Written on the occasion of previews for this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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Staking The Other

Sure Buffy is fun, entertaining, we enjoy it, but what about the socio-political implications inherent in its mythology?

A show concerned so much with "good" and "evil" must really be concerned with our societal system of morality, a socio-political construct. Evil on the show of course is chiefly represented by that contingent which, episode after episode, Buffy, our heroine, so elegantly slays – that is, the vampires. Just who are these vamps, anyway? A quick perusal of the two and a half odd seasons' worth of the show reveals a group that seems to span races and cultures. Why, only this last week we had a group of vamps that effectively constituted a Latino gang, a sort of gothic Sharks. We've also currently got an African American vamp, in the person of Mr. Trick. Blacks we've had in the past, as in the season two opener's black evangelical preacher-style edition. And of course the endless supply of Lily White vamps like Spike, Dru, Angel, Darla, the Master, and now even Xander and Willow.

Motley crew though this bunch constitutes, the question begs to be asked, what do they all have in common? What is it these so-called vamps do that renders them pariahs, outcasts, candidates for the stake?

Of course, they suck blood. They kill people.

But let's look beyond the obvious here, because it's here that the vamps' deviance starts to, well, deviate. Not surprisingly, the acts that characterize them other than blood sucking per se line up fairly well with their socio-economic (or ethnic) groups.

Consider Mr. Trick. Sunnydale's an equal opportunity employer for vamps, and Trick has so far committed his share of evil. What's notable is that, for Trick, a Black vampire, evil looks a lot like being a crafty entrepreneur. Swaggering around in his fine suits, going on about "the big picture," Trick knows the score. Cannily, he's already distanced himself from a raging "loose canon" vamp, staged the high stakes, business-like "Slayer Fest 98," and ingratiated himself with the top official in Sunnydale. Is this the face of evil? Hardly coincidental, Trick, the first prominent Black vamp on the show, inevitably comes on as cool and collected as Spike and Drusilla were wild and reckless because, in White America, this is exactly what is most frightening, and most evil, in a Black man, vampire or not – to be smooth, to be enterprising, to be successful.

Looking around at the rest of Buffy's roster of vamps only uncovers more of what is fearsome, unresolved -- or closeted – in the American psyche. The biggest, most dangerous vamp on the scene for the whole first season was none other than the Master (slated to reappear soon). For several episodes, until Buffy naturally dispatched him, the continuing subplot revolved around how he was going to break free, to emerge, to walk openly among us. This would have been the most terrible, to have this swaggering, prancing, mincing figure out in the open. He certainly did cut a theatrical, even campy figure, all bitchy back stabbing and long nails preening. Indeed, stomping around in black leather and boots, he easily could have been mistaken for a leather daddy, stereotypical figure of the gay community.

Yes, this is certainly evil, this "man" who, unlike his other white counterparts, has no consort, no love interest, no burning "passion" except to be in-your-face "out." I'm here, I'm a vamp, get used to it! And how does he finally achieve it? Unlike Angel, the "good" vampire, the Master doesn't desire Buffy, he just wants to steal her life force, take her place, wipe out feminine energy and replace it with a totally male, if effeminate male, force. Fortunately for Sunnydale, and middle America, Buffy is on the case, and banishes this demon back to hell in a cathartic swoop.

And if this is how white, straight America deals with the demon Other, what about what it sees when it looks in the mirror? What evil lurks there? If we take our white, hetero Buffy vamps as a barometer, it looks curiously like the unleashing of a messy libido. In they swept, Spike and Drusilla, wiping away the last vestige of the Master's empire of Daddies and Little Boys, and with what? Their all consuming Desire for each other. And what kind of desire? Whereas the love affairs of Buffy and her friends involve "smoochies" and sweet "I love you's," the "love" the vamps practice is a little more twisted. To be a straight, white vampire in Buffyland looks a lot like being an SM "player." When Spike captures Angel as the key to restoring Drusilla to full health, she first asks to "have her way with him," tying him up to her bed and torturing him, admonishing the vampire who "made" her that he had been "a very bad daddy." When Angel himself does "go bad," significantly after having had a night with Buffy that goes way beyond smoochies, we know he's bad because he has to wear those tight black leather trousers. His murder of Miss Calendar looks a lot like an SM scene, where she is made a helpless toy for him to play with. The evil of the Master and Mr. Trick has never been sexualized like this, or what promises to be the supreme SM fest next episode when, in an alternate reality, Willow and Xander will become vampires and "serve" the Master. Like Angel, they demonstrate their "badness" by sporting black leather and cavorting in an obviously sexual manner. Only Willow as a vampire could tie up and dominate Angel, never the good Willow, who practices sweet, chaste love. Yes, what's evil for straight America is to eschew the family, or subvert it, and give in to passion with multiple partners and sex that plays with scenarios of dominance and submission.

Interestingly, just as Buffy and other entertainments offer up inimical spirits like deviant sexuality and cathartically dispatch them, so does SM sex. Maybe Buffy itself is sort of surrogate SM sex, playing around lustily with dominance and submission for the benefit of a society dominated by a need to constantly monitor who's "on top," who's normal, who's mainstream, and who, like Buffy's Others, is marginalized, and how to keep them that way ... a society that couldn't ever dare to be so lusty and libidinous as these vamps, for its own good, or for the powers that be who might benefit from us thinking it's for our own good.

Of course, this is the pleasure of the text.

I just had to say that.