Written by Tim Girard
Sunday, June 19, 2016 11:00am-11:50am
Ian Martin, Jess Stayton
Ian Martin (Passion of the Nerd) began the presentation by showing his short video "Why You Should Watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer," which he made because he was tired of telling all of his friends why they should watch the show. Even though the term “vampire” brings with it many negative associations, mostly because of the terrible versions of them in our current pop culture, Buffy is a show that can be appreciated on many levels. The idea started because the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, wanted to see a show where a pretty girl walked down a dark alley and ran into a monster, but when the monster attacked her, she kicked its ass. The other, “sparkly” vampire story is about a teenage girl being stalked by a vampire and submitting to him. Buffy is about a girl with superpowers who fights evil. Buffy is full of metaphors for issues that all of us deal with throughout our lives, such as morality, isolation, sexuality, and meaning. While the show may not have the greatest production value, the point is more about the storytelling, and if you think of it more as theater, it is easier to suspend your disbelief. Martin does admit that the first season is difficult to watch, but he suggests four episodes (“Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “The Harvest,” “Angel,” and “Prophesy Girl”) that will hit on the most important points. He also has an episode-by-episode guide that could get you through Season 3, Episode 17. If after making your way to the end of Season 2, you still don’t like the show, he will understand (sort of).
Ian also took the time to break down the overall themes of the seasons as follows: Season 1 is “committing to adulthood,” Season 2 is “acting with authenticity and integrity,” Season 3 is “accepting the absurdity of the world,” Season 4 is “rejecting conformity,” Season 5 is “avoiding cynicism,” Season 6 is “the pitfalls of adulthood,” and Season 7 is “empowering others.” Since he didn’t have time to cover all of the seasons, he mainly focused on Season 2 and some of Season 3.
Under Season 2’s broad umbrella of “acting with authenticity and integrity,” we have the sub-themes of adolescence, sexual awakening, and temptation. These lead to Buffy being pulled away from her role as the Slayer (which represents adulthood), and instead becomes too wrapped up in her relationship with Angel, to the point of being consumed by it. There was a clip from the episode “Bad Eggs” where Angel asks her what she thinks about the future, and she replies, “…when I look into the future, all I see is you.” The climax of this is when, midway through the season, they have sex and Angel loses his soul, becoming the “Big Bad” for the rest of season 2. Ian had never seen a show before where there had been so much time spent with a good character, only to have him made into the bad guy. He also went on to clarify that this turn of events is not evidence that the show is anti sex, but instead that it is pro responsibility.
In the episode "School Hard," Buffy is fighting a vampire and asks for a stake. Xander goes into her purse and pulls out a yo-yo, then a tampon, and then finally, a stake. These are not random items; the yo-yo represents childhood, the tampon is adolescence, and the stake, adulthood. The fact that Xander is the one presenting these items is also important, since he sees Buffy in a romantic way, but not a sexual way. In the same episode we are introduced to Spike and he refers to Buffy as a “nice ripe girl,” and says that (phallic) weapons make him feel more manly. He later tells Buffy that he'll “make it quick” and that it “won’t hurt a bit.” Spike is the opposite of Xander, since he is only focusing on Buffy as a sexual object. Spike referencing her blood seems obvious since he is a vampire, but the context in which he is referring to it also ties back to the tampon earlier in the episode.
After this lighthearted discussion of the more obvious metaphors in Season 2, Martin discussed the deeper underlying philosophies of the entire show. In the episode "Lie to Me" written by Whedon, Ford, from Buffy’s old high school, makes a deal with Spike to deliver Buffy to him (along with some other “snacks"), if Spike will turn Ford into a vampire, to save him from cancer. As Buffy is trying to talk Ford out of this, they have, according to Ian, the most philosophically relevant conversation of the season. Ford says that he doesn’t have a choice, and Buffy replies, “You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice, but you have a choice. You’re opting for mass murder here, and nothing you say is going to make that okay.” This reveals the role of Existentialism as part of the show’s core. Existentialism states that, “…the universe is indifferent to you. There’s no intrinsic meaning, 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 intrinsic meaning, but it also suggests that we are free to create meaning through our choices as individuals. Not only that, but we are required to make choices in our lives, because if we don’t, there is no meaning. The power to live a meaningful life rests inside each of us.” Also, more specific to this conversation, “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.” (Sartre). In the last episode of Season 2 (“Becoming, Part 2”) Angel gets his soul back, but Buffy has to choose between killing him or having the universe dragged into hell. While this is a terrible choice for Buffy to have to make, it is still a choice, and as pointed out by Ian, she always chooses.
Another important philosophy that shows up in Season 3 (“accepting the absurdity of the world”) is Absurdism: the belief that there is no intrinsic meaning in life, but it is the human condition to look for meaning in the meaningless. The Philosopher Albert Camus stated that there are three choices when dealing with Absudism: (1) a leap of faith: believing in something without proof, (2) suicide, or (3) embracing the absurdity: accepting that you are an entity who hungers for meaning in a meaningless universe, and continue the hunt for it regardless (embracing the way that things are, we free ourselves from the despair of how they are not). These three options are apparent in the episodes “The Wish,” “Amends,” and “Gingerbread.” (1) In “The Wish” everyone is in an alternate reality, and Giles chooses to risk everything to return the world to the way it was. Even though he has no memory of it, he believes that the other world is better than the alternate world that they find themselves in. (2) In “Amends” Angel is being tormented by The First, a demon who is taking the form of all the people he has killed. When Buffy goes looking for Angel, he is on a cliff waiting to kill himself as the sun rises. (3) In “Gingerbread” Buffy and Angel have a conversation about how she fights evil, but the bad keeps coming back, and getting stronger, but regardless, they have to keep fighting, even though they will never win. They fight because there are things worth fighting for. Fighting is hard and it’s painful but it’s still what they choose to do every day.
Ian ended the panel with a very moving Stanley Kubrick quote from an interview when he was asked, “if you believed life is purposeless, how is it also worth living?” To hear his response, go to the video (starting at 26:36), which is paired with appropriate imagery and music.
Next up to discuss from Denver Comic Con’s panels: "From Comics to the Big Screen"