In which the author issues a rare apology
When I heard that WGN was making a series based on the Salem witch hysteria, I was skeptical. Then I saw the previews. I decided on the spot I’d rather eat my own swill than watch it.
The events that happened at Salem were horrifying. The more one gets into that story, the more horrifying it becomes. Simply put, there were no witches in Salem in 1692. The women and men accused were innocent. I couldn’t help but feel that fictionalizing the story was taking advantage of people who could no longer defend themselves, and who couldn’t even defend themselves when they were alive.
Additionally, it propagates a myth that’s been growing for over three hundred years, that those who died at Salem were witches, which should have been laid to rest long ago.
I hate it when people marginalize the truth for the sake of profit, and there’s plenty of that in the twenty-first century Salem. Some argue that it began in earnest when the TV series Bewitched turned its sight on Salem, when Samantha and the family visited for a convention of witches. This proved prophetic, as now every day in Salem is essentially a convention of witches, albeit of far fewer supernatural powers than Samantha Stevens possessed.
But in retrospect, I have to agree with one of the people who left a comment on one of my articles on the subject. We’d likely have little consciousness at all of Salem if it wasn’t for the people exploiting its history. I mean after all, I heard about the witch trials in elementary school. But I never wanted to visit the place till I saw those episodes of Bewitched.
The true story hasn’t fared much better in serious attempts of its telling. If a person has read The Crucible, seen it performed or watched one of the film versions, then they might very well believe they know the true story. Nah, it’s screwy there as well. Nearly every film or TV version of the story veers to varying degree into fiction.
There simply isn’t any need for fiction in the story. It’s terrifying as it is.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe changed my mind on the subject. It mixed fact with fiction in a way which didn’t detract from the true story. So I should have guessed it was possible to do the same with a television series.
I saw an advertisement for Salem, the series and there were some architectural details that caught my eye. For some time it had been the ads which put me off the series. They were far too sexual and these were puritan’s for god’s sake.
It was Marilyn who persuaded me to give it a try. Marilyn Manson, who joined the cast for the next season. Manson has been no stranger to using shock to make a name for himself, and for a long time I avoided him as well. Then I realized the guy was actually intelligent, and there was meaning behind his madness. If he was in it, there had to be something to it.
To cut a long story short … two seasons thus far, I loved it. They find a way to skirt up against the history, while weaving their own story in a way which for the most part doesn’t skew the fact too far. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify it now, for it’s over the top certainly.
But it’s also at times quite scary, creepy as hell nearly all the time, and highly entertaining. There’s more sex in the previews at times than the actual show. The two historical figures most grievously harmed – Increase and Cotton Mathers – well they had that coming to them anyway.
Those of us interested in history are far too quick to dismiss inaccuracies in art. But in the end, it’s all storytelling. If the historians would learn to tell the truth in a more compelling way, there wouldn’t be a vacuum for the artists to operate in. In the end, a culture needs both. To tell us who we were, and who we are now.
So WGN’s Salem, I give it five crypts and apologize for being such a snob.
Visit the website for Salem, the WGN series
Visit the Cry Innocent website