Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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[edit] Introduction: Buffy and Technology

In the cult television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), scholars have found a rich text, bestowing much attention to analyzing its representations of gender, genre, morality, and so on. Here, I am going to try to situate the program within the context of the course, focusing specifically on Buffy’s fourth season with its military story arc, in order to engage and apply some of the course concepts. While the program has mostly dealt with a range of mythical monsters from vampires to hellgods, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is no stranger to engaging issues of technology alongside more classical horror villains. In season one episode, “I Robot, You Jane,” anxieties concerning the internet are articulated as Willow (Alyson Hannigan) begins in a relationship with a demon who is living on the internet. In “Ted,” Buffy’s mother’s new boyfriend turns out to be a serial killing android. In “I Was Made to Love You” Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is forced to deal with a lovesick robot who is rejected by her creator. In numerous episodes in the fifth and six season, the presence of a robotic copy of Buffy, the “Buffybot” is used to comic effect. Yet it is the fourth season, with its Frankensteinian arch-villain, Adam (George Hertzberg), which places Buffy and her friends in opposition to both technology itself and larger government systems of control. I should make note, before engaging in this analysis, that Buffy does not always treat technology as something to be feared. For example, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) throughout the series uses the internet as a resource to help Buffy in their struggles, and as in the episode "Innocence," Buffy herself is not opposed to using a bigass rocket-launcher if the situation calls for it.


[edit] Adam: A Postmodern Frankenstein

The Initiative is a government agency that Buffy encounters in the fourth season. They are responsible for the catching and studying of demons and vampires for military purposes. Maggie Walsh (Lindsay Crouse) is acting director of the Initiative. In Lab 314, using body parts from different demons captured by the Initiative’s soldiers, Maggie builds Adam, a biomechanical demon Frankenstein, powered by a uranium reactor core, possessing a range of demon powers, and built in machine guns. By his very name, he alludes to Biblical myths. The very first thing Adam does upon his creation is to murder Maggie with a retractable skewer that is part of his arm. As Gregory Stevenson points out, “When Adam’s first act is to kill his creator, it is a pointed acknowledgement of humanity’s tendency towards self-destructive behavior under the guise of progress.”[1] Adam then leaves the Initiative, and begins to wonder about the meaning of his life. He later decides he is going to create his own army of cyborgs like himself, turning Forrest (Leonard Roberts) into a demonic half-robot ceature like himself. Adam clearly gestures towards the costs of pursuing technological progress without morality, as in the end he leads to the downfall of the Initiative. Stevenson further points out, “The relentless pursuit of power and knowledge without regard for God or Humanity gives birth to a monstrous creation that inevitably devours its creators.”[2]

In battle, Adam is nearly indestructible and Buffy, a human possessing supernatural powers of strength and agility, is clearly no match for him. Yet it is the presence of Buffy which clearly differentiates Adam’s story arc from a strict adherence to the Frankensteinian narrative cycle found in many types of science fiction.

[edit] Buffy: The Anti-Frankenstein

The Primitive
The Primitive
Buffy in "Restless"
Buffy in "Restless"

As the central hero figure of the story, Buffy functions not just as Adam’s nemesis, but also his foil. The super-human strength, agility, reflexes and precognitive dreams that comprise her special powers as the slayer are not drawn from any technological or cultural force. Where Adam’s powers are derived from a uranium core, and his physical construction from demons is also aided by the Initiative’s technology, Buffy’s power source presents a stark contrast. The power of the slayer is ancient and predates technology. As the first season’s opening sequence states, “Into each generation a slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil. When one slayer dies, another is chosen."[3] There are two interconnected facets of the slayer’s power which are of concern here, which I will explain:

  1. The slayer’s power is feminine
  • In each generation, the slayer is always a female; she alone assumes the role of protector of humanity against dark underworld forces such as vampires and demons. In the final episode of the series, “Chosen,” by tapping into the powers which enabled the creation of the slayer, Willow (Buffy’s most powerful ally, a witch) changes the fabric of the universe, allowing all girls with the potential to be a slayer to become activated as slayers. Not only does this intervention of magic create an army of super-powered women, but it also functions as a metaphor for sharing female power.
  1. The slayer’s power is connected to the earth
  • In the final episode of season four, “Restless,” the very first slayer, also called The Primitive, makes her first appearance, as she attacks Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander in their sleep - a side effect of invoking the deep mystical powers of the slayer in order to defeat Adam. The Primitive was an African woman who lived thousands of years ago. In “Restless,” The Primitive is most often shown in the natural surroundings of a barren desert with clay smeared on her face. In the fifth and seventh seasons when Buffy encounters the Primitive again, it is also in a orange-toned desert landscape. In “Restless” Buffy is also pictured putting mud onto her face, thus visually establishing the connection between the slayers and the earth.

Despite Buffy’s possession of these powers, she has difficulty engaging Adam in combat, since his technological augmentations give him a clear physical advantage. In the final episode of the season, “Primeval,” in order to defeat Adam, Buffy and her friends use a magical spell to more effectively access the powers of the slayer. The four of them together invoke the powers of the Primitive, not only transforming Buffy into a Super-Buffy, but allowing her to become a vessel for ancient powers. Her eyes glow white, she speaks in an ancient language, is able to stop Adam’s bullets in mid-air, and turns a rocket into a dove. She tells Adam, “You can never hope to grasp the source of our power.” [4] Super-Buffy, the extreme personification of these feminine earth powers, rips the uranium core out of Adam, killing him. Adam, the postmodern Frankenstein, meets his end, restoring order. The relative ease with which Super-Buffy trounces Adam makes apparent the complete inability of an android/cyborg like Adam to comprehend such natural forces.

[edit] The Initiative: Systematicity

The notion of systematicity is provides a useful tool for looking at the military arc of Buffy season four. If one breaks the human world down into systems, the categories of cultural systems, organic systems, and the material universe provide a structured organized set. In cultural studies, we tend to focus specifically on cultural systems, neglecting other factors, such as the material rules of our natural universe around us. What the narrative of Buffy season four functions almost as a parable for a clash of these systems.

The Initiative effectively functions as part of the human cultural/political system. While they are top secret, they are a government funded agency. Furthermore, I would argue that as a representation of the military-industrial complex, with their soldiers frequently pictured in camouflage with machine guns, they are also inherently patriarchal in that they embody masculine power, both physical and political. For them, the mystical underworld which Buffy is a part of is for the most part a bunch of nonsense. They mistakenly consider demons and vampires to be biological entities just like tigers or bears which can be captured, studied, catalogued and controlled. They capture Spike (James Marsters), a vampire, and install a chip in his brain that prevents him from aggression towards humans, but does not destroy his evil vampiric nature. It is completely invisible to the Initiative that Spike has a recorded two hundred year history as one of the most dangerous vampires in existence; he was responsible for the deaths of two slayers. His nickname, Spike, comes from his penchant for torturing his victims with railroad spikes. For the Intiative, Spike is another creature to be catalogued; he is an animal and no more. They give Spike a number, calling him only on Hostile 17.

Before the Initiative encounters Buffy, they considered the slayer to be a myth, much like leprechauns or unicorns. When they do finally discover that the slayer is indeed real, despite a fleeting curiousity with her in which they put her through field tests, they never fully grasp or respect her powers. "Restless" is one of the handful of ‘’Buffy’’ episodes which offer experimentations with television format. Almost the entire episode is a dream sequence, and as such it offers highly symbolic scenes which provide insights into both the characters and themes of season four. In Buffy’s dream sequence, she enters a boardroom with a map of the earth on the wall where Riley (Mark Blucas), her boyfriend and soldier of the Initiative, is plotting with another man. Both men are dressed in suits. The image of these men in this setting evokes military, masculine power. Buffy has the following conversation with them:

  • Riley: Hey there, killer.
  • Buffy: Riley? You’re back?
  • Riley: Never left.
  • Buffy: How did the de-briefing go?
  • Riley: I told you not to worry about that. It went great. They made me surgeon general.
  • Buffy: Why didn’t you come and tell me? We could have celebrated.
  • Riley: Oh… We’re drawing up a plan for world domination. They key element? Coffee makers that think.
  • Buffy: World domination? Is that a good?
  • Riley: Baby, we’re the government. It’s what we do.
  • Other Guy: She’s uncomfortable with certain concepts. It’s understandable. Aggression is a natural human tendency. Though you and me come by another way.
  • Buffy: We’re not demons.
  • Other Guy: Is that a fact?
  • Riley: Buffy, we’ve got a lot of work here. A lot of filing, giving things names.
  • Buffy: What was yours?
  • Other Guy: Before Adam? Not a man among us can remember.

[in the background, a female automated voice comes over the speakers]].

  • Female voice: The demons have escaped. Please run for your lives.
  • Other Guy: This could be trouble.
  • Riley: We better make a fort.
  • Other Guy: I’ll get some pillows.
  • Buffy: Wait… I have weapons. [This is where Buffy opens up her weapons bag, which is full of mud, and spreads it on her face] [5]

This key scene is loaded with meaning, and makes clear exactly the ways that these systems clash. The ridiculous plot for world domination succeeds at humourously revealing both the folly and the arrogance of the Initiative. When the demons escape from their holding cells, the personification of human political systems of control, the soldiers, want to fight the demons by building a fort with pillows. This highlights exactly how ill-informed and silly the Initiative’s attempts to control and battle underworld forces actually are. Because they represent a human system of control, the Intiative are unable to exert the power on demons that they wish to. These supernatural creatures cannot be rationally understood or controlled from the Initiative’s frame of reference; for all of their cataloguing, filing and “giving things names,” they fail in their attempts. When Buffy notices her weapons bag, as always, they ignore her and the possibility that she, a slender blonde woman, could help. Her bag is not filled with weapons, but with mud. This functions effectively as a metaphor that Buffy’s power lies not with her stake or crossbow, but with her mystical slayer powers and their connection to the earth. The Initiative’s approach to controlling the laws of the material universe were unbalanced, ultimately leading to its destruction. The uncontainability of Adam distinguishes him as the final example of the Initiative’s experiments gone wrong.

[edit] See also

[edit] External Links

[edit] References

  1. Gregory Stevenson, “Systems of Power: Technology, Magic and Institutional Authority,” Televised Morality: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, (Dallas: Hamilton Books, 2003), 133.
  2. Stevenson, 133.
  3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Created by Joss Whedon. 1997.
  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Created by Joss Whedon. 2000.
  5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Created by Joss Whedon. 2000.
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