Life & Other Drugs, Satire

The Ethics of Magic in Sabrina the Teenage Witch

May 10, 2017

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is the best television show in the history of motion pictures, the moving image, and humankind. It’s the best show because it combines teenage girl problems (studying, sneaking out, what to do when your boyfriend gets two cartilage piercings) with young witch problems (getting your Witch’s License, traveling through a vortex in your linen closet, what to do when your furniture starts talking during your Halloween party), thus making it highly relatable.

If this premise doesn’t convince you of Sabrina’s excellence, let me remind you that the school mascot was the Fighting Scallions, and that Ru Paul, the Violent Femmes and Jerry Springer were guest stars, and that in one episode the family’s talking cat Salem dons a suit stuffed with dollar bills and orders sushi from two very confused chefs.

I rest my case.

I just finished re-watching the first two seasons of the show, which accounts for how happy and into 90s fashion I’ve been lately. And even though I’m totally into all the puns, flying vacuum excursions, and inter-realm drama, there are definitely some glaring issues and inconsistencies that lie within the show.

I would like to take this up in an academic manner, seeing that all of my thoughts during this time of year are academic. Not wanting to step on any toes, I searched the web to see if this field had already been pioneered. This is what I found:

Thus, I present to you my totally original, totally well-researched, totally holds-together, totally not-done-at-the-last-minute Rib Thesis—The Ethics of Magic in Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Even the Other Realm Needs a Moral Code.

Part I: The Economic Implications of Magical Use

Sabrina and her aunts live in the U.S., which operates under a capitalist system, but Sabrina and her aunts, being witches, have any material good they desire at their literal fingertips. Are witches really not paying for anything? And what does that mean for the world economy?

In one episode, Sabrina and her BFF Valerie go shopping for school dance dresses. Valerie sees a sporty little number she likes but, since it’s out of her price range, Sabrina secretly zaps a 20% Off Clearance tag on it. It is later revealed that Sabrina’s theft was not without repercussion, as 20% of her aunt’s sweater disappeared due to the work of a figure called the Equalizer. This may seem like the answer to our economic predicament, but the Equalizer only appears in one episode and is a grown-ass man who wants to coerce Sabrina into marriage as payment for her debts. This definitely discredits him.

Thus it seems that witches are stealing from the hands, mouths, and pockets of mortal families, or they’re participating in the economy in very inconsistent ways because Sabrina still pays for her pizza at the local Slicery. All I have to say is: what gives?

Part II: Manipulation Through Magical Means

In the first two seasons alone, Sabrina’s magic turns her Vice Principal into a monkey, makes her perpetually nervous best friend unwillingly ask her crush out, and transforms her nemesis Libby into a jigsaw puzzle. These are all regular ol’ human beings who definitely did not sign any claims of release saying “yeah, it’s okay if Sabrina Spellman transforms me into the barn animal of her choosing, or changes my personality, or makes me feel like a deranged loon when I wake up after passing out in the backseat of a flying car, that’s fine.”

Where is the consent? Where’s the respect paid to her peers and neighbors? She is rarely punished for her spells that go awry, and when she is, the punishment is doled out by a council of wig-wearin’ witches who honestly couldn’t care less and usually reverse their decision. There is simply no order.

 Part III: A Witch Could Change the World…So Why Hasn’t One?

Salem the Cat became a cat as punishment for almost taking over the world, so witches clearly have a lot of power. Why aren’t witches using their power for the common good? What I’m really asking is, how come Sabrina let Bush get elected?

Yes, I am assuming that the political system of our world is the same in Sabrina’s—there’s nothing to suggest the contrary. The school’s sexist Vice Principal makes it clear that Sabrina’s world is still governed by the patriarchy so you gotta wonder—what’s stopping witches from brewing a potion that makes people respect consent, and also reverses ice cap melting and also fixes the criminal justice system? I guess I just want my witch idols to be socially responsible feminists, seeing as they literally are the means of production.

Overall, it’s clear that the witching world has no concern for the repercussions of their exploitative actions, probably because they are too busy skiing on Mars and getting serenaded by the Backstreet Boys. I love this show so very much, but let’s just say that if I were its writer, I’d keep the lunch room banter and velvet crop tops and crazy special effects the same, but make Sabrina progressive.

In conclusion, witches be crazy.

Images via, via, and via Sarah Clapp.

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