Wednesday, May 20, 2009

These Things? Pretty Helpful (Buffy)


Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a TV show rife with thematic meaning, much of it of a traditional liberal nature. Throughout the course of the show and especially in the sixth season, Buffy has displayed an anti-gun ideology. I both disagree with this philosophy and believe that the show contradicts itself through the promotion of other weapons that fulfill the same purpose.

“These things? Never helpful,” Buffy says to a security guard regarding the gun he tried to use against a demon in the season six episode Flooded. While it refers to the effectiveness of the weapon against a supernatural being, the comment sets one of the themes of the season: that guns are never helpful. This thought is later restated in the episode As You Were, where Riley gives Buffy a shotgun to assist in killing several baby demons rapidly hatching in Spike’s basement. Buffy has no experience wielding the weapon and is unable to shoot anything but various possessions of Spike’s around the room. “These things? Never useful,” she tells him, discarding the shotgun and blowing up the basement with a collection of grenades.
The theme reaches its climax in the episode Seeing Red, in which Warren wields a handgun and shoots both Buffy and by accident Tara, killing her. Would Willow have not turned into Darth Rosenberg, Buffy would have died in the emergency room, the doctors unable to help her. When Willow then tortures Warren through slowly piercing him with the bullet with which he shot Buffy, she describes to him all the gory details of being shot.
“It’s not like in the comics. (…) It’s not going to make a neat little hole. First, it’ll obliterate your internal organs. Your lung will collapse. Feels like drowning. When it finally hits your spine, it’ll blow your central nervous system. The pain will be unbearable, but you won’t be able to move. Bullet usually travels faster than this, of course. But the dying? It’ll seem like it takes forever. Something, isn’t it? One tiny piece of metal destroys everything. It ripped her insides out… took her light away. From me. From the world.”
–Willow, episode “Villains
The season has a message condemning guns. They are depicted as useless tools for combating evil, and when they do achieve their function it is in the killing of good people. Aside from one instance in the second season in which a rocket launcher was used to blow the invincible Judge into itty-bitty pieces, our heroes never use guns even against the squishier demons or evil humans. Although Riley and the military use guns, they are morally ambiguous. Meanwhile, a gun wielded by the evil Warren is used to kill the most goodhearted character on the show. Only gunshots from an evil character are effective, and are portrayed in a horrific manner.
It is a hypocritical suggestion that guns should never be helpful when the whole purpose of the show involves Buffy slaying. While some demons she faces are non-sentient and just rampagey, the great majority are people committed to some evil purpose for whatever reason, who she must dispatch. Her tools for doing so are generally either medieval weaponry or whatever happens to be within reach that she can use to impale, behead, strangle, or otherwise kill her enemy.
Her usual weapons are not generally the source of serious tragedies in the real world. No one in the real world will die from drinking holy water, I would think. However, crossbows and swords are real weapons, and though I don’t think the next massacre will involve such low-tech weaponry, it should not be forgotten that they are tools of death just as guns are.
Buffy often insists that she doesn’t kill, she slays. There is little-to-no distinction between the two words if one consults a dictionary. Her intended meaning seems to be one about honor, in that she only slays evil creatures. She also considers humans exempt from her authority to take life, a practice dictated by the Watcher’s Council. When a Slayer kills a human, Buffy does not consider it an act of slaying. Slaying can only be carried out against beings innately supernatural, the entire job kept separate from human civilization and the philosophies associated with it.
“Lesson the first: A Slayer must always reach for her weapon. I’ve already got mine.”
–Spike, episode “Fool For Love
Vampires and many other evil demons have the ability to physically overpower and kill their victims without the aid of a weapon. When Buffy takes up a crossbow or a stake, she is evening the odds against her foes. Vampires have power and they will use it to cause slaughter and mayhem, thus necessitating the use of lethal violence against them.
For a show that seems to have been written to promote gun control in season six’s overarching plotline, it does a poor job demonstrating it through the sheer nature of the whole show. While Buffy has convinced herself that slaying is something far removed from the practices of humanity, the fundamental concepts of killing intelligent beings remain the same. When Buffy cleaves Caleb in two with a magic scythe, she is killing an intelligent person. Caleb is a misogynistic serial killer who would kill her and move on to countless innocent victims, so Buffy is totally justified in killing him first.
It doesn’t matter what their weapons are at this point. Was this to take place in the real world – young woman vs. misogynistic serial killer – it is highly likely that the weapons of choice would be guns. The gun itself doesn’t have any innate quality of immorality, nor does any weapon. Should she be able to kill him with a gun, she would no more be imbued with evil than when wielding a scythe. Likewise, whether Caleb is infused with mystical strength or wielding a gun makes no moral difference.
The Buffy series finale episode Chosen depicts a story of female empowerment, in which Buffy has Willow undo the restrictions placed on the Slayer magic by the Shadow Men. Where the men had designed it to only deliver the superpowers to one girl per generation, Willow changes it so all girls capable of being Slayers would be given the strength kept from them. All of the Potential Slayers become full Slayers and gain the power to take on the ubervamps, thus enabling them to save the world.
While there is a montage showing other new Slayers across the globe who know nothing of this conflict, Buffy specifically has Willow change the Slayer magic as a way to gain an advantage over the First’s army of ubervamps. The strength that they claim as theirs is taken with militaristic intent, so that they can kill people with greater ease.
Now, the situation is a feminist allegory not intended for literal interpretation. They are women claiming their power that was kept from them by a patriarchal institution. However, should similar events take place in reality insofar as an army of evil guys attempting to overtake a civilian population, then it is logical to carry out the same basic plan. The protagonists need to be stronger to fight off the antagonists, and because they are unable to unlock mystical strength to make hand-to-hand combat effective it makes sense for them to equip themselves with weapons to even the odds a little. Because we are not in the Middle Ages, guns are the best weapons for the job.
In Angel, guns are not entirely unhelpful. When Wesley goes dark in season four, he starts carrying around a shotgun for use against evil humans and demons. In the episode The Magic Bullet, Fred uses a gunshot as a tool to deliver a bit of Jasmine’s blood into Angel’s non-flowing bloodstream. Angel is much more about moral ambiguity and has generally darker and edgier subjects, though, which may account for this difference from Buffy.
In conclusion, I find the anti-gun ideology represented in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be hypocritical in light of the overall nature of the show. I believe the implication that guns are to be considered useless and tools only of evil to be foolish. This point is in fact demonstrated throughout the course of the show in which villains are fought by protagonists able to secure tools of destruction greater than that of their foes.

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