American television has had a long-standing fascination with the character of the witch. With a little wit, camp, and some low-budget special effects, these fantasy women negotiate the performance of gendered public personas (the housewife or teenage girl), seemingly at odds with their secret identities as witches. This project conducts a comparative historical analysis of the witch as a queer trope in American sitcoms, beginning with America’s witch-next-door, Samantha Stevens, of Bewitched, then comparing her to her 1990s counterpart, Sabrina Spellman, from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. While being identified with the “sitcom,” “fantasy” or “family show” genres, her body functions as a critical foil to the patriarchal, heteronormative, and necessarily able-bodied enforcement structures of the American suburban home and white nuclear family. The protagonists’ momentary lapses of performing “mortal” often function as plot devices or comic relief. However, such moments can also be interpreted as momentary ruptures in patriarchal hegemonic discourse opening potential alternative positions for bodies and identities. These moments are particularly useful for analysis because of how they show difference being contained and normalcy restored. Through a comparative analysis of select episodes and historical context, this presentation highlights the discursive resources that constitute the queer body and the social formations that police and contain her. Treating these television programs as culturally and contextually embedded texts, an historical analysis provides insights into the changing politics of difference and discourses of the queer body in these two historical periods.
Presented at UMass Amherst English Graduate Organization Conference, April 2015