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Giles and the "Wild Woman"
WCH
norwie2010
Giles and the „Wild Woman“

Preface 1: No fic, sorry. These are some meta-y thoughts about Giles, his role on the TV show and his relationship with different women. It is a bit incoherent, jumping from point to point and not restricted to Giles-thoughts. The Master, Wesley, Angel/us, Caleb, Snyder, … all make a short appearance. Oh, and the women, of course: Buffy, Jenny, Faith, Willow





Preface 2: Instead of getting riled up on comics!Buffy, i thought a bit about gender roles in BtVS (the TV show). You know – stuff i love, instead of stuff i despise.



So,to begin with, i state the obvious, just as a remainder. BtVS is a show about women, mostly and how they relate to the world and the overwhelming presence of men in that world – men who rule that world. As i'm sure everybody is aware of, the roles of women in literature are quite a bit more limited than the roles for men – this is especially true for movies and TV shows.

In the beginning, there was man. And then the whore and the virgin. As times went by, a limited scope of other archetypes cropped up, like the femme fatale, the flapper, and then, unfortunately, Maryln Monroe. Now, don't get me wrong – Marylin Monroe is a tragic hero of the real world. Abused, mistreated, cheated on and ultimately destroyed by the surrounding society and work place.

I mention Marylin Monroe since the characters she played exemplify the the break between „the cult of woman“ and the cult of misogyny in pop culture. From sexy to sex bomb. From subject to object. Without the male gaze, Marylin Monroe is nonexistent.  The opposite of her is the „wild woman“, who exists completely without the male gaze – or even male interference or interaction. The „wild woman“ reaches back into time and myth, albeit her male counterpart is more well known, think Enkidu of the Gilgamesh epos, who is untouched by civilization (until he meets Gilgamesh and – consequently – dies). Modern incarnations of the „wild woman“ include „Tank Girl“ (the comics! NOT the movie – blech!), or, in the subject of matter at hand: Faith. Glory.  Willow (fully realized as „Dark Willow“). And, maybe, Buffy. These women (let's exclude Buffy for a moment here) are fully realized without male interference, male guidance or male sexuality.


("Wild Woman with Unicorn", painter unknown, ca. 1500, now Historical Museum Basel, Switzerland)

They are confident, self-reliant, powerful and own their own sexuality. And ultimately brought down by men or their female helpers. Their self-reliance, confidence and power and sexuality is depicted as something to be feared and controlled. To achieve this and lure the audience into conspiracy with the author, the show implements several devices and depicts their strengths in certain ways:

Self-reliance becomes selfish egocentrism, confidence becomes mental illness and psychosis and power becomes a source for and of destruction. Their sexuality becomes a danger to themselves and others.

These are „tricks“ to get the audience to root for the destruction, or at least the taming, of those „wild women“.

Now, when does Norwie start up with Giles? Wasn't this supposed to be about Giles?

So: Giles. Giles role in this play is that of a „tamer“ of the „wild woman“ - sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn't and in the end he is conflicted about his own role in the play, which makes him a very sympathetic character in my book and the reason why i tackle this subject with Giles in mind.
Now, first we have to differentiate between the „tamer“ and the „destroyer“. The „tamer“ became necessary when women got more powerful and self-reliant in pop culture. Think flapper comedies of the 20s.Katherine Hepburn. Oh heck! Go back to good old misogynist Shakespeare: „The Taming of the Shrew“!

Unfortunately for women, there are some of them who are deemed unworthy of taming, and, consequently, have to be destroyed. Think about all the femme fatales of the cinema who end up murdered. Being a woman in pop culture ain't easy folks! Enslaved or murdered, men don't do it otherwise!

There is a whole host of famous destroyers in BtVS:

The Master, Angelus, Caleb. The Master and Angelus cross the border between tamer and destroyer quite fluently, depending on the woman in question and their own outlook on society (The Master tames Darla and tries to destroy Buffy. Angel tames Faith and tries to do the same to Buffy earlier, as well as he tries to destroy Buffy once he becomes fully realized as „Angelus“).

There are also a lot of tamers on the show, who don't cross the border: Snyder, Wesley, Xander. Out of these, only Xander succeeds with Dark Willow – but that scene can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, so i call him an unsuccessful tamer, too (like the other two).

(I left out Spike – not because he doesn't belong here, but because his story is more complicated, since he questions his own role at the end of season 6 and revolutionizes himself to not partake in one of the roles anymore, to become subservient to the female narrative.)

Out of all these male characters, i think Giles is the most interesting, because he IS „The Tamer“ (capital T).

Now, why does the „wild woman“ needs taming? To make her pliant to the male power and world view, to make her a companion to the male ruler, a servant to the male desire. Men, it seems, fear independent women, but suspect that women are individuals, too. Thus the trope of the tamed women is born, and repeated ad nauseam in literature and pop culture. They know that there are „wild women“ out there and turn them into unlikeable villains, or (self-)tamed companions („Valeria“ of Conan the Barbarian fame).

But the free and wild, independent, powerful female is nearly non-existent in pop culture. Whenever such a woman enters a male mind (or play), she has to be the villain or she has to be tamed, to wield to the male desire and power.

This is very apparent in the relationship between Giles and Buffy. Buffy has power, Giles tames her and uses that power for how he sees fit. Buffy is an interesting character in that respect, as it is hinted at that Buffy could be a „wild woman“, too. It is teased in her rebellious streak, but is more „flapper“ than „wild woman“: She is halfway self-tamed by having internalized patriarchal structures. Nonetheless, her narrative is often depicted as the fight against her tamers, destroyers and her internalized self-taming. (Just to pre-empt the happy ending: Buffy runs wild and free at the end of her seven seasons long arc! Yay! Buffy!) Along the road, she meets the temptation of the „wild woman“ in form of Angel, Faith and Spike. Angel is introduced as the temptation, changes into the destroyer and leaves the show as an unsuccessful tamer (but fear not, dear reader: whereas he failed in taming Buffy, he is allowed to succeed with „wild woman Faith“. Poor Faith!). Her adversaries in the form of tamers are Snyder (who obviously fails on a spectacular level), Xander (who equally fails, and becomes content with his failure), Angel (who only succeeds in breaking her heart), Wesley (see: Snyder), The CoW represented by Travers (who is openly rebuked) and, first and last, Giles. And, Giles succeeds for a while, he implants his ideas very successfully into Buffy so that – when confronted with the reality of her inner „wild woman“ represented by Faith, she becomes the destroyer herself, destroying the „wild woman“ in the name of her male superiors. (Tangent: I personally consider Buffy's betrayal of Faith – on the meta level, in-story-wise, there are a lot of „good“ reasons for her to stand against Faith in the end, and please remember what i said about „tricking the audience“ above! - as her gravest misstep on her way to become a self-reliant, independent, powerful woman owning her own sexuality apart from male desire, male guidance, male gaze, male power and male sexuality. Since i'm on a tangent here anyways, i want to reference the blackout scene between Buffy and Spike at the end of season 7: Shrouded from male gaze! Yay!)

So, Giles. What? Of course this is about him! (Just kidding.)

I just love the interaction between „conflicted woman“ Jenny Calendar, and Giles. She is – like Buffy - on the verge of breaking out of her inner tamed status: She tries to escape the patriarchal system of her clan, she is self-reliant, independent, powerful in knowledge (a teacher! Information Technology!) and mystic power (Witchcraft!). While her sexuality is centered around Giles, the tamer – she is the one who initiates the contact, expresses her desire. She is not a fully formed „wild woman“, as she still answers to Enyos and Snyder (as representatives of the patriarchal order) and – sadly - ultimately ends as a typical dead woman in pop culture. But, she is enough of a self-informed person, has enough of a wild streak in her to seriously rattle Giles, as well as being a dangerous opponent to Angelus, who therefore decides to destroy her (a femme fatale, a villain in his eyes). We don't know if Giles would have tried to tame Jenny, as she unfortunately dies before they make any meaningful headway in their relationship in that regard. But i think what we see here is a crack in Giles' armour: Before Jenny, we have seen Giles as the typical tamer, the representative of the patriarchal order, trying (and succeeding) to break up the matriarchal home of Buffy Summers (by excluding her mother from Buffy's life on purpose). Giles is the male stand-in for the male need to control female power, female individuality and self-actualization. Jenny Calendar rattles Rupert Giles – and instead of being revolted, he is intrigued! This woman, who is maybe not everything he stands against, but at least a good chunk of it, gets under his skin. We see that Giles is maybe not entirely comfortable with his role, or at least he is curious, seriously curious about The Other, the female not as a means to his ends, but to understand and form a companionship on a level of equality.

Alas, it is not meant to be. And so Giles stumbles through this play, and his challenges as the tamer. And Buffy is difficult to control, to tame. He hasn't got the time and will and capability to tame the other wild streaks in other women, namely Willow and Faith. He looks away: Someone else should tame these women! He's doing as best as he can in the way patriarchy asks him to do! With Willow, i think he is blind to see that the male narrative asks (him) to tame her, because Willow is a master deceiver. With Faith, he is willfully blind, maybe because he sees her as too far gone to be tamed, but since he isn't a destroyer, nor wants he to be a destroyer, he neglects his male role in the subjugation of women (and thanks for that!).

Once Buffy becomes more self-reliant after high school, he starts to flounder. Was he successful, can he be successful in the taming of the shrew? He thinks he wasn't, and he thinks he cannot control Buffy. But fear not, dear Giles! You were very successful! Buffy totally internalized her own taming. Your work is done here, tamer! But still, Giles doubts (himself). And he tries to change his role: From tamer to tutor, to guide. Of course, these roles are intertwined and we see Giles going back and forth between these roles, unsure of what to do, unwilling to be a tamer again, but also not able to fully embrace his new role without relying on the former role. He was never a tutor before, just a tamer. He doesn't know how to relate to women on a level of equality. On we go to the two seasons, when his inner conflict breaks out fully, when both his best sides, as well as his worst, become fully realized: Season 6 and 7. In season 6, at last he is willing to let Buffy go, to be whatever she wants to be, even a feared „wild woman“, if she desires so. He leaves Buffy to her own devices, he doesn't try to control her anymore. Go! Giles! I knew there was a human being behind that role! Of course, the tragedy here is that Buffy wants a tutor, after her resurrection. And Giles, not knowing how to be a tutor – all he ever was, he has learned to be was  tamer – cannot respond to her call. In the end though, he makes the right call. Since he only knows how to be a tamer, but since he doesn't want to be that anymore, he rather withdraws than staying the oppressor.

For Buffy, this is a cast of fortune. Depressed, desperate and nearly broken she now has the chance to become, to free herself of her chains and run wild! And she tries. Oh how does she try. She goes to the one creature she knows who has no restraints (apart from some tiny clockwork orange problem...). Who seems to be free (Haha! as if!). And Spike is eager to please: He wants Buffy to become a „wild woman“, without (moral) constraints, full of power, confidence and sexuality. Well, he nearly wants that... deep down, of course, he hopes to be able – maybe not to control Buffy – but to steer her, participate in her sexuality, her power. And of course, he is an amoral ass. So, Buffy's first steps onto the road to freedom are difficult. She has her own deep problems, and her chosen companion has a whole set of other deep problems. But, this phase does something wonderful for Buffy: She discovers her inner „wild woman“, something the show describes as „inner darkness“ (and again, gentle reader, i want you to remember what i said about „tricking the audience“ in this play). She becomes Faith and anticipates Dark Willow, so to speak. She's torn between her internalized taming and the things her companion offers. This inner conflict cannot turn out well. Since the show is eager to describe „wild women“ as insane and dangerous, it cannot allow Buffy to break free in this manner. But, Buffy lucks out again: Her companion gets that he is not a fit companion to a „wild woman“ - he is a controlling, needy freak! The miracle that is the diversity of male roles in pop culture strikes again: Spike revolutionizes himself! He transforms himself from destroyer and tamer to supporter. (Well, he goes through that tiny phase of insanity, of course, and needs rescuing on a really grand scale....)

But back to Giles. A shitstorm is brewing, Buffy is trying and there is another „wild woman“ on the loose back in sweet old Sunnyhell: Willow Rosenberg, self-reliant, knowing, owning her sexuality apart from male control and desire, POWERFUL. Willow wants to change the world – and conflicted or not, Giles cannot let this happen! Those women! The world will be destroyed when they try to come into their own! One mustn't allow women independence and power (and just think of  the sexuality – it is unnatural, it is!).

So, The Tamer comes back with a vengeance!  Fortunately – powerful entrances not withstanding – the Tamer actually doesn't succeed fully. While he is able to implant a doubt in the mind of the „wild woman“, he is unable to tame her (that role falls to Xander, of all male characters! Ick!).

And so „wild woman“ Willow is tamed, and brought back into the benevolent hands of patriarchy (or not – but that is a tale for another time).

Where does Giles stand now? Last we've seen him, he tried to give up on his role as the tamer. But now, the narrative asked him to don that mask again. This is rather unfortunate for Giles, since all the progress he made is undone. While he acknowledges that he cannot be the tamer of Buffy anymore, he is further away from being a tutor than ever. And thus comes season 7 and the last act of this play and his role.

Giles tries to be supportive of Buffy, he tells her she is the one who counts, that she has to make her own decisions and shape this world in her image. But, deep down, he cannot trust her: Those women! Better not left to their own devices. He has one last lesson to learn, and he cannot learn this by himself (the history always happens behind the backs of the people involved in it). Buffy, in her generous way, teaches him this last lesson: „No, i think you've taught me everything I need to know“. He either can fall back on his role of tamer, maybe in the more defined role of the manipulator – or he can accept this, Buffy doesn't need a tamer nor a tutor. He chooses the latter, and good for him! Giles ends the play as a human being, instead of a misogynistic jerk.

Buffy is finally free, she has taken the necessary steps to become – a „wild woman“. She has defeated everyone who tried to destroy her and tame her, the destroyers and tamers she thought of as her allies (-> internalized self-taming) have finally reformed and accepted that she is free (and i want to take this moment to remind everyone of Spike, who gave up his own narrative so that Buffy's narrative can continue. The male narrative vanishes, the female narrative stands and goes on. Go! Spike! Err, well. He's not going anywhere, actually).

I have so many more thoughts on the “wild women” of the show, how they are depicted, where the show falls victim to misogynistic clichés in storytelling, where it succeeds in telling a wonderfully different narrative: Faith, Glory, Willow. The best and the worst moments of the show.

But that's for another day.




  • 1
First things first: When i said this would be a story about Giles – i was kidding! I even wrote so much. I thought you of all people would get it. :-P

What i'm writing about is our world, our reality, the human condition: The stories our so-called cultural industry tells us about women, and how men relate to them (and vice versa).

So, the writers writing this play as Willow trying to destroy the world – they unmask themselves. The don't have the courage to tell a story about „wild women“ - they fear the „wild woman“ the same as Travers.

When Willow becomes, realizes herself as „Dark Willow“:

Dark Willow becomes the „negation of the negation“ (→ Adorno), she utterly and completely rejects the patriarchal narrative, she tries to undo what the patriarchy and the male narrative did: She tries to set the key free. And really, the key to all the dams breaking, realities bleeding into each other, creating new and wild worlds* is the Innocent, constructed by the patriarchal order (monks!) to keep the „wild woman“, the femme fatale (Glory) in check. This is a rather thinly veiled virgin – whore dichotomy, the male narrative invents the virgin, to keep the „wild woman“ at bay.

Dark Willow tries to raise the temples of the old goddess, female power incarnate: OF COURSE this will destroy the patriarchal world! OF COURSE it will destroy the male narrative! OF COURSE it will destroy the patriarchal world of the storyteller!

I don't think Willow is trying to kill herself: She's trying to change the world. Yes, i agree that she doesn't know how to live in the patriarchal world which leaves her no attractive options – but she actually has power! Only when Giles plants doubts into her mind, Willow thinks the world should die - and here i actually agree with you: Willow, confronted with the male narrative of Giles -WHO STOLE IT FROM THE COVEN OF WISE WOMEN (ah! Such rich soil here...) thinks there is no place for her in the world, and sees suicide as the only option.

* i would laugh my ass off if it weren't so tragic: The story of Glory, who breaks all the dams is fascistic psyche 101 (go forth and read Theweleit's doctorate thesis! „Male Fantasies“! Best book on – fascist - male psyche ever!). The fear of the female flood, menstruation, female ejaculation, breast milk, all the juices flowing – men fear that stuff. They need armor against it. Steel. (Troll) hammers! Robots! Construction vehicles! I mean – Dawn bleeding on the tower, to open the doors: She's becoming a woman! Of course the patriarchal order cannot have any of that.


Well, I knew you were talking about our world -- but that doesn't mean I can't disagree with you about what the stories are. :)

OK, so first of all, Willow, in rejecting the male cultural narrative, still embraces it to some degree. She is playful with it, of course, and wants to use the tools of men against men: the bullet is turned against Warren, the male fantasy/fear of the absolute powerful woman and magic is used against Jonathan and Andrew. She uses it all against her oppressors, and she is rage, and she is revenge. BUT, she is also hatred of herself. Warren is Willow. He is misogynistic, and we can read Willow as being internalized misogyny, but Willow *is* killing herself when she kills Warren, and that is what is required in order to free herself afterward. But it begins with the suicide, the harsh burning off of the view of herself that she hates. And that view includes things that Willow has done *to* other women -- to Tara, especially.

The thing is, as playful as Willow is, her understanding of power is heavily, heavily influenced by a destructive, rather than generative, conception of power. And that is basically the same type of power as Warren. She can turn the tables on Warren. But what actually distinguishes her from him?

You argue that the writers unmask themselves. Possibly. I can understand that interpretation. But mine is that as brilliant as Willow is, she only knows what she has been taught. And the universe does conspire against her: the resurrection spell is Willow's attempt to be GENERATIVE, rather than destructive, to bring life rather than death, and that fails entirely. The reason that fails, it could be argued, is that Willow is an Affront to nature, that this narrative does not permit strong women to shake up the boundaries of narrative. But I think it's simpler: the storyworld, which is still ultimately patriarchal, represents OUR WORLD, which does not allow strong women to shake up the boundary of the narrative. This distinction is crucial. I don't think that the issue is that the writers are afraid of strong women -- or, whether they are or not, I'm not even sure is relevant. (Don't quote me on that.) I think that the writers know that in *this* world, there are consequences to transgressions against what is perceived as natural order. It is why an imposing MALE demon reaffirms to Willow that she cannot resurrect Tara; it is why MALE demon bikers interrupt the resurrection spell. Willow and Buffy pay the price for her "transgression," but it's not about fairness, it's about the way the world just is.

Willow sees herself in Jonathan and Andrew. She sees herself in Dawn. She wants to kill them because she wants herself to be set free of life. She wants to kill Buffy to undo her "mistake" of resurrecting her. She wants to kill Giles to punish him. But mainly I think she wants to destroy everything. You may be right that killing herself is not what is primarily on her mind. But I don't think Willow can even begin to imagine anything other than destruction at this moment.

In narrative purposes, though, this moment is Willow's nadir; she is climbing her way back up. In Chosen, she is generative. Everything that she uses right now for destruction -- which is still, despite her playfulness, patterned after, and running along side, Warren-type behaviour -- is used in that moment to change the world for the better, to give women access to the power that she fought so hard for without the crippling guilt and insecurity that she had to face along the way.

Season six and seven inform each other. Willow goes dark in season six because she literally cannot imagine the power going any other way. But she DOES find another way to use the power. Really and truly. The fact that her first instinct is to use the power badly is BECAUSE she has been trained in-universe that there IS no proper way to use the power -- and that training exactly mirrors the way the world operates. The writers' primary assumption is that the models the characters have to follow are *the same* models that exist in this world, and, since they primarily know their own craft, the models that exist for storytelling.

Well, i actually agree with all of that. It is what's so fantastic about BtVS - whenever you peel off a layer, there's another one beneath. :)

But I don't think Willow can even begin to imagine anything other than destruction at this moment.

Especially this. While i twisted the words a bit to make Willow's actions seem more, hm, just and "good" (yes, i'm mean and devious like that ;-)) - i actually think that "the negation of the negation" is fighting Warren with Warren, so to speak. Willow, without Giles interference, would probably not destroy the whole world - but she would flex her muscles, try that power. It is reasonable to assume that this wouldn't be very pretty. Possibly lots of destruction and death.

Yay! Of course, I'm sure you can peel another layer back and reveal why what I said shows the writers' failure even more deeply, but, you know. I prefer to be optimistic. :)

I think Dark Willow has to be understood in part in the context of Tara, too. Because Tara is, in some respects, the 'feminine' idealized. She is warm, caring, mothering, self-sacrificing, quiet, meek, etc. etc. She is what Willow believes Willow should be, and she hates the part of her that is more like, well, Warren. Tara really *is* wonderful, but I think that there is an element of...I think that Tara doesn't quite accept the part of Willow that seeks out power. Tara, coming from her family, learned that this is not something women do. And of course, Willow actually is amoral and has to build an ethical framework from the ground up, whereas Tara is highly moral. The thing that emerges is the thing that is kept hidden from Tara, and so cannot be fully positive. Of course -- the writers could have told a different story, but she does end the series in a place where she doesn't need external validation, and can be both power and caring, destructive & generative, crunchy and smooth -- wait, that's peanut butter. :D

Season six, of course, brings characters to their (near-) absolute worst, before revealing in season seven -- aha! these changes were ultimately good for the characters, after all.

A thought: Willow's actions at the end of s6 cross a form of metaphysical Godzilla Threshold. If the story is kyriarchal order vs chaos, then anything that disrupts the order is a solution. It may not be a constructive solution, but that doesn't mean it isn't one. If the world itself is oppressive, existence within a (metafictional) narrative focusing on new ways to destroy you, then nothing remains but to destroy that narrative - and this is the finale in which "Life is the big bad" and there's (supposedly) no more metaphor. Fine: so destroy life, and have the sole remaining metaphor - the mere fact that this is still a story - be the thing that must be overcome. When high school was hell, they had to end by blowing it up. At the start of s6, Buffy looks out at the world and declares it hell. So...

Edited at 2012-01-17 11:12 pm (UTC)

ITA. Though....

The difference, of course, being that there were no people in the high school when they blew it up! OK, so there are no PEOPLE in the storyworld either -- there are just characters. So in a sense, I think that Willow is actually *right* in a certain unassailable way, and no argument is really convincing. If the world is hell, then destroy it! But Xander's counterargument is, "Well, I love you anyway!" which isn't an argument, but makes the world bearable enough to give it a try another day. Season six ends with the affirmation that maybe existence is better than non-existence, even if problems can't be solved, and I am pretty fine with that. I'm not entirely sure I'd blame Willow for choosing the other path, either.

Yup. Meant to ETA this just before you replied:

If the story ITSELF is the tamer, and if Willow is aware of this (this is the season where we get "Normal Again", where we get "Dawn's in trouble, must be Tuesday", where Anya comments on there only being three walls in their apartment, where writers appear on-screen several times, where Dark!Willow explicitly comments on what the character of Willow would do (and pretty much calls her tamed)), then it follows that she can only be free by breaking the story.

And if we add another level of metafiction, though I'm not entirely sure this one works - almost all heroes' tales, at least from the last 2,500 years or so, rotate around self-sacrifice and catharsis. Willow explicitly rejects that. She breaks not only the Buffy story, she breaks (or tries to) the very purpose of the story is supposed to do (the Slayer cannot stop her). In a sense, though as a BtVS fan I'm glad she could come back from it, I'm a little disappointed that she did - but there's only so much deconstruction you can do within (!) this type of story, I guess.

And if we add another level of metafiction, though I'm not entirely sure this one works - almost all heroes' tales, at least from the last 2,500 years or so, rotate around self-sacrifice and catharsis. Willow explicitly rejects that. She breaks not only the Buffy story, she breaks (or tries to) the very purpose of the story is supposed to do (the Slayer cannot stop her). In a sense, though as a BtVS fan I'm glad she could come back from it, I'm a little disappointed that she did - but there's only so much deconstruction you can do within (!) this type of story, I guess.

Yeah, I mean, I'm not quite sure what I want to have happened. With BtVS, and this is perhaps intellectually bankrupt, but I go with it anyway, I sometimes just decide that the story I like best is the one that happened, so that I save myself sleepless nights. So, there's a lot of story breaking going on. Because Buffy is not only sidelined- but super-sidelined in the finale. (Post-s6, I jokingly think of Buffy Xander and Willow as rock, paper and scissors: Buffy beats Xander, who beats Willow, who beats Buffy....) In keeping with the deconstruction, Willow is stopped by purely non-supernatural means by Xander, once she's started her destructorama. At any rate, I think that to get to Chosen, it's important that Willow basically unseats Buffy as the show's essential protagonist for a few episodes. And you know, she *does* succeed, in that the slayer cannot stop her, and Buffy doesn't. And the fact that Buffy doesn't stop her is I think what sets Buffy free from her constraints of being, you know, the one who has to stop everything.

So: does Xander tame Willow (or allow the narrative to tame her)? And if so, why should we be cheering? I think for me, I identify with Willow's destructive impulses and so recognize that it's good for her to be "tamed"; like Oz being caged on full moon nights (he's probably our most obvious "wild man", a few nights a week), it's better for him and for all of us if he controls himself a bit. But you know, we're all men in this particular subthread, so maybe my (our) identification is not a sufficient explanation. Think think think.

Yeah. Briefly, I guess the problem - and my problem with this reading of the story, as brilliant as it is, so I'm using the word "problem" very loosely - is that in order for us to care about the story in the first place, the characters must be more than mere representations of one of two sides. Ie: how do you write a story that breaks the very story it tells, while still telling it (and not alienating or boring the audience)? Especially if you're postmodern enough to think that the story exists in the reading (or in this case viewing) of it rather than as an immutable object.

But that's a slightly different question, I guess (not to mention a massively analytical lot-of-filing-and-giving-things-names take on it) and it's late. Will sleep on it.

Edited at 2012-01-18 12:06 am (UTC)

I think for me, I identify with Willow's destructive impulses and so recognize that it's good for her to be "tamed";

But then, you and me are able to discuss this while sitting in the comfortable arm chair - it is not you or me who are chained down, enslaved, beaten and killed by patriarchy.

While we might shriek back from the radical solutions - we also lack a certain insight into the graveness of the situation. What beer_good said above: just because we don't like the solution, it might be a solution nonetheless.

"Dos lid geschribn is mit blut un nischt mit blej,
’s nit kejn lidl fun a fojgl ojf der fraj,
dos hot a folk tswischn falndike went
dos lid gesungen mit naganes in die hent."


(Song of the Warshaw Ghetto Uprising, Hirsh Glick, 1922-1944)

"This song is written with our blood and not with lead,
it's not a little tune that birds sing overhead.
this song a people sang amid collapsing walls.
with 'naganes' in hand they heeded he call."

The "lead" he sings about is the lead of the pencil. A story is a story - but real life is different.




ETA: of course, the line between author and character is the last wall to come down.

You know, the Osiris or whoever that demon is supposed to be in Villains feels a lot like The Author, doesn't it? "I am here to remind you of the arbitrary rules that we writers have set forth for you." Willow screams, destroys it. Since Tara's death is arguably the "price" for Buffy's resurrection, and since it doesn't actually make direct sense in-story -- why would Warren's bullet follow that trajectory -- there is a sense that SOMEONE stepped in and MADE the story such that Willow got punished good and proper. And she is not pleased.

almost all heroes' tales, at least from the last 2,500 years or so, rotate around self-sacrifice and catharsis. Willow explicitly rejects that. She breaks not only the Buffy story, she breaks (or tries to) the very purpose of the story is supposed to do (the Slayer cannot stop her). In a sense, though as a BtVS fan I'm glad she could come back from it, I'm a little disappointed that she did - but there's only so much deconstruction you can do within (!) this type of story, I guess.

I really like the direction you're taking this, but I actually go a little further. I think Willow surviving to come back from it completes the deconstruction. Because if she remains in stasis as Dark Willow, she'll die there - and on the rare occasion we get female characters who aspire to be wild women, they're almost always punished with death, or at least, rendered separate from all of us by dehumanization and othering. For Willow to come back from it more powerful than ever - powerful enough to be essential to the destruction of the enforced self-sacrifice of the Council's regime - that validates her ambition rather than reviling it.

That is a very good point.

Oh yes! Great reference to the Godzilla Threshold. Funny ways this makes images in my head: Willow is Godzilla, and patriarchy/the narrative is Japan! :D




Oh, before I forget -- hopefully you still get this notification or whatever:

Shadowkat just posted a list of 10 soap opera cliches that BtVS falls into. BtVS is a soap opera, always, but in other seasons the TV tropes that it riffs on are riffed on with a magic veneer. Mr. Wrong is a VAMPIRE, and his going evil is by LOSING HIS SOUL because of a curse; the little sister who came out of nowhere was created by monks; and so on. In season six, this veneer is not present, hence the "no more metaphor": sex is sex, attempted rape is attempted rape, failed weddings are failed weddings, etc. We all know this and have discussed it at length. And other metaphors that seemed to be more abstract suddenly become only-one-thing (temporarily): magic is...Rack's cracky magic, no more no less.

So then at the season's end, Willow says NO MORE. She first kills Warren and then tries to kill Jonathan and Andrew, our representatives of the threat of the mundane. And then she tries to build herself up with as much magic as she can possibly get. And then she tries to destroy the world, because there is nothing less mundane than an Apocalypse: the last time the show used METAPHOR in a way that actually protected the characters from the mundane was The Gift, and indeed the nearly yearly Apocalypses are part of the thing that's comforting about the regularity of storyworld which has just turned on them. Xander, who has the most experience dealing with the mundane, manages to talk her down, but with this outburst, magic and metaphor are still restored for season seven. So I mean, maybe the mere fact that the world could still be destroyed -- that this was still a story in which Apocalypses *exist*, and thus where there is at least ONE way out, even if it's one Willow stops short of, restores magic and metaphor to the universe and ends Buffy's depressed mindset.

I wonder: do the TV tropes (attempted rape, leaving-at-the-altar with revenge sex, collateral damage from bullets etc.) in this season comment on Life itself, or are these really just things that happen in TV, and the metaphor is then just that, in her depressed state (which colours the whole season), Buffy feels like her life is just a rerun, with Seeing Red and its two central controversial acts of violence (the Spike and the Warren ones, obviously) as its apotheosis. Or you know. Is this about reality intruding onto their lives, or "reality" as the rest of the media world represents?

So then at the season's end, Willow says NO MORE. She first kills Warren and then tries to kill Jonathan and Andrew, our representatives of the threat of the mundane. And then she tries to build herself up with as much magic as she can possibly get. And then she tries to destroy the world, because there is nothing less mundane than an Apocalypse: the last time the show used METAPHOR in a way that actually protected the characters from the mundane was The Gift, and indeed the nearly yearly Apocalypses are part of the thing that's comforting about the regularity of storyworld which has just turned on them. Xander, who has the most experience dealing with the mundane, manages to talk her down, but with this outburst, magic and metaphor are still restored for season seven. So I mean, maybe the mere fact that the world could still be destroyed -- that this was still a story in which Apocalypses *exist*, and thus where there is at least ONE way out, even if it's one Willow stops short of, restores magic and metaphor to the universe and ends Buffy's depressed mindset.

Maybe yes. I really like the way you put that.

Or you know. Is this about reality intruding onto their lives, or "reality" as the rest of the media world represents?

Oh, definitely; season 6 is really only mundane by supernatural standards - it's still very much a soap narrative. Which makes sense, in a way; magic in the Buffyverse is often presented as the "female" (for lack of a better descriptor) alternative to the "rational" "male" perspective - most notably at the end of s4. When Willow gets (literally, no metaphor) drunk on power in mid-s6, the "rational" alternative is to make her give up that power and treat it as an addiction, which backfires spectacularly both in s6 and for most of s7. Season 6 is "What if this is all we are? What if the clichés are all life has to offer? What if we really are just puppets to an oppressive narrative?" Season 7 is "We have it in us to be more." The magic, both Willow's and the potentials', isn't something external to them, it's something that they already have but the wielding of which is kept from them. Which is why "Chosen", IMO, for all its faults is such an obvious THE END to the story; it breaks both the central metaphor ("she alone will stand against the vampires and demons and forces of darkness") and the story itself. (Also, see pocochina's comment above.)

Oh, definitely; season 6 is really only mundane by supernatural standards - it's still very much a soap narrative. Which makes sense, in a way; magic in the Buffyverse is often presented as the "female" (for lack of a better descriptor) alternative to the "rational" "male" perspective - most notably at the end of s4. When Willow gets (literally, no metaphor) drunk on power in mid-s6, the "rational" alternative is to make her give up that power and treat it as an addiction, which backfires spectacularly both in s6 and for most of s7.

Yeah, definitely. I mean, similarly, Buffy finds that apparently all her slayer drives and her vampire issues are just...well, you know, it's just dirty sex, which depending on the day is either awe-inspiring house-smashing or dumpster-pathetic.

Season 6 is "What if this is all we are? What if the clichés are all life has to offer? What if we really are just puppets to an oppressive narrative?"

Yeah -- and not a clean narrative, either. Despite some problems, season five is very tightly structured with a clear beginning, middle and end, and it's the season where (a) God definitely exists and she's on screen. (Re: the tight plotting, I do wish that Buffy's "The monks made her out of me" line had been explicitly said by the monk back in No Place Like Home to make The Gift's ending make a little more rational sense, though maybe the point is that it makes emotional-not-rational sense.) The question is, though: is this life? I mean:

"Life's not a song
Life isn't bliss
Life is just this:
It's living."

And that is what I mentioned earlier. BtVS is a story about stories, but it is also, despite its postmodern trappings, ultimately sincere in describing what life feels like.

Season 7 is "We have it in us to be more." The magic, both Willow's and the potentials', isn't something external to them, it's something that they already have but the wielding of which is kept from them. Which is why "Chosen", IMO, for all its faults is such an obvious THE END to the story; it breaks both the central metaphor ("she alone will stand against the vampires and demons and forces of darkness") and the story itself. (Also, see [info]pocochina's comment above.)

Yeah, I agree with that (at the very least, it is A major end to the story).

* i would laugh my ass off if it weren't so tragic: The story of Glory, who breaks all the dams is fascistic psyche 101 (go forth and read Theweleit's doctorate thesis! „Male Fantasies“! Best book on – fascist - male psyche ever!). The fear of the female flood, menstruation, female ejaculation, breast milk, all the juices flowing – men fear that stuff. They need armor against it. Steel. (Troll) hammers! Robots! Construction vehicles! I mean – Dawn bleeding on the tower, to open the doors: She's becoming a woman! Of course the patriarchal order cannot have any of that.

The other read -- from Spring Summers' review of The Gift -- is that it is explicitly about childhood vs. adulthood, in particular female childhood vs. adulthood. Buffy needs to prevent her adulthood, through the proxy of Dawn: worlds being torn apart, uncontrollable sex, violence, blood everywhere. Rationality (the robots, steel etc.) are used to combat it. And she succeeds in keeping the universe neat and tidy and together for now -- but Willow (who parallels Glory) will bring Buffy back, and the tower will crumble, Dawn will continue bleeding, Buffy will have uncontrollable sex which is messy, all the walls will come down. Buffy believes she can't let the worlds come down, but she does, and Entropy comes next year.

Oh, will have to come back to that in an hour, or so. All work and no fun Norwie for the next hour. (Also: I have some more on my HD in response to some of the myriad of good points you make - later!)

OK, excellent!

(The other thing, of course, is that Glory is *exactly* what Buffy fears that she is herself -- and since Buffy has internalized quite a bit of these attitudes, and has to struggle hard to be free of them. Glory, like Angelus, is partly Buffy's image of herself projected outward.)

Ok - i have no time but quick:

When general Voll told Buffy that she was at war with humanity (and he meant the patriarchal part of it) and Buffy answered: „Oh. Kay!“ I cheered! Go Buffy! Take them on! Destroy their silly world! THAT was a true high point of season 8! YOU CAN'T HAVE A REVOLUTION WITH THE VOLUME TURNED DOWN! (And with „volume“ i don't mean rock'n'roll with Oz – i mean the icon. ;-)

I think the question is: is it possible to wage war against The Patriarchal Part of humanity without waging war against the rest of it? How much collateral damage are you willing to create? Etc. (I figure season eight didn't address these questions in a way that you'd find satisfactory. I suppose I'd agree on this point....)

So, you pose the really difficult questions! :)

I was raised and educated with a humanist background (yeah, well - some of it survived the great onslaught of barbarism 70 years ago!) and grapple with this question a lot!

What i've come to believe from studying history is - that at least the so-called western culture isn't able to have a turn over, a revolution without the Cromwells, the Robbespierres and the Stalins. That doesn't make these men(!) "good people", but maybe necessary people. And the humanist in me cries tears of sorrow at the prospect of this. Do we, as humans, have to go through bloodbaths to "become"?

I'm actually ok with season 8 not answering this question. But, i am decidedly not ok with not even raising the question and instead making Buffy's fall/betrayal about sex (well, yeah, you can argue it wasn't about sex. But then why show a whole issue of sex?!).

"We are fanning the flames of a worldwide fire;
we are going to raze churches and prisons to the ground"

("Белая армия, чёрный барон" - "white army, black baron", Pavel Grigor'ev & Samuil Pokrass 1920)

I guess you cannot raze churches and prisons without provoking opposition...

A bit more before I forget (I know you won't respond until tomorrow):

With Giles and the Coven's power, the text we are given (by Giles, of course) is that the Coven willingly imbued him with their powers. Giles thus agrees to be a conduit. So there are multiple ways we can read this:

1) Giles takes on/steals female power at Willow and uses it to subdue her -- he uses female power to manipulate, tame the female, supplying her with a male narrative -- we can add more to this, but as you can probably guess this won't be my argument;

2) Giles allows himself to become a vessel for female power and wisdom to reach Willow -- he incurs all the risks (and nearly dies to carry the message), and what he brings Willow is as feminine conception of power: connectedness, not separation. In a sense, this is the end that Glory's Apocalypse seemed to have promised: Willow feels everything, the boundaries between the different worlds collapse. But while the immediate impact is negative -- so far gone is Willow at this stage -- the long-term impact is positively. Willow can no longer reject her power, but she can use it. He supplies her with a female narrative.

Now, (2) is still not 100% positive, of course. Giles still tricks Willow; he still doesn't go to giving her power as a first option. Lots of badness. But he also gives her female wisdom and female connection. At first, because she is still caught in her own pain, and in the Warren-tinged destructive impulse, she has no idea what to do with it, and must eradicate emotion (ack! "are we going to talk about our feelings," as Warren derisively said) from herself and the world. While the temple Willow raises is of a goddess, it also is very phallic and features a snake as well: a male tower of power, etc. But she also is offered an alternative to male conception of power, for the first time since (arguably) her resurrection of Buffy seemingly went so badly.

When the narrative goes in this direction -- where men use traditionally female-coded power in some way or another (see also Spike and his "Liz Taylor necklace") -- I'm not sure how to distinguish between men supporting female power (good) and men taking on and abusing female power (bad). I think that Giles straddles the boundary here, recognizing that the Watchers Council should be done away with, and leaving himself hope that Willow can use the (huge) dose of power he gives her wisely; but also blasting her, condescending to her, and tricking her. He still has a long way to go, but I think that he is making progress here. And of course, when I say "he," I mean "the show," as Giles and the show's presentation of "the Tamer" moves toward season seven.

(I can see the argument that Giles is supplying a male narrative in that it is a male narrative that women must be empathetic, must feel things. And yet...I think that the argument is that *no one* should try to dam the feelings of the world and themselves so strongly. You know? But ultimately I think that the story in Grave CAN be read either way, partly because it is still an intermediate step for Giles and for Willow -- and Xander and Buffy and Spike and Dawn -- who still have to get to Chosen.)

I just love all of this.

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