Bewitched ... the 1960s sitcom revisited: a queer read.
There is definitely more to this program than initially meets the eye if we are willing to read or view this through a queer eye/guise! If we take a queer eye and "stop reading straight" (Britzman, 1995) the complex nuances of this program can be unearthed from several different perspectives. The authors of this paper will look at this popular sitcom from a different perspective through the lens of queer theory. If we consider the title of the show Bewitched and connect this to that well-known song "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" (Rodgers & Hart, 1940) it becomes apparent that the title words of the song are rather apt given the intent of this article.
It appears that we have all been bewitched by society, shaped by the social, cultural, and political issues that influence the general state of the world we live in. Things that do not fit neatly into any specific category have bothered us, until we make even more categories into which we can then categorize those things that were left on the parameters. At the same time we are less bothered about those issues that beset our world daily that reek of social injustice around such topics as race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and religion. We appear to be bewildered by the propaganda that we are fed when it comes to areas of the popular press and popular culture such as movies, television, music, and commercial advertising. We can also be bewildered by the bizarre state of politics, or more precisely, by the dogma dished out by those in power in the name of equality, liberty, and justice for all. These three words become paralyzing agents in the process of hegemonic ideology to dumb down and numb society until there is only one normal way to see the world.
In this context, how can a seemingly lighthearted television show such as Bewitched provide another way of seeing? How can a situation comedy delivered on a regular basis into all our homes via the wonderful world of television, stir, disrupt, decenter, or overturn the capitalistic, hegemonic ideals this society upholds and we strive to fulfill? How can we, as viewers and consumers, change our perceptions to create a better world?
The following is the authors' collective interpretation of Bewitched from three different perspectives as seen through the lens of queer theory. These perspectives are the feminist, performative, and Bewitched as a gay metaphor.
In the case of a theory which names itself "queer" but resists defining itself, Turner (2000) offers explanation and illumination. In his book A Genealogy of Queer Theory, Turner historicizes queer theoretical thought and elucidates concepts of queer theory. Turner cites Eve Kosofsky and Judith Butler as "founding mothers of queer theory" and identifies feminist, Teresa de Lauretis as first to use the term "queer" in 1991 (p. 5). Turner also notes French philosopher Michel Foucault's influence on queer theory and names his work as integral to its creation. Foucault (1978) contributed to the notion of sexuality as fluid, and as a socially constructed discourse. Turner provides attributes of queer theory, which include a refusal to accept absolutes with regard to identity and an agreement that gender roles are socially constructed.
Queer theory grapples with gender, sexuality, power, and politics as it attempts to understand identities and cultures. In an essay by Kanner (2003) a central principle of queer theory is illustrated:</p> <pre>
Queerness is about destabilizing conventional categories, subverting the identities derived from and normalized by heteropatriarchy. Queerness defies binary and fixed categories such as homo-/heterosexual, female/male, even lesbian/gay. Queerness, in both social performance and in lived identities, interrupts both convention and expectations. (p. 34) </pre> <p>As elucidated above, queer theory challenges heterosexuality as the dominant cultural norm. Queerness exudes resistance to dominant power structures, which marginalizes "other" identities. Queer theory views sexuality and gender as subjects meritorious of study in their own right.
In his book on identity, social theory, and social change, Kirsch (2000) states, "Queer theory promotes the 'self' of the individual as an alternative to wider social interaction ... [t]he self as a non-conformist becomes part of a stance that disengages politics as a reality of daily life" (p.79). A mutual assumption among queer scholars is that queer theory seeks to deconstruct heteronormative paradigms grounded in patriarchal discourse. The interpretative nature of queer theory and the space that it creates opens up the possibilities for a new twist, a queer sensibility on Bewitched.
Because of the heteronormative assumptions of Bewitched held by mainstream American viewers of the Stephens family as a "typical" American family, this situation comedy allows mainstream viewers to feel safe and comfortable while they watch it. A queer read of the show however destabilizes meanings throughout the text.
In a queer deconstruction of the show, connections can be fashioned between the comedic scenes of witchcraft in Bewitched, and thus the performative elements of the show, and issues of a queer lifestyle. Many mainstream Americans consider witchcraft and queerness to be taboos. Because of the mystique that surrounds them, many witches and queers have remained "closeted." A queer reader of the show will draw correlations between Samantha's closeted life as witch living in a heteronormative culture, to their own closeted identity as a queer living in the same culture. Bewitched is rich with inadvertent queer content that this article seeks to explicate.
In the queering of the 1960s television series Bewitched, a postmodernistic sensibility or representation is embraced where nothing is absolute and knowledge is socially constructed. It is with this understanding that we explore the question of queer theory and how it applies to Bewitched.
Although Bewitched was billed as situation comedy dealing with metaphysics and magic in the confines of domestic bliss, it created a space to examine other social issues. It put into question the representation of self and power. On a more broad scale, it put into question the concept of social conventions.
To the gaze, Samantha Stephens's persona was bewitchingly beautiful. She was a fairytale beauty that had it all. She was the Barbie of the 60s. A beautifully proportioned body, beautiful long coiffed blonde hair, perfectly manicured and made up. She was truly the icon of beauty and accomplishment that many of that generation aspired to emulate. As the wife of a successful advertising executive, Darrin Stephens, Samantha had a "front" for the casual observer which Goffman (1959) describes as, "that part of the individual's performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance" (p.22). To the unsuspecting observer, Samantha appeared to follow the stereotypical expectations of performance as the 60s wife with a beautiful, immaculate house on the right street, beautiful children and an adoring husband who financially supported their middle class lifestyle. She was empowered in a way, which both maintained the social status quo and privilege particular needs for her husband and children. This allowed them to perform within the commonly accepted standards by which they became accepted in their community and social circles; this was also a front.
However, behind the closed doors (and sometimes outside them) there was a problem; Samantha had a flaw or stigma (Goffman, 1963). Goffman states, "society establishes the means of categorizing persons and the complement of attributes felt to be ordinary and natural for members of each of these categories" (p. 2). A stigma states Goffman is, "a special kind of relationship between the attribute and the stereotype ... an undesired differentness from what we anticipate" (p. 4). And Samantha was definitely different.
Samantha was wrapped in a female gendered body but had power within that body to transcend the normal. She was a trickster and a witch who, with just the twitch of her nose--a 'witch twitch'--could alter humans both mortal and immortal and other situations. Week after week she portrayed a paradox of power and submissiveness as she lived in the world of mortals. She conflated the paranormal with the normal. She conflated power with submissiveness. She conflated the light and dark side of humanity. She was doing the unthinkable. Try as he may, Darrin was unable to harness the power Samantha and her flamboyant mother Endora and other relatives were able to exert over him.
Bewitched operated as an apt metaphor for females of the era coming to terms with their power in an increasingly destabilized patriarchal context. It was an awakening of possibilities and provided space for unthinkable thoughts to become thinkable. Watching the show females could imagine possibilities to remove the sutures of hegemonic dictates of the 1960s and tap into their own multiple personalities for identity, strength, and confidence.
As Elizabeth Montgomery, the show's star, took on multiple characters women were challenged to internalize and negotiate possibilities within themselves. Within one half-hour episode, viewers were able to watch her take on the dual roles of Samantha, the housewife, and Serena, the sexually aggressive, whiny, flighty, and vain cousin. One could even see the possibilities of testing boundaries and become what previously could not be imagine as Samantha refused to have her voice silenced in showing the strength and confidence to reject her family's insistence that she stay faithful to her heritage by marrying into the mortal world. For many, the fantasy of the television world and the everyday world began to blur. We watched, we laughed and, we were bemused, Bewitched, destabilized, and even bothered.
Why? On a surface level Samantha, with the power of a "witch twitch," had the ability to clean a whole house in seconds. However, she took on the mortal drudgery of washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, cleaning on Wednesday, etc. Why did she choose to perform these labors in a mortal way? The answer--her husband wanted and expected her to perform the gender boundary expectations of society. He views his wife's unlimited power as decentering his masculinity so, under the guise of protecting their marriage and maintaining his own status as the patriarchal household head, he forbids her to exercise her natural power. He wants a "normal" wife and mother and Samantha saw that the way to gain emotional fulfillment was to conceal her power. Samantha often did use her magic to save him. Even when she used this magic, she was careful to protect his ego by making him feel that it was his ideas that saved the day.
In one instance there is this strong, powerful woman who could have the world at her fingertips and become a role model for women's rights of the 1960s. However, this is not explicitly realized because Samantha appears to abdicate this position of power to fulfill the role of dutiful wife and mother. Samantha's behaviors as a woman appeared as compromise, as do her rights as a witch. The question begs to be asked, "did she compromise?" There were times when Samantha did use her magic without the permission of her husband. Was this the sign of a liberated Samantha--a woman who was free to make her own choices? Did she perhaps exercise her agency as a powerful woman, secure in her knowledge that as a witch she had unlimited power but, nevertheless, did what she enjoyed--that is playing the role of a housewife and mother? After all she was raised a witch and being a mortal housewife provided another way of being.
On the other hand, was Samantha's free spirit so constricted that she took on the role of her cousin, Serena her alter ego, a dark haired, miniskirted, and sexually aggressive, guitar-playing, counter-culture hippie? Was this Samantha in Serena drag? Was it Samantha living her life through Serena that challenged the role of domesticated wife and mother?
Could these be representations of the multiple roles many females today play in attempting to rupture the boundaries of heteronormative structures and ideologies? Are they embracing fluid rather than fixed identities? While Bewitched essentially supported family values, there was also that special power Samantha possessed of breaking the bounds of femininity that was so alluring and could be used to defy the patriarchal power and authority Darrin fought so hard to maintain.
The metaphor of Samantha as witch was a call for liberation from a dominant culture that reduced female identity to hollowed-out stereotypes. For millions of women, watching the sitcom brought into focus the challenge of rethinking their identity as woman, wife, and mother. Bewitched provided a space to reposition the lens on their own image and to view self in a different light. As women they could see themselves as not born into a female body but made into one through socialization, submission and obedience, and the dogmas of "thou shalls," and "thou shall nots." As Simone de Beauvior advances in her essays in The Second Sex (1952), "One is not born, but rather becomes a woman" (p. 301). With this recognition, women could realize their agency through the awareness that they have the power to make choices about renegotiating their identity through their performativities. Butler contends that gender and sexuality are achievements rather than givens and "is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time" (Butler, 1999. p. 22). Sedgwick (1990) adds, "one can, with a bit of imagination, conceive any number of ways to organize sexual identity, including preference(s) for certain acts, certain zones or sensations, certain physical types, a certain frequency, certain symbolic investments, certain relations of age or power, a certain species, a certain number of participants, etc.,etc" (p. 8). Fluidity could be embraced rather than fixed.
Bewitched also demonstrated a clash of social conventions. Bewitched relied for its laughs on the deviant behaviors of two clearly differentiated groups portrayed in the series--the mortals and the immortals. In Bewitched we watched Samantha negotiate these two worlds as she balanced the demands of Darrin and family life. We watched her attempts to maintain peace and good cheer despite the hostility between Darrin, her buffoon husband, and her outrageous mother, Endora, who despised the suburban world in which Samantha was marooned. However, at the same time we witnessed the complex mingling of sex and power as Samantha sometimes exerted her agency.
In his effort to keep his patriarchal identity in check, Darrin's constant attempt to undermine the natural power of Samantha and family sometimes had the opposite effect when Samantha chose to use her power to manipulate the situation. This destabilized Darrin's power and he definitely felt threatened.
This serves as an analogy of how the seemingly dominant group (in this show Darrin) attempts to silence the "other" to maintain the status quo and how power can be exerted by the "other" in the face of oppression. In Bewitched we juxtaposition between the "in group" and the "out group" and often became confused about who really had the power. Boundaries were crossed creating questions about what and who is acceptable and what and who is unacceptable. Bewitched used humor to parody an uneasy culture driven by power to maintain the contours of a patriarchal society and suppress anything outside those contours.
Bewitched reached its audience on various levels, sending multiple and contradictory messages. For some it was pure entertainment, for others it created a space of discourse to explore a range of possibilities about identity, power, and sexual representation. It created a space where females could look at their own performative magic as outsiders looking in.
For the purpose of examining performance or performativity through the lens of queer theory and relating this to the television show Bewitched, it is useful to take a notion often used in drama where one can look behind the story and delve into the characters and the roles they play or perform. This enables an exploration of the concept of performativity through probing into and analyzing the type of performances these characters and actors portray. The focus for this type of examination is on the main characters in the show Bewitched and the actors that perform these roles with the intention to shed some light on the worlds of performance, theater, drama, and fiction and their relationship with reality, or, at least, the way we perceive reality and thus our performativity in the world.
In the sitcom Bewitched the main role of the witch Samantha, played by the blonde haired actress Elizabeth Montgomery, is the one who can be seen as the light in the drama world, the one that offers hope, possibility, and goodness. In opposition to her role as Samantha, Elizabeth also plays the role of dark haired Serena, who is Samantha's cousin. Serena's character provides the dark component, which creates tension within dramatic theater. However, Serena is still attractive and appealing, but has not gone to the other side and denied her witch powers as Samantha has tried to do. The actress, Elizabeth Montgomery, also appeared to live two lives, seemingly one of solitude behind the spotlight off-stage, while the other was in full view of the glare of popular television and consequent fame; thus even her own life could be seen as representing the dark and the light or that constant tension of trying to be "yourself" while having to fulfill societal and cultural expectations.
When the show began, the actor Dick York initially played the role of Darrin, Samantha's heterosexual normal (that is of the human world) husband. The second actor to play Darrin was Dick Sargent who in real life, as opposed to the fictional world, was gay. It is interesting to note the physical similarities of the two actors who play the role of Darrin as well as the commonality they shared related to their first names. This is probably, however, where the similarities cease. While Dick York was presumably pursuing a character role not that dissimilar to his own life, this was not the case for Dick Sargent. In an article 'Bewitched--and Bothered' it was noted that "few gay personalities ever emerged from the closet quite as dramatically as Dick Sargent" (People, 1994, p. 1).
Dick Sargent played the second Darrin from 1969 to 1972 and in order to maintain his acting career he often chose to present a facade of normalcy or heterosexuality by posing with shapely female actresses. He even added a phony failed marriage to his publicity material in order to keep the truth at bay and pursue the pretense of appearing normal in the way that society has deemed we all should be. In fact, Dick Sargent did not come out of the closet until the early nineties when he was finally tired of pretending. It is ironic in a way that while pretense is a required trait for actors it is not something that can be easily transferred into the way we live our lives. Yet so many people are required to pretend or perform their entire lives as a fantasy or a fiction, in opposition to their real selves because society has no tolerance for difference or for allowing people to live the lives they want to live. Sargent, who died of prostate cancer at the age of 64, was strongly involved in gay rights. Sargent also admitted that before he "drifted into movies" and became cast as Darrin in Bewitched, he made a couple of attempts at suicide during his college years. The signs that show us that life is not worth living because we are different speak volumes, and yet we pay little attention to the ostracism we inflict upon those outside the frame of declared normalcy.
If you consider that the warlock uncle on the show, portrayed by Paul Lynde who was also known to be gay although he never publicly self-identified as such, then these two actors provide performances which truly contrast each other, as if they could be living two different lives. On the one hand we have one actor performing as a heterosexual while the other dresses up flamboyantly as someone who is presented as far from normal, and not part of the real or human world. Thus, this form of perfomativity only goes to confirm that if we present ourselves as different, eccentric, or, in fact, larger than life, we do not represent "real" life, but some form of fiction, fantasy, or abnormal type of existence--something not of this world! Thus our performativity becomes scripted onto the body from outside influences of culture and society where we have either the choice to "fit in" or to be seen and perform as "different" and, as a consequence, live our lives on the periphery.
When it comes to performativity there was no one more grandiose than the actress Agnes Moorhead who played Samantha's mother Endora. As Endora, Agnes swept through the sets as a figure larger than life, constantly stirring up the seemingly sane and normal worlds of both Darrin and Samantha. In her role as Endora, she was disappointed that her daughter, who possessed such wonderful powers, had chosen to live (or perform) a life as an ordinary (or mortal) wife and mother. Darrin, whose name she never seemed to remember (or just perhaps purposefully forgot) appeared to Endora as entirely unsuitable for her daughter to marry. Endora does much to disrupt the relationship between Darrin and Samantha, constantly goading Darrin and treating him as worthless. There was evidence that Endora relegated Darrin to a role of non-existence or invisibility by never confirming his presence as one person, hence the multitude of other names she called him.
Whether it was to disregard the presence of Darrin, particularly as her daughter's husband, or to relegate him to lesser status, for example, by turning Darrin into a child (Miller, 2000, p. 142), Endora created major disruptions in the normal household of Samantha and Darrin. Endora's intention was to entice Samantha back into the world of witches and warlocks, to be proud of who she was and embrace her witchcraft powers. Thus, both Endora and Samantha straddle two worlds pulled between the apparently normal life and the life into which they were born and stayed connected to through their powers of witchcraft. If, as it has been rumored, Agnes Moorhead was a lesbian in her real life, her role as Samantha's mother could be seen as a replication of the life the actress lived as a lesbian in a heterosexual world. In the world of fantasy or performance there is permission given to perform another "self" without necessarily revealing that this is part of the "real" self. Agnes, as Endora, was able to perform outrageously and show pride in being different, safe within a fictional role. In real life, however, this may be a completely different story where one's difference is hidden.
As stated in a text edited by by Creeber (2001), shows such as Bewitched deal with "questions of difference, otherness, increased power, and the impact of these on personal and community relationships: a significant number of them draw on other cult television forms, using supernatural power as a motif through which to explore these concerns. Many shows give the sense that to be a woman is not to be quite human" (Moseley, p. 43). Bewitched becomes categorized under the general title or genre of Family Sitcoms, but with a twist, that of being supernatural. This particular genre or aspect introduced into family sitcoms "suggest that like modernity, progress, science, and reason themselves, the modern suburban family was shadowed by darker and mostly unspoken 'others' from pre-modern and irrational traditions (see Spigel, 1996). Within the sphere of everyday ordinariness, families were fractured at best" (Hartley, p. 66). Bewitched was, in a sense, an approach at fracturing the everyday ordinariness of family life and suburbia. It was also an attempt at shattering the meek and mild roles of a supportive wife, without being outright in doing so. Samantha is seen to be supportive of her husband but, in fact, possesses powers that are way beyond her husband's capabilities or control, and seemingly appears to be far more able in all areas of both domestic and business domains. Samantha has been known to infiltrate Darrin's work space in the advertising business and overturn, with a wiggle of the famous nose, disastrous attempts by Darrin at developing the most appropriate advertising campaign and winning over a client. Despite the fact that Samantha is the one that often saves the day she is never given recognizable credit, that credit or acknowledgment goes to her husband, because everything that Samantha does is done in secrecy. From this point of view Samantha is the one who is kept "in the closet" so as not to reveal her "true" self and upset the so-called balanced world of business, or more aptly, the men's world of business.
In a sense there is "a quasi-familiar structure offered in order to satisfy the needs of the viewer, ... as if it was from our family to yours" (Feuer, p. 69). This promotes an allegiance with family values even if those family values are being twisted or queered, sometimes unknowingly from the perspective of the audience. Bewitched very much presented the ideal of the nuclear family, although some later shows expanded upon the concept of the family unit. However, "to base a sitcom on a nuclear family is to affirm rather than question the status quo" (Feuer, p. 69). Thus, sitcoms that undo the nuclear family are in a sense critical of it as a social institution; the alternate families that develop are social alternatives to the nuclear family status quo. In addition, because Samantha had the ability to retrieve Darrin from ridicule in the business world, this type of performativity also provided a glimpse into challenging the male-dominated capitalistic corporate world. Even the minimal effort conveyed by Samantha, or any of the others capable of witchcraft or magic spells, provides an example of how easy it is for a woman to change the state of affairs with a wiggle of a nose, or a wave of a hand, and this definitely comes as a threat to male supremacy.
Although this was generally the case for Samantha and Endora, it was not the case for Aunt Clara, who always had a great deal of trouble getting her magic spells to work as she wanted them to. While providing a comical portrayal of a bumbling witch, the performative aspect related to Aunt Clara was suggestive of other comments on societal attitudes and behaviors. Aunt Clara was an elderly witch, and seemingly it was because of her age that her tricks did not work as well as she would hope. Consequently we are led to believe that as one ages we are less able to perform in the way society expects. Thus, just as in theater, one is required to perform in real life to fit a role that has been scripted on us based on societal and cultural expectations. Those expectations are defined by a powerful few that set the standards that everyone must fulfill.
To make some connection between the show Bewitched and queer theory as it relates to the performative the question that needs to be asked is "when we perform what do our performances constitute?" To venture further into this question related to the concept of the performative Nicholson (1994) states: "Judith Butler has argued that the self is constructed, not through fixed communities of discourse, or ontology, but through a series of performative acts. This means that gender relations are not simple givens, but are constituted and reconstituted through social interaction" (p. 31). Nicholson continues to present Butler's argument that "experiences construct cultural distinctions, not, as is thought by some educational dramatists, that there is a pre-linguistic psychological interiority" (p. 31). This means that our identities are not fixed, but fluid and changing and are not just expressive of some form of set discourse; thus we take on different roles and perform these roles according to the social constructs and interactions we are exposed to. Therefore, what we do and say creates who we are at any given moment, rather than some form of inheritance we have each been given that becomes an internalized way of being, as if we really have no chance whatsoever to change ourselves. Nicholson further stated that Butler contests notions of the self "which assumes various roles within the expectations of modern life while the interior self remains intact" (p. 32). Butler adds:</p> <pre> If gender attributes are ... not expressive but performative, then these acts effectively constitute the identity they are said to express or reveal. The distinction is crucial, for if gender attributes are acts, the various ways in which a body shows or produced its cultural signification, are performative, then there is no-pre-existing identity by which an act or attribute might be measured. (1990:279) (as cited in Nicholson, 1994, p. 32) </pre> <p>Nicholson continues; "She (Butler) goes on to argue that through performative acts, the individual is rewarded for suitable acceptance of gendered behaviour, and that gender division is real insofar as it is performed. Butler's position gives an optimistic view that the self is not entirely socially constructed, part of an ideological inevitability, but unstable and open to renewal" (p. 32).</p>
<pre> Gender is not passively scripted onto the body, and neither is it determined by nature, language, the symbolic, or the overwhelming
history of patriarchy. Gender is what is put on, invariably, under
constraint, with anxiety or pleasure, but if this continuous act
is mistaken for a natural or linguistic give, power is relinquished to expand the cultural field. (282) (as cited in Nicholson, 1994, p. 32) </pre> <p>This statement by Butler can begin to revolutionize the way one thinks about the self, construction, and the way in which we have become seemingly entrenched into a way of being that was out of our control. As stated further by Butler, "Performing one's gender wrong initiates a set of punishments ... performing it well provides the reassurance that there is an essentialism of gender identity after all (279)" (as cited in Nicholson, 1994, p. 32).
Thus, as Nicholson suggests, "the act of adopting or performing one's gender leads to false affirmation of essentialism" (p. 32). Ultimately the argument Nicholson presents related to the issues of gender roles, is that drama should</p> <pre> embrace dramatic stories, not as representatives of universal truth, but both as cultural iconography and imaginative fictions. This can provide an opportunity for intextuality within the dramatic act [which can encourage the production of] more thought provoking, challenging and increasingly sophisticated work based on equality. This stems not so much from related to being female, but more so from the perspective of gendered behavior and
dispelling the common pitfall of creating or perpetuating the binary or bifurcation of gender roles. (p. 35) </pre> <p>The bifurcation of gender roles is definitely something that was strongly evident in the program Bewitched. If we take the notion put forth by Butler that to "perform one's gender wrong" brings about punishment, while to perform it well continues to perpetuate the essentialized roles of gender then, on the surface the character performances in Bewitched suit this notion to a tee. The main character Samantha is definitely rewarded in the real world for performing her wifely duties as deemed appropriate by the predominant patriarchal society. Whereas, if she were to perform her witchcraft (that is, to become the "other") she could only do so if she covered it up in some way so as not to appear unusual in a so-called normal world. In the time when this sit-com was produced, any deviation from the norm was seen as somewhat sacrilegious because it was disrupting the image of wholesome familial characteristics upon which this society was founded. In her role as Samantha, the actress Elizabeth Montgomery certainly conveys a picture perfect performance of the domesticated, supportive housewife. She fulfills her role as a dutiful wife while endeavoring to keep her witchcraft powers hidden.
Yet, in a sense, we begin to see a splinter, or even a wedge, of otherness creeping into the program albeit in the guise of witchcraft, or something fantastic and, therefore, definitely a performance that is seen as fictional. The powers that Samantha possesses as a witch can very readily move her into another sphere of being where she can do anything she wishes to, including the housework, with a wiggle of the nose. Yet in her attempt to try to fit the role of a perfect mother and wife, she subsumes her otherness, which is seen as an abnormality in the world she has chosen to enter. Thus, in doing so, she appears to reject her witchcraft in favor of fitting into the human world.
From one point of view, because Samantha remains steadfast to her mortal husband, it is perhaps Samantha who can be seen as a splinter, because she has the opportunity to really get under the skin. By remaining in and becoming part of the mortal world she is able to infiltrate into the everyday lives of people and to bring about a sense of discomfort (and, quite often, confusion) through mingling the two worlds of mortals and immortals.
Endora, Samantha's mother, on the other hand, is definitely proud to be a witch and to use her witchcraft whenever she wants to. She is appalled that her daughter should marry a human and then try to keep her talents as a witch under wraps. While Samantha is the splinter, it is, perhaps, Endora who is the wedge because her main intent is to create a rift between Darrin and Samantha, and therefore, break up their marriage. This could definitely be seen as challenging the heterosexual world, if we substitute witches or warlocks for other and consider different sexual orientations such as lesbian or gay. Endora is not content to let this union exist without interference and each show is evidence of her menacing power to not only thwart Darrin at every turn, but to also pitch Samantha against him. She does this using her magic by revealing or staging Darrin's incompetence or through introducing other women to entice Darrin and upset Samantha's steadfast love for him. Samantha, nevertheless, continues to trust Darrin, knowing that, it is her mother's spells that are to blame for Darrin's odd behavior.
Consequently, the underlying premise is to keep the heterosexual roles safely in place in the face of all odds, thereby perpetuating the binary gendered roles we are deemed to perform not only in fiction, but in real life. Even as the main protagonist Endora still gives in to the dominant normal world her daughter has entered despite the enormity of her powers to disrupt whatever she wants. Ultimately, in her role as Endora she performs the expected role of a woman and as a mother where her love for her daughter, however warped it may appear to be, is seen to be the most important aspect.
Both women, however, have the chance in this program to disrupt or decenter what is seen as normal because both possess powers beyond the mere mortals in the show and therefore have the ability to convey that there really can be a place for difference. Given the constraints of the time however, this show never really succeeds in breaking those norms; Samantha faithfully stands by Darrin through thick and thin, and Endora, try as she might, never breaks down the family mold. There is, however, another glimmer of light with the arrival of Samantha and Darrin's daughter Tabitha, who turns out to also possess witch powers, something that could be seen as a future prospect for transgressing the boundaries of normalcy. This prospect, however, is yet to be realized.
As Judith Butler (2003) states "Philosophers rarely think about acting in the theatrical sense, but they do have a discourse of 'acts' that maintains associative semantic meanings with theories of performance and acting" (p. 392). If one comes from a background in drama and understands the power that performance can have this sentence is an important statement because even in the fictional world of drama the language used and therefore conveyed holds incredible and influential potency. Butler refers to "John Searle's 'speech acts,' ... 'action theory,' a domain of moral philosophy ... [and] the phenomenological theory of 'acts,' espoused by Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and George Herbert Mead, among others" (p. 392).
"Speech acts" appears to refer to the verbal exchange we engage in that "constitutes a moral bond between speakers" while "action theory" is explained as a way of trying to understand "what it is 'to do' prior to any claim of what one ought to do" (p. 392). The phenomenological theory of 'acts' seeks to address the way our social reality is constituted through language, gesture and symbolic signs (p. 392). The phenomenological perspective is explained using the quote from Simone de Beauvoir which states "one is not born, but, rather, becomes a woman," which is said to be reinterpreting the idea of "constituting acts from a phenomenological tradition" (p. 392).
Here Butler refers to the phenomenological tradition related to gender which "is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time--an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts" (p. 392). This is where the performative aspect of speech or language, which, through its very usage, can be seen to socially construct the roles or performances we enact and consequently the identities we adopt. In addition to the constitution of language gender is further prescribed through the performance of the body, through the very gestures, movements, and enactments that become "an illusion of an abiding self" (p. 392). The following quote by Butler states this powerfully:</p> <pre>
Significantly, if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender ansformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style. (p. 392) </pre> <p>It is Butler's intention to show how the origins of gender have been understood as established and how, therefore, ideas of gender may also be thought of differently. This is done so from a different perspective "to theatrical or phenomenological models which take the gendered self to be prior to its acts" (p. 393); i.e., who we are and how we act is already inscripted on the body. Butler takes the view that the roles we play in life not only create the identity of the actor but in so doing, also create an illusion, "an object of belief" (p. 393). This has always been the premise of drama, to take on a fictional role but to treat it as if it were real. Therefore, in so doing, we bring our reality to bear on the performance thus simply perpetuating the very roles society has proffered as acceptable. For this reason we need to ask the question, "what reality do we bring to that role and what and who are we as we enter that role or performance?" (p. 393).
If, in drama, we know that we create a fictional world with the view that we can change that world, or view it from a different perspective, we need to seriously consider the types of roles and performances we play or reenact. And if this were the case can we not take the same approach in the "real" world? Can we not realize that the roles we play can either reflect the world as it is, or change the world and ourselves in the process? Thus, as Butler states, "in its very character as performative resides the possibility of contesting its reified status" (p. 393).
This notion behooves us to really consider what performances or performativity we create in the way we read or view the world such as those performances found in shows such as Bewitched and the roles the characters portray. If we see our lived experiences as something that only reflects our gender roles as presumed by the larger society, and that "sex dictates or necessitates certain social meanings for women's experience" (p. 393) then the embodiment of these perspectives are surely carried through if left unexamined. As pointed out by Merleau-Ponty the body is "an historical idea' rather than 'a natural species" (as cited in Butler, p. 393), thus who we are or perform as is established historically, rather than a given. The body embodies or encompasses particular cultural and historical aspects or characteristics as prescribed by the society in which one exists and impacts upon how one acts. Consequently, as suggested by Butler, we need to expand the way we view "acts to mean both that which constitutes meaning and that through which meaning is performed or enacted" (p. 393). This translates to the way we perform our gender and relates to performative acts within theatrical contexts. If this is the case, what are the possibilities for transformation of gender and sexuality as conveyed through the performance of the body? How can these acts be disrupted, diverted, or queered?
If we apply this question to the sit-com Bewitched it appears that there are ways in which we can deconstruct how we "see" or "view" things, with the idea that we can reconfigure our viewing and interpreting. Bewitched is a prime example of "otherness" set up in contradiction to "being normal," however, this "otherness" tends to remain in the fictional context unless we, the viewers, apply the underlying messages obtained through queering what we see to the world we live in. If performance is scripted upon the body through societal constructs, how we perform must be "cracked open" in order to find other ways to be in the world so as not to perpetuate hegemonic, standardized, heterosexual parameters that only go to constrain and contain. This is the challenge for culture, education and society if it is to act as pedagogy of liberation. If the inclusion of queer theory rejects the idea of fixed positionalities, we have, at least, some chance of opening horizons of difference rather than defining difference within a narrowed frame of reference or as a form of opposition to another social category (Ferguson, 2000; Butler, 1993; Warner, 1993; hooks, 1990).
Now if we turn our queer lens and look at Bewitched as gay metaphor, what do we find? In order to expose Bewitched to this type of read, we've asked the following questions: First, is being a witch (or warlock) in Bewitched a metaphor for being gay? Can Samantha be read as a gay man? And what of her passing for mortal? Are Darrin and Sam(antha) a gay couple?
We begin by examining Samantha Stephens who is the Other, she is the one attempting to live in a world where she cannot be fully herself, we assume. In other words, she lives in a world that is the mortal normative and Samantha must be in the closet about being a witch.
In Annamarie Jagose's text, Queer Theory: An Introduction, about theorizing same-sex desires, she states that "(t)o a certain extent, debates about what constitutes homosexuality can be understood in terms of the negotiation between so-called essentialist and constructionist positions" (p. 8). We would like to use these two positions in understanding Samantha as well.
To take it from an essentialist viewpoint, we quote Jagose (1996) quoting Edward Stein "(e)ssentialists hold that a person's sexual orientation is a culture-independent, objective and intrinsic property (p. 8)" (as cited in Jagose, p. 8). Taking this position with Samantha, then one would say that Samantha was always a witch and will always be a witch as it is part of her core being. This is evidenced in that (1) we have never seen Samantha be anything but a witch, (2) she appears to come from a family of witches, and (3) she has a witch child. In fact, we the viewer are never even led to believe that she would have it any other way. At no time are we ever given the idea that Samantha is anything but comfortable in her witchness and, when given the opportunity, she practices her witchcraft with great pride. Samantha espouses this theory the best herself in at least one episode in which she, because of her mixed (witch/mortal) marriage, is stripped of her powers; in making her plea to the witches' council she makes the claim that they can strip her powers, but that she is still and will always be a witch. Also, we get a clear example of her self-assuredness and pride of being a witch played out in the pride she takes in her daughter Tabitha's magical abilities, although she does worry how her husband will react and because of him she attempts to put restraints on Tabitha. Nonetheless, she is proud when Tabitha exhibits great skills as a witch. Therefore, it would seem that there is at least some part of Samantha that is intrinsically a witch.
However, it is the other theory, that of the constructionist, where we find more clues so that we may read the witch Samantha as a gay man. Again quoting Stein through Jagose, "social constructionists think it is culture-dependent, relational, and perhaps, not objective" (p. 8). Let us now turn this way of thinking onto Samantha. There are many conduits through which Samantha receives her codes of what normal is within the context of the mortal world. Obviously her husband, Darrin, is one of these; however, there are others who model mortal normalcy for Samantha such as Darrin's boss, Larry Tate, and his wife Louise, along with the nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz, and her husband Abner. Neither Samantha nor we, the viewer, ever see any of these others performing magic; therefore, we assume that they are mortal, like the rest of the world. Samantha takes her code from these others and acts accordingly so as not to arouse suspicion. It appears as though Samantha stays in the closet and passes as mortal in order to appease her husband, because of her love for him.
If we now take this idea of being a witch and think of it in terms of being a gay, how is it similar? More specifically, for the purpose of this read we will examine Samantha in terms of being a gay man. For this reason certain assumptions need to be made. The most notable assumption being that the character of Samantha Stephens would most closely parallel that of a gay man who is out to himself and those close to him, but not the larger society. Samantha knows she is a witch; she has self-identified. Yet, the majority of her existence is mimicking those she presumes to be mortal in order to pass in the mortal world. While she is "out" as a witch to herself and her family, she realizes that in order for her to live in the mortal normative world she must be in the closet to that world. Is this not similar to the gay man who is out to himself, his family, and friends, yet because of circumstances such as job security, housing, etc. he believes he must remain in the closet to that area of society? As Samantha gets her codes from those around her in how to be mortal, so do gay men get their codes in how to "act straight." However, does Samantha ever ask the others if they are mortal or does she just assume mortal normalcy? The same could be said of gay men witnessing presumably heterosexual men, as heterosexuality is the norm. However, without knowing how the other person self-identifies, how do we know if that person is mortal or heterosexual? Still either witch or gay, men are modeling on what society prescribes as the norm, while at the same time resisting the normative paradigm. Therefore, one could say that being a witch or a gay man is a social construct which is in opposition to the construct of heterosexual or mortal.
When Samantha does practice her witchcraft, it is done so that no one in the presumably mortal world can witness it. Many times she will just look around to make certain no one is watching. However, there are times when she will step out of the room, she will stick her head on the other side of the door, or she will hide behind bushes, and there are times when she cannot escape the mortals in the room so she covers a side of her nose with her hand so that she can twitch, thereby her not being seen in the practice of witchcraft leads others to assume that she is mortal. Yet, when the opportunity arises for her to use her witchcraft, she does not hesitate to do so. Again, when we compare this to gay men who are in the closet, we find many similarities, especially in gay men who are out to themselves and their family while in the closet to the rest of the world. This person does not practice being gay; however, there are times when he can be more fully himself and this is usually not in the presence of the larger heteronormative society. What this person does practice is a way of being seen as heterosexual and this is what he presents to the world outside of his immediate family and friends; thus assuming if no one sees him "act gay" then the others must assume him to be straight. This same person, however, can be perfectly happy being gay when he is in a presumably safe place, i.e., around other gay men, his friends and family, or larger gay functions. Again, it is the facade and the witnessing of such that composes the dichotomy between that which is heterosexual, mortal, and that which is gay, witch.
Darrin Stephens is Samantha's husband, and while he is the hegemonic conspirator in maintaining the dominant ideology, he did not create it; in fact he is as constrained by it as Samantha, if not more so. It is Darrin whom Samantha is appeasing by not using witchcraft because he is not comfortable with anything that does not have the appearance of being normal. While Samantha has had the advantage of being "in the life" as a witch prior to her meeting, falling in love with, and marrying Darrin, this alternative lifestyle is completely new for Darrin and therefore he is not as comfortable being in it as is Samantha. Darrin is the most extreme of the closeted gay man; he is not even out to himself. He finds himself in love with a person who happens to be a witch (read same sex); however, instead of celebrating this love and declaring it to the world, he hides it away out of shame and/or fear. Not only does Darrin refuse to publicly acknowledge that his wife is a witch, he forces Samantha to deny herself and later her children a part of who they are, namely witches. It is almost as if the old adage of "methinks thou protest too much" is in effect here. Deborah Britzman explains Melanie Klien's theory of splitting in that we project, and here Klein uses the Freudian theory of projection, what we do not like and may fear in ourselves onto others and if it is enough of a fear we split ourselves from that which we cannot see in ourselves. (Britzman, After-Education 26-27) If we take this theory and apply it to Darrin, he projects his witchness/gayness onto Samantha and Endora, as well as Samantha's other witch/warlock relatives; because Samantha adheres to the same ideologies as Darrin, that being living in the mortal/straight world, Darrin can have a relationship with her. However, Endora and her kin are so comfortable in her/their witchness/gayness that Darrin splits from her as well as the rest, which creates the tension so that he can hate her and them because his self-hate is such. We can also examine the physical gesturing that Darrin makes when referencing being a witch or doing witchcraft. At times, Darrin cannot even say the words as if the mere utterance will make him complicit; instead he uses his fingers to twitch his nose. Darrin's fear of being outed as a witch-lover manifests itself in many ways, not the least of which is physical. For example, in the early years of their marriage, Darrin appears to always be "on edge"; he is fidgety, his voice is high-pitched and quivers. This is especially true whenever he and Samantha, and usually one of Samantha's relatives, are outside of their living environs; however, it also happens when outsiders are in their home. In later years, Darrin appears to mellow and is less excitable when confronted with the idea that he may be found out. Perhaps this is because the last couple of years a different actor plays the part of Darrin Stephens and perhaps he has a different interpretation of the character; however, for the purposes of this read on gay metaphors we are considering the character of Darrin Stephens and not the actor portraying him. Therefore, if we only consider the character of Darrin, there is a pivotal moment in history that happens around the time that the actors playing Darrin change; that pivotal moment being the Stonewall Riots which took place in June of 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This event, in which the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club, refused to be complacent in their own harassment by the police, is considered to be a defining moment in the gay rights movement. If we take this into consideration when examining the character of Darrin, we see that we have a fidgety, easily excitable pre-Stonewall Darrin who is desperately afraid of being outed and then we have a more mellow post-Stonewall Darrin, who while still afraid of being outed, appears to be more accepting of who he is. Darrin's worst fear is realized during the episode when one of Aunt Clara's spells goes awry and they are transported back to the first Thanksgiving; one of the other pilgrims witnesses Darrin using twentieth century technology, namely a match, and speaking in a strange manner, modern English, so he calls him out as a witch and a trial ensues with everything working out in the end. However, there are instances in which Darrin is given magical powers and during these times he finds himself enjoying the power and must force himself to give it up, lest he becomes seduced by it. Darrin is so entrenched in the hegemonic discourse of mortal normalcy that he is unable to even imagine a world where being mortal is Other. We find in examining just these two characters of Samantha and Darrin that there are multiple ways of being a witch, just as there are multiple ways of being gay.
If we now consider this other reading of the characters Samantha and Darrin, can they be read as a gay couple? To begin let us think of the naming of these two people, as a married couple they become the Stephenses as Darrin's surname is Stephens; can this be read as the plural of Stephen? In addition, Darrin often calls Samantha by the diminutive of her name, Sam; a name that is usually considered as masculine, thereby giving us the couple Darrin and Sam, alternatively the Stephens' family. If we read Darrin and Sam as a gay male couple, Sam is the partner who is out to herself and her family and it appears would be perfectly happy with shedding the mortal world and living completely "in the life" if it were not for her husband. Sam stays closeted because of her love for Darrin, who on the other hand is not out to anyone, least of all himself. Darrin is the partner who strives for mortal (read heterosexual) normalcy; he is the one who must uphold the facade of being mortal either because of fear or shame. Most of the arguments in this household stem from the fact that one of the partners in this couple has self-identified as something other than mortal and is comfortable in this identity while the other has not. This is not to suggest that all male couples have this dichotomous relationship of one being out and the other being closeted; it is only for the purposes of this read that we are exploring this couple in this way.
Let us also look at the attempts made to dismantle this couple, especially in the light of the current debate on gay marriage. This is where we need to switch our lens just a little and not necessarily look at being a witch as being gay, but as the couple as a gay couple, the reason for this being that most of the attempts to separate Sam and Darrin are done by the witch community, for they are the ones in the know that this is a mixed marriage. In this instance, the witch community is the one that has the power to dissolve this marriage, or never have it happen in the first place. They, the witch community, allow it to happen in order to appease Sam and because they do not think that it will last; it is just a phase that she is going through and she will come to her senses, eventually, in their way of thinking. Because they do not understand how a witch could love a mortal (or one man another) and commit to him; they choose not to validate the union. Most of the attempts to break up this marriage are done by testing the fidelity of one of the partners, usually Darrin. They, usually in the guise of Endora, try to tempt Darrin into falling for another woman; and oftentimes this other woman is mortal, but sometimes she is immortal as well. Can this be read as Darrin being a witch lover, read gay, because he just hasn't found the right mortal, read woman, yet? Obviously Darrin is the one who seems to be more susceptible to being seduced into the "normal" world because of his intense fear of being outed. By reading Darrin and Sam in this way the case can be made for them being a metaphor for a gay couple.
What of this magical world that Samantha's relatives inhabit? Would it be comparable to the Castro District in San Francisco for gay men or any other "gay ghetto"? We, the audience, are rarely given a glimpse of this world and when we are it is usually because some judgment is being passed on Samantha and/or Darrin and/ or their mixed witch-mortal marriage. However, we are led to believe that it is a wonderfully open place where one can practice witchcraft freely and can be completely themselves; unless, of course, he or she is a mortal, and then it probably would not be such a wonderful place. And what of Samantha's magical relatives? Aside from Uncle Arthur, who we are told is Endora's brother, there is never an explanation of how the others are related. Family is a term used in some gay culture speak as in "he's family" meaning he is gay; is it the same in Samantha's lexicon? Are there genetic connections between Samantha and Aunt Clara or Esmerelda, or Agatha; or is it just because these people are witches as well that Samantha refers to them in this way? Or is it that family as we currently define it is a social construction and that it is currently being redefined to mean those who are in close fellowship with you? Either way, it is clear that there are certain codes used by marginalized people to recognize others in their group. This then leads to consideration of witchdar in comparison to gaydar. As radar on a ship can identify other ships in the surrounding area, there is a concept of gaydar in the gay community where one can recognize another through clues and codes. There are certain episodes in the series Bewitched where magical persons disguise themselves for various reasons, yet they either identify Samantha as a witch or are identified by either Samantha or Endora as not being what they propose to be. For example in one episode a wood nymph disguises herself as a relative of Darrin's in order to exact a centuries old curse on him and while Samantha does not identify her, Endora instantly outs her as a wood nymph. In a different episode, a warlock has turned himself into a chair and is in an antique shop; when Samantha enters the shop the chair immediately takes to her. Therefore, there must be some sort of witchdar in which these magical persons, knowingly or unknowingly, overt or covert, emit a signal or code that is read and identified by the other. Taken separately these issues may not be enough, but when viewed collectively it appears that one can live "in the life" both as a witch and as a gay person.
In this paper, we have exhibited how we can impose a different read on this text that is Bewitched through Queer Theory, yet what is Queer Theory? The authors believed that we should demonstrate how one can use Queer Theory before trying to explain it because one way of thinking about it is that Queer Theory is the theory that cannot be described. However, we might posit that queer not only cannot be defined, it actually resists definition. As Nikki Sullivan in her text, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, induces the attempt to define queer theory is a decidedly un-queer thing to do. We can start thinking about what Queer Theory is with knowledge that it is not stable. Queer Theory grows out of a post-modernist, post-structuralist foundation, especially in the ability to deconstruct. However, what queer does is not stop at the deconstruction but opens up new possibilities. To go back to Jagose, she states that "'Queer'" is not simply the latest example that describe and constitute same-sex desire transhistorically but rather a consequence of the constructionist problematising of any allegedly universal term. Queer is ever changing, again to reference Jagose, "(i)dentity, then is an effect of identification with and against others: being ongoing, and always incomplete, it is a process rather than a property" (p. 79). For our purposes in this paper queer is about removing the layers to reveal the underlying assumptions with the very basic assumption being about gender and sexuality, for you cannot have one without the other. Once we recognize that gender and sexuality are a basic assumption we can then start to dismantle what that means in order to imagine new possibilities for being. Quoting Sullivan again, "the term queer can be used to reinforce rather than deconstruct, the ways in which identity and difference are constructed in terms of binary oppositions, of us and them--oppositions which are never neutral, but are always hierarchical. The queer subject of this kind of discourse reaffirms his or her identity in opposition to the supposedly normative other." While this statement refers to reinforcement rather than deconstruction, we would suggest that in order to reinforce we must as well deconstruct. Sullivan also quotes Steven Seidman who says:</p> <pre> Queer theory is less a matter of explaining the repression or expression of a homosexual minority, than an analysis of the Hetero/Homosexual figure as a power/knowledge regime that shapes the ordering of desires, behaviors, social institutions, and social relations--in a word, the constitution of the self and society. (p. 51) </pre> <p>So, what we have is that queer theory is ever changing; consists of de-stabilizing the dominant ideology; looking at the social constructions within the society; decentering the Cartesian subject; peeling away the assumptions; in order to create space for a re-imagining of being in the world; but, don't quote us on that.
One may believe that introducing a witch as a main character and part of the family make-up of a 1960s sitcom is queer in and of itself. While this is certainly true, the authors of this paper believe that the queering did not end there. This introduction of a witch Other only provided the thread that we were able to start unraveling all the pieces that made up this sitcom in order to construct a different garment through Other lenses. We also believe that this is just the beginning; in the course of writing this paper and having conversations with ourselves, we found many other areas within the sitcom to explore; however, time and space constraints led us to focus on the three areas of feminist, performative, and gay perspectives. In addition, we believe that the temporal distance between when the show was created and when this paper was produced gave us the space we needed to perform our analysis without regards to what the original writers may have been thinking; whereas this may not be the case with some of the more modern television series that are queered. The authors would also like to acknowledge that a feature film opened during the summer of 2005 with the title and some of the premise from the sitcom Bewitched; however, it was not included in our analysis and retelling only the original sitcom was used.
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Patricia Fairfield-Artman is a professor of communications studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Rodney E. Lippard is a professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Adrienne Sansom is a professor in dance and drama education at The University of Auckland, New Zealand.
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|Author:||Fairfield-Artman, Patricia; Lippard, Rodney E.; Sansom, Adrienne|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2005|
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