Thursday, May 18, 2006

Geeking Out

I have a friend who has DVDs of The West Wing, and I borrowed them because I was feeling nostalgic.

They're really bad. I mean I'm really nostalgic about the characters, and I'm into the early Josh/Donna moments (my dirty secret is that I'm a total 'shipper), but the politics sucks. I don't just mean that the politics on the show sucks - because that's nothing if not realistic. But the politics of the show are awful, in particular when women are treated like shit it is portrayed as if it's romantic. And lets not even get into the nationalism, because it makes me want to throw-up.

But despite the terribleness, watching The West Wing makes me sad. I miss having a TV show to watch. I miss looking forward to Monday (or Thursday, or whatever). I miss that feeling of rightness that you get from a great episode when character and theme comes together in a way that only works if you know and love the people on the show.

It's all Joss's fault.

I keep on hearing about these shows other people watch and enjoy: House and Veronica Mars have rather large fan-bases. But every time I've watched House I just can't handle the misogyny, and the way the only female character is treated (as a weak girl). Veronica Mars doesn't have any female friends, I'd rather watch a show about men than a show about a woman without any female friends.

No Joss has set too high standards, he has shown that a show can be really good, and not offend me every second of the day. And I can no longer watch the rest of the crap.

So in honour of the greatness of Joss I've made a list of the top 5 most feminist episodes of Buffy, and just to show I've realised it wasn't all destroying phalluses and overturning stereotypes I've also listed the top 5 least feminist episodes of Buffy.

Now my defintition of feminist is actually quite specific. I believe the ideal for feminist art is to tell the truth about women's lives and then to explore the ways that women can change those situations if they work together. Now Buffy never did that all in one episode, but the episodes I list covered up those different angles pretty well.

5 Most Feminist Episodes of Buffy

5. The Witch: Now I think Buffy has a lot of problems as it comes to body image issues. But this episode manages to capture some of the relationships between mothers, daughters and food, so perfectly. The mother who takes control of her daughter's body in order to relive her youth - well it's not really a metaphor.

4. Innocence: "I designed this show to be a feminist show, not a polemic, but a straight out feminist show. The moment where she kicks him in the balls is very important, very primal" OK that's from memory - but it's Joss on the Innocence commentary. To me the feminism here is very simple, it says women's lives, and the way men treat them, are important, it says we're worth fighting for. It also says that we're strong enough to win.

3. I Was Made to Love You: It's not the only episode where the misogyny of our society is represented in robot form, but I think it's the best. It does an amazing job of showing the world-view of men who view women as objects created to please them, and it also demonstrated how much those ideas are part of our everyday culture. The end where Buffy stays with April as she her batteries wind down is really beautiful.

2. Anne: Most people really don't like this episode, and I can see why, subtlety is not it's strong point. But I really love it, and I think the reason I really love it is the strength and resonance of the politics. Buffy ran away, and has spent her time in Los Angeles losing herself - she calls herself Anne. The scene where the guy she's waitressing on hits her on the ass, and there's nothing she can do, works for me on so many levels. On the most basic level it's an experience that too many women have to put up with everyday. In terms of the story it shows how much Buffy had to loose herself in order to survive.

Then another woman comes to her for help, and she reluctantly engages with the world. This leads her to a succesful slave revolt under a hammer and sickle (this is definately the nearest Buffy came to socialist feminism). She starts by reasserting who she is: "I'm Buffy, the vampire slayer, and you are?" and reclaims her strength. She doesn't do any of this as an individual, she does it with Lily, and as they fight together, they both grow stronger.

Probably it's also true that the idea of only being able to find yourself, and fight for yourself when you're fighting for other people resonates really strongly with me (then there's the Gandhi joke, which is probably my all-time favourite Buffy joke).

1. Restless: Joss uses the dreams in this episode to comment on ideas about gender pretty consistently, which makes it one of the most interesting to analyse from a feminist perspective ("lets make a fort" "I'll get the cushions"). In commenting on gender I think the show reasserts a really important idea, which is that it's entirely consistent for women to value traditionally feminine things, and for fight for access to what has traditionally masculine.

To me, that's what Buffy's speech to the first slayer brings to mind: "I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There's trees in the desert since you moved out. And I don't sleep on a bed of bones. Now give me back my friends."

Honourary Mention: Chosen - It was really hard not including this episode in the top 5. The shot where the girl in the trailer stands up is my favourite shot of all time, and it makes me cry every time I see it (I'm kind of tearing up just thinking about). From the beginning of the episode where Buffy cuts the misogynist creep in half through his balls, to the cookie dough speech which points out that a women's destiny isn't in her boyfriend, to the sharing of the power, to the end where she gets to be happy and imagine a life with potential, most of this episode is an amazing fulfilment of everything that made this show so special for me.

But...

You can reasonably read this episode to believe that Buffy has sex with the man who tried to rape her. She then tells him he loves her, and he tells her she's wrong about her feelings, just before he heroically burns up to save the world (if only he'd actually died). Not so much with the feminism there.

5 Least Feminist episodes of Buffy

5. Reptile Boy If you go to frat parties and drink then they'll drug you and sacrifice you to their Gods. A reasonably true representation of reality, possibly. But this reality is only worth repeating if you're also making sure you say that it's not the woman's fault for 'getting into that sitaution'.

4. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered It's OK to make people be sexual with you without their consent, as long as you don't have sex with them (in fact not having sex with them makes you noble) and there are wacky hijinks.

3. Lullaby Ok I know this is actually an Angel episode, but it flew from one franchise to another powered on nothing but it's own misogyny, so I had to include it. The plot is that Darla is pregnant with Angel's child, and having a good human being inside her has stopped her from being evil. It looks like the child will not survive giving birth so Darla stakes her (evil) self in order that her (good) child can live.

I watched this episode with my friend Betsy and said "wow everyone who had anything to do with this episode must have hated women with a firey passion."

2. Some Season Seven Episode I don't know which season 7 episode Buffy started being all "I don't care that he tried to rape me, because he has a soul now", and don't care enough to find out. But here's the thing Buffy writers: if your show is to have any meaning it must have emotional resonance (and rocket launchers). I can't think of anything in the real world that would resemble the way this whole plot line was done that wouldn't be a deeply unfeminist.

1. Seeing Red I think this is one of the stronger episodes of season 6, and if every episode of Buffy that came after it disappeared from existence then I wouldn't have a problem with it. But they had a rape plot entirely for the effect it would have on the rapist. It's the sort of feminism that's not.

I'm sure I have many readers who also have opinions on feminism and Buffy - what are your best and worst?

10 comments:

  1. talking of feminism - have you seen this from naomi wolf?

    Fems Bash Hippies in Fight for Super Left!

    This gem is an article from:






    A "Moscow-based Alternative Newspaper"

    or

    "The Newspaper that makes Jesse Jackson look like Trent Lott"

    http://www.exile.ru/

    There isn't much left to say about this article that it doesn't loudly proclaim itself, especially this glaringly obvious observation: She sounds like a typical college-minded female, recruited in front of the student union building by such a throng of unshorn Ani DiFranco diciple's, it's a wonder PETA didn't show up with red paint and an anti-fur agenda. The real confusion lies in the fact that she reads like a femi-nazi but wants to shop like Barbi... wtf? Ladies, you really are as complex as Cosmo says.

    If you get past the first two paragraphs without laugh-barfing your lunch onto your keyboard, you need to cut back your medication. If you aren't actively fighting your monitor by the end of this thing, you are legally dead.

    Anti-Consumerism Equals Anti-Womanism

    By Naomi Wolf

    Women struggling to survive the Bush backlash now have to defend themselves against a new foe: the so-called anti-Globalization activists whose noisy crusade against "Consumerism" is a thinly-disguised attack on one of the few communal women-centric rituals our culture permits: shopping.

    Like fat, shopping is a feminist issue. Shopping is the one time contemporary women are allowed to indulge in the activities men take for granted: socializing, networking, negotiating and refashioning the Self. It's not about buying consumer goods, any more than the boys' fishing trips or bowling leagues are about catching fish or knocking down "pins" (and by the way, is it an accident that the bowling pins the boys so love to knock down are shaped like exaggerated female forms, with the small shoulders and wide hips male culture so desires and despises?)

    Just look at women shopping, really shopping: you'll see the depth of feeling with which they consult each other, the way conversation slips easily back and forth like the loom of a shuttle knitting Penelope's web. As men always grumble, "shopping takes a long time," and may not yield any purchases at all. It yields something else. It yields sorority, or sisterhood -- a true sorority, not restricted to the blond and wealthy. I have walked the aisles of K-Mart as well as Nieman Marcus, and found the same warm sorority in these humbler shopping sanctuaries, only in bigger styles and lower-quality stitching.

    And now a horde of bearded boys in badly-cut hemp trousers have begun smashing the display windows of the shops where American women find a few hours' refuge. Just look at the videos of "activists" attacking clothing stores and you'll see naked male aggression hiding behind clever slogans. Men throwing molotov cocktails in crude feats of strength. Men wielding clubs, smashing female images draped in clothing too subtle for them to price, let alone understand. Men in castoff Army clothes, indulging in a "Green" version of urban assault.

    And here and there, hanging back, you will see their misguided, self-hating female collaborators, doing their best to look like their male Alpha-wolf leaders in deliberately unflattering hairstyles and cast-off biker and soldier garments. The sheer unattractiveness of these victims' style is itself the best evidence for the benefits of shopping -- benefits these women have chosen to forego.

    What is clear is this: anti-Consumerism is misogyny. To hate shopping and all of its representations is to hate women.

    As women cower against the crash of glass, pitifully trying to cover their heads with the tiny shield of a Gold Card, these Green stormtroopers destroy women's last safe inner space, their cultural vulva. And as these stupid boys spread their phallocentric terror under the guise of "anti-Consumerism," right-wing rich men applaud. With every Bloomingdale's mannequin beaten, terrorized and raped by these vandals, the male purveyors of far darker, more sinister fashions -- the burqa, the veil, and the miniskirt -- look on with glee.

    In the West, these evil trendsetter moguls would see women reduced again to pinchable secretaries in short skirts designed to make all females over 15 look "old." In the Middle East, they hope to "sell" an equally cruel look: basic black. Head to toe. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

    A world where women are squeezed into Barbie minis...or swathed in black blankets...is this the world we want? Shopping is about choice. And choice is what women demand. A choice of fabric, color and career. Shopping is a human right -- a woman's right!

    And SHE grew up in Communist Russia. If you aren't sure Capitalism won the Cold War, ask this emancipated individual. Unfortunately, I don't think she's been laid since.

    Fit this woman for a burka and a poppy field, she needs a little perspective.

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  2. Have you ever watched Firefly (series that is effectively the prequel to Serenity), by Joss Wheden?

    If not I highly recommended it. I recommended it to most people, however for yourself it might help you understand the irony that is present in the so called misogyny of House. And then you'll have another program to watch.

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  3. Please don't use the term feminazi on a feminist blog, sagenz. It's incredibly offensive, not just to feminists, but to anyone who lost a loved one to the Holocaust. And a whole bunch of other people. Seriously. Plus, it's not even original. Plus, it allies you with Rush Limbaugh. Who'd want to be pals with Rush Limbaugh? Furthermore, what on earth does that article you quote have to do with the topic at hand?

    Anyway, Maia, I plead guilty to being a fan of House. I don't overlook the misogyny, but the fact is, I think there's misandry too. Misanthropy in general, I guess -- House is vile to everyone. And I have a huge crush on Hugh Laurie, as pathetic as that sounds. Anyway, I'm a total sucker for medical programmes - I'm just ghoulishly fond of blood and guts, I guess.

    I love Buffy, too. In fact, I'd say I'm dangerously addicted. I agree with you about the most and least sexist episodes, and I find it hard to get past some of the sexist stereotyping, but the beauty of Buffy was that it was one of the first TV shows made for and about teenage girls that didn't present some saccharine vision of life where all boys were heroes, etc.

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  4. sagenz I agree with Sofiya, and I'll take one step further and ask you to stop posting on my blog

    Just for the record anti-consumerism is hardly ultra-left, or even really left at all. It's a hippy/liberal substitute for left wing politics.

    My problem isn't with House the character's misogyny, it's the way they portray Cameron and his ex-wife.

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  5. Oh, yeah, well, you're correct about that. it's undeniably obnoxious. I just wish there was one totally unsexist TV show. Maybe there is one, and I just haven't discovered it yet? But then, I thought I was going to love that show with Geena Davis as the first woman president of the US, but I didn't. It annoyed the crap out of me.

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  6. I still miss Xena Warrior Princess.

    The new Battlestar Galactica's good, though not currently screening here. One of the few SF shows I've ever seen where the female characters are as numerous, varied and interesting as the male characters. There's the odd spot of obligatory silly costuming, but so did Xena. Not quite feminist, but pretty much non-sexist.

    Oh, and Naomi Wolf grew up in middle class San Francisco and last I heard is married with a kid.

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  7. I don't agree that a fantasy show has to be a direct metaphor for the real world at all times. The issue of presence or absence of a soul does not correlate with anything in the real world, but it still makes perfect sense in the context of the show, and didn't reduce the emotional resonance of season two. But if you want a real world analogy, how about forgiving someone for actions taken under the influence of a spiked drink, in a state of intoxication which they'd never willingly entered?

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  8. There are some good moments in the new Doctor Who if you can find that. I particularly like the episode that features former companion Sarah Jane. It's not perfect, but it's the first TV show in a long time that I actively look forward to.

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  9. Not sure that the Spike/Buffy relations of S.6 and S.7, or even "seeing red"can be so simplistically classified as anti-feminist. Very simplistically I think "seeing red" highlights the fact that violence in a relationship always leads to badness. It also marks the end of a sexual relationship that started with Buffy's "rape" of Spike. It is very clear in that initial sex scene that Buffy is the one who "undresses" (thanks to the prominent zipper sound) Spike and thrusts herself on him (we see the surprise on his face) . . .so, my point is, there's an amazing depth to that story arc that lends itself to feminist criticism (as in film/lit criticism, not a feminst saying "this is bad") so uh, don't just write it off. Or, you could just blame Marti Noxon.

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  10. Anonymous2:42 pm

    Considering that you named "Seeing Red" as the least feminist episode, I'm surprised that you didn't list "Gone" (in which Buffy tried to sexually assault Spike) as one of the most feminist.

    If you want to condemn Spike for trying to rape Buffy, fine. But to do that and ignore that she had tried to rape him before he had consented to have sex with her . . . I don't find that admirable and it reeks of misandry.

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