Month: April 2019

Progress Update: Peer Review and some Loose Ends

Having now annotated the SUNY Geneseo site, I am more optimistic about our own product, and about opportunities for improvement during this last stretch. Writing feedback for the Golden Compass project helped to place our overall progress, the scope of our original analysis, and the level of interactivity on display on our site into context. In that sense, while I still feel that we are lacking slightly in interactivity in relation to our contract, I would argue that given what we were able to obtain from actors involved in our cases, too much additional interactivity would only serve to detract from the site’s accessibility, sequencing, and content. Thankfully, the Geneseo site has left me with some valuable ideas for our site’s homepage and “about” section, two of our more maligned sections after our peer-review session.

I’ve looked over our peer-review in full, and I’m pleased with the feedback we received. While at times not as in-depth as I’d hoped, it mostly concentrated on sections I had not expected, which is enlightening. From this, I feel that I have a greater sense of how the site is explored organically, and I feel that we will have a clearer idea of which sections we should concentrate on as we are nearing the end of our revision process. I’m delighted that Olivia’s pictures of J.C. Magill Elementary School seem to have the intended response, and that the mood of the site seems to be in line with our overarching themes. Hopefully, we can secure the rights to an image of Mallory, as very few exist, and of those few, the majority have been watermarked by photographers who are seemingly inactive. I’m unsure about our reviewers’ recommendation to eliminate the “Case Outcome” page entirely, as we are already drafting a section on the case’s significance. Perhaps we will rename the section something along the lines of “Significance,” and use it as a space to explain how Mallory’s case related to censorship in general, something I feel that we have shifted slightly away from in favor of social context. I’m hoping that some additional scrutiny by way of our instructors’ feedback on the 17th will enable us to clear up any potential problems we may still have with some of the more dense sections of the site, like my context subsections.

On that same note, considering that we have been unable to reach an agreement with the Pagan Federation on a potential interview, I will be supplementing my section on Wiccan autonomy and self-identification with a short section in a 2004 broadcast of NPR’s All Things Considered involving teenagers and Wicca specifically, which I hope will allow me to incorporate American voices, as well as voices outside of any religious organization. If possible, it would be nice if I could embed this material on the page to break up its monotony, but I imagine it would be difficult to secure hosting rights. I’ve also come across an older page of essays from young Wiccans which would fill the same role.

Progress Report: Drafting & Some Concerns

While we have run into some formatting roadblocks, an early draft of the Gwinnett County case site is now available. Regarding the contextual portions I have been working on, my feelings are mixed. I am generally pleased with the amount of content on display, and feel that I’ve been able to relate it to our main subject, Laura Mallory, consistently. Moreover, in the process of writing context, it has not been difficult to connect these Harry Potter challenges to Wicca and the Religious Right, it’s clear based on surrounding materials that these issues were related in very conspicuous ways. That said, the prospect of lowering the reading level of the material makes me anxious, and I am worried about how it will affect the text’s flow, readability, and information density. The landscape theme, while initially meeting our expectations, has proved frustrating to work with in the long term, due to its lack of customizability and strange formatting rules. I expect that we will need to find a way to more clearly telegraph our use of hyperlinks, and that we will unfortunately have to contend with titles being presented in bold by default, as I do not believe that this problem can be solved with any kind of plugin. It may be to our benefit to fall back on other methods of linking to different webpages, like buttons, widgets, or extended options in our navigation menu.

Wikimedia Commons has proved to be a very useful source of images related to the context of this case, and I have yet to run into any problems with attribution. I am having difficulty determining how images should be arranged on each page, however, and even where I do have a clear layout in mind, it is difficult to work with the editor. I expect that this problem will be resolved after peer review. In anticipation of that review process, I feel that we are currently lacking in interactivity and diversity of content, given the emphasis on each in our contract. Much of this has to do with the fact that we were unable to work with certain materials, like Matrisciana’s documentary, in ways we had initially planned. This is by no means an insurmountable issue, we will simply need to focus on our existing content, presenting it in a more interactive format instead of supplementing it with additional content. I would like to see what issues our peers hone-in on specifically, but in any case, I am currently intent on compressing our contextual information. Finally, while I can offer very little specific feedback on this issue, several of our pages, namely our section on the significance of the material, simply require more content. I expect that neither of us have focused heavily on background information and presentation (about pages, the site’s title page, the title itself, etc) because we have been working exclusively with our peers, but considering that we are nearing the end of the course, we will need to prioritize these to ready the site to stand as an independent, fully realized product.

I am also concerned about a problem which I had not anticipated: the issue of considerate language in respect to practicing Wiccans. My abrupt encounter with the Pagan Federation has left me concerned that they may have been offended by the content of the site, and while our ultimate obligation is to a broad audience of non-pagans, I do intend to review the content with respect to the organization’s information on neo-paganism and Wicca.

Response: “Witchcraft Repackaged”

While I’m waiting for email responses from the Pagan Federation UK (a possible interview candidate), and Chick Publications (regarding usage rights on select portions of “The Nervous Witch,” a Chick Tract), I thought that a good use of this post would be to analyze Caryl Matrisciana’s Witchcraft Repackaged, the 2001 documentary on the Occult which supposedly inspired many of Mallory’s radical sentiments. While the documentary is still sold by various fundamentalist Christian outlets, the entirety of the film has been released on YouTube.

The most notable aspect of the film in relation to the Mallory case is the extent to which it actually engages with Rowling’s books. Where Mallory’s observations were often entirely and intentionally devoid of context, at the very least, Matrisciana’s script verges on misinterpretation; she attempts to justify most of her allegations using the text. For instance, around seventeen minutes into the documentary, in order to support the claim that “there are the concepts of Mother Goddess,” a supposed inversion of the Biblical trinity in Wicca communities based on fertility and motherhood, “being taught,” Matrisciana cites the “sacrificial death” of Harry’s mother as a symbolic representation of this tenant, and a means of communicating it to the audience. Shortly after this, Matrisciana explores the idea of “shape-changing” by noting that Harry’s father “appears as a stag, the horned god.” This complicates the notion that by not actually reading the books, Mallory had no exposure to Rowling’s content. Rather, Mallory would have at least had a cursory understanding of the material, albeit a targeted understanding specifically intended to provoke Christian fundamentalists.

Another significant aspect of the film is that it seems to concern young audiences exclusively. The documentary is not intended for a general audience; it is clear that the film is directed at the parents of young children. The introductory section during the first seven minutes explores occult imagery in media targeting young audiences, namely teen magazines like Bliss, and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The narrator repeatedly uses words and phrases which imply deception and the threat of corruption, constructing an image of religious esotericists as antagonistic predators practicing “mind altering techniques of self-hypnosis” in “dimly lit parlors or new age fairs,” but also increasingly in “bookstores, on the internet, in public schools and libraries, and throughout the media.” Beginning nine minutes in, the film also presents an MSNBC interview with fundamentalist parent Steve Mounce, for whom the issue of Harry Potter was both a moral issue and an issue of personal autonomy. Mounce stated, “I think the merit in what [J.K. Rowling] said is that they are evil books, I think parents can make a decision on whether they want their children to read these books.” The decision to reproduce the full interview, an uninterrupted five minute clip with no additional commentary provided, hints at the importance of Mounce’s position in the framing of the film as a concerned parent.

Lastly, the film repeatedly stresses that Witchcraft, Paganism, and particularly Wicca are real religious practices in a cultural and legal sense, comparable to any mainstream religion. The point that Wiccans have historically obtained tax-exempt status in lower courts throughout the United States as well as the observation that military bases have occasionally staffed Wicca chaplains are each addressed several times over the course of the film. Moreover, while it is difficult to determine the extent to which evangelical figures chosen to appear in the film actually believed in the possibility of real magic, and the extent to which they were instead discussing that possibility in a metaphorical sense, several distinguished between Rowling’s “latin words,” and “legitimate rituals and spells” taught by professionals. Speaking on the dangers of Witchcraft, one male figure shown in the film stated, “Many youth, including Christian youth, do not see the danger in Witchcraft … they do not know that they are opening doors in their life to spirits, which will come in and create very compulsive behaviors.”