Hello and welcome.
This is the talk on Metaphor and Philosophy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
My Name is Ian Martin.
I’m a Video Producer for Linkedin and I run a youtube channel called The Passion of the Nerd.
And I’d like to show you the very first video I ever made for my youtube channel now.
*WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH BUFFY
Since then I’ve gone on to produce a video for each episode of the show up through Season 3, episode 17 Enemies. Though the episode guide is on hold right now for this presentation.
Now Joss Whedon created in Buffy a densely densely layered series that all filters down from the primary metaphor in the show, the Slayer role being the symbol of adulthood or becoming an adult.
From there, each season has a unique overarching theme, informed by that primary metaphor. And each episode in the season was informed by that season’s theme.
And the entire structure was built on this very robust existential philosophy.
Now there’s no way in hell we can cover 7 seasons worth of content in 50 minutes. Instead what I’d like to do is start by taking a look at some of the symbols and metaphors in Season 2, and see how they inform the themes.
Personally, I’m usually terrible at picking up on things like this in the stream of the narrative. But if you work backwards from the theme they become easier to deconstruct.
I mentioned season 2 is broadly about learning to act with authenticity and integrity. From a ground level perspective, Buffy is experiencing adolescence, sexual awakening, and the temptation that comes along with it. In this case that temptation comes in the form of, Bitey McChillywood, Angel.
The season might appear to be anti-sex but it’s actually pro-responsibility. The Slayer role represents adulthood and Buffy chases Angel in this season, at the expense of her Slayer duties. Not only that but her identity becomes consumed by Angel.
“ANGEL WHEN I LOOK INTO THE FUTURE ALL I SEE IS YOU”
So bearing let’s take a look at a few of the metaphors and how they reveal the season’s themes.
Buffy asks for a Stake. Xander runs in and pulls from her purse a yo yo, a tampon, and a stake. Childhood. Adolescence. Adulthood. And not insignificantly it was Xander who reveals the symbol to us, reacting in a manner as one who may have considered her romantically, but clearly not as a sexual being. And all of this information is contained in one brief 10 second shot.
Later in that episode as Spike and Buffy face off, Spike’s innuendo is all about adolescence and virginity.
Fi Fi Fo Fum
Spike, the monster and the big bad represents the other end of Buffy’s male spectrum. He’s purely focused on her as a sexual object. As a vampire he obviously references blood but his reference to her as a ripe girl connects us back to the scene earlier with Xander and the tampon. And as the big bad of the season, his consuming focus on her sexuality and nothing else frames for us the writer’s perspective, along with the necessity of Buffy defeating him.
Reptile Boy – Cordelia Shadow Self
In reptile boy, Buffy shirks her slayer duties to go to a frat house party with Cordelia. She ends up in the basement of the frat house (nothing good ever happens in basements on Buffy) chained to a wall being fed to a giant reptile penis monster.
Incidentally the writer of the episode named the monster, Makita, after the tools that were used on the set. Makita. Tools. Get it?
In Bad Eggs, the sex ed teacher hands out eggs to the students that they’re supposed to treat like children, and Buffy misses class. So this is a metaphor in a metaphor. The egg is a baby. Buffy misses a class about the consequences of teenage sex in a season with tragic ramifications for sex with Angel. And the eggs start attacking people.
And then there’s the cause of it all, a GIANT WET VAGINIA DENTATA MONSTER that ends up eating a male vampire.
And that leads us to the two parters, Surprise and Innocence with this season’s turn and the reveal of Angel as the big bad of the season. I think when you approach these symbols with a top down perspective it’s pretty obvious how they inform the theme.
And it’s through realization of the metaphor that the show’s driving philosophy becomes apparent. It’s significant to note that Buffy’s season themes are grounded in a very specific philosophy that sort of stitches everything together, and in Season 2 that philosophy is most significantly revealed in the episode Lie to Me.
In Lie to Me Buffy runs into Ford, a friend of hers from Hemry High School. Ford worms his way into the inner Scooby circle while simultaneously striking a deal with Spike to turn Buffy over to him. He traps Buffy in a basement a group of people and reveals he’s dying of cancer and has asked Spike to make him immortal. While Buffy tries to find a way out of the situation, she and Ford have one of the most philosophically significant conversations in the season.
BUFFY AND FORD TALK
While promoting Serentiy in 2005 Joss Whedon said he was an atheist and an absurdist. And in the DVD commentary for the Firefly episode objects in space, he stated Nausea by Jean Paul Sarte was the most important book he’d ever read. Sarte was a key figure in the development of existentialism.
So, existentialism in a nutshell. One of the basic principles of existentialism is the universe is indifferent to you. There is no intrinsic meaning or purpose to existence. No finish line. No ultimate goal.
An existentialist sees that as both terrible and wonderful at the same time. It’s frightening that the universe lacks meaning but it also suggests that we are free to create our own meaning through our choices. But not only that, we are required to make choices because if we don’t, there is no meaning. The power to live a meaningful life rests INSIDE each of us.
So, back to Buffy and Ford. For sure the universe is indifferent to Ford. It has given him cancers that are liquefying his brain and Ford has said, he doesn’t have choice.
Acting in bad faith
Quote: “Individuals can never escape or have taken from them their freedom to choose, even in overwhelming circumstances. If you assume one choice you have takes undeniable precedent over another then you have made yourself an object in the universe at the mercy of its circumstances.
To put it another way: You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice but you have a choice.
Now let’s take that conversation and consider the final episode of Season 2. Buffy’s passionate love Angel has been restored but if she doesn’t kill him, the universe will be dragged into hell. Buffy always chooses. Whistler, in this two parter has a very revealing quote.
“HERE’S THE THING
So what then is absurdism. Absurdism shares a common template with existentialism in that there is no intrinsic meaning to life, but also that it is a part of the human condition to look for meaning. To get into it further, let’s take a look at a trio episodes in Season 3: The Wish, Amends, and Gingerbread.
Amends is probably the most important episode in the bunch. In it, Angel is being tormented by a monster called the First, which is taking the form of all the people he killed before he got a soul.. Angel concludes he’ll never be free of his dark half and decides to kill himself. Buffy rushes to find him and discovers Angel on a cliff overlooking town waiting for sunrise, ready to kill himself.
Now, the man most principally responsible for contemporary Absurdism was Albert Camus, who called that disconnect between the meaningless universe and the insatiable human desire to look for meaning, The Absurd. And Camus’ essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ begins “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
Camus postulated three possible choices to the problem of absurdity and the resulting despair. The first was the leap of faith. Believing in something which was intangible or unprovable. Not necessarily a belief in God persae, though that certainly counts. But blind hope with total lack of evidence is another.
“How do you know the other universe is any different than this.” – “Because it has to be.”
But Camus was an atheist. And at this point in the series it’s unclear whether the Buffyverse has a deity or an afterlife. Even if it did, it’s doubtful that Angel could get into it what with the demon in him and all.
“Am I a thing worth saving? Am I righteous man? The world wants me gone.”
This brought Camus to his final two choices. And by example he used the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a man condemned by the gods to push a rock up a hill. Just before reaching the top the rock would roll back to the bottom and Sisyphus would go and get it…forever. And here, at the top of a hill in Sunnydale, Angel’s rock has rolled back down to the bottom, and he has the choice of whether or not to go and get it, or to stand at the top and watch the sunrise.
Camus’ answer was to embrace the absurdity that arises from being an entity who hungers for meaning in a meaningless universe, and to continue the hunt for it regardless. By embracing things as they are we free ourselves from the despair over how things are not. In acknowledging the absurdity of seeking meaning, but continuing this search regardless, one can be happy, gradually developing his or her own meaning from the search alone.
Of Sisyphus Camus wrote. “It is during that return [to get the rock,] it is during that pause that Sisyphus interests me. That is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks towards the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”
In other words: “Strong is fighting. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s everyday.”
So in this trio of episodes Whedon presented us Camus 3 choices. Blind hope. Suicide. And embracing absurdity. And that is the philosophical basis for the entire show.
In doing some research for the guide I stumbled on a quote by Stanley Kubrick. In an interview he was asked if he believed life was purposeless did he also believe it was worth living. He responded.