By definition, the word normal means, “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle; conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern” (Merriam-Webster). In sociological terms, French sociologist Emile Durkheim defined normal as the behavior that is most common, and accepted, by society. He further explained that people who deviate from these acceptable social norms set themselves apart from society. By this definition, anyone who deviates from the norm is abnormal or “queer”, behaving in a way that is unconventional or unusual. When this norm is destabilized through a deconstruction of dominant ideology, even on the smallest of scales, there is a paradigm shift that puts the Norm in the position of the “Other.” In a sense, they have been “queered”; with what they once considered wrong or abnormal taking the place of dominant ideology, they are now the “queers” of society. In popular television, Bewitched, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and True Blood demonstrate a queering of the norm. As all three are supernatural shows, they are ideal texts for portraying how a character that would be considered normal by society’s standards reacts when they are not, in fact, the Norm but the Other. Critically viewing these texts and analyzing the characters Darrin (Bewitched), Xander (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Lafayette (True Blood) in terms of social and cultural constructs as well as sexuality, illustrates the reactions to the shifting paradigm of societal norms that reflect the time period in which the shows originally aired.
From the show’s conception, Sol Saks wanted Bewitched to address realities of marriage. Saks says the problem with television sitcoms was that, “a man and a woman did not work together, they did not argue,” and believed there was nothing wrong with showing the realties of marriage so long as it was entertaining. Saks also intended for the show to address the issue of cultural differences between a husband and wife, using Samantha’s witchcraft as the cultural identity that sets her well outside the mythic norms of American life that were created and portrayed in the media during the 1950s and carried over into the 1960s. As witchcraft was considered taboo and wrong by the dominant ideology of the time, Samantha was established as the Other who had to assimilate into the culture of American Suburbia by “kicking the witching habit” for the sake of her marriage to Darrin who, by 1960s standards, is the typical, normal white male with a respectable job at an advertising agency, a wife, and a house in the suburbs. Samantha agrees because she wants to be the ideal suburban housewife, but she was and would always be a witch, thus, it was impossible to rid herself entirely of what was, essentially, her cultural identity, causing her to relapse throughout the series and perform magic. This seems to solidify her status as the Other.
However, when one takes a closer look at the text, it becomes evident that Darrin is the true Other in their mixed marriage. The first example of this can be found in the Season 1 episode, “Just One Happy Family.” From the first episode, Samantha’s mother Endora establishes that she does not care for Darrin, or the fact that her daughter married a mortal. She does, however, appear to show more tolerance than her ex-husband Maurice. In this episode, Endora informs her daughter that Maurice is planning on visiting, and shows mild concern about what he will do when he finds out Darrin is mortal:
Endora: How are you going to explain Duncan?
Endora: His name will be mud when your father finds out he’s human.
Samantha: Maybe we’d just as well face it now. I’m married and there’s nothing he can
do about it.
Endora: I shudder to think about how many things he can and probably will do about it.
(“Just One Happy Family.”)
The warlock is vehemently opposed to Samantha marrying outside her “race” and choosing Darrin, a mortal, over a warlock. This can be interpreted as a fear of miscegenation, or the mixture of races, especially a marriage, cohabitation, or sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race. In this example, Samantha is the white person and Darrin is the Other. The argument escalates when Maurice meets Darrin and realizes he is mortal, further reinforcing Darrin’s status as the Other.
Endora: Times have changed, Maurice. This happens in the best of families.
Maurice: It does not happy in my family!
Samantha: Well, it has. It’s over and done with. I’m married. (“Just One Happy
Maurice, in this scene, has established that he and his family are normal and Darrin is the Other who does not belong.
Later, in Season 4, Darrin is once again put into a situation where his Otherness is all too evident. Like many minorities throughout history, he is persecuted for being different. In “Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember,” Aunt Clara bungles a spell that transports the Stephens family to the first Thanksgiving in 17th Century Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts where Darrin is put on trail as a witch. This episode arguably cements Darrin’s status as the true Other of the show because, rather than Samantha, Clara or even the Stephens’ daughter Tabitha, it is Darrin who stands trial when a pilgrim calls him out as a witch for speaking strange and performing witchcraft. Darrin’s use of modern English and a match set him outside of the 17th Century. The witches, however, had no problem blending in and Samantha has to come to Darrin’s defense at the trial. She has no problem blending in with the Pilgrims and speaking old English, which includes calling Darrin’s “match” a “witch’s stick.”
The cultural differences between Darrin and Samantha addressed throughout the series are not the only reason Darrin can be viewed as the show’s true Other. The witching culture and idealized American Suburbia are juxtaposed in such a way that the viewer is often confused about whether or not it is Darrin or Samantha who is in control. In the article, “Bewitched…the 1960’s sitcom revisited: a queer read,” the authors observe that, “In an effort to keep his patriarchal identity in check, Darrin’s constant attempt to undermine the natural power of Samantha and family sometimes has the opposite effect when Samantha chose to use her power to manipulate the situation. This destabilizes Darrin’s power and he definitely felt threatened” (Fairfield-Artman). While by society’s standards Darrin is a normal, white male and therefore patriarchal head of his family, it is actually Samantha that has the power, illustrated through her powers which she often exorcises to rectify mistakes and then convinces Darrin he had the idea for the solution. In this sense, Darrin is experiencing a “crisis of masculinity” where his position in the home is in Limbo because, while he is supposed to be the head of the family, Samantha is the one with the power. This, in a sense, sets him apart from the “normal” men of the time, adding to his status as the Other.
Rather than deal with these shifts and accept his changed status, Darrin chooses to ignore these changes and continues to see himself as the only normal one in a house of abnormal witches. In contrast, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Xander is all too aware of his status as the Other. While he is introduced as a typical American teenager and, “ostensibly the straightest, whitest boy on the show” (Fuchs 104), he is without a doubt the show’s racial Other.
In a world where the supernatural is the Norm, Xander is isolated as the Other because of his lack of supernatural ability. Buffy is a Slayer, Giles is a Watcher who has a history with dark magic, Willow is a practicing witch, Oz is a werewolf, Dawn is a mystical ball of energy, and Angel and Spike are Vampires. Their groundings in the supernatural world often leave Xander with a sense of worthlessness as the group’s Other because he cannot perform at the level his friends do. If Xander tried to fight vampires like Buffy did, “we’ll end up with one dead Xander” (Kawal 153).
Much like Darrin, Xander’s normalcy sets him apart as the Other. On the Hellmouth, his humanity is, in a way, a weakness. There are several instances where his normalcy is very nearly his downfall. In “Teacher’s Pet” he almost becomes dinner for a Preying Mantis who uses his teenage hormones against him and in “Buffy versus Dracula” he is the first to fall under Dracula’s fall, which results in him becoming a bug-eating minion. There is also the episode “Amends,” in which Xander escapes his parents fighting on Christmas by sleeping outside in a sleeping bag. The snow that miraculously falls that night saves Angel’s life, amazes everyone else who are warm in their homes, but only results in making Xander cold because he’s outside, isolated from everyone else. However, unlike Darrin, Xander accepts his status and uses his strengths to prove that he is more than capable of holding his own in the realm of the supernatural. The Season 3 episode “The Zeppo” is an episode that focuses on Xander, who is feeling worthless because the rest of the Scoobies (the Slayer, her Watcher and friends) write him off and send him on “glorified doughnut runs.” While this is how “The Zeppo” starts, it ends on a high note for the “normal” human, who manages to defeat a group of zombies after unwillingly becoming their leader and defuses a bomb in the high school’s basement. At the end of the episode, no one knows how he spent his night while they kept the Hellmouth from opening, but it is enough of a confidence boost for Xander to realize he is an integral part of the Scoobies.
The importance of Xander is discussed to great lengths in The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it is argued that, “the importance of Xander is recognized on a number of occasions by the group, but it is season 7, as the series is winding to its end, that the most marvelous expression of it is given to us” (Pateman 147-8). Pateman argues that is in this episode that Xander’s significance as the Other of the Scoobies is truly recognized in the talk he has with Dawn:
Xander: They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn’t
chosen. To live so near the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more
than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me. I saw you last night. I see
you working here today. You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.
Dawn: Maybe that’s your power.
Dawn: Seeing. Knowing.
While Xander’s importance may be “truly recognized” in “Potential,” the best example of it is seen in “Grave,” in which he prevents Willow from ending the world by reminding her of their friendship:
“You cried because you broke that yellow crayon…and you were too afraid to
tell anyone…you’ve come pretty far…Ending the world, not a terrific notion,
but the thing is…yeah, I love you. So if I’m going out, it’s here. If you want to
kill the world, then start with me. I’ve earned that” (Grave).
Thomas Hibbs notes that as Willow begins to lacerate Xander’s flesh, it’s Xander’s, “pitiful willingness to endure her wrath and his protestations of love” that cause Willow to stop and, “relent in a torrent of tears (South 56). It is his humanity and heart (which shows its importance earlier in “Primevil” when they create a Super Buffy to destroy Adam) that save Willow and, ultimately, the world.
While Darrin tries to fight his Otherness and make his environment change to fit him and his perception of normal, Xander seems to embrace his Otherness and works to prove that he is as capable of fighting and surviving on the Hellmouth as the Norm with their supernatural abilities. This can be interpreted as further evidence of shifting social paradigms and societal acceptance of the Other. Whereas Darrin lived in a time where assimilation was promoted and the Other was feared, Xander lives in the later half of the 20th Century (1997-2003) where the societal Other was becoming more widely accepted by the perceived Norm.
The only other human character in a supernatural show that embraces his Otherness more than Xander is True Blood’s Lafayette, “an emphatically gay man in a small Southern town…Lafayette is a redneck-thumping, drug-dealing diva with a tongue saltier than the gumbo he serves up as the grill cook at Merlotte’s honky tonk,” (Hiltbrand) where he works with Sookie, a telepath, his cousin Tara, who becomes possessed, and the bar’s owner Sam, who’s a shape shifter. The show takes place in Bon Temps, Louisiana in a world where vampires have “come out of the coffin” and are a part of society. In this setting, it’s Lafayette’s humanness that set him apart as the Other because he has no powers and his only connection to the Supernatural is through selling V-Juice, vampire blood that humans use as a recreational drug.
Like Xander, he lives in a world where the supernatural is the Norm. Vampires have “come out of the closet” and are showing that they’re just as much a part of society as humans are. With the Vampire Rights Amendment headed for ratification, vampires like Sookie’s love interest Bill Compton are more comfortable in showing who they are in “normal,” human society. Lafayette accepts the growing supernatural community and his own status as a human Other in Bon Temps. What sets Lafayette apart from Xander is his status as an “Outside Norm.” While he would be considered normal by the rest of the society in which he lives because he’s human, his sexuality sets him apart from this society and makes him an Outsider to the Norm.
Lafayette is also very different from Darrin and Xander in that he is extremely confident about his Otherness, whereas Xander feels isolated and often worthless and Darrin chooses to ignore it. Lafayette’s confidence can be summed up in one scene from the Season 1 episode “Sparks Fly Out,” in which he confronts a table of rednecks for sending back a hamburger because it was cooked by a gay man:
Lafayette: Who ordered the hamburger with AIDS?
Redneck: I ordered the hamburger deluxe.
Lafayette: In this restaurant, a hamburger deluxe comes with French fries, lettuce, tomato
Redneck: Yeah, I’m an American and I got a say in who makes my food.
Lafayette: Baby it’s too late for that. Faggot’s been breeding your cows, raising your
chickens, even brewing your beer long before I walked my sexy ass up in this motherfucker. Everything on your goddam table got Aids
Redneck: You still ain’t makin’ me eat no AIDS burger.
Lafayette: All you gotta do is say hold the AIDS. [licks hamburger bun] Here, eat it.
[sticks it to redneck’s forehead. Fight ensues] (“Sparks Fly Out”)
Lafayette’s sexuality that has long defined him as the societal Other in the community where he lives is likely the reason why he has no trouble, and probably doesn’t pay much attention to, his status as the Other in the supernatural Bon Temps. Lafayette’s attitude towards vampires in Bon Temps, and the rest of the US, is also influenced by his sexuality because the vampires’ “out of the coffin” movement and their campaign for equal rights mirrors the “out of the closet” movement in the 1970s.
In looking at the three characters together, it is evident that society’s acceptance of the Other and their reactions to the shifting paradigms of societal norms has progressed over the last few decades, with Darrin’s need for Samantha to assimilate to America Suburbia reflecting the fear of the Other in the 1960s, Xander’s Otherness being accepted by his friends in the late 20th Century, and Lafayette’s sexuality and the vampires “out of the coffin campaign” signifying the advocacy of the Other in the 21st Century. Through analyzing Bewitched’s Darrin, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Xander, and True Blood’s Lafayette and their respective supernatural settings, viewers are able to see what happens to the Norm when their normalcy is “queered” through a deconstruction of dominant ideology and they are relegated to being the Other.
Sources (there’s a lot of them):
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