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September 14 2003

You Can't Pin A Good Slayer Down. Jeffrey L. Pasley looks at the politics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

I really liked this essay. Sure, I might quibble with Pasley's interpretation of a few episodes, and there's a little bit of vagueness stemming from modern confusion about exactly which values are "liberal" and which "conservative", but overall, a very good and comprehensive look at the two shows' political ideas. Woo-hoo!


[ edited by bobothebrave on 2003-09-14 02:40 ]
I'm not sure I understand where this Pasley guy is coming from. Political messages? Was there an intended political message when the witch fed Snow White a poisoned apple? If so, why should anyone give a crap?
Buffy has always been an extremely political show, from the explicit feminist agenda of the concept (the girl in an alleyway myth) onwards. But even if it wasn't, I think it makes sense to try and look at the political undercurrents of popular culture.
Excellent article. I don't remember this being nearly as enjoyable in it's original form in 'Fear & Trembling'. The section dealing with the Tara controversy is one of the few writings on that topic not to descend into utter hysteria.
The politics Whedon has to face involve network suits that tell him to "show more skin" or "sex it up" or enter less violence or more violence or cater to certain demographics more. What the actual show itself does is not something one should call "political." Others' perceptions of the series may be described as political. One can interpret the metaphors of the BuffyVerse in many ways, reading one's own political interests into the story.

Several years ago there was a massive Christian trend to read into George Lucas' Star Wars series the Christian right agenda. The story doesn't even take place in this galaxy, yet people read their own impression of their god into Lucas' work? People tried to do that sort of thing early on with Whedon's work but he put the wind out of their sails when he admitted to aetheism.

"Buffy has always been an extremely political show..."

Either we're not watching the same show, or you're reading far more into it than Whedon intended. It's a great show and it does ask questions that one can answer from their own political point of view, but in my experience it avoids actually answering political or religious questions. Instead it just poses them and lets the audience make their own determinations.

As for feminism? This is about as far as Whedon ever gets to making a political statement.

CONNOR: So. Vampire Slayers. I was told about them. How come youíre always girls?
FAITH: I donít know. Better at it, I guess.


Again, he leaves it open, but offers the opinions of his characters. Is it possible for a man to be a vampire slayer in the same sense that Faith and Buffy are? Probably not, but then Connor is a vampire slayer in his own right, is he not? He has slain vampires, and though she beats him, he is able to go toe for toe with Faith. No simple feat. The opinions of Whedon's characters are not necessarily his own, and he lets the audience wonder because although obviously Connor and Faith each have their opinions about things, Whedon never actually solidifies the hows and whys of his universe.

Just as a magician never reveals his tricks, the (good) producer/writer/director doesn't reveal his politics. To do so would mean turning the story into a sermon, and therefore defeats the purpose of storytelling - to entertain an audience. Granted one also enlightens, but not in a way that's noticeable to the casual observer.
ZachsMind -- I agree that there's very little that's explicitly political in the show, but the subtext is often pretty damn clear, and is certainly present enough to deserve a paper (or a dozen). I mean, sure, the slasher films that "Buffy" was designed to mock rarely come out and explicitly said, "Sex is bad!" or "Promiscuous women must be punished!", but that doesn't make them any less puritanical or misogynistic. Joss has always said in interviews that "Buffy" was intended to be a feminist show, and that he hoped that its final legacy was not, say, revolutionizing (or at least radically improving) the nature of television storytelling, but rather to empower a lot of young girls. (I assume, as a constant presence on Whedonesque, you've seen these interviews too, but I'd be happy to dig up the link if you like.) Can "Buffy" be watched without a thought to politics? Sure. Are the politics there? I think so. And for me, at least, the purpose of storytelling isn't JUST to entertain, but also to make us think and feel, to shape our understanding and experience of our world. I mean, isn't that why we bother to spend time talking and arguing about "Buffy"? Because the characters and the stories mean something to us, and aren't just a diversion, an escape?

[ edited by bobothebrave on 2003-09-15 09:34 ]

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