Sunday, June 16, 2019

Pride Month: Witches and Role Models

Angelique Collins, Witch and Role Model:  
Thoughts on the Nature of Power and Pride


She’s staring sadly down at the little statue she’s cradling, the one he gave her, handsome hubby, standing behind her, Sky Rumson stupid soap opera name; it’s his tie, in fact, that she’s even now coiling around the statue’s neck.  “Nicholas didn’t tell you very much about me, did he,” she says.

Of course he didn’t; this is Dark Shadows.  Everyone’s got some kind of deep dark secret, things their friends and family don’t know about them because reasons.

He’s coming for her with a poker, by the way, and the poker is on fire.  Fire is anathema to her; she’s a witch, which is why she’s treating the statuette like a voodoo doll. In a moment it will be. He coos, says he wants to look at her one more time before he begins jabbing at her with the flaming stick.  At which point she – Angelique, that is, Bouchard Collins Collins DuVal DuBois Rumson, currently – viciously twists hubby’s tie around the neck of the doll, with instant results:  he gasps, beginning to choke.  “Put the poker in the fire, Sky,” she orders him, “or I’ll make it worse!” Her voice cracks a little at the end, or maybe it just goes up a register.  She’s terrified and she’s furious; she’s been living like Samantha Stephens, her television cousin-counterpart from Bewitched, for a few months now, and it’s been wearing thin.  She’s Angelique All-those-last names, after all, and she’s got mad skills.  She’s demonstrating them right now as she chokes the hell out of poor dumb blood-lusty Sky, her latest husband, and the second to try (unsuccessfully) to kill her.  Later in the episode, she’ll revert even further to type and zap two other characters with a love whammy. 

I’m spending so much time describing my favorite episode of Dark Shadows (#955, if you’re curious) because I’ve been pontificating on the nature of power the last few days, since Wallace graciously asked me to write this article, as The Collinsport Historical Society is celebrating Pride Month.  I’m a gay farmboy from eastern Montana who spent most of his life obsessed with monsters, which is why Dark Shadows appeals: it’s got a little bit of something for every monster kid out there, and since I was super into Universal and Hammer at a tender age, it was a natural fit. As I explored more and more the world of Collinsport, Maine, with its myriad monsters and multiple timebands, I enjoyed the monsters, yes, and the monster tropes (werewolf attacks and vampire bites and stakings and séances and lots of screaming); however, the older I grew, the more I began to appreciate the story elements, the characters, and the soapy nature of it all.

Episode #955 has all of that.

Originally, I considered writing about the in-the-closet nature of Barnabas Collins and his lycanthropic cousin Quentin, who must pretend to be their own ancestors so their hapless twentieth century relatives don’t discover their – gasp! – true natures, but that seems rather on the nose; and anyway, I want to write about Angelique.  Because she’s my favorite.

Here’s why.

Sometimes queer people feel powerless.

A lot of the time, queer people feel powerless.

And Angelique had powers.  And sass.  And amazing hairstyles and a plethora of outfits, a killer wardrobe (literally) that made her blue-gray-green eyes just pop.

So I wanted to be her.  Not be like her.  I wanted to be her.

(I still do.)

Even though I was aware of the original series, Dark Shadows became more accessible to me, as I suspect it did to many people raised in the 80s and 90s, because of the 1991 so-called revival, the NBC nighttime version that Dan Curtis swore up and down he’d use to “get it right this time.”  I watched and rewatched every episode, taped them, recorded their audiotracks by holding a tape recorder up to the speaker of our television so I could listen to them on car trips and before bed.  I loved the Old Barnabas episodes (which, to this day, I remain extremely disturbed by, but for different #metoo related reasons), but it was the 1790 flashback that captured me whole.  Because of Angelique.

Because of the witch.

The one with the powers.

She bewitched Jeremiah and Josette; she stood on the rooftop and swore obeisance to unseen, shrieking primal powers if they would help her kill Jeremiah Collins, then she brought him back from the dead like it was nothing!  She twisted Ben Loomis’ arm via spooky straw doll so he’d do her bidding; “I like when a man treats me with respect,” she chortled.

With respect.

I was twelve at the time, and to say that the queerness of me was something that my classmates and the other residents of the teeny tiny farming community to which I’d been consigned had a hard time dealing with is a ridiculous understatement.  I teach high school students; I know that everyone has felt the cruel lash of adolescence.  But for GLBTQ kids, especially those from rural places, and especially especially for those who are unable to “pass” (as cousins from England?), being a teenager is a special kind of hell.

Well, Angelique was acquainted with hell.  And, honestly, it usually seemed like more of an inconvenience, something she was able to bounce back from.

And then, after the passing of the revival, and as I was able to access the show via the SciFi Channel, the more I became invested in the original series and Lara Parker’s portrayal of the passionate and vengeful sorceress from Martinique, and the more I came to identify with and, yes, to envy Angelique.

She was powerful.

She had no patience.

She did not have time for your crap, and she’d show you, either by choking you into submission or turning you into a cat or killing every person you’d ever met.

As I think back on those times, the hours in the locker room hoping that the other boys wouldn’t notice me, or, if they did, they wouldn’t call me names or piss on me this time, they now seem impossibly remote.  Quaint, almost.  “Hey, Laramie, if you were on a bus full of homos, would you get off?”  Dark Shadows was an escape, as it has been for so many for so many years.  The SciFi Channel was showing the Leviathan episodes around that time, and as I watched I realized how much I wanted more Angelique, more Angelique, more Angelique!  I loved her fancy outfits, her miniskirts and her leopard print coat, I loved her hair styles, the ringlets and the long falls, but I especially loved how she reclaimed her powers after husband number tres tried to set her on fire.

“I am what I was,” she intoned, “and what I shall always be.  I call upon the Powers of Darkness to help me once again …”

I get goosebumps thinking about it now.

Angelique was losing her humanity, or thought she was, in order to restore her powers.  An even trade.  But I knew what Barnabas and Quentin refused to acknowledge:  she was human, even with her powers, she did suffer, she had all kinds of feelings, and yes, she did horrible things, but I could get behind that because I could imagine doing horrible things to those who crossed me, and I didn’t have patience either (I still don’t); I could easily imagine strangling a doll until those assholes at my school treated me with, yes, some respect.  Angelique was just as human as the other monsters on Dark Shadows, which is something that the 1991 series and the Tim Burton remake failed to understand.  Lara Parker has written at some length about how she played Angelique as the heroine, who suffered and cried, until Jonathan Frid told her that she was “the heavy” and to “think vicious” at which point she really began to relish the role.  But it was this dichotomy that gave the character depth, that prevented her from being just another one note jealous psychopath, a la Alex from Fatal Attraction (although, don’t get me wrong; Angelique is plenty jealous, and plenty psychopathic, even at the best of times, but she’s hardly one note).  And it was this depth that attracted me to her.

Angelique could take whatever the world threw at her, and she’d throw it back thrice as hard.

She was a witch, and she was powerful.

After I came out of the closet and claimed my queer identity, which sounds super mythic and epic, and you’d be absolutely right to think that it was, I continued to hold Angelique up as a role model.  Not the obsessing over some dude who done her wrong part (though I’ve done that myself, plenty of times), but the part where she demands respect.  Angelique isn’t going to throw herself off a cliff; she isn’t going to descend, gibbering, into madness once the mask of humanity is stripped away and the monster she thought she knew shows itself for what it truly is; Angelique is a monster too, and she’s strong.

Angelique is strong.

I admire that.

“I am what I was, and what I shall always be.”

She can’t pretend to be human because she isn’t.

She can’t pretend to be anything other than what she is because, ultimately, she’s too strong and too smart for that.

Angelique is smart.

I admire that too.

“I call upon the powers of darkness to help me once again …”

Angelique is a witch.

Angelique is powerful.

And she made me feel powerful too.

Now, when they come for me with torches, I know what to do.

I know what to do.

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