Anna S. (eliade) wrote,
Anna S.

on slayers and vampires

Actual! Buffy! Content! From a post I made to a list yesterday, which has nothing at all to do with the finale, and contains no spoilers--and please, don't put any spoilery content or hints or even *reactions* about the finale in my LJ comments today. I won't even be reading my friends list until after nine tonight. Anyway, I'm just poaching from myself again, because I sometimes like to have more than effusive squees about gay boys and salmon to fill the empty space of my LJ.

cesperanza was asking recently about the idea of Spike as metaphor, and also asked, "Wasn't that already the "love affair" of the show--a girl and her, what? pointed stick? dildo? vibrator? phallic power?"

And I said that I thought the most blatant canonical reference to the stake as phallic object is probably in "Becoming," where Kendra refers to her rather sexualized and lovingly carved stake as "Mr. Pointy," and gives it to Buffy for luck. The tone of the exchange is just this side of innuendo. And it could be rather significant, as Kendra--having given away her symbolic luck or power--is then killed.

Actually, there's also something interesting soon after, in "Becoming Part 2," when Buffy and Angel duke it out with a sword fight. Angel knocks away her sword--another nice phallic symbol--and backs her up against the wall. The, to quote from the psyche transcript:
Cut to the atrium. Angelus plays with his sword, idly pointing it at Buffy. She looks up at him, frightened.

Angelus: Now that's everything, huh? No weapons... No friends... No hope.

Buffy closes her eyes and steels herself for whatever's coming.

Angelus: Take all that away... and what's left?

He draws the sword back and thrusts it directly at her face. With lightning-fast reflexes she swings up with both arms and catches the blade between the palms of her hands. She opens her eyes and meets his.

Buffy: Me.
And then of course she sends him to Hell with a big pointy sword through the gut. Big Freudian "hmmmm."

I of course find it more interesting that three seasons later Spike--who abandoned her moments before that showdown with Angelus--catches a sword in almost the exact same way as he's helping her fight the Knights of Whateverthehell. I don't know what that means, but it's representative of how much he's prepared to endure on her behalf, and his own iron will, and it makes me happy.

So, on another topic, we like to speak of Joss as "god" of the Buffyverse (or Jossverse) and we have the benefit of occasionally hearing from him directly. His pronouncements on this and that. But even though I've often indulged in that worship myself, I find that when it comes down to it, I am still the type of person who says, "Pffft--god. Yeah, right," rejecting him and turning to my own sense of reason to explain things. The truth is that god-Joss isn't infallible in my eyes, and really, he's often apt to say things that make me roll them. So, in that NYT interview with Joss that coffeeandink pointed out recently, he commented about "Seeing Red," and about the function of a soul, and how the crux of Spike's problem was that, when it came down to it, he could not make a distinction between the bondage games he'd played with Buffy and actual rape. I'll quote that whole part of the interview:
I would love to give you a more in-depth coherent explanation of my view of the soul, and if I had one I would. The soul and my concept of it are as ephemeral as anybody’s, and possibly more so. And in terms of the show, it is something that exists to meet the needs of convenience; the truth is sometimes you can trap it in a jar; the truth is sometimes someone without one seems more interesting than someone with one. I don’t think Clem has a soul, but he’s certainly a sweet guy. Spike was definitely kind of a soulful character before he had a soul, but we made it clear that there was a level on which he could not operate. Although Spike could feel love, it was the possessive and selfish kind of love that most people feel. The concept of real altruism didn’t exist for him. And although he did love Buffy and was moved by her emotionally, ultimately his desire to possess her led him to try and rape her because he couldn’t make the connection--the difference between their dominance games and actual rape.

With a soul comes a more adult understanding. That is again, a little vague, but...can I say that I believe in the soul? I don’t know that I can. It’s a beautiful concept, as is resurrection and a lot of other things we have on the show that I’m not really sure I can explain and I certainly don’t believe in. It does fall prey to convenience, but at the same time it has consistently marked the real difference between somebody with a complex moral structure and someone who may be affable and even likable, but ultimately eats kittens.
So, he says that Spike's love is "the possessive and selfish kind of love that most people feel," (a) without making any distinction here between vampiric love and human love, rendering the comment kind of nonsensical, and (b) despite that even after Buffy's death he hung around Sunnydale and protected Dawn, for no especially good reason except his promise, since loving and protecting Little Sister wasn't exactly earning him Buffy kudos anymore, or much of anything else. (And I could tangent here about my own sense that Spike's transgression is actually very *human*, and thus a really odd offering of "proof" for his innate, unchangeable, vampiric nature, but I won't.)

Joss tends to make a soul the equivalent of a "complex moral structure," which is basically what kids are supposed to gain at the age of seven, right? And he's also calling it an "adult" capacity. But it's not as if we write off all children as monsters. It's a weird sort of analogy, as if he equates childhood with sociopathy. Actually, I'd tend to agree with that...but okay, no. I think what he's really hinting at is a kind of fixed nature, a deficit that limits growth and the ability to learn. The ability to learn is often said to be the feature that differentiates humans from animals--we learn better, faster, accumulate more experience.

If Spike acted like a child--want, take, have--a lot of the time, I think he was also capable of recognizing when he'd done something inappropriate. After the attack, his entire reaction is that of someone realizing that what he did was wrong. Plus, if he went to *look* for a soul, as Joss has *also* said, then that's a kind of evolutionary leap that suggests the ability to bootstrap a complex moral structure, based on some kind of conditioning. The chip stands in for the parental force that prevents children from doing harm, the Scoobies serve as a foster family, his three chipped years of humbling and frustrating service are a series of school lessons, and Buffy is the transforming force of love that drives Spike to step outside the box of nature and vampiric nurture. Given more time, and the right conditions, it's possible that Spike--and other "high-functioning" vampires--might be able to learn in a human way.

Which ultimately reduces the soul, as Joss says, to a convenience. On the one hand it's a real thing you can catch in a jar, glowy and spiritually significant. On the other hand it often reads like an artificial Western construct: an attribute that divides humans from non-humans, humans from savages, and that whole demon-savage-monster side of the fence is that analogous area where native Africans and slaves and Indians used to reside in the white, European imagination.

It's humans who define themselves, and it's humans who define what's non-human, and deem that everything non-human is souless. It's just another dominant narrative, and like slayers taking lessons from watchers we're meant to take it at face value, and we do, because the monsters are so cartoonishly obvious in most cases. And it doesn't matter how problematic and attractive the monsters are, we can always kill them off in the end, because they lack souls. They're of a different blood. They're of a different species. They're animals. They're subhuman--and even science, in the form of the Initiative, "proves" it. These are all things that white Europeans used to think about blacks.

Even now I find it interesting and really kind of disturbing that so many people are just okay with this, willing to accept it as a fixed premise, a kind of hegemonic fiction, without working any deconstructive mojo on it. I resist the black-and-white simplicity of that, the religious us-and-them that doesn't allow any lines to be crossed. On a basic level, a gut level, it just creeps me out--I don't *care* if that's the functional mythology of the show. I want something more than that, and it's a shame that they're probably not going to take us beyond a children's Bible view of the world before the show ends. (We still have A:tS, of course--it doesn't have quite the same focus, but who knows what will come.)

And I keep coming back to Spike--who is he supposed to be in this story? Isn't he the childlike native who transcends his assigned place, mimicking the civilized ideal of his betters, suffering first the collar (the chip) and then accepting religion (the soul, the cross) and therefore allowed to finally define himself as human? You could possibly argue that it's subversive or different because he's some kind of Aryan ideal, and that this turns the narrative inside out. Or that because he's a vampire, this invalidates the analogy, that I'm missing the obvious: vampires really *aren't human*, they're demons, etc. In fact, the analogy continues to work: "demonization" and "dehumanization" are commonly used sociopolitical terms to describe the process of marginalizing a race, often to justify genocide. (And it wouldn't be hard to play around and subvert the dominant text of humanity in the Jossverse--if I wanted to spend the time, write that story, I could probably manage to persuasively posit a universe where vampires actually have more potential to co-exist than watchers and slayers allow for, where the terms of war between good and evil are collapsed, the mythology revisioned and redefined. But that's another tangent.)

It's interesting too if you look at Spike's three stages of development. Setting aside his original humanity as a kind of prelapsarian state, we have feral vampire, chipped vampire, and souled vampire as parallels to the idea of human cultural evolution: savagery, barbarism, and civilization.

And, um...that's all. I'm not an academic, I just play one online--people like Ces could kick my ass up and down the street with their scary smart brains--and so this is just a mish-mash of thoughts. Now I will eat a muffin and feed my own peeping brain.

Edited to add: This post looks very oddly formatted in my Netscape browser, but I don't know how to get around that; hopefully most of you are drones and slaves to Microsoft, and are not using Netscape...

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