Buffy in Scotland – Choice, Women’s Power and Independence

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About ten years have passed since the final episode of the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on TV. Series creator Joss Whedon, who spoke in the Glasgow Film Theatre at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, showed that pop culture can be non-sexist, a profound social commentary, deeply philosophical and entertaining at the same time. Buffy, Willow, and many other protagonists continue to be role models for generations of young women. Do we all need to become superheroes to change the world around us? With the economic downturn, climate change and biosphere decline threatening our livelihoods, it seems like that at times. But with the Scottish referendum comes a rare opportunity to envision change on a larger scale, by choosing a different path – a path which is not set on destruction, but on renewal, and on cherishing the things that matter to improve the quality of life for all. As a tribute to the ten year anniversary of the closing of the series, let’s imagine what Buffy would make of the Scottish Independence campaign…

For those who don’t know the series, Buffy is a teenage girl – and later a young woman – who lives in the fictional town of Sunnydale, California. Sunnydale High School happens to lie on top of the Hellmouth, which harbours supernatural evil and serves as a gateway for demons, vampires and other shady creatures. Buffy is the chosen one, the only current Slayer in a long line of Slayers, which means that she has supernatural powers, fights evil creatures, and helps people. To be effective, she needs the help of her friends, the Scooby Gang, and receives a crash-course in moral philosophy by her watcher Giles. Throughout the series, Buffy struggles with her responsibility of being the a Vampire Slayer while completing school, going to college, working in a fast food restaurant, and managing her domestic affairs. We accompany her through the blessings and difficulties of becoming an adult. Her ordinary chores are complicated by the slight inconvenience that some of her boyfriends also happen to be vampires.

The Buffyverse is a gory version of life with all its difficulties, friendship, loyalty, redemption and compassion. It also makes some more obvious political points regarding a broken food system (Episode: Doublemeat Palace) and a socialist critique of the exploitation of Labour (Episode: Anne). At the core of the series lies the morale that good and evil are always ambiguous; we choose to act ethically or be corrupted by our short-term longings – we can enter the good old Faustian pact with the devil or side with a struggle for the greater good. Personal and collective autonomy and loyalty go a long way in building better relationships and societies.

Choice

In the Buffyverse, no-one is entirely good, and no-one is entirely evil. Even soulless vampires are given a choice to become better persons, although this is not an easy task. Equally, good people can become corrupted, wreak havoc, and must redeem themselves. It’s all about choice – Buffy and her gang are natural anarcha-socialists.

As Solzhenitsyn famously wrote, the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. We can choose to build more compassionate lives. We can choose to build more compassionate societies. Independence is fundamentally about choice – but with that comes the responsibility to choose well. Can we get beyond our cultural and political differences and build a society that has the well-being of its people, people elsewhere, and that of the natural world at its heart? We can, if we choose to. As the Persian poet Rumi wrote,

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Women’s Power

The empowerment of women is at the heart of the Buffyverse. This doesn’t simply mean that women gain the same powers as men. Ordinary women with no special powers can get to know themselves and become powerful witches, for example. But gaining power is only the beginning – power can be painful and destructive. Only when used wisely and for the greater good, power becomes beneficial to all.

Those who have benefited from social inequalities so far may wonder: Why should we bother?

This is why: We simply don’t know! Throughout history, there has been an enormous impoverishment of societies here and elsewhere, because people haven’t been given the chance to bring forth their talents. Countless voices were lost forever, inventions weren’t made, decisions were skewed in favour of those with an inflated sense of entitlement. We’ve all lost out as a result. But we can do better than that.

What would a society based on equality look like? It wouldn’t just include equality of the sexes – or genders – but also equal opportunities and extra support for those who need it, regardless of their ethnicities, (dis)abilities, class or sexual orientation. An equal society would understand the psychologies of oppression, and counteract them in our education systems. A fairer economy would counteract feelings of disempowerment which lead to scapegoating. We’d all be enriched as a result.

Independence

The Buffyverse fiercely supports a morality of independence. Heroines (and heroes) need to cope not only with predatory monsters, but also with sexist institutions, and economic exploitation. Buffy and her friends repeatedly clash with authority figures, and have to make their own ethical choices, which sometimes means taking on an opposing stance. When they finally gain power, they must take great care to use it with compassion and for the greater good. Authority figures and institutions are repeatedly shown to have the capacity to become corrupted and inadequate.

Buffy reminds us that it’s important to think for ourselves, keep a fresh mindset, and assert our independence, even where this seems difficult at first. We can all be redeemed, but there’s also no space for complacency. We need to constantly question our motives and their consequences. Personal responsibility, loyalty and a keen sense of justice save lives. Although evil is never beaten completely, it can be kept in check.

Ten years later, the status quo of popular culture is not very different from what it was in the 1990s. Admittedly I don’t own a TV at present, but I don’t get the impression that many TV shows live up to their social transformative potential. Generally spoken, popular culture tends to focus on appearance and installing negative body images even in young girls when even the ‘Brave’ heroine Merida gets a sexed-up makeover.

Nevertheless, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s imprint is still felt – it has subtly changed popular culture by raising the standards of what we can expect from good entertainment. Popular culture could play a transformative and healing role in creating a better society. Heartfelt responses from Whedon’s circle of geeky fans (to which I count myself) show that TV shows can be empowering. If every young woman struggling with the challenges of coming-of-age had a role model like Buffy, the world may just become a more powerful place.

Buffy would love and support the journey towards an independent Scotland. Buffy’s self-determination, free will and anti-authoritarian attitude are a shiny example of how to deal with social, economic and environmental crises. The real-life Hellmouth isn’t closed yet – it’s never been out of business. Buffy would fight for more gender equality – she’d tackle violence against women, and take on the Glasgow nightclub installing two-way spy mirrors in the female bathroom. But she wouldn’t tolerate the low male life expectancies in some parts of Scotland either. She’d hate the inequalities and banker’s bonuses, the profit-driven market system, and the short-term thinking engrained in so many economic practices, destroying our livelihoods and ecosystems.

I like to think of the movement for Scottish Independence less as a nationalistic movement, and more as a movement to think about collective autonomy. We’re a movement to become a Scooby Gang in a struggle for social and environmental justice. If we gain independence, we can develop our collective ethics, discard outdated systems and support the disadvantaged members of society to get their voices heard. We can all be Slayers now, roll up our sleeves and build a better society.

In fact, in the comic continuation of the series, Buffy and her fellow Slayers have set up the Slayer command-central in a citadel in Scotland. Perhaps they’ll give us a hand.

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27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. misskzebra
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 21:06:25

    As a person from England, I’m rather indifferent to Scottish independance. It’s up to the people of Scotland to decide whether they want to be part of the UK or not. I hope politicians honour the referendum.

    Reply

  2. Khy Fischer
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 21:48:04

    Can’t believe it’s been 10 years… I sincerely miss Buffy. Well made argument not just for Scottish independence and what it can achieve, but for a better world on a whole! Congrats on the FP :)

    Reply

  3. rami ungar the writer
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 22:07:19

    As someone who very much enjoyed Buffy growing up, I found myself agreeing with a lot in your article. Buffy was an amazing show, and it took on a lot of cultural norms and showed a different way of doing things.
    I’m not sure how Buffy would react to the Scottish Independence movement though. She’d probably make some sort of question about it involving lots of kilts and haggis. But if you could connect it to a demon, maybe something could be worked out.

    Reply

  4. Hangman
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 01:05:12

    So is this just a comparison between Buffy and the Scottish Independence movement? Or is their a call to action to join up? Or what?

    Reply

  5. juliemumonwheels
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 01:43:27

    I miss buffy wish they did follow up films. Love your view points

    Reply

  6. lovekoanawangin
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 02:30:07

    I’m not really particular of “labels” of being an english, american, filipino etc. But I think this should be addressed to Scotland per se.

    Reply

  7. petalsonwaters
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 03:53:45

    I may just check out what Buffy is all about, after reading your article.

    Reply

  8. Jon Newcombe
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 13:15:27

    Interesting comparison. Personally, if the Scottish people want to separate from Britain, I’d let them. Right now the situation is daft and undermines both British and Scottish government. How can a country have two leaders? How can one country affect change in 2 nations but the other have no say in one of those countries? As for Buffy, I doubt she’d care too much, probably got better things to concern herself with like saving the world or something.

    Reply

  9. cringing
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 17:51:35

    Buffy was absolutely great-I loved watching that show.

    Reply

  10. Lilian
    Jun 21, 2013 @ 21:07:45

    I don’t really see how Scotland becoming independent would make it a more just place. Surely people should already be working for those values you describe (which are great), whether or not Scotland gains its independence? Wish I’d seen more episodes of Buffy!

    Reply

  11. Helen Devries
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 04:02:11

    Ladies, will you please take a look at this blog

    http://gentleotterblog.blogspot.com/

    and do what you can.

    Sod the politically correct…these people need help.

    Reply

    • Morag Eyrie
      Jun 22, 2013 @ 10:51:49

      Thanks for the link Helen- you’ve highlighted a blog that itself highlights one serious aspect of a crucial issue for Scotland- who owns land, what power and control to people have over the land they live and work on, etc. I hope others reading Village Aunties will read and support this family.

      I do have to say though, saying “sod the politically correct” to the Village Aunties, who are as politically correct as anyone could ever hope to be (and I say that proudly)- insulting the people you are asking for help is perhaps not the best way to elicit it! But the issue is bigger than that, so thanks again for pointing to it.

      Reply

  12. blackoccult
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 08:10:27

    Except for dictatorship, i can live anywhere. The idea of independence is a deeply ingrained in my mind. I guess being an Indian you’re drilled with such emotio from childhood. But i like to think of myself as Earth patriot. I believe in more egilatarian society. I know it sounds naively utopian, but as Mr Lenon said, “…..but i’m not the only one…..”

    Reply

  13. Helen Devries
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 15:23:25

    Are you politically correct? That was not my impression.

    Reply

    • Sveinn Jah
      Jun 23, 2013 @ 01:10:41

      Depends on what your idea of politically correct is: If you consider politeness pc, then probably not, but I’d say that pc involves strong intersectional ethics (or, as I prefer to call it, addressing a unity of oppression) which might be different from, and often oppose, the mainstream political discourse. I’m new to this blog, but I think it’s quite correct politically!

      Reply

    • Morag Eyrie
      Jun 23, 2013 @ 15:35:30

      Heh, yes Helen, I guess I agree with Sveinn Jah- depends on your notion of politically correct. But I think if you check our Manifesto and Take Heed sections we are many people’s idea of politically correct. However, for some people we are probably completely politically incorrect!

      But I think looking at your blog, you are based in the US so maybe PC looks different there to here.

      In general, I find people use PC as an insult designed to shut down an argument. So I will challenge its use on that basis.

      Reply

  14. dhonour
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 13:50:17

    You had me at Buffy. Your post was thought provoking, well articulated and peppered with a little dark humor–just like the series itself. I’m not sure what the future holds for Scotland, but I do know that I miss BTVS desperately. On TV and in real life. The world needs more Buffy. She did, after all, save the world. A lot. Well done. (Oh, and if you are ever up for it, I’d love to hear your take on the women of Game of Thrones).

    Reply

  15. Below Zero | Above Infinity
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 05:13:41

    Reblogged this on Below Zero | Above Infinity.

    Reply

  16. Wingnut
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 21:40:09

    Absolutely love Buffy! I watched her growing up and my husband bought me the box set for our anniversar

    Reply

  17. aewaite17
    Jun 26, 2013 @ 10:56:07

    An Englishman in Scotland, an avid Buffy fan (netflix is my new best friend), I agree with what you say, but there would definitely be more sarcastic quips!

    Reply

  18. grigorova88
    Jun 26, 2013 @ 17:35:45

    I loved watching that show.

    Reply

  19. FrolicMe
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 08:59:55

    Personally I think it would be very sad to see Scotland become independent and have always been very proud of filling any ‘nationality’ questionnaire box that comes my way as being BRITISH x

    Reply

  20. forfreedomalone
    Jun 28, 2013 @ 02:35:07

    Have you read Dear Miss Landau?
    Written by a Scot James Christie.
    Nothing to do with Independence, but a lot to do with Buffy.

    Reply

  21. Olivia Ashe, writer
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 09:58:35

    Reblogged this on Olivia Ashe, Writer.

    Reply

  22. ceruleanstarshine
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 17:26:40

    I love this! Reblogged on my blog–hope that’s alright.
    Buffy rocks.

    Reply

  23. Trackback: BEFORE BUFFY: THE SCARCITY OF FEMALE ROLE MODELS IN 1960s BRITISH TV | MULTIGLOM
  24. JoanneBest
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 00:04:34

    You had me too at Buffy- and although I’m American I’ve always had an affinity for all things Scotland ever since we had new neighbors move in from Scotland when I was 8 years old; thank you for reminding me how much I love Scotland (and MUST visit there before I die) and thank you for the Buffy stuff, also, yay for season 8 and the Scoobies in Scotland ;-)

    Reply

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