Return of the witch : the scapegoating of the unredeemable woman in modern American cinema
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During the decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, American movie audiences witnessed a cultural phenomenon. With increased frequency and vehemence, Hollywood screenwriters and directors depicted female film characters as dangerously mentally ill and violent to the point that films featuring such characters became their own distinct genre. Whereas earlier Hollywood anti-heroine was still feminine and dependent while being evil and calculating, the new image that emerged in the latter part of the century had lost all dignity and become so monstrously pathological that the intent could only be to evoke not only fear in audiences, but shame for women. This vii cinematic trend was in part a reaction to the modern feminist movement and the increasing power and independence of the working woman. Moreover, these films were a reflection of a troubled society confounded by rapid change, upheaval, and loosening moral standards. These characters serve to both reveal cultural tension, and act as scapegoats to relieve it, much like the 17th century witch of Puritan New England. The early New England community labeled the ancestral witch as envious, angry and discontented, all qualities present in her 20th century counterpart. While the witches’ persecution served to identify evil and unite the community in eliminating it, the modern day audiences could also find smug satisfaction and symbolic retribution while viewing the defeat and destruction of the New Witch.