[personal profile] wingedbeast
If you know the premise of "I Dream of Jeannie", you know the premise of "Bewitched". They're not identical. It's just nigh-impossible to have a conversation about one in which the other does not feature. "Bewitched" came first and "I Dream of Jeannie" came next, on a different network, copying for a similar concept.

Still, what came out is quite different. "Bewitched" shows something of a sense of a culture's understanding of gender norms and class norms (Thank you, Evan Tarlton, for giving me that.) in comparison to "I Dream of Jeannie"'s more aggressive wish-fulfillment (no pun intended).

"Bewitched" is the sit-com about Darren and Samantha Stephens. Darren is an every-day, ordinary, every-man (so long as you limit that to middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Samantha is a goddess with nigh-unlimited power to create life from thin-air, invade minds, and subject mere mortals to horrific transformations... or, to use the show's language, a witch.

Other players in the story include Samantha's family, also "witches", most of whom feel it their right to subject Darren to the kinds of abuse that would, if he ever murdered them all (including Samantha, because responding with nothing more than a talking-to is enabling), quickly see him found not-guilty. After all, he's a mortal and they're witches and warlocks. This is an entire statement on privilege that the whole show ignores because, like in the case of "I Dream of Jeannie", we're looking at a combination of a product of its time and a notion that abuse isn't really abuse if the victim is a man. (Not going the MRA way, this is very much a "Patriarchy hurts men, too" situation.)

Heck, there's even an episode in which some of these "witches" temporarily lose their powers. They have to get menial jobs to get by and they find that they simply don't have the strength to endure this mortal lifestyle. They, then, get their powers back only to quickly show that all lessons are forgotten by the next episode.

Another player in the story is the nosy neighbor, Gladys. She's invasive, constantly watching her neighbors for signs of strangeness and becomes a regular risk of exposure for the Stephenses. The response to this is what we would now call gaslighting. In an episode in one of the later seasons, Gladys is on tranquilizers (because she so regularly sees things that excite and confuse her) due to this gaslighting and, due to her still seeing things that she can't explain, Samantha magically replaces her tranquilizers with hallucinogenics in order to convince her that was the cause.

Seriously, the entire show is (ahem) "witches" doing what they want, "mortals" suffering for it, and the "witches" never significantly suffering for their offenses. Sheesh, if this were a reality in which I lived, I'd get that whole "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" thing.

Any version a remake of this that keeps the power levels and behavior of witches the same has to make two important changes in order to be acceptable. Firstly, they can't be called "witches" any more. They're gods. Perhaps not omnipotent, but as close as is possible. Secondly, they all have to die... a lot... in pain.

Seriously, I don't know what crime on the books best fits the unwilling transformation of a human being into an animal, but it has to be a big one. And, the fact that Samantha's reaction is only a stern tone of voice with her mother is a crime all its own.

No, I want to take another road with this, one that includes depowering the witches and going closer to an older version of witch mythology.

That's a little difficult, in that the mythology of what is a witch can be even more fluid than other myths and legends (which is saying something). There's the idea of a witch being someone (usually a woman) who has learned forbidden knowledges. There's the idea of a witch as a separate being from humans. There's the idea of a witch as someone with inherent powers. There's the hazy idea of just... someone... evil with power.

I want to play around with three points. One is the already-mentioned someone with secret or forbidden knowledges. One is that of an unfairly maligned religion. One is that of someone who has made a pact, usually with some demonic force, in exchange for knowledge and/or power.

Here's where I start talking about Dionysus/Bacchus. Your image is likely that of a god of parties and alcohol and bad decisions. An episode of "Xena" would have you imagine some kind of uber-vampire monster in the style of The Master from the first season of "Buffy: Vampire Slayer". That's not completely inaccurate, but neither is it complete.

There's reason to believe that worship of Dionysus predates the Pantheon in which he is a minor player. And, this is for good reason. Dionysus isn't just the god you go to if you want to get plastered or to bless your party or to help your casks of wine sell well. Dionysus is the god of crossing boundaries.

That means, yes, that he's the god that you go to if you want to do something normally frowned upon, have a story that you can tell, be momentarily unbound by propriety. It can also mean that he's the one you go to if you're powerless and need someone to make the first last and the last first. For all that Rome's patron is the God of War, Bacchus is the one who will tell you love your enemy as yourself. If you are a woman, at the mercy of first your father and then your husband, it is this god that will create, for you, a world where there is, in terms of gendered power limitations, neither man nor woman.

I'm... not exactly being subtle. Am I?

This gets overshadowed by other elements. Bacchanites were (or likely were imagined to be) women who, in ecstatic worship of Bacchus, tore men apart with their bare hands.

So, what we have is a figure that is, often times, imagined into being the devil, himself while, at the same time, potentially having his identity being co-opted into that of Jesus Christ.

Other gods have been similarly maligned with such simplicity. Aphrodite/Venus, for instance, also might have a worship that predates the Greko-Roman Pantheon.

Still, we focus on Dionysus and the the notion of a witch being someone who makes a pact with, among other options, Dionysus in exchange for the power of knowledge. The fact that the options include Dionysus (crosser of boundaries), Ganesha (remover of obstacles), and Aphrodite (goddess of love), as well as the fact that the witches are, very much, human beings makes the marriage of "muggle" (for lack of a better word) and witch inevitable. The fact that admitting the manifestly supernatural elements of such practices is often a one-way trip to oppression and death at the hands of a Christian majority in Europe and America means that such unions are... not without their own stresses.

Here we enter Samantha and Darren. They're in love. They're young. They're going to get married. There's something that needs to be brought out in the open, first.

Now, Darren is not a fool. And, while we have to admit that he's much less of an "everyman" than we pretended in the seventies, he does have an average middle-class, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant understanding of "witch"... that is to say, not an overall positive one. It'll take a bit of show and some more tell to get a start on understanding. But, he's willing to make the effort. After all, she's still the woman he fell in love with, got to know over a reasonable relationship time, and this is just new information onto the old.

That said, he is, without being incredibly rich, still a very privileged person. He's privileged in that, when someone says "every-man", the "every" characteristics aren't going to exclude him. And, in a way, he can be seen as part of the problem.

Enter Andora. Andora is Samantha's mother. Andora does not approve of this relationship or this marriage. She even tried to forbid the marriage, referencing traditions that don't apply for most witches (and tough luck even trying that when the witch in question traditions with the crosser of boundaries). But, her issue isn't just with the fact that Darren isn't a witch or that this is, by some, viewable as a step down.

In the previous Case, I took issue with the job at hand. Here, I think Darren's job in advertising can become important.

Darren is not the first muggle (we'll certainly need another word for that) to find out about witches. Not all of the discoveries are under terms that the witches choose. For each non-witch who finds out that there is a community of witches hidden among us in America, there's a certain amount of potential threat. That amount of potential threat is influenced by any number of things, including the readiness of the community at large to accept witches as... not evil.

Perhaps not through anything he's done personally, Darren represents an element of society that is at odds with Andora, that has put her and people like her at greater risk. This isn't to say that he can't be a part of the solution. It is to say that she has good reason not to trust him. After all, people who control narratives are what has put her in such risk.

Enter Gladys and an uncomfortable reality.

Back when I used "Forever" as a springboard for some advice for immortality fiction*, I made a big point of the inevitability of the end of the secret. As technology advances, so does the ability to find out that the immortal is still wandering about.

Well, the same is true of the existence of a community of magic-wielders among us. Not everybody is perfectly subtle. Some magic use will be caught on camera. Sure, it can be passed off as fake just based on how easy that is to fake, these days. But, it should also be noted that the software to tell real from fake... well, that might be achievable, too.

And, here we have Gladys the nosy neighbor. She's of an older generation. She's of a conservative Christian faith that puts her as a subject of her husband, but also gives her the ability to establish herself and her place by pitting her against her neighbors. She finds what they do wrong and uses it against them... even if it's not necessarily wrong and her power mainly stems from people trying to be polite in the face of her "polite" belligerence.

Now, these witches aren't as powerful as the show we have now. They can't just transform someone into a goat or transport them to a random spot on the globe. Or, if they can, they can't do so without great cost. Their most powerful use of magic has to apply the least power to the most effect and, therefore, places great stock in subtlety... which has its limits.

This may be a more progressive time. But, not all the people are so progressive. And, given a specific community, well... An initial response can be laughed off in time. But even if none of the victims were actually witches, the fame of Salem Mass. would still be an example of a reality that isn't nearly so far gone as we like to believe.

So, with that oncoming, Gladys, in a way, makes a perfect test-case. She will find out, eventually. How the witch and warlock community responds to Gladys is, itself, a bit of a question on how they will respond to the world at large. Can they manage her? Is it even possible to make a friend out of an enemy like Gladys?... Noting, of course, that the answer can often be "no".

I want to note one thing, especially, about the magic of these witches. It's all based in knowledge. The value of some kind of pact is the wisdom of the spirit in question. Said spirit will teach. Said spirit might aid or protect in some way, shape, or form. But, all the powers held by the witches are those that can be learned by anybody, given time and study and the study-resources available. There would, in fact, be some who have managed such study without such an arrangement. The word for one who seeks wisdom is, after all, "Wizard".

* https://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/17638.html

My Big Fact Witchy Wedding?

Date: 2017-06-01 12:13 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The team behind Bewitched never seriously tackled the logistical implications of magic in a realistic setting, at least not to the degree that J.K. Rowling did, so any reboot has a rich vein of possibilities. The original series seemed to focus more on the class of cultures in a domestic setting. It combines two types of conflicts later used in films: the Love Story type where the scion of artistocrats marries a commoner, and the My Big Fat Greek Wedding concept of the WASP marrying into an immigrant culture.

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