How I Relate to Jeannie from 'I Dream of Jeannie'
Yesterday, I found my self crying with my neurospicy studio mate when talking about the new 'Barbie' film. We both found that movie spoke to our experience of neurodiversity and felt uncomfortably seen and emotional. I told her how the Barbie movie reminded me of the first season of 'I Dream of Jeannie', but especially one particular episode where Jeannie follows Anthony to Hollywood.
In Hollywood, Jeannie gets cast in a film. She nails the roll and is on her way to become movie star, a roll she have never considered for herself but finds that she loves it and has now found her 'thing'. During the test screening, Jeannie discovers that Genies can not be captured on film, and her dreams are crushed.
Even writing about this now I am crying. Any time I think about this episode, I explode into tears. I have never fully understood why this episode hits me so hard. So here is me trying to figure this out.
When you grow up with a disability, it's not always easy to find characters on television or in movies who resonate with your experience. They can often feel distant or wholly unrelated to what you go through every day. But for me, one character has always stood out as a beacon of similarity and understanding: Jeannie from the 1960s sitcom 'I Dream of Jeannie.'
On the surface, Jeannie, a 2,000-year-old genie portrayed by Barbara Eden, seems far removed from anyone's daily life, let alone someone with a disability. But the more I watched, the more I found myself relating to her character on a profound level. Here's why:
Trapped in a Bottle: A Symbolic Connection
Jeannie's life inside a magical bottle serves as an emblematic connection to how I've sometimes felt with my disability, such as the way dyslexia and Irlen Syndrome can feel like a barrier to engaging with the world as others do, creating a feeling of confinement or isolation from the rest of the world. Jeannie's struggle to be understood, recognised, and seen for more than just her powers resonates with how I've felt, being seen for my disability rather than my whole self. The bottle becomes an emblem of the unique challenges I face daily.
Desire to Help Others
One of Jeannie's most defining traits is her unending wish to assist others. Just like Jeannie's magical attempts to assist often lead to confusion or mishaps, my intentions can be misunderstood due to the way I process information. Communication can be tricky, and my efforts to explain or assist might not always come across as intended. Yet, the underlying desire to contribute and make a difference is ever-present.
Jeannie's character challenges stereotypes and societal norms, both as a woman in the 1960s and as a mystical being. I've often felt a parallel in my life as I work to defy stereotypes surrounding disabilities. Just as Jeannie shows that she's more than just a genie, I strive to demonstrate that I'm more than my disability.
The Struggle for Independence
Throughout the series, Jeannie seeks acceptance and independence. She desires a life outside the bottle and doesn't want to be defined solely by her magical abilities. This struggle mirrors my own journey towards independence and self-reliance, navigating a world that isn't always accommodating.
Learning to navigate a world not designed with neuodivergence in mind has meant finding my own ways to succeed. It has been a process of embracing my unique abilities and learning to see them as strengths rather than weaknesses. It is finding creative ways out of the box or bottle society, friends, employers, social media, charities, you name it, put me in.
Jeannie is unapologetically herself and never hides who she is. She's proud of her magical heritage and embraces her unique qualities. I've found inspiration in this as I've learned to embrace my neurodivergence as a part of who I am, not something that detracts from my identity.
Refusing to Mask
Jeannie continues to be who she is and does what she wants despite always being told to hide (mask) that fact she is a genie and continues to use her magical powers, despite Anthony always telling her not to and trying to teach her out of it. Oh Anthony, thank you for being a lesson in not letting others tell me what to do and to not listen to some just because they think they know better.
An now for the part that makes me cry uncontrollably...
Dreams Getting Crushed
Jeannie is capable of so much more than just a Genie and she knows it, just as I know I am so much more than dyslexic. I know I would have been a fantastic creative director, but there was one key thing missing, I do not understand office politics and because of that I could not be seen, just like Jeannie cannot be captured on film no matter how talented she is.
Looking back, I feel sad that I resonated with this so strongly at a young age, and I feel sad that it still rings true now.
I wish someone, just one person, sat down and explained office politics to me and taught me how to navigate it. I sit here and think how different my life could have been if I was just seen. How different my life could have been if I received accommodations. How different my life would be if office politics did not punish the really amazing qualities of the neurodiverse.
Jeannie's life in 'I Dream of Jeannie' may be fantastical, filled with magic and whimsy, but it offers a mirror to my own experiences in unexpected ways. Her journey reflects the struggle for acceptance, the desire to help others, and the battle for independence that many of us with disabilities face.
Finding connection and representation in media can be a powerful experience. Jeannie's story encourages me, and perhaps others, to see beyond limitations others put on us and recognise the potential within ourselves. Like Jeannie, I am learning to make the most of my unique abilities and live life without confinements. No bottle can hold me back.