Monday, August 15, 2011

Anthropology in the Works of Whedon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In a time where what passes for good television is housemates getting drunk and hitting on anything that moves, High Schoolers randomly breaking into song, countless contests of singing and dancing, and overly romantic vampire dramas it is hard to remember that there are actually shows out there that have depth. There are very few shows over the years that I actually love to the point where I could watch them over and over and talk about for hours. As it turns out that majority of those shows (well really all but two) were created by Joss Whedon who is my eyes is a god.

So what is it about Whedon’s shows that appeal to me so much? Well you could probably guess that they all have anthropological and philosophical themes that run through them. It is true that perhaps I over analyze things but in some cases it is impossible not to see these themes in his shows. They are all at their core about humanity (and in some cases lack thereof) and what that concept means. All of Whedon’s shows really ask that question: What does it mean to be a person and what makes a person the way they are? Whedon takes us through twists and turns, into areas of white, grey and the blackest black, and ultimately makes us question the humanity in ourselves.

My love affair with the works of Whedon started, like many, when I was younger and started watching Buffy. Now when Buffy actually first aired I was six so I really didn’t start watching it when it was new until 3rd season when I was older. Though even from a young age I realized that there was something more to this show than just a teenage girl running around killing vampires (even though of course that was badass). Of course it wasn’t until much later that I really started going back to watch the episodes carefully to understand what they really about (and listened to the commentary to help me get into Joss’ mind more).

Buffy I believe appeals to the youth in all of us. Here was this high school that was situated on a hell mouth where all kind of things that go bump in the night manage to find their way to. So we take this concept of high school and it actually becomes “Hell” emulating what many of us experienced when were in school. There also is the concept of closeness and family and what that really means. There is this running theme that family goes deeper than just blood as we see with Buffy’s gang endearingly called “The Scoobies.”

As the show Buffy progresses there are many instances of love, loss, heartbreak, death and everything in between. As Buffy grows and learns more about who she is as the Slayer the show actually grows with her and at some points even plunges into that black with grey along the way. It grows beyond a teenage “coming of age” show into a study of what happens once you enter into the real world when the real world is full of evil supernatural fiends.

Also like with any show about vampires there’s this idea of souls and what exactly a soul is. Obviously vampires are soulless killing machines but then we have Angel (and later Spike) who are vampires that are re insouled and thus feel all the horrible deeds they’ve done in the past. Despite the obvious we also have other characters that have souls but still find themselves in those shades of grey and in the case of Willow even black.

This idea of souls leads into a much deeper discussion that actually tonight is being discussed at the weekly “Whedony” discussion on twitter at 9pm ET. If you all would like to join in I will be hosting it. Follow @whedony on twitter and use the hashtag #whedony with your responses so that they will be searchable. Also the next couple of blog posts will be on the other whedony shows which will also be discussed at tonight’s Whedony. The next post will be an overview on Angel which is a spinoff off of Buffy.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros


Alexis Kennedy said...

I am a total Whedon fan. I love all of his works, and really miss Buffy, Angel, Firefly and even Dollhouse. This was a great post! I live to find Buffy re-runs on tv.

Sam Curtin said...

Thanks Kallan! Firefly and Dollhouse are my favorites! I'm gonna write a post on the anthropology of all the shows. I decided to go in chronological order with them.

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