This came up on my news feed -- Sol Saks has died. He was 100 years old. For those who don't know, he was the creator of Bewitched, the sitcom starring Elizabeth Montgomery as a witch living in suburbia.
Now, strap on your helmet, we're going in.
I hated Bewitched.
Hated hated HATED it.
I didn't watch much TV growing up. Not just because I preferred reading and programming my computer, but because a lot of shows just struck me as stupid. My dad would watch The Jetsons and The Flintstones and I just didn't get what made them appealing. A lot of classic TV shows are the same. Never liked The Brady Bunch, never liked Gilligan's Island. How my friends could go so ape over the shows was beyond me.
(Note: this is not to make me holier than thou. There are some classic shows I enjoy. The Honeymooners was awesome, I think Alice was the first empowered female character on TV, presented without apologies and without irony. Loved Dukes Of Hazzard, because I loved the chases. I actually didn't like Daisy because I felt she pulled too much attention away from the car chases and stunts. All In The Family has only gotten better with time. And I will forever be a fan of Mission: Impossible and hate what Tom Cruise turned it into. And The Addams Family...man, I would have loved to have been with that family.)
Depictions of women in popular culture have always been a crapshoot. If I had a daughter, I would forbid her to have anything related to Disney Fairies and Tinkerbell in particular. In both the original book and the Disney movie, Tink is every negative female stereotype rolled into one package. But nowhere is casual chauvinism more prevalent than on classic sitcoms. Sitcoms came about by presenting the ideal family life with the traditional gender roles reinforced. Father Knows Best. Ozzie And Harriet. The lemon party known as My Three Sons pretty much postulated that women were unnecessary for men to feel fulfilled in their lives. And these shows were hits. They resonated with viewers. They presented an alternate reality they wanted to see. So much so, that when a TV show called The Munsters was being created, it featured classic monsters, but only in appearance. Their behavior was just like any other sitcom.
Some shows did buck the trend, but they were in the minority. I Dream Of Jeannie is a good example (nope, didn't like that one, either). Jeannie only wants to make her male master happy. And yet Nelson spent most of his time trying to keep her from doing just that. He wanted her to simply be, not be his servant. He acted like a gentleman -- a perpetually flummoxed gentleman, but a gentleman none the less. How many guys would YOU trust to have a woman who will do anything and make any fantasy come true and try to do right by her? Not fucking many, I can guarantee you that.
Bewitched was a part of the tradition of being dismissive to women. The show's point of view could be summarized as follows: "Oh, you're a feminist? Isn't that cute?" It debuted in 1964, just as the counterculture brought on by the baby boom started flexing its muscle, the younger generation opening questioning if not outright challenging the Establishment in all forms -- governmental, artistic, and (especially) familial. Consider the character of Samatha. Samatha was a witch. She could make almost anything happen, from animating objects to teleportation. And yet, she just wanted to be a domestic housewife. So much so, that when her husband discovers she's a witch, he makes her promise not to use her powers.
AND SHE GOES ALONG WITH IT! JUST TO BE A HOUSEWIFE!
Leave us not forget that the women in the show who were aware of their independence were treated as annoyances and pests. Especially Samantha's mother, Endora. Endora was not a mother-in-law like a typical sitcom mother-in-law, which is damning with faint praise. She was actually plugged into modern culture of the time, even mentioning in one episode she was hooked on some guy's hookah. She could not understand why Samantha would give up being a witch just to be a housewife (tell it like it is, sister!). And Sam was constantly trying to keep Endora from screwing with her husband, one who was boisterous and dismissive of Endora because she was an affront to his place in the traditional family power structure. Bottom line: Bewitched is one of the most insulting to women TV shows ever made. And people love it as a classic.
The tradition survives today. As sitcoms have tried to redress the balance, typically by making the mother the anchor of the family as the father gets in wacky situations, reality TV has become the great bastion of insulting depictions of women (The Hills, Newlyweds, The Anna Nicole Show, lots of shows depicting women as petty, jealous, bitchy, or just plain stupid). But people will defend the innocence and charm of shows that should have them screaming about what a bunch of dicks were running the show.
Sol Saks was a good person. The characters he created weren't.