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August 18 2007

Identity, choice and heroism in Buffy #5. Good essay on the themes in the first standalone story of Buffy season 8. And there's even a bit of "Objects in Space" thrown in for good measure. Why? Cause of Existentialism.

This is a nice find indeed, and it is an interesting argument, though I think that it simplifies existentialism (and yes, I know it has only limited space to make that argument).

But consider: ""There is no truth. There's just what you believe.""

Does this hold true for how we read a text? And that, my friends, is a truly loaded question.... :-)
I really enjoyed this, it did bring out the important points of Buffy #5, because most of my friends and I read it very differently.
That's always been the case, hasn't it? The truth of Buffy is in the eye of the beholder. Amen.
Dana, I'd invoke Habermas. I don't believe in absolute truth, and I think texts are open to different readings, but we all communicate better when we have some shared ideas, some commonalities. Otherwise, people start talking about llamas or going "squeee," and newbies get lost.
I loved Buffy #5. For me, however, it brings up a troubling question: How do you know you're fighting -- killing others and dying yourself -- for the right cause?
In BtVS, killing humans is wrong (even though I think Warren deserved flaying). At first, it's fine to kill vampires and demons. But then we meet ones like Clem. This point is made much stronger in Angel, when it's much harder to decide who deserves to die. That's why it's better to avoid killing when we can.
The thorniest question for me hasn't been raised yet: Did the leadership of the Slayer army choose her for this task because her past suggested that she was going to get herself killed? She gets her schoolmates out of the way of the bus, but she doesn't get herself out of the way. She saves her fellow slayer in the alleyway by putting herself between the vamp and the near-vic, and becomes a near-vic herself. There's no discussion of this this very striking aspect of her fighting style in the issue (which could inspire a wideranging meditation on the meaning of "selfless.")

It made me want to hear the discussion (assuming there was one) that went on in the Slayer Army's hierarchy before the decision was made to send a slayer who has exhibited some impressive heroic virtues on what could be fairly called a suicide mission (as distinct from a kamikaze mission), one in which death is highly likely, but not certain.
Pointy, that's a good question. What drew the line between sacrifice and the role of the protector?
Although I love all the philosophical discussion and issues that Joss brought up in this comic, and is a huge reason why I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer in general, this also helped me realize that a huge reason why the comics have not been that enjoyable for me is because Buffy herself is such a non-factor. There's no desire to see what's going to happen in her life next issue, because she seems so lost and passion-free. Not to mention the next issue is really about Faith. It feels like Joss loves the Buffy world and wants to play in it more and espouse his ideas but is none too interested in the character. Hope I'm proved wrong soon.

[ edited by narky on 2007-08-19 03:38 ]
Wow, great blog entry. Really codified my views and thoughts on the issue.
I was lost at unless you're comfortable entertaining the notions that nothing has inherent meaning and all morality is relative, then you're likely to have problems with this story.

Oh, bother.
It amazes me at how differently people view the same thing. Which is of course what this essayist is writing about in terms of existentialism. I had one friend who saw issue #5 as a meaningless sacrifice while to me it looked like selfless heroism. One person feels that Buffy is a non-factor in the first four issues, while from my point-of-view I see Buffy coming to grips with her role as a leader/role model/icon and feeling the need to remind her peers that she needs them to "Fight with me, not next to me."
Of course I didn't expect anything to be resolved for Buffy in four issues, she has at least a year, maybe two, before this season resolves itself.
Chris inVirginia, by no chance David Milch is sitting off your elbow, right?
You wanna see where "absolute truth" can lead? Think Islamic terrorists. They are absolutely sure they are right, and all they do is cause misery and death in the name of their belief system.

I think I'll take the existentialist way of looking at the world. At least it makes me less manipulatable by violent thugs who want others to think they have the corner on "the truth." Sure, it's more work to decide for yourself what's right and wrong, but that can also be a wonderful learning experience.
It's been a long time since I read "The Stranger," the existentialist classic by Albert Camus, but I think its plot turns on a moral relativist "Killing an Arab" (in the words of the old Cure song) because the sun's too hot. Or possibly too bright. Either way, in high school it struck me as an inadequate reason, and not just because of my moral absolutism. I think most relativists would come down on the side of Thou Shalt Not, At Least for a Reason That Dumb. I conclude that the specifics of one's absolute and relative truths matter.

Issue #5 may exhibit some aspects of Existentialist thought (I just wouldn't know) but it also works for those who believe that what really matters in life is whether you do the right thing, a group that includes numbers of moral relativists and moral absolutists.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-08-19 16:09 ]
You wanna see where "absolute truth" can lead? Think Islamic terrorists. They are absolutely sure they are right, and all they do is cause misery and death in the name of their belief system.


Let me answer this with: On Earth, a stone thrown on the ground eventually lands there.
Make a case for it to not be "absolutely" true, or true in any case! And how can something be absolutely true? I just know true and false; and if someone makes a good case for nonsensical, maybe I'd let that slide that too.

And I consider the explanation of existentialism given in the article at least as too simplified, if not false.
Let me answer this with: On Earth, a stone thrown on the ground eventually lands there.

The stone didn't move at all. You were pushing the Earth away from the stone (like Superman), and when you opened your hand, the Earth landed on the stone.
I'm a Discordian, which serves me both as a philosophical position, and religion-for-my-atheism, and helps in understanding the works of Joss Whedon, and life itself. I'm a Pope, as are all of us, whether we know it or not. ;>

Here's one of our credos, from the late, great Discordian hisself:

"Discordians don't have dogmas, which are absolute beliefs - we have catmas, which are relative meta-beliefs. The central Discordian catma is: any affirmation is true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense. And if you repeat this 666 times, you will achieve supreme enlightenment, in some sense." - Robert Anton Wilson

Does this help?
Bless you, QuoterGal. A discordian? I think not. You're just stating your mind.
Robert Anton Wilson is always helpful!
"I'll see it when I believe it." (Doesn't mean it's not true.)
A great essay; illuminated depths of #5 I still hadn't seen after maybe 10 readings of it. Nice find.

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