I'd Rather Be Burned As A Witch Than Never Be Burned At All
March 7, 2014 9:10 AM   Subscribe

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2014

Pretty decent clip selections, but would have much better than the poster learned how to edit a montage.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking of Eartha Kitt, I had sex with her in an airplane bathroom!

What? It came up organically!
posted by Talez at 10:31 AM on March 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think this is the right place to post my theories about Bewitched vs. I Dream of Jeannie.

Both shows are ostensibly the same, and the same in the way I found bewildering. Both are about men who have a near-ominipotent, adoring woman in their life, but absolutely refuse to allow the women to use their powers in any way.

An easy read of this is that it's about fear of female power, and there probably is something to that. I mean, that's a big part of the witch story anyway -- that the women who were persecuted as witches were targeted because they represented a threat to the status quo, either by representing an alternative religion or because they filled the role of medical professional in their community, and because they violated standards of behavior or beauty that were particular to women, and represented a patriarchal crushing of women who violate these norms. So there's that, and I don't want to dismiss it.

But each show had a slightly different spin on the story, and here's where I think there are some unique narratives they offer. Jeannie is a little easier, in that her magic actually always creates trouble for Captain Tony Nelson. Jeannie is the living embodiment of those "be careful what you wish for" storylines, and, although the show sometimes suggests that Jeannie is a bit of a dolt and that's why her magic always misfires, there is a strong running sense that actually she's just a relentless prankster. It's telling that Hugo Montenegro's musical theme used during the show's comic bits was called "mischief." But whether her mishaps are the result of puckishness or doltishness, there is real cause for Nelson to not want her to use her magic -- it's trouble. In this way, the show reflects the traditional view of magic and witches, that they are a threat to stability and power. I think it is no accident that Jeannie's primary interactions are with military men and representatives of the U.S, government; the show's creators placed her where her magic could do the most potential damage.

Bewitched is a lot more complex. Although Jeannie's producers retrofitted the show to make Jeanni'es family all genies, like Samatha's family is all witches, it never seemed as essential a part of the show. But in Bewitched, Samantha isn't just a witch, she's part of an entire culture of witches that is presented as being somehow omnipresent. You don't simply marry a witch, you marry the witch's entire family, and they will always make trouble for you.

I think Bewitched is much more of a domestic comedy than I Dream of Jeannie. In a lot of ways, Bewitched is Abbie's Irish Rose, the Broadway play about a Jewish man who marries an Irish woman, than it is anything else. It's a story of the sorts of marital problems that can happen when people from different ethnicities (especially ethnicitiesthat do not share common values) marry. More evidence? The show often recycled plots from I Love Lucy, another show about a cross-ethnic marriage.

The use of magic in this show is a stand in for all the sorts of supposedly embarrassing things that, say, the extended family of a Greek bride will bring to a WASP world. And, in this world, witches are a clannish, secretive group, like a lot of oppressed minorities. The risks of their private cultural behavior is typically much lower stakes than in Jeannie -- it is social embarrassment. In this case, the story is set in a milquetoast suburb of New York City (either Westport, Connecticut or Patterson, New York) where the interactions are with nosy neighbors and the representatives of power are Darren's Madison Avenue advertising cronies -- the people who sell normalcy and offer their products as solutions to social anxiety and embarrassment.

Unlike Jeannie, Samatha's spells actually do often solve problems (she repeatedly uses them to thwart her romantic rival, Sheila Sommers, who has designs on her husband). The danger in the show isn't one of misfiring magic so much as it is one of discovery, and this is exacerbated by Samantha's two children with Darren, who, in their childlike way, aren't as keen to assimilate. In fact, they follow a pretty common assimilation pattern, in that Samantha's aunts and mother cannot assimilate because they are still too close to the old world, Samantha assimilates as much as she can (encouraged -- even commanded -- to do so by her husband), and that her children reject assimilation in favor of forming a merged identity.

I don't know if this was deliberate, but I don't think it's coincidence either. The show was created by Sol Saks, who was a second generation America Jew, and Sidney Sheldon, also Jewish and whose novels specialize in stories about secret identities. It had William Asher as producer, and he was a product of a Jewish-Catholic mixed marriage, and Harry Ackerman as its executive producer, an American Jew who grew up as a member of the only Jewish family in an Italian neighborhood (Ben Gazarra was his family's Shabbos goy!).

Deliberate or not, I think it is easy to read Bewitched as an allegory about the Jewish experience. I think that's why it's stakes are lower -- having people discover your wife is an ethnic minority isn't the sort of thing that might destroy the US government -- and is why the show often seems to be on Samatha's side, as all the people her are trying to out her are fools, prigs, nosybodies, and drunks. Samantha's extended family is, frankly, delightful, including her mod sister.

That's my take on these shows, which I presented to my girlfriend a while ago and was told in no uncertain terms that I may spend too much time thinking about Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:58 AM on March 7, 2014 [39 favorites]

I will also mention that I have been to both Jeannie and Samatha's houses, and they are on the same studio backlot (Warner Brothers Ranch) and are basically across the street from each other, which amazed me. I have also watched the pilot of I Dream of Jeannie with Barbara Eden, which is probably the best way to watch the pilot.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:04 AM on March 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Holy Moly Bunny Ultramod!!! That is one hell of a thesis you've got! I've got nothing to add other than I live walking distance to the Ranch.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:11 AM on March 7, 2014

Funny how many of the "good" witches (including Glinda, Rosemary, Gil Holroyd (Bell, Book and Candle), Miss Price (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and of course Samantha and Jeannie are blonde, while many of the "bad" witches (Wicked Witch of the West, Jeannie 2 and Serena) are brunette.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:19 PM on March 7, 2014

That's my take on these shows, which I presented to my girlfriend a while ago and was told in no uncertain terms that I may spend too much time thinking about Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

In fairness, your girlfriend may have a point. Have you tried other, alternative hobbies? My Little Pony TV series, perhaps?
posted by Wordshore at 1:27 PM on March 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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