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.

Nietzsche against Master Morality

The assumption is widespread that Nietzsche’s ethics can be explained as the master morality which he diagnoses in the Essay 1 of On the Genealogy of Morality. The assumption is widespread among those who are semi-informed, and even more disturbingly among those who have some claims to expertise on Nietzsche. As a reaction to Nietzsche, it’s not totally inappropriate, the texts do provoke the reader to think of master morality as something better than slave morality. That is somewhat different from a committment to master morality as a form of ethics.

Nietzsche sometime says he is referring to a philosophy of life rather than ethics or morality. I believe it would be going to far to say that there is no ethics, or moral philosophy in Nietzsche. However, it is important toı recognise that Nietzsche is challenging (which is not the same as rejecting) the bases of ethics or morality. What he is doing is to find something like what Hegel calls immediacy, and Kierkegaard calls wonder in a reaction to nature and human nature. Though whether that means we can classify Nietzshe with contemporary Naturalists of a scientistic reductionist orientation is another thing. Nietzsche looks at the wonder, or immediacy of the master’s view of the world in the most primitive of moralities, the original master morality. That he explains particularly in relation to Homeric heroes, and in general an approach in which mutual obligations are recognised between masters, but not to those outside the relevant group of masters. From this point of view, the masters define themselves as good, beautiful, truthful and so on. The salves are those who have the opposite of those characteristics.

The slaves are not evil, because they behave according to nature in the master world view, they just behave as they do without evil intention. For Nietzsche, the concept of evil is deeply embedded in ideas of soul, strong personal identity, free will and inner intentions. It is the slaves who have a good/evil dichotomy who assume there is strong personal identity and intentionalism. For the master, there are immediate reactions There is no assumption for strong personal identity and all that might go with that: free will, intentionalism, memory over time. These aspects of master morality are clearly part of what Nietzsche advocates, but it is not what Nietzsche advocates as a whole.

Nietzsche is against a metaphysical theory free will, resting as he sees it on a strong sense of personal identity in which the self is a soul thing rather than a combination of forces as Nietzsche thinks. However, he is not against the ideas of autonomy, sovereignty of the self, or self-creation. These are all given great emphasis. Both art and science are taken as products of the creative self, which creates itself as a it creates a perspective on natural forces in nature or the creation of art. The master is not an artist or scientist. Neither of these would be a complete model for Nietzsche. Nietzsche sees value in the life that is like art, he finds that beauty is a product of the desire for happiness. Happiness comes in life led as self-creating and self-legislating. It is here that Nietzsche sees the origin of value, not in the brutishness and borrishness of the master towards the slave. He does not think that value originates in utilitarian calculations of maximised benefits, or any set of abstract principles or social institutions. Nietzsche refers to the master who forgets offence and only takes revenge where it is immediately possible, but he admires the individual with no need to punish or take revenge at all, much more.