Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, & Police Woman: Breaking the Mold

Posted: April 1, 2011 in In-Class Screenings
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During class the week of March 14th, we viewed three programs from the mid-1960’s to the mid-1970’s.  While Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie appear to be from essentially the same framework; Police Woman takes an entirely different approach to accomplish the same goal.  All three shows break the mold created by earlier programs which had shown audiences that men hold the power; whether it be in the workplace or at home.                 

The show Bewitched aired from 1964 to 1972 and tells the story of Samantha, a witch played by Elizabeth Montgomery, and her relationship struggles with Darrin, a mortal man played by Dick York.  Samantha’s dream is to become the stereotypical housewife presented by previous shows, but she struggles to give up the life she previously had.  In the show, Samantha’s mother, who is also a witch, pays her an unexpected visit which ultimately results in the two using their powers to go on a lunch date in Paris.  While in Paris, the two run into Darrin’s boss and his wife.  Samantha becomes worried when Darrin’s boss decides to call him while he is at work.  While Darrin is upset that Samantha was almost discovered to be a witch, the two eventually make up for the lack of his presence at the end of the show.  I think overall, the main idea this show presented was that whether or not Darrin tried to control his wife, she is ultimately in control of her own actions. 

I Dream of Jeannie aired from 1965 to 1970 and essentially comes from the same mold as Bewitched, with the two main female characters having supernatural powers.  The show starts off with Tony Nelson, an astronaut played by Larry Hagman preparing for a launch into space.  The launch encounters issues and Tony is forced to eject from the spacecraft and is stranded on a deserted island.  Tony discovers a bottle and out pops Jeannie, a genie played by Barbera Eden.  Jeannie states repeatedly throughout the show that it is her duty to serve her master, catering to Tony’s every wish.  Tony later wishes Jeannie to be free and thats when he runs into trouble.  Fueled by jealousy of Tony’s fiancee, Jeannie exercises her powers to cause trouble and puts Tony into various akward situations throughout the show.  This show, like Bewitched, shows viewers that women too can hold the power and don’t need to be controlled by men.

 

Police Woman aired from 1974-1978 and stars Sergeant Pepper Anderson, a police officer played by Angie Dickinson.  In the show we viewed in class, Pepper is on the case of missing girls suspected of being sold and exported to foreign countries to be used as what appears to be sex slaves.  Pepper goes undercover and meets a suspect to talk about a girl that she had that would “fit the role” the suspect was looking for.  Pepper uses another female police officer that looks very young to infiltrate and eventually bust the operation.  The immediate thing that sticks out to me in this show is Peppers higher rank within a male dominated workforce.  I also think that the complete omission of Pepper’s homelife gives the underlying message to young girls and women that they do not need to be just housewives and homemakers and that they can, in fact, excel in the workforce and be treated the same as men.

Although television is supposed to be for entertainment purposes, it is hard to ignore the political stances each of these three shows has taken during one of the major political movements of that time.  The women’s liberation movement was the actions taken by feminists of that era to break free from the oppression they faced at home and in the media.  Each show displays a woman with power, whether it be supernatural or not, that is at least equal if not greater than their male counterparts.  This also goes along with Hilmes’ book, where birth control is mentioned as a way that wome could exercise some meaningful control over their bodies.  Hilmes also mentions ther publications that reveal some ways that women had been injured by dominant Western modes of thinking about gender and helped promote feminism towards young men and women.  The episodes clearly go right along with what the publications stand for, and with the popularity of the programs, appears to have been well received.  While Samantha in the show Bewitched has a physical appearance that perfectly matches the description given in Douglas’ book (young, perfectly groomed, always smiling, never complaining, demure, eager to please, eager to consume) she displays her powers in a way to act out and to show viewers that she has the sole control over her actions.  Jeannie’s appearance, on the other hand, blatantly goes against the predertmined mold set by earlier shows and her actions match her appearance.  After being set free, she is not going to allow her so-called “master” to control every aspect of her life and frequently acts out to show the audience that, like Samantha, she holds the power.  With Pepper, on the other hand, you have to take a look at her from a different perspective.  Since the show omits any kind of life at home for the main character, viewers take into account her treatment and situations she encounters in the workplace.  Pepper appears to be treated as an equal to her male counterparts and works with them to solve crimes together.

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