As regular readers of this column can attest, I’m a member of the original TV generation. Through most of the seventies and the early eighties, I would spend my after school hours watching syndicated sitcoms while doing homework on the shag carpeted floor of our various apartments and mobile and stationary homes. Likewise, I passed a good many Saturdays delighting in the antics of Rocky and Bullwinkle, shaming the Really Rottens for cheating at the Laff-a-Lympics, and singing along with Schoolhouse Rock!
Since there were only four channels and one of them was PBS, there was no need for a remote. And since we had only one TV and I was the oldest kid in the family—not including the step siblings that came and went over the years—my two brothers had to suffer through whatever I wanted to watch or find something else to do.
One of the programs I devoured regularly was Gilligan’s Island. Seeing it now on TV Land—where the Jarhead is known to park the remote when Family Guy, American Dad, and The Big Bang Theory are off the air—I am moved to wonder what attracted me to it, but as a kid I found it the height of hilarity.
Like many people, I’ve wondered why Mr. and Mrs. Howell packed so many outfits for what was supposed to be a three-hour tour. I’ve also pondered how all seven of the castaways kept their hair so neat and tidy, and how the men were able to stay so clean shaven. Perhaps what baffled me the most, however, is that these people were smart enough to keep themselves clean and fed, and talented enough to avoid pregnancy despite the lack of modern contraception, but they couldn’t fashion a boat or other floatation device with which to transport one or more of them back to civilization.
Another one of my favorite shows as a kid was Bewitched. For the young and/or otherwise uninitiated, Bewitched featured a witch named Samantha Stephens and her advertising executive husband, Darrin. Like her counterpart, Jeanie, from I Dream of Jeanie, Samantha was not ‘allowed’ to use magic. Apparently Darrin Stephens and Major Nelson were far too noble and decent to exploit their partners’ superpowers and, thus, would rather have them slaving over a hot stove, poking their fingers with sewing needles, and driving sensible ugly cars than allow them to whip up meals or mend their clothes with the wrinkle of their nose, or conjure fabulous clothing and sporty convertibles with the blink of their eyes.
So there’s no confusion, let me state that if those were the options in my house, things would have been far different than they were at the Stephens’ place or Major Nelson’s home. In fact, I not only would use my powers to save time, energy, and money—so I could spend it feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, of course—I would also use it to feed my ego and shelter my income from taxes. Overnight I would become the best-selling author of life-changing novels, and would cast spells on the IRS, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and our township so that everyone would think I’d paid taxes on my imaginary earnings.
And unlike Darrin Stephens and Major Anthony Nelson, the Jarhead would be right there with me as I conjured groceries to fill the pantry, charmed the house into cleaning itself, and earned both critical acclaim and vast sums of money for my brilliant, award-winning books. That is because, along with the fully stocked pantry, the sparkling clean house, and the fantastic fame and fortune, would come a state of the art video gaming center, a limitless supply of his favorite scotch, beer, and cigars, and a personal recreation center complete with a rifle and pistol range.
Of this, Darrin Stephens and Major Nelson clearly would not approve. For some stupid reason, they would rather do things the hard way. So although Jeanie could have transported countless astronauts to the moon—or anywhere in the known universe—and back without spending millions of dollars or wasting thousands of gallons of fuel, Major Nelson would have sooner banished her to the bottle than tell anyone but Major Healy.
Of course, like the energy crisis and the AMC Gremlin, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie were products of their time. Back then, many men didn’t think women should have the right to work, vote or drive a car, so the idea of them having and using magical powers was bound to be a no-go. Knowingly allowing a woman to have and use magic to them would seem as dangerous as letting one have a gun or a bomb, only worse—because you wouldn’t need money, a permit or photo ID to get them.
Unlike Gilligan’s Island, I still find Bewitched—and I Dream of Jeanie—to be as funny now as I did when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s because I find it more amusing to watch a woman use her brain to get by in a sexist society than I do seeing seven castaways trying and failing to get off some stupid island.