So, I am blogging again

Posted: 21st April 2014 by Christian in Blog
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So, I am watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time since it was on telly. So very long ago when I was young and punched dinosaurs.

It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I’m not much a fan of… anything… Joss Whedon has done, except maybe Angel, which I recall never bothering to finish watching. Not, not even The Avengers.

But it’s ok. There’s some funny jokes and some good fight scenes and all that. Best you can ask for from telly, ennit? That it’s ok.

However, about halfway through the final season, (though I had to skip some as life is short) which is where I’ve noticed something.

Buffy’s world may be the most horrific ever on screen.

At any point in time, the world is set to slide into hell, have its laws of physics rewritten, suffer vampire plagues, be cursed to throw up your pelvis, what have you. You sort of have to wonder how the world made it to an era where faddish, over produced 90s pop music could entertain teens with crimped hair and streaks. My personal theory is that the world is somehow trapped in a perpetual state of pre-Eschaton, held in the grip of vast intelligences who keep the poor bastards of Buffyland fighting, always fighting, for their amusement. Scrabbling for one more day before some supernatural toerag feeds you your spine and stabs up your dog.

Life in Sunnydale is, after all, one in which you’re pretty likely to be tortured to death, have your throat slit, sacrificed, set on fire, tossed in a bit, eaten by a dog. Death, painful, humiliating and degrading, is always just around the corner.

There is no morality to this world.  The only thing protects humankind is the Slayer, who as it turns out, is the tool of some sort of patriarchal cult who simply require a soldier, who’s life and well-being is of absolutely no concern of theirs. No angels raised the Slayer up to even the score against dark forces.

The crucifix, curiously, offers some protection from vampires, and nothing else, but this hardly strikes the viewer that there is a God. The Jewish pagan witch, after all, never seems remotely curious as to why that symbol works and none other, which seems would be of some interest to her. But no, no discussion of supreme Godhead. Or even interest in who the deities that exist in the world actually are. The best that could be hoped for is some Zorastrian idea that God created the world and sealed evil within it, leaving inept humans to battle it. But this isn’t true.

Even heaven has no use for humans.

The show certainly has little regard for human life as well. Only those trained in dark arts, which are hidden by rich aristo scum like the Watchers, have even the faintest hope of a chance to survive a brush with the exterminating supernatural that will go you like a shark.

If memory serves, and it may not, in Angel’s show, he serves mysterious heavenly powers who manipulate their creatures less for concern for humankind’s dull sake. More to continue some fathomless interdimensional war mortals can barely comprehend, recruiting us to die in their endless armies. Indeed, when they finally meet on of these Devas, it turns out to be a human gobbling fascist with no regard for human determination.

Hell itself has no moral purpose. It isn’t God’s Correctional Facility where the evil are punished and redeemed. Or even just punished. It, they, are just bad places, hostile terrain where the simple act of existing is absolute torment. Be kind as you like, ethical as you like, pray to whichever Gods you want, or live a life of relentless sadism, Hell will take you if you’re in the wrong place at the right time regardless. Heaven too, equally as arbitrary. Buffy is ripped from her peace and clothed in flesh and told to suffer and toil and fight in this horrific world. Your rewards, won only in death, are temporary things.

As for those who do fight evil, our defenders, they are clearly mad.

Buffy herself is a vain, selfish creature who is barely able to hold a conversation about anything other than the most trivial things. Her commodity fetish lifestyle is no doubt supposed to be appealing, funny, but she comes across as someone who cannot engage in any real level with her own emotional life. The gee gaws of materialism are her only interest. We hear she likes ice-skating but this is wrapped up in her feelings for a father who clearly does not care for her. One pleasure in the world. We never learn her taste in music or film or books. These are not impossible pleasures for a Slayer to indulge in either, so with seven years to include them, we must believe their exclusion was mandated.

We never learn her joy in food or poetry or animals. She does not vote or watch the news. We don’t even learn if she has a preference for weapons or martial arts. Even her Slayer’s art and duty is nothing she takes pleasure in. The study of demons is a chore and bore. Her service, the one thing she could realistically take pride in, is a millstone she resents.

Buffy studies, but finds it dull. She finds employment but resents it. Her mother dies and she has fantasies about the poor woman’s agony. She takes butchering madmen as lovers and mistakes love for self-loathing lust each time. The healthiest relationship she has is with a soldier who brutalises his prey, acting almost certainly illegally on domestic soil. Even then the link between her sexual arousal and murderer’s proficiency is clear: Buffy is turned on by killing.

Her only joy seems to be sex but that is punished with an immediacy that makes you think those vast intelligence are finger-wagging prudes. Every time Buffy has sex, it has disastrous implications. Her first boyfriend goes evil. Her second sexual encounter, a one night stand with a predatory figure. That soldier? I can’t remember. He tunes into some sort of perverse emotional darkzone. Her relationship with Spike is a neurotic mess of unhappy, submissive, joyless sex to which she soon becomes addicted. Then she acts surprised when a man who brags of murdering children doesn’t scruple at sexual violence.

And when real emotions threaten, not even to overwhelm her, threaten to be merely felt, she runs. When she finally does have to endure the nightmare scenario of speaking honestly, not deflecting with badinage, she speaks only of her pain. She has no optimism, no joy in her, not really. Just brief faked moments designed to fulfill her social contract with humans and no more.
Her heaving sobs are faked. Her emotional wounds heal with the speed of cat scratches. Not only are her emotions largely faked, they are faked badly.

She claims to want a normal life but we have no more idea what that means that she does. When she takes a brief break, her sudden demotion to working class fills her with deep sadness and lassitude. A woman without curiosity or engagement with anyone or anything is unlikely to find any contentment in the Sunday papers or the laughter of her children or drink or drugs.

Buffy Summers is a walking dead woman, insane before her seventeenth birthday. Wrapped in layers of PTSD that have surely warped the neural pathways of her brain, the spurt of hormones in her blood. But given that her show takes place in a world that’s the moral equivalent of a butcher’s shop, who can blame her?

Her friends are no better. Angel is a least acknowledged as a man who can barely speak, muted and horrified by a curse as horrible as it is nonsensical. His stiff-legged walk and inarticulacy speaks of a man only ever moments away from self-immolation.

Xander, one of the vilest characters on television, feigns interest in sex but he really just wants to judge people. Any expression of happiness or connection he sneers at. He sabotages Buffy’s attempt to reconcile with her evil lover and sneers when he escapes from hell. When he finally does have sex, he doesn’t seek it out again for months and it seems more useful to him as a way of ensnaring the oddly innocent Anya than taking joy in the flesh. And when Anya, a fiance he treats abominably, as if she were a foolish dog, finally breaks down and seeks solace from this awful man, in the sex Xander has so little time for, he vilely abuses her.

His friends seem to understand and forgive. By the time he conjures a demon to turn the world into a musical, his friends are so inured to their ugly lives, they can barely find the attitude to censure him for releasing a creature that causes innocents to burn to death. All that separates him from any murdering warlock is that they know his name.

Willow, perhaps the breakout figure of the show, soon learns that to survive in this horrendous world, she needs power. But even power is no proof against death as her new lover, in what’s honestly a terrible cliche, is gunned down in front of her. Willow’s turn into a monstrous Fury, skinning her enemies and burning her foes, seems the only sane response to the world around her. I have no idea why her friends try to stop her at the end of her quest for strength. Willow good or Willow evil makes no difference. If leveling death is sure, which it is in Sunnydale, then why not grab what surety you can?

All that counts in Sunnydale is power.

As for Giles. I really like him. He’s my favourite.

Watching Buffy through this lens, not through some campy fun fair adventure of high emotions, scenarios stolen from superhero fiction, old writers putting in creaky references only other fourty year olds would get, is far more fascinating a way to watch it.

I am curious about the finale again. I suspect, that if they are true to the themes they have written, which are not necessarily what they have wanted, the final scene will be a dignified worldwide suicide, families holding each other, drinking poison, putting the gun to their heads of grannies, glad to be gone. If suicide is a sin, they are simply hastening what seems an inevitability.

If heaven is real, at least they can taste it before the predatory powers of light let them fall. Deny those vast intelligences their amusement, good people of Sunnydale. End it.