Monday, November 15, 2004

I'm Your Jeannie in a Bottle Baby!

Those of you who read my earlier deconstruction of Bewitched had to expect that I would eventually drop the "I Dream of Jeannie" shoe as well. Now is the right time for a lot of reasons.

It is no revelation that American society was considering the idea of empowered women in the 1960s as never before. Was the concept so simultaneously intriguing and bizarre to mainstream America that shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie were cathartic transitional objects? Before Bewitched, witches were the evil by-products of unchecked feminine desire. Harem girls before Jeannie were romanticized fantasies of passive femininity.

Things had changed by the 1960s. Witches lost their satanic edge and harem girls had a will of their own, but the perceived need to repress those who are "different" was still in tact then as it is now.

Unlike Samantha in Bewitched, Jeannie must live by that stupid Genie code of ethics, "Do as master says." Two words for Anthony Nelson: horse shit! If I were Jeannie, I would have "accidently" blinked him to the moon and high-tailed it back to Baghdad--well maybe Istanbul now, at least until we stabalize Iraq (now we're talking fantasy). But Jeannie, like a lot of us, sometimes forgot how powerful she was when the constraints of arbitrary rules swarmed around her. And she complied out of love for Major Nelson. I'm not sure why the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't make I Dream of Jeannie required viewing for converts.

Anyway, Bewitched was definately a few steps ahead of IDOJ in terms of feminist thought. If Bewitched was the 1960s female/male struggle from a feminist point of view, Jeannie modeled how a less-enlightened heterosexual man might prefer to fight the battle--with a scantily clad sparring partner who when push came to shove could be commanded to smoke back into her bottle like a disobedient dog to its bed.

Samantha struck a chord for gay people who understood the benefits of a powerful community in a world that is fearful of them. But giggle and jiggle prone Jeannie, in my mind, represents the outsider alone in the provinces, with no one else like them around to offer perspective on who they are. The formulaic evil-twin showed up from time to time, but by and large Jeannie lacked the social network of like-gifted folks that Samantha had. And all she had to remind her of who she really was were the mealy-mouthed screams and nervous laughter of her "master." Still, all cultural ground was not lost with I Dream of Jeannie. The interior design world still feels the ripple of that velvety bottle get-away

I have to give Jeannie credit. I'll never understand how she slept for two millenia on what amounts to a well-upholstered restaurant booth. And I like her smiley optimism. She rarely internalizes Major Nelson's rejection. She simply believes he is not smart enough to know what is best for him, and out of love she does what she must in spite of his annoying rants. I wish I had known myself as well when I was younger. Like Jeannie, I had the experience of being alone in a place where I felt very different--believe me when I tell you that Batesville is no Chelsea. But I tended to believe and even parrot back what was said about gay folks, even though the people who were supposedly setting my standard had no experience (if they were to be believed) with being gay.

What I lost as a result of growing up in a don't ask/don't tell environment I've had restored now that I'm in a place where I'm loved and valued for who I am by all kinds of people. I wish (insert blink and head nod here) for my fellow small-town gay Arkansans (and Louisanans, and Missourans, etc.) a little of Jeannie's self-confidence and naive wisdom. You are growing up gay in a community that not only ignores you, but now devalues you to the point of writing discrimination into its constitution to keep you in your bottle. This is bound to have negative effects on your life. Someone who could live in an outsized shampoo bottle for two thousand years and come out smiling has some pretty miraculous emotional resouces to draw upon. For those of us who are not so lucky, I recommend seeing a shrink other than Dr. Bellows and/or getting out of Coco Beach all together.


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