Bewitched – A Fifth Column of Social Change?

Growing up in the 1970-80’s; I would regularly watch re-runs of the television show Bewitched.  Like 97% of the male population, I was hopelessly in love with Elizabeth Montgomery (the other 3%, according to the Kinsey report were likely in love with Dick Sargent).

Recently my wife and I noticed that the show was available on Netflix and so as a bit of mindless entertainment, we have started to watch them.  Despite some breath holding early 1960’esque moments relating to guys punch each other, jealous boyfriends threatening to kill estranged girlfriends (1–25: Pleasure O’Riley) and of course the whole suburban housewife thing – Bewitch (at least the first season and a bit) was surprisingly subversive for its day.  Here are some examples from season one and the first couple of episodes from season two:

  • Darrin and Samantha shared the same bed (the first married television couple to do so).
  • Witches demanding better representation in the modern media and staging protests to do so – this being an echo of similar demands from Blacks, minorities and later gays (1-07: The Witches Are Out)
  • In a political meeting of the neighborhood, there was a cut away seen showing a black man sitting in with the neighbors – this at a time when blacks in the Southern United States just earned the right to drink from the same water fountain let alone live in the same community  (1–34: Remember the Main).
  • Corruption is exposed in local politics (1–34: Remember the Main).
  • The owner of a pizza chain tells of his passion for pizza with a speech that starts “I have a dream” (1–35: Eat at Mario’s).
  • Endora causes both Darrin and a stranger to appreciate the burdens of child-bearing and Richard Nixon is named specifically likely suffering from a curse (2-02: A Very Special Delivery).

If these seem trivial in today’s context, consider this, while these were being broadcasted (circa 1964-1965):

  • Martin Luther King ‘I have a Dream’ speech was made in August, 1963.
  • John F. Kennedy had only recently been assassinated in November 1963.
  • Richard Nixon was in his wilderness years having lost to Kennedy and sitting out the 1964 election.
  • The U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted in July of 1964.
  • Samantha’s parents (Endora and Maurice) live full lives without the obvious binding effect of marriage.
  • The Vietnam War, Watergate, Hippies, counter-cultures were stirring but still not in full bloom.

Noting the social-historical context of when the shows were written, produced and aired – lends new perspective to something I enjoyed but did not appreciate from my childhood. This is a series about an emancipated woman (Samantha Stevens) adjusting to a set of suburban norms but who was also a fifth column of social change in the homes of America.  Thus, I have new respect for the show. Of course it does not hurt that I still have a crush on the mid-1960s Elizabeth Montgomery.  So, my wife and are looking forward to reliving a bit of our past and US history through a well written television series that is still very watchable.

One thought on “Bewitched – A Fifth Column of Social Change?

  1. This makes me wonder if some of the writing was not just the work of the credited writers but also some of talented people driven out of TV by Joe McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’ hearings, writing under pseudonyms or submitting their work through friends who had not been blacklisted.

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