Listener Angelique wanted to share this paper she wrote in college about Buffy.
Angelique C. Carter
2 April 2007
Prof. Yassmeen Abdulhamid
Pop Culture Icons-Final Draft
Formatia Trans Sicere Educatorum:
Enter All Ye Who Seek Knowledge
Vampires, witches, demons, apocalypses. These are not common, everyday household words unless you call Sunnydale, California home. That is something that Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Alexander (Xander) Harris, Rupert Giles, and many more characters created by Joss Whedon, know more than anything. For these characters, life has a completely different meaning and path. Many of their stories can be related to the works of philosophical thinkers such as Plato and Friedrich Nietzsche. They can be compared to historical movements, such as feminism and ideals such as eudaimonism; which is simply a system of ethics that evaluates action in terms of their capacity to produce happiness (Dictonary.com). The characters also serve as teachers for many young adults, without being obvious about it. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) is an important part of pop-culture because of its introduction of philosophical teachings that would not normally captivate the high school generation audience. For this reason, BtVS is a show that will continue to be studied as years pass. This is something that actress Julie Benz (Darla) agrees with. She stated during an interview during the season’s wrap-up party, “It’s going to be a show that will probably be studied in 25 years as what it meant to the world. I think it definitely has its place in history.”(BtVS DVD Series Season 7 Disc 6)
Buffy has taken many hits from Christian activists as evident in Jeff Pasley’s report “You Can’t Pin a Good Slayer Down: The Politics, If Any, of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel.” He illustrated many points that Christian activists had problems with. One of their arguments was in the Pilot episodes. Giles states, “This world is older than you know, and contrary to popular belief, it did not begin as a paradise.” This statement was seen as an anti-Christian cosmology. The most anti-Christian symbol in BtVS was Caleb, an agent of the First Evil (or the First); the main villain in Season 7. Caleb was a man of the church that continued to wear the uniform, even as he served the First.
Surprisingly, the biggest advocate for Christianity in BtVS was Sarah Michelle Gellar who played Buffy on the show. Gellar was quoted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly saying her show was “the most religious show out there! We’re more religious than 7th Heaven!” (Jensen 61). Television never saw a more in depth tie to Christianity than in Season 5 of BtVS. Buffy must sacrifice her life to save the world. When she jumps into a ball of energy that is destroying the world, and eventually kills her, she is positioned as Christ was when he was crucified on the cross. Her path that leads up to her dying, her position as she dies, her going to Heaven, and the resurrection in Season 6 all mirror the story of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. “Buffy’s struggle to understand and endure the divine sacrifice required of her cuts far closer to the heart of the Easter story than most of Hollywood’s explicitly biblical epics. There’s also no doubt that Buffy’s mysterious but powerful encounter with the divine is far more theologically correct than the weekly direct interventions that occurred…on Touched By An Angel…” (Pasley) Unfortunately, not even Sarah Michelle Gellar’s defense for the show will change the Christian conservatives’ viewpoints on it mainly because the denominations hold every word in the Bible to be fact and do not appreciate mixing the religion with magics and cults.
Despite the religious controversy, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer teaches us many important philosophical lessons that are otherwise uninteresting in a class room. When Joss Whedon created Buffy he had a particular path in mind for her. He said this best in an interview after the show’s final episode. “I always intended it to have the kind of impact on popular culture that it did. I wanted Buffy to be a pop-icon. I wanted her to be remembered. I wanted her to be in people’s interior lives. I wanted her to be a hero to kids.” (BtVS DVD Series Season 7 Disc 6) Whedon and his writers were successful. Buffy did become a hero to many people and her character and story were hard to look away from. Buffy is enticing to us because she is one of us. She is written as the one and only savior of our world, but at the end of the day she is just like the rest of us. She lives the way she wants to, normally (Seven Seasons of Buffy, 3). Though Buffy struggles throughout the entire first season, and some parts of the rest of the series, with her calling as a slayer, she always accepts what she must do. This makes her, for many, an idol that can be looked up to. Even young children can see that Buffy teaches life lessons as Nick and Olivia Ripper demonstrated in an essay that they wrote for a magazine called “Children’s Corner”. Buffy has taught them that the best people are the ones that act in the best interests of others and stand up for others. They admire that Buffy is a person that is independent and follows her heart. Although many children are scared at times when watching BtVS; and some episodes are restricted to an older audience, they are also learning that facing your fears and overcoming different obstacles is something that must be done in everyday life (Children’s Corner Ripper 127).
Buffy was labeled as a hero not just for kids, but for teenagers and adults as well. She teaches us how to deal with everyday problems and situations and leaves us thinking, “What would Buffy do?” (Pop Matters) Buffy as a hero and a teacher is seen not only in the fans of the show, but also in the characters as they progress from season to season. In the pilot episode of the fourth season, Buffy doubts whether or not she has what it takes to do her job as the Slayer anymore. She finally gets her courage back when Xander says to her “Let me tell you something, when it is dark and I’m all alone and I’m scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think, ‘What would Buffy do?’ You’re my hero.” (BtVS 4.1) The heroes of Buffy, whether it is Buffy herself or another character, are “specifically set up as champions and users of traditional, nontechnological, uncommodified forms of knowledge and power. Buffy and her friends operate as an informed collective altruistically serving the common good.” (Pasley)
Approximately one dozen scholarly books have been written with their subject being BtVS and all of them touch on different types of philosophical view points and scholarly teachings (CTV News). One such book is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. This book features different philosophical views from 25 authors. One author, Greg Forster, touches on how the works of Plato and Friedrich Nietzsche and the idea of eudaimonism are evident in BtVS; particularly between the characters Buffy and Faith. In eudaimonism, two premises are evident. “People will always do whatever they think will make them happy and it is therefore the job of moral theory to show that the morally good life is also the happiest” (BtVS and Philosophy, 10). Plato’s theory on the human soul and basis of happiness is best described from BtVS and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. He states that “…the human soul is divided into three separate parts: reason, the source of contemplation, logic, and judgment; spirit, the source of anger, courage, and pride; and the appetites, the source of almost all our wants and desires…the just person listens to the voice of reason and controls his appetites while an unjust person follows his appetites without control.” (BtVS and Philosophy, 12). Plato goes on to say that the balance between these three souls is very important because it keeps happiness and harmony in the body. The ‘just person’ lives in a state of happiness and balance because of the discipline and self-control established from being balanced in the souls. The ‘unjust person’ does not have this balance because his appetites are overpowering the spirit and reason. The constant battle between his three souls leaves him with a feeling of misery and is unable to have the restraint needed to have a happy life.
When Buffy drowned in Prophecy Girl in Season 1, a new slayer was called. The fact that Buffy was resuscitated only a few short minutes later did not undermine the fact that she had died, so another slayer had to be called. This slayer, Kendra, was killed in Bargaining, Part 2 in the second season. Due to Kendra’s death, a third slayer was called. Her name was Faith. Faith was introduced in the third episode of Season 3 entitled Faith, Hope, and Trick. Faith’s view on Slaying is that what she does is not a job or a duty, it is simply something to make her feel good and get her “juiced” (BtVS and Philosophy, 14). Faith outdid almost everything that Buffy did, from the female empowerment to the ability to gain the admiration of everyone around her. Jeffery Pasley describes Faith as someone who turns out to have too much of a good thing. “Physically and sexually more aggressive than Buffy and comfortable with her power and her warrior’s role (or so it seemed), Faith initially swept everyone in Sunnydale off their feet, only to prove unreliable and even dangerous in the long run. Filled with self-loathing, Faith had become a rogue Slayer by the end of Season 3 and began to amass a record of villainy that includes trying to torture a captured Buffy, nearly raping (and murdering) Xander, and beating and torturing her old Watcher, Wesley.” (Pasley/BtVS 3.3, 3.15, 3.15/Angel “Five By Five”)
In Season 4 of BtVS, Faith uses a magic spell to switch her body with Buffy’s and takes over Buffy’s life. As time moves on, Faith starts to see what she couldn’t before, that Buffy really is a true hero and she is content with herself, though she may not show it very often. This episode (BtVS 4.16) showed a conversation between Faith (in Buffy’s body) and Buffy’s mother, Joyce. Faith states (in defense of her way of life) “Maybe she is happy that way” to which Joyce replies “I will never believe that. I think she is very unhappy”. Faith does not understand what Joyce means by this until she realizes that Buffy really is a hero. Extra characters in the show force her to see that point. A young girl thanks her for saving her life in an alleyway; Riley (Buffy’s boyfriend) makes love to her and tells her he loves her. This freaks her out completely and she demands to know what he wants from her; meaning what he wants from Buffy. She reacts this way because she has never had sex for love, only for sex. These small ‘scenes’ of Faith’s life make her start to realize that she is not as happy as she thought she was. Faith’s acceptance of herself as a bad person; or the unjust person of the BtVS story; is best described by Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale:
Coming as it does after demonstrations of love and adoration Buffy inspires in her family and friends, and in those she protects, this finally forces Faith to confront a truth with deeply unpleasant consequences for her: Buffy has a better life. Buffy is happier. This realization forces Faith to acknowledge that her decision to turn to evil was wrong even on its own terms. That is, even if duty and abstract morality are set aside, it simply isn’t true that the evil life is more pleasant than the good life…Faith’s disgust with herself is reminiscent of another story from Plato’s Republic…Plato’s point in telling this story is that it is a key feature of morally good personalities that they are ashamed and angry with themselves when they do wrong.(BtVS and Philosophy, Greg Forster, 17&18)
Faith and other characters, such as Anya, Xander’s fiancée in the fifth and sixth seasons of BtVS, teach us that to be truly happy; we need to be happy with ourselves and with our decisions. Our own happiness, or sometimes lack of happiness, is the moral compass for our lives (BtVS and Philosophy, 19).
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is a teacher. Nancy Holder, a writer for the show, stated in an interview for the shows wrap up “We were trying to tell the great big story; the story of what it’s like to be human.” Holder, Whedon, and many other writers were successful in that. They were able to introduce philosophical teachings of Plato and Nietzsche into the show and they kept it entertaining as well. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer’s story can be summed up with the following “Formatia trans sicere educatorum.” or “Enter, all ye who seek knowledge.”
Adams, Michael Slayer Slang: A Buffy, the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Oxford University Press,
Brin, David, et al. Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their
Favorite Television Show. Dallas: BenBella Books, April 2003
Jensen, Jeff “To Hell and Back” Entertainment Weekly 7 September 2001, 61
Ripper, Nick & Olivia Ripper Australian Screen Education Issue 23 (pg 127)
South, James B., et al. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy. Illinois, Carus Publishing
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: The Television Series Seasons 1-7