Saturday, July 30, 2005

"You haven't alienated all your friends. You just haven't posted about Buffy enough."

I really had anticipated a wave of criticism from the barbaric hinterland of cyberspace following my attack on Harry Potter. Oh well. The same people who sent me the email last year about lobbying my MP on the sanctity of traditional marriage sent me another about the evils of Harry Potter. I was intrigued by the suggestion that Harry Potter was a force for moral relativism, and read a bit more widely, coming to the conclusion that the people who claimed this didn't really understand what moral relativism means. F'rinstance, this guy says it encourages moral relativism because the good characters sometimes do bad things. That's like, let's see, the soldiers in "Saving Private Ryan", or the quintessential moral relativist, George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life", or, let's go out on a limb, every character in every film ever made with the possible exception of the Flying Nun.
All the "Harry Potter: Innocent Anklebiter or Spawn of Satan?" sites also quote the bad guy on moral relativism, without ever making it clear that the so-called good guys, er, kind of disagree with him: "A foolish young man I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. Lord Voldemort showed me how wrong I was. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it..."

Now, Buffy: I've watched to the end of series seven now, and I am convinced that it really did all happen inside Buffy's head, which accounts for the strongly solipsistic flavour of the series. Of course I don't think it invalidates a story if it is 'only a story', it just means that we can talk about not two, but three levels of causation, which is fun:
(1) What does something mean within the Buffiverse?
(2) What does it mean in the universe where Buffy really lives?
(3) What did the creators mean by including it?
What clinched it for me was the treatment of the deaths of Anya and Spike vis-a-vis the death of Buffy's Mum in the final episode. Sure, there are good dramatic reasons within level (3) to downplay them, and not a lot of time left in the series, so it wouldn't be appropriate to devote three angsty episodes to them, but still... Xander's joke about the mall in the final minutes of the episode left me in no doubt that only characters who have an existence on level (2) are really real. Buffy knows it subconsciously: that is why she keeps them at arm's length. That is why there are no profound conversations: Buffy is incapable of profound conversation, and so are the projected fragments of her personality. That is why there is no science or religion in the universe: Buffy doesn't have any science or religion. Another clue is how, if Buffy can't have a love interest, neither can anybody else. The miserable love-lives of the other characters are the fault of Buffy, projecting her misery into the universe she has created.


Jenny said...

In the multilayered realities of the buffyverse, how do you explain the spinoffs such as Angel, in which Buffy does not appear but the characters she has created does? Surely the egocentric nature of her delusions would mean that no such thing would exist without her presence.

Dr. Clam said...

Elementary, my dear Jenny! By a supreme effort of will, much like I mentally edited Jar-Jar Binks out of Episode I, I have erased Angel from my personal Buffiverse. Gosh, that guy bugs me.
Hmmm. Actually, you don't really need to invoke Angel's spin-off series, because the same argument would apply to any scene where Buffy is not on-camera. No, Buffy's creation is more robust than that- the backstory needed for a degree of internal consistency is provided by her subconscious, so that when she finds out about something, all the events necessary to bring it about are called into retroactive existence, like in the New Age Goofball version of Quantum Mechanics. Actually showing the events on screen in roughly chronological order is just a device to make things easier for us viewers. :D

Dave said...

I don't think this is at all an invalid reading of the text, but the oddly upbeat finale does raise an interesting question: for the first time in 7 years (not counting her brief flirtation with lucidity in the episode where the Truth is Revealed) Buffy is happy - or at least satisfied - her issues are resolved and her angsty "only I can save the world" mission is no longer hers alone.

Does this utterly out-of-context end to the foundations of her fantasy existence point to a full recovery from her coma? I'd like to think so

Marco said...

Yes, Harry Potter is as much a moral relativist as I am! And he's got the same birthday as me.