Spawn of Mars
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In Vocation
Witch and Wife
Monday, March 30, 2009 10:56 pm
What does everyone know about Bewitched? It's about a free-spirited young witch whose uptight husband does everything he can to suppress her natural inclinations to magic.

No. It's not.

Go back to the first season, before the show became focused on the farce, and you'll clearly see its theme. Abandon the feminist distortions and you'll see that Bewitched is about two newlyweds, thoroughly in love, who are trying to establish a normal, suburban life. 

Both Samantha and Darrin have given up their prior lives; both have freely chosen their marriage; and both want it to be as it should be. What did Darrin give up? He's an executive at an ad agency, what the early 1960s considered to be the exemplar of white-collar hustle. To be sure, when he marries Samantha he keeps his job; but he does not keep the life of a Mad Man.

Sheila, an old flame, recently back from Nassau, having heard that Darrin is now married, invites him to a party. Come, she insists to a hesitant Darrin; everyone will be there. "We're your friends," she reminds him. So Darrin and Samantha go, thinking it's just a pot-luck; but of course Sheila has thrown a formal soiree. "Is this your little bride?" Sheila asks, superciliously, when the modestly dressed Samantha is presented to her. And during dinner Sheila goes on about Newport, Paris, Maxim's, the Riviera, Countessas and scandals… Darrin, though modestly from Missouri and not so wealthy himself, had been jetting with the jet-setters.

When, another time, Samantha is seeking a boyfriend for a friend of hers, she settles on a bachelor at McMann & Tate, an art director named Kermit. Darrin is doubtful. "Kermit's having a ball being single," Darrin says. "Women throw themselves at his feet. What a life that Kermit lives!" Samantha replies: "You were leading the same kind of life when you met me — and you were glad to give it up." Darrin, in other words, has chosen a new, more earthbound path — even though it takes him from his Nassau-hopping friends and his tomcatting ways, and is even apparently something of a financial burden, since, right away, quite naturally, as he seeks a home for himself and his wife, he must admit they will have to tighten their belts to buy a house.

Indeed, it is class that truly animates the objections of Samantha's parents. Referring to mortals such as Darrin, Endora sneers: "They all look alike to me. Noses to the grindstone; shoulders to the wheel; feet firmly planted on the ground… No wonder they can't fly." Endora is as jet-setting as Sheila. Once, she drops in on Samantha, who is quietly playing solitaire at home, and invites her to lunch. Samantha agrees and suggests a little place around the corner. Endora counters by suggesting a bistro in Paris. Though Samantha hesitates, she agrees to go, and does enjoy herself. And Endora asks: "Don't you sometimes miss all this?" Samantha answers: "Not really. I have other things that make up for it." Endora is dismissive: "Like a snappy game of solitaire? Topped off by a gourmet lunch at the cozy Have-a-Snack?"

Another moment of snobbery comes when Maurice has been shown a picture of Darrin in an Army uniform. Maurice doesn't yet know Darrin is not a warlock, and so he is surprised that Darrin would have been in the Army. Samantha, unready to admit that Darrin is mortal, says: "Everybody goes into the service." Doubtful, Maurice replies: "Everybody, perhaps, but not us." While by "us" Maurice may only mean "we witches and warlocks," notice the flavor of it all: Maurice, haughty Maurice, a well-dressed, urbane man who has arrived in a limo, scorns a man who would join the Army. When Maurice learns what Darrin really is, he exclaims that his daughter has married a "common, ordinary mortal!" Endora, trying to placate him, says: "Times have changed. This happens in the best of families." Maurice is unpersuaded. "I can't understand it," he cries to Samantha. "A girl of your background, of your breeding!"

Now, of course Samantha did not merely descend from the upper classes. She descended from a higher plane. Her primary motivation is her love for Darrin, but she wholly enters into the role of wife. She wants to be a homemaker. She wants to make a home. In contrast, perhaps, to her maiden life; for her parents are clearly separated. When Maurice arrives, Endora says: "Nice to see you." When Maurice beholds Samantha, he remarks: "You must be my daughter;" and to Endora: "She turned into quite a girl." Endora, at one point, threatens to move in with Maurice.

Samantha does not come from a grounded, unbroken family.

When defending Darrin's plans to find them a house, Samantha says to Endora: "All young married people dream of owning their own home." And Endora declaims: "That's fine for them, Samantha, but not for us. We're quicksilver, a fleeting shadow, a distant sound. Our home has no boundaries beyond which we cannot pass. We live in music; in a flash of color. We live on the wind; in the sparkle of a star… And you want to trade it all for a quarter of an acre of crabgrass."

Yes, Samantha does want to trade it all: not for the crabgrass as such but for the house it surrounds: for the home inside the house. And Samantha knows that the proper way to make a home is to make it. A home is a thing of work. Shoulders to the wheel. Why, Endora wonders, doesn't Samantha just create that cup of coffee she wants, ex nihilo, with a twitch of her nose? Says Samantha: "This is a normal household and I'm trying to avoid witchcraft." Why be down on your knees, planting flowers, when you can just wish them into existence? "We're going to do it the right way — from seeds." Why not just wave your hands and clear this clutter so that we can leave already? "I'm going to stay here," Samantha says, "and clean this house with my own two hands." And now you're baking a cake? "I want to do something for my husband."

Do something. That is the nature of marriage: doing. This is precisely the sort of mundane work that Endora, because of her powers, because of her class, disdains. When Darrin wonders if, perhaps, he should relent, and let Samantha use her magic to help his career, he realizes: "If I do it once I'll do it again, and before you know, I won't be able to do anything for myself." Samantha has willingly joined Darrin in a life of doing for oneself — and hence for each other.

All motivated, as said, by love.

They've fallen hard for each other. They married before either had met the other's family; before, of course, Darrin even knew what Samantha is. They continually affirm their love to each other. There are many, slyly sweet scenes about their newlywed randiness. Considering that she is a witch and he a mortal, "I suppose I shouldn't have married you," Samantha says to Darrin, "but I love you so much." "I love you," says Darrin, "and I can't give you up."

Impassioned though they are, they do not neglect that they are in a new state, a state of marriage. Sacrifices come for the sake of their normal household. Oh, Endora declares that Samantha can't change what she is. "I'm not trying to change," Samantha replies, "I'm trying to adjust." "He's trying to make you over," declares Endora; and Samantha counters: "He's doing no such thing." Samantha, for Darrin's sake, chose to abandon witchcraft.

In one episode, Darrin himself voices the feminist argument against Samantha's choice.
Darrin: I've been selfish, stupid, and unreasonable, and I want to ask for your forgiveness.

Samantha: I don't know what you're talking about.

Well, when we were married, you tried to fit yourself into my scheme of life.

I love you. I want you to be happy.

But what did I want? I wanted you to give up everything that was natural to you. I said, "No more witchcraft. Give it up." That's what I said. Isn't that what I said?

Yes, but I understand.

That's because you kept an open mind. But not me, no. My mind was closed, just like a clamshell. But that's all over.

Over?

Yes. From now on I want you to use that power whenever and wherever you want to.

Darrin — You don't really mean that?

I most certainly do. Why have I said to you, "No witchcraft. Don't help me, don't help yourself." Why? I ask you, Why? Well, I'll tell you why: It was ego. If I couldn't do it I didn't want you to do it. If I couldn't give something to you I didn't want you to have it. Ego! Pure ego. Simple as that.

Darling, that's not ego — that's the way it should be.
You can lament Samantha's lack of consciousness; you can decry her supposed submission to patriarchy; but she knows what she wants a marriage to be. During that episode Darrin gets a taste of being a warlock, of having one's life enriched effortlessly. Samantha is not happy with his turn.

Then a gift comes to the house. Darrin had ordered this for their six-month anniversary — ordered it before his "liberation" of Samantha. The gift delights Samantha to the point of tears, for it is a gift he acquired for her not as a demigod but as her normal, loving husband. Then Darrin admits that he regrets the past couple of weeks. "Now I don't know," he says, "if I'm too crazy about the idea of never having to worry about anything anymore. Might be a good idea to worry about where your next meal is coming from. Gives you a chance to work up an appetite." Still tearful and happy, Samantha says: "Oh — You do understand!"

Samantha is not suppressed, repressed, or oppressed. "I'll be the best wife a man ever had." Samantha has chosen a certain way of being and, most importantly, a vocation for herself. The comedy of intermittent witchery comes, of course, in that vocations are often hard, especially since they usually involve some sort of self-control and a dedication to more than one's natural inclinations.

"Unholy and Evil"
When the Culture Could Be Honest
Monday, May 16, 2005 2:16 am
Beware! Spoilers follow.

I was watching The Godfather: Part II the other day. I had not seen it in many years. I knew how the story would go; I was prepared for the powerful scenes. I had not, however, remembered the dialogue as such — and I was struck by what Kay says  about her abortion.

Recall she has come to tell Michael she is leaving with the children. She no longer loves him and can no longer bear being the wife of the Godfather. He thinks that she is unhappy about recently losing a baby; he has been told it was a miscarriage. He says to her, "I know you blame me for losing the baby." And she replies:
Oh, Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage — it was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that's unholy — and evil. I didn't want your son, Michael. I wouldn't bring another one of your sons into this world. It was an abortion, Michael. It was a son — a son — and I had it killed because this must all end.
Wow. "Unholy." "Evil." "Killed." Seriously, could you expect such honesty out of Hollywood today? There are no qualifications in Kay's words; no seeking of "common ground;" no tortured philosophical rationalizations about the beginnings of life or of personhood or of humanity. She doesn't say that it was an agonizing decision for her; she calls the act unholy and evil. She says not that she had a fetus removed but that she had her son killed.

The modern screenwriter could never write such words, not unless he was ironically placing them in the mouth of some twisted religious right-winger. There is too much at stake in the culture of death to allow the truth to be spoken so clearly. The worst part, actually, is that the modern screenwriter wouldn't even think of abortion as "unholy" and "evil." Unholy? Evil? Such regressive concepts! Few pro-aborts even admit that an abortion is a killing. How enlightened we are! Abortion, however unpleasant, is just a procedure, now. You know what? This scene would have been a wee bit less dramatic if Kay had just been exercising her inalienable woman's right to control her own reproduction. Gosh, Michael wouldn't even have had much cause to get angry with her.

How wonderfully far we have come.

Marriage, Once Upon a Time
A Screwball Comedy Hints at Better Days
Saturday, July 10, 2004 2:51 am
In very old movies a married couple is usually seen to sleep separately, husband in one twin bed and wife in the other. Nowadays we snicker at this — and rightly so. Though the motive to this contrivance may have been modesty, the effect of it is prudery. The marriage bed, after all, is the proper place for sex. By showing one bed we would affirm what is right; by showing twin beds, on the other hand, we clumsily imply that sex has no fit role in a good clean world.

Sometimes, however, an old movie can be not prudish but simply naive, and naive in a way that does affirm what is right. Case in point: My Favorite Wife. This movie, having been made in 1940, does have that silly nonsense with the twin beds; but it also has a particularly wonderful moment of sense. 

Nick is married to Ellen. One day Ellen is lost in a shipwreck. Seven years later, Nick has her declared legally dead so he can remarry. The very day that he remarries, Ellen — who has been recently rescued from an island — comes home. She learns from her mother-in-law that Nick has remarried and that he has gone away on his honeymoon. Ellen resolves to go after Nick. Her mother-in-law asks: "What are you going to do?" Ellen answers: "Well, I don't know, but I hope I'm not too late."

"Not too late"? Huh? What can she mean? Nick has already met, dated, wooed, and married another woman. Wouldn't it seem rather too late already? What does Ellen hope to do?

Why, what else? She hopes to get there before the marriage is consummated.

See, once upon a time, it was understood that sex sealed a marriage bond. Not as the icing on the cake, mind you, but as an unprecedented act that literally made husband and wife one flesh. Until sex had occurred, the marriage was — as the term had it — unconsummated. Incomplete. And so, if Ellen gets there before Nick and the new wife have sex, then the new marriage will not be sealed. Of course there will be some messy legal things to take care of, but in a certain sense nothing irrevocable will have happened.

Ellen presumes that Nick and his new wife have not had sex yet. Of course in 1940 people had sex outside of marriage; but Ellen implicitly accepts the ideal of chastity. More to the point, she implicitly accepts the ideal that sex is a significant component not of love but of marriage — an almost legalistic component. That is: sex has a role outside of pleasure. Ellen is not preaching to us; she is merely acting on a common understanding — a common understanding that has, of course, been destroyed in past decades.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone in 1940 was a saint when it came to marriage, nor that everyone understood marriage as it was scrupulously defined in, say, the Catechism. Please! But need I say it? In 1940 society had standards. However sinful the audience may have really been, they would not have been even momentarily confused when Ellen said "I hope I'm not too late." They would have understood; whereas I, in 2004, must decode her statement as if I were some cultural archeologist.

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