Saturday, May 24, 2008

Classic party scenes (4): Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Prompted by a post at the excellent Pop Feminist, it's time to consider one of the great fictional nightclubs - The Bronze in Sunnydale, California - home to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the rest of her friends in the scooby gang. Buffy obsessives - and there's a lot of us out there - have noted that no fewer than 66 of the 144 episodes of the TV programme feature at least one scene in The Bronze. Considering the number of vampire-related fatalities in or near the club, it's amazing the parents of Sunnydale let their kids go there. Still they did at least have the chosen one watching over them. It was a club with pool tables, a stage where various hopeful West Coast bands gained global TV exposure, and a balcony from where brooding and morally ambiguous creatures of the night could survey the dancefloor.

Sadly The Bronze, like the TV series, is no more - it was destroyed along with the rest of Sunnydale in the final episode. I can't believe that its five years since the demise of the best thing ever to be on TV. Here's something I wrote about it at the time:

It's the end of the world as we know it: the last days of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

The last ever episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (2003) might have made me sad but it did not disappoint. Instead it demonstrated why over its seven year arc the programme remained the most interesting thing on television.

Buffy represented a conscious effort to create a female superhero(ine), but it was much more subversive than 'Wonderwoman' with better clothes and a sense of humour. The classic male superheroes have tended to be brooding loners wrestling with their isolation and their egos. The cult of the superman, whether in its Nietzche or Clark Kent form, has always had a fascistic side - the ubermensch flying high above the powerless masses.

Buffy may have been 'the chosen one' with unique abilities, but she always fought as part of a closely knit affinity group to which all members made their own particular contribution: wisdom and experience (Giles); a good heart and personal integrity (Xander); kick-ass lesbian witchiness (Willow).

In the final, seventh series, the tension between Buffy as 'chosen one' and the rest reached crisis point as the core gang was joined by a small army of potential slayers from across the world. At one point they mutinied against her orders before the contradiction was brilliantly resolved in the final episode by Buffy relinquishing her uniqueness, declaring: "In every generation, one slayer is born... because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule... So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power". In doing so she empowered all the potential vampire slayers, and by implication young women in general: "From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power will have the power".

Buffy and her pals referred to themselves as the Scooby Gang in self-mocking homage to the 70s cartoon strip. But in Scooby Doo the ending is always the same - once the kids have unmasked the villain they hand him over to the cops and the normal social order is restored. In the Buffyverse the state offered no such protection - police, priests and politicians tended to be either stupid or actively in collusion with demonic forces.

In the final series it was business as usual. The preacher who picked up the girl fleeing from her pursuers turned out to be the most evil of all, while the potential slayers had to beat up a group of cops intent on killing Faith (slayer no.2).

Marx wrote that "Capital is dead labour, which, vampire like, lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks." Buffy might not have been this explicit, but it hinted at it in episodes such as 'Anne' where Buffy runs away from home and finds work as a waitress in a diner. While experiencing the delights of casualised wage slavery she discovers that young homeless people are disappearing, seduced by religious missionaries offering a promise of help. When they reappear they have aged overnight into dying, decrepit old people. Buffy soon finds out the secret: an underground sweatshop run by demons where people are worked until they are exhausted. Naturally Buffy leads a slave revolt.

In the final scene of the last episode, schools, shops and the whole town were consigned to the hellmouth of history, as Sunnydale was swallowed up by the earth. Xander declared: "All those shops gone. The Gap, Starbucks, Toys 'R' Us. Who will remember all those landmarks unless we tell the world about them?". The end of the world as they knew it - but smiling they stood to face a better one.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Wow. Love this. The horror genre in general successfully critiques capitalism within the framework of mass media. Carol J. Clover's "Men, Wen and Chain Saws" is a great read on the subject. You can read a few excerpts here:

Feminist film theorist Tanya Modelski also writes, that Texas chainsaw massacre, “embodying a critique of capitalism, since the film shows the horror both of people quite literally living off other people and the institution of the family, since it implies that the monster is the family”.

Buffy carves out a unique space for itself as not only a horror marketed to girls (!!!), but a comedy, romance and drama therein. You were right on to quote Marx's vampire analogy. Buffy, though a television program that in theory reinforces the regime of hegemony, is in fact a more complicated rejection of structures of patriarchal/capitalist power-- be it the school, the church, the university, the job, or the prophesy of "the watchers" (ha! talk about a masculinist concept) in the name of self-determination. Many pivotal moments in the quest for our heroes' agency took place in the cavernous Bronze, both on the dance floor and in the shadows.

All this is making me nostalgic...can't someone recreate that magic?