Buffy: Your Inevitable Buffy Thread

Content Note: Rape, Rape Culture, Gender Essentialism, Ableist Language

@ posters.ws
As previously mentioned, we've been catching up on Buffy The Vampire Slayer recently, since Husband and I have never seen it before (I for Conservative Christian Cult Upbringing reasons, he because of Random Life Reasons) and it's free for us to watch what with us having Amazon Prime.

So far, I have mixed feelings.

Now, just to get this out of the way: Season One of just about anything is usually shit. I get that. The directors and writers and actors are still trying to feel their way and figure out how much to advance the plot versus how much to do Monster Of The Week shows, and no one knows precisely which character is going to really take off with the audience and everything is all up in the air. I get that. I also get that It Gets Better and Joss Whedon and yada yada. This is not a post about GRR JOSS WHEDON because ye gods, I have not the spoons for that.

This is a post about a thing, and it's a thing that I saw tonight on a single, micro-contained, Monster Of The Week, Buffy episode. That is all that this post is.


Now that we've got that out of the way, I have mixed feelings. Partly because I keep wanting to check the listing to verify that this is in fact "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and not "Xander Man, The Amazing Adventures Of". Because, dear dog, we're six episodes in, which is like HALF A SEASON and Xander has consistently gotten massive character growth and exposition in every episode so far while Buffy still feels like someone I can summarize in one sentence. ("Attractive cheerleader juggling high school alongside a vampire slaying destiny.") Who is the main character here again?

So obviously I wasn't super primed to like episode 6, "The Pack". I think my exact words were, "gosh, I'm glad we get another episode about Xander, because it's not like the last five episodes haven't focused heavily on his wants, needs, insecurities, and tendency to be targeted by supernatural predators." (And now you can all be grateful that you don't watch television with me. And you can feel sorry for Husband who has come to accept that television will forever more be overlaid with snarky commentary.)

But. Here is what happens in The Pack.

  1. Xander cheers Buffy up after she is cruelly taunted by Mean Kids. 
  2. Xander goes to save the local high school nerd who has been targeted by the Mean Kids. 
  3. Xander + Mean Kids are possessed by hyena spirits. 
  4. Hyenas, as you all know, are matriarchal pack animals where the females have a "pseudo-penis" (which Wikipedia asserts makes rape very difficult) and sex positioning is very complex.
  5. Xander promptly tries to rape Buffy. 
  6. Xander is rebuffed with difficulty as he is "almost as strong" as she, thanks to plot convenience. 
  7. Xander is cured and saves Willow (since Buffy has been rendered helpless).
  8. Xander pretends to forget about his experiences and Giles supports his lie. 

Neat! What a neat episode!

Here are the things I do not like about this episode. Remember that this isn't GRR XANDER or GRR GILES or GRR WHEDON, so much as it is GRR SHITTY WRITING IN MONSTER OF THE WEEK EPISODE. I'm perfectly comfortable calling this out as shit while still believing that everyone acts better in later, better written episodes. Hopefully as early as Season Two.

1. Giles' gender essentialist statements. 

Buffy goes to Giles, the resident plot exposition person, in order to vent her suspicions in light of the fact that one of her friends is exhibiting radically different behavior and may be possessed, a body double, or otherwise in danger. Considering that they live at the mouth of hell and Xander has ALREADY been pseudo-possessed (via control-overriding pheromones), one would think Giles would take notice. For purposes of "humor", he does not. Because gender essentialism.

Giles: Xander's taken to teasing the less fortunate?
Buffy: Uh-huh.
Giles: And, there's been a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanor?
Buffy: Yes.
Giles: And, well, otherwise all his spare time is spent lounging about with imbeciles.
Buffy: It's bad, isn't it.
Giles: It's devastating. He's turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Course, you'll have to kill him.
Buffy: Giles, I'm serious.
Giles: So am I. Except for the part about killing him. Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons. He will, however, get over it.

Repeat after me. If you find yourself saying "all men" or "all women", then you are pretty much about to say something wrong-headed. Quite a few men handle themselves very well regardless of their hormonal levels. Blaming behavior on biology just sets up rape culture all the more firmly because "boys will be boys!" and therefore cannot help their bullying, harassing, and sexist behavior. Fuck to the no.

Also: ableism. Many people who are considered mentally astute absolutely engage in bullying, harassing, and sexist behavior. Many people who are not, do not engage in such behavior. There is not a correlation between the two, and maintaining that there is a correlation leads to victim blaming and Not My Nigeling. (My Nigel couldn't have bullied you! He's too intelligent! You must be mistaken, wrong, or lying!)

2. The sexual assault in light of the "I am anxious about our power differential" characterization.

The sexual assault scene turns my stomach because, frankly, it reads as really realistic.

Xander has been repeatedly established as both attracted to Buffy and yet seriously anxious about their power differential. She's the one who is physically strong, and this clearly bothers him. I'm fairly confident saying that a Point has been made out of this at least once per episode, and it was definitely made in this one: when Buffy tries to rescue the nerdy guy at the beginning of the episode, Xander stops her and says, "I'll handle it. This job doesn't require actual slaying." The tone is one of someone who is anxious about being repeatedly rendered superfluous by the hot, strong, competent gal on the team.

During possessed!Xander's sexual assault of Buffy, which lasts two full scenes, he repeatedly talks about wanting to be dangerous, scary, and stronger than Buffy. This, to me, is a genuine expression of "You are more powerful than me, so I must hurt you" rapeyness, and all the Nice Guy but-deep-down-inside-he-loves-her layers on top only make it more disturbing to me, not less.

Buffy: Look, Xander, I don't wanna hurt you...
He grabs her by the shoulders and pushes her against the vending machine.
Xander: Now do you wanna hurt me?
Buffy struggles, but the possessed Xander is too strong.
Xander: Come on, Slayer. I like it when you're scared.
She struggles a bit more.
Xander: The more I scare you, (sniffs her) the better you smell.
He moves in and kisses her roughly on the neck.

This, by the way, is a long scene. I've only quoted a small portion of it. It's a long scene in an episode that has something like three full minutes of slow-motion walking to establish that Xander and the Mean Kids are walking in slow-motion. Which makes it all the more interesting that we don't get to see Buffy resolve this situation, despite it probably making for a nice fight scene in addition to having that visceral I-am-a-girl-and-therefore-vulnerable-to-sexual-assault-but-fuck-you-Patriarchy-here-is-my-badass-fist feel. We don't get that.

We don't get to see Buffy subdue her attacker, probably because it would be too violent and disturbing to see the possessed Nice Guy being beaten back from committing a sexual assault. But him committing the sexual assault itself -- which is two scenes long, and written surprisingly realistically and therefore potentially triggering to a lot of people in the audience -- that's worth showing in detail. And the fact that the conversation during the sexual assault, which revolves around Xander's issues with Buffy being stronger than he is, actually meshes with his established characterization and isn't just Because Possessed or Because Hyena Nose Says You're In Heat or Because Jasper? Is fucking creepy.

3. The "I do not want to remember sexually assaulting you, so carry that silently for me" ending.

This is the conversation that Xander and Buffy and Willow have the day after his possession is cured:

Willow: You saved my life.
Xander: Hey! Nobody messes with my Willow. (gives her a hug)
Buffy looks on and smiles. Willow smiles, too.
Buffy: This is definitely the superior Xander. Accept no substitutes.
Xander: I didn't do anything else, did I, around you guys or anything embarrassing?
The girls smile, and Buffy considers what to tell him.
Buffy: (shakes her head) Nah!
Willow: Not at all.
Buffy: (to Willow) C'mon. We're gonna be late. (takes her hand and they go)
Willow: (to Xander) See you at lunch.

Xander does in fact remember the sexual assault. (That will be clarified in-episode thirty seconds from now in television time and several paragraphs from now in blog time.) But he's created the impression that he doesn't, and is using social pressure to keep Buffy and Willow from bringing it up and forcing him to deal with it.

Yes, Xander was acting under the influence of vaguely defined supernatural forces. No, I do not think he should be held responsible for his actions as though he was in full control of his faculties.

But goddamnit, he remembers. What's more, Buffy remembers. Buffy has to remember that every time she looks at him from now on. Now, she probably won't remember because in television-land, Monster Of The Week episodes are never spoken of ever again. But Real Buffy, assuming she existed which I would like to point out that she does not, would have to deal with this for a long long time.

Now it's possible that she would be more comfortable going along with this pretense. But, really, she's not being given much of a choice. She is being placed in a position where if she tells Xander, she thinks she is causing harm to her friend. After all, he doesn't remember. So what if she is hurting? So what if she needs to talk things through and heal and make certain that wasn't how he really sees her deep down inside? (Because, frankly, I'm not convinced of that at all, and I can't see why she wouldn't be worrying about that.) If Xander doesn't remember, then bringing up the incident won't give her closure and it will only hurt him. So it's better to suffer in silence.

You know what would have been so much better than that, to me? Xander taking her aside and saying, "I know what I did and I am so sorry. That wasn't me and that's not how I feel or who I am. If you want to talk about it, I'm here; if you want to pretend it never happened, I can do that too. Just let me know what you need, whenever you decide, and I'll make sure that it happens." Xander doesn't do that. I don't know why he doesn't do it and I don't care: selfish, cowardly, young, immature, uncertain, guilty, Bad Writing, whatever. Again, Xander isn't a real person. He says what the writers write for him to say. And the writers decided that having a young man effectively use strong social pressure to strip a young woman of the choice of whether or not to confront him about his assault of her was BETTER than him confronting his behavior head-on and dealing with it.

What. The. Fuck. 

And I think I'm supposed to like this guy. I think I'm supposed to sympathize with his angst at being not liked in spite of his Nice Guyness. I think I'm supposed to have sadfeels about the power differential between him and Buffy. You know, the power differential that he uses as a reason to rape her? The power differential that only barely allows her to escape being raped? That one. I think I'm supposed to see him as a hero because he Saves The Day And Willow while Buffy is flat on the ground being preoccupied with hyenas. I think I'm supposed to see him as a good guy for hugging Willow while he uses strong social pressure to push them into bottling up their emotions about the bad behavior that has been inflicted on them.


4. The "bros before hos" ending with what-the-fuck Giles.

Xander starts to head the other way when he is met by Giles.
Giles: I've been reading up on my, uh, animal possession, and I cannot find anything anywhere about memory loss afterwards.
Xander: Did you tell them that?
Giles: (leans to Xander's ear) Your secret dies with me.
Xander: Shoot me, stuff me, mount me.
Giles pats him on the shoulder as he shakes his head and starts walking along the balcony. He leans on the railing and watches Xander go.

*sputters incoherently with rage*

The one good thing about this exchange is that it solidified in my head that this wasn't an I HATE XANDER rant. I don't like Xander; I've seen his character too many times to find him interesting and I'd much rather focus on the ostensible protagonist. I admit it. But I do like Giles. And I hate-hate-hate this exchange so much.

Because seriously I cannot read this as anything other than explicit approval. This isn't "I'm not going to tell them now because it would be awkward for them and I actually care about their feelings, unlike you." This isn't "You need to tell them because if you don't, I will." This isn't "I'm not going to get involved, but fuck you buddy." This is an honest-to-dog straight-up hooray-for-your-shit-behavior exchange, NOT because Giles likes Xander or has much of a connection with him (as far as I can tell, so far they don't) or because Giles thinks this is somehow for the best. No, this is Giles backing up Xander simply, purely, and totally because they are both men.

Because that's what men do. Or rather it's what the writers seem to sincerely hope men do. Men have a CODE, a PACT if you will, to back each other up with SILENCING TACTICS and SUPPRESSION TECHNIQUES if ever the other one does something he later regrets and doesn't want TEH WOMENS constantly busting his chops over it because otherwise it will be all GEEZ, YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO LET THAT GO, ARE YOU and that would obviously be TOTALLY UNFAIR.


This stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum. Just this week I read about a Real Man who commits sexual assault and all his Real Friends refuse to do anything about it because Sexual Assault Guy is a "great guy to hang out with". Well, okay, then! By all means -- and this is Rape Culture -- it's the job of the women to suppress all their little feelings and not deal with any of this head-on and instead just keep smiling and keep their mouth shut for the sake of the group.

And, again, yes, Xander was possessed and legitimately couldn't help himself during the sexual assault.

But he sure as hell had the ability to make his own decisions afterward. And Giles had full control of his faculties. And these characters were written to cover up sexual assault, to erase it from history, because it made them uncomfortable. I get that; I understand it. But it probably makes Buffy and Willow uncomfortable too. And instead of giving them the tools to make it better according to their needs, the male characters were written such that they applied social pressure to convince the girls to erase history and smile and pretend it never happened whether that was beneficial to them or not.

5. This whole episode is about Xander.

Seriously. The episode starts with Xander cheering Buffy up and saving the nerdy guy and being So Awesome. And it ends with Xander saving Willow's life while Buffy helplessly looks on and then he hugs Willow and he is So Awesome. And everything in between? Is about Xander and Xander only.

When Xander sexually assaults Buffy, the scene is about his wants, his needs, his feelings. As a general rule -- and I say this every year, sometimes multiple times, during ABNA -- if you are writing a rape scene and the focus is on how the rapist feels, you are almost certainly doing it wrong. As a rape victim, I don't give a shit about a rapist's wants and needs and feelings. No, not even if he's possessed. The only person whose wants and needs and feelings I care about in a rape scene is the victim. And if the victim's wants and needs and feelings are effectively eclipsed by those of the rapist's in that scene? You are writing the rape victim out of hir own rape and that is a OMGWTFBBQ moment for me.

And when Xander (and Giles!) cover up the sexual assault because, gosh, it's just so embarrassing, that whole scene is about Xander. I don't know how Buffy feels about what he did and what he said and about whether that was what he felt, deep down inside. I suspect I'll never know because Monster Of The Week Reset Button. I don't guess I'm supposed to care; it seems pretty clear that the writers didn't. Oh, they wrote her smiling and shit, but what else is she going to do? She hasn't been left with a lot of choices; anything other than smiling at this point would make her a Terrible Horrible Person because Rape Culture. Women routinely smile and are kind to their abusers in public, even when the abuser doesn't have a magical possession memory-wiping Monster Of The Week to blame it on.

This isn't a Buffy episode. It's a Xander episode. It's an episode about a young man who has previously expressed anxious attraction over a strong woman, who then becomes possessed and sexually assaults the woman he has anxious attraction over, before then being cured and lying about what he does and doesn't remember in order to make his life more comfortable. And at no point in the entire episode did I feel like I was being asked to consider how the WOMAN in this equation felt about all this. In fact, this episode told me more about Willow's feelings -- she loves Xander, because Xander is awesome -- than it did about Buffy's feelings.

Despite the fact that Buffy is the one who was nearly raped.

And that, to me, is pretty much the definition of doing wrong..

Thread Note: For the sake of my viewing pleasure, please attempt to keep off-topic Buffy spoilers out of this thread, since I have to read everything to moderate it properly. If the Hyena Sexual Assault thing comes up in Season 5, it's germane to the conversation and worth mentioning; if Xander grows up and stops being an asshole because X, Y, Z in Season 5, it's less topical and more spoilery so please try to exercise discretion. Thank you, and welcome to the nineties.


Will Wildman said...

It's been a long time since I watched Buffy - oddly enough, the most recent episode I happened to see was this one, with a friend who is also watching the series for the first time ever. She hates Xander. I can't disagree, every time I see what's going on, and yet I don't remember hating him much when I did watch the series a decade ago. That's kind of terrifying, because it means this stuff didn't register with me at all at the time - I have an unreasonable memory for details, and yet I only recall early Xander as 'vaguely irritating' rather than 'terrible person'.

I simultaneously kind of want to rewatch and am terrified to do so.

Ana Mardoll said...

We're halfway through Season Two now (Spike has made his entrance), and I am *really* starting to loathe Xander, to the point of flinching whenever he walks on-screen. Even Husband has started making pointed remarks to the effect of "oh, good, another opportunity for Xander to talk about his feelings for Buffy!" Which... is pretty amazing, because heckling the television is pretty much wholly my thing, not his.

Husband has asked me to assure him that It Gets Better, and I offered that I was pretty sure Xander eventually gets a girlfriend and shuts the heck up about all his nice guy angst.

Isator Levi said...

I can't really think of anything to say about this (and that troubles me), other than possibly that I'm feeling inclined to rewatch the show with an eye to looking out for this sort of thing and seeing how it builds into each part.

So I'll just say, your reminder about the gender dynamics of hyenas makes me want to ask if you're familiar with the fantasy webcomic Digger?

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm not, but I did recently watch an old-ish NatGeo on lions and hyenas and it was awesome. Up until that point, I hadn't realized that the lions steal from the hyenas as often or more so than the other way around, I hadn't known about the pseudo-penis and the matriarchal structure, and I hadn't realized that baby hyenas kill each other so that there's only one "princess" in the clan.

I think the NatGeo was an 80s/90s creation, and I specifically said to Husband that I didn't think they could/would make something similar now -- it was very sexually explicit and violent and NOT huggy-cuddly at all.

Charles Matthew Smit said...

I haven't watched the opening season of the show in years, and none of it registered this way at the time -- which to me means this is one of those times where I need to sit down, shut up, and listen, rather than trying to defend my precious shiny memories. And then go back and rewatch with a wiser and more critical eye than I used to possess.

Thanks for this.

Rakka said...

"Yes, Xander was acting under the influence of vaguely defined supernatural forces."

Which, as Order of the Stick so neatly points out, is a very good way to get someone reveal their nastier side. And ye gods the aftermath. Squick-squirm-yuck.

Isator Levi said...

Oh, I meant more in terms of "here's what I think is a really good webcomic that I would recommend" instead of "I learned stuff about how hyenas work from that webcomic, all others must have as well because they don't watch much educational television, same as I do".

But yes, I would recommend it.

Considering it more, it also seems remiscent (retiscent? some word like that) of me to provide trigger warnings.

So, let's see...

Digger contains instances of or references to: Spousal abuse, child mortality, matriarchy, marginalization and trauma caused by supernatural encounter (if that last one is a thing)

Rakka said...

Yes! Seconding Digger recommendation. (I really need to get a credit card so I can order the stuff in print versions. Because if the art is just amazing on screen it must be distilled beauty on paper.)

Will Wildman said...

Considering it more, it also seems remiscent (retiscent? some word like that) of me to provide trigger warnings.

You might be 'remiss' to not provide warnings? (Reminiscent and reticent mean totally different things.)

On the actual subject, I have only ever heard Digger spoken of in the most glorious terms, but have never actually read it beyond the first few pages. I should clearly correct this.

Mime_Paradox said...

I haven't seen Buffy in years, so there's very little I can say here except that yes, your observations regarding what the text actually does are on the money. I've read arguments positing that Xander's role in Buffy as a feminist text is indeed to illustrate the the problems with Nice Guy-ism and the differences between it and being an actual nice guy--problem is, the actual text doesn't give any evidence that this is what the writers intended, so the show's treatment of the character remains one of its more problematic aspects.

Also, I'd like to bring up Gabrielle Abelle's feminist deconstruction of the episode, which brings up several of the issues you raise. Worthwhile reading, I think.

EdinburghEye said...

FWIW, I went on hating Xander in a vague kind of way for years. There's one particular evil thing he does that he never gets called on even when he's found out. He basically gets away with so much for being Xander.

I think Joss Whedon liked him, and I think there's info from TPTB that the series was originally envisaged as a duo - Buffy as the title role, Xander as the hero (since OBVIOUSLY you can't have a woman as the hero - WHO would the teenage boys identify with?)

Ana Mardoll said...

I enjoyed that, thank you for the rec.

I do agree that there is a MASSIVE (if subtle) difference between a deconstruction and a straight-up usage of something. In order for a deconstruction to really work, I feel there needs to be either a Rational Objector pointing out that the behavior is not cool, guy; or there needs to be serious real world consequences imposed on the character by the writers and it needs to follow clearly from Because Your Behavior Is Not Cool, Guy.

If you're just using a trope, and at no point IN WORK is the trope being called out as harmful, then you don't get a freebie for slagging off the character on your blog or *secretly* realizing that the character is bad or fixing it all in the final book/season of a multi-book/season thing or whatever. (Not that I'm saying Joss Whedon does that because I don't know in this case.)

Randomosity said...

Content note: the above plus stalking

On the rape scene from rapist's POV thing: I also hate that with a flaming passion. It's everywhere. Ever notice that every single thriller with a female protag has a scene in it where the protag has someone stalking her and it's filmed from the POV of the stalker? This is even if the movie has been clearly single POV - hers. Usually the camera angle makes the shot one long leer. Instead of being afraid for the protag, the audience is supposed to join in the stalking. All together now, EWWWWWW!

The movie Eraser goes one better. Halle Berry's character goes home after someone just tried to kill her and the first thing she does is strip to her underwear and lounge around. Who does this? If you're feeling vulnerable, wouldn't you dress in something that is comfortable and suitable to race out of the house in a split second? Suspension of disbelief - gone.

Isator Levi said...

-You might be 'remiss' to not provide warnings?-

That's the one, thank you.

Darn thing happens all the time; I form a sentence in my head, and then forget a key word while writing or saying it. I need to rediscover my childhood habit of reading the dictionary, I think.

Aaron Boyden said...

Though eventually I did get around to watching the whole series and generally liking it, there was a time when I'd only seen a few episodes of the first season, and at that point I couldn't get at all why there would be people who thought the TV series was better than the movie. To me, the movie seemed like a pretty generic action comedy, with Kristy Swanson as the hero and Luke Perry as the hero's generally supportive love interest, which was enough of a reversal to make it seem more interesting to me than a typical action comedy. The gender politics in the TV show seemed to me like a big step back from that, at least in the first season.

CleverNamePending said...

I'm also watching Buffy for the first time and spend a lot of time hating on Xander. As the series progresses (spoilers? Baby spoiler) his over all treatment of women gets no better. When he gets a girlfriend he doesn't respect her or treat her like an equal and continues to be led around by his boner. He's got a serious case Nice Guy itus and I keep hoping something eats him. I'm on season 4 so far. That hope is dwindling.

Tigerpetals said...

Or by focusing on the negative effects the character's behavior causes for the other characters. If we had known more about Buffy and Willow's feelings, instead of, as you mention, just seeing them being forced to smile and pretend.

Isabel C. said...

Yeah, Xander--and Wheedon/some of his audience's overidentification with Nice Guy McNerdyDude--is my least favorite part of the Buffyverse. Well, my least favorite continuous part of the Buffyverse.

I so don't care about the self-esteem issues of nerdy guys. At all. I understand that some nerdy guys care about said self-esteem issues, and it's fine to address them...

...once or twice a season, unless the title of the show is actually Nerdy Dude Has Self-Esteem Issues (see also: half the anime I've seen, le sigh). And if those self-esteem issues come from the horror that is strong/competent/self-assured women, I pretty much instantly lose sympathy, because shut up.

Ana Mardoll said...

Too true. And it would be so easy. They WALK OFF TOGETHER. Pan to Buffy and Willow right after the Xander/Giles scene:

Willow: Are you okay?

Buffy: I... yeah. I guess so. I really wish I could talk to him about it, though. I know it's stupid, but I worry that's really what he thinks about me, all those horrible things he said and did.

Willow: I know what you mean. I can't stop thinking about it, either.

Buffy: But... we can't talk to him, can we?

Willow: No! I mean, he doesn't remember. It would be wrong and it would just hurt him.

Buffy: I guess you're right. But some closure would be... nice.

(Willow nods.)

Tigerpetals said...

I agree with you completely and thank you for articulating this. Well, I have affection for Xander, but I do wonder if I would have this if I had been more aware when I first watched the show. And my affection dulls when I hear people defend him frequently.

I hate that assault scene, and I hate how the aftermath was handled. I hate 'bros before hoes.'

Relatedly, it reminds me of the romantic fantasy of the loner male (romantic as in romance novel type of romance, not rose-colored impressions in general). Reasons have been given for it, but one that I've only seen brought up a few times (unless I've been in the wrong places) is the lack of male solidarity possibly implied. I'm trying to say that this could then imply a distaste for the male solidarity against women trope. At least some women might like this fantasy because of that, even if they otherwise believe that men should band together against women. Hope I explained this well.

Ana Mardoll said...

I checked IMDB a couple of days ago. He's in as many episodes as Buffy, which means no monster nommage. I NEARLY CRIED.


Brin Bellway said...

"The Pack" is one of the many episodes I tend to avoid paying attention to because it's so uncomfortable. (Well, these days I think it needs to be a particularly good bit in order to get my attention. Buffy's been overexposed in my house.)

(And now you can all be grateful that you don't watch television with me. And you can feel sorry for Husband who has come to accept that television will forever more be overlaid with snarky commentary.)

Are you kidding? I am one of those people. And, to a slightly lesser extent, so is my mom. It's my brother that's having trouble even being in the same room with us watching TV, let alone trying to watch the show. Lately we can't watch anything without him yelling at us about it. (My dad is usually on a different floor of the house from the TV, so he doesn't care.)

Ana Mardoll said...

High fivez!

It does have it's moments. Husband has actually brought home movies because "I think it will be fun to watch you hate this".

jill heather said...

I love Buffy as a show, but I straight up hate Xander. Look, fine, I can accept this episode because Buffy knows he's doing this because he is forced to, and because Buffy's dealt with much worse demonic stuff, and also because overall it's just a bad first season episode in a show trying to find its feet, but I continue to hate Xander throughout the entire series. (Giles in this episode acts out of character for him, though as I say, Xander doesn't. In general, I like to pretend this episode didn't happen.)

I don't think Xander grows much as a character, really, in this season or any other. Giles gets the most growth in season 1, Buffy in season 2 maybe. But Xander? Bah.

I have lots of opinions on this, just as soon as you get further into the show.

Launcifer said...

Can I just chime in to say thank you for articulating this; I enjoyed Buffy, but it always made me a trifle uncomfortable in terms of how it treated various characters - I'm glad to know it's not just me.

Ana Mardoll said...

Also, re: not noticing things at the time, it happens. I had to laugh at your comment, because Husband slapped "Avatar" into the DVD player the other day and I spent almost the whole movie curled into a ball wishing I hadn't written that one post defending it. Sometimes we just don't see things for whatever reason, either because we're distracted by some shiny, or we're not in the right mindset at that moment, or so on.

It doesn't make you a bad person, or even someone who wasn't in tune with feminism -- it could be something as simple as your mind being preoccupied with something else entirely. It happens.

Will Wildman said...

Eh, no, I'm pretty sure I was just daft ten years ago. I'm okay with that. It's a lot better than being daft in the present, or ten years from now. (Though Zod have mercy on my past self if I ever find a way to travel into my own history...) It might be nice to be born perfect, but I'll settle for growing as a person over time. =)

If you can bear to go into it, I'd be fascinated to hear more about how Avatar appeared differently to you on the more recent viewing.

SNHintze said...

Would you believe I've never watched Buffy? (Wait - I think the movie was on one time when I was in the room, but I really only have a vague memory of some older dude (maybe a vampire? or other supernatural creature?) teaching an intent blonde girl some form of combat, possibly involving swords...)

One of the reasons I enjoy deconstructions like this is that they give me enough info to feel I get the gist of the story without seeing/reading the original. (I'd like to read/watch ALL the originals, but only so many hours in a lifetime...)

Based on just this, Xander sounds like a puke. And the framing of the episode around him and his insecurities and shutting Buffy's viewpoint out entirely... very uncool.

Therese said...

There's a writer for Buffy that I remembered being particularly bad about gender relations (Marti Noxon), so I was going to recommend having lots of spoons before watching her episodes. And then I browsed the Wikipedia episode list. She's not the only writer who fails at sexism/rape culture/consent issues, and damn, it was a frequent theme in the show.

So, basically, extra spoons might be needed when you watch Buffy, because you're going to be watching rape culture, Nice Guy-ism, sexism and in some cases actual sexual assault. (I wonder if someone's done a trigger warnings/content notes summary for each episode. Can't find one on a casual googling.)

Ana Mardoll said...

(Re: Avatar. The first time I watched Avatar, I felt that it wasn't 100% a Great White Savior story because I felt like Jake was presented as Equal, But Not Superior in terms of intelligence, strength, maturity, cleverness, etc. IOW, it's not Tarzan of the Apes being SO MUCH MORE smart, strong, superior, etc. because he has magical whiteness. See also, Prince Caspian and Humans In General in Narnia who are explicitly called out to be naturally BETTER at ruling because genetics/birthright.

What I noticed on the second/third/repeat watch-through last night was that I'd been ignoring the body language of the Na'vi towards Jake. Particularly the scene when he blows in with the giant bird -- they're literally bowing at the waist and fawning over him gently with their fingers like touching him was some kind of honor. THEY are treating him as superior, even if he (in my opinion) isn't. ACK.

I hadn't noticed that because I'd been seeing Jake through MY eyes, and not through the reactions on-screen as determined by the writers. Which made me feel like an unobservant shit, let me tell you.)

Anonymus said...

Also, it needs to be pointed out, that while it wasn't Xander's fault because he was possessed, but that was a choice the writers made. The writers chose to write a scene in which rape wasn't the rapists fault. Because Jasper.

Will Wildman said...

Oh, no, I am all too familiar with failing to pick up on deeply problematic stuff because it's so ridiculous that it hardly seems worth considering. It took me the longest time to notice just how much worse the sexism had become in Doctor Who over the last couple of seasons just because the idea that we were supposed to see the sexism as Truth was ridiculous to me. (There's an Eleventh Doctor episode with a scene that bears a distinct similarity to a Ninth Doctor scene, except that it is, instead of sad and sort of adorkable, incredibly patriarchal. On first viewing, I thought this was supposed to be an example of how the Doctor had learned the wrong lessons from some intervening events. On later viewings, I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be viewed as doing the Responsible Man thing. Blarrrr.)

Eventually, my brain may stop thinking "The writers can't possibly have intended that because it would be objectively terrible" and catch on, but in the meantime I give way too much benefit of doubt, which means I ignore the evidence that, no, they totally meant it that way.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yep, and it's why Deconstruction version Straight Example is SO hard to determine. If I had a nickle for every time a reasonable person said "I don't think we're supposed to agree (or disagree, as the case may be) with Bella / Edward / Peter / Caspian / Xander / Sweeney Todd / Rumplestltskin / Vanyel / I'm Just Making Up Names Now / Mary Sue," and I've been all REALLY? I SAW THAT VERY DIFFERENTLY and then we have a lovely conversation about viewpoints.

Honestly, given that any major television show, book, or movie has been touched by multiple writers, editors, directors, actors, narrators, and so forth, I'm not even sure we CAN divine the real meaning. One reason why Fed Ex arrows are important even if they are inadvertent. (And one reason why I get pissy when people say I'm criticizing authors when I point out unfortunate implications. I'm NOT. *I* write unfortunate implications, dammit. They creep in when you're not looking, and it's not automatically your fault, but it doesn't mean they aren't THERE.)

But noticing the reactions (or non-reactions) of the surrounding characters does seem to be a decent clue-in. Sometimes. Maybe.

Ana Mardoll said...

This, so much. And it's the first sexual assault in the series, no less. So the first one they tackled was TOTALLY not the fault of the guy doing the assaulting, despite it being potentially in-character. Creepy.

Launcifer said...

@ Ana: I had precisely that reaction to The Last Samurai when I finally got around to re-watching it a few months back. While I don't think it's quite as ham-fisted as Cameron's offering, the unfortunate implications (actually, I'm not even sure they're being implied in TLS) are just as glaring when you get past the whole "pretty costumes, wonderful scenery, wow Ken Watanabe is awesome" vibe.

Then I felt oddly as though I'd somehow insulted the entire history of Japan by liking the film so much the first, which was a mite confusing.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yep, that was pretty much 100% the feeling I was getting.

I think it's okay to own and embrace the embarrassing weirdness of it. It's something I'll remember the next time I think "but *I* didn't think X was problematic!!" There will be a voice in my head saying, "but is it not perhaps possible that I was Distracted By The Shiny?" And thus we learn things.

Keep in mind that millions of dollars went into making these movies very shiny indeed, and try not to feel too guilty, would be my advice. But I'm there with you. :/

GeniusLemur said...

Also, for all the attention lavished on him, does Xander have any reason to be there? I saw a Buffy parody once that went like this:
Xander: Buffy, you're the slayer, Giles is the researcher, Willow is the witch, but what am I?
Buffy: Bait

Will Wildman said...

Yeah, the results of actions ought to be a good indicator of what the writers had in mind, but then sometimes they aren't and it just gets more confusing. Generally speaking, if the idea is that X is the wrong thing to do, then I'd like to see some consequences for doing X that could have otherwise been averted. I was part of a discussion about character flaws at one point, and someone mentioned misogyny as a flaw, and I noted that unless the character themselves is made to suffer for it (e.g., the sexist private detective is cut off from business and leads because the police chief refuses to let him get his jackassery all over her crime scenes or department) there is probably a substantial portion of the readership that will read this bigotry as an old-fashioned quirk rather than a legitimate flaw.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yep. And then there's Better Over Time syndrome. I loathe the Dresden files, but I've had people tell me that the casual misogyny is punished over time and I just have to stick with it. But the thing is, I don't want to stick with it and hope that it gets better later. That's a personal choice that everyone has to make. But the sticky bit comes when I say GRR DRESDEN MISOGYNY and the fans reply MISREPRESENTATION BECAUSE BOOK 27 and then we're talking past each other, I'm afraid.

Flip side, of course, would be It Gets Worse Later where we can all merrily argue at what point, precisely, Piers Anthony became intensely creepy re: Xanth. :P

jill heather said...

So the first one they tackled was TOTALLY not the fault of the guy doing the assaulting, despite it being potentially in-character. Creepy.

On a long character arc for Xander, I don't think his actually assaulting someone is in character for him. Being a Nice Guy who is actually a jerk? Yes. But it's impossible to know this by episode six of season one. I'm rewatching Buffy now, and, with the exception of seasons 4 and 5 a bit, I am really disliking Xander more this time than before. He does some shit that he never gets properly held to account for, while the other characters pretty much all do have to deal with consequences.

It took me the longest time to notice just how much worse the sexism had become in Doctor Who over the last couple of seasons just because the idea that we were supposed to see the sexism as Truth was ridiculous to me.

I got in a lot of those fights. Because, wow, the last season especially was terrible; the Christmas episode was clearly Moffat trying to respond to the critics and having not the slightest idea how to, or what people were actually criticizing, so it was just as sexist as everything else Moffat wrote (including his one-offs in the Davies era). I have not the slightest idea why I continue to watch it. I don't like the characters. I haven't been impressed with the plots. I think the producer is terrible. And yet.

Launcifer said...

@GeniusLemur: I'd tentatively suggest that Xander's somehow supposed to be the either/both the comic relief and/or the Bob Normal audience identification character, though I've never much understood that kind of character in the first place. It's not like I'm going to watch your television series filled with awesome stuff because of the one guy in it who can't do anything awesome, is it?

Aaron Boyden said...

There does seem to be a trope of having a Bob Normal audience identification character. I always hate such characters, even when they don't have additional flaws like Xander's nice-guyism. I find it incredibly easy to identify with awesome characters (no doubt for escapist/wish-fulfillment reasons), so if the awesome characters are so badly done that I can't identify with any of them, there's zero chance I'll identify with whatever Bob Normal the apparently wildly incompetent writers have come up with.

Ana Mardoll said...

The weirdest Bob Normal character ever for me was when Husband bought me White Knight Chronicles and I went from MY OWN AVATAR IN THE GAME YAY to "Wait, my avatar just stands there during cut-scenes looking blank? And has no conversation trees? And takes up space in my party being bland? THAT IS SO STUPID".

Xander is intensely more frightening to me as an Audience Insert, because it implies to me that I, audience member, am supposed to feel threatened by Buffy's awesomeness. ICK.

Will Wildman said...

Which Christmas episode - The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe? (I'm never sure which season folks count a given Christmas special in.) I think I know what you mean: Moffat's response to accusations of sexism is to write hypercompetent female action heroes and go THERE, PATRIARCHY CONQUERED. Season 6 gets two full episodes about fathers'n'sons (and a subplot in Rebel Flesh) while motherhood is acknowledged solely in the form of pregnancy. And, oh, River...

I have a whole blog post on the subject of sexism in Doctor Who and in particular the non-person treatment of River Song here, if anyone's interested. (Also, in the comments and at his blog, chris the cynic and I get into an impassioned discussion of the fate of Donna Noble.)

I'm not sure to what degree it's a coincidence that the high point of season 6 was the Neil-Gaiman-penned episode that was all about giving agency to a very long-standing and ignored female character.

Will Wildman said...

I imagine that, as a woman, you're 'supposed' to identify with Willow and want to be the superhero's best friend, while I, as a dude in the audience, am 'supposed' to feel like Xander's ongoing existence as a useless deadweight confirms that I, too, could have a role on the superhero's team just for showing up.

jill heather said...

Back to Doctor Who and some spoilers for the show and complaints.

The last Christmas episode, where the woman SAVES THE WORLD through the power of MOTHERHOOD. Wikipedia says that was The Doctor, The Witch and the Wardrobe. He was like, well, people are complaining that I made Amy in need of saving all the time, and I made all these awesome father stories, and that I made River dull, and so what I will do is show how TOTALLY AWESOME women are because UTERUS and MOTHER LOVE SAVES ALL and she doesn't need a personality or other skills because women all want to be mothers amirite? And all the people complaining about his misogyny just rolled their eyes again, because wow that episode sucked.

The new series could go either way, but I am sure the way it will go is down. Though I am fairly sure nothing could be worse then The Girl Who Waited (for The Doctor to Kill Her Off because eww, wrinkles).

Ana Mardoll said...

LOL! So it's actually a clever deconstruction of Straight White Male Privilege. Neat. :D

Did anyone else notice that in the Frankenstein Monster episode, Cordelia thanks Xander for saving her life and he has the Ultimate Geeky Guy award of being rude to her? That did not sit well with me, but I have an unreasonable liking of Cordelia.

Will Wildman said...

Oh glory, The Girl Who Waited. I was fascinated for so much of the first part, and there are some parts that are, technically speaking, quite well-written, and then there was the ending and my brain just went bluescreen. Will Wildman has encountered an error and needs to reboot. What did I just watch?

As for the Christmas special, it really just hammered home for me that, in Moffat's perspective, fatherhood is about how you relate to your children and motherhood is about producing/obtaining them. ARGH.

I fear deeply for the new companion.

Will Wildman said...

Ultimate Geeky Guy award of rudeness. Yup. Sad because true.

I'm pretty sure it would only be an actual deconstruction if we were supposed to think Xander sucks. Since we (mostly) aren't, it's more like a case study.

Ana Mardoll said...


And I think I really noticed that scene because Buffy and Willow consistently treat Cordelia with something approaching courtesy, even when she's not in a vulnerable moment, but especially in those cases. Xander, by contrast, seemed to take an unhealthy interest in kicking her while down. That was squicky for me.

jill heather said...

I have an unreasonable liking of Cordelia.

No such thing!

Launcifer said...

@Ana: I think part of the problem with Xander in that situation is that I think writer's often using the one archetype to smack the other where Cordelia's concerned. It feels uncomfortably like there are some personal issues being resolved in petty-yet-brutal style.

'Course, it doesn't help that Cordelia's one of only two - for me - regulars whose behaviour makes sense and yet remains pretty human on a regular basis.

jill heather said...

Ana, if you don't want me to continue taking over your Buffy thread with Doctor Who, please let me know. It's just hard to talk about Buffy when you're only partway through season 2 and are (rightfully) avoiding spoilers because I have OPINIONS.

I fear deeply for the new companion.

On the one hand, they did a pretty awesome job with Oswin in the last episode. On the other hand, unless they continue having Oswin in a Dalek body until she sciences her way into a new body, I am likely to be annoyed. Are we doing her identical grandmother? Another River timey wimey misordered story? Having the doctor magically save her? All of these would suck.

Incidentally, I predict Amy gets pregnant and quits TARDISing because of what happened the last time, and that's how we will see them leave the show.

Will Wildman said...

Also, even if it is okay to continue this Doctor Who tangent, I wouldn't mind shifting to rot13 if there's anyone around who's concerned about spoilers. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers for this season myself, but I also know not everyone has seen every episode up to now, so.)

I deeply hope your prediction re: Amy is not the case. It's bad enough the only story Moffat can imagine telling between Amy and Rory is them falling in love over and over and over and over.

In regards to the new companion, I seem to recall hearing that there was supposed to be a big mystery about her character, so I assume it won't be as simple as River Redux. I really enjoyed her in the premiere, but at the same time she looks like yet another of Moffat's Hypercompetent (And Therefore Not Sexist) Female Characters, so I'm automatically wary. My personal hope/suspicion/guess is that she escaped and will seek to get herself humanified again and the Doctor will have to roll with a somewhat-Dalek companion and there will be some kind of Message About SFF Racism? (I'm not sure what they could say that Dalek didn't already cover back in 2005.)

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't personally have a problem with Whoing it up, as long as spoilers are labeled as needed for people who do mind. Does that seem reasonable?

GeniusLemur said...

That kind of thinking's hard to fathom for me. It's like all the kiddie shows with "audience identification" characters. "No kids will watch this show unless we take time away from the spaceships/giant robots/gun battles/etc to follow the annoying antics of a stupid kid the viewer's age."

jill heather said...

Thanks, Ana. Talking about Who (and Buffy) is much, much more fun than seeing what terrible, destructive plans my newly elected government is going to try to push through. Not that I am bitter.

SPOILERS FOR ALL PAST WHO EPISODES (I do not know any upcoming spoilers except the really, really big ones that no one who is online could possibly have missed, but spoilers for those as well):

Moffat's hypercompetent women are better than his other women. Until he ruins them, like he did River. Also, seriously, Amy-who-waited turned out to be a brilliant engineer. Amy-who-was-young turned out to be a model. Modeling isn't easy, I know, but really. Since we get hypercompetent women, mothers, and women who need saving -- well, I suppose I'll take the first.

The Amy/Rory story is Amy falling in love with Rory, over and over; Rory is steadfast and he waited and he loved her more so there so we don't ever need to do anything again because did we mention how Rory waited and that trumps everything and so there.

Yeah, I don't trust that Moffat can be creative about the new companion. Clever -- he's very clever, and when it works it pays off really well (Pandorica, Blink), but when it doesn't work it just falls flat (last season in its entirety). But there's no depth. Say what you want about Torchwood: Miracle Day, but it cared about everything it did, even if it all added up to a mess.

Silver Adept said...

Xander is the Everyman character, and he doesn't really get that much better as time goes on. (Although we do learn what his power in the Five-Man Band is several seasons later, and...you'll either laugh or throw something breakable.) We're supposed to identify him as the Normal in the world of supernaturals and popular people, with teenage issues and general nostalgia or forgiveness because Boys will be Boys. There's also a later-season episode that takes advantage of the fact that the actor playing Xander is a twin, so there's some callbacks to earlier jerkass behavior...but even then, the relationship doesn't shift because everyone in the gang has just now seen what Xander is capable of by himself.

Also, of all the cast members, Xander has the most romantic partners, I believe.

(Am also following the Who discussion avidly, but do not feel qualified to give commentary...or what I would be saying has already been covered. Exciting for the part that I'm boggled that Amy would be...that way after all that time at Demon's Run. We Are in a futuristic society, right?)

Nathaniel said...

Mild spoilers for another show:

While I don't remember well enough to say if Xander specifically gets better, another Whedon show deals with a similar story much better.

In one episode of Angel, one of the main male characters gets infected by a demon who takes pleasure in making men act out violent woman hating impulses. So this character starts to hunt down a female character with a deadly weapon in an old hotel while whispering misogynistic insults at her. Later in the episode after he's been cured, we see him hiding in his home after having spent days there alone without visitors. The female character comes to his door to try to get him to come back to work, but the dialogue makes clear that he's still so disturbed by what he's done that he can't even look her in the face. The last shot is her leaving, and the sound of crying emanating from behind his closed door.

So in other words, that episode does exactly what this one didn't.

Will Wildman said...

I started thinking about the treatment of even the hypercompetent female character in recent Who and got sad.

So instead, here's a link to one of Brin's tumblr pages, which uses a series of eight short animations and a brief monologue to give some grounding for an AU in which Amy is the Timelady and Smith is her human companion. In a parallel universe, I have this show playing on an infinite loop forever:


Ymfon Tviergh said...

"There's an Eleventh Doctor episode with a scene that bears a distinct similarity to a Ninth Doctor scene"

Will: Could you give details, please?

Will Wildman said...

I'm thinking of Vampires of Venice, when Rory tells the Doctor that he makes people a danger to themselves and the Doctor gets all 'You will do what I say, Amy; go sit in the car TARDIS." It's like the evil twin of World War Three, when Mickey tells the Doctor that he doesn't think he can go but he doesn't want Rose to think he's a coward, so the Doctor tells Rose "He's a liability; I'm not having him onboard" as a cover. If Mickey had told Nine that it was too dangerous for Rose, Nine would have told him to shove it, but by the time we get to Eleven, the Doctor has noticed just how bad things have been getting for his companions lately. So at first I thought it was just supposed to be Eleven being overprotective. But in the long context of the Eleventh Doctor's tenure, it's more like an early warning signal that the Doctor will consistently confer with The Men on how they should handle The Women. Blar.

GeniusLemur said...

That smacks of the whole "Chosen One" bit, where you're the greatest hero in creation and the hope of all the world and the most important person every because you're there.

Thousand said...

Joss Whedon's Xander was intensely irritating in BTVS. I've noticed he presence of a Xander-like character as a recurring theme in Whedon's works, and they're almost always super annoying. I stuck with BTVS in spite of his annoyingness, but I'm afraid it doesn't seem to let up through the series. I get the sense that he may be a Whedon stand-in, and it often seems like the script is written with special attention to making sure that they get the most/best development and lines.†
I agree that Willow is the best character, especially early on. Later in the series there are events which I will not discuss because of spoilers, but the writers aren't kind to her - it's quite messed up, but I will save the discussion of such for when you post that you are viewing beyond that point.
Spike is also an extremely great recurring character in the series until later on, following the Willow mould. Again, I have lots to say about later treatment of him than midway through the second season, but I will wait for it. At the point you're at, he definitely is the least monodimensional and uninteresting of the major villains you've seen, to a great extent.

If you do decide to abandon BTVS because of your issues with the show, I still recommend you watch a couple of really excellent and interesting later episodes in the series that diverge a lot from the standard mould. They both work as standalones, in my opinion, but viewing them will spoil major plot events so I recommend against viewing them early if you are interested in continuing to watch the series at all. They are Season 4 Episode 10, and Season 6 Episode 7.

†There was one, for instance, in Whedon's recent movie Cabin in the Woods. Spoilers for that follow below:
*Turn back now, hereafter be Cabin in the Woods Spoilers!*

The Xander-like character, who I can't recall the name of but was identified as The Fool, was (as is typical) terrible and annoying. However, Joss killed him off really early on! That made me super happy, and gave me hope that he was finally deviating from his formula and exploring new territory a bit. Then Joss, through a badly explained and horribly implausible series of circumstances, revealed that he actually survived, and thereby pissed me off way more than if he was just in the whole movie, because I had been so happy at his death earlier. The revelation of his survival is actually the worst portion of the movie, and if it had ended at moments just before that and fleshed out the earlier portions of the movie more, it would have been a far better movie. After he was back in it, the movie degenerated fast.

Ymfon Tviergh said...

Thank you! It's been a shamefully long time since I watched any first season episodes, and I doubt I would've noticed that pattern anyway.

Therese said...

(Although we do learn what his power in the Five-Man Band is several seasons later, and...you'll either laugh or throw something breakable.)

I've seen theories that Xander is a typical heroine, which make sense on some level. Especially regarding his Super Special Power.

JenL said...

Also, for all the attention lavished on him, does Xander have any reason to be there? I saw a Buffy parody once that went like this:
Xander: Buffy, you're the slayer, Giles is the researcher, Willow is the witch, but what am I?
Buffy: Bait
Actually, I think Xander is intended to be a stand-in for the viewer by being the "normal" person on the show. He explicitly doesn't have a power. He's not super-strong, super-fast, or super-smart. He's not awesomely cool, he's not good at everything he does, and things don't fall out his way every time or even most of the time. He's ... normal. Not even high-status normal.

Which actually makes this episode worse, because what's the story told to the viewer? That a normal guy (a "nice" guy), if his inhibitions are loosened, will try to rape a girl. That this is excusable because he wasn't in control of himself. That afterwards, it's reasonable to give him a pass on it, and give consideration to how awkward he would feel if it was pointed out to him. That it's best for the girl to deny it ever happened so that social and working relationships can continue without the tension of addressing the assault. That if she insists on discussing it, and asks for reassurance that it won't happen again, *she's* the one causing that tension in the group. That it's appropriate (for the best, even) for her peer group and for adults *responsible for her* to go along with this silence. That a willingness to rape a girl (or to make an unsuccessful attempt) while your inhibitions are loosened does not make you a bad guy, and doesn't mean that you're the kind of guy who does that - the fact that you tried it this once while you were under a spell doesn't mean you'll try it again one day when you're drunk. Or in the real world, the fact that you did it while you were drunk says nothing about the "real" you. THAT is a scary lesson to teach to ... well, to anyone.

MotherDemeter said...

So yeah you know this obviously, but season 1 is pretty bad. The effects are terrible, the plots "moster of the week" etc. And I found the almost rape triggering enough that I fast forward through it.

*Possible spoiler*
I think they do eventually talk about it, even if still not in a really good closure way. And I think it takes a long time for it to come out. But I have only seen Buffy once all the way through so I might be thinking about something else.
*End spoiler*

I really do wish the show (writers, director, whatever) was more aware and purposeful with their plots early on. this is the perfect example of where they should have had much more care, but were stuck in the season 1 desire to create drama the quickest way possible. If we were going to be in Xander's perspective of being in horror of almost raping someone, I want him to feel much worse than embarrassed and a bit less self esteem. He should have used this episode to drastically alter the way he acts around and treats women. It should be his wake up call. It shouldn't be something easily forgotten and moved on from (for either of them). I can somewhat understand why it is for Buffy - she has had to deal with horrifying situations and monsters trying to kill her for a long time. She tends to keep an emotional barrier up to protect herself from getting too close to people and situations like this only enforce that.

What I love about the Hyena episode is how the principal is eaten by the students. Not that that is a good thing, stay with me here, but it is just so ridiculous that I laugh every time. The new principal often remarks on how the last guy was eaten. Living at the Hellmouth amiright? Oh man how many times is the student population decimated by horrifying tragedy? Yet life goes on: dances at the club that constantly has vampire murders, math homework, Xander being a self absorbed douche. Good thing he wasn't around to eat the principal right? Probably would be harder to get over than being an almost rapist.

And I love the new principal so much. I count this episode as the beginning of his rule.

Alicorn said...

I don't remember this episode in particular (watched Buffy a few years ago), but going off your description... all this stuff about writing the scene from "the rapist's perspective" weirds me out. And seems kind of gender essentialist itself, actually.

Xander didn't consent either.

It's not like he went to a bar and had to make a responsible choice about how drunk to get. He was in an altered state he didn't create, that caused things he didn't consent to to happen. These things had some relationship to things he wanted, sure. But the fact that he has a crush on Buffy wouldn't make it okay for, say, Buffy to rape *him*, *because the fact that he has a crush on Buffy doesn't mean that he consents to all forms of sex with Buffy*. In particular, it doesn't mean that he consented to assaulty possessed hyena sex with Buffy. He does not under ordinary circumstances make attempts to have same.

Did he do a shitty thing in lying about his memories? Sure. Lying to your friends is wrong; refusing support and control of the situation to someone who may now have legitimate reason to feel afraid of you is unkind; hell, even allowing Giles to refrain from sharing information about a supernatural threat with people who have to deal with supernatural threats is a lousy choice in case they run into similar possession stuff and skip interrogating past victims because of erroneous beliefs about memory loss. There are so many things to criticize about how he handles this situation. But is he a "the rapist"? No, he's one of two "the victim"s whose involvement was *choreographed* differently.

depizan said...

I wonder if Bob Normal is an error in trying to appeal to those of us who don't actually want to be superpowered.

I'm someone who generally does not identify with superpowered characters, to the point that I include "lack of a non-Jedi actual protagonist" on my list of That Which is Wrong With the Star Wars Prequels. But wanting someone who isn't super to identify with is not the same as wanting someone who is Bob Normal - useless average person who bizarrely sees no need to improve himself when shit gets weird.

I despise the idea that only super people are useful in universes with superness because I don't really like my fiction to tell me I suck. However, if I were friends with The Slayer (or whatever), you'd better believe I'd be signing myself up for training to become a badass normal, or I'd study first aid, apprentice myself to Giles (or whomever), or otherwise damn well figure out how to be useful.

Yeah, I want "normal" characters to identify with, but I want them to be doing something. The normal guy in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (which Whedon supposedly hates because it was too far from his idea - but which I like better than the show) actually did try to be useful, and succeeded. I prefer that.

Ana Mardoll said...

Moderator Notice

Alicorn, I do not have the spoons to do a 101 on not making this "What About The Menz" and I am not going to be drawn into an argument with you. Calling my OP "gender essentialist" is not a good faith disagreement, which is explicitly against my comment policy, which means you need to go re-read that before posting again in any further threads on this board. Consider yourself under warning.

Xander is not a real person; there is no such thing as magical hyena spirits; and Xander is not responsible for his actions while possessed. I have clarified this very carefully (and multiple times) in the OP. This post is about *writers* who chose to write a scenario that is perfectly engineered so that a Rape Scene is divorced of an actual, at-blame rapist and all the many problems inherent in that creative choice. In the absence of better words for magical hyena spirits that do not exist and whose powers and limitations we do not know, this *is* a Rape Scene and Xander is standing in for the Rapist. Whether only Xander's body is standing in as the Rapist or Xander himself is standing in as Rapist because the magical hyena spirits lowered his inhibitions or some other magical hyena permutation is NOT germane to the discussion I am interested in having.

I have written a cogent argument that Xander's expressed words and feelings, while possessed, are consistent as I see them with his words and feelings while not possessed and that I (and my theoretical Buffy) would like clarification that those are NOT his feelings, but the writers have denied that to us by instigating a cover-up at Buffy's expense, and then treating that cover-up as valid by having an older mentor figure openly approve of the cover-up. I have additionally written a cogent argument against writing Rape Scenes where the Victim has been completely erased because the scene is "really" about the thoughts and wants and needs of the person committing the Rape, for whatever reasons. You have decided to ignore these topics in order to accuse me of gender essentialism and What About The Menzing. This is highly inappropriate behavior and it is unwelcome on my blog.

I am also, frankly, disturbed that you have largely erased the harm done to Buffy by the lie in this episode by conflating it with more run-of-the-mill lies that one just doesn't tell to their mates because that's not friendly behavior and/or it might matter from a hellmouth strategic perspective. That entire line of thought, really, is very disturbing to me. If genuinely you do not understand that Xander's lie is not "wrong" or merely "unkind" simply Because Friends or Because Tactics, then you need to go to a 101 space and catch up on feminism before you comment here again because you are skeeving me the hell out.

This is my last word on this particular line of conversation and it needs to also be your last on this topic here because I am telling you directly, as owner of this space, that I don't care to read what you have to say further on this topic. Feel free to pursue this topic further in whatever spaces you yourself own online, and godspeed to you in that endeavor.

Ana Mardoll said...

This, so much, and it's something that has been bothering me, though I couldn't put my finger on it until you spelled it out. Willow helps with research, and even CORDELIA is now making stakes, but Xander just seems to mostly hang out and treat the group like a social mixer slash chance to hit on Buffy and inappropriately gripe about Angel / Men Around Buffy, like when a male exchange student was coming to live with her. Which additionally irks me because she's already TOLD him -- when he asked her to the dance -- that she is Not Interested and to please cut the shit out.

(I have a post this Saturday about Mike Newton doing all this, but one could very easily replace the name with Xander and it would still make a huge amount of sense.)

But I digress. It has been vaguely bothering me that Being Useful By Improving Oneself and/or Helping hasn't been something he's felt the need to do. But it took your comment to make me have words for it, thank you.

Ana Mardoll said...

And thirding that I liked the Normal Guy in the BTVS movie. We watched that a few nights ago and I liked him SO much better than Xander.

Aaron Boyden said...

Yeah, Pike was one of the reasons I liked the BTVS movie.

Ana Mardoll said...

It was seriously like someone had taken my first complaint about Xander ("why is there never a nerdy guy who sees a kickass chick and just goes 'cooooool'??") and put him in that movie. And Xander was the Whedon 'improvement' over that? WHAT? I don't get it.

Pqw said...

Spouse and I started watching BTVS, hmm, maybe midway in Season 1? Possibly Season 2, I don't remember for sure. I've never gone back and watched any of it.

Loved Willow. Couldn't really relate to Buffy, but thought she was interesting and okay. Liked Cordelia and Spike much better. And Jenny. I *still* remember Jenny's last episode - creepy to the max. Liked Tara. Liked Amy in spite of myself - she's a lot like people I'm related to. LOVED Anya - and boy did SHE get a raw deal.

Not a fan of Xander.

I have lots of friends, including my best friend and Spouse, who think Joss Whedon is super-progressive and liberal and such a feminist and I ... don't see it. He does have a knack for creating memorable characters that I often enjoy. But the ones I like best are never the POV characters. And they usually die young. If they're female, they die after something really horrible happens to them.

And then there's Dollhouse. Spouse wanted me to watch that, because Joss Whedon. And I was like, um, rape survivor? I've been tortured? You know my history - how is it you think I want to WATCH IT played out, when I'm guessing, I *won't* the POV character because Men Have Sadfeels? Ugh. So we didn't watch it. And I don't feel like I missed anything.

People I know loved Firefly and Serenity, and I just don't know if it's gonna be worth my time. Esp since my sister liked it.

Silver Adept said...

@Therese re: Xander as heroine - I don't think that's a mark of favor for Xander or the writers that perpetuate that kind of trope for women. Which is to say, if that's true, then all the Bad gets multiplied exponentially because now it stats looking like someone thought it would be good to gender-swap without thinking things through, using a bad trope template, and then tack on the dudebro mentality of Nice Guys. And then thought this would be good to be consistent with through the seasons, even as the other characters change.

Ana Mardoll said...

You should not watch anything you aren't interested in because, really, life is too short, but FWIW I enjoyed Firefly without finding it pro-feminist. Which isn't to say I found it anti-feminist, I just found it neutrally. (Except the lack of Bechdel testing and inter-relationships between the women bugged me. So there's that.)

Really, I've already heard Whedon = Feminist, too, and I thought Buffy (as his most famous offering) was where that came from. I've been confused all this time, wondering when the feminism shows up? Does it not? WHERE DID THE REPUTATION COME FROM? Please don't get me wrong, I liked Firefly a lot, but it's not what I think of as explicitly feminist.

Amusing note: The Rifftrax showing I went to for Manos in theaters a month or so ago had a bunch of humorous pre-movie "fact" stills. One of them said something along the lines of: "In the next Die Hard movie, a tense scene erupts when the villain forces John McClane to enter Comic Con wearing a sandwich board that says 'I think Firefly is over-rated'." I was amused.

GeniusLemur said...

Everybody seems to think Firefly is the sun and the moon and the stars, and after seeing most of the episodes, I just didn't like it at all. thought it could have been passably good, except for the acting, writing, and charisma void at the center named Mal Reynolds.

jill heather said...

I will say that Buffy later deals with sexual assault in an imperfect but better way. (Well, I believe that it was better, anyways. Imperfect, though.)

BtVS was good and progressive for its time. Was it perfect? Hell no. I love Buffy -- S1-3 especially -- and I will be happy to explain to you all the places where it fails. But, yeah, for 90s era tv, it was pretty feminist, and it meant a lot to me then (and now, in different ways). I just don't find that Joss Whedon's shows have grown since then -- Dollhouse wasn't really more progressive, I claim Angel was a step back, etc. He means well, I suspect, but it doesn't quite work out. I liked Firefly and Sereniity okay, but I don't think you lose anything if you don't watch them. (You should watch Dr Horrible, despite the fact that it is full of fail, because it is also full of awesome in its own way. I am, as they say, a fan of problematic things.)

Anyways, Ana, if you'd just spend less time doing silly things like "work" and "sleep" and "eat", then you could watch all 7 seasons really quickly and I could, uh, express my feelings more fully. Because, well. R, P, T, J/W/A, G, S, A! So many opinions. (I'm pretty sure these initials, which are not in any particular order and refer to multiple different things, are entirely non-spoiler.)

Back to Who:

Yeah, Moffat has the men deciding for the women a lot, but then tries to balance it out with "Well, Rory took Amy's name" (which was, actually, pretty cool: or would have been, had it not been done terribly, and in any case the Daleks called Rory by whatever his last name used to be). Moffat has been quoted a bunch of times saying stuff about how all women really want is love and babies, and that is presumably why Sally Sparrow ended up with dull asshole (clearly a precursor relationship to Amy/Rory, though they made Rory less dull over time) even though it made no sense. He just doesn't know how to write women, because he keeps trying to write them as fundamentally, deep down different from men. (But Vincent was a wonderful episode, and an interesting and fairly realistic take on depression that I rarely see in media.)

Ana Mardoll said...

John McClane, is that you?

Ana Mardoll said...

Also, this. Because it's awesome.

Ana Mardoll said...

Anyways, Ana, if you'd just spend less time doing silly things like "work" and "sleep" and "eat", then you could watch all 7 seasons really quickly

LOL! I'm limited, I'm afraid, by Husband, who does not enjoy watching series in a hurry so we can "go on to the next one!" (Unlike me, who managed to watch all 200 something episodes of Friends in a two-week period. That's 100+ hours, people.)

I'll try to remember to have a closing GRR BUFFY post at the end of all my little peevances.

jill heather said...

Unlike me, who managed to watch all 200 something episodes of Friends in a two-week period. That's 100+ hours, people.

I think it took me less than a week to watch all of Avatar: the Last Airbender, and less than two to watch two seasons of Community, but you have me well beat there.

I am . . . fairly sure you will find lots of other things to go GRRR about during the course of your BtVS watching. Where are you up to now, anyways? There's awfully interetsing stuff to say about S2, once you're done with it. (And other seasons, too, but I think you said you were somewhere in S2.) But really, the show does get better over the course of its run. It really only has two good episodes in season 1, and most of the good season 2 episodes are in the back half. Season 3 is consistently strong, probably the most consistent season. But anyways.

Ana Mardoll said...

We just finished Inca Mummy Girl, which sucked because Xander was all HOT GIRL, FORGET MY FRIENDS but was *awesome* because Willow perfectly demonstrated how to be a nice guy/girl without being a Nice Guy/Girl. She was all "well, he doesn't see me that way, guess I'll be happy for him and move on with my life". THIS.

And then Seth Green happened.

I liked that Season 2 adequately introduced actual character development for Buffy in the sense that OMG THIS JOB IS DREADFUL INSERT EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA HERE. I *didn't* like that the development largely took the form of her acting out sexually. Because that's the only way we girls have, really, we just thrust our boobs all in your face when we're stressed. Le sigh.

jill heather said...

Buffy gets more development that is less problematic over the course of this season. But that dance was more a response to Angel's secretiveness, I think, than anything else; it was one of many ways she was acting out, but not the only way. Still, you're soonish to get to one of my secret favourite episodes, Lie To Me, just after the rather fun Halloween episode. And really, once you get there, you're coming on to a really interesting storyline (with a few bad one-offs). I really hope you enjoy this season.

MotherDemeter said...

I have mixed feelings about Whedon being declared 'best movie feminist evar' or what have you. I think he is what the bare minimum should be. Complex female characters that are characters and not cardboard stereotypes! From the villains to the main characters to the annoying characters, I like almost all of his female characters in Buffy. They are generally pretty well rounded and flawed and have growth. I will grant him this.

Does that make him especially feminist? And if it does, how low is the standard of our media that the bare minimum - treating female characters with as much care and importance as the male ones - is so lauded? Buffy made me realize how lacking much of my movies and tv shows are in this department, and I think for many people (especially those watching while it was new on TV) it seemed revolutionary. And then you have Xander, someone who seems to exist almost to be a caveat - "we are a progressive show, but not TOO feminist". Xander can't be made to face his mistakes because that would force the privileged viewer to think about their actions and beliefs.

Feminist media should be something that does make the viewer examine uncomfortable truths about the patriarchy in society.

And so much can be said about the racial problems in Buffy. This must be an exceptionally white part of California. The few POC that find their way in the show are either evil, killed off or non important roles up until the last season (too little too late imo).

I do enjoy much of his stuff - Buffy and Firefly are some favorite shows of mine. But I argue against the idea that Buffy is explicitly feminist. A later season even pretty much has Buffy saying "Ha, feminists! I'm not like those feminists!" with a hefty dose of straw feminism you can choke on.

So I enjoy things that point out the problematic elements in Whedon's work. I think he has a lot of potential and with feedback and a desire to improve he can keep getting better. And just because he gets some things right doesn't mean he doesn't ever get other things terribly wrong.

Ana Mardoll said...

I think Bare Minimum / Good Baseline sums up my feelings, too.

I remembering being shocked when Avengers was being praised as SO FEMINIST when I left the theater unsure if it even passed Bechdel and a little uncomfortable that the female "superpower" was "manipulating men by seeming weak". One of those "deconstruction or real deal?" moments, and more female characters would have helped me answer that question.

JenL said...

*Possible spoiler*
I think they do eventually talk about it, even if still not in a really good closure way. And I think it takes a long time for it to come out. But I have only seen Buffy once all the way through so I might be thinking about something else.
*End spoiler*
* Limited spoiler for future episode of Buffy bringing the hyena episode up again*
I think I saw that one fairly recently - Xander is talking to someone and makes a comment about what it felt like to have that animal rage flowing through him. (Or something like that.) Buffy is present, looks at him, and says something like "You said you didn't remember any of that." He basically says "oh, yeah" and looks away. End of discussion, at least on that subject.

GeniusLemur said...

I wanted to read for the part, but I had to have opposable thumbs to handle the props.

Pqw said...

My BFF (a woman) is totally psyched about Whedon doing The Avengers. She's not a feminist though, and every time I talk about feminism as it relates to media, or Spouse, or whatever, she tells me Men Don't Want to Give Up Privilege, as if this is a news flash that I somehow missed out on.

For persons like myself who are not particular fans of the superhero concept, but do like flawed people navigating complex problems in the world, and esp like tricksters, is there any point in me beginning the Avenger sequence? Seeing a Loki character on screen is pulling me one way, but what if I hate everyone else? 'Cuz I definitely am totally over Smart Guys Sure They're The Smartest & Best In The Room (Only They're Totally Not).

Ana Mardoll said...

Alas, I have no guidance as I'm apparently the only person on earth who does not find New Loki sexy, and instead thinks he looks like an annoying younger brother.

I don't think he does much actual trickstering in the movie, though. Does he, folks?

Aaron Boyden said...

Didn't like Loki in Avengers. I find I'm almost always annoyed by presentations of Loki. Where's the clever shapeshifter who ended up being the mother of Odin's horse?

jill heather said...

Mr. Trick does mention how Sunnydale isn't big on the non-whites. Of course, this isn't followed by actually adding people of colour (until, what, season 7?), but he mentions it. But yeah, Buffy is white white white. Dollhouse does better, slightly, but then for some reason Whedon who rehires all his actors again and again hasn't rehired Dichen Lachman who was the best part of that show (with the also weirdly unhired Enver Gjokaj).

But that's the thing. In the 90s,I think what we now consider bare minimum (which is what Buffy is, pretty much, for feminism, and way below for other issues) was good, way above the general level. So, fine. Only it's like "Hey, this level was awesome in the 90s, so it's still awesome and more than enough now!" and, well, no. I don't mean to be saying that you shouldn't criticise Buffy because of the time -- I'm all for being critical. I just think it's interesting to see it as part of a story of growth (or lack of growth) in Whedon's storytelling, which seem to be resting on his laurels as "super awesome feminist producer" without actually being feminist.

Pqw said...

Where indeed?

I think most fictional representations of tricksters fail miserably because they're written from the perspective of people who are not themselves tricksterish. It's like the winners writing history thing. Tricksters never 'win' by the standards of the winners because they have a completely different way of looking at everything. I'm guessing tricksters 'win' by their own standards, but also that 'winning' might not be a concept that resonates that much.

Maartje said...

Did Rory take Amy's name, though? Or is it just the Doctor who calls them 'the Ponds'? In the season premiere, I think I saw Amy sign some papers with 'Williams.'

Pqw, for me, loving Norse mythology and trickster gods was actually a hindrance. I spent the entirety of 'Thor' being baffled and confused and disappointed. Sure, the story was kind of interesting, but why did they have to tack Norse names on everything while they clearly had nothing to do with anything? If they'd just made up new names I could've dug the storyline, but as is I prefer saga!Thor and saga!Odin and especially saga!Loki. I like Tom Hiddleston the actor, but not his Loki - not clever enough, not self-possessed enough, and no sense of humor at all.

Nick said...

"I don't know why he doesn't do it and I don't care: selfish, cowardly, young, immature, uncertain, guilty..."

It's obvious to me. It's "all of the above".

Xander pretends he doesn't remember because he DOESN'T WANT TO. He's so horrified by what he almost did that he doesn't WANT to "deal with it" -- he wants to erase it from history. So by pretending he doesn't remember he hopes that it'll get pushed into the past and ultimately that he WILL forget it.

Yes, it's immature. Yes, it's selfish. But Xander was never meant to be a paragon of virtue.

Isator Levi said...

"But Xander was never meant to be a paragon of virtue."

You'd think that in a work that is ostensibly feminist, you'd have characters who, if not "paragons of virtue" can at least have decent, healthy attitudes towards women, or at least have their more problematic behaviors clearly demonstrated as wrong, and possibly reinforce that with some negative consequences.

Elements of realism matter to certain kinds of story, but it should never be forgotten that stories are driven by the dramatic, that drama is based around the unlikely happening, and that the kind of drama you put into a story illustrates the kind of story you want to tell.

Makhno said...

Oh, one more thing, relating to your supposedly irrational liking for Cordelia - if you go on to watch Angel, I predict you will not only love her, but come to recognise her as possibly the most truly heroic character in the Buffyverse. There are others I love as much - Willow, Giles, Spike with all the issues that surround him - but nobody who shows Cordy's strength, or has as many Crowning Moments of Awesome.

EdinburghEye said...

Mr. Trick does mention how Sunnydale isn't big on the non-whites. Of course, this isn't followed by actually adding people of colour (until, what, season 7?), but he mentions it

I remember working out a nice little backstory to season 7, that Sunnydale had pretty much totally segregated high schools till the thing happened you know when. And the reason we didn't see much of the black side of town was because the black communities didn't have the sweetly oblivious attitude that the white side of town did to all the deaths, so vamps didn't hunt there because they were more likely to get staked. This sort of fits into the guy who lost his mother in the thing knowing about vamps, doesn't it?

Of course this didn't explain WHY the black communities knew about vamps when the white communities didn't. Nor Mr Trick's remark. But season 7 needed some explanation.

I am so looking forward to reading Ana's unspoilered reactions to Buffy! :D

Will Wildman said...

On Whedon as the champion of feminism:

There's a quote that gets quoted as the quote to end all quotes when it comes to Whedon - someone in the press noticed his trend and asked him why he keeps writing all of these powerful women in his shows, and he said "Because you're still asking that question".

I think there's a lot to get into in that answer.

It is, on the surface, simply true: powerful female characters shouldn't be thought of as stranger than powerful male characters, and it's good to work toward that normalisation and equalisation. If people still think it's weird, then there's still work to be done.

It is, however, also a deeply satisfied answer: it makes Whedon sound insightful, wise on a whole other plane from the asker, and with a broader awareness of where we've been, where we are, and where we go from here. Now, that was years ago and it was a sound bite, not an essay, but that quote is super-popular and gets quoted all the time, and I think that degree of certitude and triumph is the reason why. It's not the kind of answer that leaves a lot of room for improvement. It's not an answer that asks for ideas on what else might be missing from fiction, aside from pale waifish ninja girls.

As others have noted, Buffy often is very feminist compared to the stuff around it. (For that matter, compared to a fair quantity of the stuff today, too - let's not pretend we're not swimming in at least as much sexist media in 2012.) I saw an excellent Fringe show in 2010, Roller Derby Saved My Soul, about a woman embracing her own strength and excellence, and drawing inspiration from Buffy. But as far as being super-feminist goes, I think Whedon gets held up as the ideal because, for a lot of people, that's the kind of feminism that they're comfortable with, and as long as they can say "No, we've got Whedon, feMission Accomplished", they can forestall getting into the less-comfortable more-complicated stuff.

On Doctor Who:

Yeah, Moffat has the men deciding for the women a lot, but then tries to balance it out with "Well, Rory took Amy's name" (which was, actually, pretty cool: or would have been, had it not been done terribly, and in any case the Daleks called Rory by whatever his last name used to be).

Did Rory actually take the name Pond? I never got that impression. At their wedding, the Doctor calls him Mr Pond and Rory says 'that's not how it works... no, that is how it works', but that read to me like a joke with the Doctor, and the Doctor is the only one I'm aware of who ever calls him Mr Pond. And then in The God Complex (which I really liked except for this exact bit) when the Doctor is trying to distance himself from Amy and tell her to grow up and stop believing in him as a superhero, he calls the adult-her Amy Williams.

storiteller said...

I think Anansi Boys does a really good job of fictional trickersters. It helps that there are two trickster characters, both of whom are "good guys."

Makhno said...

> This sort of fits into the guy who lost his mother in the thing knowing about vamps, doesn't it?

If you mean who I think you mean, that happened in New York, and he only moved to Sunnydale at the age of thirty after hunting vamps for many years.

Isabel C. said...

Yeah, Joss has this thing where sexual aggressiveness/kinkiness/casual sex in a woman is a sign of Deep Psychological Issues and Possibly Being Evil. Inara was sort of maybe an exception, and I don't know about Dollhouse, but man, does that trope bug me.

Ana Mardoll said...

And Inara's a weird example because 90% of her on-screen job has nothing to do with sex. But then that's at least in part Because Television, so it's unclear how much of that is censors. (I had a friend whose ONLY exposure to Firefly was Serenity and he thought that Inara was a diplomat and nothing else.)

GeniusLemur said...

Probably some variation of the garden variety madonna/whore complex. He's hardly alone.

Isabel C. said...

Oh, true.

The thing about Wheedon's issues--the madonna/whore stuff, the Nice Guy thing, the flagrant Daddy Issues and Angry Young Existentialist shtick--for me, is that they're all the more awful because of how good he is at most other stuff.

If there's a dog turd in the park, then that's kind of annoying. It's not *nearly* as annoying as a dog turd in a hotel lobby.

Isabel C. said...

So true.

Although in fairness, Firefly also features Kaylee and Zoe, who are pretty up-front about their sexual desires; on the other hand, both of those focus largely on one guy for each of them. Makes sense for Zoe, who's in a monogamous relationship, but...okay, for me and most of the people I know, having a crush on A doesn't prevent us from noticing and indeed going for B, C, D, and E, especially if A doesn't seem terribly inclined to reciprocate.

So that could be a thing, there.

By and large, though, Firefly does a better job than Buffy with making me like the characters. (Which means the shows have odd places in my heart: I'm not a hard SF person, and I liked the Buffy/Angel setting way more, at least back when it was coherent.) I don't know whether that's because it only ran for a season, because Joss had more experience, or possibly because the characters were mostly adults and acted like it.

Which is weird for me to say, as I read and have written YA. But there are certain issues in teen drama that totally lose me, and I find most YA romantic subplots very hard to believe, because...you are *seventeen*, hoss, and I know there are a small percentage of people who marry their high school sweetheart and live happily ever after, but the odds are that you'll forget about Your Twu Wuv 4Eva as soon as you clap eyes on the college swim team.* Just saying. ;) And I get fantasy and escapism and all that--although being with the same guy from seventeen until death does not strike me so much as a pleasant escapist fantasy as it does the punishment you might get in some semi-minor layer of Hell--but this is where the cynic in me cannot shut up.**

And Firefly's characters are dealing with stuff like the line between co-workers and friends and something more, or the relative ethics of being outlaws, or, sure, romantic tension, but they *don't* have parental issues and nerd-self-esteem woes or virginity angst (oh my God, I hate virginity angst, shut up, Glee). Or when those things do pop up, a little (parental issues with Simon, kiiinda; nerd-self-esteem woes with Kaylee at that one party) they don't have entire episodes built around them.

Except War Stories. Which...okay, Wash briefly needs to be slapped upside the head, but this, I would argue--to bring it back to the actual subject of your post, OMG--is the way to do low-self-esteem-nerd-guy. Wash isn't snitty that Zoe is awesome: he feels excluded because she and Mal keep talking about their shared history, and that she lied to him to protect his feelings. He reacts like a dumbass, and there are some pretty damn painful consequences for that.

If there was an episode like that with Xander, I would be happy. Instead, there are a lot of episodes where he gets to Save! The! Day! and his poutiness is validated, only to reappear a few episodes later. Sigh.

*I really loved Molly Ringwald's speech in Not Another Teen Movie for similar reasons. Because: yes.
**I've previously compared myself to the paleontologist of romance plots: other people don't want me around for these movies, because while I can make myself shut up, my inner monologue is going off about how some people have to work tomorrow, LLOYD DOBLER, and actually that would be really irritating in real life, and holy shit she just told you to go away and VELOCIRAPTORS DON'T WORK LIKE THAT and I suspect that my eyerolls are audible.

Rebecca Turner said...

Whedon gets called out as a feminist because he's publicly identified as such and has done other things off screen to support this (eg, arranging pledge drives for explicitly feminist charities). Buuut.... he's also said, after receiving criticism over problematic elements in what he writes, that he doesn't write specifically feminist shows.

Ana Mardoll said...

Not Another Teen Movie is a guilty pleasure of mine; there's a lot there not to like, but then there's stuff like that speech at the end, which always makes me smile.

If you like RiffTrax at all, I highly recommend the RiffTrax to Breaking Dawn Part 1. The guys spend pretty much the entire wedding scene pointing out that 90+% of teen marriages in America end in divorce, culminating in them dubbing the wedding guests as planning to send wedding gifts to the couple IF they're still together in 6 months to a year.

As a once-teen bride myself, I lol'd.

Angelia Sparrow said...

We did a Buffy rewatch last fall. I watched it the first time, realizing I had been Willow and had grown into a hybrid of Giles and Joyce. It was awesome because it confrimed all my fears as my oldest slouched toward teen-age hood and high school. Yes, high school is hell. Yes, people are really monsters. Yes, there will be friends to help her through. Of course the nice boy has something awful and wrong with him. Of course, of course, of course....

This time around, I liked Buffy MUCH better. She has an arc and development, it just takes some time to get rolling. She's stronger and smarter than i remember. I still don't like Cordelia. And Willow is a little annoying in the early seasons.

In the Joss'verse, sex is bad. All sex, all the time. Happiness = impending death and sex is very very bad. Brace for a lot of that over the next few seasons.

Ymfon Tviergh said...

Makhno: What was the difference in the scene from "Lies My Parents Told Me"? (Why yes, I do tend to obsess over details; however did you guess?)

Nina said...

This reminds me of the Riot Nrrd comic about Joss Whedon:


It also pretty much sums up how I feel about him and his pseudo-feministness.

jill heather said...

I forgot about the Doctor calling her Amy Williams. But I swear at one point they called him Rory Pond, and not as an explicit joke. But even if they seriously called him Rory Pond, it wouldn't make up for all the other stuff.

S6... well, it has the darkest arc, and I find it depressing, but in retrospect I think it wasn't that bad

I just rewatched it, and I think it's worse than I remembered. That particular arc was problematic on so, so many levels, and how they resolved it was particularly infuriating. It had moments of interesting, of course, but the second half was pretty terrible. Season seven is underrated, though I do not know what the changes were to Lies My Parents Told Me. And of course the issue with that lie that Xander told, which should have come up a bit more during that one episode, was left alone, as was his rampant hypocrisy.

Tigerpetals said...

But there was at least one black student in the Puppet Show, a female musician if I remember correctly.

GeniusLemur said...

I read a comment about Harry Potter somewhere pointing out how strange it was that after all the books with their very realistic character development,, every single character marries their high school sweetheart.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yes, and I strongly dislike that ending, though I can understand not wanting to be hounded for eternity by fans who wanted all the (hypothetical alternative ending) newly-named spouses fleshed out as full characters. But I like it not.

Silver Adept said...

@Will Wildman - I have other Issues with "The God Complex", of the kind that dropped the suspension of my disbelief and resulted in a lot of unprintable language regarding the resolution of that episode in relation to the character development of the last two series. Has nothing to do with the feminism or lack thereof in the Moffat era, though.

Regarding Harry Potter, sure, they married their high school sweethearts. Then again, we've discussed that there's a shocking amount of ability to override consent in those books, so there's always a nice Darker Sketch interpretation for the canon if it helps...

And as for Joss, no, he doesn't write feminist shows - Dollhouse springs to mind fairly immediately, and gets worse as the first season progresses. (Should watch second season at some point, to see how it turned out.) There's a whole lot of consent issues there, and while there's sort of an occasional "stop treating them like they're disposable dolls" bit, the people who work there, for the most part, appear to have long since sold their consciences out for money...

Dezster said...

I was going to mention the whole Joss and "because you're still asking me that question" as I've seen that quote on Pinterest a lot.

Found the original video that it was from and a transcript (I'm at work and can't really watch the video). Skimmed it quickly and found the actual quote at the very end of the transcript. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/josswhedonequalitynow.htm

Ana Mardoll said...

Comfortable feminism... Thank you for both that concept and that explanation.

I've been digging through my Instapaper archives today because something jogged my memory, and I found the Think Progress Avengers review by Alyssa Rosenberg where she calls Buffy a "feminist masterpiece" and strongly implies that Avengers is a continuation of the same. I won't say that was why we sat down to watch Buffy, but that and similar praise was what keyed me into finding the show on Amazon. Of course, we're still in S2, but I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of the show as a "masterpiece" of feminism.

I don't want to try to narrow the umbrella -- I think comfortable, accessible feminism is very important -- and I don't want to denigrate something that was ground breaking for its time and/or still provides a valuable alternate to worser things. I guess I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. I will say that that quote, which I have seen before, unsettles me for reasons I can't well articulate. Possibly because it doesn't draw attention to the characters or to the audience that needs them, but seems instead to draw attention to the creator as More Enlightened than the person asking the question. (And there's an unfairness there -- the question itself does not strike me as unreasonable, but rather as a potentially leading one. A soft ball, if you will. So to say LOL UR BACKWARDNESS seems unfair to me. But I've not watched the interview, only seen the text.)

storiteller said...

although being with the same guy from seventeen until death does not strike me so much as a pleasant escapist fantasy as it does the punishment you might get in some semi-minor layer of Hell--but this is where the cynic in me cannot shut up.**

I wouldn't go that far, as I am married to the same boy that I was in love with when I was 17... but on the other hand, I wouldn't recommend anyone make the assumption that they ever would be. I sure didn't have that assumption at the time and that's a much better, healthier way to go.

It's not an answer that asks for ideas on what else might be missing from fiction, aside from pale waifish ninja girls.

The best commentary I've ever seen on this is Hark, a vagrant's Strong Female Characters comics. The idea that a female character is feminist just because she can kick ass....eesh. Buffy had a lot more characterization than that, but that seemed to be the only thing most writers and filmmakers took from Buffy.

Also, I enjoyed Firefly more than Buffy, although I didn't get past Season 4 of Buffy. I was watching it on a stationary bike while I was training and then just didn't feel motivated to get back to it afterwards.

Pqw said...

Whoever mentioned that Avengers!Loki has no sense of humor has nailed the issue for me. How on earth could a Loki character have no sense of humor?!?&#$ So, so disappointing.

Neither Spouse nor I dated anyone in high school. He married his college sweetheart at age 22, which lasted exactly 6 months. All told, he dated 4 women, and married 2 of them.

I started dating at age 19. I 'formally dated' ... hmm, only 2 guys. But there were 6 guys that I hung out with or hooked up with, but I can't quite call any of it dating. And Spouse is one of those 6 actually. I wouldn't want to be married my first boyfriend, who was: a Nice Guy; in love with my best friend; and (told me he) lusted after my little sister. A real prize. Luckily, I went on to make *different* mistakes after we broke up.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

It's interesting to see how two people can watch the same episode and get totally different impressions of the same events and dialogue. As far as the series overall goes, Xander is one of my favorite characters--he doesn't have special super-powers or magic; all he's got is being a good and brave man, and he's constantly dealing with serious feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. His best episode is "The Zeppo", IMHO.

I didn't interpret Hyena!Xander's attempted sexual assault on Buffy as a "near-rape" (except in hyena boy's imagination); it seemed to me that Buffy was restrained at first because one, she had trouble believing Xander was acting like this, and two, if she pulls out her full Slayer strength, she'd easily kill Xander, and she doesn't want to do that. This is a girl who takes apart vampires and demons with her bare hands; a human on hyena-spirit steroids doesn't stand a chance.

I can understand Xander pretending amnesia; he's feeling extremely guilty about what he did do and tried to do and really doesn't want to lose his friends. Hyena!Xander really was Xander, with the restraints turned off and the nasty turned up to 11--the dark, id-driven version of Xander. I can see him wanting to disassociate the "real" Xander from Hyena!Xander by pretending not to know what he'd done and been. Considering Giles' past as "Ripper", I can see Giles understanding that. He's done things he would rather forget, too.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

The first of the series? Oh, you haven't gotten to where Xander gets sexually assaulted by the Monster of the Week, have you?

Dragoness Eclectic said...

I thought early Cordelia was loathsome, but she grew some character later. I would have been rude to the insufferable elitist bitch.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

I wonder why the original "GI Joe" cartoon never had one of those? Its sister show, the original "Transformers" cartoon, by the same studio, had "audience identification kiddies" in job lots.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

This just seems to be one of those threads where I disagree with everyone about everything.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Made sense to me--the wizarding community is quite small, it's like a small town where everyone in town went to the same high school. Even if you didn't marry your original high school sweetheart, you were going to marry *someone* you went to high school with.

Isator Levi said...

I think Joss Whedon's biggest flaw is, as I once saw somebody else put it, his "public self-congratulation". If he were a bit more reserved about it, I feel he'd come off better.

(That statement was in this very (http://www.shakesville.com/2009/04/real-deal.html) good series of posts about the feminist undertones of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I would recommend to anybody who has seen the show (since it contains mild spoilers).

Beguine said...

Um...I'm trying to avoid getting spoilery, but in general except for the occasional moment of clarity, Xander continues to be a NiceGuy all the way through, regardless of his relationship status at that moment. I think watching the show is worth it for other stuff but I loathed Xander from somewhere in Season 1 right through to the end of Season 7. The fact that the writers continue to think that he's the everyman Hero and that it's 'hilarious' whenever he behaves likes a selfish irresponsible asshole does not help.

Ana Mardoll said...

You seem to have missed that this is a feminist board and that calling female characters you don't like "bitch" is not appropriate in this space. Please stop.

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: Moderator Notice

In fact, no, you know what? I've loaded the last three pages of your comments in Disqus to make sure it's not just chronic sleep deprivation and back pain making me cranky, and I find you using a misogynistic slur on this board, you persistently defending ableist language on this board, and you arguing on behalf of cultural appropriation on this board because otherwise the feminists will ban all the Chinese food buffets.

Here is your spoon. You have been asked multiple times on this board to educate yourself on feminism and to respect the comment policy, and you keep persistently not making any attempts, so far as I can see, to respect the safe space guidelines here. I don't like having to do this, but otherwise I might as well not even *have* a comment policy, and I actually *do* care about making this a safe, non-triggery space. I have ROT13'd your earlier comment.

Will Wildman said...

TW: Sexual assault

No one's saying that Xander's desire to pretend amnesia isn't 'understandable' - the common sentiment is that he's a jerk hiding behind all sorts of privilege for putting his own discomfort about what he did ahead of Buffy's discomfort about what he did to her.

Also, none of the qualifiers for 'sexual assault' are 'do you have superpowers that make you strong enough to defend yourself'.

Isator Levi said...

Xander being attacked by a horrible mantis monster probably does qualify as sexual assault, but I feel that it is somewhat set apart by the fact that, at the moment where the assault is imminent, the monster is in a wholly alien form that sets it very far apart from the instance in this episode of a person who looks like a person assaulting another person, and doing so while expressing sentiments disturbingly reminiscent of the motivations of actual rapists (as opposed to "because demon monster who reproduces like this").

That episode could probably have done a bit more with the fact that the monster lures Xander in by assuming the form of a human teacher, and how that kind of attention from an adult to a teenager is inappropriate and illegal, except for how the episode plays into the narrative where a teacher directing that kind of attention at a student is desirable and laudable and something to be reciprocated and encouraged because teenage boys being subject to advances from women with authority over them is "awesome" for the boys, and at some point the whole thing feels deeply problematic.

Ana Mardoll said...

No one's saying that Xander's desire to pretend amnesia isn't 'understandable' - the common sentiment is that he's a jerk hiding behind all sorts of privilege for putting his own discomfort about what he did ahead of Buffy's discomfort about what he did to her.

This. This in a nutshell and then some. THIS THIS THIS.

It's deeply frustrating to me that, over and over again, we as a culture focus on the feelings of the men -- in this case Xander and Giles -- and completely ignore the feelings of Buffy and Willow. You see that in this episode: the writers do not even attempt to convey how they feel about the attack because they don't get to have feelings. And you see it in this thread as people continually justify why Xander lies and why Giles covers for him.

New flash: We KNOW why Xander lies and Giles covers for him. Feminists do not uniformly lack imagination or empathy. I have explicitly stated, in post, a lot of excuses for their actions (by which I mean 'excuses' that color their actions as immoral but understandable, not 'excuses' that excuse them morally for their actions). We do not need to be informed that if we could just get into their male heads A LITTLE BIT MORE, then it would all make sense. It *already* makes sense.

What this post is trying to do, and what a big part of undermining rape culture is ABOUT, is about pointing out that the Men Feelings in this equation are not the ONLY feelings in this equation. And that they make not even be the most IMPORTANT feelings, surprising though that may be. What feminists are trying to do is assert that women exist, that they have feelings about assault, that they're ALLOWED to have feelings about their assault, and that those feelings should be Important and Acknowledged and Respect -- possibly even to the point of being more important than Man Feelings about assault.

And the rejoinder -- the eternal, unending rejoinder -- is that maybe we just need to consider the Man Feelings a LITTLE BIT MORE so that we'll finally see the light and stop our yapping. *head* *brick wall* *bang*

Isator Levi said...

Actually, considering the episode with the Mantis a bit more, I also don't recall the idea that Xander was actually in danger of being raped as being all that explicit. Sure it's there, implicitly, but it doesn't seem to be something the episode actually says; the characters are more concerned with the idea that Xander's situation will result in his head being eaten.

Which isn't to say that sexual assault isn't a present threat in the episode, or that Xander's danger shouldn't be taken seriously, but it doesn't read like a sexual assault narrative so much as it does a "monster lures young man by exploiting his expectations of a woman sexually desiring him so that he can be eaten" narrative, and the fact that it's a mantis is just the episode trying to be clever about it.

Whereas this episode had an actually explicit sexual assault.

Makhno said...

When Giles lectures Buffy while she fights the vamp, instead of talking about what she didn't do in The Gift, he reveals what he did. It makes the scene more personal and hence relateable, Giles seems less of an ass cos he's opening up, and Buffy learns what happened to Ben which _surely everyone should have been asking_.

Ana Mardoll said...

Please do not post spoilers. I don't even know who Ben is, let alone that something is going to happen to him.

Isator Levi said...

Surely what I must now do is reference a tonne of misinformation -mixed in- with actual spoilers, so that you won't be able to tell which is which!

Dragoness Eclectic said...

I apologize for hurting you, Ana. We disagree on many things, but I do like reading your posts, even when I don't agree. I learn things from them. I'm under a whole lot of stress myself right now, and probably should not have been posting at all, but starting out stressed and worried and having too many balls to juggle and not enough spoons to go around, and then to find out that everyone is hating on one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite shows... I didn't watch my words as carefully as I should here.

I still don't get all the Xander hate. Sure, he's flawed, but a perfect character would be unreal and boring.

..and just to add fuel to the fire, my laptop's motherboard died this afternoon, and I have to try to recover all the passwords I was letting Firefox remember for me. I have no idea what the goddamn hell my Disqus password is, so posting via open ID.

Isator Levi said...

There's a difference between flaws in the character and flaws in the conceits the character emerges from.

Even then, flaws in the character without arc or consequence, are badly written characters (a flaw that is never overcome and which is -meant- to affect our perception of the character is not a bad thing, but a flaw that is there for the sake of ticking off the "whole character" checklist which we're otherwise supposed to ignore is).

One way or another, Xander is a problematic character because he reinforces notions that have negative connotations. Xander's ultimate lack of respect for Buffy's feelings is a flaw, but the narrative doesn't treat it like it is.

Mime_Paradox said...

Expecting and hoping that a work would acknowledge a character's flaws and treat them as such is in no way the same thing as expecting hir to be "perfect". The problem isn't that Xander has flaws (or, perhaps more accurately, is an occasionally funny ass) , but that a show which aspires to be seen as feminist continously implies or outright states that several characters who embody rape culture are really alright chaps, and has blind spots when it comes to their problematic behavior.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you. We all make mistakes; as you've demonstrated, the important thing is how we respond afterward.

I wish you all the luck with the stress and computer issues. That's no fun.

Ana Mardoll said...

@Isator Levi and Mime_Paradox, extremely well said and concisely put. It's the difference between expecting a character to "be perfect" and expecting a realistically flawed character to be effectively called out in some way (by other characters, by the narrative, by something) for their extremely problematic behavior.

We're nearing the second half of the second season and I've seen Buffy lectured multiple times for being unfocused on her work. Willow got in a fantastic lecture at Giles for being too hard on Buffy and Angel for treating Buffy poorly. That we've not seen one person effectively explain to Xander why policing Buffy's romance life, forcing her to stifle her feelings about her sexual assault, and following Buffy to her social activities to make sure she doesn't hook up with someone else ... well, that tells me that the writers think that's less of a problem than all the stuff other people are being called out for.

I disagree with those writers. Strenuously.

Isator Levi said...

Incidentally, may I ask what your thoughts on Angel thus far are?

Ymfon Tviergh said...

Thank you!

Ana Mardoll said...

TW: All the horrible things that go with being a Slayer / Chosen One

Honestly, I don't have many thoughts about Angel right now. He's kind of a non-character so far, though I know he gets more three-dimensional later because I've seen a few episodes of his show back when it used to run right before Charmed.

So far they haven't really fleshed out WHY precisely, he can't have a nice relationship with Buffy. Instead of reaching right for the curse in a "if I love, I kill" kind of way (I think that's where it goes later? Am I wrong? No, don't tell me if I'm wrong.), they've instead been focusing on the AGE DIFFERENCE.

Which, you know, makes sense in Twilight. But not so much -- not to ME -- in Buffy. As I said to Husband yesterday, "If she lives to 30, I'll be astonished. Any children she has will be perpetually in danger, so she probably shouldn't do that, not to mention a pregnancy would probably slow her down. So she basically CAN'T have a normal relationship or a reasonably long life. So why, exactly, can't she have hot sex with a 200 year old vampire or whatever while she's biding time here on earth waiting to ultimately kick it? Because I don't see the issue here."

Husband said something to the effect of my not understanding teenage angst, but it was meant affectionately.

Aaron Boyden said...

Yes, I tend to dislike the trope of "these two people shouldn't get involved because the relationship is Inevitably Doomed!" Most relationships fail eventually, but often they're worth having anyway.

Marc Mielke said...

Seeing that Rowling was a single mother when she wrote the series, my assumption is that she both knows better and wanted an ending for her characters that she didn't get.

Which is weird because her 'ending': wealthiest writer in the world who is happily married and building awesome treehouses for her children is pretty cool.

Isator Levi said...

Hmmm, interesting.

I'd have to rewatch the season in order to get a look at the specifics.


For a start, I'd say that if Buffy isn't really considering that, it's because a girl of, what, sixteen, seventeen, doesn't really want to acknowledge her poor prospects for an existant future.

Even (perhaps especially) in light of the fact that she's technically died once.

Isator Levi said...

(Thrice-cursed inability to edit!)

I'd also say that, if Buffy and Angel are interested in an intimate connection, they might be concerned with how well they can actually relate to one another.

But again, I'd have to rewatch it.

Makhno said...

> I don't even know who Ben is, let alone that something is going to happen to him.

That's why I phrased it so vaguely - my hope was that it still won't mean anything to you even when you meet Ben, so it would explain matters to people who have seen the whole series without being an effective spoiler. Clearly I failed, for which I apologise.

Lonespark said...

ONE WILD RIDE of meetings and side-meetings and sub-meetings and pre-meetings.

So, UU heaven, then? (lolsob.) Throw in some paperwork, and I'm there. WILL THERE BE FILING?

Lonespark said...

So I totally posted in the wrong thread. This isn't Narnia after all.

jill heather said...

People who have seen ALL of Buffy, there's a good comment about her boyfriends here: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/09/buffy-the-vampire-slayer-rewatch-lets-get-interlocking#286511

It is spoilery for all seven seasons and many major plotlines in those seasons. But it's very interesting.

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