Link: Joss Whedon gets Cultural Humanism Award

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

Joss Whedon Cultural Humanist. Whedon receives 2009 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University and the Harvard Secular Society. 90 minutes streaming video, or audio only mp3 file. Joss Whedon is the creator of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and the film Serenity.

Whedon is introduced and then gives a speech followed by a lengthy question and answer session. The reason he was given the award is that all his work reflects a view largely critical of religion, and supportive of a humanist vision of struggling to achieve good within this world. Though as Whedon points out at the event, he gives a place to religious views, as part of his interest in multiplicity of voices in his work, including the difference points of view within one character.

In his speech Whedon refers to violence and cruelty in the name of religion, but also says that the enemy is not religion but dark tendencies within everyone. In that sense Humanism is more of an act of faith than religion, because it is the faith in overcoming evil without an other worldly entity, sometimes referred to by Whedon as the ‘sky bully.’

In his speech and answers to questions, Whedon refers to his own fear of death which he says has been overcome since becoming a father. The vampire in Buffy are identified as disturbing because they want to deny the possibility of death, and therefore the possibility of something more important than themselves. In the last part of the question and answer session he rounds off with his anxieties about power, the fear of not having power and the fear of the consequences of having power. This is an underlying issue in all of his work,

Whedon discusses the connections and conflicts between emotional realism and mythological symbolism in his work. He talks about what ethics there is without God, and says that a conversation with his wife led him to the idea of evolutionary ethics, before he knew about is a widespread theory. Whedon is referring to the idea that ethics evolves as part of the need of the human species to survive through co-operation. He identifies the basic point of ethics as to avoid pain in other people, because we don’t want it happening to us, or people to whom we are close. When discussing different ethical decisions made by Buffy at different times, Whedon refers to way that a moral system may simply be a convenient way of justifying what we choose at some moment. This leads to situationist ethics (ethical choices as contextual rather than universal) and to Whedon’s only early interest in existentialism and absurdism in Camus and Sartre. That interest was apparently spurred by a transformational viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which led Whedon to question the reality of a normal point of view. Near the end, Whedon also refers to the need for redemption, the way that we all do things we regret, and use power in ways which are wrong. A very recognisable theme in his work. At another point, Whedon refers to the need to to keep shocking people and causing pain in the view for dramatic reasons. This seems a bit contradictory with the idea of avoiding pain, and part of Whedon’s feeling that having power in making TV and cinema leads to badness might refers to this, though he does not say so. Given this concern with not causing pain, it’s not surprising that Whedon expresses some interest in Buddhism, though recoiling from its theology. Whedon’s attitude combines a feeling that existence leads to evil, with a utopian hope for a society in which there is no power and no pain.

On more specific points in his own work, the influence of John Ford comes up twice in relation to Firefly. He refers to the preacher Shepherd Book in the series as like the preacher played by Ward Bond in The Searchers. Whedon partly explains the rapid introduction of a large number of characters in Firefly with reference to Stagecoach, where a bizarre range of people are forced together in the stagecoach. He refers to the difference between Angel and Buffy as characters who begin as heroic; and Spike and Faith who come to humanity and heroism from an evil beginning. Whedon refers to the difficult in Angel as being to define the character of Angel and his reason for fighting evil, every series offers a new solution. Buffy and Angel reach the same point of getting beyond the idea of unique heroism and destiny, and seeing good in individual actions. Whedon defines Dollhouse as being about all the ways we inevitably objectify everyone else, and project onto them. He had a few things to say about the development of Dollhouse being slowed down by concerns with audience figures and keeping the production company happy.

Joss Whedon and Libertarianism

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has a complex relation with Libertarianism. His political views appear to be standard left-liberal Hollywood. Together with most of the cast of Angel (a spin off from Buffy), he endorsed the John Kerry/John Edwards Democrat ticket in 2004. Whedon’s normal views appear to be pro-civil liberties for all. In creating a positive lesbian character, Buffy’s best friend Willow, he signalled a committment to equality for gays.

Feminism
Buffy was designed as a feminist hero, tough and independent though also distinctly feminine. She has been referred to as ‘Buffy the patriarchy Slayer’ and though the character does not tend to be overtly politicla or ideological in any way, there are signals of her attitude. This culminates at the end of season 7 when she pulls an Excalibur type weapon out of its place, only the Slayer is destined to do this. This also allows an emphasis on Buffy the Post-Feminist. The woman who was watching her Excalibur weapon appears, and it turns out that she belongs to a female order that has been watching the male dominated watchers (trainers and supervisers of slayers). Buffy is rather different from the stereotypical earth mother type feminist. Buffy’s fashionable style and immersion in popular culture contrasts with the grand prophetic tone of her new protector. The new protector cannot believe that Buffy is called Buffy, signalling the distance between them. Significantly the woman is killed a few minutes after she appears on screen, she is part of what is passing away. Whedon’s shows refer to pornography and male fantasies abut women in a jokey way which distances them from the kind of feminism which looked with extreme aversion on such phenomena, and which resorts to a mixture of moralising condemnation and a reductive account of power through representation. Though many commentators on Whedon maintain a condemn male fantasy stance, it’s clear that Whedon regards that attitude as a distraction from central issues of power, violence and equality.

Political Correctness and Libertarianism
Libertarianism may take political correctness as a target. That particularly applies to Libertarianism of a kind which mixes social conservatism and capitalist free markets, essentially the constituency that Ron Paul is appealing to in his current run to be Republican candidate to be elected President of the United States. Such people may look askance on feminism and gay rights as ‘politically correct’ impositions of a left-liberal elite which dominates the state and education, in their view. Sometimes they seem to think big corporations are dominated by such people conspiring with the state elite, though sometimes they seem to think private corporations are necessarily beyond criticism. Conservative libertarians say they do not favour discrimination, but do not believe that the central state has the right to impose non-discrimination on local communities. Strangely enough I’m rather suspicious of the line, ‘I’m not a racist/homophobe but I do not think anyone should be forced to respect blacks and gays and it would be wrong to force communities to give them equal rights, therefore I will vote in congress against any such rights’ which as far as I can see is an accurate representation of Paul’s views. One of the Whedonverse actors is a Paulite, Emma Caulfield who plays Anya in Buffy. Appropriately her character is a parodic capitalist who puts money before people, and enjoys the dance of capitalist superiority when closing the Magic Shop at nights. It would be wrong to represent capitalist libertarians in that way, evidently they believe free markets are the instrument of liberty, but it’s still funny.

There is a comparatively liberal progressive kind of Libertarianism at the Cato Institute, or even the Ayn Rand/Objectivist groups, though I struggle to take seriously anyone who follows Ayn Rand (fifth rate philosopher, fourth rate novellist, third rate screen writer and first rate grotesque destructive egomaniac). While these people are generally closer to the Republicans than the Democrats, unlike Paulites they tend to respect Lincoln and think the right side won the Civil War, so conceding that there are times when use of central state power for a liberatory object maybe a lesser evil than just letting communities deny basic liberties to certain community members. These people tend to more careful about distancing themselves from social or national conservatism. It must also be said that Paul has left-libertarian fans who support a return to weaker federal government.

X-Files Libertarianism
That leads us to what I will very unkindly and unfairly label X-Files left-libertarians. X-Files
is of course a reference to the TV series (some of whose writers have worked with Joss Whedon) in which two FBI agents unravel many layers of a conspiracy of the central state to allow aliens to take over the world. For those who have not seen the show, it must also be said that the show is very funny and self-parodic, and that one of the FBI agents in particular can be read as a delusional obsessive. The show deals very acutely with fears of central government and fears of hidden forces, and often refers to quite real ways in which power may become secretive and unaccountable. The show lacks a direct political message but on the whole I would say it is most consistent with a left-libertarianism that is critical of corporations, the state and social conformism.

Joss Whedon: Statist or Libertarian?
As was indicated above, Whedon is comfortable with Democrats of a kind who wish to preserve the and expand New Deal big state, which has been the major function of the Democratic Party since F.D. Roosevelt. That New Deal big state is tied up with an Imperial Presidency which commands vast military resources and has an interventionist foreign policy trying to shape every region of the world. Whedon is rather neutral about foreign interventionism. Buffy’s one serious non-vampire boyfriend, Riley Finn, leaves her to join a covert military squad destroying demons in Central America. The associations with regional American intervention of a very aggressive kind, leaning towards authoritarian right right wing governments and paramilitary groups are left unremarked. The political tone of Buffy and Angel is standard left-liberalism. The death penalty is implicitly rejected, very pro-capitalist views are seen as amusing, large companies tend to be represented as operating in a sinister way. It must also be said that left wing political correctness is parodied, most obviously in the episode Pangs in season 2. What we also get is an interest in insurrectionism. This becomes most obvious in the penultimate episode of season 4, which ends on an X-Files tone. A hidden man of power refers to Buffy and her allies as ‘civilian insurrectionists’, and notes that in the end they were correct to resist a secret government demon fighting initiative and fight demons in their own way. This hint at the justification of insurrection has rich American associations. The right to rise up and resist the central state was recognised by the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson. It is Jefferson who favoured self-governing rural communities under a very loose central government and who is often invoked by libertarians. That role for Buffy and her allies is paralleled in Angel by Angel’s unlicensed detective agency. In both cases, the aim is to uphold law in ways the state cannot, but certainly there is an emphasis that law rests on basic action by individuals.

The libertarian tendencies in Joss Whedon come to the fore in the science fiction series Firefly. The series takes place in the aftermath of a failed rebellion by Independents against the central authority of the Alliance. The central character Mal leads a gang which makes a living from smuggling, illegal salvage and robbery, along with legal work. There is some connection with stores of the James gangs, Confederate guerillas turned bandits. However, the series also clearly distances the Independents from the slave holding aristocratic Confederacy. They are seen as west coast libertarians, poor but self-reliant people struggling to hold on to their free wheeling individualistic society. Mal is the spokesman for the view that governments exist to get in the way, that they interfere without helping. Whedon says that he does not share all of Mal’s views, but he created a series which makes Mal the hero and the spokesman for world view which is clearly Whedon’s own: anti-religious, anti-transcendent, an individualism of tough self-reliant characters. The series is quite explicitly an anti-Star Trek. Star Trek features an earnest liberal technological interventionism even though at the explicit level the Federation the space ship serves is anti-interventionist. The Federation is socialistic, and capitalistic characters, particularly the Ferengi in Next Generation, are presented as morally questionable.

The series and the spin off film Serenity certainly impressed libertarians. The film received a Special Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society. LFS is devoted to libertarian science finction, which is a major part of the libertarian canon. The write Robert A. Heinlein is the most famous in a large group of capitalist libertarian and anarcho-capitalist writers. Joss Whedon belongs with Ayn Rand and Heinlein in the receipt of an award from Heinlein, and has produced a TV and cinema classic of futuristic capitalist libertarianism, though the emphasis is still on the poor small entrepreneur.

Moral Personality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Many examples exist in Joss Whedon’s TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of the ambiguities of moral personality. Characters move between extremes of good and evil which make it difficult to say what moral personality they have, though they are very recognisbaly the same people.

Many examples exist, but here we will concentrate on one example which has been particularly popular with fans and for good reasons. The vampire Spike is the second of two morally ambiguous vampires who appear on the show. Spike, played by James Marsters, appears fro the first time in season 2, episode 3 ‘School Hard’. The character was originally written s a brief appearance, but grew and grew. The fascination of Spike can traced back to his first appearance where we see him as a a swaggering evil bad boy, but then see his vampire face disappear when his then girlfriend, Druscilla, appears. Spike instantly becomes the concerned sensitive boy friend. The first time he sees Buffy produces a similarly striking effect. Though sincerely in love with Driscilla, when he sees Buffy for the first time looking very innocent dancing with her friends at a club it looks like Spike is instantly in love. This confusion about whether he is in lovw with Buffy or Druscilla is typical of the confusions Buffy and other characters deal with in the series. The demonic threats, and the fight against evil, are ways of making sense of inner lives full of contradiction.

Spike’s first appearance is as a vicious killer devoted to merciless destruction. Nevertheless he shows noble qualities. He keeps a deal to turn a human into a vampire, though the deal produces bad consequences for Spike. He always puts Druscilla first in his concerns, though there are growing suggestions that he is obsessed with Buffy. The obsession frefers to killing her, but Druscilla clearly finds the obsession discomforting. In season 5 Spike will realise he is in love with Buffy. In season 2, he just finds it necessary to work with Buffy to undermine his ove rival Angel, who is also trying to destroy the world. In a memorable speech, Spike explains to Buffy how attached he is to the world, referring to love of football, dog racing and humans even if what he wants from humans is to eat them. The alliance with Buffy is recoded at a later point as a brief fling he has to excuse to Druscilla, ‘I told her I was thinking about her all the time’. Druscilla who has precognitive powers is not fooled and realisies that Spike is in live with the Slayer even if he hides from this reality.

In season 4, Spike is captured by government demon hunters and escapes. Before he escapes they give him a behaviour modification chip which gives him great neurological pain he harms, or tries to harm, a human. Spike fights this restriction, but bit by bit he is drawn into humanity and its moral standards. It is Buffy who provides the motivation. At one point Spike is sheltering with Buffy’s watcher Giles. Conflict between Spike and Buffy acquires flirtatious aspects, and the story line draws attention to this when accidental consequences of a magic spell turn them into fiances for few hours. Giles tells Spike he may have been given a new purpose, and Spike rebuffs him. Giles never seems to forgive him for this. Spike does start to find new purpose in season 5, when he does realise after a dream about Buffy that he is in love with her. This does not lead him to be clearly good, it does lead him to try to impress her which includes doing the good things she approves of. Buffy does not notice Spike’s feelings at first and is horrified when she does. Nevertheless, it is clear that she has begun to accept Spike as a friend and ally and that she has her own ambiguous obsession with him. The ambiguity leads her to great and excessive cruelty to Spike even when he has helped her, and raises the question of he rown moral development.

Later in Season 5, a particularly self-sacrificing act leads Buffy to accept Spike as an ally and friend. She dies through mystical means at the end of the season 5. At the beginning of season 6, we see Spike looking after Buffy’s younger sister and helping Buffy’s friends to fight demons. We see that he has progressed from wanting to impress Buffy to wanting to do things he know would please her if she was still alive. However, after Buffy is revived, he reverts back to a more shadowy lifestyle, where though he will do anything for Buffy, he also unconcerned with being morally right except where it directly affects Buffy. The tension between them revives and increases until a fight leads to love making. Buffy feels she has to hide he affair and feels ashamed. She breaks it off when Spike repeals his continuing immoral side. At first she is friendly with Spike but the old ambiguity returns in which she expresses her feelings for Spike by being cruel to him. When he realises that she still has feelings for her, he tries to ‘make her feel’ by starting a sexual assault in her bathroom. She fights him off and he leaves her alone when he realisies that his violence is unacceptable to her. This extreme low point morally, is followed by Spike disappearing from the town. Buffy’s extreme ambiguity continues as she is willing to let her younger sister stay with Spike and seems disappointed when she realises Spike has disappeared. This might seem to contain the disturbing insinuation that Buffy is attracted to someone who started to rape her, though she finds the act unambiguously horrific there is no doubt she still feels drawn to Spike (though commentators who want to make Buffy into a one dimensional feminist icon find this hard to admit). The end of the series shows that Spike disappeared in order to get his soul back after a series of physical and psychological torments. He was feeling torn between the demonic and the human, now he wants to be just human which he thinks will make him good enough for Buffy.

In season 7, Spike turns up again in town maddenned by his conscience, particularly by the memory of his attempt to rape Buffy. Buffy is clearly sorry about his condition, she accpets his help and eventually gives him shelter, first at a friend’s house and then in her own home which is by then very full of friends seeking to fight the big evil of that season. Spike is penitent and accepts that Buffy cannot love him, but this moral renewal is questioned in episode 7, ‘Conversations with Dead People’ when Buffy realisies that Spike is maybe killing and creating new vampires. She is not happy with this realisation, does not want to believe it and shows her depth of feeling for Spike in this way. It turns out that Spike is under the control of a mind trigger mechanism. Various events show Buffy wanting to help Spike and Spike wanting to resist the power of the mind control. The issue reaches a crisis when Buffy arranges for Spike to have an operatoin to remove his now malfunctioning chip. Her friends are concerned but the connection with Spike has become the important thing for her, though they have not resumed intimate relations and are apparently just friends.

Spike justifies Buffy’s trust by overcoming the trigger in a fight which results from 2 of Buffy’s friends wishing to eliminate Spike. However, we have also seen that Spike can be very dangerous and has been hovering between his noble moral intentions and the external demonic influence. Spike is faces with the further ambiguity that he wanted to make himself fully human for Buffy, but she needs him to be a demon when fighting on he side.

All the confusions are resolved in the last episode, ‘End of Days’. Spike sacrifices himself to save the world, and has clearly saved Buffy from a relationship which creates pain and uncertainty. Spike’ s death is sad but necessary to rescue Buffy’s life from the confusion and pain.

Spike becomes the perfect moral hero, but that heroism is premissed on the demonic. Buffy herself finds that her strength has demonic sources. Spike’s heroism rests on his unstable and dangerous personality. As Buffy said when rejecting him’ he is in love with pain. Spike’s moral journal is a redemptive story in which a personality lacking in morality, gains moral guidance from love, and then some grasp of the moral as a good in itself. That up lifting redemption can only rest on Spike’s outside status in which he has never completely trusted and can never be sure that he will remain good. The fight for the good resorts to evil of some kind to win the fight. Spike is an outcome of that reality, and the reality that good can never be passive. The fight for the good takes Spike to the same rage and destruction he has as an evil vampire. Buffy ends her outsider stauts by sharing her slayer powers, Spike can only exist as an anomaly, as what does not deserve to exist. Spike does evil in his violence against himself but turns that into an act of giivng, or pure generosity. He is individuality as pure evil, the danger Hegel warned of and which Kierkegaard tries to overcome.

Morality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Pleasure, Pain, Psychological Health, Richnes of Life

We can examine the views of morality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer with reference to one of the less obviously thoughtful Buffy episodes. In Beer Bad (season 4, episode 5). Buffy is in her first year as a college student, at UC Sunydale. She is very disturbed that a student she spend a night with, Parker Abrams, rejects her afterwards. Some boys in the bar invite her to escape from her sadness by drinking with them. It turns out that the barman, who does not like snotty college kids, added a potion to the beer which turns them all into cavemen.

Before they turn into cavemen, the boys are having one of the conversations that irritate the barman, discussing morality. One of them declares that morality would have been put on a firmer basis under the influence of beer. That would lead to a morality based on what feels good and what feels bad (not the exact wordin g but that undoubtedly is the point).

There is such a morality, since the Nineteenth Century it has been known as Utilitarianism, the position which seeks to maximise the number of states of feeling good. That would be the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham which rates push pin as equal to poetry, that is ‘low’ pleasure as equal to ‘high’ pleasure; and not the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill who thought there are higher pleasures, so that Socrates unhappy is in a preferable state to a happy pig.

The boys seem to be Benthamites, though their descent into drunken incoherence is not what Bentham thought his philosophy was leading to. The boys progress towards cavemen like prelingualism and rage as a result of drink, could be regarded as a reductio ad absurdum
of Bethamite hedonism, the moral philosophy which seeks to maximise pleasure states. Pursuit of pleasure as a gaol ignores the rational reflective self in theory and leads to its destruction in practice. That may echo arguments of Plato against hedonism, in Gorgias and Philebus. In both dialogues, Plato attacks hedonism by suggesting that it must take the highest state to be that of eating and defecating at the same time, or scratching to relieve a pain. Both arise from seeking pure pleasure but both are repugnant. Pleasure itself can only be acheived in a hedonistic context whichj allows for the rational reflective self.

However, in Buffy, though the morality of hedonism is parodied, the idea that morality is based on feeling good is something difficult to get past. The show is premised on a rejection of moral abstractions. God is out, and so is all religious ethics. There is no absolute standard we can appeal to. The Vampires illustrate this, they defy every moral rule and enjoy the demonic pursuit of cruelty as and end in itself. They represent a logically coherent duty to cruelty as part of nature, which seems reminiscent of de Sade. There is no argument from pure moral reason against the vampires, which is why Buffy has to stake them. She certainly does not have any respect for ideas of moral duty, even if she lives a life of dutgy to her vocation of killing demons.

What makes Buffy different from hedonists turned cavemen? Notions of psychological health come in here, as when Buffy is contrasted with the ‘dark’ mentally unbalanced slayer Faith. Vampiric duty to kill is resisted with reference to the defence of a rich psychology and a rich way of life which is impoverished by Vampire attacks, and it is a way of life Vampires themselves lack as they are slaves to the lust for pain. The pain they desire is their own as well as that of their victims, they are masochists as well as sadists. One illustration of this is Darla the vampire’s wish that Angel, the vampire who gets a soul/conscience should hurt her when he is unwilling to do so. Buffy is also shown to be drawn to the pain and sado-masochism but she also resists it. She resists it from a higher hedonism. Not quite the earnestness of Mill, but an argument for flourishing and richness of life and experience.

Social Constructivism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In ‘Life Serial’ (season 6, episode 5) Buffy suffers a series of mishaps which the episode strongly hints should be interpreted as examples of social constructivism.

‘Social Constructivism’ is explained in a sociology class at UC Sunnydale. Buffy is auditing with Willow and Tara while deciding how to plan her life. A charismatic teacher, Mike, gets the clads to participate in a fast moving question and answer session in which he asks class members to explain how reality is socially constructed. Willow herself has clearly gasped the issue and makes a good intervention.

The points that emerge in class include: reality is not independent of our point of view, there are multiple social realities, reality is not neutral.

These kind of points tend to get philosophers working metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of science steamed up about the alleged threat to truth, reality, knowledge and all that is good and decent. Maybe they should relax a bit and think about how the points made by constructivists can be taken up. I’m taking Buffy as a paradigm.

What happens in the episode to illustrate constructivism?

Buffy is seeking a life plan. Three very adolescent young men, who are absurdly obsessed with super hero and science fiction popular culture, are plotting to take over Sunnydale and are trying to track and weaken Buffy. The Trio are clearly a parody of Joss Whedon and the other writers on Buffy, this is confirmed on the DVD commentaries.

The trio find three ways to disrupt Buffy’s life and monitor her reactions.

1. Buffy is auditing at college. Warren puts a micro transmitter on Buffy which speeds up her perception time. Time rushes past, punctuated by short episodes of normal time. At first Buffy thinks she is passing, which the audience can take as the naturalistic explanation of what happens. She is stressed in general and is stressed by her return to college. Because of this her perception of time changes.

2. Buffy starts working at Xander’s building site. The construction workers are bemused and hostile when they meet this small thin girl, but her super hero strength enable her to do the heavy lifting. Her work is interrupted by the Trio. Andrew calls up demons who attack the male workers. Buffy fights them off and kills them. The workers deny seeing the demons and perceive what has happened as Buffy freaking out, it must be ‘her time of the month’. Their response is crass but again gives the naturalistic reading, Buffy is unstable and violent because of the stross of being a Slayer.

3. Buffy starts working at the Magic Box co-owned by her Watcher (trainer and mentor) Giles and by fellow Scooby (demon fighter) Anya. The Trio is monitoring the Magic Box through a camera, significantly hidden in a skull. Jonathan uses magic to create a time loop, that can only be broken by satisfying a customer with a difficult request. The customer wants a live Mummy’s Hand, but the hand is aggressive and dangerous. Either she gets a deadly hand or she gets a dead hand. Time keeps looping as Buffy realises, and she becomes more and more frustrated. She does eventually fşind the solution, but has a disagreement with Anya and hands back her staff badge. The naturalistic explanation is that Buffy is unbearably bored by retail.

All these misadventures put Buffy in situations where she is not the hero-Slayer-leader. At university Tara and Willow are more in command. At the building site, Xander is the boss not the loyal friend. At the shop, Buffy is the badly treated employee of Anya who is often inclined towards rudeness.

These misadventures leads to Buffy spending an evening with Spike, the semi-reformed vampire who is in love with her. She drinks more whiskey than she can handle and Spike wastes her time taking her to a demon poker game when she asks for his help. That aspect of the episode continues the theme that Buffy is alienated from her friends and from her younger sister Dawn. Spike’s evil past and shadowy life make him more able to understand her alienated tendencies resulting from the burden of her mission as a the Slayer, constantly dealing with evil and death (think of that skull in the Magic Box).

Buffy’s shifting sense of reality, could be seen as episodes of alienation from reality, rather than shifts of reality itself. However, reality is our sense of reality. The three incidents or reality shift deal with the following
1. Subjective experience is variable
2. Stress can lead to extreme shifts in the sense of reality, to the point where the supernatural becomes real.
3. The alienated experience of the supernatural is also a form of hyper reality, where the experience of some aspect of reality becomes extreme: the passing of time becomes an incomprehensible rush; the boredom of waiting for moments to pass becomes a repeating loop in time; anger with boorish male colleagues resting on restrained violence becomes a violent struggle with demons.

In one way the episode undermines social constructivism, because it makes a distinction between normal reality and alienated experience. However, it also suggests that the sense of reality is extremely variable according to mood, and that fantasy is a way of bringing attention to aspects of reality. The social constructivism is more moderate than Mike suggests. There are different realities according to relations with other people, as Mike suggests, but the variations in Buffy’s experience are more about her subjective sense of reality and the changing social context rather than in turning reality into something that is constructed.
.

Why Buffy Matters: Entropy and Life, History and the Moment

In Joss Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy stand for life and the moment. Her ‘watcher’ (the Englishman Rupert Giles who trains her and is a general mentor figure) tells Buffy’s mother (Joyce Summers) that Buffy is not good at history because she lives in the now and history is very much in the then.

When she is practicing for the SATS exam (general school examination of aptitude in the US, providing an opportunity for those who don’t get grades to show what they have got), one of the answers Giles reads out to her refers to the second law of thermodynamics. This law refers to energy moving from hot gases to cold, and its more generalised conclusions include the claim that energy keeps reducing in a system. This is why there could never be a perpetual motion machine. In general the universe is losing energy and keeps cooling down. that loss of energy is also a collapse of the system into chaos. Chaos is what Buffy, Giles and all the good characters are fighting. Demons are strongly associated with chaos. Giles tells his former friend Ethan Rayne, that they stopped being friends when Ethan started woshipping chaos.

At the end of Season Three when her vampire lover with a soul, Angel, is dying she tells the pompous watcher Wes, that she does not know what he is talking about when he refers to the ancient laws that stop the Council of watchers from helping to cure Angel. She just knows her lover is dying. History and laws are foreign to her, she lives according to the passions of the present.

Buffy comes back to life from death twice, at the end of season one and at the beginning of season six.

As life, as the person who lives in the moment, Buffy is also a chaotic force. The struggle with chaos, what Freud called the death principle, what physicists call entropy, is what Buffy fights and is what she longs for. As the vampire Spike explains to her in season 5, she is drawn to death and experiencing the moment of death. A slayer guide explains to her that ‘Your gift is death’. Buffy longs to entropy at that time, she with draws from her friend into herself , and dies a euphoric death to save the world from demon dimensions.

Buffy is chaotic in a positive sense, she resists and questions authority. This means introducing entropy into hierarchical ordered system. As the bad colonel points out to her boyfriend Riley, his resistance make him an anarchist.

Why Buffy and Joss Whedon’s other work matter

Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after three series this lead to the spin off Angel. Buffy ran for 7 seasons, Angel ran for 5 seasons. Towards the end of that period Whedon made 14 episodes of Firefly before it was cancelled by the network. The sequel to Firefly was the film Serenity. All these things have sold in massive amounts on DVD, unfortunately TV and cinema have been more mixed in their returns.

I’ll be returing to the Whedonverse. First of all, why does it matter? Today we’ll concentrate on Buffy. A series with a silly sounding name. The full name of the series, as Whedon points out, combines comedy, horror and drama. The silliness already indicates an interest in combining genres and crossing boundaries. What are the themes that appear and make Buffy important 8and which appear in the rest of the Whedonverse).

Buffy is an icon of female power, often defeating patronising enemies.
Buffy is also an ambiguous character: the hero and the disturbed individualist
The apparently simple conflict between good and evil moves switches back and forth between moral ambiguity and moral absolutes.
Buffy is drawn in different ways to 2 vampire characters (Angel and Spike) who make journeys from good to evil.
Buffy, Angel and Spike finds that despite the elemental conflicts she participates in, that the world has no meaning. The only morsl perspective is what the individual brings.
These characters refer to alientated states of mind and the struggle to overcome subjective alienation.
Characters find that passion drives them and is the basis rather than moral judgement.
Spike shows a moral evolution driven first by the restraint of a violence inhibiting implant, then by love for Buffy and then by regaining his ‘soul’ (soul=conscience in the Whedonverse). Many questions arise here about what morality is and what moral motivation is.
Individual difference and liberty are promoted along with an awareness that they can become alienating and disturbing.
Buffy is drawn towards ‘the dark’, towards violence, aggression and chaos in her own struggle against them.
The struggle against demonic chaos is a struggle to impose the order that Buffy resists.
Characters go through remarkable changes from apparent good to evil, and from evil to good. This is made very material in the vampirasation of Spike and Angel, both events are shown in flashback, and in the ways in which Angel and Spike get their souls back. For Angel, a soul is a punishment, for Spike it is a reward he seeks to make him worthy of Buffy. These tranformations and many others, raise questions about the limits of personal identity and the posisbility of change within continuous identity.
It deals with different possible worlds, as do many philosophers.
It’s very funny, all serious themes are ironised and everything is ironised. This is an important message in itself. Comedy and tragedy are always close together.