Friday, May 06, 2005

Show Some Respect!

bewitchedNOTE TO TV LAND EXECUTIVES: Bewitched was a TV SHOW and should not be confused with a tragic episode in American history. And yes, I do have a sense of humor.

The geniuses at TV Land have decided to erect a statue of Samantha Stephens -- the lead character in the hit television comedy of the 1960s and 70s, Bewitched --in Salem, Massachusetts. She'll be sitting on a broom, sailing in front a crescent moon. Cool. But not in Salem. Please. I am probably the biggest fan of the lovely and graceful Elizabeth Montgomery, but she's got no business being immortalized in bronze in the hometown of Puritan persecution.

TV Land has put up several of these statues around the country: Mary Richards (aka Tyler Moore) is memorialized in Minneapolis throwing her hat up in the air, Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners is displayed outside the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City even though he was from Brooklyn, and Andy Taylor (aka Griffith) and Ron Howard (Opie) are set up in Raleigh, N.C. But Bewitched has about as much in common with Salem as Get Smart does with the Bay of Pigs.

In a desperate ratings grab for viewers late in its run, Bewitched actually went on location to Salem to film a couple of episodes and the best they could come up with was a lame story line about an enchanted bed warmer that became attached to Samantha while she toured the city. Even at the age of ten, I thought it was a stretch to find a connection between Bewitched and the Salem scandals. I mean, wouldn't Samantha be a little shaken up by such a trip? Like a Japanese-American internee returning to Manzanar or a Native American visiting Wounded Knee or the Trail of Tears?

It is no mere coincidence that this statue is scheduled to go up around the same time the new Bewitched film is scheduled to open. This kind of national movie promotion is not unusual. Those controversial stone displays of The Ten Commandments in front of so many government buildings across the country were actually presented as gifts from the producers of the 1950s Cecil B. DeMille epic. While the Religious Right have used those monuments as sites to test the separation of church and state, they originally embodied the melding of corporate and government interests.

Now, I am no humbug to marketing. I am a proud consumer, tourist, and television watcher. When I was a kid, my brother and I had a blast at some sort of Bedrock-themed amusement park that celebrated The Flintstones and I've returned to both Disneyland and Disney World as an adult. My standards are not that high. I mean I watch Entertainment Tonight for god's sake. But before we make too light of a very heavy event, it might be good to re-visit the facts.

In 1692, some of Salem's most paranoid and jealous residents found a convenient way to knock off their neighbors in order to grab their land or to simply to get them out of their hair. Teenage hysteria and an insecure pastor who couldn't get along with anyone added to the confusion, resulting in dozens of innocent people being hanged and one pressed to death under stones. Blameless and vulnerable residents lost their lives and reputations to satisfy the greed and neurosis of their neighbors -- and their descendents have certainly not forgotten the cost of the insanity. The miscarriage of justice was found to be so egregious that even some of the judges called in for the trials (one of them an ancestor of author Nathaniel Hawthorne), with the benefit of hindsight, denounced what had happened and, when possible, made small reparations to the survivors.

This cycle of history has repeated itself too many times as Arthur Miller pointed out by setting his story of McCarthyism, The Crucible, during the Salem trials. J. Edgar Hoover carried out character assassination and incarceration throughout the 20th century with the Palmer Raids of the 1920s, the "witch hunts" after World War II, and FBI infiltration of protest groups in the 1960s. Depending on the social and political climate, it is easy for Americans to regress to superstitious Puritans, allowing religious principles and hysteria to dominate their judgement instead of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If we are to remember how dangerous such behavior can be, we must protect the true story of what happened in Salem and not allow it turn into a sitcom version of reality. Samantha Stephens lived in Connecticut -- why not set her statue there? If Salem seems appropriate to TV Land, I suppose it won't be long before we see Redd Foxx from Sanford and Son in downtown Selma or Birmingham or maybe Freddie Prinze from Chico and the Man posed next to the Alamo.

TV Land executives and the mayor of Salem think the statue is a "fun" idea and will add to the tourism appeal of Salem. I don't want to be a spoilsport, but can we just halt the marketing machine for a minute and show a little respect when it's called for? The victims of Salem deserve to have their stories remembered as they actually happened. I promise I will still visit Salem, but I won't be looking for Samantha, just some honest history.


At 11:06 PM, Blogger Loganite said...

Salem is a cool town. I visited twice when I lived in New Hampshire. The community has certainly capitalized on its witchy past. The school mascot is the witch, too.

I don't think Salem, Mass., is the place to place this statue. The fact that it is coincidentally a town whose past is associated with witchcraft is ridiculous. Go market somewhere else, TV Land.
-- L.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I mentioned when I met you that I had written some suggestions for statues for TV Land, then feared I'd suggested Salem for Bewitched's Samantha. Luckily, I didn't. Here's the page with my original post if you're bored enough to look it up:


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