Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Female Romantic Archetypes of 1960's Television Shows, Part 1 of 3: Jeannie Out of the Bottle

Recently, I became curious about re-watching the 1960's T.V. show, I Dream of Jeannie, partly from nostalgia, partly because I love the imaginative romantic angle.

By the seven-minute mark of the pilot episode, I was getting choked up. Amazingly, by that point they already hint at the longing of love and possible loss between Jeannie and Major Nelson. This is accomplished by amazing performances by Hagman and Eden, a great story set up and an incredible musical score by Richard Wess. Within a few minutes, your emotions are moved as if you've already watched a full-length movie.
It was playful, erotic and hilarious; far better than I remembered it.

Strangely, it left me feeling forlorn. There was something I had suspected about myself and watching this show confirmed it. It may be true of you as well if you grew up anytime since the golden age of television.

My romantic notions of male/female relations were informed by certain shows I watched as a child. They may have helped form my ideal of female romantic figures. This wasn't only because I was young and impressionable. Not all shows had that effect. But some of the shows were very symbolically powerful and they were illustrating an archetype of romance that I believe already exists in the human unconscious mind.

I believe this was especially true of the shows from the 1960s. I will not try to explain why because I just don't know. There was something special about that time period in many ways. I don't think it is simply because I was a child then. I also saw reruns of shows from the 1950s as a child and was still at a very impressionable, formative age in the 1970s. I don't think the shows of those eras had the same power.

Of all the shows, the ones that had the strongest effect on me were I Dream of Jeannie, Batman, and The Avengers.

Barbara Eden as Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie was the most playful, warm, accessible feminine symbol. And her relationship with Larry Hagman's character Tony was also warm and playful. This show illustrated the idealized romantic version of the male/female archetype, though with delicious complications. There are complex dynamics going on between the two characters.

When Captain Tony Nelson's capsule crashes on a deserted island, he finds the bottle and inadvertently sets Jeanie free. She is bound by the law of the Djinn to become Tony's servant. After she uses her power to guide the rescue helicopter to the deserted island where Tony is stranded, Tony grants her freedom immediately. But Jeannie chooses to devote her life to him in return for the fact that he freed her from the bottle and freed her from slavery to him. She returns to the bottle and hides herself with Tony's belongings, going back with him to Florida where she turns his life upside-down.

Tony is constantly warring with his feelings toward Jeannie, trying to resist her but wanting her. He feels protective of her, which is brought out even more by her childlike personality. But if she is a child, she is one with almost unlimited powers, powers to permanently change Tony's life. But her real power in changing his life, the real threat to Tony's disciplined existence comes not from the fact that she is a genii but that she is an uncontrollable woman. Her powers merely magnify this threat.

Genii is mischievous, wanting to serve him, but crazy with jealousy and a desire to make him happy. He is sometimes comforted and other times threatened by her immense devotion and passion for him (At the beginning Tony is engaged to the general's daughter. With Jeannie on the scene, this quickly comes to an end). Half the time she is helping him, half the time she seems to be sabotaging his life, but sometimes that is due to her naivety of cultural norms.

Tony's reticence to become involved with her is understandable due to Jeannie's shortcomings and her sometimes-frightening supernatural nature. But after a time, one begins to question his resistance to this dream girl. Isn't this what every man is supposed to want? Isn't she just trying to make him happy? And it's clear that he loves her in some manner. But he just won't let down his emotional barriers and freely express his love to her. Is it because he doesn't really know what's good for him? Or maybe he feels he doesn't deserve it or hasn't worked hard enough to have her.

I believe the answer to these questions comes from the rogue element of Jeannie's power and personality. She is untamed and goes against society's mores and morays, of which Tony is a representative as an officer and astronaut of the United States Government — in fact, the military. So she is, in a way, trying to help free him from his own repression. At worst, she is a god of chaos and mischief, sabotaging his best-laid plans and threatening his false sense of control in an uncontrollable world. At best, she represents an escape from the joyless manmade world of duty, accomplishment and obligation into a world of pleasure and joyful abandon for life.

As the series progresses, you can see that Jeannie is bringing out Tony's true personality, helping him to become who he truly is by the nature of simply being who she truly is. This is an idealized notion of the romantic relationship when the right man and woman find each other.

Next week I will study another female symbol who is also uncontrollable, but very self-controlled. She represents the woman as equal partner in every way, the perfect comrade and friend. Her name is Emma Peel.

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