Bewitched and Jeannie

I loved watching Bewitched re-runs when I was growing up. In the ongoing battle between Endora and Derwood, I was on Endora’s side. Why shouldn’t Samantha use the powers that were her heritage? If she could wiggle her nose or wave her arms and produce a 3 course meal, why not? I always thought that Derwood was jealous of and threatened by Samantha. She was such a powerful and smart woman, with the knowledge of centuries. He was only a mortal man.

Samantha saved and/or furthered Dum-Dum’s career countless times. Sometimes she used magic and sometimes she just came up with an advertising concept or slogan that the client loved. Samantha was the advertising genius, not Do-do, and he knew it. In just about every episode she saves the day by means magical or mundane. All his “No magic, Sam” nonsense was intended to turn her into a meek little boring housewife — a respectable woman.

Yet Samantha, despite buying into the devoted wife stereotype, could never wholly submit to the “no magic” status quo. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, she added magic into Darrin’s life and her own. Endora and Serena acted as her “id”, her dark side, encouraging her to break the rules, accept and use her abilities, and the hell with the consequences – deal with them if they arise.

I Dream of Jeannie
I Dream of Jeannie is more problematic than Bewitched, since it is basically a male wish fulfilment (pun intended) fantasy. A nubile young genie washed up on the beach in a bottle, and the man who “popped her cork” became the master for whom it was her duty to fulfil his every desire. Yeah, right.

Jeannie was also the archetype of the ‘old fashioned woman’, the type who believes that she must obey her man’s every command. How could she be anything else, when the last time she was loose in the world was in Ancient Babylon? At first, she has trouble fitting in and adjusting to the modern world, although she does her best. Tony, himself, despite telling Jeannie that she is free, is actually of two minds about it — he is quick to command her to obey if she does something he disapproves of.

Jeannie’s struggle with her own attitudes, and those of society at large, are illustrated by her bottle. After thousands of years, she has been freed from her prison. But it’s comfortable inside and cosy. Unless one is forced back into it by someone else and imprisoned again. Jeannie has not fully discovered what her potential is, like many women of the time, since her horizons have only just expanded, but she has become aware that she has a right to choose whether she remains in the bottle or not. Much of the antics in the show are ways that Jeannie manages to open the bottle when it appears that she is once again trapped inside ‘for her own good’.

Jeannie, therefore, is her own woman. She has her own ideas and expresses them, and mostly gets her own way. Her idea of helping Tony was often quite different to what he had in mind, yet usually turned out for the best (eventually).


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June 2002
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