Tonight, the new season of American Horror Story (subtitle: Coven), premieres on FX, and without giving anything away we’re here to tell you it’s exactly the delicious dive into witchcraft you’ve been waiting for. The last few years in horror generally have been vampire-dominated, and thus, in a strange way, also kind of male dominated. Although things like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries and True Blood have female protagonists, it’s often men at the forefront, literally chewing on the scenery. The women have to be the strong, stoic types. Not so in AHS: Coven. And so, let us hope we’re all turning the tide back to not just a new cache of folklore but also to a supernatural trend where women get to do more of the fun stuff. Every single actress in this iteration of AHS looks absolutely delighted to be in the role she has.
In the 1990s, when I was a teenager, witches were everywhere. Today people often reference the Fairuza Balk/Neve Campbell movie The Craft as though it were the driver of that trend in the culture. But it actually came awfully late in my experience of fellow young-nerd-women who retreated into Wicca and Paganism as a way of coping with social ostracization.
They weren’t the ordinary-looking witches of Charmed or even Buffy, but people who enjoyed wearing velvet chokers and thanking the Goddess and drawing Celtic runes. It was very often very silly, I agree, and there were certainly paths that even my extremely socially disenfranchised self declined to follow them down. But while their actual powers were a matter of dispute, just the practice and ritual seemed to be enough to give them a measure of much-needed self-respect.
Girls today are expected, instead, to find that in the practice of twerking, and while I’m being slightly tongue-in-cheek here, I’m more concerned with resisting the notion that there’s some one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of young women’s self-esteem than with the particular form it takes. Some girls will find Miley Cyrus’s open rebellion inspiring, but others like the runes, and I’m saying it’d be nice to see a few other choices open up. There are more things than are dreamed of in Miley’s philosophy, and her act loses shock value with every moment that ticks by. (This was one good point that the Amanda Palmer open letter had the other day.) If you want your kids to avoid the foam finger, a good way to do that is to point out that there’s another, Ouija-board-wallpapered way to feel in control in a world that makes sure to tell you you’ll be anything but.
AHS is cultural juggernaut enough in and of itself to start a trend. And its coven of witches, who include both Gabourey Sidibe and the much-missed Taissa Farmiga, possesses the requisite offbeat chemistry that makes for successful pop culture iconography. And there are signs that this thing could spread — other than the anodyne Witches of East End, we also have Carrie in the offing this fall, a film I haven’t seen yet but which certainly has quite the energetic marketing team behind it. I’m not saying that crushed velvet dresses and heavy, laced boots are going to come right back with it. But count me in as preferring those to PVC hot pants, and I think were I teenager today I’d remain firm on that point. At least, I hope so. Bring on the witches.