John. "First the Coronation… But What Then?" <em>YouGov </em>14 Apr. 2023.</p> <p>Knight, Sam. "'London Bridge Is Down': The Secret Plan for the Days after the Queen’s Death." <em>The Guardian </em>2017.</p> <p>Leddington, Jason. "The Experience of Magic." <em>The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism </em>74.3 (2016): 253-64.</p> <p>"Smoke and Mirrors." <em>The Crown</em>. Dir. Philip Martin. Netflix, 2016.</p> <p>"Bubbikins." <em>The Crown</em>. Dir. Benjamin Caron. Netflix, 2019. </p> <p>Morton, Andrew. <em>The Queen</em>. Michael O'Mara, 2022. </p> <p><em>New York Times</em>. "Missed the Coronation? Here’s What Happened, from the Crown to the Crowds." <em>New York</em> Times 2023.</p> <p>Pimlott, Ben. "Jubilee and the Idea of Royalty." <em>Historian </em>76 (2002): 6-15.</p> <p>Ratcliffe, Susan, ed. <em>Oxford Essential Quotations</em>. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. </p> <p>Reed, Charles, Andrew Thompson, and John Mackenzie. <em>Royal Tourists, Colonial Subjects and the Making of a British World, 1860–1911</em>. Oxford: Manchester UP, 2016. </p> <p>Stockman, Farah. "We Are Obsessed with Royalty." Editorial. <em>The New York Times</em> 10 Mar. 2021: A22(L).</p> <p>Ward, Victoria. "Prince Andrew Booed by Parts of Coronation Crowd." <em>The Telegraph </em>6 May 2023.</p> <p><em>YouGov</em>. "Do You Think the Coronation of King Charles Should or Should Not Be Funded by the Government?" 18 Apr. 2023. </p> <p>———. "How Likely Are You to Watch King Charles’ Coronation and/or Take Part in Celebrations Surrounding It?" 13 Apr. 2023. </p> <p>Young, Francis. "The Ancient Royal Magic of the Coronation." <em>First Things: Journal of Religion and Public Life </em>5 May 2023.</p> Lisa J. Hackett Jo Coghlan Copyright (c) 2023 Lisa J. Hackett, Jo Coghlan http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2986 “You Know There’s No ‘It’ Right? ‘It’ Was Just Us” https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3002 <p>In Showtime’s <em>Yellowjackets </em>(2021-present), ‘magic’ (referred to by the characters as “It”) has an overwhelming presence. Supernatural visions, clairvoyance, and occult iconography are laden throughout each episode. However, the audience is often left uncertain if magic is, in fact, ‘real’ or conjured in the imagination of the show’s characters. <em>Yellowjackets </em>follows a women’s high-school soccer team (named the Yellowjackets) who survive a plane crash deep in the North American wilderness. The show explores the team’s struggle for survival and the present adult lives of those who survived. In this article, we draw from Caroline Bainbridge’s understanding of television as a psychical object to investigate the role of magic in <em>Yellowjackets’ </em>exploration of grief and trauma. We provide a close textual reading and an analysis of online fan discourse to explore the ambiguity of magic and its capacity to generate meaning. We argue that it is precisely through the ambiguity surrounding the ‘realness’ of magic that <em>Yellowjackets can </em>effectively explore grief, trauma, and empathy. Ultimately, we contend that the ambiguity of magic in <em>Yellowjackets </em>helps viewers empathise with the trauma and grief experienced by the characters.</p> <h1><strong>The Ambiguity of Magic in <em>Yellowjackets </em></strong></h1> <p>Magic has often been seen by scholars as an effective artistic tool to explore trauma and grief narratives (Bowers). As Maggie Ann Bowers puts it, magic helps create a space where the “unrepresentable can be expressed” (77). Scholarship surrounding the literary genre of magical realism offers a particularly useful exploration of exactly <em>how</em> magic can be an effective avenue to explore such themes (Arva; Abdulla and Abu). Beatrice Chanady defines magical realism as the amalgamation of realist and supernatural/magical elements. In her understanding of this genre, both realism and magic are “equally autonomous and coherent” (18). In a similar vein, Wendy Faris observes that the narratives of magical realism “merge two different realms”, and as a result the reader may “experience some unsettling doubts in the effort to reconcile two contradictory understandings of events” (101). Indeed, it is the merging of these two worlds that allows for the symbolic exploration of trauma narratives. In the case of <em>Yellowjackets</em>, these elements of magical realism certainly come into play. As we will explore throughout this article, the tension between realism and the supernatural is precisely what allows <em>Yellowjackets </em>to “say what cannot be said” (Mrack 3).</p> <p>The idea of magic is a constant presence throughout both seasons of <em>Yellowjackets. </em>However, the <em>realness</em> of this magic is always ambiguous and up for debate. Much like <em>The X-Files</em> (1993-2002), the textual features of <em>Yellowjackets </em>can allow for both ‘sceptic’ and ‘believer’ readings of the show that are not expressly affirmed or denied (Goode). Magic is first hinted at in the opening sequence of the pilot episode when an unnamed character (referred to affectionately by fans as “pit girl”) is chased into a crude spike trap. The sequence is laden with occult imagery—there are mysterious eye symbols carved into the trees and the other girls are wearing ritualistic masks made from animal skin and antlers. As the show progresses, the other characters start to openly speculate about the supernatural magic of the wilderness. One of the central characters, Lottie Mathews, starts having ‘visions’ that seemingly align with the strange occurrences of the forest. As she starts to surrender to the call of the wilderness her <em>magic</em> appears to grow stronger. In the season one finale, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” (S1E9), a bear threatens the Yellowjacket’s camp. Lottie steps forward to face the bear armed with only a small knife. Through seemingly accepting the call of the wilderness, the bear lies down and submits to her without a fight. For many of the other characters, this affirms Lottie’s magic powers, and they anoint her the “Antler Queen”. Of course, these instances of ‘magic’ can just as easily be explained as coincidence. Lottie is shown to have an established history of mental illness and magic is never clearly shown—it is just alluded to an entity that has an invisible presence.</p> <p>The uncertain allusion of magic has a divisive effect on the girls in <em>Yellowjackets</em>. The survivors organise themselves into pseudo-factions depending on their belief in the supernatural powers of the wilderness. Characters in the wider group including Shauna, Natalie, Taissa, and Misty are quick to reveal their scepticism toward Lottie and the existence of magic. To begin with, this group tension is relatively minor—the sceptics find the believers silly and dismiss Lottie as simply being “crazy”. However, group tension becomes more significant as it starts to influence the decision-making of the whole group. After another group member, Javi, goes missing, Travis (Javi’s older brother) and Natalie spend hours each day searching for him in the freezing cold. This search is resource-consuming and dangerous because the pair could easily get lost or succumb to frostbite. Natalie quickly realises the search is futile, as it is extremely unlikely that Javi could have survived on his own. In the episode “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” (S2E1) she is on the verge of convincing Travis to give up when Lottie mentions that she had a vision about Javi and is certain that he is alive, inspiring Travis to continue the search. Frustrated, Natalie confronts Lottie:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Natalie</strong>: What the fuck was that!? Javi is… Look giving him false hope is just going to make things worse.<br /><strong>Lottie</strong>: There’s no such thing as false hope. There is just hope.<br /><strong>Natalie</strong>: Did you read that in a fucking fortune cookie?<br /><strong>Lottie</strong>: What do you want from me Nat? I said what I felt.<br /><strong>Natalie</strong>: I want you to say less, Lottie, a lot fucking less!</p> </blockquote> <p>As situations like this become more common, relations between the believer and sceptic factions in <em>Yellowjackets </em>become more fractured. It quickly becomes clear that magic and its ambiguity in the show is a divisive source of conflict.</p> <p>The impact that magic has on the characters in <em>Yellowjackets </em>is seemingly mirrored in fan communities—particularly the r/Yellowjackets subreddit. As outlined by Victor Costello and Barbara Moore, online fandoms have the capacity to transform the private act of viewing into a communal activity that significantly enhances one’s emotional involvement with a text (124). Meaningful exchanges in online discussions empowers fans to “organise en masse as resistors and shapers of commercial television narratives” (Costello and Moore 124). On the r/Yellowjackets subreddit debate about ‘magic’ and whether the supernatural is a real force is a central theme, one poll that received over 800 responses asked users whether there were “supernatural/dark powers lurking, or no? Is it just mass hysteria with the perfect storm of events” (Reddit). There was nearly a complete split in the vote, with 401 users agreeing that there is an ancient, evil magic impacting on the characters and 460 indicating that there is no magic in the show.</p> <p>The lack of consensus in the fandom has led to countless disagreements within posts as users enthusiastically debate the legitimacy of magic. As seen in Figure 1, users on the subreddit can select a ‘flair’ (a tag of text that appears under usernames to give additional context to a post or perspective) to denote their allegiance to “Team Rational” or “Team Supernatural”. Users adopt these flairs to place their opinions and arguments into a particular context of thinking. Intense arguments erupt as a result of the ambiguity surrounding magic, with fans speculating using clues from the text. Will Brooker has suggested that debates can be a source of pleasure in fan communities and are what allows them to “thrive” (113). In the case of r/Yellowjackets, the debate about magic is a form of productive conflict that is very much part of the <em>fun</em> of watching the show (Brooker). It encourages fans to sleuth for specific textual evidence that both supports their position and shapes their interpretation of the <em>Yellowjackets </em>narrative (Costello &amp; Moore 124). Forum identity is heavily connected to the implied supernatural elements of <em>Yellowjackets</em>, and this uncertainty results in factional splits much like the groupings displayed on the show itself.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/beare.png" alt="" width="376" height="586" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 1: Available Flairs on r/Yellowjackets subreddit (2023).</em></p> <p>How the users of r/Yellowjackets interrogate and draw their conclusions about the authenticity of magic in <em>Yellowjackets </em>impacts on their perceptions of the show’s paratextual discourse (Gray). As the show is ambiguous in its messaging to do with the supernatural, users have many different wells of meaning to draw from. These include specific characters they trust (like Lottie and Nat), the communication tools of the text (shots, audio, lighting, <em>mise-en-scène</em>, etc.) and the show's creators. Some users trust the legitimacy of Lottie as a true clairvoyant who “consistently has visions of the future” (Reddit). Others rely more on what the audience has been <em>told </em>about the characters, particularly regarding Lottie’s schizophrenia. One user questions whether they are “the only one who didn't really pick up on occult?” and continued that they had read “everything more as Lotti [sic] slipping into whatever mental illness she has and pulling others into her delusions when nothing supernatural is actually happening. More cult than occult” (Reddit).</p> <p>Many fans on the subreddit implicitly trust the writers’ paratextual discussions about the show. Series creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson frequently comment on and confirm previously ambiguous elements of the show (Chaney). Actors like Christina Ricci (who plays an older Misty on the show) have also debunked audience theories (Weiss). One user argues they “trust” the writers on questions of ambiguity. Statements like “writers have confirmed” become commonplace in these debates, with users citing writers' comments as to why much of the supernatural is merely a figment of the characters’ imagination. Other posters are sceptical of writer discourses, preferring to trust the texts themselves rather than rely on creators who either may not know the answer or who benefit from ambiguity. Whatever and whoever fans believe influences their perception of the show and who to trust, users look to varied show elements as the locus of meaning and truth regarding magic, and whom they choose to believe changes their perspectives and impacts on their engagement with the show and the characters.</p> <h1><strong>‘Who the fuck is Lottie Mathews?’ Magic, Meaning and Empathy</strong></h1> <p><em>Yellowjackets’ </em>textual exploration of grief and trauma is so often mediated through the idea of magic. As <em>Yellowjackets </em>progresses, the girls find themselves in increasingly hopeless situations. Characters die, freezing weather confines them to a cabin, and their food supply becomes almost completely exhausted. The girls are often forced into impossible situations where they must choose between cannibalism and starvation. These declining conditions are what lead many of the ‘believer’ characters (Van, Mari, and Travis) to their intense faith in Lottie as a human conduit upon which the wilderness has bestowed magic powers. Magic offers <em>some </em>meaning to the brutality and hopelessness of their situation. As things get worse for the girls in season two, ‘sceptic’ characters slowly start to accept the idea of magic. Nat starts receiving blessings from Lottie, Taissa begins attending Lottie’s prayer circle, and Shauna allows prayer during the birth of her child. When faced with dire situations, ‘magic’ offers the characters a way to confront their violent actions and absolve themselves of responsibility for horrible decisions. For example, in the season two episode “It Chooses” (S2E8) the Yellowjackets decide that they must resort to killing and eating one of their teammates in order to survive. The group agrees that, through the magic red queen ritual designed by Lottie, the wilderness will decide who is to be ‘sacrificed’. In this instance, the idea of magic is used by the girls as a psychological tool to distance themselves from the trauma and grief that are inherent to their situation.</p> <p>Throughout <em>Yellowjackets </em>the characters in the present timeline are shown to still suffer from the intense trauma and guilt of their time in the wilderness. For example, Natalie is in and out of rehab programs and Taissa suffers dissociative sleep-walking episodes. Most notable in this regard is the character of adult Lottie. In the opening montage of “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” (S2E1) we see the range of psychological treatments that Lottie has gone through since returning from the wilderness. For the first few episodes of season two, it appears as though adult Lottie has managed to heal and move on from the past. She has set up a ‘commune’ that is seemingly having a positive influence on the lives of new characters like Lisa and (to an extent) former Yellowjackets like Nat and Misty. However, soon after her old Yellowjackets teammates re-enter her life, we see Lottie become increasingly unstable. She is frequently shown to be having intrusive thoughts and violent visions about her time in the wilderness. In this sense, Lottie’s reunification with the other Yellowjackets is a trigger for her repressed grief and trauma. As season two progresses, there are several scenes of Lottie receiving therapy from an unnamed psychiatrist. While these sessions start off relatively innocuous, they gradually become more sinister as Lottie opens up about her time in the wilderness, and finally her feeling of “It” returning:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Therapist</strong>: Lottie, when does self-repression ever serve us? It could be that this reunion strikes a primal chord with you because in the past when you were with those other women you were free. You were your truest, most authentic self. What is standing in the way of you embracing that again?<br /><strong>Lottie</strong>: We hurt each other. People died.<br /><strong>Therapist</strong>: Tell me, is there anything of value in this life that doesn’t come with risk? Or loss? Or consequence?<br /><strong>Lottie</strong>: Are you saying what I think you’re saying?</p> </blockquote> <p>At this moment the therapist transforms into the antler queen, dressed in a white ceremonial robe that is adorned with bones and symbols of the wilderness and it is revealed that Lottie has been hallucinating the entire session. The scene concludes with the therapist (in the form of the antler queen) telling Lottie: “You tell me, does a hunt that has no violence feed anyone?” From this moment, adult Lottie embraces the magic of the wilderness again. It is the only way she can find meaning in and confront the trauma and grief that she still holds from her time in the wilderness. This ultimately leads to Lottie convincing Shauna, Van, Misty, and Taissa to believe in the supernatural magic of the wilderness again and perform the deadly Red Queen hunting ritual as adults. Giving in to magic allows the characters a chance to escape the trauma and grief and give meaning to their violent actions in the wilderness. In this sense ‘magic’ in <em>Yellowjackets </em>is somewhat of a psychological sleight of hand for characters to artificially separate themselves from their past.</p> <p>Caroline Bainbridge has emphasised how the immersive environments created by a television program allow audiences to work through themes in very personal ways. According to Bainbridge, complex story worlds can be critical tools to help viewers work through complicated issues. In essence, audiences may “internalise drama as an object of the mind but also put it to work in their everyday life” (300). She argues that we should</p> <blockquote> <p>begin to understand how a television show can become a psychical object, available for use in terms of unconscious interrogation of one’s sense of selfhood and one’s immersion in a complex ideological environment. (300)</p> </blockquote> <p>Understanding long-form television as this type of object allows us to recognise a similar potential within <em>Yellowjackets</em>. Leaving magic as an ambiguous feature allows audiences to empathise and engage with the characters’ uncertainty; just as they are left to wonder about the state of reality and magic, so too are the fans on forums. One user explores how the characters’ uncertainty creates discussion and debate within a group of people ‘trapped’ together: </p> <blockquote> <p>what I really like is the way the potential for paranormal is implied in the girls’ situation by these odd coincidences, adding to the group psychosis and shared trauma… they’re scared shitless at the drop of a pin out there, and questioning everything they see (or don’t see), which adds to the anxiety<em>. </em>(Reddit) </p> </blockquote> <p>Much like the characters on the show, the fans have become a group trying to make sense of ‘odd coincidences’ and are ‘questioning’ everything they can see (on the show) and everything they ‘don’t’ see (writer and cast interviews). This ambiguity has led some fans to connect more closely with the character of Lottie, who seems to truly believe her visions are real, with some even “defending” her decisions and perspectives throughout the show (Reddit). Others are also impacted upon by the possibility of magic in the show, but rather react like Shauna and Nat—if there is magic it might not be helpful. One user identifies a kind of meta-experience fans are having thanks to the possibility of magic in the show:</p> <blockquote> <p>when [the writers] were asked if the show believes in the supernatural they kind of paused and started talking about the concept of believing in the supernatural, without saying if it definitely exists within the realm of the show. Which is kind of meta, as we're all discussing whether we believe in the supernatural existing within the show or not. (Reddit) </p> </blockquote> <p>As outlined by Mittell, Andrejevic, and Bainbridge, participation in TV fan communities allows for fundamentally different engagements with a text. In the case of r/Yellowjackets, it “significantly enhances” fans’ emotional involvement with the show (Costello and Moore) and brings new textual experiences to the fore. It is only through fan debate and community participation that fans can experience this ‘meta-narrative’ of magic. In this context, magic in <em>Yellowjackets</em> operates as a tool to connect audiences with the experiences of their characters. The consequences of unknown supernaturality and magical elements cause strife throughout fan communities much like in the community of the cabin in the show. Fans are shown how characters might ostracise, argue, deflect, and rationalise when their reality is questioned, much like the Yellowjackets themselves. Magic, therefore, is effective at encouraging empathy and understanding of perspectives and beliefs in televisual texts. </p> <p>Supernatural horror has often been understood in relation to trauma and grief. According to Becky Millar and Johnny Lee, it is particularly suited to represent these feelings because the disruption of the supernatural “mirror the core experience of disruption that accompanies bereavement” (171). Moreover, magic and the supernatural offer ways in which the experience of grief can “be contained and regulated and in doing so, may offer psychological benefits to the bereaved” (171). In the case of <em>Yellowjackets, </em>such connections are very much amplified by the ‘meta-experience’ facilitated by the show’s fan community. For some, these discussions on magic as reality or fiction are useful to help grieve the perceived loss of quality of the show across season two. Many expressed anger, sadness, dissolution, and disconnection with the show as a whole. Some took this as an opportunity to walk away claiming the “magic” of the show had been lost for them, and that they had “never seen such a dramatic drop in quality in a tv show … I think I’m done” (Reddit). One user turned to wishing for the occult and for magic, citing that “at this point, I'm quite content with this going full supernatural, since it could bring back Laura or Nat which would be impossible otherwise” (Reddit).</p> <p>Magic and supernatural are something that users, much like the characters of the show, have started to wish for as an escape from their experience. In a way, the discussions around the ambiguity of magic offers a sense of control. Sometimes audiences take pleasure in rationalising and making sense of a show for fun. In the case of <em>Yellowjackets</em>, though, we argue that audiences are using the uncertainty of magic to cope with a decline and navigate community and trauma. Some users explain that magic is not real as a way to demonstrate the show <em>is </em>still salvageable, others hope magic is real because that will <em>make</em> it salvageable. Much like the characters in <em>Yellowjackets</em>, some audience members are experiencing and working through a kind of ‘grief’ using the discussion of magic as a space to work through these ideas. </p> <h2><strong>References </strong></h2> <p>Arva, Eugene. “The Analogical Legacy of Ground Zero: Magical Realism in Post-9/11 Literary and Filmic Trauma Narratives.” <em>The Palgrave Handbook of Magical Realism in the Twenty-First Century. </em>Eds. Richard Perez and Victoria A. Chevalier. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.</p> <p>Abdula, Shanid, and Md. Abu. “Heavy Silence and Horrible Grief: Reconstructing the Past and Securing the Future through Magical Realism in Joseph Skibell’s A Blessing on the Moon.” <em>Ostrava Journal of English Philosophy </em>12.1 (2020).</p> <p>Andrejevic, Mark. “Watching Television without Pity: The Productivity of Online Fans.” <em>Television and New Media</em> 9.1 (2008): 24-46.</p> <p>Bainbridge, Caroline. “Television as Osychical Object: Mad Men and the Value of Psychoanalysis for Television Scholarship.” <em>Critical Studies in Television </em>14.3 (2019): 289-206.</p> <p>Brooker, Will. <em>Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans. </em>London: Continuum, 2002.</p> <p>Bowers, Maggie Ann. <em>Magic(al) Realism</em>. London: Routledge, 2004.</p> <p>Costello, Victor, and Barbara Moore. “Cultural Outlaws: An Examination of Audience Activity and Online Television Fandom.” <em>Television and New Media </em>8.2 (2007): 124-143.</p> <p>Chanady, Amaryll Beatrice. <em>Magical Realism and the Fantastic. </em>New York: Garland, 1985.</p> <p>Chaney, Jen. “The <em>Yellowjackets </em>Creators Answer All Our Post-Finale Questions.” <em>Vulture</em>, 16 Jan. 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.vulture.com/article/yellowjackets-season-1-finale-explained-showrunners-interview.html">https://www.vulture.com/article/yellowjackets-season-1-finale-explained-showrunners-interview.html</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Faris, Wendy B. “The Question of the Other: Cultural Critiques of Magical Realism.” <em>Janus Head </em>5.2 (2002): 101-119.</p> <p>“Friends, Romans, Countrymen.” <em>Yellowjackets</em>. Writ. Ashely Lyle and Bart Nickerson. Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Showtime, 2023.</p> <p>Gray, Jonathan. <em>Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers and Other Media Paratexts. </em>New York: NYU Press. 2010.</p> <p>Goode, Erich. “Why Was the X-Files So Appealing?” <em>Sceptical Enquirer </em>4 (2002): 9.</p> <p>“It Chooses.” <em>Yellowjackets. </em>Writ. Sarah Thompson and Liz Phang. Dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Showtime, 2023.</p> <p>Mrak, Anja. "Trauma and Memory in Magical Realism: Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach as Trauma Narrative.” <em>Politics of Memory</em> 3.2 (2013): 1-15.</p> <p>Millar, Becky, and Johnny Lee. “Horror Films and Grief.” <em>Emotion Review</em> 13.3 (2021): 171-182.</p> <p>Mittell, Jason. “Sites of Participation: Wiki Fandom and the Case of Lostpedia.” <em>Transformative Works and Cultures</em> 3.3 (2009): 1-10.</p> <p>“Pilot.” <em>Yellowjackets</em>. Writ. Ashely Lyle and Bart Nickerson. Dir. Karyn Kusama. Showtime, 2021.</p> <p>r/Yellowjackets. <em>Reddit. </em>30 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/Yellowjackets/">https://www.reddit.com/r/Yellowjackets/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>“Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.” <em>Yellowjackets</em>. Writ. Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson, and Katherine Kearns. Dir. Eduardo Sanchez. Showtime, 2021.</p> <p>Wiess, Josh. “Season 2 of Showtime’s Yellowjackets Could Sting Again Sooner than Expected with 2022 Return.” <em>SYFY</em>, 18 Jan. 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/yellowjackets-season-2-could-premiere-in-2022">https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/yellowjackets-season-2-could-premiere-in-2022</a>&gt;.</p> Alexander Hudson Beare Amy Brierley-Beare Copyright (c) 2023 Alexander Hudson Beare, Amy Brierley-Beare http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3002 "I Love Every Part of You" https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2997 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p><em>The Owl House </em>is an animated television series that aired on the Disney Channel from 2020 to 2023. The series follows Luz, a teenage Dominican-American human who finds a portal to the Demon Realm. She lands on the Boiling Isles, an island archipelago populated with magical creatures. There, Luz befriends a middle-aged witch named Edalyn “Eda” Clawthorne (also known as Eda the Owl Lady), and her housemate/adoptive son King, a cute dog-like demon with a skull for a head. Eda agrees to teach Luz magic. Magic is then used as a narrative prosthesis (McReynolds) to explore themes of inclusion and belonging. Our particular focus in this article is disability. Disability is represented in <em>The Owl House</em> in several ways, but most explicitly through Eda’s curse. Eda lives with a curse that turns her into an Owl Beast when not controlled by an elixir (a form of medication). Eda is the most powerful witch on the Boiling Isles and also its most wanted criminal. Yet, she also brings with her significant insight through her experience of living with her curse.</p> <p>Throughout this article, we draw on key concepts of critical disability studies in order to explore the way representations of familial relationships in <em>The Owl House</em>, both chosen and biological, are used as vehicles to subvert compulsory able-bodiedness, and therefore demonstrate affirmative notions of disability. As a field, critical disability studies respond to the limitations of both the medical model of disability, which sees impairments as the basis of disability, and the social model, which locates disability within society’s failure to accommodate bodily difference. Critical disability studies recognise disability as a complex web of physical, social, cultural, and political forces that work together to create disability.</p> <p>The affirmative model of disability is central to our discussion. This model takes a “non-tragic view of disability and impairment, which encompasses positive social identities, both individual and collective, for disabled people grounded in the benefits of lifestyle and life experience of being impaired” (Swain and French 569). The affirmative model recognises both positive and negative aspects of disability and, through its focus on identity and community, gives people with disability space to claim a positive individual and group identity. This disability identity is constructed outside the discourse of contemporary able-bodiedness and has its own benefits. Throughout <em>The Owl House</em>, Eda and Luz create a community of outsiders and then, like the affirmative model, celebrate and value the characteristics that prompted their exclusion.</p> <h1><strong>Familial Allyship</strong></h1> <p>Found families are tight-knit groups created by choice rather than through traditional bio-legal ties (Levin et al. 1). The provenance of this concept stems from the central role of friendship in the lives of queer people rejected by their biological family (Levin et al. 1): when many terminally ill queer patients with HIV/AIDS were abandoned by their biological families, they were often cared for by friends, elevating “the relationship from friendship to something more; an iteration of family” (Levin et al. 2). However, this queering of the traditional kinship structure is not solely an LGBTQIA+ experience: Alternative caregiving and kinship frameworks have “been shown to run parallel along multiple, intersecting lines of social disenfranchisement” (Levin et al. 2), including in disability communities.</p> <p><em>The Owl House </em>subverts the traditional normative social unit of the biological family, instead privileging (at least initially) “chosen” or “found” family based on platonic care. Eda’s found family members, King and Luz, demonstrate an expanded “notion of kinship” (‘Caring Kinships’ 21), borne out of mutual experiences of rejection from their families and/or societies of origin. Eda, King, and Luz are self-identified “weirdos”, often proclaiming, “us weirdos have to stick together”. Though Eda is rebellious and outwardly confident, she is an outcast in the Boiling Isles. As a “wild witch,” Eda is breaking the law by refusing to conform to the mandatory oppressive coven system of the Boiling Isles. Because of her outlaw status and curse, Eda tends to isolate herself from the rest of society. She is often evasive and keeps people from getting close to her, avoiding her biological family, and keeping emotional distance from romantic interests. King also has a tenuous relationship with his place in society, struggling to understand his identity after being taken in by Eda at a young age. He has never seen another demon like him and has little recollection of his life before Eda. Finally, Luz was an outcast of her own in the human world. Before finding her way to the Boiling Isles, she often felt misunderstood, with her mother planning to send her to “Reality Check Summer Camp: Think Inside the Box”. The three characters find acceptance and allyship with one another, forming their own familial unit.</p> <p>This allyship is integral to Eda’s progression into self-acceptance. After sharing the secret of her curse with King and Luz, Eda gradually begins to open herself up to receiving help and support. As the series progresses, Eda finds herself taking on a caregiver role to both King and Luz, often referring to them as “the kids”. King even legally changed his name to King Clawthorne, so their family ties could be official. Though at this Eda’s life becomes more complex than it was when she isolated herself – due to her sense of responsibility for the kids – it also proves to be more fulfilling: Eda’s closeness to King and Luz leads her to make amends with her sister, rekindle an old relationship, and reconnect with her father.</p> <p>The queer, alternative kinship structure of <em>The Owl House </em>also creates a backdrop for themes of resistance to normative expectations. For example, in the society of the Boiling Isles, witches must join a coven and give up all other forms of magic; humans are not able to practice magic; and those cursed must long for a cure. However, within the home boundaries of the Owl House, these normative expectations are defied. Eda is a “wild witch” who refuses to conform to the oppressive coven system; Luz learns magic through non-traditional methods and eventually teaches these to Eda when her curse takes away her own magic; and Eda later accepts her curse as part of herself, while discovering the benefits it can bring. These alternative ways of living eventually extend to the outside of the house: as the family fight for a better future for everyone on the Boiling Isles, this action becomes central in dismantling the oppressive mandatory coven system. Eda eventually founded the University of Wild Magic to mentor students to express magic in their own way – a direct opposition to the former coven system –, with Luz attending as a student. Overall, Eda’s chosen family are integral not only to her personal journey to self-acceptance but to the subversion of norms outside the private realm for the betterment and freedom of the wider community.</p> <h2><strong>Lilith</strong></h2> <p>The character arc of Lilith, Eda’s older sister, depicts the pressure of ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’, and the importance of community and allyship in dismantling this ideology. The logic of compulsory able-bodiedness upholds able-bodiedness as the norm that everyone must strive toward (Siebers). As a result, compulsory-able-bodiedness perpetuates the idea that people with disability must change themselves to meet (often unnecessary and unrealistic) able-bodied standards, such as being independent, thus positioning interdependence as inferior (Swain and French 573). Lilith’s character arc shows her progression from living without a curse, to acquiring a curse and dismantling her beliefs about able-bodiedness through the help of her allies.</p> <p>At the beginning of the series, Lilith is an antagonist working for the Emperor’s Coven and wants to capture Eda for being a coven-less witch. It is later revealed Lilith was the one who cursed Eda in the first place: as a child, feeling jealous and threatened by Eda’s skill, Lilith secretly placed a curse on her sister so she would lose the tryouts for a place in the prestigious Emperor’s Coven. However, on the day of the tryouts, Eda forfeits, preferring to remain coven-less and practise all kinds of magic. The curse then begins to take place, transforming Eda into the Owl Beast. To Lilith’s horror, the curse was not temporary, but lifelong. The audience then finds out that Lilith, motivated by guilt, worked her way up to a senior role in the Emperor’s Coven because the Emperor promised her a cure for Eda. Later in the series, this promise is revealed to be false, and Lilith rebels against the Emperor. After proving herself trustworthy, Lilith casts a pain-sharing spell on her sister, allowing her to take on half of Eda’s curse. This is the catalyst for their reconnection and the beginning of Lilith’s redemption arc.</p> <p>Upon acquiring the curse – which, for Lilith, takes the form of a raven – Lilith initially feels a loss of identity. She formerly placed her self-worth on her powerful magic and her high-profile job, neither of which she now has. In Season 2, Episode 1, Lilith is shown struggling with this change in self-perception, asking herself: “Who am I without magic? Without a coven?” When she first starts experiencing the symptoms of her curse, she rejects offers of help because she feels the need to prove her independence – perhaps the ultimate ideal of compulsory able-bodiedness. However, Lilith eventually admits she needs help and can’t do it alone. Together, Eda and Lilith create their own form of disability community. Thanks to Luz and King, Eda is now more receptive to letting people in and is happy to support her sister with her emerging curse symptoms. Eventually, Lilith finds that “failing” to live up to able-bodied expectations frees her of certain societal expectations (Swain and French 574–575). Instead of leading through fear in an oppressive coven, Lilith pursues her passion as a historian and becomes a curator at the Supernatural Museum of History. Her experiences also motivate her to dismantle the oppressive coven system along with Eda and their chosen family.</p> <h2><strong>Gwendolyn</strong></h2> <p>The character arc of Eda and Lilith’s mother, Gwendolyn, works to challenge the personal tragedy model of disability. This model of disability dominates cultural beliefs and media representations, perpetuating the idea that happiness and disability are mutually exclusive (Swain and French 572–573). Viewing disability as inherently tragic can also engender “paternalistic or condescending ableism” from non-disabled people, which elicits “behaviours that infantilize, overprotect, and take control” of people with disability, whom they presume to be unduly dependent (Nario-Redmond 337). This infantilisation has real-world consequences for people with a disability, including justification of “the sheltered regulation of disabled lives ‘for their own good’” (Nario-Redmond 337). In <em>The Owl House</em>, Gwendolyn initially holds these paternalistic views of her daughter’s curse. However, they are then subverted by the narrative development of the series, demonstrating the effect that Gwendolyn’s ableism (and eventual acceptance) has on her daughter.</p> <p>Gwendolyn is portrayed as the initial source of Eda’s shame about her curse. Episode 4 of Season 2, “Keeping Up A-Fear-Ances”, begins with a flashback of young Eda telling her mother and a healer about her recurring nightmare of the Owl Beast. Afterwards, young Eda overhears the healer suggesting that Gwendolyn consult the Potions Coven to keep the curse at bay. Gwendolyn is horrified at this suggestion, exclaiming, “Keep it at bay?! Oh no, my daughter is <em>suffering,</em> and I want that thing <em>out</em>! Cut it out if you have to”. Eda then runs away, afraid of what her mother will do to her. This highlights Gwendolyn’s deep-rooted belief that her daughter’s curse is inherently shameful. Although as the central plot develops Eda is now a grown witch in her 40s, Gwendolyn is still consumed with finding a cure for her daughter, despite Eda’s claims to the contrary. One day, Gwendolyn shows up at the Owl House, proclaiming, “Today I shall be curing your curse!”, to which Eda flatly replies, “No thanks”, explaining she is fine with her elixir system. Gwendolyn has been visiting Eda yearly with new hopes for a cure, and she blames the curse, rather than her own ableist beliefs, for the rift between her and her daughter. Gwendolyn explains to Luz that she has been studying under Master Wartlop, an expert healer specialising in curses. However, after procuring a book of cures from Wartlop – none of which work on Eda – Luz realises Gwendolyn has been scammed. At this point, Gwendolyn reveals she has stolen all of Eda’s elixirs and begins to spout anti-potion rhetoric. Luz and Gwendolyn begin to argue, and the stress triggers Eda’s Owl Beast, which she cannot control without her elixir. Lilith also transforms into her Raven Beast for the first time. Gwendolyn flies back to Wartlop for answers, only to realise that he is not a magic healer, but four gremlins in a costume. When Gwendolyn returns to her daughters, both of whom are now fighting each other in Beast form, she admits:</p> <blockquote> <p>My beautiful daughters, I failed you. Edalyn … I should’ve listened to you. I know now why you pushed me away. I made you think your curse was something to be ashamed of. Whether we want it or not, it’s a part of you. And I love every part of you. I’m so sorry.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hearing this apology from her mother enables Eda to momentarily take control of her curse, allowing her to help her sister. Luz and King then pour elixir onto the sisters, transforming them back into witches.</p> <h1><strong>Subverting the Miracle Cure</strong></h1> <p><em>The Owl House </em>subverts the “miracle cure” trope of disability often found in media, wherein a cure – whether through divine intervention, medicine, or technology – is the most desirable ending for a (deserving) disabled character (Norden 73). By doing so, the series highlights values inherent to the affirmative model of disability, such as connectedness and interdependence. </p> <p>In Season 2, Episode 8, Eda finally confronts her curse after a lifetime of running. After accidentally eating a cookie laced with sleeping nettles, she experiences heightened dreams. Eda has a history of recurring dreams in which she is being haunted by her curse. In the dream, Eda angrily confronts her curse – which takes the form of an owl living in her subconscious – and they begin fighting. Eda blames the owl for her problems and screams at it to stop ruining her life. The stress of this confrontation causes Eda and the owl to merge, forming the Owl Beast. Later in the dream, the Beast is captured and falls into the ocean as it tries to escape, separating Eda and the owl into their own forms once again. They wash up on the shore and the owl, now much smaller, is trying to fly away. However, it is too exhausted, eventually falling onto the sand in a crumpled heap. As the owl struggles to breathe, Eda tentatively approaches it and pats it on the head, softly telling it, “It’s okay”. After this gesture of kindness towards the owl, a bottle of elixir washes up at their feet, and Eda says:</p> <blockquote> <p>I thought these [elixirs] were a way to fight you, but I think they're the reason we can stand here, face to face. Listen, neither of us want to be here, but, we are, and there's no changing that. If we can't accept each other, this nightmare will never end. So, what do you say? Truce?</p> </blockquote> <p>Eda pours some elixir into her hand and offers it to the owl, who drinks it, and then climbs into Eda’s lap, falling asleep peacefully. As Eda softly pets the owl, the dark black sky transforms into swirling lights of colour, and Eda says, “Wow … I’ve never had a dream this pretty”. As Eda embraces the owl, the two begin to levitate, and the dream fades out. Upon waking, Eda finds she has transformed into a harpy – part witch, part owl – as a physical manifestation of her embracing (literally and metaphorically) her curse. When she sees her reflection in the mirror, Eda wolf whistles at herself approvingly, exclaiming, “Oh girl, this is a hot look!” Eda later learns to transform into a harpy at will, and her new liminal form challenges her previously naturalised boundary between the self (the witch) and the other (the curse). Eda is no longer a witch cursed by an owl, but a witch <em>and </em>an owl. Though she still drinks the elixir, Eda begins to accept herself and the owl as connected parts of each other.</p> <p>Rather than perpetuating the idea of a cure as the most desirable ending, <em>The Owl House</em> provides Eda with an alternative solution to her curse: what McReynolds terms a “prosthetic relationship”. McReynolds argues that the traditional concept of prosthesis can be expanded to include anything that “allows a body to function in an environment for which it is overwise unequipped” (115). In this way, Eda and the owl form two halves of an entirely new whole: their relationship becomes defined by affirmative values of connectedness and interdependence rather than normative, able-bodied ideals of independence and bodily control.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>This article explores the role of Eda’s chosen family (Luz and King), as well as her biological family (her sister Lilith and mother Gwendolyn), in representing affirmative ideas of disability. The affirmative model of disability gives people with disability space to claim their disability as a valid and valuable identity. Throughout the article, we argue that Eda’s curse is representative of disability. The progression from shame to acceptance to pride depicted in this series offers an important representation of disability: one which, in line with critical disability studies, responds to the limitations of both the medical and social models of disability. Indeed, <em>The Owl House</em> embraces an affirmative model of disability, recognising the importance of disability, identity, and community.</p> <p>While we have focused on Eda’s curse and familial relationships in this article, future studies could consider audience responses to <em>The Owl House</em>, and particularly those of audiences with disability and neurodiversity identifying with this animated series. <em>The Owl House</em> subverts traditional narratives of disability grounded in compulsory able-bodiedness and instead uses magic to depict a pragmatic view of disability grounded in acceptance and affirmation.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>“Caring Kinships.” <em>The Care Manifesto: The Politics of Interdependence</em>. La Vergne: Verso UK, 2020. 21–26.</p> <p>Levin, Nina Jackson, Shann K. Kattari, Emily K. Piellusch, and Erica Watson. “‘We Just Take Care of Each Other’: Navigating ‘Chosen Family’ in the Context of Health, Illness, and the Mutual Provision of Care amongst Queer and Transgender Young Adults.” <em>International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health</em> 17.19 (2020). 13 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.proquest.com/docview/2635387787/abstract/75380BDFD2F4B06PQ/1">https://www.proquest.com/docview/2635387787/abstract/75380BDFD2F4B06PQ/1</a>&gt;.</p> <p>McReynolds, Leigha. “Animal and Alien Bodies as Prostheses: Reframing Disability in Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon.” <em>Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure</em>. Ed. Kathryn Allan. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 115–27.</p> <p>Nario-Redmond, Michelle R. <em>Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice</em>. Newark: John Wiley &amp; Sons, 2019.</p> <p>Norden, Martin F. <em>The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies</em>. Rutgers UP, 1994.</p> <p>Siebers, Tobin. <em>Disability Theory</em>. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008.</p> <p>Swain, John, and Sally French. “Towards an Affirmation Model of Disability.” <em>Disability &amp; Society</em> 15.4 (2000): 569–82.</p> Chloe T. Rattray Katie Ellis Copyright (c) 2023 Chloe T. Rattray, Katie Ellis http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2997 Magic and Spells in <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> (1997-2003) https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3007 <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>Many examinations of magic and witchcraft in film and television focus on the gender dynamics depicted and what these can reveal about attitudes to women and power in the eras in which they were made. For example, Campbell, in <em>Cheerfully Empowered: The Witch-Wife in Twentieth Century Literature, Television and Film</em> draws from scholarship such as Greene's <em>Bell, Book and Camera</em>, Gibson's <em>Witchcraft Myths in American Culture</em>, and Murphy's <em>The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture</em> to suggest connections between witch-wife narratives and societal responses to feminism. Campbell explores both the allure and fear of powerful women, who are often tamed (or partially tamed) by marriage in these stories. These perspectives provide important insights into cultural imaginings of witches, and this paper aims to use anthropological perspectives to further analyse rituals, spells, and cosmologies of screen stories of magic and witchcraft, asking how these narratives have engaged with witchcraft trials, symbols of women as witches, and rituals and myths invoking goddesses. </p> <p><em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>, a television series that ran for seven seasons (1997-2003), focusses on a young woman, The Slayer, who vanquishes vampires. As Abbott (1) explains, the vampires in seasons one and two are ruled by a particularly old and powerful vampire, The Master, and use prophetic language and ancient rituals. When Buffy kills The Master, the vampiric threat evolves with the character of Spike, a much younger vampire who kills The Master's successor, The Anointed One, calling for “a little less ritual and a little more fun” ('School Hard'). This scene is important to Abbott's thesis that</p> <blockquote> <p>what makes <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer </em>such an effective television program is that the evil that she battles is not a product of an ancient world but the product of the real world itself. <em>Buffy</em> has used the past four years to painstakingly dismantle and rebuild the conventions of the vampire genre and work toward gradually disembedding the vampire/slayer dichotomy from religious ritual and superstition … what we describe as ‘evil’ is a natural product of the modern world. (Abbott 5)</p> </blockquote> <p>While distinguishing the series from earlier books and films is important, I suggest that, nonetheless, ritual and magic remain central to numerous plots in the series. Moreover, Child argues that <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> disrupts the male gaze of classical Hollywood films as theorised by Mulvey, not only by making the central action hero a young woman, but by offering rich, complex, and developmental narrative arcs for other characters such as Willow: a quiet fellow student at Buffy's school who initially uses her research skills with books, computers, and science to help the group.</p> <p>Willow’s access to knowledge about magic through Buffy's Watcher, Giles, and his library, together with her growing experience fighting with demons, leads her to teach herself witchcraft, and she and her growing magical powers, including the ability to conjure Greek goddesses such as Hecate and Diana, become central to multiple storylines in the series (Krzywinska). Corcoran, who explores teen witches in American popular culture in some depth, reflects on Willow's changes and developments in the context of problematic 'post-feminist' films of 1990s. Corcoran suggests these films offer viewers tropes of empowerment in the form of the 'makeover' of witch characters, who transform, but often in individualised ways that elude more fundamental questions of societal structures of race, class, and gender. Offering one of the most fluid and hybrid examples, Willow not only embraces magic as a conduit for power and self-expression but, as the seasons progress, she occupies a host of identificatory categories. Moving from shy high school 'geek' to trainee witch, from empowered sorceress to dark avenger, Willow regularly makes herself over in accordance with her fluctuating selfhood (Corcoran). Corcoran also notes how Willow's character brings together skills in both science and witchcraft in ways that echo world views of early modern Europe. This connects her apparently distinct selves and, I suggest, also demonstrates how the show engages with magic as real within its internal cosmology. </p> <h1>Fairy Tale Witches</h1> <p>This liberating, fluid, and transformative depiction of witches is not, however, the only one. Early in season one, the show reflects tropes of witchcraft found in fairy tale and fantasy films such as <em>Snow White</em> and <em>The Wizard of Oz</em>. Both films are deeply ambivalent in their portraits of fascinating powerful witches, who are, however, also defined by being old, ugly, and/or deeply jealous of and threatening towards younger women (Zipes). The episode “Witch” reproduces these patriarchal rivalries, as the witch of the episode title is the mother of a classmate of Buffy, called Amy, who has used magic to swap bodies with her daughter in an attempt to recapture her lost glory as a famous cheerleader. </p> <p>There are debates around the symbolism of witches and crones, especially those in fairytales, and whether they can be re-purposed. For example, Rountree in 'The New Witch of the West' and <em>Embracing the Witch and the Goddess</em> has conducted interviews and participant observation with feminist witches in New Zealand who use both goddess and witch symbols in their ritual practice and feminist understandings of themselves and society. By embracing both the witch and the goddess, feminist witches disrupt what they regard as false divisions and dichotomies between these symbols and the pressures of the divided self that they argue have been imposed upon women by patriarchy. In these conceptions, the crone is not only a negative symbol, but can be re-evaluated as one of three aspects of the goddess (maiden, mother, and crone), depicting the cycles of all life and also enabling women to embrace the darker aspects of their own natures and emotions (Greenwood; Rountree 'New Witch'; Walker).</p> <h1>Witch Trials</h1> <p>That said, Germaine, examining witches in folk horror films such as <em>The Witch</em> and <em>The Wicker Man</em>, advises caution about witch images. Drawing from Hutton's <em>The Witch</em>, she explores grotesque images of the witch from the early modern witch trials, arguing that</p> <blockquote> <p>horror cinema can subvert older ideas about witches, but it also reveals their continued power. Indeed, horror cinema has forged the witch into a deeply ambiguous figure that proves problematic for feminism and its project to subvert or otherwise destabilize misogynist symbols. (Germaine 22)</p> </blockquote> <p>Purkiss's examination of early modern witchcraft trials in <em>The Witch in History </em>also questions many assumptions about the period. Contrary to Rountree's 'The New Witch of the West' (222), Purkiss argues that there is no evidence to suggest that healing and midwifery were central concerns of witch hunters, nor were those accused of witchcraft in this period regarded as particularly sexually liberated or lesbian. Moreover, the famous <em>Malleus Maleficarum</em>, a text that is “still the main source for the view that witch-hunting was woman-hunting” was, in fact, disdained by many early modern authorities (Purkiss 7-8). Rather, rivalries and social tensions in communities combined with broader societal politics to generate accusations: a picture that is more in line with Stewart and Strathern's cross-cultural study, <em>Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip</em>, of the relationship between witchcraft and gossip.</p> <p>In the <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> episode “Gingerbread”, Amy has matured and has begun to engage with magic herself, as has Willow. The witch trial of the episode is not, however, triggered by this, but is rather initiated by Buffy and her mother finding the bodies of two dead children. Buffy's mother Joyce quickly escalates from understandable concern to a full-on assault on magical practice and knowledge as she founds MOO (Mothers Opposed to the Occult), who raid school lockers, confiscate books from the school library, and eventually try to burn them and Buffy, Willow, and Amy. The episode evokes fairy tales because the 'big bad' is a monster who disguises itself as Hansel and Gretel. As Giles explains, fairy tales can sometimes be real, and in this case, the monster feeds a community its worst fears and thrives off the hatred and chaos that ensues. However, his references to European Wicca covens are somewhat misleading. Hutton, in <em>The Triumph of the</em> Moon, explains that Wicca was founded in the 1950s in England by Gerald Gardner, and claims it to be a continuation of older pagan witch traditions that have largely been discredited. The episode therefore tries to combine a comment on the irrationality and dangers of witch hunts while also suggesting that (within the cosmology of the show) magic is real.</p> <p>Buffy's confrontation with her mother illustrates this. Furious about the confiscation of the library's occult collection, Buffy argues that without the knowledge they contain, young people are not more protected, but rather rendered defenceless, arguing that “maybe next time the world gets sucked into hell, I won't be able to stop it because the anti-hell-sucking book isn't on the approved reading list!” Thus, she simultaneously makes a general point about knowledge as a defence against the evils of the world, while also emphasising how magic is not merely symbolic for her and her friends, but a real, practical, problem and a combatant tool.</p> <h1>Spells</h1> <p>Spells take considerable skill and practice to master as they are linked to strong emotions but also need mental focus and clarity. Willow's learning curve as a witch is an important illustrator of this principle, as her spells do not always do what she had intended, or rather, she is not always wise to her own intentions. These ideas are also found in anthropological examples (Greenwood). Malinowski, an anthropologist of the Trobriand Islands, theorised that spells and magical objects have their origins in gestures and words that express the emotional states and intentions of the spellcaster. Over time, these became refined and codified in a society, becoming traditional spells that can amplify, focus, and direct the magician's will (Malinowski). In the episode “Witch”, Giles demonstrates the relationship between spells and intention as, casting a spell to reverse Amy's mother's switching of their bodies, he shouts in a commanding voice 'Release!' Willow also hones skills of concentration and directing her will through the practice of pencil floating, a seemingly small magical technique that nonetheless saves her life when she is captured by enemies and narrowly escapes being bitten by a vampire by floating a pencil and staking him with it in the episode “Choices”. The pencil is also used in another episode to illustrate the importance of focus and emotional balance. Willow explains to Buffy that she is honing these skills as she gently spins a pencil in the air, but as the conversation turns to Faith (a rogue Slayer who has hurt Willow's friends), she is distracted and the pencil spins wildly out of control before flying into a tree (“Dopplegangland”). In another example, Willow tries to conjure lights that will guide her out of difficulty in a haunted house, but, unable to make up her mind about where the lights should take her, she is plagued by them multiplying and spinning in multiple directions like a swarm of insects, thereby acting as an illustrator of her refracted metal state (“Fear Itself”).</p> <p>The series also explores the often comical consequences when love spells are cast with unclear motives. In the episode “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered”, Buffy's friend Xander persuades Amy to cast a love spell on Cordelia who has just broken up with him. Amy warns him that for love spells, the intention should be pure, and is worried that Xander only wants revenge on Cordelia. Predictably, the spell goes wrong, as Cordelia is immune to Xander but every other woman that comes into proximity with him is overcome with obsession for him. Fleeing hordes of women, Xander and Cordelia have the space to talk, and impressed with his efforts to try to win her back, Cordelia rekindles the relationship, defying her traditional friendship circle. In this way, the spell both does not and does work, perhaps because, although Xander thinks he wants Cordelia to be enchanted, in fact what he really wants is her genuine affection and respect.</p> <p>Another example of spells going amiss is in the episode “Something Blue”, when Willow responds to a break-up by reverting to magic. Despondent over her boyfriend Oz leaving town, she wants to accelerate her grieving process and heal more quickly, and casts a spell to have her will be done in order to try to make that happen. The spell, however, does not work as expected but manifests her words about other things when she speaks with passion, rendering Giles blind when she says he does not see (meaning he does not understand her plight), and in another instance of the literal interpretation of Willow’s word choices causes Buffy and the vampire Spike to stop fighting, fall in love, and become an engaged couple. The episode therefore suggests the power of words to manifest unconscious intentions. Words may also, in the Buffyverse, have power in themselves. </p> <p>Overbey and Preston-Matto explore the power of words in the series, using the episode “Superstar” in which Xander speaks some Latin words in front of an open book that responds by spontaneously bursting into flames. They argue that</p> <blockquote> <p>the materiality of language in <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> [means that] words and utterances have palpable power and their rules must be respected if they are to be wielded as weapons in the fight against evil. (Overbey and Preston Matto 73)</p> </blockquote> <p>However, in drawing upon Searle's <em>Speech Acts</em> they emphasise the relationship between speech acts and meaning, but there are also examples that the sounds in themselves are efficacious, even if the speaker does not understand them – for example, when Willow tries to do the ritual to restore Angel’s soul to him and explains to Oz that it does not matter if he understands the related chant as long as he says it (“Becoming part 2”). </p> <p>The idea that words in themselves have power is also present in the work of Stoller, an ethnographer and magical apprentice to Songhay sorcerers living in the Republic of Niger. He documents a complex and very personal engagement with magic that he found fascinating but dangerous, giving him new powers but also subjecting him to magical attacks (Stoller and Olkes). This experience helped to cultivate his interest in the often under-reported sensuous aspects of anthropology, including the power of sound in spells, which he argues has an energy that goes beyond what the word represents. Moreover, skilled magicians can 'hear' things happening to the subtle essence of a person during rituals (Stoller).</p> <h1>Seeing Other Realities</h1> <p>Sight is also key to numerous magical practices. Greenwood, for example, has done participant observation with UK witches, including training in the arts of visualisation. Linked to general health benefits of meditation and imaginative play, such practices are also thought to connect adepts to 'other worlds' and their associated powers (Greenwood). Later seasons of <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> also depict skills in meditation and concentration, such as in the episode “No Place Like Home”, in which Buffy, worried about her sick mother, uses a spell supposedly created by a French sixteenth-century sorcerer called 'pull the curtain back' to try to see if her mother’s illness is caused by a spell. She uses incense and a ritual circle of sand to put herself into a trance and in that altered state of consciousness sees that her sister, Dawn, was not born to her mother, but has been placed into her family by magic. </p> <p>In another example, in the episode “Who are You?”, Willow has begun a relationship with fellow witch Tara and wants to introduce her to Buffy. However, the rogue Slayer, Faith, has escaped and switched bodies with Buffy, and Tara realises that something is wrong. She suggests doing a spell with Willow to investigate by seeing beyond the physical world and travelling to the nether realm using astral projection. This rather beautiful scene has been interpreted as a symbolic depiction of their sexual relationship (Gibson), but it is also suggesting that, within the context of the series, alternate dimensions, and spells to transport practitioners there, are not purely symbolic.</p> <h1>Conclusion</h1> <p>The idea that magic, monsters, and demons in the series <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em> act to some extent as metaphors for the challenges that young people face growing up in America is well known (Little). While this is certainly true, at least some of the multiple examples of magic in the series have clear resemblances to witchcraft in numerous social worlds. This depth is potentially exciting for viewers, but it also makes the show's more negative and ambiguous tropes more troubling. Willow and Tara's relationship can be interpreted as showing their independence and rejection of patriarchy, but Willow identifying as lesbian later in the series obscures her earlier relationships with men and her potential identification as bi-sexual, suggesting a need on the part of the show's writers to “contain her metamorphic selfhood” (Corcoran 158-159). Moreover, the identity of lesbians as witches in a vampire narrative is fraught with potentially homophobic associations and stereotypes (Wilts), and one of the few positive depictions of a lesbian relationship on television was ruined by the brutal murder of the Tara character and Willow's subsequent out-of-control magical rampage, bringing the storyline back in line with murderous clichés (Wilts; Gibson).</p> <p>Furthermore, storylines where Willow cannot control her powers, or they are seen as an addiction to evil, make an uncomfortable comment on women and power more generally: a point which Corcoran highlights in relation to Nancy's story in <em>The Craft</em>. Ultimately, representations of magic and witchcraft are representations of power, and this makes them highly significant for societal understandings of power relations, particularly given the complex relationships between witch-hunting and misogyny. The symbols of woman-as-witch have been re-appropriated by fans of witch narratives and feminists, and perhaps most intriguingly, by people who regard magical power as not only symbolic power but as a way to tap into subtle forces and other worlds. <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer </em>offers something to all of these groups, but all too often reverts to patriarchal tropes. Audiences (some of whom may be magicians) await what film and television witches come next. </p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Abbott, Stacey. “A Little Less Ritual and a Little More Fun: The Modern Vampire in <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>.” <em>Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies</em> 1.3, (2001): 1-11.</p> <p>“Becoming Part 2.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 2, episode 22. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1998.</p> <p>“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 2, episode 16. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1998.</p> <p><em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Mutant Enemy Productions and Twentieth Century Fox Television (Seasons 1-5), Warner Bros. (Seasons 6 and 7), United Paramount Network. 1997-2003.</p> <p>Campbell, Chloe. “Cheerfully Empowered: The Witch Wife in Twentieth Century Literature, Television and Film.” <em>Romancing the Gothic</em>. Run by Sam Hirst. YouTube, 21 July 2022.</p> <p>Child, Louise. <em>Dreams, Vampires and Ghosts: Anthropological Perspectives on the Sacred and Psychology in Popular Film and Television</em>. London: Bloomsbury, 2023.</p> <p>“Choices.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 3, episode 19. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1999.</p> <p>Corcoran, Miranda. <em>Teen Witches: Witchcraft and Adolescence in American Popular Culture</em>. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2022.</p> <p><em>The Craft</em>. Dir. by Andrew Fleming. Columbia Pictures, 1996.</p> <p>“Dopplegangland.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 3, episode 16. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1999.</p> <p>“Fear Itself.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 4, episode 4. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1999.</p> <p>Germaine, Choé. “’Witches, ‘Bitches’ or Feminist Trailblazers? The Witch in Folk Horror Cinema.” <em>Revenant</em> (4 Mar. 2019): 22-42.</p> <p>Gibson, Marion. <em>Witchcraft Myths in American Culture</em>. Oxon: Routledge, 2007.</p> <p>“Gingerbread.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 3, episode 11. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1999.</p> <p>Greene, Heather. <em>Bell, Book, and Camera: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and TV</em>. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2018.</p> <p>Greenwood, Susan. <em>Magic, Witchcraft, and the Otherworld: An Anthropology</em>. Oxford: Berg, 2000.</p> <p>Hutton, Ronald. <em>The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft</em>. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.</p> <p>———. <em>The Witch: A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present</em>. New Haven: Yale UP, 2017.</p> <p>Krzywinska, Tanya. “Hubble-Bubble, Herbs and Grimoires: Magic, Manicheanism, and Witchcraft in <em>Buffy</em>.” <em>Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Eds. Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery. Lanham, NY: Rowman &amp; Littlefield, 2002.</p> <p>Little, Tracy. “High School Is Hell: Metaphor Made Literal in <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. </em>Ed. James B. South. Chicago: Open Court, 2003.</p> <p>Malinowski, Bronislaw. “Magic, Science and Religion.” <em>Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays</em>. London: Souvenir Press, 1982 [1925]. 17-92.</p> <p>Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema.” <em>Feminist Film Theory: A Reader</em>. Ed Sue Thornham. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2003 [1975].</p> <p>Murphy, Bernice M. <em>The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture</em>. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.</p> <p>“No Place Like Home.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 5, episode 5. Mutant Enemy Productions, 2000.</p> <p>Overbey, Karen E., and Lahney Preston-Matto. CStaking in Tongues: Speech Act as Weapon in <em>Buffy</em>.” <em>Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Eds. Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery. Lanham, NY: Rowman &amp; Littlefield, 2002.</p> <p>Purkiss, Diane. <em>The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations</em>. London: Routledge, 2005 [1996].</p> <p>Roundtree, Kathryn. <em>”</em>The New Witch of the West: Feminists Reclaim the Crone.” <em>The Journal of Popular Culture</em> 30 (1997): 211-229.</p> <p>Roundtree, Kathryn. <em>Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual Makers in New Zealand</em>. London: Routledge, 2004.</p> <p>Searle, John R. <em>Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language</em>. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970.</p> <p>“Something Blue.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 4, episode 9. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1999.</p> <p><em>Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs</em>. Dir. by David Hand, Perce Pearce, William Cottrell, Larry Morey, Wilfred Jackson, and Ben Sharpsteen. Walt Disney, 1937.</p> <p>Stoller, Paul. <em>The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology</em>. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P.</p> <p>Stoller, Paul, and Cheryl Olkes. <em>In Sorcery’s Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger</em>. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.</p> <p>Stewart, Pamela J., and Andrew Strathern. <em>Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip</em>. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.</p> <p>“Superstar.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 4, episode 17. Mutant Enemy Productions, 2000.</p> <p><em>The Wicker Man</em>. Dir. by Robin Hardy. British Lion Film Corporation, 1973.</p> <p><em>The Witch</em>. Dir. by Robert Eggers. A24, 2015</p> <p><em>The Wizard of</em> Oz. Dir. Victor Fleming. Metro Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939.</p> <p>Walker, Barbara. <em>The Crone: Women of Age, Wisdom and Power</em>. San Francisco: Harper &amp; Row, 1985.</p> <p>Wilts, Alissa. “Evil, Skanky, and Kinda Gay: Lesbian Images and Issues.” <em>Buffy Goes Dark: Essays on the Final Two Seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Television. </em>Eds Lynne E. Edwards, Elizabeth L. Rambo, and James B. South. Jefferson: McFarland, 2009.</p> <p>“Who Are You.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 4, episode 16. Mutant Enemy Productions, 2000.</p> <p>“Witch.” <em>Buffy the Vampire Slayer</em>. Created by Joss Whedon. Season 1, episode 3. Mutant Enemy Productions, 1997.</p> <p>Zipes, Jack. <em>The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. </em>New Jersey: Princeton UP, 2013.</p> Louise Child Copyright (c) 2023 Louise Child http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3007 The Transformative Magic of Education in Walt Disney’s <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2993 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p>The Disney brand has become synonymous with magic through its numerous depictions of spells, curses, prophecies, and pixie dust. Thus, it is ironic that in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Studio’s founding (“Disney History”), the final film released during Walt Disney’s life, <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> (celebrating its 60th anniversary) remains stuck in obscurity (Aronstein 129) despite being steeped in magic and wizardry. <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> is regarded as “one of the most obscure [films] in the Disney animated canon” (Booker 38). Although it performed moderately well during its debut in 1963, its 1983 re-release and home video sales failed to renew public interest. To date, <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> has no games, comic series, or even Disneyland merchandise (Aronstein 129).</p> <p>The film is hardly a technical marvel; its sketchy animation style and blue-slate backgrounds create a dingy, unfinished look (Beck 272), while its simplistic storyline and anachronistic humour have been criticised for being ill-matched with its Arthurian subject matter (Gossedge 115). Despite these flaws, <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> offers the studio’s most fully rendered representation of Disney magic as benevolent forces sourced in learning and discipline that enable good-hearted protagonists to prepare for future leadership roles. By approaching the film as a didactic text separate from its Arthurian origins, I will demonstrate how <em>The Sword in the Stone</em> defines magic, not by nebulous spells or hexes, but by its facilitation of societal advancement and transformative powers via the educated mind.</p> <h1><strong>Young Arthur’s Humble Beginnings</strong></h1> <p>Based loosely on T.H. White’s 1938 novel of the same name (Valle 224), <em>The Sword in the Stone </em>takes place in medieval Europe, with most of its action occurring in a rotting castle and surrounding wolf-infested forests. In this threatening world, magic takes many forms, from powerful acts of “sorcery” to comical displays of “Latin business”. The first allusion to magic occurs during the film’s opening song, which establishes its setting (“when England was young”) and primary conflict (“the good king had died, and no one could decide who was rightful heir”). Without a ruler, England will be destroyed by civil war unless miraculous forces intervene on its behalf. This ‘miracle’ is the eponymous sword in the stone that the rightful ruler of England will free. The sword is destined for King Arthur, but as he is only an orphaned child living in obscurity at the film’s beginning, no one manages to retrieve the sword in his stead, and so the ‘miracle’ seemingly fails.</p> <p>The film’s off-screen narrator describes this leaderless period as “a dark age … where the strong preyed upon the weak”. As a force that trumps brute strength, magic is prized by those who can wield it, particularly the wizard Merlin. Magic is regarded with suspicion by the majority who cannot practice it (Valle 234), though they still recognise its legitimacy. Even Arthur’s practical stepfather, Sir Ector, begs Merlin not to practice any “black magic” on his family after Merlin creates an indoor “wizard blizzard” to prove his seriousness in tutoring Arthur.</p> <p>Merlin is a far cry from the mysterious soothsayer of Arthurian legend. He has been Disneyfied into a caricature of the famed wizard, appearing more like an eccentric academic than an all-seeing mystic (Beck 272). Susan Aronstein describes him as “the reification of Disney’s post-World War II rebranding of itself as a leader in education in the wake of a postwar shift in American child rearing” (130)—a playful pedagogue who makes learning fun for Arthur and audiences. After meeting Arthur in the woods near his home, Merlin becomes determined to rectify the boy’s educational deficiencies. It is not yet clear whether Merlin knows who Arthur is or will become; Merlin merely repeats to his owl companion, Archimedes, that the boy needs an education—specifically, a <em>modern</em> education. In addition to presenting Arthur with evidence of his travels to the future, such as helicopter models, Merlin rattles off a litany of subjects common to twentieth-century American curricula (English, science, mathematics) but hardly the sort of fare pages of Arthur’s status would study in fifth-century England.</p> <p>Because Arthur’s royal lineage is unknown to him, he aspires to be a squire for his soon-to-be-knighted stepbrother and so must learn the rules of jousting and horsemanship when not otherwise preoccupied with page duties. These include scrubbing pots and pans, cleaning floors, and fetching anything his stepfather requests. While Arthur is not resistant to Merlin’s attempts to teach him, he struggles to balance Merlin’s demands on his time with Sir Ector’s (Pinsky 85). Young Arthur’s gangly stature conveys how stretched the boy is between his indentured servitude to Ector and Merlin’s insistence upon his liberation through education. Arthur is constantly in motion, scurrying from one task to the next to please all parties involved and often failing to do so. Each time Merlin’s instruction causes the boy to miss Sir Ector’s call, Arthur is punished with additional duties (Holcomb et al.).</p> <h1><strong>Merlin’s Instructive Magic</strong></h1> <p>Merlin uses magic to bridge the gap between Arthur’s responsibilities to his present and his future. The word “magic” is spoken fifteen times in the film, six by Merlin himself. The wizard first utters the word after packing his entire house (furniture and all) into a carpet bag. Arthur is impressed, but Merlin warns him that magic is no panacea: “don’t you get any foolish ideas that magic will solve all your problems”. Even Merlin struggles to convince Sir Ector to let him tutor Arthur and to prevent predatory animals from killing the boy during their adventures together. Magic has limits. It cannot penetrate the minds of humans nor quell the instincts of wild animals. Its impact seems restricted to the physical world.</p> <p>Merlin primarily uses magic for physical transformation; his lessons centre on changing Arthur into different animals to enable the future king to experience life from others’ perspectives. Merlin turns Arthur into a fish, a squirrel, and a bird, with each animal’s situation representing increasingly complex problems that Arthur must overcome. Each lesson also corresponds with one or more levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: (1) safety and survival, (2) love and belonging, and (3) self-esteem and self-actualisation (Lester 15). As a perch swimming around the castle moat, Arthur learns to use his intellect to evade a toothy pike that nearly eats him alive. As a squirrel, Arthur observes the heartbreak of unrequited love, foreshadowing his complicated love triangle with Guinevere and Lancelot (Grellner 125). In avian form, Arthur experiences a much-needed boost in his self-worth after Sir Ector strips him of his squire-in-training status. In flight, Arthur seems most in his element. After struggling with the logistics of swimming as a fish and navigating trees as a squirrel, Arthur soars over the countryside, even showing off his acrobatics to Archimedes flying alongside him.</p> <p>Although Arthur relishes these experiences, he does not seem to grasp their broader implications. He describes his first magical lesson as “so much fun” (despite having nearly died) and pauses only momentarily at the end of his second lesson to reflect on the emotional damage he causes a heartbroken female squirrel who falls madly in love with him. Still, Arthur faces mortal danger with each lesson, so one could argue that by transforming the young boy into different animals, Merlin is honing Arthur’s problem-solving skills (Holcomb et al.).</p> <h1><strong>Madam Mim’s Destructive Magic</strong></h1> <p>When Arthur is turned into a bird, his third lesson takes an unexpected turn. After narrowly escaping a hawk, Arthur flies into the forest and falls down the chimney of a rival magician named Mad Madam Mim. After introducing herself, Mim insists to Arthur that she has far more magic “in one little finger” than Merlin possesses in his entire repertoire. She displays her powers by killing plants, changing sizes, and making herself monstrous or lovely according to her whims. Mim’s demonstrations suggest a breezy familiarity with magic that Merlin lacks. Whereas Merlin sometimes forgets the “Latin business” needed to invoke spells, Mim effortlessly transitions from one transformation to another without any spell use.</p> <p>The source of her power soon becomes apparent. “Black sorcery is my dish of tea”, she croons to Arthur. Compared to Merlin’s Latin-based magic, Mim’s “black sorcery” is easier to master and well-suited to her undisciplined lifestyle. Mim’s cottage is filthy and in disrepair, yet she is playing solitaire (and cheating) when Arthur stumbles into her fireplace. This anachronism (since playing cards would not be introduced to Europeans until the fourteenth century; DeBold) characterises, through visual shorthand, Mim’s idle hands as the Devil’s workshop; she also possesses a modern dartboard that she throws Arthur against. Unlike Merlin’s domicile, Mim’s cottage contains no books, scientific instruments, or other props of study, indicating that there is no deeper understanding behind her magic. As Latin is the root language of science and law, it seems fitting that Latin is not part of Mim’s repertoire. She simply points a finger at an unfortunate subject, and it bends to her will—or dies.</p> <p>Efficient though Mim’s magic may be, its power is fleeting. Mim briefly changes herself into a beautiful young woman. But she concedes that her magic is “only skin deep” and turns herself back into “an ugly old creep”. Evidently, her magic’s potency does not last long, nor is it capable of improving her situation, as she continues living in her broken-down cottage as a bored, friendless hermit. Her black magic may be easy to master but cannot impart meaningful change. And so, while Merlin can use his magic to improve Arthur’s life, Mim’s magic can only serve the status quo described at the film’s beginning: the strong preying upon the weak. Although Mim lives outside the feudal social hierarchy, she uses her magic to terrorise any unfortunate creatures who wander into her clutches, including Arthur. When Arthur (still in bird form) states that he prefers the benevolence and usefulness of Merlin’s magic, an infuriated Mim transforms herself into a hungry cat and chases Arthur around the cottage until Merlin arrives to save the boy.</p> <p>Merlin then challenges Mim to a wizard’s duel, during which he and Mim attack each other in animal forms ranging from foxes and caterpillars to tigers, goats, and elephants. Each time Mim transforms, she does so seamlessly, requiring no momentary pause to recall a spell, unlike Merlin, who stumbles across the Latin phrases necessary to change himself into something faster or bigger. But after Merlin transforms into a walrus and squashes a clucking chicken Mim, the momentum shifts in his favour. Her magic becomes tinged with rage that causes her to make mistakes, including biting herself as a snake and ramming herself into a tree in rhinoceros form. Merlin’s disciplined playing style is nearly errorless. Although he becomes frightened when Mim transforms into a fire-breathing dragon, Merlin continues to play sensibly and courageously. His final winning move is to transform himself into a measle-like germ that incapacitates Mim with violent sneezing and cold flashes (Perciaccante and Coralli 1171). Arthur is astonished by the brilliant manoeuvring of his mentor, who manages to win the duel fairly “by dint of his knowledge and study” (Pinsky 86). After stating the lesson’s summative point for Merlin—“knowledge and wisdom is the real power”—Arthur vows to redouble his efforts to complete his education.</p> <h1><strong>Education: The Film’s Real Magic</strong></h1> <p>The lesson for viewers is simple enough: an education has a magical impact on one’s life. Put more succinctly, education <em>is</em> magic. Merlin defeats Mim because of his greater knowledge and cleverer use of spells. Arthur will overcome his low social status and ascend to the throne by becoming literate and sharpening his intellect. But as with Merlin’s acquisition of magical knowledge through intense study, Arthur’s royal ascension must be earned. He must learn the literal ABCs of language acquisition to gain others’ shared knowledge, as illustrated by a scene in which Archimedes painstakingly teaches Arthur how to write the alphabet in preparation for reading an enormous stack of books. Merlin cannot magically impart such knowledge to the future king; Arthur must learn it through sustained effort. He also must learn to make informed decisions rather than respond to panic or anger as Mim does during her duel with Merlin.</p> <p>Herein lies the distinction between Mim’s and Merlin’s magic: transformative impact. Mim’s black magic has locked her into her chosen fate. By using her powers to amuse herself or cause others harm, Mim perpetuates her outcast status as the stereotypical witch to be feared (Valle 234). While her cottage contains anachronistic elements such as playing cards (suggesting that she, like Merlin, has time-travelled), it contains no evidence of the modern advances that Merlin shares with Arthur, like aeroplane models, nor anything that might improve their feudal society. Merlin’s magic, by contrast, facilitates immediate changes to Arthur’s world and offers the promise of technological advancements in the centuries to come. To reduce the boy’s workload, for instance, Merlin magically conjures up a factory-style assembly line of brushes, tubs, and mops to wash dishes and scrub kitchen floors. Merlin also shares his knowledge of humankind’s future achievements with Arthur to advance his education, providing him with models, maps, globes, and hundreds of books.</p> <p>To become a proper king, Arthur must learn how to use such information to others’ advantage, not just his own. As Caroline Buts and Jose Luis Buendia Sierra observe of magic’s paradox, “using the wand without knowing properly the rules may sometimes lead to catastrophic situations” (509). This point is reaffirmed in the film’s final sequence, which takes place in London on New Year’s Day at a jousting tournament, the winner of which will be crowned king of England. Arthur, now a squire to his recently knighted stepbrother, forgets to bring his stepbrother’s sword to the tournament grounds. He attempts to replace the missing weapon with the sword in the stone when he spots the aging relic in a nearby churchyard. As Arthur pulls out the sword, angelic choral music swells, signalling that the rightful ruler of England has fulfilled the prophecy. After some scepticism from the assembled masses, Sir Ector and the other knights and spectators bow to the befuddled twelve-year-old. The film’s final scene shows a panic-stricken Arthur conceding that he does not know how to rule England and crying out for Merlin. When the wizard blows in from his most recent trip to the twentieth century, he confirms that he has known all along who Arthur is and assures the boy that he will become a great king. Arthur seems ready to put in the work, recognising that his knowledge and wisdom will improve the lives of England’s inhabitants.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>Magic is thus portrayed as an intervening force that either facilitates or stymies societal progress. Good magic ensures that intelligent, educated individuals such as Arthur become great leaders, while those who would attain positions of power through brute force are thwarted from doing so. At the film’s conclusion, Arthur has not been fully transformed into a great leader because his education is far from finished; he has only learned enough to realise that he knows too little to rule effectively. Yet, from the Socratic perspective, such self-awareness is the germination for attaining true wisdom (Tarrant 263). Arthur also already knows that he will not be able to learn how to rule well through trickery or shortcuts, even with a powerful magician by his side. But the film’s closing scene reiterates this point with Merlin promising Arthur that he will succeed. “Why, they might even make a motion picture about you!” he exclaims in a clever fourth-wall joke (Gellner 120). <em>The Sword in the Stone</em>’s mere existence proves that Arthur will acquire the knowledge and wisdom necessary to become a truly great monarch. The fledgling pupil will live long and rule well, not because of pixie dust or magic spells, but because of his willingness to learn and to be transformed by his education into a wise and fair ruler.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Aronstein, Susan. “‘Higitus Figitus!’ Of Merlin and Disney Magic.” <em>It’s the Disney Version! Popular Cinema and Literary Classics</em>. Eds. Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode. Lanham, MD: Rowman &amp; Littlefield. 129-139. </p> <p>Beck, Jerry. <em>The Animated Movie Guide</em>. Chicago: A Capella, 2005.</p> <p>Booker, M. Keith. <em>Disney, Pixar, and the Hidden Messages of Children's Films</em>. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010.</p> <p>Buts, Caroline, and Jose Luis Buendia Sierra. “The Sword in the Stone.” <em>European State Aid Law Quarterly</em> 16.4 (2017): 509-511. 10 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/26694185">https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/26694185</a>&gt;.</p> <p>DeBold, Elizabeth. “Fortune’s Fools: Early Tarot Cards.” <em>The Collation: Folger Shakespeare Library</em> 2 Feb. 2021. 5 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.folger.edu/blogs/collation/fortunes-fools-early-tarot-cards/">https://www.folger.edu/blogs/collation/fortunes-fools-early-tarot-cards/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>“Disney History.” <em>D23,</em> 2023. &lt;<a href="https://d23.com/disney-history/">https://d23.com/disney-history/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Gossedge, Rob. “<em>The Sword in the Stone</em>: American<em> Translatio</em> and Disney’s Antimedievalism.” <em>The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past</em>. Eds. Tison Pugh and Susan Aronstein. Palgrave Macmillan: 2012. 115–131.</p> <p>Grellner, Alice. “Two Films That Sparkle: <em>The Sword in the Stone </em>and<em> Camelot</em>.” <em>Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays</em>. Rev. ed<em>.</em> Ed. Kevin J. Harty. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. 118-126.</p> <p>Holcomb, Jeanne, Kenzie Latham, and Daniel Fernandez-Baca. “Who Cares for the Kids? Caregiving and Parenting in Disney Films.” <em>Journal of Family Issues</em> 36.14 (2015): 1957–81. DOI: 10.1177/0192513X13511250.</p> <p>Lester, David. “Measuring Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” <em>Psychological Reports: Mental &amp; Physical Health</em> 113.1 (2013): 15-17. 20 May 2023 &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.2466/02.20.PR0.113x16z1">https://doi.org/10.2466/02.20.PR0.113x16z1</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Perciaccante, Antonio, and Alessia Coralli. “The Virus Defeating Madam Mim.” <em>American Journal of Infection Control</em> 45.10 (2017): 1171. 1 June 2023 &lt;<a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2017.07.017">http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2017.07.017</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Pinsky, Mark I. <em>The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust</em>. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.</p> <p><em>The Sword in the Stone</em>. Dir. Wolfgang Reitherman. Perf. Karl Swenson and Rickie Sorensen. Buena Vista, 1963.</p> <p>Tarrant, Harold. “Socratic Method and Socratic Truth.” <em>A Companion to Socrates</em>. Eds. Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006. 254-272.</p> <p>Valle, Maria Luiza Cyrino. "The New Matter of Britain: T.H. White's <em>The Sword in the Stone</em>." <em>Estudos Germânicos</em> 5.1 (1984): 224-265.</p> Brennan Thomas Copyright (c) 2023 Brennan Thomas http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2993 Climate Change as Dark Magic in <em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir</em> Animation https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2990 <p>Animations, in their various genres, are an important amalgamation of art and technology that suggest new ways of thinking, feeling, and experiencing contemporary issues (Wells; Whitley). Animations can provide a commentary on the current planetary crisis, such as climate change, by offering a radically altered reality (Lundberg et al. 9). In the case of environmental animations, these issues become more evident because at their core is the production of knowledge, subjectivities, and speculations about the future of the planet and humanity. These problematisations usually arise from the centrality of non-human entities as narrative subjects (Starosielski). However, even in other genres of animation, such as fantasy, superhero fiction, and comedy, where non-human beings may or may not be at the narrative’s centre, it is possible to find suggestions regarding environmental issues emerging from characters, episodes, and specific events (see, for example, Vital, “Lapis Lazuli”; Vital, “Water”).</p> <p>Such is the case with <em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug &amp; Cat Noir</em> (2015–Present), where climate change is addressed in the episodes <em>Stormy Weather 1</em> and <em>Stormy Weather</em> <em>2</em> with the supervillain Climatika, offering an original commentary on human responsibility in causing climate changes. This article examines how climate change in this animated series is constructed as black magic through these episodes, shown between Seasons 1 and 3. Black magic is understood as where people will use non-human phenomena to fulfil their dark intentions against the forces of light, often to the individuals’ benefit (Thacker). Despite its anthropocentric roots, the relationship between climate change and black magic in the animation is analysed using Jane Bennett’s concept of enchantment in the modern world. According to this concept, nature—often perceived as inert, passive, and instrumental—actively impacts on human life, regardless of human beings’ alienation from non-human entities’ affective power (Bennett). Thus, in the animation, although Aurore Beauréal, driven by selfish motivations, seeks to control time by becoming the supervillain Climatika, the effect of this manipulation proves to be completely contingent on fostering a world-without-us feeling, which has also been present in other animations and media.</p> <h1><strong>Negative Emotions, Akumatisation, and Black Magic</strong></h1> <p><em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug &amp; Cat Noir</em> (<em>Miraculous: Les aventures de Ladybug et Chat Noir</em>) is a French 3D animated series created by Thomas Astruc, co-produced with South Korea, Japan, Italy, Brazil, and Portugal, and involving the studios Zagtoon, Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, SK Broadband, TF1, and Gloob. It is a superhero fiction series that tells the adventures of Marinette Dupain-Cheng (Ladybug) and Adrien Agreste (Cat Noir), two teenage students who possess jewels (Miraculous) that connect them to magical creatures (Kwamis). These characters mostly lead normal lives, keeping their superhero identities a secret (including from each other, fuelling a confused platonic love from Cat Noir for Ladybug and Marinette for Adrien). During crises, the Kwamis grant superpowers to both of them to protect Paris from the evil villain Hawk Moth (whose alter ego is Gabriel Agreste, Adrien’s father). The series is one of the most popular animations today, aired in over 120 countries and winner of several international awards (Aguasanta-Regalado).</p> <p>Hawk Moth possesses the Butterfly Miraculous, which enables him to create <em>akumas</em> (butterflies with the power to sense individuals with intense negative emotions, such as anger, distress, envy, and sadness, and <em>akumatise</em> them). At first, this butterfly grants Moth the ability to communicate telepathically with its target when it lands on and possesses an important object of the victim. Therefore, the villain makes an irresistible proposal to grant superpowers to the victim (usually in an attempt to reverse an unfortunate situation the victim faces) and, in return, the victim is expected to defeat Ladybug and Cat Noir. <em>Akumatisation</em> is a clear allegorical reference to demonic possession in the mythological terms of Judeo-Christian culture, while the akumatised villains are, less evidently, related to the image of the witch in Renaissance Europe.</p> <p>According to Carolyn Merchant, there was a consensus in the sixteenth century that witches, by making a pact with the devil, acquired the power to alter the weather drastically, produce diseases, destroy crops, and spread famine. Furthermore, some scientists of the time connected the behaviour of witches to an excess of melancholic humour, which was related to anxieties, sadness, and other extreme negative emotions that made them vulnerable to the devil’s attacks (Merchant 140). Therefore, in the episodes <em>Stormy Weather 1 </em>and <em>Stormy Weather 2</em> there appears to be a manifestation of two out of the three levels of possession in the <em>akumatised</em> character, as indicated in the main demonology manuals of the sixteenth century. The first level, which is that of individual possession, affects the victim on psychological and physical levels, and their intentions and actions become controlled or inspired by the evil spirit. The third level involves the possibility of climatological possession, with the induction of extreme weather phenomena such as droughts and floods (Thacker 62). Aurore Beauréal—the villain of episodes <em>Stormy Weather 1</em> and <em>Stormy Weather 2</em>—transforms into Climatika, resembling the witches of Renaissance Europe with all their powers of black magic. That is, a psychological and moral disposition induces Aurore Beauréal to undergo a radical metamorphosis to gain control over the world and achieve her objectives. This world control, driven by selfish objectives, which could be achieved through technological and scientific artifices, is depicted in the series as something stemming from the darkest depths of our beings—an innate desire for dominance and control for personal ends, a form of black magic.</p> <p>One of the dilemmas found in superhero fiction series and films in addressing climate change is the exploitation of exceptionally catastrophic weather events but concealing the long-term human actions that lead to transformations in the environment (McGowan). The other dilemma is the simplification of the environmental issue by transferring the possibility of its resolution to a hero. One interpretation is that the hero of these texts represents the status quo of corporations that contribute to the problem, but in sponsoring these series or films are not held accountable, or the climate problem is too readily fixed (Chatterji). However, the <em>Miraculous</em> animation addresses these dilemmas by examining extreme weather events and placing them directly in the hands of a character who is an ordinary yet ambitious individual, and like any person has emotional instabilities. <em>Miraculous</em>, then, explicitly expresses the anthropogenic nature of climate change and indicates the impossibility of effectively controlling the cosmos by those who, driven by their negative desires, resort to artifices to dominate planetary forces. Finally, the efforts of the superheroes Ladybug and Cat Noir prove insufficient to prevent Climatika’s return, who emerges as even more powerful due to a set of factors that promote and intensify the negative emotions of Aurore Beauréal. Therefore, <em>Miraculous </em>can highlight the human face of climate change and its inability to be easily overcome.</p> <h1><strong>Climatika: Revenge of the Weather Witch</strong></h1> <p>The first season starts with the story of Aurore Beauréal, a young student who dreams of becoming the weather girl for the KIDZ+ channel. In a contest involving numerous candidates, only she and Mireille Caquet (another student) entered the final. The fact that Caquet is an extremely shy and calm young woman led Beauréal to believe that she would easily win the competition over Caquet, due to Beauréal having a more outgoing nature and assertive exploration of her physical appearance. Nevertheless, Aurore suffered an unexpected and humiliating defeat (with a difference of half a million votes) that was seen nationwide. Hawk Moth senses the vibrations of extreme anger and sadness from Aurore Beauréal and sends an akuma to her, transforming her into Climatika (Stormy Weather).</p> <p>The aesthetics of Climatika are related to the stereotype of the modern teenage witch in contemporary fantasy stories. She is depicted wearing a pleated mini skirt and a short dark blue blouse with puffy sleeves—a retro trend from the 1980s lending a romantic and feminine touch to the composition. The wand or the magic broomstick is replaced by an umbrella, from which she casts her weather control powers, and her expression is that of a person possessed by a demon. In this sense, there are similarities with the character Lapis Lazuli from Steven Universe, who also had an aesthetic related to the witch stereotype, but within the 1960s–1970s hippie culture. Moreover, Lapis Lazuli’s powers are associated with the occult and evil, as she can control the entire hydrological cycle (Vital, “Water”). The similarities end here, as Lapis Lazuli herself is an alien and water elemental who destabilises and disrupts the attempts of control and domination promoted by the characters representing modern science and the State. However, Climatika uses a technical device (black magic) to control the weather and achieve her revenge goals. She causes catastrophic climatic events and promotes horror in the name of a global order that satisfies her desires.</p> <p>The instrumentalisation that Climatika promotes through black magic subtly brings her closer to the scientists who sought to investigate and control nature for human progress during the early days of the Scientific Revolution. In the sixteenth century, scientists such as Francis Bacon commonly used metaphors involving the torture of witches and the exploitation of nature to uncover their secrets, to control and alter the world for the advancement and well-being of humans (Merchant). However, black magic, whether through a satanic or pagan path, also has anthropocentric roots, manifesting as a tool that humans can use to enforce their intentions or as an internal force available for self-benefit (Thacker 29). In the case of Climatika, the hydrological cycle was understood as a tool responsive to her emotions and supposedly at her service. The presence of the phenomenon brings it closer to the stereotype of the witch serving the forces of evil and can also act as an allegory for the scientist who fulfils the State’s or private corporations’ obscure purposes at the expense of others. Not by chance, Hawk Moth, when transforming Aurore into Climatika, proclaims, “tu vas devenir ma miss méteór” (you will become my weather girl), a sentence that plays on Aurore’s work in scientific journalism for weather forecasts, while the hidden meaning behind the statement is about the witch manipulating the weather. Climatika will boast about being the only weather girl who gets all the forecasts right (as she is the one who influences the weather events).</p> <p>Although Climatika takes an anthropocentric stance towards the climate, her case highlights how hydro-meteorological phenomena affect Aurore Beauréal to the point where she aspires to be the weather girl and, if not possible, to become a witch who controls the hydrological cycle. Aurore, at first, wished to be the spokesperson for meteorology, studying the weather and climate. When she fails, she aspires for more: to become the weather girl, merging herself with meteorological phenomena and using climatic factors to organise the world to satisfy her desires. She appears oblivious to the way the weather affects her, although it is central to her life. She considers herself free and in control of herself and the world. The perception of the modern world as disenchanted, characterised by reason, freedom, and control, results in an alienation from the affective power of non-human phenomena (Bennett). This alienation leads to an arrogant attitude, such as that of Aurore Beauréal, who transforms into Climatika and believes she can finally be recognised as the weather girl with her new hydrokinesis powers. However, despite all the chaos that Climatika promotes by inducing hurricanes, hailstorms, and lightning, dramatically affecting the lives of the inhabitants of Paris and all of France, she fails in the face of Ladybug and Cat Noir. Finally, Aurore will have to deal with the defeat against Mireille Caquet and public censorship for transforming into Climatika, the weather witch.</p> <h1><strong>Cosmic Pessimism and Planetary Catastrophe in the Return of Climatika</strong></h1> <p>In the seventeenth episode of the third season, there is a prime example of what Aurore Beauréal went through after being defeated and the <em>akumatisation</em> being undone. Her schoolmate, Chloé Bourgeois, publicly humiliates her for having low grades and not having emotional control, becoming a failed villain. Hawk Moth takes advantage of the opportunity left by Bourgeois and tells Aurore that she will always be and continue to grow in power as Climatika, transforming her once again. Being emotionally affected, Climatika’s powers amplify significantly, and she uses volcanic explosions and moves the planet away from the sun’s orbit to cool it down, destroying all of humanity and proving her true power.</p> <p>In this episode, <em>Stormy Weather 2</em>, Climatika manages to establish herself as a global threat, inducing a dramatic climate change. Fear and horror spread throughout the world as people embrace each other to stay alive in the apocalyptic cold. Even the heroes, Ladybug and Cat Noir, feel haunted by the immense power of Climatika and find themselves in an intimate moment reminiscing about all the challenges they have overcome in the past, and the growth they have experienced over time while fighting together against the forces of evil. It is in sharing these memories that they find the power to come together once again, regaining the trust and confidence that help them to face and defeat Climatika.</p> <p>Thus, because of suppressed affections, unfulfilled desires, the combined force of words, and extreme social and meteorological events, negative and selfish emotions emerged and re-emerged, fuelling the return of Climatika—the regional and later planetary climate threat. Moreover, in the case of Ladybug and Cat Noir, the affective power of their bodily and physical encounter generated memories, along with deep positive emotions and words of trust, affection, and unity. These provided the means to change the course of events and prevent the realisation of the climate catastrophe (they no longer felt overcome and could battle Climatika). The two episodes suggest that the emergence of the climate catastrophe is a result of the feelings of disenchantment amongst people in the world and the combination of human alienation from the affective power of things, and the power that events and things gain in their encounters worldwide. The suggestion is the development of an ethics of generosity as a response to climate change that involves sharpening the perception of the affective power of things and encounters between humans in public spaces, as well as between humans and non-humans in everyday life (Bennett).</p> <p>Nonetheless, the episodes<em> Stormy Weather 1</em> and <em>Stormy Weather 2</em> display a type of cosmic pessimism perceptible through the emotional failures and revenge of Aurore Beauréal and Climatika. Cosmic pessimism indicates distrust regarding the impossibility of controlling and organising a world that does not require order. This world does not manifest itself for us or in itself but as a world-without-us (Thacker, <em>Cosmic</em>). Control does not make Aurore more respected, although she is feared when she manifests as Climatika. As Climatika, she inflicts on other people the suffering caused by the catastrophic disruption of their routines due to the manifestation of the effects of climate change. Conversely, the disappointment of the double failure to become the weather girl and the subsequent bullying becomes an oppressive reality for Aurore that induces more fear and horror due to her inability of being able to organise the world according to her desires. Thus, climate change is manifested in <em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug &amp; Cat Noir</em> as a result of the failed attempt to control the world (represented by the metaphor of black magic) and the impossibility of organising the world according to human desires.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusions</strong></h1> <p>Ladybug and Cat Noir manage to save the day in the episodes <em>Stormy Weather 1 </em>and <em>Stormy Weather 2</em>. However, the return of Climatika manifests itself as persistence, which suggests two important points. First, heroes or exceptional individuals cannot handle the complexity involved in the climate crisis because the crisis results from multiple factors, including human emotions, under the pressure of a system emphasising competition for prominence, efficiency, and social recognition. Climatika was defeated but returned for the same reason: the primacy of the ideal of success and recognition in a universe of pure abstract value that is based on the alienation of emotions. Second, profound uncertainties arise from the current climate crisis. Anthropogenic climate change is manifested through completely contingent effects, where the expectation of controlling and ordering the world according to human desires is disrupted, resulting in a sense of cosmic pessimism due to the world-without-us feeling. The indifference of the universe to human desires becomes explicit, exposing the failure of the abstraction of self and world control—the foundation of modern ontology and capitalism. Therefore, Climatika highlights climate change as a form of black magic: an intensive attempt to control and manipulate the world driven by selfish feelings that deepen the alienation regarding the power and indifference of the elements that compose the planetary atmosphere.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Aguasanta-Regalado, Miriam E., Ángel San Martín Alonso, and Isabel M. Gallardo-Fernández. “Analysis of the Narratives with Characters That Make Ethnic Diversity Visible—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug &amp; Cat Noir.” <em>Education Sciences</em> 13.5 (2023): 460-470.</p> <p>Bennett, Jane. <em>The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossing, and Ethics.</em> Princeton UP, 2016.</p> <p>Chatterji, Roma. “Gaia and the Environmental Apocalypse in Superhero Comics and Science Fantasy.” <em>Perspectives – A Peer-Reviewed, Bilingual, Interdisciplinary E-Journal</em> 2 (2022): 1-30.</p> <p>Lundberg, Anita, André Vasques Vital, and Shruti Das. “Tropical Imaginaries and Climate Crisis: Embracing Relational Climate Discourses.” <em>Etropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics </em>20.2 (2021): 1-31.</p> <p>McGowan, Andrew. "Superhero Ecologies: An Environmental Reading of Contemporary Superhero Cinema." <em>Honors Projects</em> 110 (2019). &lt;<a href="https://digitalcommons.bowdoin.edu/honorsprojects/110">https://digitalcommons.bowdoin.edu/honorsprojects/110</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Merchant, Carolyn. <em>The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution</em>. Harper &amp; Row, 1990.</p> <p>Starosielski, Nicole. “Movements That Are Drawn: A History of Environmental Animation from The Lorax to FernGully to Avatar.” <em>The International Communication Gazette</em> 73.1-2 (2011): 145-163.</p> <p>“Stormy Weather.” <em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug &amp; Cat Noir</em>. Created by Thomas Astruc. Season 1, episode 1. Zagtoon and Method Animation et al., 19 Oct. 2015.</p> <p>“Stormy Weather #2.” <em>Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug &amp; Cat Noir</em>. Created by Thomas Astruc. Season 3, episode 17. Zagtoon and Method Animation et al., 2 June 2019.</p> <p>Thacker, Eugene. <em>Cosmic Pessimism</em>. U of Minnesota P, 2016.</p> <p>———. Thacker, Eugene. <em>In The Dust of This Planet: Horror of</em> Philosophy. Vol. 1. Zero Books, 2011.</p> <p>Vital André Vasques. “Lapis Lazuli: Politics and Aqueous Contingency in the Animation Steven Universe.” <em>Series – International Journal of TV Serial Narratives</em> 4.1 (2018): 51–62.</p> <p>———. “Water, Gender, and Modern Science in the Steven Universe Animation.” <em>Feminist Media Studies</em> 20.8 (2020): 1144-1158.</p> <p>———. “Water Spells: New Materialist Theoretical Insights from Animated Fantasy and Science Fiction.” <em>Historia Ambiental Latinoamericana y Caribeña (HALAC) Revista de la Solcha</em> 12.1 (2022): 246–269.</p> <p> Wells, Paul. <em>Understanding Animation</em>. Routledge, 1998.</p> <p>Whitley, David. <em>The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation</em>. Ashgate, 2008.</p> Andre Vasques Vital Mariza Pinheiro Bezerra Copyright (c) 2023 Andre Vasques Vital, Mariza Pereira Bezerra http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-04 2023-10-04 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2990 Magic and Metamodernism https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3008 <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>Magic has a long and controversial history grafted through the occult, entertainment, and cultural mythology. Its agency, when thought of as a mechanism of storytelling, reconciles an oscillation between natural and unnatural phenomena in as much as magic has historically been weaponised against “society’s most marginal members” (Marshall). Yet there is no substantial investigation of magic in metamodern theory that considers the nature of magical power a critical component of a metamodern affect in contemporary art. As such, this article will argue that magic in this regard positions the idea into the affectual state within two structures of experience. While metamodern thought prescribes an ontological approach through what Vermeulen prompts as a structure of feeling (Vermeulen 2017), this article proposes a more complex assessment of affect in metamodernism by adding a ‘structure of reason’ where both assessments of an oscillation between singularity and relativism are determined <em>from</em> magic. In this, where a structure of feeling is assessed through an ontological approach to interpret an emotional affect, a structure of reason uses an epistemological approach to establish a knowledge-based affect. Further, this article proposes the affectual considerations of magic as a magical power <em>from</em> affect to invite new ways to consider both reason and feelings within the subject, most notably through recent contributions of UK artist Damien Hirst and Australian artist Shaun Wilson.</p> <p>From witches to vampires, and sorcerers to wizards, these actors of magic, across the state, institution, and local partisan, have historically conjured fear and trepidation (Flint), and fascination (Leddington): most recently in popular cinema, literature, and gaming of magical realism. Yet the comprehension of magic in contemporary society, from films to books to fashion, has integrated, on the one hand, a commercialisation of branding magic through popular culture, and, on the other hand, the socialising of magic, whether festive or occult-based national holidays, celebrations, cosplay, and other socially orientated gatherings. These, of course, hark back to the narrational elements of folklore firmly integrated within cultural social practice. Yet how can magic and affect be thought of as acting together in contemporary art outside of associations from the occult and unnatural powers?</p> <p>Affectual discussions after modernism from Deleuze, Foucault, and Derrida, and after postmodernism from Gibbons, van der Akker, and Vermeulen, connect a similarity by way of agreement that affect is a relational phenomenon prompted by experience. Whether this be a postmodern, post-structuralist, deconstructionist, or even a post-postmodern context, magic as a condition <em>of</em> affect offers a way to understand affect from a different perspective than previously debated. However, there are several considerations for magic in affect that this article will address throughout that affords a suitability for metamodernism than, say, other branches of modernity such as postmodernism, which structurally lacks the ability for the arts to consider magic as an affectual experience in ways that metamodernism can accommodate. Herein exist three variations of magic for metamodernism: the magician who engages such power as an affectual actor; the presence of a magical power as an affectual state; and the condition of a magical power as an affectual experience. In this sense, magic is a term that this article will argue is about the condition of a magical power in metamodern affect, as represented in Figure 1. As relativism and singularity surmount an affectual structure, magic is argued to be a conduit between affect and an assessment of a metamodern oscillation, which is between an ontology and an epistemology.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/number-1.png" alt="" width="1440" height="800" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 1: A diagram of Metamodern Affect and Magic. (Used with permission)</em></p> <p>Furthermore, the inclusion of magic into the modelling of metamodern affect as a formalism achieves two key points. The first is to reconfigure the term from its semantic heritage to otherwise be part of an affectual process. The second is to examine this process to understand magic as a condition of affect, which enables what kind of assessment such mechanisms will determine the affectual structure <em>through</em> experience. If, say, magic was thought of as an agent of experience from an oscillation, then magic in this sense functions as the effect of an oscillation, but not as a starting point or, to be precise, an unrelated stand-alone mechanism. For magic to exist in this modelling proposal, it needs to be a condition <em>from</em> an oscillation <em>to</em> a structured assessment of experience. If accepted debates (Gibbons) about affect after postmodernism indicate that a structure of feeling, and, for that matter, metamodernism, is indicative of how an assessment of feelings can be derived through lived experience, an epistemological reading gives an assessment of reason through experience that, in art, enables the viewer to justify emotions through logic to form an understanding of knowledge from experience.</p> <p>Debates across other fields, such as psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and critical theory, have located magic in these three affectual areas paramount to emotions, non-reality, and reason. R.G. Collingwood, for example, argued that “magic is the evocation of emotions needed for practical life” (Collingwood 77). Collingwood’s “magic in the basic phenomenological sense” is one that “refers to any practice in which we evoke and sustain emotions for a practical purpose” (Greaves 277). Likewise, Sartre also referenced two key terms, which differed between “magic” and “magical image”, and contrasted between images imprinted through imagination, which he describes as “caught in its own snare” (Sartre 76-77). Similarly, the Sartrean perspective of magic identifies as the acts of imagination to be enacted through reality in a sense of totality from freedom. Other perspectives, such as both Patrick and Chin’s discussion of magical realism and Morton’s causality of realist magic as an object-oriented ontology, or OOO for short, typifies the extent of recent academic debates surrounding magic favouring ontological structures. Yet for metamodernism, work such as Kapferer’s claim that “magic, sorcery and witchcraft are at the epistemological centre of anthropology” (Kapferer 1) offers insight into considering both ontological and epistemological structures in a metamodern affect, where his debate gives a nod to how a structure of reason can offer artists a way to create work with magic as a condition that detaches from archetypal representations of magic; that is to say, causal narrative associations such as ‘a witch cast a spell’ or ‘the apple made Snow White sleep’, thus discussed in mainstream thought about magic. Moreover, an epistemological and ontological reading of magic reconciles the differentiation of the agent, the effect, and the condition through an affectual experience. An example of an ontological assessment will be considered in recent works of the former Young British Artist (YBA) Damian Hirst, who mines an ontological approach to art through a type of aesthetic-driven meta-romanticism.</p> <p>As Vermeulen describes the YBAs as “concerned first and foremost with dominant discourses of the present, such as capitalism, consumerism, patriarchy, institutional racism, simulation and mediation” (Vermeulen, “Snap!”), Hirst, the leader of the movement from the early days of his 1988 student exhibition <em>Freeze</em>, imbued issues of life and death, mortality, consumerism, and irony in his art none more postmodern than his 1999 goliath sculpture <em>Hymn</em>, an upscaled bronze “exact replica of Humbrol Limited’s Young Scientist Anatomy Set” (Davis). Yet an affectual turn in art gestated since the 2000s warrants a different reading of Hirst's work outside of a late postmodern assessment of the “end of history” (Fukuyama). His return to painting in the late 2010s through the <em>Veil</em> and <em>Cherry Blossom</em> series abandoned the once critique of consumerism and the ironic to become what Hirst describes as the need to “make paintings that were a celebration” (Hirst). In particular, within postmodern art, there are no capabilities of ‘celebration’ in assessing the subject, and this is what this article argues as the affectual turn for Hirst to create dialogue of an oscillation from a metamodern ontology and, thus, an affectual condition of magic.</p> <p>Prior to the recognised debates of Metamodernism in the 2010s, assessment of Hirst’s work was described as “post-romanticism” (Moscovici), while Luke White’s Marxist considerations in 2009 argued that “Hirstean sublime marks the return of the disavowed violence inherent to capital” (White 2), further adding that “it is subject, not to an ontology, but to a Derridean hauntology” (White 59). Yet neither of these comments address what we now understand as a metamodern oscillation, and thus remain in contrast to the turn of Hirst in later series, making the point that there are two eras of Hirst – before the affectual turns of 2015 and afterwards. While the staples of critique about Hirst’s work continue to focus on, mainly, financial conversations and the artist's personal wealth, these considerations, in fact, have nothing to do with the artefacts produced as subjective art forms, and as such will be ignored altogether. In the context of metamodernism, the Hirst critique as retrograde protests about his wealth and success are more like the whining about a perceived banality of late postmodern conceptual art than they are about a critique of the artefacts themselves. Moreover, this article considers the dearth of arts critique about Hirst’s work since the late 1980s as limited at best in establishing commentary about affect – ranging from arguments from a Marxist, critical theory, phenomenological, and postmodern perspective – and instead argues that a metamodern reading of his art forms provides a more sober contextualisation of the subject, and by and for the subject. Insofar as magic has a place in this debate, the access of experience by the subject from oscillation contextualises an affectual condition, placing the viewer of Hirst’s recent art as both the magician and the witness to magic from an affectual experience.</p> <p>Hirst’s 2021 <em>Sea Paintings</em> series of photo-realistic monochromatic oil on canvas paintings splattered with free-throw gestural marks depict representations of photographs of specific coastal sites in Britain. On reading these works, there is a direct relationship with the wider seascape tradition in painting, especially familiar in examples of maritime romanticism. </p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/number-2.png" alt="" width="1422" height="939" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 2: Damian Hirst, </em>Okta<em>. (Used with permission)</em></p> <p>The melancholic drama of seascapes such as Turner’s <em>Snow Storm – Steam Boat of a Harbour’s Mouth</em>, August Friedrich Kessler’s <em>Seascape 1866, </em>and Ivan Aivazovsky’s <em>Shipwreck </em>all play into a history of schools of thought that propel Hirst into the same kind of historical ontology. The cataclysm of nature’s power over human activity enacts a commonality among seascape traditions, where the <em>Sea Paintings</em> series remove human form to continue the tragedy and drama of the seascape's formalism. When considered through oscillation, of drama and isolation, absence and presence, and history and post-history, these meta-references loaded within the seascape tradition impact on the experience from magic to derive an ontological assessment as a structure of feeling. By virtue of the tradition it represents, <em>Sea Paintings </em>are a deeply ontological experience where both the magical power as an affectual state and a magical condition as an affectual experience play out as a process embedded between the subject and the viewer. This demonstrates a way to consider magic as a procedural step in defining the experience of contemporary art as a metamodern exchange from oscillation to a structure of feeling.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/number-3.jpg" alt="" width="1440" height="598" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 3: Shaun Wilson</em>, The Black Period Cantos XIII<em>. (Used with permission)</em></p> <p>In similarity, an epistemological assessment from magic to a structure of reason is considered in Shaun Wilson’s 2022 monochromatic <em>The Black Period Cantos </em>video artworks. They represent part of the wider series <em>The Black Period, </em>which includes video and painting art forms as digital combines of both physical and non-fungible token artworks of the same image. “All [of these] exist as a multimodal mechanism, but simultaneously function independently of each other’s influence without dominance” (Wilson, “Affordances” 3). Each <em>Canto</em> takes their subject from the ongoing slow cinema series <em>51 Paintings Suite,</em> which recreates the poses of characters from black plague-era German religious paintings as a collective of twenty short-form videos, composited with roundel and rectangle shapes reconfigured from individual paintings from other <em>The Black Period </em>series artefacts. Like the <em>Sea Paintings, </em>echoes of romanticism form the compositional subject but are contrasted by the intervention of the roundel and diptych paintings as if ‘block heads’ of the depicted characters. The epistemological reading of this assessment is supported by the artist’s statement “to contribute to current Metamodern debates by creating a structure of reason through an epistemological approach to metamodern affect” (Wilson). The contested artworks forgo an ontological structure of feeling to instead create a structure of reason. This article argues that the difference in reading such an assessment is prompted by the interventions of the roundel and rectangle shapes, which contrast with the surrounding cinematic frame.</p> <p>While Hirst also uses interventions of paint splatters randomly flung at the <em>Sea Paintings</em>, these interventions still warrant a structure of feeling. First, the contrast between these gestural marks and the photo-realistic backgrounds is of the same aesthetic, and second, by the intentions of the artist “to make paintings that were a celebration” (Hirst). Learning from this, aesthetic disruption is a determining factor of magic when connecting to either a structure of feeling or reason. These disruptions in <em>The Back Period Cantos </em>enable magic to be assessed at an epistemological level, where the properties of reason enable a jolt for the viewer out of romanticism and into a state of reason. If, say, the cinematic backgrounds were void of colour field disruptions, the emotive response to such images then would lend itself ontologically to a romanticism, given that much of the composition and characters reposed from the German source paintings imbue the hallmark ontological signposts of sincerity, tragedy, and, in the case of the German Romanticism school of painting, reference material to medieval representation. Yet by the disruptions of the colour field images at a disruptive sublimity of aesthetic consideration, and the meta-references of the shapes being appropriations of the physical enamel on linen paintings made in the wider <em>The Black Period</em> series, the presence of meta references in the compositions moves away from feelings as an ontology, but instead to epistemological reason and knowledge by this contrasted aesthetic merger. Here, magic derives an affectual structure <em>to</em> reason based on aesthetic, contrasting in as much as it does by the introduction of meta disruptions.</p> <h1>Conclusion</h1> <p>This article has discussed the metamodern affect in terms of a process that builds on existing debates about ways to experience art through the subject. It has established two key points. First, that magic is a term that moves away from its semantic history to be a mechanism that prescribes both ontological and epistemological assessments of metamodern affect to experience art. Second, that these assessments are derived from a condition of metamodern affect, represented in the recent art of Damien Hirst and Shaun Wilson. These mentioned artefacts are discussed in a way that has demonstrated a reading of these artworks that connects metamodernism to an ever-evolving understanding of how the subject can be assessed, and thought about when considering feelings and reasons to inform the subject through creative practice. Where existing metamodern literature has focussed on ontological readings of this process, especially through a structure of feeling, this article has expanded such debate by also considering a structure of reason in these assessments. Simultaneously, such assessments are proposed to include magic as a central condition from oscillation, which signifies a more complex and broader understanding of how affectual structures in metamodernism can process the experience of art. Magic in this sense becomes a condition of metamodern affect, like a magical power, yet without the mechanical mythology of unnatural phenomena or the agency of magical beings.</p> <p>The broader implications for magic when used in this type of semantic still respect the historical legacy of its heritage, while simultaneously distancing this history by a plausible theoretical application used to model metamodern thought. The assessment by which magic has been discussed throughout this article brings about an understanding of its history and rational application, capable of considering a robust way to explain contemporary art through emotive and rational structures that otherwise would be disparate in both thinking about and approaches to art. Metamodernism in this regard provides a contemporary debate in oscillation by which magic has been employed to amplify these differences without dominance or influence from one or the other. Magic, when thought of as a mediator from this condition, becomes a useful mechanism to engage with that this article considers enabling a better way of assessing art in contemporary times. The oscillation of relativism and singularity as ‘before affect’ and the affectual structures as ‘after affect’ are regulated by magic, which the working model of metamodern affect in Figure 1 demonstrated through a grounded conceptuality. Looking beyond such would certainly invite further discussion into other affectual structures for the metamodern, in what future discussion could derive from other philosophical branches for metamodernism, including phenomenology, axiology, and ethics that I will further explore in future research.</p> <p>The inclusion of magic into metamodern thought brings a new way to understand magic, which, whilst still a condition of experience, detaches from its historical understandings and assumptions. Viewers of metamodern art, in this sense, are both the magicians and witnesses of magical powers through affect. Both identities engage the structure of experience by using magic as a procedural step in this condition. What this signifies is a new way to understand magic and art within metamodern affect. In the work of Hirst and Wilson, there are numerous connections to affectual magic, as previously discussed, that integrate ways of assessing affect to create a more enriching way to experience these artefacts. Readings of <em>Sea Paintings </em>situate magic in the ontological experience from an assessment of a structure of feeling based on the ontology of the British and German seascape traditions. Readings of <em>The Black Period Cantos</em> demonstrated the use of affectual magic as an epistemological assessment of a structure of reason from the interventions of colour field abstractions and meta references disrupting the romanticised cinematic subject. These prescribed an understanding of metamodern affect that can bring about a different way to embody the relational integration between an audience and metamodern art. The art forms in this process can then be considered by affectual structures, which opens further debate into the role of affect in art and the experience that these art forms bring to the viewer by and from magic. </p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Aivazovsky, Ivan. <em>Shipwreck. </em>Saint Petersburg: Russian Museum, 1854.</p> <p>Chin, Gabriel Patrick Wei-Hao. “Feeling-Things: An Ethics of Object-Oriented Ontology in the Magic Realism of Murakami Haruki and Don DeLillo.” University of Sussex, 9 July 2020. 7 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://hdl.handle.net/10779/uos.23477147.v1">https://hdl.handle.net/10779/uos.23477147.v1</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Collingwood, Robin George. <em>The Principles of Art. </em>Oxford: Oxford UP. 1958.</p> <p>Davis, Amy. “The Artist as Thief or Innovator? Damien Hirst’s Hymn.” Melbourne Art Class, 20 Sep. 2018. 2 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://melbourneartclass.com/the-artist-as-thief-or-as-innovator-damien-hirsts-hymn/">https://melbourneartclass.com/the-artist-as-thief-or-as-innovator-damien-hirsts-hymn/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Descartes, Rene. <em>Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy</em>. 4th ed. Trans. Donald A. Creww. Cambridge: Hackett, 1998.</p> <p>Flint, Valerie I.J. <em>The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe</em>. Princeton UP, 1991.</p> <p>Fukuyama, Francis. <em>The End of History and the Last Man. </em>Reissued ed. New York: Free Press, 1992.</p> <p>Gagosian Gallery. “In the Studio: Damien Hirst’s Veil Paintings.” 4 July 2020. 2 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2020/07/04/interview-damien-hirst-veil-paintings/">https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2020/07/04/interview-damien-hirst-veil-paintings/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Greaves, Tom. “Magic, Emotion and Practical Metabolism: Affective Praxis in Sartre and Collingwood.” <em>Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology</em> 53.3 (2022): 276-297.</p> <p>Gibbons, Alison. “Contemporary Autofiction and Metamodern Affect”. <em>Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism</em>. Eds. Robin van der Akker, Alison Gibbons, and Timotheus Vermeulen. London: Rowman &amp; Littlefield, 2017.</p> <p>Hirst, Damien. <em>Hymn. </em>Private Collection. 1999.</p> <p>———. <em>Okta. </em>Science Limited. 2021.</p> <p><em>———. Sea Paintings. </em>Science Limited. 2021.</p> <p>Kapferer, Bruce. “Beyond Rationalism: Rethinking Magic, Witchcraft and Sorcery.” <em>Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology</em> 46.3 (2002): 1-30.</p> <p>Kessler, August Friederich. <em>Seascape 1866. </em>Private Collection. 1866.</p> <p>Leddington, Jason. “The Experience of Magic.” <em>The Journal of Aesthetic &amp; Art Criticism </em>74.3 (2016): 253-264. 1 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/jaac.12290">https://doi.org/10.1111/jaac.12290</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Marshall, Bridget. “Most Witches Are Women, Because Witch Hunts Were All about Persecuting the Powerless.” <em>The Conversation</em>, 23 Oct. 2019. 10 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://theconversation.com/most-witches-are-women-because-witch-hunts-were-all-about-persecuting-the-powerless-125427">https://theconversation.com/most-witches-are-women-because-witch-hunts-were-all-about-persecuting-the-powerless-125427</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Moscovici, Claudia. “From Eros to Thanatos: Damien Hirst and Postromanticism.com.” <em>Fineartebook’s Blog, </em>9 June 2011. 15 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://fineartebooks.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/from-eros-to-thanatos-damien-hirst-and-postromanticism-com/">https://fineartebooks.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/from-eros-to-thanatos-damien-hirst-and-postromanticism-com/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Sartre, Jean-Paul. <em>Sketch for a Theory of Emotions.</em> Trans. Phillip Mairet. London: Methuen, 1976.</p> <p>Turner, William. <em>Snow Storm – Steam Boat of a Harbour’s Mouth. </em>Tate. 1842.</p> <p>Uzoigwe, Elias Ifeanyi E. “A Comparative Analysis of Descartes’ and Spinoza’s Notions of Intuition.” <em>Jurnal Ilmu Sosiologi Dialektika</em> 9.1 (2021).</p> <p>Vermeulen, Timotheus, “Depth.” <em>Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism</em>. Eds. Robin van der Akker, Alison Gibbons, and Timotheus Vermeulen. London: Rowman &amp; Littlefield, 2017.</p> <p>———. “Snap!” <em>Zabludowicz Collection: 20 Years</em>. Eds. Elizabeth Neilson, et al. London: Zabluedowicz Collection, 2015. 84-88.</p> <p>White, Luke. <em>Damien Hirst and the Legacy of the Sublime in Contemporary Art and Culture</em>. PhD dissertation. Middlesex University, 2009.</p> <p>Wilson, Shaun. “The Affordances of Digital Aesthetics.” <em>Screen Thought Journal</em> 6 (2022): 1-13. 12 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.screenthoughtjournal.net/_files/ugd/0d1f4b_40e257a0f037402e86516f0fd6454614.pdf">https://www.screenthoughtjournal.net/_files/ugd/0d1f4b_40e257a0f037402e86516f0fd6454614.pdf</a>&gt;.</p> <p><em>———. The Black Period. </em>Exhibition catalogue. Bakers Road Entertainment, 2023.</p> <p><em>———. The Black Period Cantos XIII. </em>Collection of the Artist. 2022.</p> <p><em>———. The 51 Paintings Suite. </em>Private Collection. 2022.</p> Shaun Wilson Copyright (c) 2023 Shaun Wilson http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3008 Mzansi Magic https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2989 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p><em>Jerusalema</em>, a song from <em>Mzansi</em> — an informal <em>isiZulu</em> name for South Africa — became a global hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Set to a repetitive, slow four-to-a-bar beat characteristic of South African house music, the gospel-influenced song was released through Open Mic Productions in 2019 by the DJ and record producer Kgaogelo Moagi, popularly known as ‘Master KG’. The production resulted from a collaboration between Master KG, the music producer Charmza The DJ, who composed the music, and the vocalist Nomcebo Zikode, who wrote the lyrics and performed the song for the master recording.</p> <p><em>Jerusalema</em> immediately trended on social media and, as a “soundtrack of the pandemic” (Modise), became one of the most popular songs of 2020. Soon, it reached no. 1 on the music charts in Belgium, Romania, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Switzerland, while going triple platinum in Italy and double platinum in Spain (Hissong). By September 2020, <em>Jerusalema</em> was the most Shazammed song in history. To date, it has generated more than <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCZVL_8D048">half a billion views on <em>YouTube</em></a>.</p> <p>After its initial success as a music video, the song’s influence was catapulted to a global cultural phenomenon by the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=613A9d6Doac"><em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em> video</a> posted by the Angolan dance troupe <em>Fenómenos do Semba</em> in 2020, featuring exquisite dance steps that inspired a viral social media challenge.</p> <p>Some observed that footwork in several of the videos posted, suggested dance types associated with <em>pantsula jive</em> and <em>kwaito</em> music, both of which originated from the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid era. Yet, the leader of the Angolan dance troupe <em>Fenómenos do Semba</em>, Adilson Maiza claimed that the group’s choreography mixed <em>kuduro</em> dance steps (derived from the Angolan Portuguese term “cu duro” or “hard ass”) and Afro-beat. According to Master KG, indeed, the choreography made famous by the Angolan dancers conveyed an Angolan touch, described by Maiza as <em>signature ginga e banga Angolana</em> (Angolan sway and swag; Kabir). As a “counter-contagion” in the age of Coronavirus (Kabir), groups of individuals, ranging from school learners and teachers, police officers, and nursing staff in Africa to priests and nuns in Europe and Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem were posting <em>Jerusalema</em> dance videos. Famous efforts came from Vietnam, Switzerland, Ireland, Austria, and Morocco. Numerous videos of healthcare workers became a source of hope for patients with COVID-19 (Chingono).</p> <p>Following the thought of Zygmunt Bauman, in this article I interpret <em>Jerusalema</em> as a “re-enchantment” of a disenchanted world. Focussing on the song’s “magic”, I interrogate why this music video could take on such special meaning for millions of individuals and inspire a viral dance craze. My understanding of “magic” draws on the writings of Patrick Curry, who, in turn, bases his definition of the term on the thought of J.R.R. Tolkien. Curry (5) cites Tolkien in differentiating between two ways in which the word “magic” is generally used: “one to mean enchantment, as in: ‘It was magic!’ and the other to denote a paranormal means to an end, as in: ‘to use magic’”. The argument in this article draws on the first of these explications.</p> <p>As a global media sensation, <em>Jerusalema</em> placed a spotlight on the paucity of a “de-spiritualized, de-animated world,” a world “waging war against mystery and magic” (Baumann x-xi). However, contexts of production and reception, as outlined in Burns and Hawkins (2ff.), warrant consideration of social and cultural values and ideologies masked by the music video’s idealised representation of everyday South African life and its glamourised expression of faith. Thus, while referring to the millennia-old Jerusalem trope and its ensuing mythologies via an intertextual reading, I shall also consider the song alongside the South African-produced epic gangster action film <em>Jerusalema</em> (2008; Orange) while furthermore reflecting on the contexts of its production.</p> <h1><strong>Why <em>Jerusalema</em> — Why Its “Magic”?</strong></h1> <p>The global fame attained by Master KG’s <em>Jerusalema</em> brought to the fore questions of what made the song and its ensuing dance challenge so exceptional and what lay behind its “magic” (Ndzuta). The song’s simple yet deeply spiritual words appeal to God to take the singer to the heavenly city. In an abbreviated form, as translated from the original <em>isiZulu</em>, the words mean, “Jerusalem is my home, guard me, walk with me, do not leave me here — Jerusalem is my home, my place is not here, my kingdom is not here” (“Jerusalema Lyrics in English”). These words speak of the yearning for salvation, home, and togetherness, with Jerusalem as its spiritual embodiment.</p> <p>As Ndzuta notes, few South African songs have achieved the kind of global status attained by “Jerusalema”. A prominent earlier example is Miriam Makeba’s dance hit <em>Pata Pata</em>, released in the 1960s during the apartheid era. The song’s global impact was enabled by Makeba’s fame and talent as a singer and her political activism against the apartheid regime (Ndzuta). Similarly, the South African hits included on Paul Simon’s <em>Graceland</em> album (1986) — like Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s <em>Homeless</em> — emanated from a specific politico-historical moment that, despite critique against Simon for violating the cultural boycott against South Africa at the time, facilitated their international impact and dissemination (Denselow).</p> <p><em>Jerusalema’s</em> fame was not tied to political activism but derived from the turbulent times of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to statistics published by the World Health Organization, by the end of 2020 had claimed more than 3 million lives globally (“True Death Toll of Covid-19”). Within this context, the song’s message of divine guidance and the protection of a spiritual home was particularly relevant as it lifted global spirits darkened by the pandemic and the many losses it incurred. Likewise, the <em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em> brought joy and feelings of togetherness during these challenging times, as was evidenced by the countless videos posted online.</p> <h1><strong>The Magic of the Myth</strong></h1> <p>Central to the lyrics of <em>Jerusalema</em> is the city of Jerusalem, which has, as Hees (95) notes, for millennia been “an intense marker of personal, social and religious identity and aspirations in words and music”. Nevertheless, Master KG’s <em>Jerusalema</em> differs from other “Jerusalem songs” in that it encompasses dense layering of “enchantment”. In contrast to Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s <em>Awu</em> <em>Jerusalema</em>, for instance, with its solemn, hymn-like structure and close harmonic vocal delivery, Master KG’s <em>Jerusalema</em> features Nomcebo’s sensuous and versatile voice in a gripping version of the South African house/gospel style known affectionately as the “Amapiano sound” — a raw hybrid of deep house, jazz and lounge music characterised by the use of synthesizers and wide percussive basslines (Seroto). In the original music video, in combination with Nomcebo’s soulful rendition, visuals featuring everyday scenes from South African township life take on alluring, if not poetic dimensions — a magical sensory mix, to which an almost imperceptible slow-motion camera effect adds the impression of “time slowing down”, simultaneously “softening” images of poverty and decay.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/fig-1.png" alt="" width="1100" height="641" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 1: “Enchantment” and the joy of the dance. Still from the video “Jerusalema”.</em></p> <p>From a philosophical perspective, Zygmunt Bauman (xi) contends that “it is against a dis-enchanted world that the postmodern re-enchantment is aimed”. Yet, in a more critical vein, he also argues that, within the postmodern condition, humanity has been left alone with its fears and with an existential void that is “here to stay”: “postmodernity has not allayed the fears that modernity injected into humanity; postmodernity only <em>privatized</em> these fears”. For this reason, Bauman believes, postmodernity “had to become an age of <em>imagined communities</em>” (xviii-xxix). Furthermore, he deems that it is because of its extreme vulnerability that community provides the focus of postmodern concerns in attracting so much intellectual and “real-world” attention (Bauman xxix). Most notably, and relevant to the phenomenon of the media craze, as discussed in this article, Bauman defines the imagined community by way of the <em>cogito</em> “I am seen, therefore I exist” (xix).</p> <p>Not only does Bauman’s line of thought explain the mass and media appeal of populist ideologies of postmodernity that strive to “fill the void”, like Sharon Blackie’s <em>The Enchanted Life — Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday,</em> or Mattie James’s acclaimed <em>Everyday Magic: The Joy of Not Being Everything and Still Being More than Enough</em>; it also illuminates the immense collective appeal of the <em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em>. Here, Bauman’s thought on the power of shared experience — in this case, mass-mediated experience — is, again, of particular relevance: “having no other … anchors except the affections of their ‘members’, imagined communities exist solely through … occasional outbursts of togetherness” (xix). Among these, he lists “demonstrations, marches, festivals, riots” (xix). Indeed, the joyous shared expression of the <em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em> videos posted online during the COVID-19 pandemic may well sort under similar festive public “outbursts”. As a ceremonial dance that tells the story of shared experiences and longings, <em>Jerusalema</em> may be seen as one such collective celebration. True to African dance tradition, more than being merely entertainment for the masses, each in its own way, the dance videos recount history, convey emotion, celebrate rites of passage, and help unify communities in one of the darkest periods of the recent global past.</p> <h1><strong>An Intertextual Context for Reading “Jerusalema”</strong></h1> <p>However, historical dimensions of the “Jerusalem trope” suggest that <em>Jerusalema</em> might also be understood from a more critical perspective. As Hees (92) notes, the trope of the loss of and longing for the city of Jerusalem represents a merging of mythologies through the ages, embodied in Hebrew, Roman, Christian, Muslim, and Zionist religious cultures. Still, many Jerusalem narratives refrain from referring to its historical legacy, which fuelled hostility between the West and the Muslim world still prevalent today. Thus, the historical realities of fraud, deceit, greed, betrayal, massacres, and even cannibalism are often shunned so that Jerusalem — one of the holiest yet most blood-soaked cities in the world (Hees 92, 95) — is elevated as a symbol of the Heavenly City.</p> <p>In this respect, the South African crime epic <em>Gangster Paradise: Jerusalema</em>, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008 and was later submitted to the Academy Awards for consideration to qualify as a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film (De Jager), stands in stark contrast to the divine connotations of Master KG’s <em>Jerusalema</em>. According to its director Ralph Ziman (Stecker), the film, inspired by a true story, offers a raw look into post-apartheid crime and corruption in the South African city of Johannesburg (De Villiers 8). Its storyline provides a sharp critique of the economic inequalities that torment South Africa in post-apartheid democracy, capturing the dissatisfaction and the “wave of violent crimes that resulted from the economic realities at its root” (Azuawusiefe 102).</p> <p>The irony of the narrative resides in the fact that the main protagonist, Lucky Kunene, at first reluctant to resort to a life of crime, turns to car hijacking and then to hijacking derelict, over-crowded buildings in the inner-city centre of Hillbrow (Hees 90). Having become a wealthy crime boss, Johannesburg, for him, becomes symbolic of a New Jerusalem (“Jerusalem Entjha”; Azuawusiefe 103; Hees 91-92). Entangled in the criminal underbelly of the city and arrested for murder, Kunene escapes from prison, relocating to the coastal city of Durban where, again, he envisages “Jerusalem Enthjha” (which, supposedly, once more implies a life of crime). As a portrayal of inner-city life in Johannesburg, this narrative takes on particular relevance for the current state of affairs in the country. In September this year, an uncontainable fire at a derelict, overcrowded hijacked building owned by Johannesburg municipal authorities claimed the lives of 73 people — a tragic event reported on by all major TV networks worldwide.</p> <p>While the events and economic actualities pictured in the film thus offer a realistic view of the adversities of current South African life, visual content in Master KG’s <em>Jerusalema</em> sublimates everyday South African scenes. Though the deprivation, decay, and poverty among which the majority of South Africans live is acknowledged in the video, its message of a yearning for salvation and a “better home” is foregrounded while explicit critique is shunned. This means that <em>Jerusalema’s</em> plea for divine deliverance is marked by an ambivalence that may weaken an understanding of the video as “pure magic”.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/fig-2.png" alt="" width="756" height="431" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 2: Still from the video Jerusalema showing decrepit living conditions in the background.</em></p> <h1><strong>“Jerusalema” as Layers of Meaning </strong></h1> <p>From Bauman’s perspective, <em>Jerusalema</em> — both as a music video and the <em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em> — may represent a more profound human longing for imagined communal celebration beyond mass-mediated entertainment. From such a viewpoint, it may be seen as one specific representation of the millennia-old trope of a heavenly, transcendent Jerusalem in the biblical tradition, the celestial city providing a dwelling for the divine to enter this world (Thompson 647). Nevertheless, in Patrick Curry’s terms, as a media frenzy, the song and its ensuing dance challenge may also be understood as “enchantment enslaved by magic”; that is, enchantment in the service of mass-mediated glamour (7). This implies that <em>Jerusalema</em> is not exempt from underlying ideologised conditions of production, or an endorsement of materialistic values. The video exhibits many of the characteristics of a prototypical music video that guarantee commercial success — a memorable song, the incorporation of noteworthy dance routines, the showcasing of a celebrated artist, striking relations between music and image, and flashy visuals, all of which are skilfully put together (compare Korsgaard). Auslander observes, for instance, that in current music video production the appearance and behaviour of artists are the basic units of communication from which genre-specific personae are constructed (100). In this regard, the setting of a video is crucial for ensuring coherence with the constructed persona (Vernallis 87). These aspects come to the fore in Master KG’s video rendition of <em>Jerusalema</em>. The vocalist Nomcebo Zikode is showcased in settings that serve as a favourable backdrop to the spiritual appeal of the lyrics, either by way of slightly filtered scenes of nature or scenes of worshippers or seekers of spiritual blessing. In addition, following the gospel genre type, her gestures often suggest divine adoration.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/fig-3.png" alt="" width="800" height="495" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 3: Vocalist Nomcebo Zikode in a still from the video Jerusalema.</em></p> <p>However, again some ambiguity of meaning may be noted. First, the fashionable outfits featured by the singer are in stark contrast with scenes of poverty and deprivation later in the video. The impression of affluence is strengthened by her stylish make-up and haircut and the fact that she changes into different outfits during the song. This points to a glamorisation of religious worship and an idealisation of township life that disregards South Africa’s dire economic situation, which existed even before COVID-19, due to massive corruption and state capture in which the African National Congress is fully implicated (Momoniat).</p> <p>Furthermore, according to media reportage, <em>Jerusalema’s</em> context of production was not without controversy. Though the video worked its magic in the hearts of millions of viewers and listeners worldwide, the song’s celebration as a global hit was marred by legal battles over copyright and remuneration issues. First, it came to light that singer-songwriter Nomcebo Zikode had for a considerable period not been paid for her contribution to the production following <em>Jerusalema’s</em> commercial release in 2019 (Modise). Therefore, she resorted to a legal dispute. Also, it was alleged that Master KG was not the original owner of the music and was not even present when the song was created. Thus, the South African artists Charmza The DJ (Presley Ledwaba) and Biblos (Ntimela Chauke), who claimed to be the original creators of the track, also instituted legal action against Kgaogelo Moagi, his record label Open Mic Productions, and distributor Africori SA whose majority shareholder is the Warner Music Group (Madibogo). </p> <h1><strong>The Magic of the Dance</strong></h1> <p>Despite these moral and material ambiguities, <em>Jerusalema’s</em> influence as a global cultural phenomenon during the era of COVID spoke to a more profound yearning for the human condition, one that was not necessarily based on religious conviction (Shoki). Perhaps this was vested foremost in the simplicity and authenticity that transpired from the original dance challenge video and its countless pursuals posted online at the time. These prohibit reading the <em>Jerusalema</em> phenomenon as pseudo-enchantment driven only by a profit motive. As a wholly unforeseen, unifying force of hope and joy, the dance challenge sparked a global trend that fostered optimism among millions.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/fig-4.png" alt="" width="770" height="424" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 4: The Angolan dance troupe Fenómenos do Semba. (Still from the original #JerusalemaDanceChallenge video.)</em></p> <p>As stated earlier, <em>Jerusalema</em> did not originate from political activism. Yet, Professor of English literature Ananya Kabir uncovers a layer of meaning associated with the dance challenge, which she calls “alegropolitics” or a “politics of joy” — the joy of the dance ­­— that she links on the one hand with the Jerusalem trope and its history of trauma and dehumanisation, and, on the other, with Afro-Atlantic expressive culture as associated with enslavement, colonialism, and commodification. In her reading of the countless videos posted, their “gift to the world” is “the secret of moving collectively”. By way of individual responses to “poly-rhythmic Africanist aesthetic principles … held together by a master-structure”, Kabir interprets this communal dance as “resistance, incorporating kinetic and rhythmic principles that circulated initially around the Atlantic rim (including the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa)”. For her, the <em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em> is “an example of how dance enables <em>convivencia</em> (living together)”; “it is a line dance (animation in French, <em>animação</em> in Portuguese, <em>animación</em> in Spanish) that enlivens parties through simple choreography that makes people dance together”. In this sense, the routine’s syncopated steps allow more and more people to join as each repetition unfolds — indeed, a celebratory example of Bauman’s imagined community that exists through an “outburst of togetherness” (xix). Such a collective “fest” demonstrates how, in dance leader Maiza’s words, “it is possible to be happy with little: we party with very little” (Kabir).</p> <p>Accordingly, as part of a globally mediated community, with just the resources of the body (Kabir), the locked-down world partied, too, for the duration of the magical song. Whether seen as a representation of the millennia-old trope of a heavenly, transcendent Jerusalem, or, in Curry’s understanding, as enchantment in the service of mass-mediated glamour, <em>Jerusalema</em> and its ensuing dance challenge form an undeniable part of recent global history involving the COVID-19 pandemic. As a media frenzy, it contributed to the existing body of “Jerusalem songs”, and lifted global spirits clouded by the pandemic and its emotional and material losses. Likewise, the <em>#JerusalemaDanceChallenge</em> was symbolic of an imagined global community engaging in “the joy of the dance” during one of the most challenging periods in humanity’s recent past.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Auslander, Philip. “Framing Personae in Music Videos.” <em>The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Video Analysis</em>. Eds. Loria A. Burns and Stan Hawkins. London: Bloomsbury, 2019. 92-109.</p> <p>Azuawusiefe, Chijioke. “Jerusalema: On Violence and Hope in a New South Africa.” <em>The Nigerian Journal of Theology</em> 34-36 (2020-2022): 101-112.</p> <p>Baumann, Zygmunt. <em>Intimations of Postmodernity</em>. New York: Routledge, 1992.</p> <p>Blackie, Sharon. <em>The Enchanted Life – Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday</em>. Oakfield, CI: September, 2018.</p> <p>Burns, Lori A., and Stan Hawkins, eds. Introduction. <em>The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Video Analysis</em>. London: Bloomsbury, 2019. 1-9.</p> <p>Chingono, Nyasha. “Jerusalema: Dance Craze Brings Hope from Africa to the World Amid Covid.” <em>The Guardian</em> 24 Sep. 2020. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/24/jerusalema-dance-craze-brings-hope-from-africa-to-the-world-amid-covid">https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/24/jerusalema-dance-craze-brings-hope-from-africa-to-the-world-amid-covid</a>&gt;.</p> <p>———. “‘I Haven’t Been Paid a Cent’: Jerusalema Singer’s Claim Stirs Row in South Africa.” <em>The Guardian</em> 13 July 2021. 15 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jul/13/i-havent-been-paid-a-cent-jerusalema-singers-claim-stirs-row-in-south%20africa#:~:text=The%20upbeat%20song%20is%20a,Do%20not%20leave%20me%20here.%E2%80%9D">https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jul/13/i-havent-been-paid-a-cent-jerusalema-singers-claim-stirs-row-in-south africa</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Curry, Patrick. “Magic vs. Enchantment.” <em>Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society</em> 38 (2001): 5-10.</p> <p>De Jager, Christelle. “Oscar Gets Trip to ‘Jerusalema’.” <em>Variety</em> 7 Oct. 2008. 8 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://variety.com/2008/film/awards/oscar-gets-trip-to-jerusalema-1117993596/">https://variety.com/2008/film/awards/oscar-gets-trip-to-jerusalema-1117993596/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Denselow, Robin. “Paul Simon's Graceland: The Acclaim and the Outrage.” <em>The Guardian</em> 19 Apr. 2012. 15 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/apr/19/paul-simon-graceland-acclaim-outrage">https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/apr/19/paul-simon-graceland-acclaim-outrage</a>&gt;.</p> <p>De Villiers, Dawid W. “After the Revolution: Jerusalema and the Entrepreneurial Present.” <em>South African Theatre Journal</em> 23 (2009): 8-22.</p> <p>Hees, Edwin. “Jerusalema.” <em>Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa</em> 6.1 (2009): 89-99. &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.2989/JMAA.2009.">https://doi.org/10.2989/JMAA.2009.</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Hissong, Samantha. “How South Africa’s ‘Jerusalema’ Became a Global Hit without Ever Having to Be Translated.” <em>Rolling Stone</em> 16 Oct. 2020. 15 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/news/jerusalema-global-dance-hit-south-africa-spotify-1076474/">https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/news/jerusalema-global-dance-hit-south-africa-spotify-1076474/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>James, Mattie. <em>Everyday Magic. The Joy of Not Being Everything and Still Being More than Enough</em>. Franklin, Tennessee: Worthy Publishing, 2022.</p> <p>“Jerusalema Lyrics in English.” <em>Afrika Lyrics</em> 2019. 7 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://afrikalyrics.com/master-kg-jerusalema-%20%20translation">https://afrikalyrics.com/master-kg-jerusalema- translation</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. “The Angolan Dancers Who Helped South African Anthem Jerusalema Go Global.” <em>The Conversation</em> 29 Oct. 2020. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://theconversation.com/the-angolan-dancers-who-helped-south-african-anthem-jerusalema-go-global-148782">https://theconversation.com/the-angolan-dancers-who-helped-south-african-anthem-jerusalema-go-global-148782</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Korsgaard, Mathias. <em>Music Video after MTV: Audio-Visual Studies, New Media, and Popular Music.</em> New York: Routledge, 2017.</p> <p>Madibogo, Julia. “Master KG Slapped with a Lawsuit for Jerusalema.” <em>City Press</em> 26 July 2022. 4 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.news24.com/citypress/trending/master-kg-slapped-with-a-lawsuit-for-jerusalema-20220726">https://www.news24.com/citypress/trending/master-kg-slapped-with-a-lawsuit-for-jerusalema-20220726</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Modise, Julia Mantsali. “Jerusalema, a Heritage Day Song of the Covid-19 Pandemic.” <em>Religions</em> 14.45 (2022). 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://https//doi.org/10.3390/rel1401004">https//doi.org/10.3390/rel1401004</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Modise, Kedibone. “Nomcebo Zikode Reveals Ownership Drama over ‘Jerusalema’ Has Intensified.” <em>IOL Entertainment</em> 6 June 2022. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.iol.co.za/entertainment/music/local/nomcebo-zikode-reveals-ownership-drama-over-jerusalema-has-intensified-211e2575-f0c6-43cc-8684-c672b9da4c04">https://www.iol.co.za/entertainment/music/local/nomcebo-zikode-reveals-ownership-drama-over-jerusalema-has-intensified-211e2575-f0c6-43cc-8684-c672b9da4c04</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Momoniat, Ismail. “How and Why Did State Capture and Massive Corruption Occur in South Africa?”. <em>IMF PFM Blog</em> 10 Apr. 2023. 15 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://blog-pfm.imf.org/en/pfmblog/2023/04/how-and-why-did-state-capture-and-massive-corruption-occur-in-south-africa">https://blog-pfm.imf.org/en/pfmblog/2023/04/how-and-why-did-state-capture-and-massive-corruption-occur-in-south-africa</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Ndzuta, Akhona. “How Viral Song Jerusalema Joined the Ranks of South Africa’s Greatest Hits.” <em>The Conversation</em> 29 Oct. 2020. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://theconversation.com/how-viral-song-jerusalema-joined-the-ranks-of-south-africas-greatest-hits-148781#:~:text=Jerusalema%20went%20viral%20during%20the,with%20the%20biblical%20city%20Jerusalem">https://theconversation.com/how-viral-song-jerusalema-joined-the-ranks-of-south-africas-greatest-hits-148781</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Orange, B. Allen. “Ralph Ziman Talks Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema [Exclusive].” <em>Movieweb</em> 2010. 15 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://movieweb.com/exclusive-ralph-ziman-talks-gangsters-paradise-jerusalema/">https://movieweb.com/exclusive-ralph-ziman-talks-gangsters-paradise-jerusalema/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Seroto, Butchie. “Amapiano: What Is It All About?” <em>Music in Africa</em> 30 Sep. 2020. 15 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.musicinafrica.net/magazine/amapiano-what-it-all-about">https://www.musicinafrica.net/magazine/amapiano-what-it-all-about</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Shoki, William. “‘Jerusalema’ Is about Self-Determination.” <em>Jacobin</em> 10 Dec. 2020. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://jacobin.com/2020/10/jerusalema-south-africa-coronavirus-covid">https://jacobin.com/2020/10/jerusalema-south-africa-coronavirus-covid</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Stecker, Joshua. “Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema – Q &amp; A with Writer/Director Ralph Ziman.” <em>Script</em> 11 June 2010. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://scriptmag.com/features/gangsters-paradise-jerusalema-qa-with-writerdirector-ralph-ziman">https://scriptmag.com/features/gangsters-paradise-jerusalema-qa-with-writerdirector-ralph-ziman</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Thompson, Thomas L. “Jerusalem as the City of God's Kingdom: Common Tropes in the Bible and the Ancient Near East.” <em>Islamic Studies</em> 40.3-4 (2001): 631-647.</p> <p>Vernallis, Carol. <em>Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context</em>. New York: Columbia UP, 2004.</p> <p>World Health Organisation. “The True Death Toll of Covid-19.” N.d. 15 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.who.int/data/stories/the-true-death-toll-of-covid-19-estimating-global-excess-mortality">https://www.who.int/data/stories/the-true-death-toll-of-covid-19-estimating-global-excess-mortality</a>&gt;.</p> Martina Viljoen Copyright (c) 2023 Martina Viljoen http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2989 Making It Magical https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3006 <p>In the late 2010s, I owned and operated a bespoke drum-building company, and during that time, I was commissioned to build a frame drum by the partner of a musician who was also a magic practitioner. The commission was fitting despite my business not being related to magic or Paganism directly. I have been working with drum construction in all of my research projects during my academic career, a touring percussionist for decades, and the company focussed on making drums inspired by Lovecraftian narratives and Lovecraftian Futurist music. Due to the nature of Lovecraftian horror and science fiction being potentially supernatural-related, and given my performance experience and ethnomusicological background, I understood the details of the request and planned my construction in accordance with their interests. The decisions made regarding materials, style, and decorations with respect to the expected functionality, performance techniques, and desired aesthetics outlined a distinct relationship between the magical and musical qualities desired in the final product.</p> <p>These decisions were informed by the values upheld by the commissioner of the drum – values that parallel those of the performers, makers, and audience that make up the joint musical and magical community. The ways in which these decisions were informed, then, regulate the interactions not only with the music involved but also with the musical instruments and their construction. Perhaps this is less evident in a situation where an instrument is mass-manufactured, but taking as an example the set of decisions associated with this bespoke commission, informed by values based on a belief system and the practices associated with that belief system, a network of maker, player, and expectations of the instrument’s function can be highlighted. In turn, this raises interesting considerations about the relationship between building instruments and magic-related practices.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-1.jpg" alt="" width="1017" height="763" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 1: Commissioned drum that houses magical associations along with performative expectations. (Photo: Lisa Courtney)</em></p> <p>Most of the discussion herein pertains to building frame drums and my client’s interest in Wicca and Paganism, but neither magic, nor this discussion in general, need to be restricted to Wiccan, Occult, or Pagan practices exclusively. Magic in the broad context of how it can influence and inspire creative, ritual, or sonically functional practices can fall under the umbrella of Shamanism, Satanism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Voodoo/Vodun, Taoism, Shintoism, Druidism, or any area of perceived magic (even fictional or self-constructed belief systems). Magic in the context of being a highly valued concept and concern makes magic (using any definition) relevant and a vehicle for better understanding the complex relationships between creative production and cultural, religious, and/or social values and belief systems. Drums and magic (using this broad definition) simply form an excellent, clear example of this dialectic network.</p> <p>Music and magic are inexorably linked together (Godwin; Connor, <em>Sound and Musical</em>). There are numerous accounts, both folkloric and academic, of how sonic qualities such as tempo, timbre, and pitch work in conjunction with hermetic powers, spiritual happenings, and theosophical practices through harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic means (Sharpe). Broad considerations of music and cosmology arise in Blavatsky’s esoteric instructions, functional use of music appears in the heterophonic improvisation supporting shamanic practices of Korean musok (Koudela and Yoo 94), and even the scientific explanations of Kepler link music to astronomy attempting to show the intertwined nature of music, spirituality, and the human soul. Lewis, in <em>Witchcraft Today,</em> cites multiple instances of music in relation to magic practice, from accompanying incantations to ritual dancing, to a long list of contemporary popular and folk music artists performing magic-related and -inspired material.</p> <p>The human body is sometimes used to produce this sonic enhancement or connections (Eason), but musical instruments are also used for a variety of reasons. Drums are often one of those instruments, incorporating the textures, pulses, or simply the sheer volume they can provide. Drumming is an essential part of engaging with <em>Zangbeto</em>, the vodun guardians of Benin (Okunola and Ojo 204); playing <em>damaru</em> (sometimes made from human skulls: Cupchik 34) is a highly valued musical element of Tibetan <em>Chöd</em> magic practices (Cupchik 34); Druidic land healing ceremonies rely on frame drums to open magic channels between the practitioner and the Earth (O’Driscoll); the original function of Czech <em>vozembouchy</em> was to ward off dark energies and provide protection during rituals (Connor, <em>Constructing the Sounds</em> 25); Korean <em>Mudang</em> use drums (and music/noise) to allow deities and spirits to speak through them at <em>Gut</em> ceremonies (Wróblewski); similarly, Tlingit <em>Ixt</em> (shamans) employ frame drums to both represent and conjure the ancestors about whom they are singing (Olsen 212).</p> <p>It probably cannot be said which came first – the intention to use percussion instruments for magical practices, then constructing them accordingly; or making percussion, then deciding these instruments are useful for magical purposes. However, recognising the influence that magic has on drum-making contemporaneously can be informative, unravelling how performance in magic-related contexts and the construction of percussive instruments designed to be used for such purposes, or those selected for their musical or magical properties, highlight a dialectic between drum-making and magic. Musical instruments are made, generally speaking, with a few common intentions in mind (Connor, <em>Constructing Musical</em>), then designed and built with specific performance expectations and functionalities informing the final construction (Connor, <em>Constructing Musical</em>). Frame drums follow this model; therefore, the commissioned drum mentioned above, where the magical element was considered a primary concern for the patron, can assist with outlining the design/maker-player-inspiration/beliefs/practice network that links them together.</p> <p>When starting the dialogue between maker and patron to realise the drum being commissioned, which wood should be used was the initial consideration. They wanted something “powerful” and “meaningful” but did not know what was available or would exactly match their practice interests, so I suggested some wood I had recently been given that thought might suit: a neighbour had a black walnut tree on their property which had been struck by lightning and was no longer considered safe and it was chopped down due to compromised structural integrity. Pieces of it were given to me. After describing this wood, even though all they knew about the properties of the tree was that it had been struck by lightning, the choice to use it was made instantly, citing simply the fact that it was special, had potentially absorbed the element of electricity into the element of wood, and hinting at the notion that “it was meant to be” as the reasons for incorporating the black walnut into the drum. </p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-2.jpg" alt="" width="720" height="406" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 2: Black walnut wood from the tree struck by lightning. (Photo: author)</em></p> <p>Next was the number of sides for the drum. Most frame drums are circles or something similar, so that would count as either one-sided (not a moebius strip, but rather a simple circle) or infinite-sided (if taken as a number of infinitesimally small mini sides). As a maker, I also offered various other ‘barrel-style’ frames including 5-, 7-, 8-, 11-, and 13-sided models, each with their own Lovecraftian or related association (many of these are prime numbers, but in this case, that is irrelevant). The patron chose the 13-sided version of the barrel frame construction. The skin for the drum was not discussed, simply for the reason that options other than goat skin were more difficult to obtain and there was a time frame placed on the order, as the drum was a gift for the patron’s partner. Once the basic elements were set, we chatted about how the drum would be played, given that the performance style and playing technique would heavily inform some of the construction decisions. We also briefly mulled over the desired tone/timbral qualities, and finally the decorative aspects that would wrap up the construction decisions being made, allowing me to move forward and realise the project in accordance with the commission parameters.</p> <p>Each of these aspects held multiple considerations, akin to architectural design (Vitruvius; Pelletier), based on a triad of materials to be used, functionality expected, and aesthetics valued by the maker, player, and (in this case) the commissioner. The decisions made are consequential to the final design holistically and are therefore important, but of greater concern for this discussion is what informed these decisions and why. Effectively, only six decisions were made; each one was or would have been influenced by magic, affecting almost all aspects of the construction in some manner.</p> <p>With regards to the first decision on wood type, the black walnut was chosen, but not for its density which would have slightly increased the drum’s sustain, its availability (abundant), or discouraged for the fact that black walnut is heavy, and therefore, depending on the primary performance technique expected, the wood may have repercussions due to its sheer weight. Instead, the decision was made based on the one fact that it was struck by lightning. This gave the now-owners a sense of magical injection into the wood, and therefore drum itself. The feeling expressed was that there existed a (great) possibility that the wood, being a primary magical element that represents a connection to the Earth, stability, and the specific properties of the black walnut (Teague), was enhanced by the lightning. Various wand makers suggest that a wood type may have powers it possesses or resonates (Maclir) or links to the magical lore associated with the wood (Beggetta, Gross, and Miller; Theodore). Here, the wood was merged with or infused with another magical element, lightning, sometimes considered representative of power, energy, or brightness/purity (Teague). Whether or not these qualities were something that the patron was seeking or simply a bonus is irrelevant; the fact that the tree had been struck with lightning translated to a specific decision based on magic-related traits valued by the commissioner.</p> <p>The number of sides was actually suggested by me; however, to be clear, the final decision was confirmed by the patron. I offered the 13-sided barrel frame construction as a consideration based on the fact that I already offered these as part of my regular frame drum options, inspired by Lovecraftian horror narratives that include references to the number thirteen, the most recurring being “the thirteen gates of the Necronomicon” found in cosmic horror stories (Levenda; Tyson 13-21, 385-402). To be clear, although Lovecraft, Paganism, and magic are more than simply aligned (Price), Lovecraftian horror often implies magical practice diegetically, but the reader typically discovers the perceived magical elements to be something supranatural rather than supernatural, thus magic becomes explainable science, at least exegetically (Littmann). The number 13 still has relevance in the stories, where it shows up, which is why I often used the number 13 in my drum designs. However, it was another association of a 13-sided drum that aligned with the interests of the patron. In Pagan calendars, there are thirteen full moons per year—the final one serving as the mark of harvest and the new year celebrated during Samhain (Wittington). Acoustically speaking, 13 sides change the drum’s timbre (as compared to a circular frame), slightly reducing the midrange, and increasing some higher-end frequencies, but the acoustics of the instrument were of seemingly lower importance than the magical associations the 13 sides provided. For a Wiccan or Pagan, this choice of a number of sides was one of two that probably would not be ignored (the other being a 5-sided option).</p> <p>Playing techniques expected to be used are often a primary consideration for making instruments in my personal experience, both during my time as a frame drum maker and during my internship with a drum builder in Germany as part of my PhD research. The playing techniques expected during creative/expressive performance definitely informed the construction of the drum, but magical expectations, meaning how the drum was expected to be played during magic-related practices, were also a consideration for the expected playing technique. Factors like playing with hands only, using a beater or stick only, a combination of the two, use of finger rolls, beater position (i.e. upright like a bodhran tipper, sideways like a shaman drum, or above like a trap set or pow-wow drum), and position of the drum itself (i.e. upright holding it from underneath, resting it on the player’s knee, held between the player’s legs while seated, or being held by handle) were discussed. How the drum is going to be played for a performance partially depends on the expectation of the drum’s function musically—is the player going to stand on stage, sit in a recording studio, or participate in a ritual, for instance. In this case, there was an expectation of all three, but given the nature of the commission, that being a patron commissioning the drum as a gift for her partner as a romantic and magic-based token of affection with added functionality, the magic-related expectation became the principal influence on her decisions. In the end, the patron opted to incorporate all the possibilities for performance techniques, giving her partner the most flexibility. This decision provided her partner with the capability to participate in ritual activities easily as well as giving him ergonomically sound means to perform (creatively) with the drum in a recording or live setting.</p> <p>The tonal qualities of the drum were already partially decided, but one other important point was also discussed: one influenced by magic considerations. The leading edge of the drum (where the rim of the frame interacts with the skin stretched over the top of it) has several possible ways to be designed. For my drums, I offered two options that can be considered what equates to more or less the two timbral extremes: a flat leading edge similar to a typical shaman drum or bodhran, or a timpani-style leading edge that has a curved, quarter-circular rounded edge with a very small ledge underneath that. The flat edge makes the drum respond with an even set of frequencies when struck in the centre of the skin and often has a shorter sustain to the sound produced in comparison to a drum with a rounded or pointed edge (Crosby). The timpani-style edge gives an emphasis on lower frequencies, often complementing those with a highlight of high frequencies (giving the aural illusion of fewer midrange tones) and adds a fairly long sustain to the sound created (Crosby). For a creative performance-only commission, the decision would be almost entirely timbral, but for this patron, a consideration of ritual practices and magical context came into play: the lower tone expected to be provided by the timpani leading edge, combined with the longer sustain aligned with the patron’s sensibilities of how the human body may respond to those tonal qualities. Furthermore, the sheer volume was taken into account, as the loudness perceived when playing a lower-pitched drum with a greater sustain can assist with awakening spirits or deities as seen by a practitioner of Paganism (Gustafson), thereby making the timpani leading edge the appropriate choice for the commissioned drum.</p> <p>Visual aspects of drum construction are often almost purely aesthetic. This, however, does not exclude them from being an integral part of the drum’s construction, and in fact, they may be the initial factor to which a player or audience member reacts when first interacting with the drum. The commissioned drum already holds some aesthetic distinction, given its shape and the material choices made. Beyond that, some other visual aspects were notably influenced by the drum's expected magical association. The black walnut being used had a greyish tint to it in an unfinished state, but the suggestion I made was to finish the wood, oiling the frame instead of staining it, giving it a more or less natural finish, but much darker in hue. As far as I can tell, that was entirely a personal taste choice and not based on anything magic-related, but the other visual choices, both decorative, were definitively inspired by Pagan or Wiccan beliefs. The outside of the frame was requested to be wood burned with designs that included various sigils and markings meaningful to the patron and her partner. The sigils have a direct relationship to magic, and it was/is expected that when the drum is played, the decorations would “speak to the universe,” emanating their messages through any given ritual or performance (akin to Tibetan <em>lungta</em> or wind horse flags; Adalakanzhu 13). The specific meaning of the sigils is being redacted on purpose due to the private nature of their meaning; let it suffice to say that they are simultaneously magical and romantic in nature, binding the couple in various ways. Parallel to the wood burning on the side and bottom of the drum was a design made from henna on the front of the skin. The design also presented sigil and sigil-like elements alongside magic or fantastical artwork serving as a sort of cultural flag that the instrument was not only an instrument of sound creation but also one of magical practice (see figure 3).</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-3.jpg" alt="" width="404" height="508" /></p> <p><em>Figure 3: Decoration on the front of the commissioned drum's skin</em></p> <p><em><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-4.jpg" alt="" width="410" height="456" /></em></p> <p><em>Fig. 4: Wood-burning decorations on the bottom edge of the commissioned drum</em></p> <p>This commissioned drum is not the only example of relationships between an instrument’s construction and the belief system upheld by the maker, player, and/or audience of the music made with it. Another drum I made recently was for a graduate student who obtained his master’s degree from my current university: as a congratulations gift, I built a drum for him. Upon his request, the drum was 11-sided, which aligned with some of the student’s Buddhist beliefs and practices, and also incorporated all expected playing techniques into the construction, with mainly shamanic and meditative performances in mind (see figure 5).</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-5.jpg" alt="" width="678" height="1008" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 5: 11-sided drum built for a graduate student who is also a practicing Buddhist</em></p> <p>Another example is a 5-sided drum I created for a professional musician performing in a Neo-medievalist band with very strong Gothic and Pagan influences and aesthetics. The shape of the drum was selected for both its timbral qualities and the relation to Lovecraft and the occult, specifically a pentagram reference being made indirectly and directly (in the form of a Necronomicon symbol emblazoned on the goat-skin head; see figure 6).</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-6.jpg" alt="" width="440" height="390" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 6: 5-sided drum in progress (finished in 2017)</em></p> <p><em><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-7.jpg" alt="" width="681" height="825" /></em></p> <p><em>Fig. 7: A commissioned 5-sided, Lovecraft and magic-inspired drum. (Note: this is not the drum mentioned above, but a different commission with similar traits)</em></p> <p>Another 13-sided drum that was also commissioned to be a prize for a contest that was Pagan and Lovecraft-related, was also decorated with a large Necronomicon symbol and other rune and rune-like sigil images (see figure 8).</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-8.jpg" alt="" width="629" height="733" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 8: Lovecraft-inspired drum for competition prize</em></p> <p>Even the 7-sided drum I offered had a belief system inspiration: my aunt who wanted to learn to play the bodhran, and wanted a style that showed off her religious faith, commissioned a 7-sided drum as a Christian-based frame that was just as representative of beliefs as the magical or Lovecraftian-inspired frames. In all cases of barrel-style drum frames, especially those with an odd number of sides, the timbre is affected by the overall shape and ways in which the membrane vibrates, creating a series of interference patterns that often highlight some of the upper frequencies and dampen some of the midrange frequencies simultaneously (an enhancement of the bass comes from the leading edge of the drum, as mentioned above). The point to note here is that the number of sides does slightly have acoustic considerations, but more than the sound, the number of sides has strong semiotic and visual aesthetics (plus some ergonomic factors) that inject social and (sub)cultural values into the drums via their design, which is what makes the number of sides important.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/picture-9.jpg" alt="" width="647" height="751" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 9: 7-sided drum for a Christian patron</em></p> <p>Something to which I have already alluded is the notion that values upheld by the performers, makers, and audience of a community are entangled with both the music involved and the musical instruments played and their construction. Concepts of circles can represent reincarnation, protection, cycles of celestial bodies, or notions of regeneration, and translate to frame shape or ensemble performance configurations. Drum shapes as well as skin types can influence sonic qualities that in turn evoke magical properties or specific deities/demons. Beliefs can fuel trance-inducing rhythmic patterns played until an ecstatic state is achieved by the practitioner, which practically requires consideration for performance techniques employed, and therefore instrument design. Widening the lens that focusses on the relation between drum-building and magic practices, an undertaking of any creative or design endeavour comes to light in which a level of agency decides expected functionality, materials, and aesthetics. Examining how the makers, operators, and community members involved develop the network between themselves and what they produce can highlight the perception, value, and ways in which they incorporate the world around them physically and philosophically.</p> <h2>Acknowledgment</h2> <p>Unless otherwise noted, all photographs by the author.</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Adalakanzhu, Ella. “The Wind Horse Flag.” <em>Skipping Stones</em> 14.1, (2002): 13.</p> <p>Beggetta, Albert, Barry Gross, and James Miller.<em> Compendium of Wooden Wand Making Techniques</em>. Fox Chapel, 2021.</p> <p>Blavatsky, H.P. <em>Esoteric Papers: A Comprehensive Compilation of H.P. Blavatsky’s Esoteric Papers Compiled by Daniel H. Caldwell</em>. Kessinger Publishing, 2005.</p> <p>Connor, William K. “Sound and Musical Instruments in Paganism.” <em>Wyldspirit</em> (Winter 2015-16): 32-35.</p> <p>Connor, William K. “Constructing the Sounds of Devils: Diabolical Interactions between Culture, History, and the Construction of the Czech Vozembouch.” <em>Ziva Hudba (Folk Music)</em> 8 (2017): 12-41.</p> <p>Connor, William K. <em>Constructing Musical Associations through Instruments: The Role of the Instrument Maker in the Maker-Instrument-Player Network within the Neo-Medievalist Gothic Music Scene.</em> Ph.D. dissertation. Royal Holloway University of London, 2011.</p> <p>Crosby, Andy (Guru Drums). Video conversation, 2017.</p> <p>Cupchik, Jeffery W. “Buddhism as Performing Art: Visualizing Music in the Tibetan Sacred Ritual Music Liturgies.” <em>Yale Journal of Music and Religion</em> 1.1 (2015): 31-62.</p> <p>Eason, Cassandra. <em>A Practical Guide to Witchcraft and Magick Spells</em>. Foulsham, 2001.</p> <p>Godwin, Joscelyn. <em>Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde</em>. Inner Traditions, 1995.</p> <p>Gustafson, Katrina. <em>How to Communicate with Your Ancestors</em>. 2020. 2 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.gaia.com/article/how-to-communicate-with-your-ancestors">https://www.gaia.com/article/how-to-communicate-with-your-ancestors</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Kepler, Johannes. <em>Harmonies of the World</em>. Global Grey, 2017.</p> <p>Koudela, Pál, and Jinil Yoo. “Music and Musicians in Kut, the Korean Shamanic Ritual.” <em>Revista de Etnografie şi Folclor (Journal of Ethnography and Folklore)</em> 1.2 (2016): 87-106.</p> <p>Levenda, Peter (Simon). <em>The Complete Simon Necronomicon</em>. Harper-Collins, 1980.</p> <p>Lewis, James R. <em>Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions</em>. ABC-CLIO, 1999.</p> <p>Littmann, Greg. “H.P. Lovecraft’s Philosophy of Science-Fiction Horror.” <em>2018 Science Fiction Popular Culture Academic Conference Proceedings</em>, Hawai'i, 13-16 Sep. 2018. Eds. Timothy F. Slater and Carrie J. Cole. Create Space Independent, 2018. 93-108.</p> <p>Maclir, Alferian Gwydion. <em>Wandlore: The Art of Crafting the Ultimate Magical Tool</em>. Llewellyn, 2012.</p> <p>O’Driscoll, Dana. <em>Land Healing: Ritual for Putting the Land to Sleep. </em>2022. 2 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://thedruidsgarden.com/2020/02/23/land-healing-ritual-for-putting-the-land-to-sleep/">https://thedruidsgarden.com/2020/02/23/land-healing-ritual-for-putting-the-land-to-sleep/</a><em>&gt;.</em></p> <p>Okunola, Rashidi Akanji, and Matthais Olufemi Dada Ojo. “Zangbeto: The Traditional Way of Policing and Securing the Community among the Ogu (Egun) People in Badagry, Nigeria.” <em>Etnoantropološki Problemi</em> 8.1 (2016): 204.</p> <p>Olson, Ronald L. “Tlingit Shamanism and Sorcery.” <em>Anthropological Society Papers</em> 25 (1961): 207-220.</p> <p>Pelletier, Louise. <em>Architecture in Words: Theatre, Language, and the Sensuous Space of Architecture.</em> Routledge, 2006.</p> <p>Price, Robert M. <em>Black Forbidden Things</em>. Starmont House, 1992.</p> <p>Robbins, Shawn, and Leanna Greenaway. <em>Wiccapedia: A Modern-Day White Witch’s Guide</em>. Sterling Ethos, 2011.</p> <p>Sharpe, Eric J. “Music.” In <em>Man, Myth, and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion, and the Unknown</em>. Marshall Cavendish, 1995.</p> <p>Teague, Gypsey Elaine. <em>The Witch’s Guide to Wands: A Complete Botanical, Magical, and Elemental Guide to Making, Choosing, and Using the Right Wand</em>. Weiser Books, 2015.</p> <p>Theodore, K.P. <em>Wandlore: A Guide for the Apprentice Wandmaker</em>. Erebus Society, 2015.</p> <p>Tyson, Donald. <em>13 Gates of the Necronomicon: A Workbook of Magic</em>. Llewellyn, 2010.</p> <p>Vitruvius. <em>The Ten Books on Architecture</em>. Harvard UP, 2006.</p> <p>Wittington, Patti. “Celtic Tree Months.” <em>Learn Religions</em> 2019. 2 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.learnreligions.com/celtic-tree-months-2562403">https://www.learnreligions.com/celtic-tree-months-2562403</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Wróblewski, Dominik. “Korean Shamanism – the Religion of Harmony in Contemporary Korea.” <em>Acta Asiatica Varsoviensia</em> 30 (2017).</p> Will Connor Copyright (c) 2023 Will Connor http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3006 Music as Magic https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2998 <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>Music scholarship across genres is often concerned with music's metaphysical and ephemeral effects on individuals, communities, and society. These scholarly framings constitute a concept that we refer to here as “the magic of music”. Using this framing, this article addresses the ways that the magic is undermined by a range of worldly, non-magical realities, using the case study of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and their devastating effects on the previously thriving live music industry in Naarm/Melbourne, Australia. The magic of music includes such aspects as the intangible sounds of music, the mysterious practice of creative music-making, and the transformative effects on audiences and others who participate in music culture. We begin with a broad discussion of the sonic properties of music as a form of magic—a common rhetoric that has been used across the world regardless of genre or cultural origin. Next, we turn to the social contexts surrounding music, such as live music settings. De Jong and Lebrun argue that “the power of music” can create “moments of rare, intense and direct interactions between individuals” that are often described as magical, and that “magic is, in this sense, understood as a perfectly natural and plausible, and not supernatural, experience, even if its intensity and rarity in one's life makes it extra-ordinary” (4). We use this framing of “music as magic” in our consideration of the specific context of Australia’s music industry from 2020 to the present. We posit that the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside government-sanctioned lockdowns, cultural shifts such as an increased focus on poor working conditions and risk in music work, and detrimental arts funding policies worked together to effectively break the spell of “music as magic” for industry and patrons. Finally, we draw on key examples from popular music studies, industry reports and new government policies, to call attention to recent proposals to rehabilitate the magic through a re-enchantment of music and the music industry.</p> <h1>Feels like Magic: The Social Context of Music</h1> <p>Music is a form of organised sound and silence that people across cultures, history, and places, have articulated as possessing magical properties (Nettl). Music is not only sound waves but also a social category, thus the notion of magic extends beyond sound into everyday discourse in the social realm of music, which will be the focus of this article. Audiences/listeners may describe their own response to music as a magical feeling, stemming from the performer’s ability to convey emotion and provide a performance that “mirrors the performer’s [own] deep connection to the music” (Loeffler 19). Such ‘magical moments’ of deep connection among audience members and between audiences and performers may be elicited in various ways. Examples include the sense of emotional self-recognition found via personal lyrics, resonance with unique vocal timbres, or the shared sense of belonging that develops with fellow audience members, including strangers, during musical events (Anderson). For the latter, the magic (or “magick”, a spelling associated with stagecraft) of ritualised music performance is a common element of Paganism in music performance, with some popular music artists implicitly “appropriat[ing] the Pagan subculture's symbols for artistic inspiration and commercial gain”, presenting themselves as contemporary conduits that reconnect audiences to old magics (Sweeney Smith 91; see also Weston). When it comes to these sorts of ideas about magic and music, performers and audiences routinely make claims about magical musical powers such as “talent”, an idea deployed to describe the skills and charisma of certain musicians, and “creativity”, a “magic ingredient” (see McRobbie) that people who write or produce music are supposed to possess in order to perform their craft (Gadir 61–4; Gross and Musgrave 10, 22; see also Nairn).</p> <p>Music of all forms can provide profound affective experiences, regardless of how it is made and who plays it. There is also a magical discourse present in popular music that has reached millions of people in a globalised musical world dominated by recordings. For as long as music has had a mass market, its magic properties (as articulated in multiple ways across history) have been a selling point for musicians, records, and concerts. The recorded music industry’s very selection process is rooted in the idea that “creativity is based on ‘little bits of magic’ and that success is down to luck and timing” (Gross and Musgrave 140). Music writing (scholarly, criticism, journalism) tends to focus on these magical properties: from the sublime nature of a musical work and its form to the phenomenology of sound and affective experience of music, and even the inexplicable, elusive ‘talent’ of particular musicians. Jimi Hendrix labelled his music work “completely, utterly a magic science” (Clarke 195), while Joni Mitchell “consistently referred to Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, and Jaco Pastorius as ‘magicians’ and ‘shamans,’ thereby conferring a susceptibility to the miraculous upon the musicians she most respected” (Lloyd 124). As we show below, this conflation of magical and religious concepts is evident elsewhere in discourse on the intangibility of musical talent.</p> <p>Some genres of music have emphasised the idea of music as magic more than others. For example, scholarship on electronic dance music (EDM) has embraced the concept of “DJ as shaman” (Brewster and Broughton 19; Luckman 133; Rietveld “Introduction” 1; Rietveld <em>This Is Our House</em>) and the nightclub as a “pseudo-religious pilgrimage site” (Becker and Woebs 59), extending Benjamin’s argument for art’s origins in service of ritual (24). Miller has further alluded to a mystical DJ craft, both as a performer quoted in music media (Gallagher) and in his own academic writing: “gimme two records and I’ll make you a universe” (DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid 127; Miller 497). Shamanism is also explored in rock music discourse (see Kennedy 81–90). Notions of musical magic extend beyond performances and personalities into the recording studio. Music mastering is commonly labelled a “dark art” (Hepworth-Sawyer and Golding 241; Hinksman 13; Nardi 211), and the music studio as a site where magic is made (Anthony 43, 194). <em>Rolling Stone</em> magazine has even deployed a recurrent editorial phrase—“the magic that can set you free”—to distinguish the authenticity of rock from pop music (Frith 164–5).</p> <p>We argue that two key ruptures of the last few years—namely, widespread lockdown policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and emerging discussions on poor working conditions and harms in the music industries—have had the effect of breaking the magic spell of music. There has been a groundswell of musicians, commentators, and scholars pausing to query (and in some cases overturn entirely) some of the illusions that the music industry constructs around musicians. We use the city of Naarm/Melbourne in Australia to draw out some of these trends.</p> <h1>When the Magic Dies: Breaking the Spell of the Music Industry</h1> <p>The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in lengthy lockdowns in the city of Naarm/Melbourne. In total, over a two-year period, the city spent 262 days in home confinement under strict orders from the government, with limited travel and no access to the usual amenities of the city, including all public in-person entertainment (Jose). This had a profound effect on the state’s musicians and the music industries that service them. It completely closed the city’s music venues for an extended period, driving musicians into alternative, virtual modes of performance (Vincent) and driving other music workers into non-music-related employment. For a city often touted as “the live music capital of Australia” (see Homan et al.), the lockdowns effectively broke the spell of music as a key employer and as a driver of arts practice and social experience in Melbourne. Quite suddenly, the lockdown periods revealed the precarious lives of musicians away from the stage. Once stripped of the “magical” quality of live performance, musicians’ work and practice appeared both more complex and more routine.</p> <p>The COVID-19 pandemic broke the spell of music that takes place in social settings. At the start of 2020, live music was one of the first activities to be banned. Live music relies on people being near one another, often in enclosed spaces. It often involves people on stage and in the crowd singing, an activity identified early in the pandemic as an effective method of spreading the virus. These attributes, together with its status as “entertainment” rather than as an essential activity, meant that live music gatherings became entirely illegal (Strong and Cannizzo). Even as lockdowns were lifted, live music was one of the last activities to be reinstated, albeit with access restricted in various ways.</p> <p>People continued to engage with music via other means, for example, through virtual live-streamed performances and platform-based audio streaming. Globally, there was an increase in people listening to older, nostalgic music (Yeung)—an indicator that music was still being used for its magical self-soothing capacities, alleviating the worst pandemic anxieties. However, the closure of the Victorian live music sector drew attention to the material conditions of music making in new ways (“Losses Continue”). Many musicians and music workers could not take advantage of government schemes to support workers who had lost their income during the pandemic (Triscari). This highlighted what was already known to music industry workers: that their work was insecure. It also revealed the contradictions within government music policies: on the one hand, music’s utility for city branding, on the other, little regard for what support and resources are required for it to take place.</p> <p>As more and more musicians used the pandemic to draw attention to their already existing labour conditions, the precarious and mundane aspects of music-making became foregrounded in broader discussions (see Strong and Cannizzo). These included the overall degree to which musicians are exploited (see Nairn), whether musicians can earn a living wage, pay their rent, or receive other workplace benefits including safe working environments. These problems exist in stark contrast to the historically mythologised portrayals of musicians as concerned about their art and Dionysian social experience above all else, regardless of their physical or material conditions.</p> <p>In reality, live music work has always included mundane activities and routine labour. The historical mythology of the “star”, regardless of genre, tends to depict the lives of performers as exotic and removed from everyday life. In this sense, performers are perceived as magical as much as the music they make. The everyday world, within this mythology, is something akin to “a fearful, life-threatening condition that could ensnare you in its grasp … as relentless routine and the marker of social distinction” (Highmore 16). Audiences tend to view musicians as committed to alternative ways of being, and music performance as an escape from the everyday, wherein work becomes interchangeable with leisure and touring provides a nomadic lifestyle. However, in recent years, popular music studies research, together with musicians, fans, and media, have called these ideas into question.</p> <p>A career in live music performance appears to offer no escape from responsibility—something at the heart of fearful representations of everyday life. Inside of a music practice, new responsibilities emerge. Leisure becomes labour with all its attendance downsides. Close-knit familial-style relationships are formed, often based on financial and creative partnerships, including the risk of gender-based abuse that exists within such relationships (Fileborn et al.). The nomadic life of a performer involves its own cramped and confining aspects (a life of group transit and service entrances). This combines with an already in-progress push towards making the vicissitudes of this work more visible—afforded by social media, cultural formations such as #MeToo, and a significant upswing in research showing the harms of music work (Gross and Musgrave; Strong and Cannizzo)—to significantly undermine the myth of live music’s magical properties. In Naarm/Melbourne, prior to the pandemic, this myth was brittle. After years of lockdown, it arguably shattered.</p> <p>The emotional devastation wrought by an abrupt and almost complete cessation of live music activities also had flow-on effects on recorded music. For example, it prevented activities such as tours that support album releases, recording sessions, or rehearsing new musical material. Already existing mental health issues in the music industry were highlighted and amplified by these circumstances (Brunt and Nelligan). Together with the aforementioned financial disadvantage experienced by musicians, research had already shown for years before the pandemic that mental health was poor in this sector (Gross and Musgrave). Such mental health issues are due in part to the relationship between music work and conceptions of self and identity, where success or failure are felt as intensely personal (a by-product of the idea that music possesses magical qualities). Mental health problems are also associated with exclusion, bullying and harassment, which are not only widespread but have been normalised and even celebrated for decades. Pre-existing pressures such as these were exacerbated dramatically by the pandemic lockdowns, which spurred on further discussions about them (Strong and Cannizzo).</p> <p>During the pandemic, the magic of music had been disrupted in several ways: the ability of music to connect people to one another in live settings had been curtailed or removed, and the narratives of the creation of music being magical had been replaced with a vision of mundanity, hardship, and underappreciation. If the magic did not set musicians or music workers free, why should they return to long working hours for little pay in an industry that was frequently unsafe and that left them feeling bad—especially when they discovered that when the chips were down, they would be left out of the support offered to others?</p> <h1><strong>Re-Enchanting Music: Conjuring a Different Kind of Magic</strong></h1> <p>Weber used the term “enchantment” as a means of explaining the magic within worldly (empirical) phenomena. By contrast, he argued that disenchantment was the removal of magical experience from the real world and that this was the result of replacing the “supernatural” exclusively with rationality and calculation (Koshul 9). The easing of lockdown conditions heralded what we call here the “re-enchantment” of the music industry. An industry that is re-enchanted refers to a world which is “susceptible again to redemption” and is “reimbued not only with mystery and wonder but also with order [and] purpose” (Landy and Slalor 2). During the early post-lockdown period, the aim of government, patrons, and the entertainment industry was to rekindle the pre-COVID levels of audience engagement with live music. Audiences themselves were eager to return to live music and were prepared to spend money on concert tickets and music festivals, according to findings from the Australia Council’s Audience Outlook Monitor (Patternmakers). However, this report also showed that restrictions, fears of further outbreaks, and lockdowns were still looming in the minds of audiences and event organisers. This was compounded by a lack of investment in the creative industries broadly by the Australian Federal government during lockdowns and a staggered reopening, particularly in the state of Victoria, where lockdowns continued well into 2021. The road back to ‘normality’ would require putting audiences, industry, and, indeed, the government, back under the spell of music.</p> <p>Reaffirming the idea that music has a fundamental value in society and culture was the first step. The election of a federal Labor government in 2022 started this process, after a decade of conservative Liberal leadership that had actively worked to devalue and defund the arts. The new government quickly launched a consultation process around the arts in Australia, and launched the resulting policy, titled <em>Revive: Australia's Cultural Policy for the Next Five Years</em>, in mid-2023. This policy not only reaffirmed the central place of the arts, including music, in Australia's social life, but went further than any previous government in acknowledging some of the disenchantment in the industry. They committed to establishing <em>Music Australia</em> (Creative Australia) as a body dedicated to ensuring the prominence of music in arts activities, and the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces, a body that would, among other things, deal with complaints around workplace misconduct of various types. This later body was created partly in response to the <em>Raising Their Voices</em> report documenting widespread bullying and sexual harassment in music spaces.</p> <p>In addition to this, Australian state governments implemented various measures to encourage the re-normalisation of concert attendance. For example, the Victorian State Government’s <em>Always Live</em> funded programme was launched with a regional, one-off gig by the Foo Fighters. Initiatives such as these on the state and federal level served to bolster the struggling industry. An initially slow return to live shows, followed by a spate of visually spectacular, large-scale, sold-out shows by Harry Styles and Taylor Swift, indicate a return to a form of ‘business as usual’ for top-tier international touring artists.</p> <p>Although top-down policy can send a message that music work is valued, much of the ‘magic’ of music is created by communities and within grassroots spaces. In Naarm/Melbourne, the announcement that the iconic live music venue the Tote Hotel was being put up for sale has provided a flashpoint moment. The venue’s current owners have become emblematic of the problems in the industry, reportedly failing to provide proper benefits to their staff over a long period (Marozzi). The owners of the Last Chance Rock and Roll Bar have since announced a fundraiser for three million dollars to buy the Tote, which they have framed in terms of protecting the value of music to the Naarm/Melbourne community. The owners promised to not only protect music-making on the site but also to “leave the Tote to the bands and future generations for the rest of time” by “putting the building into a trust that will legally protect the Tote from being anything other than a Live Music Venue” (“Last Chance to Save the Tote”). References to the (dark) magic of this situation is visible in the designs for the t-shirts given out for contributors to the funding campaign: two zombies crawling from the grave of the Tote, beers in hand, ready to keep on rockin’. The zombies are indicative of a venue risen from the dead through the Naarm/Melbourne music community’s magical effort. The response of the public and commentators that have followed the achievement of this fundraising goal is akin to the wonderment of an audience seeing a magician perform an impressive trick. Notably, the community-led and community-focussed approach of the Tote draws on the magic of connection built around music scenes, not only corporate interests. This includes exploring how venues can be owned by the communities that use them (Wray), schemes that provide artists with a universal basic income (Caust), and “safer spaces” strategies that work to increase the accessibility of music for everyone (Hill et al.).</p> <h1>Conclusion</h1> <p>In this article, we have outlined the ways that Naarm/Melbourne, which has been celebrated as one of the world’s best live music cities, temporarily lost the magical allure of its musical life in the eyes of many, and subsequently started to regain it through a fragile process of rejuvenation. Traces of ideas about live music’s ineffable magic can clearly be found in recovery stories that now circulate. Moreover, such stories are articulated against a backdrop of new mythologies forming around the city’s music branding and practice. The especially long pandemic lockdown period in Naarm/Melbourne has brought into sharper focus the hard realities of music-making and performance—as labour, local culture, and policy. The post-COVID city is now tasked with selectively rebuilding itself as a music city, unifying the magical potency of the old with a more clear-eyed, unromantic analysis of the present.</p> <h2>References</h2> <p>Anderson, Benedict. <em>Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.</em> London: Verso, 1991 [1983].</p> <p>Anthony, Brendan. <em>Music Production Cultures: Perspectives on Popular Music Pedagogy in Higher Education.</em> Milton: Taylor and Francis, 2022.</p> <p>Australian Government. <em>Revive: Australia's Cultural Policy for the Next Five Years</em>. 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C. Partridge and M. Moberg. London: Bloomsbury, 2017. 184–197.</p> <p>Wray, Daniel. “‘We Don’t Want Money Going to Private Landlords’: UK Music Venues Turn to Community Ownership.” <em>The Guardian</em> 20 July 2022. &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/jul/20/we-dont-want-money-going-to-private-landlords-uk-music-venues-turn-to-community-ownership">https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/jul/20/we-dont-want-money-going-to-private-landlords-uk-music-venues-turn-to-community-ownership</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Yeung, Timothy Yu-Cheong. “Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Trigger Nostalgia? Evidence of Music Consumption on Spotify.” <em>COVID Economics, </em>25 Aug. 2020. 14 Sep. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://cepr.org/node/390595">https://cepr.org/node/390595</a>&gt;.</p> Shelley Brunt Mike Callander Sebastian Diaz-Gasca Tami Gadir Ian Rogers Catherine Strong Copyright (c) 2023 Shelley Brunt, Mike Callander , Sebastian Diaz-Gasca , Tami Gadir , Ian Rogers , Catherine Strong http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2998 Metamodern Spell Casting https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/2999 <blockquote> <p>There are spells in the world: incantations that can transform reality through the power of procedural utterances. The marriage vow, the courtroom sentence, the shaman’s curse: these words are codes that change reality. (Finn 90)</p> </blockquote> <h1>Introduction</h1> <p>As a child, stories on magic were “opportunities to escape from reality” (Brugué and Llompart 1), or what Rosengren and Hickling describe as being part of a set of “causal belief systems” (77). As an adult, magic is typically seen as being “pure fantasy” (Rosengren and Hickling 75), while Bever argues that magic is something lost to time and materialism, and alternatively a skill that Yeats believed that anyone could develop with practice.</p> <p>The etymology of the word magic originates from <em>magein, </em>a Greek word used to describe “the science and religion of the priests of Zoroaster”, or, according to philologist Skeat, from Greek <em>megas </em>(great), thus signifying "the great science” (Melton 956). Not to be confused with sleight of hand or illusion, magic is traditionally associated with learned people, held in high esteem, who use supernatural or unseen forces to cause change in people and affect events. To use magic these people perform rituals and ceremonies associated with religion and spirituality and include people who may identify as Priests, Witches, Magicians, Wiccans, and Druids (Otto and Stausberg).</p> <h1><strong>Magic as Technology and Technology as Magic</strong></h1> <p>Although written accounts of the rituals and ceremonies performed by the Druids are rare, because they followed an oral tradition and didn’t record knowledge in a written form (Aldhouse-Green 19), they are believed to have considered magic as a practical technology to be used for such purposes as repelling enemies and divining lost items.</p> <blockquote> <p>They curse and blight humans and districts, raise storms and fogs, cause glamour and delusion, confer invisibility, inflict thirst and confusion on enemy warriors, transform people into animal shape or into stone, subdue and bind them with incantations, and raise magical barriers to halt attackers. (Hutton 33)</p> </blockquote> <p>Similarly, a common theme in <em>The History of Magic</em> by Chris Gosden is that magic is akin to science or mathematics—something to be utilised as a tool when there is a need, as well as being used to perform important rituals and ceremonies.</p> <p>In<em> TechGnosis: Myth, Magic &amp; Mysticism in the Age of Information</em>, Davis discusses ideas on Technomysticism, and Thacker says that “the history of technology—from hieroglyphics to computer code—is itself inseparable from the often ambiguous exchanges with something nonhuman, something otherworldly, something divine. Technology, it seems, is religion by other means, then as now” (159). Written language, communication, speech, and instruction has always been used to transform the ordinary in people’s lives.</p> <p>In <em>TechGnosis</em>, Davis (32) cites Couliano (104):</p> <blockquote> <p>historians have been wrong in concluding that magic disappeared with the advent of 'quantitative science.’ The latter has simply substituted itself for a part of magic while extending its dreams and its goals by means of technology. Electricity, rapid transport, radio and television, the airplane, and the computer have merely carried into effect the promises first formulated by magic, resulting from the supernatural processes of the magician: to produce light, to move instantaneously from one point in space to another, to communicate with faraway regions of space, to fly through the air, and to have an infallible memory at one’s disposal.</p> </blockquote> <h1>Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)</h1> <p>In early 2021, at the height of the pandemic meta-crisis, blockchain and NFTs became well known (Umar et al. 1) and Crypto Art became the hot new money-making scheme for a small percentage of ‘artists’ and tech-bros alike. The popularity of Crypto Art continued until initial interest waned and Ether (ETH) started disappearing in the manner of a classic disappearing coin magic trick. In short, ETH is a type of cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. NFT is an acronym for Non-Fungible Token. An NFT is “a cryptographic digital asset that can be uniquely identified within its smart contract” (Myers, <em>Proof of Work</em> 316). The word Non-Fungible indicates that this token is unique and therefore cannot be substituted for a similar token. An example of something being fungible is being able to swap coins of the same denomination. The coins are different tokens but can be easily swapped and are worth the same as each other. Hackl, Lueth, and Bartolo define an NFT as “a digital asset that is unique and singular, backed by blockchain technology to ensure authenticity and ownership. An NFT can be bought, sold, traded, or collected” (7).</p> <h1>Blockchain</h1> <p>For the newcomer, blockchain can seem impenetrable and based on a type of esoterica or secret knowledge known only to an initiate of a certain type of programming (Cassino 22). The origins of blockchain can be found in the research article “How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document”, published by the <em>Journal of Cryptology</em> in 1991 by Haber, a cryptographer, and Stornetta, a physicist. They were attempting to answer “epistemological problems of how we trust what we believe to be true in a digital age” (Franceschet 310). Subsequently, in 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote <em>The White Paper</em>, a document that describes the radical idea of Bitcoin or “Magic Internet Money” (Droitcour).</p> <p>As defined by Myers (<em>Proof of Work</em> 314), a blockchain is “a series of blocks of validated transactions, each linked to its predecessor by its cryptographic hash”. They go on to say that “Bitcoin’s innovation was not to produce a blockchain, which is essentially just a Merkle list, it was to produce a blockchain in a securely decentralised way”. In other words, blockchain is essentially a permanent record and secure database of information. The secure and permanent nature of blockchain is comparable to a chapter of the Akashic records: a metaphysical idea described as an infinite database where information on everything that has ever happened is stored. It is a mental plane where information is recorded and immutable for all time (Nash). The information stored in this infinite database is available to people who are familiar with the correct rituals and spells to access this knowledge.</p> <h1>Blockchain Smart Contracts</h1> <p>Blockchain smart contracts are written by a developer and stored on the blockchain. They contain the metadata required to set out the terms of the contract. IBM describes a smart contract as “programs stored on a blockchain that run when predetermined conditions are met”. There are several advantages of using a smart contract. Blockchain is a permanent and transparent record, archived using decentralised peer-to-peer Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). This technology safeguards the security of a decentralised digital database because it eliminates the intermediary and reduces the chance of fraud, gives hackers fewer opportunities to access the information, and increases the stability of the system (Srivastava). They go on to say that “it is an emerging and revolutionary technology that is attracting a lot of public attention due to its capability to reduce risks and fraud in a scalable manner”. Despite being a dry subject, blockchain is frequently associated with magic. One example is Faustino, Maria, and Marques describing a “quasi-religious romanticism of the crypto-community towards blockchain technologies” (67), with Satoshi represented as King Arthur.</p> <p>The set of instructions that make up the blockchain smart contracts and NFTs tell the program, database, or computer what needs to happen. These instructions are similar to a recipe or spell. This “sourcery” is what Chun (19) describes when talking about the technological magic that mere mortals are unable to comprehend. “We believe in the power of code as a set of magical symbols linking the invisible and visible, echoing our long cultural tradition of logos, or language as an underlying system of order and reason, and its power as a kind of sourcery” (Finn 714).</p> <h1>NFTs as a Conceptual Medium</h1> <p>In a “massively distributed electronic ritual” (Myers, <em>Proof of Work</em> 100), NFTs became better-known with the sale of Beeple’s <em>Everydays: The First 5000 Days</em> by Christie’s for US$69,346,250. Because of the “thousandfold return” (Wang et al. 1) on the rapidly expanding market in October 2021, most people at that time viewed NFTs and cryptocurrencies as the latest cash cow; some artists saw them as a method to become financially independent, cut out the gallery intermediary, and be compensated on resales (Belk 5). In addition to the financial considerations, a small number of artists saw the conceptual potential of NFTs.</p> <p>Rhea Myers, a conceptual artist, has been using the blockchain as a conceptual medium for over 10 years. Myers describes themselves as “an artist, hacker and writer” (Myers, <em>Bio</em>). A recent work by Myers, titled <em>Is Art (Token)</em>, made in 2023 as an Ethereum ERC-721 Token (NFT), is made using a digital image with text that says “this token is art”. The word ‘is’ is emphasised in a maroon colour that differentiates it from the rest in dark grey. The following is the didactic for the artwork.</p> <blockquote> <p style="margin: 0cm;">Own the creative power of a crypto artist.</p> <p style="margin: 0cm;">Is Art (Token) takes the artist’s power of nomination, of naming something as art, and delegates it to the artwork’s owner. Their assertion of its art or non-art status is secured and guaranteed by the power of the blockchain. Based on a common and understandable misunderstanding of how Is Art (2014) works, this is the first in a series of editions that inscribe ongoing and contemporary concerns onto this exemplar of a past or perhaps not yet realized blockchain artworld. (Myers, is art editions).</p> </blockquote> <p>This is a simple example of their work. A lot of Myers’s work appears to be uncomplicated but hides subtle levels of sophistication that use all the tools available to conceptual artists by questioning the notion of what art is—a hallmark of conceptual art (Goldie and Schellekens 22). Sol LeWitt, in <em>Paragraphs on Conceptual Art</em>, was the first to use the term, and described it by saying “the idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product”. According to Bailey, the most influential American conceptual artists of the 1960s were Lucy Lippard, Sol LeWitt, and Joseph Kosuth, “despite deriving from radically diverse insights about the reason for calling it ‘Conceptual Art’” (8).</p> <h1>Instruction-Based Art</h1> <p>Artist Claudia Hart employs the instructions used to create an NFT as a medium and artwork in Digital Combines, a new genre the artist has proposed, that joins physical, digital, and virtual media together. The NFT, in a digital combine, functions as a type of glue that holds different elements of the work together. New media rely on digital technology to communicate with the viewer. Digital combines take this one step further—the media are held together by an invisible instruction linked to the object or installation with a QR code that magically takes the viewer to the NFT via a “portal to the cloud” (Hart, <em>Digital Combine Paintings</em>).</p> <p>QR codes are something we all became familiar with during the on-and-off lockdown phase of the pandemic (Morrison et al. 1). Denso Wave Inc., the inventor of the Quick Response Code or QR Code, describes them as being a scannable graphic that is “capable of handling several dozen to several hundred times more information than a conventional bar code that can only store up to 20 digits”. QR Codes were made available to the public in 1994, are easily detected by readers at nearly any size, and can be reconfigured to fit a variety of different shapes. A “QR Code is capable of handling all types of data, such as numeric and alphabetic characters, Kanji, Kana, Hiragana, symbols, binary, and control codes. Up to 7,089 characters can be encoded in one symbol” (Denso Wave).</p> <p>Similar to ideas used by the American conceptual artists of the 1960s, QR codes and NFTs are used in digital combines as conceptual tools. Analogous to Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, the instruction is the medium and part of the artwork. An example of a Wall Drawing made by Sol LeWitt is as follows:</p> <blockquote> <p><em>Wall Drawing 11</em><em><br /></em>A wall divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts. Within each part, three of the four kinds of lines are superimposed.<br />(Sol LeWitt, May 1969; <em>MASS MoCA</em>, 2023)</p> </blockquote> <p>The act or intention of using an NFT as a medium in art-making transforms it from being solely a financial contract, which NFTs are widely known for, to an artistic medium or a standalone artwork.</p> <p>The interdisciplinary artist Sue Beyer uses Machine Learning and NFTs as conceptual media in her digital combines. Beyer’s use of machine learning corresponds to the automatic writing that André Breton and Philippe Soupault of the Surrealists were exploring from 1918 to 1924 when they wrote <em>Les Champs Magnétiques (Magnetic Fields)</em> (Bohn 7). Automatic writing was popular amongst the spiritualist movement that evolved from the 1840s to the early 1900s in Europe and the United States (Gosden 399). Michael Riffaterre (221; in Bohn 8) talks about how automatic writing differs from ordinary texts. Automatic writing takes a “total departure from logic, temporality, and referentiality”, in addition to violating “the rules of verisimilitude and the representation of the real”. Bohn adds that although “normal syntax is respected, they make only limited sense”.</p> <p>An artificial intelligence (AI) hallucination, or what Chintapali (1) describes as “distorted reality”, can be seen in the following paragraph that <em>Deep Story</em> provided after entering the prompt ‘Sue Beyer’ in March 2022. None of these sentences have any basis in truth about the person Sue Beyer from Melbourne, Australia.</p> <blockquote> <p style="margin: 0cm;">Suddenly runs to Jen from the bedroom window, her face smoking, <br />her glasses shattering. Michaels (30) stands on the bed, pale and irritated.</p> <p style="margin: 0cm;"><span style="font-family: 'Noto Sans',sans-serif;">Dear Mister Shut Up!</span></p> <p style="margin: 0cm;"><span style="font-family: 'Noto Sans',sans-serif;">Sue’s loft – later – Sue is on the phone, looking upset. There is a new bruise on her face.</span></p> </blockquote> <p>There is a distinction between AI and machine learning. According to ChatGPT 3.5, “Machine Learning is a subset of AI that focuses on enabling computers to learn and make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed. It involves the development of algorithms and statistical models that allow machines to automatically learn from data, identify patterns, and make informed decisions or predictions”. Using the story generator <em>Deep Story</em>, Beyer uses the element of chance inherent in Machine Learning to create a biography on herself written by the alien other of AI. The paragraphs that <em>Deep Story</em> produces are nonsensical statements and made-up fantasies of what Beyer suspects AI wants the artist to hear. Like a psychic medium or oracle, providing wisdom and advice to a petitioner, the words tumble out of the story generator like a chaotic prediction meant to be deciphered at a later time. This element of chance might be a short-lived occurrence as machine learning is evolving and getting smarter exponentially, the potential of which is becoming very evident just from empirical observation. Something that originated in early modernist science fiction is quickly becoming a reality in our time.</p> <h1>A Metamodern Spell Casting</h1> <p>Metamodernism is an evolving term that emerged from a series of global catastrophes that occurred from the mid-1990s onwards. The term tolerates the concurrent use of ideas that arise in modernism and postmodernism without discord. It uses oppositional aspects or concepts in art-making and other cultural production that form what Dember calls a “complicated feeling” (Dember). These ideas in oscillation allow metamodernism to move beyond these fixed terms and encompass a wide range of cultural tendencies that reflect what is known collectively as a structure of feeling (van den Akker et al.).</p> <p>The oppositional media used in a digital combine oscillate with each other and also form meaning between each other, relating to material and immaterial concepts. These amalgamations place “technology and culture in mutual interrogation to produce new ways of seeing the world as it unfolds around us” (Myers Studio Ltd.). The use of the oppositional aspects of technology and culture indicates that Myers’s work can also be firmly placed within the domain of metamodernism.</p> <p>Advancements in AI over the years since the pandemic are overwhelming. In episode 23 of the MIT podcast <em>Business</em> Lab, Justice stated that “Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of digital in many ways, across many types of technologies.” They go on to say that “this is where we are starting to experience such a rapid pace of exponential change that it’s very difficult for most people to understand the progress” (<em>MIT Technology Review Insights</em>).</p> <p>Similarly, in 2021 NFTs burst forth in popularity in reaction to various conditions arising from the pandemic meta-crisis. A similar effect was seen around cryptocurrencies after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2007-2008 (Aliber and Zoega). “The popularity of cryptocurrencies represents in no small part a reaction to the financial crisis and austerity. That reaction takes the form of a retreat from conventional economic and political action and represents at least an economic occult” (Myers, <em>Proof of Work</em> 100). When a traumatic event occurs, like a pandemic, people turn to God, spirituality (Tumminio Hansen), or possibly the occult to look for answers. NFTs took on the role of precursor, promising access to untold riches, esoteric knowledge, and the comforting feeling of being part of the NFT cult. Similar to the effect of what Sutcliffe (15) calls spiritual “occultures” like “long-standing occult societies or New Age healers”, people can be lured by “the promise of secret knowledge”, which “can assist the deceptions of false gurus and create opportunities for cultic exploitation”.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>NFTs are a metamodern spell casting, their popularity borne by the meta-crisis of the pandemic; they are made using magical instruction that oscillates between finance and conceptual abstraction, materialism and socialist idealism, financial ledger, and artistic medium. The metadata in the smart contract of the NFT provide instruction that combines the tangible and intangible. This oscillation, present in metamodern artmaking, creates and maintains a liminal space between these ideas, objects, and media. The in-between space allows for the perpetual transmutation of one thing to another. These ideas are a work in progress and additional exploration is necessary.</p> <p>An NFT is a new medium available to artists that does not physically exist but can be used to create meaning or to glue or hold objects together in a digital combine. Further investigation into the ontological aspects of this medium is required. The smart contract can be viewed as a recipe for the spell or incantation that, like instruction-based art, transforms an object from one thing to another. The blockchain that the NFT is housed in is a liminal space. The contract is stored on the threshold waiting for someone to view or purchase the NFT and turn the objects displayed in the gallery space into a digital combine. Alternatively, the intention of the artist is enough to complete this alchemical process.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Aldhouse-Green, Miranda. <em>Caesar’s Druids: Story of an Ancient Priesthood</em>. 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London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1961. 28–52. 27 July 2023 &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-00618-2_3">https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-00618-2_3</a>&gt;.</p> Sue Beyer Copyright (c) 2023 Sue Beyer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.2999 Art Is Magic https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3003 <p>Magic and art are products of human connection with the universe, offering answers to questions of meaning and working in interstices between fiction and reality. Magic can and does permeate all forms of media and is depicted as both entertaining and dangerous, as shaping world views, and as practised by a vast array of individuals and groups across cultures. Creative practices in cinema, radio, and installation art suggest that deceptive illusions created through magic techniques can be an effective means of creating compelling and engaging media experiences. It is not surprising, then, that in contemporary art forms involving mixed media and mixed (or augmented) reality the study of magic can offer valuable insights into how technologies mediate audience experiences and how artists can manipulate audience perceptions.</p> <p>Despite art often being described as ‘magical’ (Jones; <a href="https://artreview.com/author/j-j-charlesworth/">Charlesworth</a>), there is limited scholarly research applying the philosophical and socio-cultural construct of magic to contemporary art, leaving much to explore with regard to the intersections between magic and art. Scholars and artists have instead preferred to draw from more established bodies of theory in theatre and performance studies (Laurel), cinema (Marsh), and narrative (Murray). This article hones in on that intersection by applying the understudied principles and techniques of magicians to the interpretation and analysis of artworks by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Making ‘magic’ here is not about the supernatural but refers to the refined practice of ‘doing tricks’, developed over thousands of years across many cultures.</p> <p>The aim of this article therefore is to introduce the reader to two interactive artworks through the lens of magic. Through these examples, we demonstrate the direct correlations between the principles of illusion in magic and media-based illusions in art, inviting the recognition of common ground between the equally niche spheres of magicians and contemporary artists. </p> <p>Cardiff and Miller are a well-known contemporary artist duo whose work exemplifies trends in audio-based performance work (Collins) and site specificity (Ross). However, their work is not generally analysed through the lens of magic. Here, we focus on it as ‘mixed reality’ art, specifically ‘augmented reality’ (in contrast to augmented virtuality), a concept that was defined by Milgram and Kishino as any case in which an otherwise real environment is ‘augmented’ by means of virtual (computer graphic) objects. Since the introduction of these terms—‘mixed reality’ and ‘augmented reality’—technologies have made many leaps across innumerable modes of media. Yet their distinction remains useful to categorise artworks and describe any mixed reality approaches that work towards “the existence of a combined pair of a real and virtual space”. In augmented reality, while “the visual as the dominant mode of perception and integration of real and virtual space” (Strauss, Fleischmann et al.), sound can be used for sensory immersion, and to play tricks on the minds of audiences. These distinctions are often critical in discussions of art, especially when “illusion plays a crucial role as it makes permeable the perceptual limit between the represented objects and the material spaces we inhabit” (Avram). Mixed reality artworks often make unique combinations of audio-visual elements, and sometimes activate other senses such as tactile and olfactory. In these works, artists use illusion to connect the embodied experience of the audience members to the electronically mediated experience of their design, which brings us back to magic.</p> <h1><strong>Introduction to Conjuring and Deception</strong></h1> <p>It is worthwhile to briefly visit the key principles of magic that most clearly tie together conjuring and mixed reality artworks: framing context, consistency, continuity, conviction, justification, surprise, and disguise. These principles are routinely used in combination by magicians to deceive audiences and are commonly referred to under the umbrella term of ‘misdirection’, defined as “that which directs the audience towards the effect and away from the method” (Lamont and Wiseman 3).</p> <p>Conjuring consists of “creating illusions of the impossible” (Nelms), which are comprised of a method (how the trick is achieved) and an effect (what the audience perceives). The principles that form the foundation of conjuring are centred on the creation of illusions in a theatrical context, either on stage or via close-up magic. Think of the famous genius pair of stage magicians <a href="https://pennandteller.com/">Penn &amp; Teller</a> and their blockbuster magic competition television series <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1811179/">Fool Us</a>. Now research has revealed how these techniques can also be examined in a broader context than entertainment and across many scholarly disciplines. This research has occurred within the fields of cognitive science (Macknik et al.; Macknik &amp; Martinez-Conde; Macknik, Martinez-Conde, et al.), psychology (Polidoro; Tatler and Kuhn) and interaction design (de Jongh Hepworth; Marchak; Tognazzini). These investigations demonstrate the significance and value of techniques drawn from conjuring across various fields. Indeed, as Macknik states, “there are specific cases in which the magician’s intuitive knowledge is superior to that of the neuroscientist” (Macknik, Mac King, et al.).</p> <p>A successful magic trick requires the audience to experience the effect while unaware of the method (Lamont and Wiseman). Examining the creation of illusions in terms of method and effect is not only applicable to conjuring but also resonates with other forms of media that rely on suspension of disbelief. For example, in the context of cinema, the audience should be engaged with the content on the screen rather than the presentation apparatus. In virtual environments, the aim of the developer is also generally to ensure that the user experiences the effect (immersion in the virtual world) while suppressing awareness of the medium (method).</p> <p>In conjuring, many approaches to deception rely on indirect reinforcement in which a situation is implied rather than stated. When magician and theorist Dariel Fitzkee describes conjuring, he suggests that implication is effective because it “seems to the spectator to be a voluntary decision on his part, uninfluenced by the magician. It is also stronger because such conclusions, reached in this manner, do not seem to be of particular importance to the performer” (97). Both these elements significantly increase conviction, reduce suspicion and are very relevant to the technique of ‘suspending disbelief’ often applied to cinema. Through suggestion, the filmmakers ensured that viewers who themselves had previously constructed a false frame would readily interpret the film document as authentic, so long as the experience did not drastically deviate from expectations.</p> <p>This form of deception is evident in two works by Cardiff and Miller that rely primarily on sound in careful combination with visual and spatial elements to create ambiguous elements that can make the audience question what is real and virtual. <em>The Paradise Institute</em> (Cardiff and Miller) and <em>Walks</em> (Cardiff 1991–2006) utilise the process of binaural recording whereby two microphones are placed inside the ears of a dummy head to convey realistic spatial sound simulations via headphone playback. Next, we look at these artworks as a mode of conjuring taking up methods and desired effects of the art of magic.</p> <h1><strong><em>The Paradise Institute</em></strong></h1> <p><a href="https://cardiffmiller.com/installations/the-paradise-institute/"><em>The Paradise Institute</em></a> was originally produced for the 2001 Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The work draws on the language and experience of cinema, creating a film-like experience using the illusory principles of magic. To experience the work, viewers approach a simple plywood pavilion, mount a set of stairs, and enter.</p> <p>We first experienced <em>The Paradise Institute</em> at PS1 Gallery, New York in 2001. The first illusion in a series is that this tiny dimly lit interior, complete with red carpet and two rows of velvet-covered seats, is an actual theatre. Once seated, we peer over the balcony onto a miniature replica of a grand old movie theatre created with techniques of hyper-perspective (accentuated depth and extreme angles as in a theatre set). Then we put on the headphones provided, and the projection begins.</p> <p>Beyond the perceptual illusion of the theatre space itself, the primary illusionary device is sound design that combines audio from the fragmented narrative depicted on screen with simulated sounds from the theatre audience. This technique is analogous to offscreen sound in cinema (Davies). Several stories run simultaneously. There is the ‘visual film’ and its accompanying soundtrack; layered over this is the ‘aural action’ of a supposed audience. The film is a mix of genres: part noir, part thriller, part sci-fi, and part experimental. What is more particular about the installation is the personal binaural surround sound that every individual in the audience experiences through the headphones. The sense of isolation each person might feel is disrupted by intrusions seemingly coming from inside the theatre. A mobile phone belonging to a member of the audience rings. A close ‘female friend’ whispers intimately in your ear: “Did you check the stove before we left?” Fiction and reality become intermingled as absorption in the film is suspended, and other realities flow in.</p> <blockquote> <p>Not knowing what to believe, you hear a collage of sounds from the soundtrack of the film you are watching, as well as from people sitting beside you. Was that really a cell phone? At one point the characters you have watched on the screen are talking behind you. (Christov-Bakargiev and Cardiff 151)</p> </blockquote> <p>The multi-layered acoustic space combines chattering and rustling from the virtual audience members seated around you, characters from the film that are sporadically transported to the objective position of the audience, all co-existing with the soundtrack of the film itself. This complex layering of sound, combined with the live ambience, creates a mixed reality environment in which the various virtual elements constantly intrude upon the audience’s perception of reality. The artists conjure an audience and theatre which are not in fact there, but the illusion is so seamless, that your perception combines reality and mediated experience.</p> <p>One of the principles of effective illusions within magic is the capacity to reduce suspicion during the presentation. The work effectively achieves this through a variety of methods. The most compelling aspects of the deception are the intimate conversations and incidental sounds created by the virtual audience members, particularly those seated behind you (as the source cannot be immediately verified). You cannot see, feel, smell, or touch other audience members, but you can hear them. The content is perceived as familiar (therefore suspicion regarding its veracity is reduced), and even within the hyper-real context of the microcinema, irresistibly compelling. The mechanics of the work effectively support the illusion.</p> <p>The installation provides a controlled acoustic space, and volume levels can be precisely adjusted. The layered sound design further assists in masking deficiencies in the technical process in much the same manner as the use of atmospheres and music in a film soundtrack. These characteristics assist in establishing a palpable simulation of acoustic reality. In <em>The Paradise Institute</em>, rather than place the audience in a passive position in relation to their work, Cardiff and Miller use spatial sound as a means of active engagement: “I want people to be inside the filmic experience… I want the pieces to be disconcerting in several ways so that the audience can’t just forget about their bodies for the duration of their involvement, like we do in film” (Beil and Mari 78).</p> <h1><strong>Walks</strong></h1> <p>Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller designed <a href="https://cardiffmiller.com/walks/">24 audio and video walks</a> between 1996 and 2019. Like magicians executing conjuring tricks, the artists use the affordances of electronic media to reveal an alternate reality. The walks, like conjuring tricks, manipulate your perceptions of reality through illusion. The walks are between five minutes and one hour long.</p> <p>As the artists write on their <a href="https://cardiffmiller.com/">Website</a>,</p> <blockquote> <p>the audio playback is layered with various background sounds all recorded in binaural audio which gives the feeling that those recorded sounds are present in the actual environment. In a video walk, viewers are provided with a video screen which they use to follow a film recorded in the past along the same route they are traversing in the present. Also using binaural microphones and edited to create a sense of continuous motion, the fictional world of the film blends seamlessly with the reality of the architecture and body in motion. The perceptive confusion is deepened by the dream-like narrative elements that occur in the pre-recorded film.</p> </blockquote> <p>Audience members are given a listening device and headphones at the beginning of the walk, similar to the experience of using an audio guide in a museum. At a predefined location, the audience member presses play and is guided by Cardiff’s voice narrating events that occur along a route through the physical environment. Instructions are integrated within a narrative soundscape that shapes the audiences’ perceptions of their immediate environment. The importance of this hybrid reality is highlighted by Cardiff’s own description of the work: “the sound of my footsteps, traffic, birds, and miscellaneous sound effects that have been pre-recorded on the same site as they are being heard … . The virtual recorded soundscape has to mimic the real physical one in order to create a new world as a seamless combination of the two” (Cardiff and Miller).</p> <p>All the walks are recorded as a spatially encoded binaural soundscape, created using microphones fitted to both ears of a mannequin. The intent is that the recording perfectly replicates the sensation of listening with two human ears. Listening back through headphones, the recording feels as ‘live’ as possible. </p> <p>During playback, the audience experiences the illusion of being in the same room as Cardiff’s voice and other sounds in the recording. They perceive a realistic multi-layered sonic environment comprised of the actual acoustic space they inhabit (via aural transparency of the headphones), artefacts from the same environment at a prior time, and narration provided by Cardiff’s voice, all interwoven with creative sound design. Unlike <em>The Paradise Institute</em>, audience members can adjust the playback level, and hence, the mix between the real and virtual elements. In other words, they may be able to hear the sound of their own footsteps or breathing in combination with the designed soundscape.</p> <p>Due to the intimate nature of the binaural recordings (and the timbre of Cardiff’s voice), the audience has the impression that Cardiff is present, an invisible co-traveller on the journey. The walks are successful magic tricks not only because of the perceptual realism of the sonic environments they represent but also because they are narrative-driven, propelling the audience through unknown spaces and stories. The audience, on the one hand, exists in a fictional world, while on the other hand they are placed in a paradoxical position of being at times uncertain if the sound they heard was present in physical reality or was a simulation.</p> <h1><strong>Discussion: Reframing Fiction as Fact in an Act of Magic</strong></h1> <p>These works indicate how the mechanics of the illusion (in this instance, spatial sound and visual trickery) combined with plausible virtual elements can effectively reframe an experience from a fictional simulation to fact. Even if the experience is clearly framed as fiction, the appropriate use of mechanics can present stimuli that are so compellingly real that they disrupt, even if momentarily, the way the audience interprets a mediated experience, whether it is constructed as a set (in the case of <em>The Paradise Institute</em>) or a streetscape (in the Walks).</p> <p>The conjuring trick at work here, as with <em>The Paradise Institute</em>, is multisensory reinforcement, “the way in which a spectator’s belief about specific matters central to the effect are reinforced” (Lamont and Wiseman 69). The audience’s suspicion may be reduced if each modality works in unison to advance the illusion. For instance, the visual representation of a virtual character is reinforced by corresponding sound, and their actions are further indicated via mechanical devices in physical space. Scholars argue that the more sensory inputs in the mediated experience, the higher the degree of perceptual realism, so long as “the information from various sources is globally consistent” (Christou and Parker 53). This is because “senses do not just provide information but also serve to confirm the ‘perceptions’ of other senses” (England 168). Multisensory integration occurs innately within the individual, and, as Macknik suggests, it “is an ongoing and dynamic property of your brain that occurs outside conscious awareness” (Macknik, Martinez-Conde, et al. 104).</p> <p>The multimodal nature of mixed reality experiences like Cardiff and Miller’s walks provide an example of magic applied in art. Audience members’ eyes and ears are activated, convincing their brains that fiction is reality.</p> <p>To be clear, the artworks discussed here are technically elegant but not overly complex or dependent on technology. This is consistent with magic acts whereby sometimes a deck of cards and a small table are the only props. In conjuring, for the most part, magicians rely on “little technology more complex than a rubber band, a square of black fabric or length of thread” (Steinmeyer 7). Identifying how the adaptability of magic can also be applied to media arts is integral to understanding its power. Effects of illusion can be achieved with relatively simple methods, such as binaural recording or hyper-perspective (not to undermine the skill in such acts of magic). As with a magician’s sleight-of-hand techniques (think of a playing card being perfectly hidden up a sleeve), an accomplished media artist also needs to use techniques of illusion flawlessly. In other words, rather than being device-centric, the principles of misdirection can be applied to suit a specific purpose but must be done skilfully. This is the very reason that Cardiff and Miller’s conjuring strategies are highly adaptive and highly successful.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion: When Art Is Magic, We Are All Deceived</strong></h1> <p>What do these examples of magic in mixed reality artworks indicate? The works discussed draw from vast lineages of creative practice, including radio, cinema, installation, and locative media. They demonstrate that applying principles of magic to the design of artworks can create convincing mediated deceptions.</p> <p>They also demonstrate direct correlations between the principles of illusion in magic and media-based illusions in art. Even when an event is framed as fiction, the mechanics of the illusion could make the audience believe in an alternate reality, the very foundation of magic.</p> <p>Just as in conjuring, Cardiff and Miller’s tricks transform an experience into an illusion via elements of showmanship such as drama and atmosphere. In art, however, unlike a conventional magic trick, there is no climactic flurry in which the alternate reality is revealed, such as pulling a rabbit out of a seemingly empty hat. Instead, if the works succeed, the illusion is sustained and virtual characters and spaces are no longer perceived as a simulation, thus bridging reality and virtuality. Janet Cardiff is walking with you, or you are sitting in a cinema.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Avram, Horea. “The Convergence Effect: Real and Virtual Encounters in Augmented Reality Art.” <em>M/C Journal</em> 16.6 (2013). &lt;<a href="https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.735">https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.735</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Beil, Ralf, and Bartomeu Marí. <em>The Killing Machine and Other Stories 1995-2007: Janet Cardiff &amp; George Bures Miller</em>. 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Addison-Wesley, 2013.</p> <p>Macknik, Stephen L., et al. “Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Turning Tricks into Research.” <em>Nature Reviews Neuroscience</em> 9.11 (2008): 871-879.</p> <p>Macknik, Stephen L., and Susana Martinez-Conde. “A Perspective on 3-D Visual Illusions.” <em>Scientific American Mind</em> 19.5 (2008): 20-23.</p> <p>———. “Real Magic: Future Studies of Magic Should Be Grounded in Neuroscience.” <em>Nature Reviews Neuroscience</em> 10.3 (2009): 241-241.</p> <p>Macknik, Stephen, Susana Martinez-Conde, and Sandra Blakeslee. <em>Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions</em>. New York: Henry Holt, 2010.</p> <p>Marchak, Frank M. “The Magic of Visual Interaction Design.” <em>ACM SIGCHI Bulleti</em>n 32.2 (2000): 13-14.</p> <p>Marsh, Tim. “Presence as Experience: Film Informing Ways of Staying There.” <em>Presence: Teleoperators &amp; Virtual Environments</em> 12.5 (2003): 11.</p> <p>———. “Presence as Experience: Framework to Assess Virtual Corpsing.” <em>Presence 2001: 4th International Workshop on Presence</em>. Philadelphia, 2001.</p> <p>———. “Staying There: An Activity-Based Approach to Narrative Design and Evaluation as an Antidote to Virtual Corpsing.” <em>Being There: Concepts, Effects and Measurements of User Presence in Synthetic Environments</em>. Amsterdam: Ios, 2003. 85-96.</p> <p>Milgram, Paul, and Fumio Kishino. “A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays.” <em>IEICE TRANSACTIONS on Information and Systems</em> 77.12 (1994): 1321-1329.</p> <p>Murray, Janet H. <em>Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace</em>. Updated ed. Boston: MIT P, 2017.</p> <p>Polidoro, Massimo. “The Magic in the Brain: How Conjuring Works to Deceive Our Minds.” <em>Tall Tales about the Mind &amp; Brain: Separating Fact from Fiction</em>. Ed. Sergio Della Sala. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 36-44.</p> <p>Ross, Christine. “Movement That Matters Historically: Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s 2012 Alter Bahnhof Video Walk.” <em>Discourse</em> 35.2 (2013): 212-227.</p> <p>Strauss, Wolfgang, et al. <em>Linking between Real and Virtual Spaces</em>. <em>GMD Report 75</em>, GMD – Forschungszentrum Informationstechnik GmbH, Sienna. CID, 1999.</p> <p>Tatler, Benjamin W., and Gustav Kuhn. “Don’t Look Now: The Magic of Misdirection.” <em>Eye Movements</em>. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007. 697-714.</p> <p>Tognazzini, Bruce. “Principles, Techniques, and Ethics of Stage Magic and Their Application to Human Interface Design.” <em>Proceedings of the INTERACT'93 and CHI'93 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems</em>. 1993. 355-62.</p> Alex Davies Alexandra Lara Crosby Copyright (c) 2023 Alex Davies, Alexandra Lara Crosby http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3003 Just an Illusion? https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3009 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p>In this article I suggest a reading of the magic trick from a politico-ideological perspective, using Slavoj Žižek’s critique of ideology, and in particular, the aspect of cynicism as a part of the functioning of a certain ideology by keeping a distance towards it at the same time. The structure of the magic trick – from the classic sleight of hand up to levitation in front of a live television (TV) audience – can be useful in understanding how politics and ideology function today, and perhaps more importantly, how the critique of ideology can paradoxically help rehabilitate the notion of ‘illusion’. The crucial question to be posed here, based on this theory, is one of the status of the illusion and the search for truth ‘behind the curtain’, in the ideological sense and the age of social media.</p> <p>The magic trick has two sides to it: what the audiences are supposed to see from one certain point of view, and the mechanics of the trick behind it, which are known only to the magician. The job of the magician is then to perform the trick in such a way that audiences, even if they know it is only a trick, still remain in awe of the mastery, and perhaps for a moment start to believe in ‘pure’ magic.</p> <p>Magicians or illusionists have traditionally guarded their secrets – not only for the trick to work but also to preserve the belief in something more than the banal reality. The once-famous illusionist and TV star David Copperfield considers this essential for magicians and what they represent:</p> <blockquote> <p>and all of them … share a common trait – they keep their secrets, hoarding them with the fervour of a miser, not because they represent wealth or personal prestige, but because divulging them to the uninitiated breaks the spell, ruins the fun, and tells the child inside us all not to dream.</p> </blockquote> <p>As some cognitive scientists have pointed out (see Pailhès and Kuhn), magicians also tend to influence the spectators/participants on an unconscious level, in card tricks, for example, by evoking (verbally or visually) certain images, shapes or colours in order for the participants to pick the right card. My argument is that even when we know how the trick works and that we are being manipulated, we can still believe in magic.</p> <p>The magic trick falls apart only if the performance itself fails and the spectators witness a fatal mistake that suddenly reveals the hidden wires (as it were): “no magician is allowed to miss a trick and escape that moment when applause turns to derision” (Copperfield). This might also be true for politicians: the mistake caught as it happens might spell doom for the not-so-skilled (ideological) illusionist. At the same time, what if any revelation <em>after the fact</em> still cannot break the illusion?</p> <h1><strong>Illusion and the Functioning of Ideology </strong></h1> <p>Revelation is the basic premise of Žižek’s definition of ideology today: it works even when we very well know that it is ideology. Based on his reading of Marx and Freud through Lacan, Žižek attempts to show the workings and pitfalls of ideology today and relies partly on Marx’s analysis of “commodity fetishism” in his <em>Capital</em>. Our attitude towards ideology is therefore “fetishistic” and is best displayed in the example of commodities. As soon as some product of labour becomes a commodity, it seems endowed with special powers, with “mystery, magic and necromancy” (Marx 47), it abounds in “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” (Marx 42). There is a certain something ‘more’, which has nothing to do with an object like a chair or table when they are outside of the marketplace.</p> <p>Based on this reading, Žižek paraphrases Marx’s formula of ideology: “they do not know it, but they are doing it”, and proposes a new approach: “they know very well how things really are, but still they are doing it as if they did not know” (Žižek, <em>Sublime</em> 30). Just like, for example, the foot fetishist who at the same time knows that the foot is ‘just’ a foot and something more at the same time – an object of their desire – we deal with money and commodities. Money is either paper or a number on a screen which can be worth something or suddenly lose its value, and become worthless, depending on social circumstances.</p> <p>The truth of commodity fetishism, and analogous to that also ideology, is therefore in the “doing”: we know very well that perhaps an idea of “freedom is masking a particular form of exploitation” (Žižek, <em>Sublime </em>30), but we still believe in this idea of freedom, in our practical life we ‘stick to it’ – we are therefore ‘fetishists’ or cynics in practice. We also know very well that the late capitalist, ‘neoliberal’ system is in itself problematic, that it has “inherent contradictions” which produce its countless crises, but we still behave as if there is no alternative: “cynical distance is just one way – one of many ways – to blind ourselves to the structuring power of ideological fantasy, even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, <em>we are still doing them</em>” (Žižek, <em>Sublime </em>30, emphasis in original).</p> <p>The ideological trick, the deceiving character of the image is something that is connected to our perception of reality and is pertinent to understanding ideology. But it is simply not enough to disconnect the illusion from reality as a separate entity. The everyday notion of ‘illusion’ stands in the way of grasping the way ideology works and the way the critique of ideology could be truly effective. In Žižek’s view thus, ideology</p> <blockquote> <p>is not a dreamlike illusion that we build to escape insupportable reality; in its basic dimension, it is a fantasy-construction which serves as a support for our ‛reality’ itself: an ‛illusion’ which structures our effective, real social relations and thereby masks some insupportable, real, impossible kernel. (<em>Sublime </em>45)</p> </blockquote> <p>This approach to ideology goes beyond ‘meta-narratives’, it stresses the subject's position within the network of social relations – to change one’s point of view might therefore lead to the disintegrating of an ideological edifice. Yet at the same time, this shift is not the move from the ideological illusion to reality itself; it is important to note here that ideologies, from organised religions to Nazism and antisemitism, from totalitarian socialist regimes to neoliberalism, all build substantially on certain facts, however distorted. To then simply confront an ideology with such facts is not ‘automatically’ a way out of its grasp.</p> <h1><strong>The Truth behind the Veil</strong></h1> <p>To sum up, there is magic and transcendence in our secular and ‘enlightened’ world even though we pretend to be pragmatics, all the while actually being fetishists in our actions who believe in otherworldly properties of money and commodities. It is therefore useless to simply look at the reality ‘as it is’, to turn to statistics, for instance, and to expect that the “veil of ideology” will then be lifted. Whether it is far-right extremism or the belief in neoliberal individualism, ideologies are rooted in reality and cannot be confronted or debunked by merely stating facts, however true and convincing they might be. The veil itself is the ruse.</p> <p>Žižek often quotes the classic Greek tale of Zeuxis and Parrhasios (as told by Jacques Lacan), two painters who competed in painting the more realistic painting. Zeuxis painted grapes that attracted birds who wanted to pick at them. Parrhasios simply painted a (very realistic) veil on a wall. Zeuxis, upon seeing the veil, asked Parrhasios to lift the veil and show him what he painted. Lacan draws from this the conclusion that: “the … example of Parrhasios makes it clear that if one wishes to deceive a man, what one presents to him is the painting of a veil, that is to say, <em>something that incites him to ask what is behind it</em>” (Lacan 112, emphasis added).</p> <p>The veil, therefore, captures our imagination and desire, the idea that there must be something behind it, the desire to know what goes on behind the scenes, and exactly here, we as spectators/political subjects fall into the ideological trap. Whether in wildest conspiracy theories or in fact-based investigative journalism, the same underlying mechanism is at play. The point therefore is not only that we are deceived by the surface, but we are also deceived by our own desire for the knowledge of what might be behind it.</p> <p>As previously mentioned, politicians as magicians have power as long as their ‘trick’ works in real-time. Afterwards, the revelations of crimes or corruption end up being futile and the ideological spell remains intact. This can be witnessed in many cases ranging from Nazism and Adolf Hitler to the “reactionary neoliberalism” (Fraser) of Donald Trump, as well as with other similarly nefarious figures and pernicious ideologies that persist even long after the facts about their crimes have been revealed. It is, therefore, being repeatedly contended across the media that we live in a so-called “post-truth” era (Harari), and it appears that in liberal democratic societies, the exposing of truth in the media has become, in a way, neutralised: no matter how often the ‘dirty tricks’ of corrupt politicians are publicised, they, as illusionists of our time <em>par excellence</em>, somehow manage to perform their tricks time and again and get away with it.</p> <p>Does then the shift that has been taking place for some time within the media, from television and film to social media and streaming, with its tendency for ‘revealing truths’, from reality shows to Hollywood making-of promotional videos, enable us, simply put, to see more or less?</p> <h1><strong>Magic in the Social Media Age</strong></h1> <p>YouTube and other social media platforms abound with the ‘making-of videos’ of Hollywood films as well as endless content that supposedly debunks diverse mysteries and illusions. Instead of keeping their craft (whatever it may be) a secret to protect the trade, it has become a part of the social media business to show ‘how things are done’, to intrigue us with a look behind the scenes.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/sean.jpg" alt="" width="622" height="320" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 1: Sean performing magic tricks and making tutorials on YouTube in 2023 </em>(@SeanDoesMagic)</p> <p>Magicians have of course also discovered the potential of social media. One example is the young magician Sean (@SeanDoesMagic, fig. 1), with six million subscribers and yearly earnings estimated at up to US$150,000 (as of September 2023, see Socialblade). He combines performing magic tricks and showing how they work, creating tutorials, and short explanations of some basic magic tricks. This ostensible paradox of doing magic and explaining the trick is at the core of how social media work: they conceal and reveal at the same time. Again, we witness here that the trick can still work even when we know how it is done.</p> <p>The conceptual approach of many YouTubers, in general, can be read along the lines of Žižek’s definition of ideology and cynical distance – bloopers and mistakes often stay in, there is a meta-approach of commenting on oneself, not taking oneself seriously, thereby creating a counter-concept to the mainstream media’s professionalism. The social media magicians themselves are not immersed in their own world anymore, jealously guarding their secrets. This approach keeps them relevant in today’s social media culture.</p> <p>From David Copperfield’s ‘classic’ style of magic to the ‘postmodern’ social media magicians, a parallel could be drawn between the trajectory of the development of capitalist societies in the last forty years and the evolution of the magician as an entrepreneur, as well as the adaption of the capitalist system to cultural and economic changes. In a way, the ‘social media magic’ becomes the ‘magic of social media’: something inconceivable in the past – magicians revealing their magic tricks – is now part of the job of the social media magician as a content creator. The social media magician can profit from explaining the trick, making it the show of their ultimate power as magician (the social media presence of magicians is also seen by some as the “democratisation of the magic industry”; see Ryssdal and Hollenhorst).</p> <p>To show the workings, the mechanics of a magic trick is not ‘disillusionment’ – the trick still works even if we know how it is made. Does this mean that the illusion is stronger than reality, or does it simply imply that we can never truly disentangle the illusion from reality?</p> <p>This approach can also be taken in regard to politics proper: despite our knowledge of the systemic corruption and inherent flaws of capitalism, we still believe in the system by simply ‘doing it’, by not truly accepting the possibility of a true alternative. We know how money and finance work; we know very well that the capitalist system produces its financial crises and inequalities in society. Still, we act as if there cannot be any alternative to the current state of things. What seemingly prevents us from ‘ideological illusions’ (such as ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’ in their many iterations) simply produces another ideological illusion: the belief in the sole prospect that the world will end up being saved by the ‘magic’ of the finance market or ‘wizardry’ and humanism of Big Tech billionaires.</p> <h1><strong>The Real Magic of Politics</strong></h1> <p>What connects social media and the functioning of ideology in Žižek’s sense is therefore the desire to know what hides behind the curtain, which may have made the classic magician as a celebrity obsolete – we are seemingly no longer interested in ‘parlour tricks’, but in ‘the truth’, the ‘real thing’.</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/david.jpg" alt="" width="544" height="342" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 2: David Copperfield flying on live television in 1992 </em>(CBS)</p> <p>We can thus oppose the decline of Copperfield’s magic TV shows (fig. 2) to the rise of the reality shows of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The spectacle of magic gave way to the spectacle of the “hyperreal” (Baudrillard) – from MTV’s <em>Real World</em> (1992) to <em>Big Brother</em> (1999) and many others. Someone like Copperfield, a household name during the 1980s and 1990s, could appear almost ridiculous and outdated in today’s social media-dominated world. The result is that instead of a few ‘greats’ like Kellar, Houdini, or Copperfield, there are a myriad of small content creators that can profit from the emerging new post-neoliberal order that Varoufakis calls the “techno-feudalism” of the new digital capitalism of Internet platforms, or, in Zuboff’s analysis, “surveillance capitalism” with its primary goal of collecting and selling user data for profit.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the magic tricks of financialised capitalism dominate – creating money out of thin air being the most popular one. Still, it is not sufficient to simply ‘debunk’ or expose this, however thoroughly or engagingly. We have witnessed attempts of this in popular culture: it is not enough to show us the dealings and debauchery behind the scenes, as in films like <em>The Wolf of Wall Street</em> (2013) or<em> The Big Short </em>(2015)<em>. </em>When we watch the Wall Street brokers ‘work their magic’ it remains fascinating, the tricks still work and the illusion that perhaps ‘I also can still somehow make it’ persists.</p> <p>Paradoxically, in the age of ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ perhaps only illusions can save the day, but those of the ‘right kind’: the illusions of Greta Thunberg that planet Earth can actually be saved from the climate catastrophe, and the illusions of voters still believing in democracy and in a possibility of a transnational, class/gender/race-defying solidarity.</p> <p>In a way, for a society to work, a form of illusion is needed, and we should not fall into the trap of revealing the workings behind the scenes as being <em>the</em> solution, but accept the power of the illusion as such. The rift between the surface of the illusion and the truth is necessary, but it is the fetishising of ‘what lies beneath’ that is the ‘wrong’ illusion: what Žižek calls the ‘illusion of the real’. Instead, what is needed is the “real of the illusion” (Žižek, <em>Lacan</em> 59) – the truth that emerges from the trick itself, from the realisation that our reality is already structured by fantasy, that if we lose fantasy, we lose reality itself.</p> <p>In Christopher Nolan’s <em>The Prestige </em>(2006), two rival magicians are ready to sacrifice everything in order to discover each other’s secrets, to outplay one another, and create the ultimate illusion on stage. One of them even deploys science, ‘real magic’, to achieve the impossible. In the end, it is the same magician who summarises what magic is about and what it means to him:</p> <blockquote> <p>the audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It’s miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you... then you got to see something really special. You really don’t know? It was... it was the look on their faces. (<em>Prestige</em>)</p> </blockquote> <p>It is clear that the audience knows what is going on, that they want to be fooled, and that the magician wants to capture their gaze. The ideological fantasy also thrives on this desire, and simply directing that gaze to look ‘behind the scenes’ does not break the illusion but opens up an abyss: coping with the “miserable world” by finding scapegoats (Jews, refugees, women, trans persons) to make the inconsistent and troubled system whole, which can only lead to a catastrophe.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>The belief that the late capitalist system will go on forever and that the manifold crises will somehow get resolved by themselves is a dangerous dream after the disastrous financial crisis of 2008, the COVID crisis, and the ongoing Ukraine war, as well as the looming environmental catastrophe. Here it would be necessary to remain on the side of ‘true’ magic: not the ideological belief that the (already shaken) status quo will go on forever, but the conviction that things need to change: and at the moment, this is proclaimed unrealistic, and fantasy comes into play – the ‘real of the illusion’ which might provide an opening for a true and significant change.</p> <p><em> <img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/harry.jpg" alt="" width="352" height="228" /></em></p> <p><em>Fig. 3: Harry Houdini performing the Handcuff Escape in 1907 </em>(David Folender)</p> <p>Perhaps Harry Houdini’s (fig. 3) legendary contempt for the “spiritualists” of his time (Tompkins 93), and his fight to expose them, can help us understand politics and ideology today through magic: we are in dire need of true magicians against those who simply try to deceive us by painting the veil that hides nothing.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Baudrillard, Jean. <em>Simulacra and Simulation</em>. Michigan UP, 1999.</p> <p><em>Big Brother</em>. John de Mol. 1999-present.</p> <p><em>Big S</em><em>h</em><em>ort, The</em>. Dir. Adam McKay. Paramount Pictures, 2013.</p> <p>Copperfield, David. “A Delicate Sleight of Hand: Magic and the History of Illusion.” <em>Omni</em> 17.2 (1994): 6.</p> <p>Fraser, Nancy. “From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond.” <em>American Affairs</em> 1.4 (2017): 46–64.</p> <p>Harari, Yuval Noah. “Yuval Noah Harari Extract: ‘Humans Are a Post-Truth Species’.” <em>The Guardian</em> 5 Aug. 2018. 30 June 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/aug/05/yuval-noah-harari-extract-fake-news-sapiens-homo-deus">https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/aug/05/yuval-noah-harari-extract-fake-news-sapiens-homo-deus</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Lacan, Jacques. <em>The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques</em> Lacan. Book XI. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1998.</p> <p>Marx, Karl. <em>Capital</em>. Abridged ed. Oxford UP, 2008.</p> <p>Pailhès, Alice, and Gustav Kuhn. “Influencing Choices with Conversational Primes: How a Magic Trick Unconsciously Influences Card Choices.” <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) </em>117.30 (2020): 17675–9.</p> <p><em>Prestige, The</em>. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner Brothers, 2006.</p> <p><em>Real World, The.</em> MTV, 1992-2019.</p> <p>Ryssdal, Kai, and Maria Hollenhorst. “How the Internet Democratized the Magic Industry.” <em>Marketplace </em>Mar. 2019. 10 Sep. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.marketplace.org/2019/03/01/how-internet-democratized-magic-industry/">https://www.marketplace.org/2019/03/01/how-internet-democratized-magic-industry/</a>&gt;.</p> <p>SeanDoesMagic. 7 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/@SeanDoesMagic">https://www.youtube.com/@SeanDoesMagic</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Socialblade. SeanDoesMagic Statistics. 7 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://socialblade.com/youtube/c/seandoesmagic">https://socialblade.com/youtube/c/seandoesmagic</a>&gt;.</p> <p>Tompkins, Matthew L. <em>Die Kunst der Illusion: Magier, Spiritisten und wie wir uns täuschen lassen</em>. Köln: Dumont, 2019.</p> <p>Varoufakis, Yanis. “Techno-Feudalism Is Taking Over.” <em>Project Syndicate</em> (2021). 5 Aug. 2023 &lt;<a href="https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/techno-feudalism-replacing-market-capitalism-by-yanis-varoufakis-2021-06">https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/techno-feudalism-replacing-market-capitalism-by-yanis-varoufakis-2021-06</a>&gt;.</p> <p><em>Wolf of Wall Street, The</em>. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Paramount Pictures, 2013.</p> <p>Žižek, Slavoj. <em>The Sublime Object of Ideology</em>. London: Verso, 2009.</p> <p>———. <em>How To Read Lacan</em>. London: Granta, 2006.</p> <p>Zuboff, Shoshana. <em>The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future and the New Frontier of Power</em>. London: Profile, 2019.</p> Saša Miletić Copyright (c) 2023 Sasa Miletic http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0 2023-10-02 2023-10-02 26 5 10.5204/mcj.3009 ChatGPT Isn't Magic https://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/3004 <h1><strong>Introduction</strong></h1> <p>Author Arthur C. Clarke famously argued that in science fiction literature “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Clarke). On 30 November 2022, technology company OpenAI publicly released their Large Language Model (LLM)-based chatbot ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer), and instantly it was hailed as world-changing. Initial media stories about ChatGPT highlighted the speed with which it generated new material as evidence that this tool might be both genuinely creative and actually intelligent, in both exciting and disturbing ways. Indeed, ChatGPT is part of a larger pool of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools that can very quickly generate seemingly novel outputs in a variety of media formats based on text prompts written by users. Yet, claims that AI has become sentient, or has even reached a recognisable level of general intelligence, remain in the realm of science fiction, for now at least (Leaver). That has not stopped technology companies, scientists, and others from suggesting that super-smart AI is just around the corner. Exemplifying this, the same people creating generative AI are also vocal signatories of public letters that ostensibly call for a temporary halt in AI development, but these letters are simultaneously feeding the myth that these tools are so powerful that they are the early form of imminent super-intelligent machines.</p> <p>For many people, the combination of AI technologies and media hype means generative AIs are basically magical insomuch as their workings seem impenetrable, and their existence could ostensibly change the world. This article explores how the hype around ChatGPT and generative AI was deployed across the first six months of 2023, and how these technologies were positioned as either utopian or dystopian, always seemingly magical, but never banal. We look at some initial responses to generative AI, ranging from schools in Australia to picket lines in Hollywood. We offer a critique of the utopian/dystopian binary positioning of generative AI, aligning with critics who rightly argue that focussing on these extremes displaces the more grounded and immediate challenges generative AI bring that need urgent answers. Finally, we loop back to the role of schools and educators in repositioning generative AI as something to be tested, examined, scrutinised, and played with both to ground understandings of generative AI, while also preparing today’s students for a future where these tools will be part of their work and cultural landscapes.</p> <h1><strong>Hype, Schools, and Hollywood</strong></h1> <p>In December 2022, one month after OpenAI launched ChatGPT, Elon Musk tweeted: “ChatGPT is scary good. We are not far from dangerously strong AI”. Musk’s post was retweeted 9400 times, liked 73 thousand times, and presumably seen by most of his 150 million Twitter followers. This type of engagement typified the early hype and language that surrounded the launch of ChatGPT, with reports that “crypto” had been replaced by generative AI as the “hot tech topic” and hopes that it would be “‘transformative’ for business” (Browne). By March 2023, global economic analysts at Goldman Sachs had released a report on the potentially transformative effects of generative AI, saying that it marked the “brink of a rapid acceleration in task automation that will drive labor cost savings and raise productivity” (Hatzius et al.). Further, they concluded that “its ability to generate content that is indistinguishable from human-created output and to break down communication barriers between humans and machines reflects a major advancement with potentially large macroeconomic effects” (Hatzius et al.). Speculation about the potentially transformative power and reach of generative AI technology was reinforced by warnings that it could also lead to “significant disruption” of the labour market, and the potential automation of up to 300 million jobs, with associated job losses for humans (Hatzius et al.). In addition, there was widespread buzz that ChatGPT’s “rationalization process may evidence human-like cognition” (Browne), claims that were supported by the emergent language of ChatGPT. The technology was explained as being “trained” on a “corpus” of datasets, using a “neural network” capable of producing “natural language“” (Dsouza), positioning the technology as human-like, and <em>more</em> than ‘artificial’ intelligence. Incorrect responses or errors produced by the tech were termed “hallucinations”, akin to magical thinking, which OpenAI founder Sam Altman insisted wasn’t a word that he associated with sentience (Intelligencer staff). Indeed, Altman asserts that he rejects moves to “anthropomorphize” (<em>Intelligencer</em> staff) the technology; however, arguably the language, hype, and Altman’s well-publicised misgivings about ChatGPT have had the combined effect of shaping our understanding of this generative AI as alive, vast, fast-moving, and potentially lethal to humanity.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, the hype around the transformative effects of ChatGPT and its ability to generate ‘human-like’ answers and sophisticated essay-style responses was matched by a concomitant panic throughout educational institutions. The beginning of the 2023 Australian school year was marked by schools and state education ministers meeting to discuss the emerging problem of ChatGPT in the education system (Hiatt). Every state in Australia, bar South Australia, banned the use of the technology in public schools, with a “national expert task force” formed to “guide” schools on how to navigate ChatGPT in the classroom (Hiatt). Globally, schools banned the technology amid fears that students could use it to generate convincing essay responses whose plagiarism would be undetectable with current software (Clarence-Smith). Some schools banned the technology citing concerns that it would have a “negative impact on student learning”, while others cited its “lack of reliable safeguards preventing these tools exposing students to potentially explicit and harmful content” (Cassidy). ChatGPT investor Musk famously tweeted, “It’s a new world. Goodbye homework!”, further fuelling the growing alarm about the freely available technology that could “churn out convincing essays which can't be detected by their existing anti-plagiarism software” (Clarence-Smith). Universities were reported to be moving towards more “in-person supervision and increased paper assessments” (SBS), rather than essay-style assessments, in a bid to out-manoeuvre ChatGPT’s plagiarism potential. Seven months on, concerns about the technology seem to have been dialled back, with educators more curious about the ways the technology can be integrated into the classroom to good effect (Liu et al.); however, the full implications and impacts of the generative AI are still emerging.</p> <p>In May 2023, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), the union representing screenwriters across the US creative industries, went on strike, and one of their core issues were “regulations on the use of artificial intelligence in writing” (Porter). Early in the negotiations, Chris Keyser, co-chair of the WGA’s negotiating committee, lamented that “no one knows exactly what AI’s going to be, but the fact that the companies won’t talk about it is the best indication we’ve had that we have a reason to fear it” (Grobar). At the same time, the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) warned that members were being asked to agree to contracts that stipulated that an actor’s voice could be re-used in future scenarios without that actor’s additional consent, potentially reducing actors to a dataset to be animated by generative AI technologies (Scheiber and Koblin). In a statement issued by SAG, they made their position clear that the creation or (re)animation of any digital likeness of any part of an actor must be recognised as labour and properly paid, also warning that any attempt to legislate around these rights should be strongly resisted (Screen Actors Guild). Unlike the more sensationalised hype, the WGA and SAG responses to generative AI are grounded in labour relations. These unions quite rightly fear the immediate future where human labour could be augmented, reclassified, and exploited by, and in the name of, algorithmic systems. Screenwriters, for example, might be hired at much lower pay rates to edit scripts first generated by ChatGPT, even if those editors would really be doing most of the creative work to turn something clichéd and predictable into something more appealing. Rather than a dystopian world where machines do all the work, the WGA and SAG protests railed against a world where workers would be paid less because executives could pretend generative AI was doing most of the work (Bender).</p> <h1><strong>The Open Letter and Promotion of AI Panic</strong></h1> <p>In an open letter that received enormous press and media uptake, many of the leading figures in AI called for a pause in AI development since “advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth”; they warned early 2023 had already seen “an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control” (Future of Life Institute). Further, the open letter signatories called on “all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4”, arguing that “labs and independent experts should use this pause to jointly develop and implement a set of shared safety protocols for advanced AI design and development that are rigorously audited and overseen by independent outside experts” (Future of Life Institute). Notably, many of the signatories work for the very companies involved in the “out-of-control race”. Indeed, while this letter could be read as a moment of ethical clarity for the AI industry, a more cynical reading might just be that in warning that their AIs could effectively destroy the world, these companies were positioning their products as seemingly magical—“digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand”—making them even more appealing to potential customers and investors. Far from pausing AI development, the open letter actually operates as a neon sign touting the amazing capacities and future brilliance of generative AI systems.</p> <p>Nirit Weiss-Blatt argues that general reporting on technology industries up to 2017 largely concurred with the public relations stance of those companies, positioning them as saviours and amplifiers of human connection, creativity, and participation. After 2017, though, media reporting completely shifted, focussing on the problems, risks, and worst elements of these corporate platforms. In the wake of the open letter, Weiss-Blatt extended her point on Twitter, arguing that media and messaging surrounding generative AI can be broken down into those who are profiting and fuelling the panic at one end of the spectrum, and those who think the form of the panic (which positions AI as dangerously intelligent) is deflecting from the immediate real issues caused by generative AI at the other. Weiss-Blatt characterises the Panic-as-a-Business proponents as arguing “we're telling you will all die from a Godlike AI… so you must listen to us”, which coheres with the broader positioning narrative of generative AI’s seemingly magical (and thus potentially destructive) capabilities. Yet this rhetoric also positions the companies creating generative AI as the ones who should be making the rules to control it, an argument so effective that in July 2023 the Biden Administration in the US endorsed the biggest AI companies—Amazon, Anthropic, Google, Inflection, Meta, Microsoft, and OpenAI—framing future AI development with voluntary safeguards rather than externally imposed policies (Shear, Kang, and Sanger).</p> <p><img src="https://journal.media-culture.org.au/public/site/images/angnai14/3004-other-9800-1-11-20230804.jpg" alt="" width="602" height="451" /></p> <p><em>Fig. 1: Promotors of AI Panic, extrapolating from Nirit Weiss-Blatt. (Algorithm Watch)</em></p> <h1><strong>Stochastic Parrots and Deceitful Media</strong></h1> <p>Artificial Intelligences have inhabited popular imaginaries via novels, television, and films far longer than they have been considered even potentially viable technologies, so it is not surprising that popular culture has often framed the way AI is understood (Leaver). Yet as Emily Bender, Timnit Gebru, Angelina McMillan-Major, and Shmargaret Shmitchell argue, Large Language Models and generative AI are most productively understood as “a stochastic parrot” insomuch as each is a “system for haphazardly stitching together sequences of linguistic forms it has observed in its vast training data, according to probabilistic information about how they combine, but without any reference to meaning” (Bender et al. 617). Generative AI, then, is not creating something genuinely new, but rather remixing existing data in novel ways that the systems themselves do not in any meaningful sense understand. Going further, Simone Natale characterises current AI tools as “deceitful media” insomuch as they are designed to deliberately appear generally intelligent, but this is always a deception. The deception makes these tools more engaging for humans to use but is also fundamental in selling and profiting from the use of AI tools. Rather than accepting claims made by the companies financing and creating contemporary AI, Natale argues for a more pedagogically productive path:</p> <blockquote> <p>we must resist the normalization of the deceptive mechanisms embedded in contemporary AI and the silent power that digital media companies exercise over us. We should never cease to interrogate how the technology works, even while we are trying to accommodate it in the fabric of everyday life. (Natale 132)</p> </blockquote> <h1><strong>Real Issues</strong></h1> <p>Although even a comprehensive list is beyond the scope of this short article, is it nevertheless vital to note that in looking beyond the promotion of AI Panic and deceptive media, ChatGPT and other generative AI tools create or exacerbate a range of very real and significant ethical problems. The most obvious problem is the lack of transparency in terms of what data different generative AI tools were trained on. Generally, these tools are thought to get better by absorbing ever greater amounts of data, with most AI companies acknowledging that scraping the Web in some form has been part of the training data harvesting for their AI tools. Not knowing what data have been used makes it almost impossible to know which perspectives, presumptions, and biases are baked into these tools. While many forms of bias have plagued technology companies for many years (Noble), for generative AI tools, in “accepting large amounts of web text as ‘representative’ of ‘all’ of humanity we risk perpetuating dominant viewpoints, increasing power imbalances, and further reifying inequality” (Bender et al. 614). Even mitigating and working to correct biases in generative AI tools will be a huge challenge if these companies never share what was in their training data.</p> <p>As the WGA and SAG strike discussed above emphasises, the question of human labour is a central challenge for generative AI. Beyond Hollywood, more entrenched forms of labour exploitation haunt generative AI. Very low-paid workers have done much of the labour in classifying different forms of data in order to train AI systems; data workers are routinely not acknowledged at all, even sometimes directly performing the tasks that are ascribed to AI, to the extent that “distracted by the specter of nonexistent sentient machines, an army of precarized workers stands behind the supposed accomplishments of artificial intelligence systems today” (Williams, Miceli, and Gebru). It turns out that people are still doing the work so that companies can pretend the machines can think.</p> <p>In one final but very important example, there is a very direct ecological cost to training, maintaining, and running generative AI tools. In the context of global warming, concerns already existed about the enormous data centres at the heart of the big technology platforms prior to ChatGPT’s release. However, the data and processing power needed to run generative AI tools are even larger, leading to very real questions about how much electricity and water (for cooling) are used by even the most rudimentary ChatGPT queries (Lizarraga and Solon). While not just an AI question, balancing the environmental costs of data centres with the actual utility of AI tools is not one that is routinely asked, or answered, in the hype around generative AI.</p> <h1><strong>Messing Around and Geeking Out</strong></h1> <p>Escaping the hype and hypocrisy deployed by AI companies is vital for repositioning generative AI not as magical, not as a saviour, and not as a destroyer, but rather as a new technology that needs to be critically and ethically understood. In seminal work exploring how young people engage with digital tools and technologies, Mimi Ito and colleagues developed three genres of technology participation: <em>hanging out</em>, where engagement with any technologies is largely driven by friendships and social engagement; <em>messing around</em>, which includes a great deal of experimentation and play with technological tools; and <em>geeking out</em>, where some young people will find a particular focus on one platform, tool or technology that inspires them to focus enough to develop expertise in using and understanding that tool (Ito et al.). If young people, in particular, are going to be living in a world where generative AI tools are part of their social worlds and workplaces, then messing around with ChatGPT is, indeed, going to be important in testing out how these tools answer questions and synthesise information, what biases are evident in responses, and at what points answers are incorrect. For some young people, they may well move from messing around to completely geeking out with generative AI, a process that will be even more fruitful if these tools are not seen as impenetrable magic, but rather as commercial tools built by for-profit companies. While the idea of digital natives is an unhelpful myth (Bennett, Maton, and Kervin), if young people are going to be the first generation to have generative AI as part of their information, creative, and search landscapes, then safely messing around and geeking out with these tools will be more vital than ever.</p> <p>We mentioned above that most Australian state education departments initially banned ChatGPT, but a more optimistic sign arrived as we were finishing this article insomuch as the different Australian states agreed in mid-2023 to work together to create “a framework to guide the safe and effective use of artificial intelligence in the nation’s schools” (Clare). Although there is work to be done, moving away from a ban to a setting that should allow students to be part of testing, framing, and critiquing ChatGPT and generative AI is a clear step in repositioning these technologies as tools, not magical systems that could never be understood.</p> <h1><strong>Conclusion</strong></h1> <p>Generative AI is not magic; it is not a saviour or destroyer; it is neither utopian nor dystopian; nor, unless we radically narrow the definition, is it intelligent. The companies and corporations driving AI development have a vested interest in promoting fantastical ideas about generative AI, as it drives their customers, investment, and future viability. When the hype is dominant, responses can be overdetermined, such as banning generative AI in schools. But in taking a less magical and more material approach to ChatGPT and generative AI, we can try and ensure pedagogical opportunities for today’s young people to test out, scrutinise, and critically understand the AI tools they are most likely going to be asked to use today and in the future. The first wave of generative AI hype following the public release of ChatGPT offers an opportunity to reflect on exactly what the best uses of these technologies are, what ethics should drive those uses, and how transparent the workings of generative AI should be before their presence in the digital landscape is so entrenched and mundane that it becomes difficult to see at all.</p> <h2>Acknowledgment</h2> <p>This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child through project number CE200100022.</p> <h2><strong>References</strong></h2> <p>Algorithm Watch [@AlgorithmWatch]. “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Biggest Panic-Creator of Them All? Inspired by a Tweet from Nirit Weiss-Blatt, Check out Our Taxonomy of #AI Panic Facilitators and Those Fighting against the Fearmongering. Who Have We Forgotten to Add? 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