Witch’s Wit beer may be tasty, but the label is distasteful. See for yourself:
I am sure that the beer-makers were not inspired by malice toward witches or any other Pagan practitioners, but in a world in which people are still burned for their beliefs, Pagan and otherwise, do we really need use images of people being burned at the stake to sell anything? And yes, that is a rhetorical question.
This is not about political correctness, of which I am no fan. In fact, I believe that most sacred cows are meant to be slaughtered. But objecting to Witch’s Wit labeling is not about protecting any sacred cows or any particular tradition. This is simply about the need to maintain a level of civility which is slipping away a little bit more, it seems, each and every day.
If you remain uncertain about this, try this little thought experiment: Picture a marketing campaign built around images of members of the tradition most sacred to you being burned alive. How does it make you feel? Even if you believe that the marketers are not motivated by hatred, are you feeling comfortable with that image? Does the suffering of those who share your belief make sense to you as a way to sell beer, cookies or anything else? You get the point.
This is actually not simply a question for the makers of one particular beer or for Pagans. With Halloween only days away, it’s a question for anybody who plans to put on a costume or decorate their home. I will not be doing either, because that is not my practice, but you can bet I ask myself those same questions at Purim time.
What is an appropriate costume for Halloween? College campuses around the country are grappling with this issue. At Syracuse University, a message from University administrators reminded students that “costumes needs to be respectful,” and at Northwestern, students were told, “No black face.”
In reaction to these messages, campuses around the country are being called hypocritical, and censors of free speech. But is that really the case? Like the case of the beer label, one can insist on limits without being unduly draconian or oppressive. It simply requires a bit of common sense.
To be sure, as a matter of rights, we need to protect individual’s freedom of expression. But the issue of college costumes, like that of the beer label, is not really about rights, it’s about wisdom. Of course there is a certain inconsistency in any institution, and most universities are in this category, warning against insensitive costumes but protecting flag burning as free speech. And University leaders should take note that if they are going to speak out against one; they should speak out against the other as well. But, not all free expression is equal.
While it is all protected, there is and ought to be particular awareness of how a particular outfit or image may threaten a particularly vulnerable group e.g. dressing as a gay teenager with a noose around his neck is not appropriate given the high rate of suicide among gay teens. It may be legal to where that costume, but is it right?
Sometimes debating what is legally protected undermines actually protecting human beings. Just because someone has the right to do something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do –something to think about this Halloween, and pretty much any other day of the year.