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still from Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary’s Baby

all of them witches

Sorry for the delay on these notes, y’all! Pandemic ate my homework. But I’ve really been enjoying reading your live-tweet reactions on the class hashtag!

What we’re reading/watching

  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • Frankfurter, “Awakening to Satanic Conspiracy”
  • Skal, “It’s Alive, I’m Afraid”

I also posted my slides from the last time I taught this film on Canvas. Not required, but I thought they might be helpful.

Keywords

  • camp
  • abjection (again)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Here’s the link for the movie:

again, CW for sexual assault. You’re welcome to analyze the screenplay instead of watching the film or get in touch with me about an alternate assignment.

Here’s my thread from last year about the film:

notes on camp

I also did a pre-screening thread on the concept of camp, which is particularly important for making sense of the end of the film.

This is way more fun in thread form, so I highly recommend you read it that way. But the short version is that camp is over the top, fake, exaggerated, “unnatural,” as Sontag says, often if not usually repulsive, and deeply rooted in political critique.

from Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” (1964)

Camp overdoes social conventions — like, say, gender or religion — to such an exaggerated extent that you can’t help but notice their social construction. Again, check out the thread for a more detailed explanation. For now, think about…

  • what’s campy in this film?
  • what social conventions is the director trying to disrupt by exaggerating them?
  • And what does camp have to do with this film’s depiction of witches, religion, and gender?

gender, abjection, and perspective

Keep Williams and Creed in mind while you’re watching this film, too! Where do women see themselves in monsters in this film? Where is femininity abject?

Also Polanski is a disgusting human but a meticulous filmmaker, so keep in mind our Mulvey:

  • what is the camera doing? (remember POV?)
  • whose perspective are we being asked to assume when the camera directs our gaze?

There is a LOT of reflection-work that happens here. So the gaze isn’t just working through the camera — it’s happening in mirrors, windows, even a toaster at one point. Keep an eye out for this, and ask yourself why the camera plays so much with reflections.

Frankfurter, “Awakening to Satanic Conspiracy”

Frankfurter shows us the ways that the Satanic Panic concentrates social anxieties about rapid cultural change, especially about religion & gender. He argues that the recognizability — the familiarity — of a specifically Christian understanding of evil is what makes the Satanic Panic possible. As Frankfurter puts it:

“it was the sheer recognizability of a Satanic conspiracy for a culture saturated with Christian apocalyptic demonology that gave it an integrity and authority despite the utter absence of forensic evidence.” (Frankfurter 2008, 78)

(That recognizability is also what’s freaking a lot of Christian folks out about Lil Nas X’s new video, fwiw.)

Frankfurter reads this film as a precursor to how the Satanic Panic in the 1980s taught us to fear and suspect our neighbors. I cut the Satanic Panic stuff from the syllabus this time around, but if you want a quick intro:

I also have an article about adult women being diagnosed as ritual abuse survivors, if you want to read more about this. (CW like whoa for child sexual abuse.)

Skal, “It’s Alive, I’m Afraid”

Skal reads Rosemary’s Baby as an expression of cultural anxiety in the face of rapidly changing reproductive politics, especially cultural anxieties about women’s reproductive autonomy.

(Did you know that the pill had only been legal in the US for three years when this film came out? And abortion wouldn’t be legal for another 5 years.)

“Rosemary Woodhouse is led repeatedly to believe that she is making her own carefully considered reproductive choices, but the decisions are all being made for her. No matter what charms and preparations she uses or Ingests, she is not really safe.” (Skal 1993, 293)

The monster — the real thing people are scared of, according to Skal — isn’t the baby: it’s Rosemary, being able to decide what she wants to do with her own body. And as you probably know, many Americans are still scared of letting folks who can get pregnant make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies.

Again, not required reading, but I also have a book chapter about American religion and reproductive politics.

So, closing thoughts:

  • Is Rosemary’s Baby a feminist film? Why or why not?
  • What is the film trying to say about religion and gender?
  • how might the theorists we’ve read this semester respond to the argument of the film?

Our next session is about witchcraft and sexual violence; if you need to sit that one out, please let me know.

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This course uses witches and the idea of the monstrous feminine to introduce foundational concepts in the academic study of religion and gender.

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Megan Goodwin

Megan Goodwin

author of _Abusing Religion_, co-host of “Keeping It 101: A Killjoy’s Introduction to Religion Podcast,” and wikipedia-certified expert on (ugh) cults

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