When You Watch It Again, Sabrina The Teenage Witch is Actually Really Disturbing

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Before Netflix's The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina brought us a story of teenage witchery, sacrifices, and devil worship, the Sabrina character gained fame on ABC's Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Vastly different from the dark and disturbing Chilling Adventures, Sabrina was a lighthearted sitcom about a teenager with magical powers.

Sabrina was funny and relatable to every teenager who wished they could magic away their problems. She was a good witch with a cute boyfriend, a supportive family, and a sassy cat sidekick. 

I loved Sabrina growing up, but looking back, I see some glaring issues with this seemingly innocent world. The two most notable involve the role of the cat sidekick, and the question of whether or not Sabrina and her Aunts were really good witches?

Let's start with the cat. Salem was a fan-favorite. Voiced by Nick Bakay, Salem was a talking black cat who toed the line between friend, parent, annoyance, and pet.

He was popular among the fans; we all wanted a Salem of our own. Other than Sabrina herself, he was the only character to be in every episode of the series.

Of course, Salem wasn't your average cat. He had once been a fully grown male witch. He tried to take over the world, and he got punished by being turned into a cat. He lived with Sabrina because her Aunt Hilda had been one of his followers, and that was her punishment.

Now, let's back up. This cat who hung out constantly in this teenage girl's room while she was in a nightgown was actually a fully grown man?

Yes, that is correct. Salem may have acclimated to being a cat, and had cat-like traits, but he also was a heterosexual male old enough to be Sabrina's father.

He hung out in her room. Sabrina would pet him, and let him hang out on her bed. And for some reason, probably because he looked like a cat, neither the characters nor the audience found this disturbing.

True, Sabrina and her Aunts had the pleasure of cleaning out Salem's litter box. He was more or less vulnerable to them as this harmless creature that they had to take care of like an emasculated elderly person or child.

But still. How many times was Sabrina holding Salem where he was right up against her chest, and she wasn't even thinking, this is a fully grown man?

They do imply that Salem came to see Sabrina as family, so maybe it's like if you took your father and rubbed him up against your boobs? How's that image for you?

In all seriousness, I love Salem. He was a great character. But once you realize that is an adult male, it is hard to reconcile the relationship he has with the innocent teenage girl.

Moving right along to the bigger question. Were Sabrina and her Aunts actually good witches?

The show seemed to keep with the concept that when Sabrina did magic, it was either harmless, like changing her clothes, or teenage foolishness that she would suffer the consequences of and learn from.

Sabrina was a teenager, so of course, she would want magical solutions for her problems. But if she ever crossed a line, don't worry. It will backfire, her Aunts will take her to task, there will be some big lesson, and the spell will be reversed.

Most of the time, it worked out that way. But not always. In fact, there are a few times when Sabrina crossed that line, and her Aunts didn't seem to mind. Sometimes they would ignore it. Other times, they would encourage it.

Let's talk about Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 1 Episode 2. In this episode, people are gossiping about Sabrina and her friend at school. Sabrina decides to use truth sprinkles to get everybody to tell the truth.

She learns that the truth can be hard to swallow, and some things are better left unsaid. Simple enough.

But let's take a closer look. Is honesty a good policy? Sure. And if someone chooses to be honest, great, more power to them!

However, using something called truth sprinkles to force someone to tell the truth is essentially taking away their right to choose what to disclose. 

Governments have used things like truth serum in life and death situations. And Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth while she's out there saving the world. No doubt, when a teenager is worried about gossip, it feels like life and death.

But just like we wouldn't condone waterboarding your average high school bully, taking the free will from even one student should be a no-no.

We get why Sabrina would want to do it, just like we get why you might want revenge on your someone who bullied you. Ordinarily, this is where the parents would step in.

Instead of telling Sabrina that it isn't her place to essentially force people to share their truths, her Aunts encourage her to practice her magic, so long as she's wary of hurt feelings.

When her feelings do, in fact, get hurt, her Aunt Zelda encourages her to level the playing field and eat some truth sprinkles herself.

Sabrina then becomes empowered to tell her crush she likes his sideburns, and she is relieved to discover that he and her friend are not interested in each other.

When its all over, Sabrina never suffers any real consequences. Granted, neither does the bully she enchanted, but this episode marked the beginning of a mentality that it is okay to use magic to alter, influence, and control the people.

This brings me to Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 3 Episode 13. This is the episode that made me realize how disturbing this show truly is.

In the episode, Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey tells her he does not plan to take The SATs because he doesn't want to go to college. He wants to fix cars. Sabrina is concerned about their future together. What kind of life would they have?

Sabrina proceeds to buy a bottle of ambition cologne and sprays Harvey with it. Harvey becomes more ambitious ... but only about fixing cars, so Sabrina hits him with other ambition bath products without his knowledge or consent.

Somehow this teenage boy ends up running his own company and making a lot of money. But he doesn't care about the "little people" anymore. When Sabrina realizes this, she goes to her Aunts for help.

Aunt Hilda chastises cousin Zsa-Zsa for selling Sabrina blind ambition. They balance it out by dosing Harvey with perspective in the form of a magical eyeball to the brain.

Note, the resolution was not to take away the added ambition but to add something else to it.

Sabrina basically said, "I love my boyfriend, but he's not exactly how I want him to be, so I'm going to alter his personality to my liking."

Then, instead of telling her that that was wrong, her Aunt basically said, "Honey, you didn't add the right stuff. This will make him your ideal bae."

So, both Sabrina and her Aunt think it's perfectly fine to tailor Harvey to Sabrina's specifications without his permission. And they never change him back!

When I used to watch this show, I was so sad when Harvey and Sabrina broke up. I thought he was so prejudiced to dump her for being a witch.

Now I see that she messed him up a lot! She played with his memory, his free choice, she even made him pregnant once.

Honestly, it's hard to believe they ended up together. He's a saint to forgive all she's done.

It kind of makes you wonder, did she use a spell to make him forgive her?

Because the boundaries of free will seem not to matter to Sabrina or the adults who are teaching her how to responsibly use magic. 

There are other examples. Sabrina forces people to like and spend money on her friend Josh's photos on Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 5 Episode 11.

When someone actually likes Josh's stuff, she literally asks him, "You mean you wanna buy it? Like... of your own free will?" This makes it clear that Sabrina knows what she is doing, and she doesn't have a problem with it.

On Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 6 Episode 8, Sabrina doses her self-centered roommate, Morgan, with Humble Pie, so that she'll go get a real job. Morgan owes her money.

When Aunt Hilda, who hired the newly humble Morgan at The Coffee House, finds out what her niece did, does she tell Sabrina it wasn't her place to alter Morgan's personality?

Nope. She simply bemoans the fact that it'll wear off as soon as Morgan meets someone who "takes the cake," and she'll be out a good employee.

On Sabrina the Teenage Witch Season 6 Episode 16, when Sabrina's then-boyfriend Josh isn't jealous enough that her ex tried to kiss her, she re-writes his reaction, making him sad/insecure jealous, angry/crazy jealous, and Indiana Jones jealous (I never understood that one).

The take-away in this case was that Josh's show of trust in his girlfriend was a show of love, as opposed to him doubting her fidelity. The real Josh is a great boyfriend; he is the superior version of Josh.

But, you know, if he wasn't, it would have been totally cool for her to re-write his personality and emotions so she could feel better about herself.

Is Sabrina a bad person? A bad witch? Well, she's not practicing necromancy or anything, so that's a plus. But she uses magic to change people to her liking, and she thinks it's okay because her role-models don't call her on it.

In fact, often, they do the same thing. On Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Season 4 Episode 3, Zelda casts a spell on her boyfriend to make him honest and vulnerable because she knows he's keeping something from her.

On Sabrina the Teenager Witch Season 4 Episode 14, Zelda spells her boyfriend again with an "at peace with yourself," spell. I mean, a lot of people might like that, but you should still ask permission before casting it.

And way back in that episode with the truth sprinkles, Aunt Hilda uses the sprinkles to find out that the postman had a crush on Aunt Zelda, getting away with a small with a minor reprimand from Zelda.

Then Zelda pretends to use the sprinkles on Sabrina, going for a placebo effect. I guess you could say that in that case, at least, she asks Sabrina to eat the "truth sprinkles" instead of just mixing them into some dessert.

I know Sabrina couldn't have asked anyone's permission to do magic on them without revealing her secret.

However, in most cases, I think had she asked, they would have said no, and it would have been a question of, is she going to do it anyway? Signs point to yes.

So, was Sabrina a fun show? Sure. Seeing unrealistic wish-fulfillment is always fun.

But were Sabrina and her Aunts good witches? I don't feel comfortable saying yes to that one. They just didn't respect people's free will. They played god too many times.

And Salem may not have taken over the world or had magic, but he did get to have a less than appropriate relationship with a pretty blonde teenager. 

Watch It. Re-watch It. Have fun with the zany hijinks and the sassy comments. But do not look to these people as examples of good witches. If Westbridge were Oz, a house would have fallen on them long ago.

Do you think Sabrina was a good witch? Do you think Salem's relationship with her was creepy? Let us know in the comments.

Leora W is a staff writer for TV Fanatic..

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