Jul. 4th, 2014 11:32 am
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
OK, 15 year out of date Buffyfeels, so maybe everybody else has already had this conversation in comprehensive detail. Anyway, [personal profile] jack and I have been watching Buffy the vampire slayer very, very slowly, at the rate of one episode every time we have an hour or so free, which works out at as every couple of months. We're about midway through S2, and recently reached the infamous double episode at 13-14, which Wiki says is titled Surprise / Innocence.

The whole point of this post is to discuss the big reveal in that double episode so if there's anyone left on earth who cares enough about Buffy to want to see S2 but hasn't already seen it, then this is going to be spoilery. I have been uncomfortable with the Buffy–Angel relationship from the beginning. It just seemed like so obviously a bad idea for the Slayer to be involved with a vampire. The fact that this vampire is somehow speshul didn't really mitigate the badness of this idea, for me. Buffy is Chosen precisely so that she can kill vampires, it's right there in the title of the series, literally the point of her existence is to kill as many vampires as possible, and yet she's crushing on / dating / kissing a vampire. Secondary to this, but still important, is the reason why Buffy is supposed to put her effort into Slaying: vampires are innately evil and extremely powerful and physically strong and are driven to feed on humans. And yes, Twilight and successors took this trope and ran halfway to Pluto (which isn't even a planet anymore ffs) with it, but it's already there in Buffy: the idea that it's somehow "romantic" for a teenaged girl to have a relationship with a monster who is racially programmed to devour humans, but because of Twu Wuv he heroically refrains from killing and eating her. That's not romantic, that's horrifying.

So when Angel flips and becomes evil Angelus, I had a few minutes of optimism thinking, this is a really clever spear-point. Whedon has built this up over most of one and a half seasons, it's not just a one or two episode level story where there's a monster threatening to destroy the world but Buffy and the Scoobies defeat it in the most dramatic way possible. It's a much bigger plot arc where the horror builds and builds as our heroine becomes more and more entangled with this monster. But no, it turns out we weren't supposed to find the whole relationship retrospectively horrifying, there's some stupid bullshit about Angel having or not having a soul, so that it actually was a sudden switch between a happy sparkly romantic relationship, and oh noes a monster is trying to kill Buffy.

The thing is, I think romantic!Angel behaved really ethically dubiously while he was still cursed with his soul. Yes, to some extent the power imbalance between Angel and Buffy is countered by Buffy's amazing Slayer powers. But still, I was distinctly unimpressed at Angel encouraging the romantic feelings of a very messed up 16-year-old girl. I'm not too worried by the Watsonian perspective that he's several hundred years old, that's just a source of one-liners. From a Doylist perspective, though, the way everything is framed it's a romance between a very powerful, if mopey and somewhat immature, adult in his late 20s, and a 16-year-old girl who may be speshul but the whole point of Buffy is that she's also emotionally speaking a completely normal teenager.

They really shouldn't have had sex. Never mind the convoluted ridiculous curse sub-plot, it was a seriously bad idea in non-metaphysical terms too. Consider: they've gone off to try to prevent Spike from reanimating a world-killing monster, their friends have no idea where they are, they discover that it's too late and the Judge is already active. So they escape by the skin of their teeth, and do they inform their friends that they are alive but there is an imminent threat to all of humanity? No, they go back to Angel's place and fuck. There's a big plot-point about how Buffy is over the age of consent, I mean, what a coincidence that this takes place on her 17th birthday. But she's in no possible emotional state to make decisions about sex, she's terrified and extremely upset. I find it hard to accept that this was the action of an ensouled, supposedly good vampire. If they had an ongoing sexual relationship then maaaaybe it would be ok to make love to express care and comfort and warm her up and help her to deal with her intense emotional reaction. But even then it's a situation of pretty dubious consent, and considering that Buffy is a virgin and hasn't yet made a considered decision about whether she wants to be having sex at all, I was pretty convinced that Angel was already evil quite a bit before he escaped his curse and turned into Angelus. Except that the continuation of the plot completely excludes that interpretation.

The whole virginity thing annoys me anyway. The idea that the most perfect ideal sex, so perfect that it breaks Angel's curse by giving him a moment of perfect happiness, is first time sex with a drenched, shivering, terrified barely-adult girl. Hanne Blank in her excellent Virgin describes the tropes involved:
Buffy's seventeenth birthday arrives and she gives in to the passion that has been building in her relationship with Angel. Buffy loses her virginity in a steamingly erotic, yet nongraphic, visual vignette that conveys, in its glowing skin tones and rich, draped fabrics, a mixture of intense romance and profound sensuality.
And how ~fascinating~ that pretty much the first indication that evil!Angelus is evil is, guess what, that he slut-shames Buffy, he mocks her for being easy and too willing to "give it up" to him. So virginity is this ultimately precious gift and expression of romance, yet once given the giver becomes contaminated and worthless. OK, the slut-shaming is expressed by an evil character, but it is effective because Buffy's social group, and the presumed audience, actually think there's something wrong with willingly deciding to have first-time sex, intentionally "giving" your virginity rather than "losing" it or having it taken from you. (Though I'm arguing that Angel's behaviour was very close to being coercive anyway.)

In the second half of the two-parter, I could again see glimpses of a much more sophisticated and effective horror story, not just yet another iteration of "extremely powerful monster tries to kill Buffy". The thing is, if Angelus were really evil, he could very easily have pretended he was still Angel, if he had acted even a tiny bit sweet and romantic towards Buffy, she would have pretty much followed him anywhere and trusted him right up to the point where he delivered her over to Spike and the Judge or drank her blood or whatever. Instead he insults her and breaks her heart and runs off cackling maniacally. Which is why that until the episode pretty much beat me over the head with the stuff about the sudden switch due to the curse lifting and Angel losing his soul, I thought his behaviour all the way up to this point might have been a scary manipulative long game to make Buffy vulnerable. But you know, actual abusive partners being abusive would be way scarier than demons in rubber suits, so perhaps it's good that Whedon didn't go there.

The other thing that is making me rageous is the whole "Gypsy" curse thing. Why, why, why did Whedon have to make Ms Calendar a "Gypsy"? That added nothing at all to the plot, it was just gratuitously racist. You could cut one or two words from the script and just have an "ancient" curse, you could leave Calendar's ethnic origin unspecified, and it would have been perfectly fine and not made me cringe at all (well, apart from the horrible contrivedness of this soul-curse being broken by the moment of perfect happiness, I suppose). I am very very close to giving up on Buffy because of the sheer levels of completely gratuitous racism. I strongly disliked the whole thing with Kendra and jokes set up by her speaking broken English and not owning many clothes. But this Gypsy stuff is just too much.

The gender politics, well, it's interestingly problematic, I am intrigued, if sometimes exasperated, by the ways that Whedon is obviously trying to make a feminist point and missing it because he is just swimming in a completely phallocentric and male-gazey understanding of the world. But the racism! (NB I'm not saying that anyone who enjoys Buffy is a horrible racist, just that I'm personally finding it so uncomfortable that I'm not sure I can bear watching much more.)

But then there are moments like the conversation between Buffy and Giles right at the end of this extremely problematic episode, the bit where Giles refuses to condemn or guilt-trip Buffy for making a decision about sex that was unwise and turned out to be disastrous. Moments like that make me see why Buffy has such a passionate fandom, no question, and I'm sorry for writing such a squee-harshing post. (I am also really interested in the developing relationship between Oz and Willow, and the hints of threesome subtext between Spike, Drusilla and Angelus, but that's a whole different post.)

So, in conclusion, if you are in love with someone who has mostly benign intentions, but is suffering under a curse which means he's fated to hurt you badly sooner or later, it's not going to end well. And the cursed person is culpable for pursuing the relationship and not being completely honest about the nature of the curse, not you for falling in love with him. You might think this is only relevant to fantasy TV shows, but it's true in real life too.


Date: 2014-07-04 12:07 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I read your comment on kaberett's post. What are the biggest asthma triggers for you now? Is Lingholme Close a significant problem?

Re: *hugs*

Date: 2014-07-04 12:52 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
*hugs* Thank you.

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Date: 2014-07-04 12:08 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I have all the thoughts about buffy, but not quite time to write them now. I agree with most of your squicks but maybe not all, and I think Whedon does this a lot, does a few things very well, but fails several more, and leaves people polarised for or against depending when they run out of patience and of willingness to put up with bad things because they like the good things...
Edited Date: 2014-07-04 12:09 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2014-07-04 12:42 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett

I have Deeply Conflicted Feelings about Buffy, because on the one hand it's clearly absolutely appalling at a very great many things, and on the other in spite of this it provided a frame for me to better understand my own psychology, and that's... a thing. It was realising that Buffy obviously has PTSD that kind of tipped me over into "... and so do I".

Fans of problematic things

Date: 2014-07-04 01:03 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I think the thing is, if someone said "most media is deeply problematic in many ways, given that, would you expect to someone watch something questionable, but find parts of it really meaningful", I'd say "yes, of course". But if someone says "this thing you _already_ love, do you agree it's likely to be awful and problematic in dozens of ways you've refused to see" I say "um...", even though the two questions are basically the same :(

Re: Fans of problematic things

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Re: Fans of problematic things

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Date: 2014-07-04 01:18 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I think I emphatically agree with most of the rest of this post, all the stereotypes and assumptions which are bad, or are not-that-bad but are presented badly, except for possibly one thing:

the idea that it's somehow "romantic" for a teenaged girl to have a relationship with a monster who is racially programmed to devour humans, but because of Twu Wuv he heroically refrains from killing and eating her

I think for me there's a big difference between two things. Someone who's ALREADY killing and torturing people left and right and says "oh, but with you it's different", because however much they might think they mean that, there's a very very high chance they'll never actually be able to follow through on that, and my only advice is "run away". But someone who's successfully been in control of their problem for decades, and helps people and never hurts people, it seems like... maybe that's ok?

I think this is really obscured in the show because Whedon has an idea of how he INTENDS to present Angel, but often screws it up. Angel is *supposed* be clearly Good Guy, never killing anyone, never hurting anyone, never coming close to giving in to temptation to attack anyone, always helping people. But (a) a lot of that isn't really shown on screen and (b) he does things like stalking buffy which are real-world creepy, but not supposed to be creepy in the show :(

It's also obscured because when Giles says "all vampires are evil", we don't know how much evidence he has, or if we're just supposed to take it on trust, or not.

I think the show tries to have it both ways a bit. It tries to use Angel as a metaphor for "anyone might be someone who can become abusive". But also as "Angel is bone fide certified good and Angelus is certified evil". And that means it's really conflicted: SHOULD we assume that Angel will inevitably become evil? Or not? If we take the description in the show literally, then no, angel had no way of knowing his soul might suddenly be taken away again. But if we judge him by common sense standards and say "he stalks and takes advantage of someone ten years younger than he is" then it seems inevitable.

So, I think I have some idea what makes someone "do not go there" and what makes someone "it'll hopefully be ok", but I don't know how to map that back to buffy-verse...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-04 01:24 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Ironically, from what I've heard of twilight, Edward is not worse than Angel: he does lots of things which are supposed to be romantic but are screwed up, like lying to Bella to protect her, and stalking her. But mostly, he himself actually committed to the not-drinking-blood thing, enough he can actually reasonably trust himself around her.

LKH's Anita Blake books are even better, despite having the will-they-won't-they-flirt-with-evil thing: Anita spends several books treating sexy vampire as an annoying antagonist and not trusting him, and starts trusting him in small non-sexual ways only when he proves trustworthy and well-meaning in small ways, and only eventually embraces him romantically when he's repeatedly proved he's serious about the not-being-dangerous-to-her-or-people-she-cares-about thing.

IIRC Christian Grey is a lot worse, in that his addiction, though less supernatual than vampirism, is not under control at all, but is rampantly out of control, but he doesn't really recognise that, except oscillating wildly between "get away from me for your own good" and "give up your independence to be my sex slave in my non-OHSA-rated danger-dungeon".

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Date: 2014-07-05 07:43 am (UTC)
shreena: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shreena
I dunno, Buffy actually says at some point, "You know, being stalked isn't a big turn on for girls."

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Date: 2014-07-04 01:26 pm (UTC)
emperor: (Default)
From: [personal profile] emperor
Yeah, Angel is a very dodgy character in the way he relates to Buffy. To some extent this does get acknowledged in later series, though not in the way one would really like.

I would certainly concede that Buffy is problematic; perhaps worst in that for a series often praised for its feminism, some of those failures relate to gender issues. I think it was, however, streets ahead of much of what was being broadcast in the 1990s, and many Buffy fans will have first seen it when relatively ignorant of their priviledge. I certainly notice things that are problematic now that I didn't when I first watched it.

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Date: 2014-07-04 03:42 pm (UTC)
laurashapiro: a woman sits at a kitchen table reading a book, cup of tea in hand. Table has a sliced apple and teapot. A cat looks on. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laurashapiro
I always hated Angel when he was on Buffy (his own show is another matter), for many of the reasons you mention. I never bought their relationship for a second; it was always faintly icky to me. But my hardcore identification with Buffy enabled me to see the relationship through her eyes, and that helped me stay in the emotional place the show wanted me to be in.

Things get...a lot more complicated with that relationship. I will not spoil you, but I think the gender stuff gets unpacked in some fairly interesting ways.

You're not wrong about the "gypsy" stuff, though. At the time I aired, I was as ignorant as most Americans about the Roma, and it rolled right off me. But now? It sure is a problem.

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Date: 2014-07-04 05:56 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The whole point those episodes is to set up the dramatic (well, more melodramatic, but it tries, bless it, it tries) moment at end of the series, though, which you haven't got to yet. And it does that very well.

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Date: 2014-07-04 07:48 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
mmmm, I figure you have to be on-side with the whole "Buffy really really loves Angel" for it to work out well dramatically. Of course that could co-exist with "Angel is a dreadful abusive stalker person who no sensible person would date" on account of how people are not always sensible about who they date.

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Date: 2014-07-05 02:41 am (UTC)
sashataakheru: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sashataakheru
Yeah, I never liked Angel, either. Broody, whiny, and yes, manipulative. I never felt that relationship was really genuine on any level. My dislike of Angel meant I never watched his spin-off series either, until the point where Buffy s7 came to an end, and Spike turned up on Angel, and I watched the end of Angel s5. I definitely could appreciate Angel a bit more without the swooning Buffy subplot, though, so there's that.

I did manage to find other things about Buffy to love, though. There was more there for me than the Buffy/Angel relationship, which was a good thing. I'm not going to go into specifics so I don't spoil you but yes. I watched it at a time where I needed to see myself, and it provided that, even if it wasn't in an entirely unproblematic way.

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Date: 2014-07-05 07:02 am (UTC)
sunflowerinrain: Singing at the National Railway Museum (Default)
From: [personal profile] sunflowerinrain
Beautifully put. I did actually give up on Buffy, though not as quickly as on Twilight (which caused horrified nausea).

Witches Abroad for me.

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Date: 2014-07-18 12:26 pm (UTC)
atreic: (Default)
From: [personal profile] atreic
Hmm, I'm late to this party (having just seen the LJ link) and have lots of random thoughts

I think the first thing is that Doomed Love / Love against the Odds is Romantic. I mean, a huge traditional romantic trope. So you can say 'the idea that it's somehow "romantic" for a teenaged girl to have a relationship with a monster...That's not romantic, that's horrifying' but I don't think you can discuss it outside the wider trope of Doomed Love / Love against the Odds. Romeo falls for Juliet because that's where the Drama is. The Vampire Slayer falls for the vampire, because that's where the Drama is. There is no shortage of examples

So are you saying there is something particularly ikky about Doomed Love with a vampire flavour, or are you saying there's something ikky about Doomed Love in general? The latter is an interesting thesis. Often when there are good reasons for people to be apart, and the protagonists break them in the Name of Love because they're Speshul they're acting like teenage idiots. But there are lots of examples of Doomed Love where the love is Doomed for Bad Reasons, and the lovers acting against the odds makes good things happen (you could argue this about Romeo and Juliet uniting families having a pointless feud, and you could argue this about stories where someone very rich falls for someone very poor, and possibly even for stories where someone is married to an evil abuser and falls in love and escapes)

So assuming we accept Doomed Love as a sometimes-OK trope, and assuming we accept vampires in Buffy as mostly a metaphor for other things, I think the question is not 'is a vampire slayer being in love with a vampire horrifying' it's 'what is this being a metaphor for, and is that horrifying?' My answer would be that the Buffy/Angel storyline is mostly a metaphor for a high school kid being in love with an older guy that her family and friends disapprove of, but who she has All The Feels for. Is that horrifying? Maybe 16 year olds dating 20 year olds who want to sleep with them is just generally horrifying, but it happens a lot. Buffy-the-series depicts lots of bad things happening to Buffy because of her relationship choice, and lots of good things happening to Buffy because of her relationship choice, which feels kind of realistic. Maybe you feel that Angel is shown too positively in the series, that any older guy with that much knowledge and power trying to date a high school kid just finding out who she is is a douche, and shouldn't be being shown as sexy and kind and loving. I think that's a reasonable self consistent conclusion, but lots of 17 year olds do date older men, and I'm not sure society as a whole thinks it's always horrifying and abusive and should be stopped.

It's interesting trying to write this comment without spoilers, as I want to draw conclusions about what the Buffy-verse says about Buffy and Angels relationship, and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, based on what I know happens next and where they end up (obviously storylines like 'you date this older guy and then marry him and have babies' send a different message to 'you date this older guy and then decide you hate him and he was using you')

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