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February 23 2011

The Search for Spike's Balls. An essay from Seven Seasons of Buffy, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, available to read this week at Smart Pop Books.

Wow. Is this meant to be satirical? If not, where did I put that brain bleach?
Unfortunately, it was obviously not meant to be satirical. I couldn't begin to express what I thought of this toxic piece of venom without violating all the rules, so .... please pass the brain bleach.
Yeah... no.

Joss Whedon: "I had a two-fold intent, which was to create a role model in the idea of a girl who's a genuine leader and the role model in a man who is not only comfortable, but turned on by that."

This lady's accolades of Badass Villain Spike (who was only allowed to exist for, like, five episodes, before Joss got bored with him and put him in a wheelchair) clearly evince how far her viewpoint deviates from the show's vision. According to James, Joss didn't see any long-term potential in Spike's character until he came back in Lover's Walk, all lonely and miserable and apparently "emasculated".

[ edited by Enisy on 2011-02-23 12:33 ]
Lol I enjoyed it but I did read it as a jokey article even if it wasn't meant to be. Though I do prefer evil Spike or chipped Spike to the later season 6 and 7 Spike. Either way I'll take this a jokey article so my brain doesn't implode.
I never disliked an essay like this one, and it's a shame because I think the book is otherwise very interesting and entertaining...
Hopefully she's being jokey. As a feminist I'm always sickened when other women attack their own sex for being strong. To call Buffy "whiny" after Angel lost his soul is just wrong.

Spike was never a "badass". He was an evil vampire who had the capacity to love. Even in season 2 Drusilla could lead him around by the nose. A real badass wouldn't beg for forgiveness for being a bad, rude man. "Spike" was a persona adopted to please Dru.
Hopefully she's being jokey. As a feminist I'm always sickened when other women attack their own sex for being strong. To call Buffy "whiny" after Angel lost his soul is just wrong.

Spike was never a "badass". He was an evil vampire who had the capacity to love. Even in season 2 Drusilla could lead him around by the nose. A real badass wouldn't beg for forgiveness for being a bad, rude man. "Spike" was a persona adopted to please Dru.
"Even in season 2 Drusilla could lead him around by the nose."

That's a very good point.
Joss Whedon: "I had a two-fold intent, which was to create a role model in the idea of a girl who's a genuine leader and the role model in a man who is not only comfortable, but turned on by that."

Joss was referring to Xander in this quote.

As for this essay, I have no idea what the author's intent was, which makes for strange reading. It's disappointing too, as I feel the premise of the essay is a legitimate one and worthy of analysis. Unfortunately this isn't a good example.
Buffy drains the testosterone from the characters she is involved with


Except Giles, who the author seems to have deliberately left out. Presumably because he didn't fit in with the rationale (such as it is, it's not a great essay by any stretch of the imagination).
Buried inside this shoddy piece of work is a potentially interesting notion that competent writers have taken up (and should take up) elsewhere: BtVS isn't just about women demonstrating leadership and wielding power, it's about the personal and social costs of doing so - and one of the biggest, scariest things for (let's say) traditionalist folks is that TV/movie masculinity can't survive in a world where women are free agents. The point isn't that Buffy's a 'vampire,' it's that Angel, Spike, the Master, the Mayor, Adam - the whole too-male-for-their-own-good crew - come on seeking to master Buffy and the other women on the show, and are handed their...well, their balls (spines, souls, stakes, bombs, etc.).

But the show spends a lot of time dealing with Buffy's role in this - she shoulders a lot of the burdens that come with those traditional masculine roles on behalf of her male friends (Xander, Angel, Giles), and the havoc she wreaks is one of the show's most complex subjects. 'Being a normal girl' tends to be figured on BtVS as abjection, submission...and Joss rightly insists that we see that as the flip side of boys 'being boys' (cf. 'The Pack,' for fuck's sake, which is emphatically not a celebration of masculine sexuality).

Complaining about Buffy 'stealing balls' is to miss one of the show's big cultural/political points.

In any case I think the show's depiction of Spike as (let's say) increasingly sensitive has as much to do with Marsters's sympathetic approach to lovelorn Spike as with any Buffy-related polemical goal on Joss's part.

***

It really is a shit essay though - a failed attempt at humour. Presumably the editors were so glad to get 'New York Times bestselling blah blah blah' as a contributor that they forgot to, er, edit the piece.
Oh. Wow. O_O

Some thoughts:

1. Yes, she is serious and emphatically not joking IMO, given the stories that Sherrilyn Kenyon herself writes and the…um, strongly "alpha male" characters she prefers to write about. But her alphas are SENSITIVE! Let's not forget that her male protagonists are all sensitive. (They are also all at least 6' 4' (193 cm), built like Thor, sport "bad boy" outer trappings, great Warriors with the capital 'W', and frequently messed with by Greek Gods.)

2. I think that her analogy and word choice were perhaps poor choices (read: guaranteed button pushing offensive), but that she was drawing attention to an actual pattern on the show. I just don't think it means what SHE thinks it means. The show was about heroism and specifically Buffy's struggle to figure out the hero thing in the midst of an everyday life. It discussed the theme of inner strength. Storytelling wise with that theme, it's necessary that if you have one character strong, another has to be weak as a FOIL. Kenyon herself, doesn't have to deal with this particular problem in her stories as she does not write about this particular theme.

3. To quote Cheryl Crow, "Are you strong enough to be my man?" is in fact, I think a genuine issue for women as they struggle to realize their own power. But I think it is also a genuine issue for just about everyone on the planet in general: How does one realize one's full potential when it conflicts with someone else's? Does being one's own strong self mean that the other people in relationships will inevitably have to sacrifice their development? Do two people have to take turns having their needs drive the choices? What happens if one person in a relationship has an uncompromisable need?

4. I think Kenyon might be the one here "emasculating" the men on the show by putting them in the victim category. She is in effect, absolving them of their choices. Why is the ability to to change and compromise deemed a weakness or at least non-valuable? Why is one person's failure to do so, the strong person's fault? Now, I'm not saying it is, but just for the sake of argument: IF Kenyon's picture of Spike is indeed a "true" one, why is Buffy held responsible for his choices or heck, those of any other male character?

[ edited by BreathesStory on 2011-02-23 14:21 ]
That was kinda funny and i did agree with the idea of Spike being way too emasculated and better when he was bad, or at least believed himself to bad and was really just bumbling. But very poorly written and with a lot of holes in the logic. But still, funny and kinda true! Ah well, take the good with the bad...
UGH, OMG, the girl is stronger than the guy....the horrors!
Oh my GOD that is an appalling essay on so many levels.

Just to address one though: she ignores all kinds of relevant plot/character details to make her point ....

For instance: Angel was hardly a raging dynamo of testosterone when we meet him in Season 1. He's afraid to confront the Master and his pathetic minions alone; he does very little fighting; and behind the cryptic warnings, he seems very unsure of himself.

Angel's weaker and more hesitant when he comes back in Season 3 because (a) he's been in hell for a long time, and (b) he feels massive guilt over what he did as Angelus, and is afraid of becoming Angelus again.

Buffy is the one who believes in him, loves him, and gives him the strength to eventually do the right thing by leaving her & trying to be a "champion" in his own right. Not to mention that before that she *literally* forces him to drain her blood when it's the only way to save his life .... whatever this story is, it's not a narrative of predatory Buffy stealing macho Angel's strength.
Satire was the first thing I thought since I don't know this author at all. Then I started reading the comments here (actually, the title of the essay should have tipped me off more as well). The "we Wimmens as vampires who suck the life out of menfolk" is as disturbing as any story involving a wilting flower who needs to be saved by a big strong man. Ew. And a total misreading of what Joss intended. It's early and I feel rather poleaxed after reading that.
Y'know, I don't count Spike as one of my favorite characters on the show, and this essay even offended me. If she writes novels the way she interpreted Buffy, I'm suddenly glad I've never read any of her stuff.
(Disclaimer: not one of my favorite authors)

Sherrilyn Kenyon is a best selling urban fantasy romance author who has had hard cover sales in the hundreds of thousands range. She does a couple of things very well as a storyteller: she has a good eye for detail, she creates characters that people care about, she understands plotting/scene structure, she actually has a command of the English language, and she excels at world building. She writes strong female characters who end up in situations where their life experiences leave them ill equipped to deal with the unexpected chaos that suddenly blooms around them. She also writes a lot of mutual rescuing between her male and female characters.

That said, she definitely has her own POV on what makes an attractive man. This is her filter for the world of Buffy.

And I still think the main problem here is a clash of storytelling interests between her personal themes of focus and those of Buffy. By which I mean... she's way off base. ;-)
Thanks all the posters who have weighed in - you've providing much more thoughtful and interesting analysis than in the essay itself. Have to agree that reading the author's take on BtVS makes me not at all interested in reading any of her own books.
I know nothing about this author or this book, but I'm a huge Spike fan and I still giggled. I thought it was silly and amusing. Obviously my mileage does vary.
I dunno, I just finished reading the Twilight arc for the first time before reading this article and Willow's theory on how Buffy got her superpowers springs to mind. Maybe Meltzer read this essay before he started writing the arc.
As Kaan points out, it's disappointing that something which could've been a careful analysis of the consequences of Buffy's relationships became a catalog of displeasure over Buffy's "stealing" power from these men. And as Simon points out, Giles doesn't fit.

It did remind me though of my inelegant theory of the "Must love Buffy" rule, which is that all major characters either had to love Buffy or leave town (via moving or death or some other method).
I remember disliking this essay when I read the book. I've heard other Spike fans say much the same thing, but I found his story arc from badass to hero very compelling.

There is something offensive about seeing Buffy as some sort of testosterone vampire because she's strong. Okay, she's also messed up, but so is every one of Joss' characters.

I read one of Ms. Kenyon's books because it was free. One was enough.
I started watching Buffy when it aired, establishing my cred as someone who can talk about the show as if I have some special insight to it. When I first saw the character, I immediately started having the same feelings about her that everyone else does, thus further legitimizing my opinion.

Eventually I started noticing some hidden trend in Joss Whedon's writing that disappointed me. Talking about it brings some backlash, but I must, because I'm inherently controversial. Capitalizing on the fact that a show running for seven seasons contains examples of just about everything, I'll collect a few that appear to support my vague theory and try to make you view everything you loved about Buffy in a different light. To keep your attention, I'll make a few attempts at humor but mostly work on maintaining my own anger with indignant observations about characters developing in ways that I didn't find satisfactorily symbolic.

So there you have it: Buffy's a loser. Curb that admiration for her - you're just embarrassing yourself.

(Is it just me, or have we seen this before?)
Spike is into Buffy *because* she's the Slayer, i.e., a very strong woman. Buffy doesn't exactly invite his interest - it takes her until somewhere in Season Seven to feel actually okay about having a social relationship with him. Since the only way Buffy can accept Spike as even a fighter so long as he's soulless, albeit chipped, is for Spike to be on best behavior, that's all down to Spike wanting to be around Buffy and acting accordingly. Buffy doesn't cause Spike to be chipped (at the outset, they'd probably both rather he be staked) and subsequent to that, he can't be much of a vamp. He tries being manipulative in Season Four; it doesn't work very well. In Season Five, he realizes he's in love with Buffy; this is not because of any demands, promises, etc. made by Buffy. So how exactly is she interfering with his masculinity? Apart from being chipped, and the stint of being hypnotized by The First, Spike makes his own choices about his behavior. (I say this as someone who likes both Buffy and Spike very much.)
Angelus wasn't very tough in Season One when Drusilla ordered him to back away from her beloved Xander...
Well said, Kairos. You nailed Kenyon's voice. If only the essay had been that well-written.
From the article:

This culminates into Spike deciding that he can’t stand handing his balls over to her anymore. Becoming the vampire we remember from the beginning, he journeys to the ends of the earth where he can battle it out to become what he was before. Of course both Spike and the viewers believe he will become his former evil self.

But since he is now involved with Buffy and she has him under control, like Dracula with his Renfield, Spike doesn’t revert to his former vampire self. He, just like Angel, gets his soul back and is now nothing more than Buffy’s punching bag.

Gone is the Spike of legend, the Spike who once slew two Slayers without hesitation, and in his place is a tragic shell that is often abused by not just Buffy, but all the cast.


Okay, first of all, her description of these events is out of sequence. Spike was abused by the group and served as Buffy's punching bag before he went and got his soul back.

Second of all, NOT LIKE ANGEL. NOT. LIKE. ANGEL. I have no problems with Angel, but their situations are different. And actually, isn't Angel's situation a point against Kenyon's argument? Buffy had nothing to do with Angelus being ensouled the first time around, an event that left him ball-less for a century.

This brings me to my third and final point. Why "of course"? Being new to the fandom, I missed the original debate on Spike's intention for going to the demon shaman in Africa, so I am not always clear on the reasons why some people believe that he and all of the audience believed it was for something other than getting his soul. But given the fact that the chip no longer worked on Buffy, it especially upsets me when a person who does hold this opinion takes it for granted that every fan does/should also.

She should not have said "of course both Spike and the viewers believe he will become his former evil self" because I am a viewer and this is not what I believe. And unlike Kenyon, I speak only for myself.
Spike was never a "badass". He was an evil vampire who had the capacity to love. Even in season 2 Drusilla could lead him around by the nose. A real badass wouldn't beg for forgiveness for being a bad, rude man. "Spike" was a persona adopted to please Dru.


While there is much to be offended by in this (old) article, I can't agree with your assessment here. Spike WAS a badass. He killed 2 slayers (something even Angelus never did), he tortured people with railroad spikes, he kept and tortured girls Dawn's age just enough so that they would still cry when he raped them, he was adept at mind games as well as brute physical force, he killed the annoited one....from a vampire perspective, he was indeed badass. You can't be second only to Angelus in the evil department without being a badass.

And I don't see him as having adopted the persona of Spike for Dru's benefit since she liked him as William - that is the personality that drew her to him. He chose "Spike" because he was tired of living by society's rules - and because that was a favorite method of torture. He felt freed by becoming a vampire.

From "Fool for Love":

Spike: "Getting killed made me feel alive for the very first time. I was through living by society's rules. Decided to make a few of my own."

That was not from Dru - that was all him. Nor was killing slayers an idea that came from Dru. He felt that fun was about "death or glory and sod all else".

I mean, he was hardly the only vampire that was able to "love" in their own "sick, soulless way". Doesn't make them less evil or badass.

[ edited by lmblack21 on 2011-02-23 23:01 ]
And aggh. Cannot find the quotes just now, but Joss Whedon and the other writers have said in various interviews that Spike intended to get his soul, and it was *not* intended at the end of Season Six for the viewers to come away thinking he had been tricked into getting one. There was a discussion that it had come off more ambiguously than had been intended by the writers, but even at the time, a lot of viewers did understand the writers' intent, which was that Spike *intentionally* got a soul. So that part of the essay is predicated on a faulty assumption about the text.
he kept and tortured girls Dawn's age just enough so that they would still cry when he raped them

Not convinced he was telling the truth there, since he was trying to get Buffy to stake him when he said that.
Not convinced he was telling the truth there, since he was trying to get Buffy to stake him when he said that.


Best way to convince someone is with the truth. We can't disregard his own words as being truthful, he was also crying when he said it, clearly tortured (now that he had a soul) by the fact that he'd done it. Nothing indicates he isn't absolutely truthful there and nothing came in the canon to show it wasn't the truth.

[ edited by lmblack21 on 2011-02-23 23:24 ]
Luc, I agree that Spike, as he was introduced to us, could be termed a "badass", but that only lasted from School Hard to What's My Line. James said that the writers on the show couldn't maintain interest in "cool" and "badass" characters very long, which is why Spike got stuck in a wheelchair, and which is why Joss was only persuaded to make him a regular after his pathetic display in Lover's Walk.

Meh. Sherrilyn Mears Kenyon is forcing me to share ~ the interview ~ again.

Interviewer: So when did you realize that Spike was more than just a villain?
Joss Whedon: Pretty much when James Marsters auditioned for it. Spike was, you know... Spike was somebody that I loved conceptually, and then James just brought and then kept on bringing. So it was a pretty gradual process, but it was always happening.
Interviewer: A unique transition in that character from just a villain to almost the typical anti-hero. And yet never completely there.
Joss Whedon: As a villain he was... you know, the Master that we started with was a straight-up villain, like, his belief system was just evil. And what was fun about Spike was, I said, okay, that's great and Mark Metcalf did a wonderful job, but now we need a villain that we can relate to in the way that we're relating to our other people, so that thematically they can become useful. So to introduce this guy who is clearly "oh, I'm such a badass" and then have him very tenderly in love with another vampire... from the very beginning the idea was, well, he's not just a cardboard. He's gonna have levels to play. How many I didn't at the time realize, but in a way, he really didn't change that much. He's a character that I always liked a little bit more than Angel, because...
Interviewer: He's got more of an edge.
Joss Whedon: He was more evolved, though. He had more of an edge, but at the same time, you know, he chose to have a soul. He learned from his mistakes and he -- Angel was kinda the classic Lestat puffy shirt, you know? And Spike was sort of the new mod rebellion against that, so I like that character. I always, always thought he was a good guy, even when he was a bad guy. (The Write Environment, 2008)
It just seemed more of an Angelus thing to say, Imblack21. Not saying it wasn't the truth, it just didn't necessarily seem it to me at the time.
I don't think it matters either way. Rape isn't any worse than murder.

[ edited by Enisy on 2011-02-23 23:38 ]
Luc was trying to back up Spike's villain cred, and I'm just saying -- we already know he tortured and murdered half of Europe. Whether he also raped them on top of that should be irrelevant to the main argument.
Luc was trying to back up Spike's villain cred, and I'm just saying -- we already know he tortured and murdered half of Europe. Whether he also raped them on top of that should be irrelevant to the main argument.


Exactly. To say Spike wasn't a badass disregards his entire back story and the way he was written through the beginning of season 5, imo.
In a linear chronology (like the essay's author seems to be employing), he most definitely is a badass. From a viewer's standpoint... I don't think he stayed that way for more than half a season. First came the wheelchair, then came the break-up, then came the chip and the Hawaii shirt.

ETA: In case I'm confusing people with my tangents, my view is the same as Joss's view: in a way, Spike really didn't change that much.

[ edited by Enisy on 2011-02-24 00:23 ]
William wasn't an alpha male. He didn't even make beta. Or gamma. Spike was as putty in Dru's hands, as has been ably pointed out upthread. Then he was Buffy's bitch. He always knew that he was love's bitch, and was always man enough to admit it.

I was really quite worried I'd find praise for this article in the comments. I found it annoying and disturbing, as the writer seemed entirely to have missed the point of the character of Buffy and to have bought wholly into the tired old trope that a strong woman emasculates men. Spike is as turned on by Buffy's strength and forcefulness as Riley and Angel are, and as Xander initially is. (Xander doesn't exactly pick wimpy, weak women to go out with, ever - Cordy and Anya are both powerful in their own ways, not to mention all his demon lovers. And Faith.)

It's a feeble argument, based on a poor understanding of the show and a rather depressing view of women's role in the world. More Meyer's Twilight than Meltzer's, even!
It's depressing to me that this was actually published in a collection of essays about BtVS. Eeesh!
And apparently Drew Goddard wrote the intro? Do the dance of shame, Drew.
Oh Goddard, say it ain't so?
Unsouled Spike was evil but I never saw him as a badass. Dalton was evil but he wasn't a badass. Holden and Harmony were evil but I don't see them as badasses.

Spike played the part of a badass because he thougt that was what Dru wanted. Spike told Buffy in Crush that he had changed, that he was good now. He said that because he wanted to be the kind of man Buffy could be interested in.

A badass wouldn't have come back to Sunnydale crying because he was dumped, as Spike did in Lover's Walk.

A badass doesn't try to reinvent himself to please a woman. A badass assumes everyone will acept him as he is and could care less if they don't.

I would never argue that unsouled Spike wasn't evil. Just that he wasn't a badass.

[ edited by Reddygirl on 2011-02-24 04:49 ]
Personally, I think he had quite a nice ass....

Oh.
Why so serious, internet? One of the most common complaints amongst my not-interacting-on-internet-Buffy-fansites real-life Buffy fan friends was that Spike went from awesome to sissy throughout the series.

I almost thought I stumbled in to a Star Trek thread when I read all the responses here.
I don't think that Spike was putting up a front to please Dru. Spike's reign of evil was of his own making. Dru would never have gone after slayers, ditto for Angelus, they were too attached to living or unliving. It was Spike that chose to go after slayers, the creme de la creme of the opposition, their strongest warriors. That his whole race runs at the mere mention of them, Spike chose to track them down and fight them. That to me is badass. Then Buffy started and the Spike that used to be was taken apart piece by piece and eventually rebuilt in a totally new Spike. One that is once again a total badass. Who does not hestitate to beat up Angel and merely let him survive because of Buffy. One that enjoyes to spar and fight with an old one. A Spike that without flinching And best of all this badass Spike(Joss's canon version from s7,5,8) is on the side of good and has so much more potential. Evil Spike was sorta at the limit of his self, the foundation and love he had for Dru(which was flawed,screwed up) was unstable and as Joss demonstrated in s2, it was incredibly easy to destroy that relationship.

Not buying any of that beta,alpha gamma crap. It doesn't apply to these characters as they are ever changing. Buffy of s1 is not comperable in the least to Buffy of s8. Same applies to Spike and Angel only ten-fold. One has lived for more then a quarter of a century and the other for a century and a half. From flashbacks we see that they have been everything from alpha,beta to gamma.

So in short, i don't think that Spike was emasculated by Buffy, if anything Spike empowered himself. Spike is a champion and a hero now, but his path is no longer defined by his love. Even if Buffy were to turn evil, Spike would do the right thing. Because unlike in his past, Spike is being true to his own real self.
Why so serious, internet? One of the most common complaints amongst my not-interacting-on-internet-Buffy-fansites real-life Buffy fan friends was that Spike went from awesome to sissy throughout the series.


He did. I just don't like seeing Buffy blamed for it.
Yeah, a "sissy" who saved the world where "badass" Spike had beat a hasty exit with his girlfriend. ;) If it's the attitude people were missing, well, we got that back in Season 5 of Angel and Season 8 of Buffy; Season 7 was a transitional stage.
I would never argue that unsouled Spike wasn't evil. Just that he wasn't a badass.


But a badass WOULD target slayers when most other vampires avoided them and actively fled from them. So yeah, I'd still say Spike was a badass in his evil days.

He did. I just don't like seeing Buffy blamed for it.


Ditto.
Can male characters be anything else apart from sissies or badasses? What about complex? Or just well-rounded? Or maybe multi-faceted? Aside from Parker, pretty much all the male characters in the Buffyverse were anything but two-dimensional.
What Simon said. All of Joss's characters are complex (it's kinda what raised him above the average TV writer/creator). And of all the male characters, none was more complex than Spike.
I think the "sissy or badass?" question only comes into play when the character begins as one and then turns into the other (or is perceived to). The vamps were brought in to be cool and hardcore, and we don't want to see them without that.

Giles might be an example of the reverse: when we met him, he was uptight and stammering, and we loved him more as he started showing us his badass side.

I'd say Xander stood for being neither sissy nor badass. He had his moments of both, but on the whole he was just a guy: a well-rounded, multi-faceted character, and fans don't try to make him anything else.
Spike in "Lovers' Walk" and "In the Dark" was as evil as they come; I trully hated him then in a way I never did in S-2.

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