Some Questions for Buffy, or What Dad Needs to Know in order to Watch TV
When watching Xena, Warrior Princess I used to ask my children questions like: "What are Mary and Joseph doing in a show that is about Ancient Greek mythology?" "How can Xena be in the Trojan War and then go on to fight Julius Caesar, when Caesar lived at least a millenium after the Homeric conflict?" and "When 10 soldiers attack Xena, why do they all line up to fight her one by one rather than all together?" My children always had the same answer: "Shuddup!" The more I watched the more I came to find that the show made the most sense when I accepted that simple answer as definitive.
But now I am watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a much more realistic program. While Xena was about myth and legend, Buffy is about kids in high school and college, 1996-present. While Xena roams all over the ancient map, Buffy stays at all times pretty close to suburban Sunnydale, California. Yeah, I know, there are vampires, but the creatures of the night, as any one who has read Bram Stoker’s Dracula knows, are a well-understood phenomenon. So I think the following questions, which have arisen through a careful study of many episodes, deserve careful consideration and thoughtful answers.
1. Why do the characters not suffer more from post-traumatic stress? After what they have been through they should all be basket cases. Buffy has been dead a number of times. Many of her friends and acquaintances have been transformed into werewolves, hyenas, rats, etc., experiences which for most of us would be considered rather stressful, and a great challenge to our sense of self. Under these spells they behave abominably. When they are restored, sometimes without the grace of amnesia, they go about their business as if very little had happened.
Furthermore, the slayer and the "slayerettes" have all had to fight for their lives regularly. Their opponents are generally hideous and revolting in aspect, and gruesome in their very nature. The Buffy characters live in daily expectation of an outpouring of Armageddon. Buffy and her friends save the world—a lot. There is tremendous responsibility upon their shoulders. And they don’t save everybody with their heroics. Much blood gets spilled. So many of their teachers, classmates, and neighbours end up dead. The corpses are generally quite revolting.
2. Where are the police and other normal authority figures? These are rarely seen, even after Buffy and her friends and foes have committed much mayhem, leaving Sunnydale littered with broken glass, corpses, and smoking ruins. And what about the law, lawyers, and the legal system? In the non-Buffy world, once you do anything mildly negligent such as fail to chip the ice off your walk and someone slips and falls, the legal system gets its claws on you and never lets go. In most episodes of Buffy, including those with high body counts, there are no police in sight, no grieving relatives, and no prosecuting or suing lawyers. There are no ambulances, and no ambulance chasers. In those few instances when Buffy gets arrested, charges are quietly dropped. Yet Buffy has a record and a reputation of being violent. She is reproached with this, but not as you would expect, filled with thorazine and locked away.
3. Why does no one use the high school library? Buffy and her friends, with their mentor Rupert "Ripper" Giles, use it as a private clubhouse, in and out of school hours. There is never any fear that anyone outside of the select vampire and demon-slaying clique will ever interrupt the secret cabal in order to look for, much less check out, a book. Follow-up question: Why are the shelf units so easily toppled over? So many people are crushed under loaded bookcases in Buffy that one wonders whether Giles should look into a new arrangement. Possibly shelves built into the walls? Hey, did you notice that most of the books are stored in an area up a few steps? Someone ought to check the Sunnydale High School library out for ADA compliance. Another followup: why are so many school books how-to manuals about the supernatural?
4. Doesn’t Giles behave in a very unprofessional manner for a librarian? I know he is as innocent as the driven snow—that’s why they call him Ripper?—but there must be some, other teachers perhaps who wonder why he is so attached to a small group of high school girls.
5. Why does anyone live in Sunnydale? At the very least that creepy subconscious feeling—caused by neighbors disappearing, nearby buildings being trashed, and holes to demon-hell dimensions gaping open—would get people to think of moving away.
6. Why doesn’t anyone get concerned about the high mortality rate? Why are the vampires, who cause so much of the death, largely ignored? Followup: Don’t the people who manage the cemetaries wonder why so many graves get opened again so soon after the committals?
7. Why are there so many watchers and so few slayers? More than once they claim that there can be no more than one slayer at a time. Although a few others show up, this is explained as a mistake—Buffy dies temporarily causing the universe to generate a new one. There are never more than two at a time on the show. Yet there seems to be a whole professional group of watchers, and they hold conventions. Giles is often accused of being a bad watcher, but what standards are they holding him up to?
8. How do they actually kill the vampires? The pointy sticks they use seem insufficiently strong and sharp to cut through the vampires’ clothes, much less to penetrate their flesh into their hearts. Once, Willow kills a vampire with a pencil. She must have used a 3h lead or harder. Followup thought: It seems to me that Buffy and company are uncannily lucky in finding the vampire’s heart almost every time. And why do they need to beat up the vampires before staking them?
9. How can vampires Angel and Spike stroll around so much during the day? Why can’t other vampires just pull their jackets over their heads to walk in the noonday sun? How does Spike avoid accidents driving around in the daytime with the windows covered up?
10. Why does so little of what happens in Sunnydale leak out into the outside world? Is it really connected to the outside world? In one episode the rest of the world learns that everyone in Sunnydale has laryngitis and the town gets sealed off by quarantine. But the outside never got too excited when the mayor turned into a giant snake at the high school graduation. There had to be parents at this event; more than a few must have captured the irregular procedings on videotape. CNN and MSNBC ought to send reporters there. Christiane Amanpour and Ashleigh Banfield are wasting their time in Afghanistan.
11. Who pays for all the damage? Are the people in Sunnydale insured? Do they pay higher rates? Who insures Buffy’s house? How can Mrs. Summers afford it?
12. Are property values lower in Sunnydale? Maybe that’s why they all live there.
13. Do people know that they are living on the Hellmouth, or don’t they? They seem to disregard the mayhem most of the time. Every once in a while, often under stress, they admit what a strange place they are inhabiting. That, however, does not motivate them to do anything about it. When things calm down they forget very quickly.
Perhaps I should, too.