Three is a magic number. Well, “magic.” But whether or not you believe in the occult, the number three is invoked all the time when it comes to superstitious events. And so we’re all familiar with the accepted knowledge that things “come in threes,” which is why when beloved, legendary Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard and despised criminal/Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died within a few days of each other in 2010, everyone got really worried about Yogi Berra. And then there’s the fact that the number three is so culturally important, entrenched as it is in everything from Greek mythology (the three Fates, the three-headed dog Cerberus, etc.) to the Bible (the Holy Trinity, sure, but also the infamous love triangle of Jacob-Leah-Rachel) to Shakespeare (the three witches in Macbeth). But do you know what else comes in threes? Or, at least, do you know what else needs to come in threes before being written about? Trends! That’s right, in the world of blogging, three trends makes for a trend piece. And you know a trend has really arrived, and probably already played itself out if it gets a write-up in the New York Times Styles section, which, after having finally discovered Brooklyn, has now discovered that this borough isn’t just inhabited by your run-of-the-mill hipsters. As it turns out there’s much scarier things happening in Brooklyn than man-buns even.
I know, I know. Nothing is scarier than a man-bun. And yet, the Times has moved past writing about the grooming choices of North Brooklyn men, and on to writing about another trend that pretty much every single media outlet in New York has covered in the last few months: witches. That’s right. Witches! And because it’s the Times, and because these witches live in Bushwick, they’re not just presented as any kind of witches…they’re presented more like hipster witches.
The focus of the Times article is the Bushwick occult store Catland and its owners, and the tone it adopts is one of removed skepticism, and even condescension, such as when it refers to one attendee of a full moon ritual as “a woman who gave her name as Rachel Rabbit White.” So, hey, NY Times! Rachel Rabbit White is actually a real name for a real person who happens to be a pretty well-known journalist. And also, there’s the description of Catland as being an “intentionally dusty, dim shop smelling of sage,” as if that’s a strange thing, as if every single person I know’s apartment isn’t dusty and smelling of herbs of one sort or another.
I don’t particularly believe in the occult (or, for that matter, particularly believe in anything), but I do still have a problem with the type of passive-aggressive, better-than-you tone adopted when describing other people’s rituals. I mean, does it seem strange or maybe pointless that the “witches of Bushwick” write the “burden they had wanted to release on a slip of paper and placed it into the caldron, symbolically letting it fly into the night sky”? Sure, maybe. But it also might seem strange that people in Jerusalem write prayers on pieces of paper and stick them into a wall, and yet the Times probably won’t go out of its way to observe that practice as if it was a bizarre ritual that makes no sense to outsiders. At the end of the Times article, one of the owners of Catland, Philip English, recalls the negative reaction the store received after receiving coverage from the Brooklyn Paper, and says, “It used to be that with witchcraft and the occult, the anger was directed toward perceived diabolism…And now it’s directed at the idea of hipsterdom or gentrification. I have trouble making the connection. If you’re going to hate us, hate us for the traditional reason to hate us. Call us witches, not hipsters.”
And he’s absolutely right! Because it’s all too easy for the establishment (i.e. the Times) to dismissively write about something that’s happening within a subset of people with which it’s not familiar, thereby delegitimizing it for no reason beyond the fact that it’s outside of the norm. And, because in this case the trend the Times covered happened to take place in Brooklyn, it gets categorized as just some more hipster nonsense, like urban farms and facial hair. But that does a real disservice to what is actually taking place, which is the building of a community that, whether or not you want to be a part of it, fills the very real needs of many people in the area. And there’s nothing trendy or fleeting about that.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen