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Thread: BtVS rewatch: SEASON 6

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    I want to take this opportunity, to say thank you to American Aurora for this extraordinary review, which is not just a review for Seeing Red but for the whole series and covers so many of it’s characters, themes and motifs.

    Many thanks as well to Puck Robin for the commercial breaks :-)

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    Hello, Aurora. I’m going to add my gratitude to flow’s for your exceptionally detailed analysis, and the various elements you bring to it.

    You did touch on Angel’s Roman Catholicism and Spike’s Victorian Anglicanism. I don’t know if you are going to elaborate on these issues in your future posts. If you are, I apologise for jumping the gun.

    However, I seriously doubt I’m treading in your league even for one second if I just make a remark or two about the specifically Christian angle on what a soul is (or may be). And I should emphasise as well that, by doing this, I don’t make any claims to be a scholar. This is simply my incredibly oversimplified understanding of the complex theology involved and any errors of understanding are of course entirely my own!

    As someone who has never considered the soul issue within Buffy and its successor in anything but strictly theological terms, I’ve found your posts really enlightening. They’ve broadened my understanding of the issue in terms of Buffy.

    Also, I’m certainly not intending to preach here: I tend to feel that all aspects of this discussion inform one another and are all likely to be part of the same greater argument. So a psychological, or neurological argument about what constitutes the soul is not going to be exclusive of a theological argument. They’re all parts of reaching towards understanding. All pieces of the puzzle.

    As I see it, and notwithstanding the beliefs of the show’s creator as well as the statement of its hero that there is “nothing solid” on the existence of God, Christian imagery permeates it. In that context, I take it that the soul means the incorruptible spirit that endures past corporeal death. To discuss the soul in terms of God is to believe that the soul is our link to him, and that it forms the basis of our ability, our potential to be a better person, to be at one with God.

    I'm probably stating what is self-evident and should be embarrassed for doing so!

    Among the weapons deployed against vampires are holy water and the cross. Even the two ensouled vampires remain susceptible to their power. I’m not sure that within the show, even Giles questions why or how these weapons are so effective. The only moments I can think of where this issue is even touched on are the images of the closing scene of BY, and Jonathan’s death. I’m probably forgetting other scenes.

    I’m looking forward to the rest of your review. Thank you, again.
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    Really pleased to get back to the ep and am very much looking forward to reading the rest of your thoughts on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    But what separates Buffy from Bella in Twilight or other similar supernatural romances is that fact that she herself is a kind of monster because of her innate supernatural powers, a heroine who nonetheless reflects a mirror image of the demons that she faces in order to defeat them. She is both herself and the Other, a subject and an object, a destroyer and a redeemer.
    I think this is definitely a huge factor in what makes Buffy's relationships with both Angel and Spike really interesting. How they bridge the different aspects of her life that she is constantly struggling to balance, whilst she has a foot in both worlds, both 'normative' and 'other' in her own instability of self, as you said earlier. Although Drac indicates connection to Buffy's darkness too, it is through Angel's soul and Spike's wish to reassess/change prompted due to his chipped state/love for Buffy (eventually soul as well) that an even greater connection to both sides within her is shown. Beyond just the remains of the connection to the human they were as any vamp she dusts. The connection exists in how a vamp is formed from both human and demon of course, but the souls/chip serve to bring greater focus to the humanity within and so to inner duality. With greater prominence their own insecurities, fears and wishes, how they seek to meet perceptions that plays such a huge part in the verse and mirrors to Buffy's journey, brings the sense of understanding which runs between her and the two vamps to the fore. Even if/when they are focused on antagonism over romance and desire at points (or it plays into how the two extreme responses, emotions, rarely seem far from each other).

    I really like how you go on to relate Buffy's inner struggle to the challenge women have in balancing social expectations, cultural elements, aspects which they wish to update rather than discard that are partly formed from misogynistic messages, all alongside desired empowerment. Allowing women to be both strong/powerful as well as feminine and desirable but also meeting some societal ideals. It's a nightmare, even without the slayer package within too. Your consideration for how Buffy's individualism adds weight to the issue, the literal aspect of her being 'the' Chosen One and how the characters around her had to gain power and 'level up' too for the narrative is great. I agree it gives Xander's role greater distinction for lacking such supernatural strength and it really highlights the emotional connections that tie within the individuals and through their dynamics to each other that he is there on the frontline at the season end.

    But this also brings up the disturbing idea that the Buffyverse is divided into two kinds of characters – those who are chosen by the Powers That Be to affect cataclysmic events – and those who sweep up afterwards and follow orders. Jonathan is pounded for casting a spell that takes away everyone’s autonomy because he longs to be the Chosen One like Buffy – but there’s also a kind of specious argument there that calls for the natural order to be maintained. Those who reach for the stars must be pulled down because it’s not their ‘destiny’ as opposed to the designated heroes. In some ways, it mirrors the medieval divisions of society into those who pray, those who fight and basically the 99% of the population left are those who work their butts off for the first two groups. And that’s how God intended it to be. Later, we get a few merchants thrown in there, but you get the general idea.

    So Buffy isn’t just given her sisterlineal powers but a whole boatload of indoctrination and authoritarian crap as well. And this in of itself is bad because her powers actually don’t come from God or the Powers That Be or destiny but from some a**hole shamans who thought it would be cool to fight their battles through an unwilling woman. The Watchers Council is a descendant of these original men – and the paradox lies in the fact that they’ve not only empowered her – but also enslaved her within their crazy caste system based on magic and creepy bloodlines. So the inferiority that Buffy speaks of comes not so much from the attitude of her friends, but from her suspicion that she’s not really worthy of the honor of being the Chosen One.
    This is really thought provoking and I do think that Buffy's attempts to constantly draw her own boundaries and define herself, choose her path and whether to fight looks to perhaps manage to both acknowledge where she has come from and her right to decide where to go to. The sense of superiority and inferiority bound around all of this just adds depth/layers. That she is held as inspiration to those around her really brings forth the aspect that S7 will explore more comprehensively on how we affect and empower others too. Like all our discussions about the character's paths, the past informs the present and the origins of the slayer and Buffy's earlier relationship with the Council remain part of who she is, but if she is open to the possibilities around her then she doesn't have to lack for paths from where she has been/is. Yet, as you say, the clashing desires to be strong and also not seen as too powerful weigh on her. Adding these considerations to her history with Angel and her childhood, her parents divorce, all just builds more into the wider picture of the influences on Buffy. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Origin comic for hints to even more background too.

    Buffy’s drive to find someone to love is at odds with almost every other aspect of her personality and situation – and that’s why she’s such a compelling character. It’s also why her relationships with friends and lovers are just as important as the plotlines and the Big Bads she battles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer does a very good job of exploring both the freedoms and the limitations of certain ideas of empowerment.
    That's great.

    What does it mean in terms of moral standards and societal beliefs to be the Chosen One? What constitutes a family and a loving relationship? How do we work past our confirmation bias towards a true sense of agency and freedom? If we validate socially acceptable gender activities, is it really a genuine form of social power? Do people cease to have control over their own image and bodies by conforming to gender stereotypes? In a society where women’s sexuality and even control over their own bodies is still under attack, is the whole “sex-positive” movement liberating or does it act as a cover for slut-shaming and sexual assault? What does it mean to be a man or a woman in an ever shifting world of social and personal values? Most importantly, is redemption possible? Can people ever make amends for the past?
    Great questions and really I suppose the satisfaction and happiness people achieve and how they positively influence and interact with the people they directly touch and the wider world is a good marker for whether their path has balanced their individual needs and what can be considered the wider societal ones. But the boundaries of societal expectations flex and move with the times and what were the right choices once don't hold up to scrutiny in a different time. Then I think we have to find acceptance that what was once the right choice plays a part in building understanding but that we might look to develop/change that choice in the future. Making amends is always about doing what is right by your understanding at that point and perhaps that is all we can judge ourselves by and yet also not fear to face that our belief in what is right may/can/possibly will change too.

    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    Which contrasts with her best friend – and hopelessly lovelorn – Xander Harris. Xander is a kind of Pike figure in Season One who mirrors his journey up to a point. Pike was mocked by Buffy and her friends – and Xander is mocked by Cordelia and her stuck-up clique of cheerleaders. Pike’s friend Benny was sired and tries to kill him – Xander’s friend Jesse is sired and tries to kill him. Pike was told that Buffy must stand alone against the vampires – and so Xander is told the same after Jesse is kidnapped.
    Great catch.

    I recently read that Xander's comment "I'm less than a man" is sometimes looked on negatively by people that dislike the character's early interactions with Buffy. Personally I just think it shrieks of his own insecurities and we can understand it very much within the context of the influences we learn about his own background that you raised and we discussed earlier and have been brought up other times before, such as Sosa's run down of the influences on him in her Hell's Bells review. That Xander follows his sense of what is right with action and actually goes to try and help time and again just shows that there's a genuine desire to be worthwhile and needed rather than to pull down Buffy. Your consideration of her response to Xander against her own sense of otherness and awareness of the darker side of herself/her world and the danger it potentially poses is interesting.

    But one can never leave the past behind – it always catches up with you. Marx once famously said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce...

    Season Four is fascinating for how it turns some of the core ideas of the show on its head and experiments with a wildly different through-the-looking glass take on the Buffyverse where the past overlays the idea of the present at every turn for comparison...

    And all through this, the specter of Angel hangs over much of what she does.
    The way the character stories are built from their ongoing experiences, how they feed across and into each other is by far one of the absolute most satisfying aspects of watching/discussing the show for me. Seeing S4 as repetitious of the original settling in at Sunnydale High and how we turn to the same response mechanisms is great. I don't remember considering before amongst the many reflections to Angel that Parker provides that he also played in guiding Buffy in her new environment (or I had sadly forgotten it if it was raised before). Expanding on their brief relationship to bring in the role that Parker played subconsciously for Buffy too and the emotional blow when he failed to be the nice, normal rebound guy Buffy needed is really interesting. The contrast Riley gives then in falling for Buffy slowly is great.

    At Hemery High and even at Sunnydale High, Buffy was a known entity – a freak, a weirdo, a monster – but she was someone to the vampires, to the Master, to Principal Snyder, to the Mayor. And now, in the vast scheme of the UC campus, she’s seemingly nothing to anyone. Except maybe one old soulless vampire with a figurative chip on his shoulder that would become real enough to change his life as well.
    The shift from high school to college presses for all the characters their uncertainty in their dynamics now, how they have changed naturally in the process, how they haven't, and in how/if their existing roles transpose and adapt into the new setting too. Xander and Giles, as we discussed in S4, really give a contrast as the people who aren't intrinsically linked to the new school setting. Displaced but still trying to maintain their places or redefine them within the group. Part of all of that is very much what you carry forward with you and Spike emerging then with his past grievances gives a direct bridge between the two times too for Buffy. Something known can be reassuring, as we've commented previously, the comfort of the past is often turned to and his link to a consistency in her slaying role during a time of upheaval is an intriguing point. Obviously it then becomes a huge period of change and adjustment for him too as you say.

    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    Buffy herself brings up Angel time and again in comparison to Riley and Spike and finds them wanting. The show makes it clear that the experience with souled/unsouled Angel has psychologically damaged her in numerous ways.
    Yes, very much, the traumas tied to that relationship and how it affects her future ones is substantial. The direct links that we've drawn through this season that Buffy or Spike bring up that relate to Angel can be outright and direct or even probably subconscious links, such as the 'freak show' reference.

    And this tracks much of the work of 20th century American cultural theorists like Leslie Fiedler and Richard Slotkin – Joss Whedon’s favorite professor at Wesleyan University. American men remain in a state of permanent adolescence and claim innocent victimhood even as they inflict violence on others – and the only true love in American culture is between two buddies (usually racial or class opposites) rather than an adult sexual relationship. And ‘women’ are representative of the domestic sphere – civilizing and suffocating with children and responsibilities that hold men back – fetters on the freedom of the male psyche.

    Buffy falls into this trope with a major deviation from the norm – she’s a female lead – and so we get a peculiar take. Angel doesn’t leave Buffy because she’s not spending enough time with him – they’re both supernatural beings chasing down the forces of evil together – but because she’s spending TOO much time with him. He’s an immortal, sun-hating monster – and that’s not okay for a woman. Despite the fact that she’s a Slayer, she’s also a teenage girl who supposedly deserves all the benefits of domesticity, marriage, children – all the culture norms that literally represent Woman in American culture. And so he leaves.

    And this touches upon the unique problems that a female protagonist has in a show like Buffy as opposed to a male – Buffy wants to be the hero and embrace her power – but she also has a longing to live a “normal” life with major ties to the world that place her in a difficult position between hero and an ideal Woman. It’s almost impossible to be both supernatural freak and human female – representative of the cultural norm – but Buffy tries.
    I rarely register tropes but they seem so clear when they're pointed out. It's really interesting to see how Buffy reflects this but the shift in gender creates this battle of being powerful but very much alongside and against the cultural norms she desires and how she feels her strength separates her.

    Which shows how sensation tracks the Subject’s personal interaction with the world – creating the sense of being a person – a now quality in the present moment. So in seeing red, the Subject must have a personal relationship with bringing the color into being. In having sensations, we become conscious – which shows that in many ways consciousness developed because of a need for selfhood. How a Subject reacts to the sensation – cries, laughs, smiles, snarls – creates a sense of Self. The Subject’s direct control over their own body in response to stimulus as they experience the color red is their own and no one else’s response. Seeing red means to think “I” as in “I am seeing red in the visual field of my eyes, it’s happening now to me, it is my visual sensation and I am the author of it.”

    A living creature – whether human or tiny primordial amoeba – has a sense of boundary which is crucial to a sense of self.
    Consciousness, personal interaction with the world and a sense of self alongside having sensations and responding, are interesting aspects to consider with experiences that inform and the mind and soul in BtVS. Spike's flashes of memory but sense of separation when triggered is a great example of a damaged link between self and context. Making it theoretical and distanced rather than a sensation based experience. This sits in hard contrast to how he describes remembering his past crimes unsouled and how he and Angel have that connection to their soulless years, despite the meaningful separation of the soul. Their memories aren't of a distanced being but of another 'them', and one who chose to commit those crimes and enjoyed doing so. It doesn't matter to some degree that they wouldn't choose to do that when souled, the side of them that would is still there, it is just repressed by the soul and drowned out by the different perception of emotions and what is right/wrong.

    The external world transmits a stimulus to the sense organs which creates a sensation – a personal evaluative response which carries information about the stimulus, what it represents, what it is and how the vampire feels about it – but this channel is affected by the demon who creates a different kind of input for the mind than its former human host despite the memories, experiences and personality traits retained by the vampire.

    And so the vampire’s mind works on two levels – on the first level, it can clearly evoke the human associations of the past – the sensory awareness and the memory associations and the former feelings of their human selves but that essential connection – called the “soul” in the series – has been removed in a sense by the demon, leaving a vampire blind to the original human perception beyond a certain shadowing of the original sensory input. The associations are still there – but they’re garbled and distorted through the lens of a vampire’s reassembled perception.
    That the unsouled vampire lacks a depth/strength of connection to emotional experiences seems one of the most straightforward ways to consider the loss of soul and the resulting carefree evil that the demonic version of the original human is capable of choosing. It also works with the twists that result in consideration of some of the character traits of the original human that remain and informs how the demonic 'them' responds to perceived strengths and weaknesses.

    In a newly sired vampire, there seems to be some kind of wedge (or demon) that lies between the two systems, creating a psychopathic-like detachment from the memories and emotional connections to sensation of the original human. The echoes of the human schema of Self are still there with the accompanying psychological makeup and the ability to experience sensation remains – but the correspondence between the two has been fundamentally broken. And that suggests that the ‘soul’ is not a conscience, per say, but a literalization of a human sense of Self that encompasses the explanatory gap of consciousness – the difficulty explaining how physical properties give rise to the way things feel when they are experienced.
    Yes, finding the terms and ways of distinguishing the meaningful difference between the capacity before and after is often very hard but it is consistently shown by both Angel and Spike that they feel a distinction despite also feeling a clear connection to who they were. Interesting to consider it against Spike's direct attempt to make it clear to Buffy in S10 that he has his own awareness of the difference in how it feels.

    When Spike tells Buffy about his feelings as an unsouled vampire in the past, he’s not just trying to get her to empathize with him (although she does) – he’s trying to find the words to explain an odd sensation of remembering past sensation and cognition in the present moment. The idea of “time” in terms of consciousness is always in a permanent present of either experiencing, remembering or anticipating, present experience being almost impossible to relate because it’s over before one can think on it. The deep moment of present sensation is already gone and experienced in subjective time.
    But a recognition of present, past and future all at the same time lends a completeness to the sensation of a “souled” Self for Spike – like Angel, he almost perceives his past Self as a different person. Not because he is a different person in a fundamental way – but the sense of Self has changed because the sense of consciousness has changed.
    I really like this. I think the two vamps do consider themselves meaningfully different and they are in a literal sense so as something that wasn't there is added to the mix and changes their perceptions significantly. But there is also clearly a sense of coherence too. They're both meaningfully connected and meaningfully distinct. As they were between their human and soulless vampire selves too. The shifts and connections between all three states come with differences but also coherent characterisation and this is greatly what makes them two of the most interesting characters. Considering this in terms of this sense of self across time experienced distinctly in terms of varying consciousness is great for putting a theory against the completeness incorporating past, present and future in the souled self they clearly feel.

    And this makes sense – because we’re renewing our sense of Self all the time. Some neurologists believe that our consciousness continually loops back on itself to create a kind of self-resonance of Self, just as primitive microbes eventually evolved to close off consciousness from the outside world, resulting in a more expansive level of self-awareness. It lifts the Subject out of instinctive zombiedom and into the land of the living.

    This idea of the “soul” affecting one’s perception of the past – of actually changing and rewiring sensory experience gives weight to the idea that the “soul” is connected somehow to that “hard problem” and the explanatory gap that defines consciousness.
    I really like the idea of our sense of self constantly renewing as we can always come to consider aspects of our past in a new light due to changing perspectives and experiences. This works especially well when considered against the theme of consequences that we are seeing the characters facing this season in both shows and when events don't unfold in the way that it had been anticipated. It's certainly the case with Buffy's resurrection, what is seen over in AtS with hindsight around the kidnapping of Connor and the consequences Angel is seeing play out now from the dark magic in The Price. But I really like your use of Spike's changed perspective of his own emotions between being unsouled and souled that is shown in S10. It was one of my favourite parts of the comic seasons, the acknowledged sense of continuity but with meaningful distinction in capacity. It works really well with the theories you are raising here about senses of self and with the earlier consideration you gave to the physical missing connection to the original emotions, the limbic part of the brain. Both work to this sense of difference whilst not undermining that there would still be a sense of coherent self within there too.

    For me this is the context that the verse gives the soul which separates it from the religious meaning of one. I see debbicles point that Christian imagery permeates mythology around vampirism in the verse but the verse context of the supernatural also specifically adds dimensions that move the distinction of the soul away from just an exact transposition of the Christian notion of its meaning I think. The soul as used with vampires is deliberately crafted to context. Although the soul is also directly related to the personality in the Angel & Faith comics, rather than just having a conscience, when Angel is using his nipple soul gathering device to find the pieces of Giles' soul and is being affected by them. I don't think that this breaks any of the ways in which the soul is lost in becoming a vampire as the demon uses the personality of the human as a fundamental part of what forms them. So even if personality is part of what is 'in' the soul, the personality is retained magically in the process of vampirism anyway. Well, a warped version of it, but a clear direct draw to who they were. So there shouldn't be any literal change in the personality of the vampire if they become resouled, as it is the original soul (personality included) that is returned and that's just the same one used to form the vampire. So the changes become about the focus on their actual ability to understand morality, their emotional capacity, the breadth/depth of ability to feel and understand. I think the confusion often comes for people who can't see the consistency in Angel's character unsouled to souled just because of the extreme swings in behaviour he has. But as I've suggested before, he still shows evidence of the same personality traits and his upbringing and souled response to his soulless past make sense of the extreme behaviour shifts.

    So essentially I can see that the soul relates in part to a Christian link to the person, the spirit, the personality. But, for me, the supernatural context the verse constructs too around how a vampire is formed from the person that they were allows for this link between states where the memories of the previous state always are a key part in the change to vampire and then to souled vampire that allows for a consistency of character but the physiological reasons why there could be limitations on how that is processed and how it literally works between the states better explains the 'lack' that is there unsouled. I think this perspective and theories sit comfortably to what we actually see inverse and how the characters appear to feel/describe the differences themselves, as the ones that have experienced all states.

    We may recoil from watching others suffer or sympathize when others are feeling pleasure – but our direct experience is wholly imaginary and cognitive as we watch another person take the blow. When this occurs, there is an involuntary breach of separateness – we cringe in a horror movie when the monster starts to attack because we imagine ourselves in the place of the victim. And this outsider experience of shared sensory perception is the dominant feature of social activity.

    The more significant the Self, the more value a person places on their life and others. And that leads to taking even more care to protect the boundaries of the Self – which results in the twin sensations of attraction and abhorrence – or desire and disgust – that fundamentally define the relationship between Buffy and Spike that leads to that fateful moment in the bathroom.
    This combined with the consideration of the gap of literal ability is a fascinating lead into Spike's failure to see the line he was crossing and his mixed responses to what happened. I'm really looking forward to reading more of your thoughts on all of this (and, as usual, please do tell me if you feel I've misunderstood any of the points along the way! ).

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    Oh, absolutely, Stoney. The whole issue of what it means on the show to have a soul is not restricted to the theological aspect, but becomes something else, something additional altogether. And yet, I’m not so sure that it strays that far. Buffy regards Angel with his soul as a complete person, a whole person. Man as the rational animal. She even says as much to him in Innocence when she pleads with him to remember who he is.

    The spiritual dimension informs and adds depth, I think. I suppose you could substitute another word for soul, integrity, but in its fundamental sense integrity means wholeness, too. So would it be so different? Don’t know, but I enjoy the discussions.


    I would quote, but my browser or something else kicks me out after a few minutes. I must apologise for this.
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    Hey, Guys!

    Sorry for the very long delay - I've been going through a real rough patch right now in RL and Stoney has been incredibly generous in seeing me through it. Things are much better now - so I'm going to pick up the rewatch of Seeing Red and finish it off now. The next few parts are a little complicated, but I promise there's a nice payoff at the end!

    Buffy Forum review: Seeing Red by American Aurora

    Previously on Buffy Forum: Seeing Red Review
    1. Introduction: Buffy Season Six: A Silence Made in Heaven
    2. Introduction: Seeing Red: Virtual Perception
    3. Introduction: Gender Toxicity: Light Willow and the Cool Girl
    4. Seeing Red, Part 1:From Morning at Buffy’s to the Kingdom of the Nerds
    5. Seeing Red, Part 1: Love and Silence: Dawn
    6. Seeing Red, Part 1: Hurting Buffy: Supervillains
    7. Seeing Red, Part 2: Dead Girls: Women in Refrigerators and Redemption Narratives
    8. Seeing Red, Part 2: Love and Silence - Buffy
    9. Seeing Red, Part 2: Gender Toxicity: Vengeance Demonsplaining
    10. Seeing Red, Part 2: The Trio – In a World of Pure Imagination: Andrew
    11. Seeing Red, Part 2: Love and Silence: Spike
    12. Seeing Red, Part 3: The Trio – Wearing the Mask of a Demon: Jonathan
    13. Seeing Red, Part 3: Gender Toxicity – You Haven’t Got the Stones
    14. Seeing Red, Part 3: Misogyny: Villain with a Thousand Faces
    15. Seeing Red, Part 3:Gender Toxicity: Xander Harris and the “Nice Guy Syndrome”
    16. Seeing Red, Part 3: Love and Silence: Xander and Willow – Children of Trauma
    17. Seeing Red, Part 4: Purity and Danger
    18. Seeing Red, Part 4: The Chosen One – The Slaying of Buffy Summers
    19. Seeing Red, Part 4: Love and Silence – Buffy and Angel
    20. Seeing Red, Part 4: You Made Me the Man I am Today - Buffy and Angel's 'Freak' Show
    21. Seeing Red, Part 5: Suffering the Afterness of a Bad Night of Badness – Is There Life After High School?
    22. Seeing Red, Part 5:Dirty Girls and Impure Demons – The Draw and Despair of the Normal
    23. Seeing Red, Part 5: Robots vs Zombies: The ‘Hard Problem’ of Consciousness and the Buffyverse ‘Soul’

    And now:

    24. Seeing Red, Part 6: Disgust and Desire: Something Between Us



    BUFFY: What is this? The late-night stakeout, the bogus suspects, the flask? Is this a date?
    SPIKE: Please! A date? You are completely off your bird! I mean – do you want it to be?
    BUFFY: Oh my god. Oh – oh no. Are you out of your mind?
    SPIKE: It's not so unusual. Two people – in the workplace – feelings develop.
    BUFFY: No! No, no feelings do not develop. No feelings.
    SPIKE: You can't deny it. There's something between us.
    BUFFY: Loathing. Disgust.
    SPIKE: Heat. Desire. (Crush)


    There’s a popular Japanese word coined in the late 90s to describe a person (usually female) who has an emotional swing from hate to love. A compound formed from two other words – tsun tsun (disgust) and dere dere (loving) – the term tsundere has become ubiquitous in manga and anime to describe any hot and cold relationship between two people – especially lovers.

    Wildly popular today, the love-hate relationship between two characters is a tale as old as recorded time. From Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice to Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard in Moonlighting, readers can’t seem to get enough of couples who profess nothing but contempt for one another until they finally, grudgingly admit they care about each other. Whether romantic or platonic, entertainment conglomerates churn out books, comics, movies, television shows, stage pieces and albums that count on the push-me, pull–you of attraction/repulsion – Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple or even our favorite vampire-duo-with souls, Angel and Spike.



    So what to make of the constant appeal of this storyline and why so many people are drawn to it?

    Some call it the ‘paradox of aversion’ – why people willingly seek out stories where unhappy people torment each other – even torture one another – until they come to some kind of reconciliation – or not. Aristotle thought in Poetics that it was the release of painful emotions of pity and terror – watching drama with heart-rending plot twists proved cathartic to the viewer and reset their emotions to a more balanced emotional state. Drama in that sense provides a needed baseline to the viewer-reader-listener who might be otherwise overwhelmed by real life, purging away anxieties and unrelieved stress through narrative drama or religious ritual. It can also be a venue for self-reflection, seeing parallels in one’s own life in characters who grapple with similar issues (albeit on a much greater scale). Empathy and distance lent the audience a unique vantage point from which to experience certain emotions while still keeping a careful distance.



    Aristotle referred to the classic love-hate relationship as mutable – it could be either comic or tragic depending upon whether a bond of love turned from love to hate or vice versa. This moment of recognition or “anagnorisis” (knowing) would be the turning point at the climax of a narrative where the character suddenly learns something theretofore unknown – Spike realizing that he’s in love with Buffy would be an example at the end of Out of My Mind which finally reveals itself to Buffy in Crush. And until the end of Once More With Feeling, Spike is pretty certain that his feelings for Buffy are doomed to be a big fat Greek tragedy until their kiss – where suddenly the prospect of a comedy and subsequent renewal becomes a real possibility.



    But instead of turning into a loving relationship between two equals, the relationship between Buffy and Spike in Season Six becomes embittered, violent, angry and destructive. What’s interesting is not how some viewers turned away in revulsion, but how many others eagerly tuned in (and still do) just to see how far they would go, keeping the audience guessing to whether the characters would finally bury the hatchet or bury it in each other’s head.

    The powerful desire to watch subject matter that can sometimes be offensive, shocking, emotionally upsetting and even disgusting has drawn the interest of philosophers, psychologists, literary critics and even scientists who have tried to analyze the nature of this attraction – but there is no denying the eternal appeal of a desire/disgust relationship.

    Spike and Buffy weren’t even the first couple in the Buffyverse to make love and war at regular intervals. Xander had a similar relationship for years – even before Buffy arrived – with the Queen Bee of all Queen Bees engendering mutual disgust as she looks down on Xander and his friends as total bottom feeders from her great height in the Great Sunnydale High School food chain.



    XANDER: Hey, Annie! Dino, just leaving!
    He backs away and bumps into Cordelia.
    CORDELIA: Ouch! Please get your extreme oafishness off my two-hundred-dollar shoes!
    XANDER: I'm sorry, I was just –
    CORDELIA: Getting off the dance floor before Annie Vega's boyfriend squashes you like a bug?
    XANDER: Oh, so you noticed.
    CORDELIA: Uh-huh.
    XANDER: Yeah, thanks for being so understanding.
    CORDELIA: Sure.
    XANDER You know, hey, I don't know what everyone's talking about. That outfit doesn't make you look like a hooker! (Angel)
    There was no love lost between the two of them even when Cordelia found out about Buffy’s secret identity at the end of her sophomore year – they continued to bicker and insult one another in their Junior year:



    CORDELIA: 'I aspire to help my fellow man.' Check. As long as he's not smelly, dirty or something gross.
    XANDER: Cordelia Chase, always ready to give a helping hand to the rich and the pretty.
    CORDELIA: Which, lucky me, excludes you. Twice.
    XANDER: Is murder always a crime? (What’s My Line, Part One)


    There were signs of interest, though – Cordelia even makes an overture to Xander who is so blind to the possibility that he immediately blows it off before even comprehending what she’s saying.

    XANDER: Well, I guess that makes it official. Everybody's paired off. Vampires get dates. Hell, even the school librarian sees more action than me. You ever think that the world is a giant game of musical chairs, and the music's stopped and we're the only ones who don't have a chair?
    WILLOW: All the time.
    CORDELIA: Xander? I just wanted to thank you for saving my life. What you did in there was really brave and heroic, and I just wanted to tell you if there was anything that I could ever do to –
    XANDER: Do you mind? We're talking here! So where were we?
    WILLOW: Wondering why we never get dates.
    XANDER: Yeah, so why do you think that is? (Some Assembly Required)


    Xander’s inability to imagine Cordelia’s interest is similar to Buffy’s inability to see what’s staring her in the face – Spike’s obvious interest. But their relationship finally comes to a head when richer-than-thou Cordelia is the only Scoobie with a car and Buffy goes missing. There are vociferous complaints when Giles instructs Xander to ask Cordelia to give him a ride to Buffy’s house to check on her.



    XANDER: C'mon, Cordelia. You wanna be a member of the Scooby Gang you gotta be willing to be inconvenienced every now and then.
    CORDELIA: Oh, right, 'cause I lie awake at night hoping you tweakos will be my best friends. And that my first husband will be a balding, demented homeless man.
    XANDER: Buffy could be in trouble.
    Cordelia: And what if she is exactly? What are you gonna do about it? In case you haven't noticed, you're the lameness and she's the super chick, or whatever.
    XANDER: Well, at least I'm the lameness who cares, which is more than I can say about you.


    Both Xander and Cordelia continue to make certain that they display a good and proper disgust towards each other, making it crystal clear that they’re only temporarily working together for the good of the team. They even refuse to share the same space as Xander runs upstairs leaving Cordelia below – conveniently for the demon who politely knocks on the other side of the door.

    NORMAN: Good day. I'm Norman Pfister with Blush Beautiful Skin Care and Cosmetics. I was wondering if I might interest you in some free samples?
    CORDELIA: Free? (What’s My Line, Part One)


    Cordelia lets the harmless-looking salesman in, unaware that he is a master assassin from the Order of Takara who has already murdered a next-door neighbor. So it’s quite a shock to Xander and Cordelia when that ‘face in the crowd’ starts to literally dissolve into a mass of disgusting maggots that makes their own disgust for each other seem rather quaint. And so they are typically thrown together into a stressful situation that forces them to transcend their feelings for the good of their survival.




    XANDER: Time to run!
    They run as Norman transforms into a mass of mealworms. They open the door to the basement and hurry in. The mealworms try to come under the door, but they stomp on them.
    XANDER: Find something to cover the crack under the door!
    He grabs a broom and sweeps the mealworms back under the door with it as Cordelia finds duct tape.
    CORDELIA: Uhh – here! I don't do worms.
    XANDER: Cover me!
    She sweeps at the mealworms while he pulls a length of tape off of the roll and sticks it to the bottom of the door.
    Cordelia: Eww! Eh! Eh! (What’s My Line, Part Two)



    The retreat to the basement places them in even closer contact than before – but faced with the repulsive threat of becoming a maggot lunch, Cordelia and Xander characteristically quarrel over their next move. It’s not surprising to any fan of romance novels what happens next.

    CORDELIA: You know what? I'm going. I'd rather be worm food than look at your pathetic face!
    XANDER: Then go! I'm not stopping ya!
    Cordelia: I bet you wouldn't! I bet you'd let a girl go off to her doom all by herself!
    XANDER: Not just any girl. You're special.
    CORDELIA: I can't believe that I'm stuck spending what will probably be my last few moments on Earth here with you!
    XANDER: I hope these are my last few moments! Three more seconds with you, and I'm gonna –
    CORDELIA: I'm gonna what? Coward!
    XANDER: Moron!
    CORDELIA: I hate you!
    XANDER: I hate you! (What’s My Line, Part Two)


    This is a humorous version of a much more violent confrontation between Buffy and Spike as they both physically and emotionally pummel each other in the empty house in Smashed . Both characters seethe with anger and disgust despite their obvious attraction – like Xander and Cordelia, they’re at peak emotion as they utilize every supernatural ounce of strength to throw each other against the walls, the chimney, the stairway and the floor.



    SPIKE: Oh, poor little lost girl. She doesn't fit in anywhere. She's got no one to love.
    BUFFY: Me? I'm lost? Look at you, you idiot! Poor Spikey. Can't be a human, can't be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in? Your job is to kill the slayer. But all you can do is follow me around making moon eyes.
    SPIKE: I'm in love with you.
    BUFFY: You're in love with pain. Admit it. You like me – because you enjoy getting beat down. So really, who's screwed up?
    SPIKE: Hello! Vampire! I'm supposed to be treading on the dark side. What's your excuse?


    But instead of Xander and Cordelia recoiling in fear as a disgusting maggot-filled assassin attempts to squeeze through the crack under the basement door, Buffy and Spike create their own cracks in the abandoned house as they slowly destroy the structure, lashing out at each other in an attempt to outdo the other in feeling affronted and disgusted.



    SPIKE: I wasn't planning on hurting you. Much.
    BUFFY: You haven't even come close to hurting me.
    SPIKE: Afraid to give me the chance? You afraid I'm gonna – (Smashed)


    Buffy and Spike desperately clutch at each other – even after literally tumbling through the floor to the basement below in a sensational fall from grace. Like Xander and Cordelia in their own basement, the Slayer and the Vampire are unable to stop fury and contempt from bubbling over into longing and lust.



    And so both Buffy and Spike are proven right about their relationship – from their first meeting as mortal enemies in School Hard to Spike’s shocking declaration of love in Crush to their outrageous sexual ferocity in Smashed, their heated relationship is a continuous recitation of both desire and disgust.

    And for a supernatural horror show like Buffy, this makes perfect sense because to a greater degree, the feelings of disgust and desire is solidly behind our love of vampires, the supernatural, and horror – the awe and terror that the resultant disgust evokes is deeply connected to our desire to experience it. What makes us delight in watching the vampire drain his victims, read the exploits of serial killers, drive slowly by auto accidents, seek out taboo themes of sex and violence – why deliberately subject ourselves to things that actively repulse us? Why does the disgusting elicit eternal fascination? And why are we so ashamed of it?

    WILLOW: When Buffy was a vampire, you weren’t still, like, attracted to her, were you?
    XANDER: Willow, how can you – I mean, that’s really bent! She was – grotesque!
    WILLOW: Still dug her, huh?
    XANDER: I’m sick. I need help. (Nightmares)


    Although the response to something loathsome like a maggot-faced monster or a vicious cannibalistic vampire can be a mixture of emotions – fear, anger/hatred, disgust – the three emotions are very different. Fear is a future-based, practical defensive emotion based on self-protection – it provokes fight or flight – and can range from an immediate physical threat to worries about finances or reputation. Anger/hatred is a past-based aggressive emotion that stems from a moral conception of wrong and right that is deeply personal. Both fear and anger are ‘aversive’ emotions – they stem from negative feelings about the outside world – fear is generally turned inward towards a conception of self and anger generally outward towards an external force.

    But disgust differs from both – it is an aesthetic emotion above all because it depends upon the appearance of something rather than a genuine threat. One can be disgusted by something that one neither fears nor hates – disgust is neither defensive nor aggressive – it is based solely in avoidance of something. We don’t want to taste or touch or see or hear or smell it – it is a violation of the senses and what they are delivering to the cognitive part of the brain.



    XANDER: (to Buffy) Ew. Ew. Thumbs? I can't believe you did that.
    ANYA: (to Willow) Oh, Buffy killed the demon. It was gross. (Same Time, Same Place)
    The ultimate goal of disgust isn’t to avoid physical harm so much as to avoid an assault on consciousness itself – we refuse to partake in certain experiences because they overstimulate the senses. When we touch or taste or smell something disgusting, we immediately want to move away from the offending assault. We want to keep our senses and our consciousness ‘clean’ – unlike fear or anger, we want to eliminate the state of disgust entirely because it is as unpleasant as feeling pain. And yet – there is that attraction that inexplicably draws us back for more. Disgust is an emotion based entirely in the present – which makes it easy to veer from disgust to desire in a moment. There is a mode of presentation in disgust – how it directly affects the senses – that makes it different from anger or hatred or fear which may often have to do with what might lie behind that appearance.

    The idea of ‘disgust’ has been getting a lot of philosophic play the past one hundred years or so after being essentially ignored as an undesirable or lesser emotion – from Freud to Foucault, Sartre to Kristeva, psychologists, philosophers and scientists have been fascinated by how ‘disgust’ serves crucial functions in social management, psychological formation and cultural identity. Disgust is a word that outwardly describes physical things that smell or taste bad, feel awful, look nauseating and sound repulsive. But it also refers to moral behaviors, actions and even ideas that are horrifying, dangerous and even contagious to the social order.

    The word “disgust” is a compound word from Medieval French dating from the 14th century – ‘dis’ + ‘gust’ = distaste. But its origins date back to the proto-Indo-European root word ‘geus’ meaning “to taste or choose’. The word is the same whether Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Celtic or Persian – it concentrates upon repulsive and possibly contaminated food or other kinds of filth/waste/rot that could be potentially deadly if touched or ingested. And it’s likely that disgust originated in an evolutionary aversion – avoiding bad food and smells that might be potentially contagious or even deadly.

    In Shakespeare’s time, the English word was still synonymous with ‘bad taste’ or ‘have no taste for’ but was slowly changing in meaning to a strong dislike for other things besides food, like dead bodies, human waste, and the sorry state of man who was consigned to become dust. Shakespeare himself never directly used the word but referred to a ‘gorge rising’ which related the same emotion as Hamlet holds up the skull of a long-dead jester who he knew in his youth:



    HAMLET: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. (Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1)
    Soon, the idiom of disgust became synonymous with moral judgement – if one had ‘bad taste’, it meant more than just a turned fish dish – it referred to the shame, humiliation and mortification that came with violating the social and moral boundaries of society. Unnatural sex, shocking beliefs, questionable morals – disgust was just as much about living outside the boundaries of what was allowable as suffering from bad hygiene or maintaining a filthy house.

    But how did a word that originally referred to an aversion towards bad-tasting food turn into a word that indirectly invokes a cultural sense of right and wrong that holds society together?



    Like many a Holy Grail pursued by scientists, the search to discover the origin of disgust and other primal emotions in pre-Homo Sapiens hominids (and mammals) has resulted in hundreds of theories without a final answer. Neurologists have demonstrated that at least eight separate emotions each have their own dedicated neurological circuitry although others argue that there is a measure of overlap between them. Autonomic and instinctive, these emotions appear to be hardwired in our brains throughout millions of years of evolution and are part of “affect program theory” of complex emotional responses already present even in newly born infants. Such emotions are provoked by immediate circumstances – a rapid response quickly assesses the situation before the cognitive deliberation can even begin. And those sensations affect all of our personal interactions, our sense of the world around us and our self: Anger, Anticipation, Joy, Trust, Fear, Surprise, Sadness – and Disgust.



    The 20th century psychologist Robert Plutchik asserted that these emotions are present in all animals and humans, serving an evolutionary adaptive role for survival. The small number of primary emotions have degrees of intensity and – all other emotions are hybrid, derivative states that combine the basic emotions in various combinations that can also be viewed in pairs of polar opposites. Disgust has two degrees on either side – loathing and boredom – and can be paired with anger to become contempt – or with sadness for remorse.



    In analyzing the relationship between Buffy and Spike, it’s notable that trust – with its own extremes of admiration and acceptance – is the polar opposite of disgust. Love is actually a hybrid emotion that combines trust with joy and directly opposes remorse.

    Both trust and disgust have their own centers of receptive activity in the brain – trust works with the dual-hemispheric caudate nucleus, the brain’s pleasure centers – and disgust with the limbic system and anterior insula, directly connected to our ability to taste and smell. Alzheimer’s patients, schizophrenics and paranoia sufferers have been found to have a dysfunctional caudate nucleus which prevents full trust of those around them whereas a dysfunctional anterior insula can often foreshadow autism or psychopathy which prevents revulsion against filth, extreme violence or other culturally disgusting norms.

    The origin of disgust in our ability to taste and smell is a hint that its evolutionary origin lay in protection from potentially lethal food or waste. Like all basic emotions, disgust is easily identified by its physical characteristics – the ‘gape face’ is a universal expression in every known human society that signifies revulsion with the accompanying wrinkled nose, lowered brows and drawn mouth:

    ]

    LUNCHLADY: Vermin! You're all vermin. You come in here and you eat, and you eat. Filth! (Earshot)
    A drop in temperature, a slower heart rate – the very act of being near something disgusting, unclean, dirty, tainted, impure can cause the lowering of blood pressure, the head to spin and the stomach to tightening. And disgust can be stubbornly resistant to facts – even if a particular thing is found to be non-threatening, just the very thought that it could have been disgusting still remains. Food shaped like waste and snot may be spun from cotton candy or chocolate – but the initial revulsion is hard to shake. Unlike the other basic emotions, disgust lasts longer and has a greater effect on the body – there is a tendency to dwell over the disgusting object, sometimes in a stupor. Unlike anger or fear, there is a studied aspect to disgust that does indeed place it closer to trust.

    Perhaps it’s because trust and disgust are closer to being grounded in beliefs than most emotions. The cultural beliefs about what constitutes a disgusting thing have a lot to do with our reaction. Regardless of how autonomic the physical response, the initial impetus often requires a knowledge of cultural values. Even the smell of decomposing flesh may become an accustomed one to a doctor or funeral parlor employee who must regularly deal with corpses. And so Buffy can happily lie on a sepulcher and chat with a member of the undead without blinking an eye.



    And this begs the question – are emotions like disgust caused by immediate reactions to outside stimulus or are they a form of pre-cognitive judgment in the mind that then creates the physical response? The judgment theory of emotions claims that emotions like disgust and trust are the affective means by which we judge the outside world – the mental assessment comes before the physical response to assess the value of the information. If so, does it explain why certain things smell bad to us? Why should a raw corpse smell bad – but not the cooked meat of a dead animal? Are we really reacting to the specific smell – or are we reacting to the fact that a dead corpse is decomposing and releasing gases that nauseate us. If it was one of Anya’s stinky cheeses, would we have the same reaction?

    But the point remains that disgust gives us an opportunity to back away from things that are potentially polluting – not only the corpses but the vermin that crowd them. We feel relieved when Xander and Cordelia stomp on the maggots swarming under the door – a biological reaction despite being distanced through a made-up drama. We associate the maggots as signifiers for things that fester and rot, feeders on death, almost death itself even as they reproduce.

    Germs and creatures who are linked to disease or death elicit the disgust mechanism – maggots, lice, rats, roaches, fleas, snakes and spiders. This disease and parasite avoidance encompasses feeding habits of non-humans that trigger the instinct – as do their sexual habits. It’s possible that disgust is an unconscious reaction to our animal nature – the slimy, stinking, vermin-ridden watery corpse is an advertisement for death and decomposition. When we die, we become the disgusting object ourselves that we fear, losing bodily integrity, disintegrating into nothing.



    WILLOW: Osiris, let her cross over! Aah –
    Willow gags and falls to the grass. A snake slithers out of Willow’s mouth.
    TARA: Oh, my God! Oh, my God! (Bargaining, Part One)
    In that sense, disgust is a key component of our social control and psychic order. The emotions not only structure our view of the world, but help shape our stance towards acceptable limits – anything that stretches beyond is potentially lethal to the body – or the body politic. The ideas of pollution, contagion and infection are directed towards the lowest positions in the social hierarchy – cultural and political orders are viewed under direct threat from filth within and without. Disgust’s crucial role in policing and distributing cultural dogmas avoids torture, violence and imprisonment in favor of disgrace, dishonor and degradation.

    Disgust does this by maintaining boundaries – it is a signifier of difference that puts a barrier between the disgusted and the disgusting. It marks something to avoid, repel or destroy – and creates a certain territorial space between our bodies, our dwelling spaces and our minds – and that of the offender. The higher the disgusted person’s perceived superiority, the larger the space for offenses to occur – because the disgusting not only marks the boundaries of inner life, but the perception of the Self. And this has a great deal to do with the idea of consciousness and how we perceive the world around us – how sensory information of what constitutes a threat is read by the cognitive mind. This is shaped by cultural values and personal sensitivities – but it is essentially an evolutionary trait that ensures the sense of Self stays solid, unpolluted and enclosed.

    The curious paradox of disgust is how our very awareness of being disgusted is wedded to the physical revulsion. A consciousness that involves an overwhelming feeling of danger – the danger inherent in pollution and contamination, the danger of defilement. Even as we feel revulsion, we are intellectually and emotionally aware of what disgusts us whether physical or moral. But disgust always evaluates and judges what it senses – both proclaiming the inferiority of the disgusting thing while maintaining one’s own superiority and the right to be free of its contaminating presence. But there is a vulnerability as well – a fear that the polluting powers of the disgusting thing will prove to be stronger than the disgusted. And when it directly deals with the disgusting state of the human body after death – our eventual fate – it can lead to an almost existential state of despair that the disgusted ‘superior’ will one day become the disgusting ‘inferior’.

    DARLA: Maybe this is my second chance.
    ANGEL: To die?
    DARLA: Yes. To die. The way I was supposed to die in the first place.
    ANGEL: I'm not gonna leave you. Every moment you have left, I'm gonna be by your side. You're never gonna be alone again.
    Suddenly the door bursts open, and a taser hits Angel, dropping him to the floor.
    LINDSEY: How did you think this would end?
    Drusilla wearing a low cut, red dress, glides into the room. Angel watches helplessly as Dru morphs into vamp face to brush the hair away from Darla's neck and bite her. Looking up at Angel, Dru scratches a bloody line across Darla’s breast and presses her mouth over it. (The Trial)


    And this stems from the primal fear of violation – a breaching of boundaries. The same breaching of the body that creates a sense of consciousness and Self also takes place here – the fear of leakages and holes that compromise the integrity of the intact, self-contained clean body. Our bodies are designed to detect all foreign agents approaching or entering as potentially lethal. Pollution removal starts in the cells and spreads outward as we wage constant battles against invasion or infection. Anything out of place must be cleansed or destroyed.

    This evolutionary tendency to avoid anything that might enter the physical body from within or without extends to food, saliva, sexual fluids, mucus, blood – anything that enters or exits or becomes detached triggers it. It’s not the actual blood that’s necessarily disgusting – it’s the fact that it’s leaking out of the body that makes it horrifying to us because of our evolutionary defenses against illness and possible death. The brain’s innate spatial and visual ordering ability regulates the battle within – but what regulates the battle without?

    The idea of any open structure in which nothing has certainty or permanency contains its own form of pollution. Boundaries between the normal and abnormal become dangerously porous like the body which makes it necessary to purify ‘unclean’ policies and people. And that explains why violating a social norm or flouting cultural values can produce a strong response of moral disgust.

    WILLOW: I can fix it. I know a spell.
    TARA: No! No more spells.
    WILLOW: Then what? This isn't something that's gonna be fixed by a video club. I know I messed up, okay, and – I wanna fix it.
    TARA: I can't believe that we are talking about this again. You know how powerful magic is, how dangerous. You could hurt someone, you – you could hurt yourself.
    WILLOW: I know a spell that will make her forget she was ever in heaven.
    TARA: God, what is wrong with you? (Tabula Rasa)


    The disgusting is central to cultural anthropology because it is directly connected to the making of culture. Study after study has shown that emotions play a large role in moral reasoning – moving from physical sensation and cognition to the moral sphere. And no emotion seems to have had a greater effect on the organization of cultures than disgust. In early human societies, religious rituals and magic were like a private security system ensuring that no unclean god, person or thing contaminated the group. Major life events – marriages, funerals, births – were prefaced by elaborate purification rituals. Cleansing rites were imposed on the dead to ensure that they would not rise again and compromise the integrity of the village/city.

    Distancing one’s own body from poisons, plagues and dirt is a matter of life and death. But in almost every human culture, the idea of disgust drives the idea of moral cleanliness – which becomes a cultural metaphor for purity, grace, forgiveness and regeneration. The link between dirt/pollution and sin/guilt is built into the structures of a multitude of languages. Aristotle’s dramatic term ‘catharsis’ is the Greek word for the physical cleansing of blood or disease from the body because the horror and terror of watching such stories acts as a purification or purgation to restore proper balance.

    But being disgusted by a drama is as much a physical response as an emotional one – it’s instantaneous, powerful and almost impossible to hide if something is truly dreadful to experience. In the worst case scenario, a gagging response and nausea will follow the feeling of disgust – and yet, it can also fascinate and even entice. Strangely, it is a compelling emotion that can even bring someone so close to admiring what they loathe that they savor the emotion of being disgusted – hence all the horror buffs.



    GLORY: You know, when you think about it, I'm the victim here. First off, I don't even want to be here. And I'm not talking about this room or this city or this state or this planet. I'm talking about the whole mortal coil now, you know? It's disgusting! The food – the clothes – the people. I could crap a better existence than this. (No Place Like Home)


    The visceral, queasy feeling at sadistic torture or sexual cruelty can become entangled with moral and personal beliefs that create a sense of alluring temptation – combining the sense of disgust and desire with mortification and shame. And this connection between disgust and the idea of contamination and contagion is accompanied by a particular kind of danger – the danger of the loss of the Self. The corollaries of disgust – concepts of purity and pollution, clean and dirty, health and sickness, normal and grotesque, right and wrong – are the major pillars that hold up our perception of the world – especially a world that features the supernatural and the soulless undead like the Buffyverse.

    CORDELIA: I don't know what to say, it was really, I mean, one minute you're in your normal life, and then who's in the fridge? It really gets to you, a thing like that. It was – let's just say I haven't been able to eat a thing since yesterday. I think I lost, like, seven and a half ounces? (Teacher’s Pet)


    The seven essential categories of disgust are contaminated foods, bodily products, violations of hygienic codes and bodily boundaries, death-related animals like maggots and vermin, perverse sexual activity and signs of illness and death. These range from obvious disease protection to complex violations of social codes. They are destructive in that they primarily infringe on a sense of self – physical and emotional abuse, rape, torture, cannibalism, spree killing, and mutilation – basically a vampire’s entire bag of tricks.



    Which makes it interesting to note that out of all the basic emotions, the only one that seems to be truly transformed from animal to human is disgust – a simple revulsion at a bad smell becomes a complicated web of connected emotions like guilt, shame and embarrassment. Exactly the emotions that are said to be lacking in a soulless vampire – but are they?

    Last edited by American Aurora; 14-03-19 at 05:15 AM.

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    Hey Aurora, thanks for continuing with us. I've really been looking forward to the remainder of the review and this next part was brilliant. You're consideration of the love/hate dynamics that can feature between characters and the draw to watch them develop is great.

    Quote Originally Posted by American Aurora View Post
    Some call it the ‘paradox of aversion’ – why people willingly seek out stories where unhappy people torment each other – even torture one another – until they come to some kind of reconciliation – or not. Aristotle thought in Poetics that it was the release of painful emotions of pity and terror – watching drama with heart-rending plot twists proved cathartic to the viewer and reset their emotions to a more balanced emotional state...

    Aristotle referred to the classic love-hate relationship as mutable – it could be either comic or tragic depending upon whether a bond of love turned from love to hate or vice versa...

    But instead of turning into a loving relationship between two equals, the relationship between Buffy and Spike in Season Six becomes embittered, violent, angry and destructive. What’s interesting is not how some viewers turned away in revulsion, but how many others eagerly tuned in (and still do) just to see how far they would go, keeping the audience guessing to whether the characters would finally bury the hatchet or bury it in each other’s head.

    The powerful desire to watch subject matter that can sometimes be offensive, shocking, emotionally upsetting and even disgusting has drawn the interest of philosophers, psychologists, literary critics and even scientists who have tried to analyze the nature of this attraction – but there is no denying the eternal appeal of a desire/disgust relationship.
    The push/pull of their relationship is something that has been apparent between them for a long time but really does feature heavily in this season, before, during and after their sexual relationship. Spike's song in OMWF really leaned heavily on this and both the desire and disgust threaded through that first violent coming together in Smashed. There is no doubt it is a great part of what makes them so interesting to watch because there is that mix of very contrasting responses from both of them to what they feel towards the other. I think part of what makes that so compelling is the simple wish to find out if what pulls them will override what pushes them away. The anticipation of what will happen next. Is the desire so great that it will overrule all their own objections and reservations as well as the pressure of those of family, friends and society too? The literal idea of enough intensity existing that it will break boundaries and then wondering about what would happen in the fallout if it does.

    I loved your run through of the Xander/Cordelia relationship beginnings as a humorous version of Spike and Buffy's for having that mix of seething anger as they hit out emotionally alongside their obvious desire. That both aspects very actively play a part of the dynamic and so proves them both right too. Of course if the draw were purely about just physical desire it would be far less intriguing. With Buffy and Spike there is most definitely a heavy dose of lust and passion to it of course, but how bound up their draw to the other is to aspects of their own inner duality and how they fight and face those internal aspects too, how the dynamic between them reflects and originates from some of that as well, just adds layers that make it such a fascinating relationship to watch.

    Both fear and anger are ‘aversive’ emotions – they stem from negative feelings about the outside world – fear is generally turned inward towards a conception of self and anger generally outward towards an external force.

    But disgust differs from both – it is an aesthetic emotion above all because it depends upon the appearance of something rather than a genuine threat. One can be disgusted by something that one neither fears nor hates – disgust is neither defensive nor aggressive – it is based solely in avoidance of something. We don’t want to taste or touch or see or hear or smell it – it is a violation of the senses and what they are delivering to the cognitive part of the brain...

    We want to keep our senses and our consciousness ‘clean’ – unlike fear or anger, we want to eliminate the state of disgust entirely because it is as unpleasant as feeling pain. And yet – there is that attraction that inexplicably draws us back for more. Disgust is an emotion based entirely in the present – which makes it easy to veer from disgust to desire in a moment.
    Considering the differing origins and purposes of the emotional responses of fear, anger and disgust is excellent. That disgust can be something that we'll turn back to is fascinating. Our own responses to what has made us turn away can also include interest at an opportunity to explore our own reactions or the temptation to observe/consider the actual thing that we are told/taught to feel disgusted by if it is there in front of us perhaps. But, as you said, this draw and interest can lead to feelings of shame.

    Soon, the idiom of disgust became synonymous with moral judgement – if one had ‘bad taste’, it meant more than just a turned fish dish – it referred to the shame, humiliation and mortification that came with violating the social and moral boundaries of society. Unnatural sex, shocking beliefs, questionable morals – disgust was just as much about living outside the boundaries of what was allowable as suffering from bad hygiene or maintaining a filthy house.
    This is great and is such a key part of the push part to the relationship from both Buffy's and Spike's perspectives. It's been there and somewhat acknowledged right from the start when during his declaration in Crush Spike also stated, "And you - (to Buffy) wouldn't be able to touch me, because this, (pointing to Buffy, then to himself) with you, is wrong. I know it. I'm not a complete idiot." And this returns again later of course in his conversation with Clem in the crypt, that it breaks boundaries that should exist. But we'll get to that no doubt.

    The 20th century psychologist Robert Plutchik asserted that these emotions are present in all animals and humans, serving an evolutionary adaptive role for survival. The small number of primary emotions have degrees of intensity and – all other emotions are hybrid, derivative states that combine the basic emotions in various combinations that can also be viewed in pairs of polar opposites. Disgust has two degrees on either side – loathing and boredom – and can be paired with anger to become contempt – or with sadness for remorse.

    Oh this really appeals to me, plotting emotions onto a visual colour wheel is great for considering how they contrast, play against each other and combine.

    In analyzing the relationship between Buffy and Spike, it’s notable that trust – with its own extremes of admiration and acceptance – is the polar opposite of disgust. Love is actually a hybrid emotion that combines trust with joy and directly opposes remorse.

    Both trust and disgust have their own centers of receptive activity in the brain – trust works with the dual-hemispheric caudate nucleus, the brain’s pleasure centers – and disgust with the limbic system and anterior insula, directly connected to our ability to taste and smell. Alzheimer’s patients, schizophrenics and paranoia sufferers have been found to have a dysfunctional caudate nucleus which prevents full trust of those around them whereas a dysfunctional anterior insula can often foreshadow autism or psychopathy which prevents revulsion against filth, extreme violence or other culturally disgusting norms.
    This is really interesting against the aspects discussed earlier of how the physical changes in becoming a vampire can restrict emotional capacities as there is a disconnection to the emotional limbic part of the brain. Not that there would be an inability to feel disgust for a vampire, Angel's response to having acted on feelings of love when possessed in IOHEFY displayed clear disgust. The ability to feel a range of emotions has often been evident in the vampires I think, it's more the depth of emotions and understanding that is questionable and appears to become limited.

    Unlike the other basic emotions, disgust lasts longer and has a greater effect on the body – there is a tendency to dwell over the disgusting object, sometimes in a stupor. Unlike anger or fear, there is a studied aspect to disgust that does indeed place it closer to trust.

    Perhaps it’s because trust and disgust are closer to being grounded in beliefs than most emotions. The cultural beliefs about what constitutes a disgusting thing have a lot to do with our reaction. Regardless of how autonomic the physical response, the initial impetus often requires a knowledge of cultural values.
    That is really interesting and it makes total sense that individual experience and knowledge builds into forming emotional responses. This is clearly evident with how one culture's practices can seem wrong and even (often tied to food) elicit disgust in response in people from another. It's intriguing to wonder how much pre-cognitive judgment of how we should respond for emotions such as trust or disgust comes before a physical response and how related associations, such as links to disease, pollution or death, play their part in creating these boundaries to protect a perception of self.

    The curious paradox of disgust is how our very awareness of being disgusted is wedded to the physical revulsion. A consciousness that involves an overwhelming feeling of danger – the danger inherent in pollution and contamination, the danger of defilement. Even as we feel revulsion, we are intellectually and emotionally aware of what disgusts us whether physical or moral. But disgust always evaluates and judges what it senses – both proclaiming the inferiority of the disgusting thing while maintaining one’s own superiority and the right to be free of its contaminating presence. But there is a vulnerability as well – a fear that the polluting powers of the disgusting thing will prove to be stronger than the disgusted. And when it directly deals with the disgusting state of the human body after death – our eventual fate – it can lead to an almost existential state of despair that the disgusted ‘superior’ will one day become the disgusting ‘inferior’.
    Drawing a connection here to the sense of hierarchy and fear of being/becoming what is looked down on is great. If all that was felt were these pushing factors, the desire to remain unpolluted, maintain firm boundaries and only experience physical revulsion, it would certainly be far simpler.

    The disgusting is central to cultural anthropology because it is directly connected to the making of culture. Study after study has shown that emotions play a large role in moral reasoning – moving from physical sensation and cognition to the moral sphere. And no emotion seems to have had a greater effect on the organization of cultures than disgust...

    Distancing one’s own body from poisons, plagues and dirt is a matter of life and death. But in almost every human culture, the idea of disgust drives the idea of moral cleanliness – which becomes a cultural metaphor for purity, grace, forgiveness and regeneration. The link between dirt/pollution and sin/guilt is built into the structures of a multitude of languages.
    Yes, the reach across both moral and physical wellbeing really presses a deepening sense of importance. And so there is a seductive sense of reassurance with conforming. That if you are fitting in within defined boundaries that assert what is good for you, what is normal, you will be happy as well as healthy, safe and accepted.

    In the worst case scenario, a gagging response and nausea will follow the feeling of disgust – and yet, it can also fascinate and even entice. Strangely, it is a compelling emotion that can even bring someone so close to admiring what they loathe that they savor the emotion of being disgusted – hence all the horror buffs.

    The visceral, queasy feeling at sadistic torture or sexual cruelty can become entangled with moral and personal beliefs that create a sense of alluring temptation – combining the sense of disgust and desire with mortification and shame. And this connection between disgust and the idea of contamination and contagion is accompanied by a particular kind of danger – the danger of the loss of the Self. The corollaries of disgust – concepts of purity and pollution, clean and dirty, health and sickness, normal and grotesque, right and wrong – are the major pillars that hold up our perception of the world – especially a world that features the supernatural and the soulless undead like the Buffyverse.

    The seven essential categories of disgust are contaminated foods, bodily products, violations of hygienic codes and bodily boundaries, death-related animals like maggots and vermin, perverse sexual activity and signs of illness and death. These range from obvious disease protection to complex violations of social codes. They are destructive in that they primarily infringe on a sense of self – physical and emotional abuse, rape, torture, cannibalism, spree killing, and mutilation – basically a vampire’s entire bag of tricks.
    And this brings us back to that desire not only to see again, explore the disgusting thing itself, but also to explore the response it. What would happen if you stepped outside of the boundaries you live within? There is perhaps a drive to question what conformity protects you/others and what restricts you.

    Which makes it interesting to note that out of all the basic emotions, the only one that seems to be truly transformed from animal to human is disgust – a simple revulsion at a bad smell becomes a complicated web of connected emotions like guilt, shame and embarrassment. Exactly the emotions that are said to be lacking in a soulless vampire – but are they?
    The lack of care and violence that features in a great deal of what a vampire would take pleasure in disgusts us both morally and emotionally and is very much, as you say, about violating social codes. The lack of regard, of interest in empathising, the lack of consideration for functioning in human society and being a part of community separates a vampire and removes the boundaries on behaviour that could hold them back from committing these crimes in a carefree way. Humans themselves can feel disconnected and lacking these boundaries too of course. When considering the lack of disgust towards acting in these ways we can consider how humans shut down their emotional/cognitive responses, as we saw Faith do in S3 and then become reaffected by in S4/AtS 1. Or stay distanced and lacking remorse, such as Warren. But with a vampire, for me it returns more to a sense of limitations and capacity rather than necessarily a full shut down/absence. So perhaps as the emotions can be felt but lack depth, decisions end up driven more by personal interest and wishes than social codes or moral understanding.

    I've really enjoyed looking at all these aspects which tie into what affects and drives the characters that we can consider alongside the events of Seeing Red. Very much looking forward to your next post.
    Last edited by Stoney; 14-03-19 at 02:35 PM.

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    Buffy Forum review: Seeing Red by American Aurora

    Previously on Buffy Forum: Seeing Red Review
    1. Introduction: Buffy Season Six: A Silence Made in Heaven
    2. Introduction: Seeing Red: Virtual Perception
    3. Introduction: Gender Toxicity: Light Willow and the Cool Girl
    4. Seeing Red, Part 1:From Morning at Buffy’s to the Kingdom of the Nerds
    5. Seeing Red, Part 1: Love and Silence: Dawn
    6. Seeing Red, Part 1: Hurting Buffy: Supervillains
    7. Seeing Red, Part 2: Dead Girls: Women in Refrigerators and Redemption Narratives
    8. Seeing Red, Part 2: Love and Silence - Buffy
    9. Seeing Red, Part 2: Gender Toxicity: Vengeance Demonsplaining
    10. Seeing Red, Part 2: The Trio – In a World of Pure Imagination: Andrew
    11. Seeing Red, Part 2: Love and Silence: Spike
    12. Seeing Red, Part 3: The Trio – Wearing the Mask of a Demon: Jonathan
    13. Seeing Red, Part 3: Gender Toxicity – You Haven’t Got the Stones
    14. Seeing Red, Part 3: Misogyny: Villain with a Thousand Faces
    15. Seeing Red, Part 3:Gender Toxicity: Xander Harris and the “Nice Guy Syndrome”
    16. Seeing Red, Part 3: Love and Silence: Xander and Willow – Children of Trauma
    17. Seeing Red, Part 4: Purity and Danger
    18. Seeing Red, Part 4: The Chosen One – The Slaying of Buffy Summers
    19. Seeing Red, Part 4: Love and Silence – Buffy and Angel
    20. Seeing Red, Part 4: You Made Me the Man I am Today - Buffy and Angel's 'Freak' Show
    21. Seeing Red, Part 5: Suffering the Afterness of a Bad Night of Badness – Is There Life After High School?
    22. Seeing Red, Part 5:Dirty Girls and Impure Demons – The Draw and Despair of the Normal
    23. Seeing Red, Part 5: Robots vs Zombies: The ‘Hard Problem’ of Consciousness and the Buffyverse ‘Soul’
    24. Seeing Red, Part 6: Disgust and Desire: Something Between Us

    And now:

    25. Seeing Red, Part 6: Disgust and Desire: Good Folk, Bad Folk, Clean Folk, Dirty Folk



    FAITH: Never was much for the good book.
    CALEB: Oh, it has its moments. Paul had some good stuff, for instance.
    He catches Faith’s punch, spins her around to the ground
    CALEB: But overall I find it a tad complicated. I like to keep things simple.
    Caleb slams Faith into the wooden wine barrels, exploding in a TORRENT of red wine.
    CALEB: Good folk, bad folk.
    A Potential steps up behind Caleb and swings a sword. He grabs it easily and takes her by the throat.
    CALEB: Clean folk, dirty folk.
    He snaps her neck and drops her to the ground.
    MOLLY: No!
    CALEB: Yes. (Dirty Girls)
    Horror stories often have a nightmarish quality of no way out when it comes to disgust – the very nature of such a story implies that boundaries will be crossed and cultural barriers will be temporarily destroyed, provoking revulsion. Monsters are representations of societal and personal taboos – the desecrated, the fractured, the severed, the debased, the misshapen, the insane – stirring terrors of instability and violation that remind us just how permeable and unstable our sense of Self and the world around us actually is, engendering endless disgust. But what does it mean when the Other has the same reaction to us?

    Caleb is certainly a monster – a previously defrocked priest turned serial killer who has been supernaturally empowered by a series of mergers with the First Evil. We are physically disgusted as we see his once human red blood running down his face in black streaks as if already decomposed and gangrenous – he is clearly inhuman. And we are morally disgusted by how the First’s ability to change forms allows Caleb to gleefully reenact the murders of the numerous women he murdered before joining up with his new god – Ted Bundy merged with David Koresh.



    But his discombobulated, lunatic rantings in the aptly-titled episode Dirty Girls are also directly related to the ideas of desire and disgust as he fixates upon the sexual allure and sinful nature of women.

    CALEB: Well, Shannon, you feel like telling me why those Freaky Joe's were after you?
    SHANNON: I'm not sure.
    CALEB: Well, do you ever think that maybe they were chasing you because you're a whore?
    SHANNON: What?
    CALEB: Now, I know what you're thinking. Crazy preacher man spoutin' off at the mouth about the whore of Babylon or some-such. That ain't me. I'm not here to lecture you. I mean, what's the point? My words just curdle in your ears. Wouldn't take in a thing. Head's filled with so much filth that ain't no room for words of truth. Well, you know what you are, Shannon? Dirty.
    SHANNON: What? I'm not! What're –
    CALEB: Now, now, now. There's no blame here. You were born dirty, born without a soul. Born with that gaping maw wants to open up, suck out a man's marrow. Makes me puke to think too hard on it. (Dirty Girls)


    Despite being a direct expression of misogyny, Caleb’s words regarding cleanliness and souls come uncomfortably close to Buffy’s words in Dead Things as she pummels him on the ground.

    BUFFY: I am not your girl! You don't – have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never – be your girl! (Dead Things)



    And this exposes an underlying dynamic that feeds every episode in the Buffyverse and just about every character whether morally upright human or transparently wicked demon – one endlessly revolving around issues of desire and disgust and their metaphoric analogs of clean and dirty, health and sickness, pure and impure.

    Purity is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the "quality or condition of being pure; the state of being unmixed; freedom from manner that contaminates, defiles, corrupts, or debases; physical cleanliness." The key takeaway here is the horror of adulteration – corrupting something pure to create an unnatural or corrupt state of disorder like a demon/human/robot hybrid with a mad scientist for a ‘mommy’.



    And this is because our bodies themselves are purification machines designed to expel as much disorder as possible – we shed hair, skin, sweat, saliva, mucus, nails and other matter out of place. The brain’s innate spatial and visual ordering ability is at the root of all ideas of purity and cleanliness as our bodies and minds determine what is essential to survival and jettison the rest. This constant reassessment and perception of disgust allows us to maintain ideals of both physical purity and health and moral virtue. To purify literally means to remove all contaminants – and this extends to the world around us as we rid ourselves of the toxic effects of places, people and even philosophical ideas that threaten our sense of self.

    JOYCE: Oh, you're a good girl, Buffy, you just fell in with the wrong crowd. But that is all behind us now.
    BUFFY: It is. From now on I am only going to hang out with the living. I mean, lively. People. (Welcome to the Hellmouth)


    This is known as the psychology of purity and pollution – the need for humans to create hierarchies of moral purity, caste systems and methods of decontamination after contact with people and things deemed ‘unclean’ by a society. Disgust acts as a self-censoring mechanism towards any attraction towards an ‘Other’ ascribed all manner of ‘mixing’ – dirty, impure, wrong, sick, and disgusting Purity/Pollution psychology also works as a method of social control, encouraging others who identify with the group to maintain cultural boundaries and avoid taboo subjects through a carefully maintained conspiracy of silence that promotes the virtues of respectability above disorder.

    FLUTIE: Welcome to Sunnydale! A clean slate, Buffy, that's what you get here. What's past is past. (Welcome to the Hellmouth)


    From the start, Buffy placed the metaphor of order front and center – the authorities of Sunnydale High School are both introduced with speeches in which they assert that moral cleanliness is next to godliness at Sunnydale High. Flutie personalizes the idea when referring to a cleansing of Buffy’s past deeds whereas Snyder vows a sanitization of what he sees as a contaminated place because of the ‘bad’ kids who go there.
    SNYDER: Kids. I don't like them. From now on you're gonna see a very different Sunnydale High. Tight ship, clean, orderly and quiet. (The Puppet Show)


    There’s not a hint that anything untoward lies behind the façade of a typical American high school. Both the principals and the students of Sunnydale High don’t seem to have any idea that they’re precariously living on top of a Hellmouth

    XANDER: Well, not much goes on in a one Starbucks town like Sunnydale.


    Buffy and the viewer learn early on that Willow, Xander and Jesse are themselves pegged as the Other in a normalized world of mean girls and bullying jocks, treated with scorn and disgust because of their low social status. But there’s a major turnabout when both find themselves in a filthy old crypt in one of Sunnydale’s numerous graveyards under attack by a pair of vampires who not only value the purity of their blood, but fight over tasting it first.

    MASTER: Is this for me?
    LUKE: An offering, Master.
    DARLA: He's a good one! His blood is pure!
    MASTER: You've tasted it. I'm your faithful dog. You bring me scraps. (The Harvest)


    Buffy the Vampire Slayer cleverly depicts the relativism of disgust by showing how the opposing forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ have their own definitions of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ – the fresh blood that causes so much disgust in human beings is judged for its taste and purity by creatures who imbibe it as food. And there’s a constant jarring, satirical quality to the clash of cultures – the living and the undead – as each draws a line in the dirt at what constitutes a disgusting taboo or action.



    Poor Willow and Xander are dragged even farther into the dirt – literally – before being saved by Buffy – their fallen state on the ground a metaphor for their new knowledge of what really lies behind the façade of cultural purity.



    Of course, this is nothing new for Buffy, who actually mocks the difference between a human home and a place of internment for the dead by running her finger across a surface to check for dust.

    BUFFY: Well, this is nice. It's a little bare, but a dash of paint, a few throw pillows – call it home! (Welcome to the Hellmouth)


    What makes the opening episode dramatically exciting isn’t Buffy fighting the vampires – it’s the fission between her secret knowledge of the vampires and the breaking of the conspiracy of silence that has a hold over the inhabitants of Sunnydale. Lesser writers might have kept Willow and Xander in the dark for years ala Superman or Batman, carefully cultivating Buffy’s secret identity and playing upon commonplace tropes of superhero secret identities. But Whedon wanted the immediate reaction of Buffy’s friends to their Hellmouth habitat – and so Xander and Willow literally have their noses rubbed in it as they’re brought down to earth by bad guys and forbidden knowledge.

    The newfound awareness of the dirty crypts and underground lairs below – the disgust at contact with something so horrifying – metaphorically ends up contaminating Willow and Xander even as they lie on the ground. The human world that represented health and cleanliness suddenly becomes corrupted – and Jesse is lost to them through the contagious bite of the vampire who infects and possesses humans by mixing their blood to reproduce like a parasite or deadly microbe. And this shocking death of what appeared to be a major on-going character part is part of Whedon’s point that no one is safe when left in ignorance. Honing the senses is key.

    GILES: A vampire appears to be completely normal until the feed is upon them, only then do they reveal their true demonic visage. (Welcome to the Hellmouth)


    The danger isn’t just that vampires are a form of pollution spreading through the populace but that they have the ability to appear harmless at first like so many dangerous but appealing foods and animals – fooling the average person’s dirt detector with their ability to look entirely human until the final kill. The failure of the average Sunnydale inhabitant to realize that they’re on a Hellmouth mirrors the way that a toxin appears benign at first glance. The Hellmouth is a conduit for the debris of evil that pass through the human word of Sunnydale – which is another way of saying it’s an evil lint collector as various evil demons try to attach themselves to a healthy functioning system. The monsters cross that thin line between normal and abnormal, purity and impurity – and Buffy’s job is to dust and vacuum up the dirt.

    Many of the demons that Buffy slays are appropriately disgusting and easy to target – but it’s the ones who seem squeaky clean who are the most likely to be hiding something truly repulsive.



    Willow: You don't like him?
    BUFFY: I don't *know* him. I, I mean, so far all I see is someone who apparently has a good job, seems nice and polite, and my mother really likes him.
    XANDER: What kind of a monster is he?
    BUFFY: I'm just saying there's something a little too clean about this clown.
    WILLOW: He's a clean clown! I have my own fun. (Ted)


    Buffy maintains the essential structure of pure humans living above ground in ‘clean’ spaces while impure demons remain under ground in ‘dirty’ spaces for the first two seasons, using the idea of the vampire as a marker of disgust that harkens back to the earliest taboos – buried human corpses, cannibalism and necrophilia, clammy, cold, pale bodies, animated undead who move and touch us against our will and drink our blood and feast on our flesh. These simplistic divisions of purity and danger regardless of the kind of demon involved – the half-demon Doyle, already in love with Cordelia, is forced to hide his true nature in the face of Cordelia’s disgust and contempt.



    CORDY: Yeah. Ugh, demons. Is there anything more disgusting?
    DOYLE: You think so?
    CORDY: Come on. - Okay, look at this one. This demon wears a wreath of intestines around its head. I mean honestly, what kind of a statement is this thing trying to make with that?
    DOYLE: Yeah, you know, - I mean, it really depends, doesn’t it? - I mean some demons could actually be nice, - given the opportunity. I think, you’d have to get to know them, yeah?
    CORDY: I’ve met a lot of demons, and slime aside, not a whole lot going on there. (Lonely Hearts)


    And yet, the ambiguity of the disgust/desire will is there in the attractiveness of these living undead hovering between the rotting corpse and the living person. The Sunset Club’s cult of humans who dub vampires ‘The Lonely Ones’ and willingly stick their necks out for Spike and his crew to bite at ‘the all you can eat moron bar’ as Buffy says are drawn despite the obvious danger.



    CHANTARELLE: Don't be ashamed! It's cool that you're open to it. We welcome anyone who's interested in the Lonely Ones.
    WILLOW: The Lonely Ones?
    ANGEL: Vampires.
    XANDER: Oh! We usually call them the nasty, pointy, bitey ones.
    CHANTARELLE: So many people have that misconception. But they who walk with the night are not interested in harming anyone. They are creatures above us. Exalted!
    ANGEL: You're a fool.
    CHANTARELLE: You don't have to be so confrontational about it. Other viewpoints than yours may be valid, you know.
    WILLOW: Nice meeting you.
    XANDER: You really are a people person.
    WILLOW: Now nobody's gonna talk to us.
    ANGEL: I've seen enough. I've seen this type before. I mean, they're children making up bedtime stories of friendly vampires to comfort themselves in the dark.
    WILLOW: Is that so bad? I mean, the dark can get pretty dark. Sometimes you need a story.
    ANGEL: These people don't know anything about vampires. What they are, how they live, how they dress – (Lie to Me)


    As half-human, half-demon creatures, vampires are a representation of our desire and disgust at ‘mixing’ two separate states, their human faces able to turn into a predatory monster at will. Through magic, the natural process of decay has been put on pause – vampire bodies are bizarrely antiseptic even as they revel in viscera that disgusts us.

    SPIKE: Fancy it, pet?
    DRUSILLA: Ahhh. It's beautiful. Mm.
    SPIKE: Nothing but the best for my girl –
    Angelus walks up to the table and sets down a human heart, fresh and bloody.
    ANGELUS: Happy Valentine's Day, Dru.
    DRUSILLA: Oh, Angel! It's still warm.
    Spike closes his eyes and lets out a deep breath, then looks back up at Angelus.
    ANGELUS: I knew you'd like it. I found it in a quaint little shopgirl.
    Angelus sees the necklace.
    ANGELUS: Cute. Here.
    She pulls her hair back and away so he can close the clasp behind her neck.
    SPIKE: I'll get it.
    ANGELUS: Done. I know Dru gives you pity access, but you have to admit it's so much easier when I do things for her. (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered)


    The obvious differences in physical disgust between humans and vampires stem from vampires viewing the ingestion of humans as no more disgusting than humans view eating the corpse of an animal. What’s more interesting is what humans and vampires don’t evidently share – a horror and revulsion of the violation of the body. Both have biological substances that leak from the body – tears, sweat, saliva, blood and semen – but only humans seem to feel any sense of disgust. It’s a mystery as to whether vampires ever have to urinate or defecate if they feast on human food like Spike, but the thought doesn’t seem to cause any undue concern.

    Vampires also share with human beings scars, wounds, rashes, moles, birth marks, wrinkles, veins, lumps as well as hair – it may grow slower, but it does grow – and they seem to share the same inner organs and brains and hearts despite the lack of genuine circulation. But the sense of self-disgust at the workings of the body is lacking – in fact, vampires seem to enjoy finding all manner of ways to penetrate the body, playing upon the fears of humans and destroying any perceived notions of cleanliness or purity in the human world:



    ANGEL: I did a lot of unconscionable things when I became a vampire. Drusilla was the worst. She was – an obsession of mine. She was pure and sweet and chaste –
    BUFFY: And you made her a vampire.
    ANGEL: First I made her insane. Killed everybody she loved. Visited every mental torture on her I could devise. She eventually fled to a convent, and on the day she took her holy orders, I turned her into a demon.
    BUFFY: Well. I asked for the truth. (Lie to Me)
    Even when souled, vampires seem to lack the basic revulsion against death that humans cannot help – as Angel finds out when he’s turned human for a day. When he and Doyle come across some dead bodies, the stench of death almost overwhelms him:

    Angel sees two corpses and gags from the smell
    DOYLE: Take it easy, mate.
    Angel starts gagging and coughing.
    ANGEL: The blood.
    DOYLE: It's never an easy sight. It's part of being human now. (I Will Remember You)


    The senses are different to an extent – but the idea of firm moral boundaries are identical. If anything, vampires value the boundaries even more than humans, embracing the social control of purity/pollution psychology to an extreme extent.

    We learn of the Order of Aurelius early on in the series – part of the bloodlines of Darla, Angel, Drusilla and Spike – but also a cult that seems to be led by The Master after his death – an order characterized as “The Select. The Elite.” His lair with his followers is even called a ‘court’ by Darla – which reflects its 12th century origins. The sun with its three satellite stars is a nod to heraldry and a coat of arms - suns and stars represent the ideas of glory and nobility. And the medieval idea of bloodlines is also parodied here as vampires ‘reproduce’ by infecting innocent humans down the line.

    BUFFY: What about this? On the inside. It's a sun and three stars. Haven't we seen that somewhere?
    Giles: Let me see. No, I don't think this, um, represents any –
    BUFFY: Wait, it's right here. Sun and three stars. Yuck, check these guys out. Told you it looked familiar.
    Giles: Oh, the Order of Aurelius. Yes, you're right. (Never Kill a Boy on a First Date)


    Despite our favorite neighborhood vampires Angel and Spike going solo for most of their time in the Buffyverse, vampires seem to enjoy being part of something much bigger than themselves. There’s a suffocating group mentality that’s imitative of an Order of Chivalry in the Middle Ages and parallels the authoritarian mentality of the Watcher’s Council. Their longevity impresses Giles, who has been well versed in devotion to ancient ways through his own training.

    GILES: The Order of Aurelius is a very old and venerated sect. If they're here, it's for a good reason. (Never Kill a Boy on a First Date)
    We also see how strict the Order of Aurelius is in terms of discipline and authoritarianism – the Master cuts off hands and plucks out eyes – creating new creatures that will bear his mark of contempt. These actions touch upon the same fears and horror at mutilation as human beings have at bodily violations and contamination by the Other. And this is mirrored in the Master’s edict that members of the Order were forbidden to live above ground with filthy humans – they were expected instead to pay tribute to the Old Ones.

    Fascinatingly, the Order also performs purification rituals before ritual slaughter – which means that the evolutionary pull of ancient human ways to avoid contamination and purify oneself overwhelms even the slash-and-bash demon who has set up shop within a human body. The pollution caused by impure acts required ritual purification of some sort – rituals create boundaries that reestablish social order for the individual – they aim to restore harmony and ideal patterns of behavior that allow the warrior to heal. But it’s a topsy-turvy world in which the vampires attempt to purify themselves by ridding themselves of any shred of humanity that might remind them of their former selves.



    Cut to the atrium at the mansion. Angelus stands by the fountain bare-chested, breathing frantically and scrubbing himself hard with the water.
    SPIKE: You might want to let up. They say when you've drawn blood, you've exfoliated.
    ANGELUS: What do you know about it? I'm the one who was friggin' violated. You didn't have this thing in you.
    DRUSILLA: What was it? A demon?
    ANGELUS: Love!
    DRUSILLA: Poor Angel.
    ANGELUS: Let's get outta here. I need a real vile kill before sunup to wipe this crap out of my system.
    DRUSILLA: Of course. We'll find you a nice toddler. Want to come, pet?
    ANGELUS: No can do, Dru. I'm sure he'd be hell on wheels, but we don't have much time. Gotta travel light. Sorry. Try to have fun without me. (I Only Have Eyes For You)


    Angel’s realization that a true ritual purification can’t be achieved by mere washing is apt – in anthropological studies, cultures commonly conduct more complex metaphysical rituals by introducing an element of the impure. Sacrifice and spilled blood, scattered ashes and waste products – all contaminated elements – were ‘purified’ by removing their contagion through ritual.

    And vampires seem to need an awful lot of ritual – because their origins mark them a tad less pure than even your average demon. As Anya explains, all the demons remaining on earth are already tainted by human beings – it’s a fascinating thought that none are pure except for a few who have ascended:

    ANYA: All the demons that walk the earth are tainted – are human hybrids – like vampires. The Ascension means that a human becomes pure demon. (Graduation Day, Part One)


    Which means that with the exception of the Mayor after his Ascension and perhaps the Queller demon from Outer Space, all of the monsters that Buffy has fought have some measure of human in them. But vampires are even more contaminated than most because they retain so much of the physical and psychological attributes of their former selves. Other demons seem to look down on them as racially inferior. In Angel, we get direct evidence that many demons are disgusted by vampires – especially those who murder each other:

    ANGEL: Back off! It's my kill.
    COMMANDER: Vampires don't feed on demon blood.
    ANGEL: Oh please! I wouldn't eat this. He reeks of humanity.
    COMMANDER: You're one to talk, vampire. Yours is the lowest of all the half-breeds.
    ANGEL: You think I don't know that? You think I don't smell the humanity inside me day and night - polluting me?
    DOYLE: Please, please don't!
    ANGEL: Shut up!
    SOLDIER: A half-breed who murders other half-breeds. Always charming.
    ANGEL: I know who you are. I want to join you.
    COMMANDER: Join us? You wish to die?
    ANGEL: I need to be cleansed and only you can show me the way. You can kill me if you want you'd only be freeing me. But I can kill half-breeds for you and believe me I can do it faster and better than anyone you got. I know their minds, where they hide, how they think. I can help you.
    COMMANDER: Maybe you can. (Hero)


    And we get the sense of a real hierarchy in the demon world much like the human world – disgust not only maintains boundaries, but difference. Disgust locates the bounds of the other as something to be avoided because they are lower than us. The higher an individual’s status, the more likely their disgust with someone lower than them.

    COMMANDER: The other day I was asked: 'Why hunt the mongrel? Doesn't its very inferiority guarantee that it poses no threat? Won't it die of its own innate mortal stupidity? Let me tell you, even the smallest of vermin need be addressed. Half-breeds. Worse. They keep crossbreeding. Forever diluting our precious demon blood with their weak simpering humanity.
    SOLDIERS: Yeah!
    COMMANDER: If we allow this to happen, it's as good as giving up the call to evil altogether. It's as good as becoming human ourselves. Well, I say never! I say we will not stop until each and every half-breed is erased and our purity rules this planet! We will not stop because the Higher Order demands it! Now, this very evening we take a giant step towards our goal. Tonight the half-breeds that have eluded us will be destroyed. (Hero)


    The fears of contamination here are compounded by the essential impurity of Angel himself. He’s a vampire with a soul who fits neither in the human nor the demon world.

    And this begs the question: animated corpses/vampires may not have souls because they are essentially remnants of a human animated through a demon and magic of the Old Ones, but do other demons have souls? Doyle is half-human and alive, so we assume he still has his human soul. But what of kindly Clem? Or lovable Lorne? Or the myriad of other demons we encounter throughout the series?

    In the first season, we’re told several times that demons do indeed have a soul of sorts – although it’s difficult to figure out exactly what Giles means by ‘soul’ here. He may just be using shorthand for a vampire’s skewed consciousness and not really touching upon anything parallel to a human soul:

    XANDER: So vampires are demons?
    GILES: The books tell the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demon's soul. He bit another, and another, and so they walk the Earth, feeding – killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out, and the old ones to return. (The Harvest)


    GILES: In the dark ages the souls of demons were sometimes trapped in certain volumes. They remained locked within the book, harmless, unless the pages were read aloud. (I Robot, You Jane)
    Taking Giles’ information here at face value, the issue seems to be that your average demon has a demonic soul that allows for limited perception and humans a very different kind of soul altogether – the primary danger for both comes from the cross-contamination between them. Vampires in particular seem to have suffered an eradication of certain connections that create a true sense of consciousness and an ability to feel the weight of memories, feelings, empathy and humanity. From a theological or philosophical point of view, one could see the demonic soul as an element of spirit – the ineffable thing that creates life – but lacking the ‘spark’ that comes from complex human qualities that manifest themselves as a ‘soul’.

    Certain basic autonomic aspects of humanity – sadness, trust, disgust, joy, fear, anger – don’t seem to necessarily be predicated upon having a human soul whereas the cerebral and limbic connections that create complex emotions are needed to comprehend the moral and psychological ramifications of any act. Thus the Judge can accuse Spike and Drusilla of humanity and find Angelus clean as a whistle – it’s not about any lingering soul within Spike or Dru – but about Angel’s successful suppression of even the most basic human emotions because certain life events were (and are) too agonizing for Liam/Angel to ever fully address.



    SPIKE: Uh, yeah. Angel, um – look over your shoulder. Hurts, doesn't it?
    ANGELUS: Well, you know, it kinda itches a little.
    SPIKE: Don't just stand there. Burn him.
    ANGELUS: Gee, maybe he's broken.
    SPIKE: What the hell is going on?
    Drusilla's face takes on a look of realization.
    JUDGE: This one – cannot be burnt. He is clean.
    SPIKE: Clean? You mean, he's –
    JUDGE: There's no humanity in him.
    ANGELUS: I couldn't have said it better myself. (Innocence)
    We know this isn’t actually true, of course, or Angelus wouldn’t be able to feel glee over his schemes, attraction to Drusilla, delight at his baiting of Spike and be so hung up over Buffy – Angelus’ love for her has perhaps changed to hate but the intensity of feeling hasn’t fundamentally changed whether sweetheart or stalker.

    But regardless of the reality of a ‘demon’ soul as opposed to a human soul, what stands out is the horror of an unnatural merger between the two. Human souls are meant to be contained within a living body – the disgust from both humans and demons that stems from encountering a walking corpse housing a human soul was mined by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. The existence of Angel is an abomination – an unnatural mixing of once pure states of human and demon that is apparently as sickening to a vampire as a stitched up Frankenstein monster would be to a human. But then Angelus doesn’t really care for the life of a member of the Order of Aurelius either.



    ANGELUS: So, Darla here tells me you're some sort of Master.
    DARLA: The Master. He commands out order.
    MASTER: The order of Aurelius. We are the select – the elite.
    ANGELUS: And you live in the sewers, do you?
    MASTER: We live below, giving tribute to the old ones. Awaiting that promised day when we will arise –Arise! And lay waste to the world above us.
    ANGELUS: Why'd you want to do that?
    MASTER: Huh?
    ANGELUS: Well, I mean, have you been above lately? It's quite nice. Me – I could never live in a rat infested stink hole like this, if you'll pardon me for saying so. I got to have meself a proper bed or I'm a terror. Isn't that right love?
    DARLA: He's young.
    ANGELUS: And this one, down in the goose feathers, and the finest silks and linens. And a view – she's always got to have the view, don't you, my lamb?
    DARLA: We fed very recently. The blood is still hot in his veins.
    ANGEL: You noticed that, did you?
    MASTER: We stalk the surface to feed and grow our ranks. We do not live amongst the human pestilence!
    ANGELUS: I'll be honest, you really couldn't with that face, now could you?
    DARLA: Angelus!
    ANGELUS: It's not stuck like that now is it?
    DARLA: The Master has grown past the curse of human features.
    ANGELUS: I'm not gonna get a bat-nose like that, huh? Am I? (Darla)
    Angelus himself took great pride in paving his own way, leaving the Master to his dungeons and cavorting with Darla in fancy apartments. His fine clothes and aristocratic appearance were in their own way fashionable and hygienic in comparison to the average man in the 18th and 19th centuries – demonstrating that not all vampires like to roll around in the muck and live underground. But once Angel gets his soul, Darla is horrified and disgusted by his freakish nature:



    DARLA: Angelus? Are you here? Angelus?"
    Angel is huddled up against a wall.
    ANGEL: Not everyone screams.
    DARLA: What?
    ANGEL: When you kill them. Some - just stand there - frozen. While others -
    DARLA: What are you doing? Are we playing a game?
    ANGEL: The children - they usually scream.
    DARLA: Hmm, yes. They sound just like little pigs. Have you brought me some? What? You don't think I’ll share? I can't believe that you would think I'm that insensitive.
    ANGEL: We've drunk and killed for who long now? 140-odd years? We've drunk them all up and they're all dead.
    DARLA: Where have you been?
    ANGEL: Don't.
    DARLA: What is this? Have you met someone else? No! Let go! Let go of me! What happened to you? Angelus, what happened?
    ANGEL: That gypsy girl you brought me - her people found out. They did something to me.
    DARLA: A spell?
    ANGEL: Funny. You would think with all the - people I've maimed and killed I wouldn't be able to remember every single one. Help me.
    DARLA: The spell - they gave you a soul. A filthy soul! No! You're disgusting!
    Darla scratches his cheek.
    ANGEL: Darla -
    DARLA: No - get away from me.
    ANGEL: You brought her here!
    Darla smashes a chair and picks up one of the legs to stake Angel.
    ANGEL: I am like you.
    DARLA:You're not like anything. Get away from me. Get out! I'll kill you! (Five by Five)


    Angel is well aware of his diminished status – for one hundred years, he internalizes his feeling of being a dirty, sinful, impure thing and purposefully lives in squalor and filth because he cannot help but perceive himself from a human point of view. Which even tweaks out a messenger of the Powers That Be:



    WHISTLER: God, are you disgusting. This is really an unforgettable smell. This is the stench of death you're giving off here. And the look says, uh – Crazy Homeless Guy. It's not good. (Becoming, Part One)
    Studies have shown that the same heightened sensitivity for disgust correlates with xenophobia; strange people can be disgust magnets as well if they are outside of one’s group. There is a direct correlation between disgust and dehumanization and those who have fallen from a great height are likely to be viewed as the most corrupted of all.



    Angel can experience disgust for his tormented, impure body from both sides – especially as a Catholic who believed in the mortification of the body. Christian history flows from an ascetic philosophy of purity – so many bodies were subsequently constrained, cleansed or physically altered because of it – especially those of monks, nuns and many other devout men and women. The moral duty to know thyself became more important than the secular hygienic duty to ‘look after yourself’. As a result, the ideology of cleanliness was turned upside down and inside out – the physical body was unimportant compared to the spiritual body. And it shows when souled Angel has trouble watching humans acting more like vampires than humans:



    Cordelia stands in front of the open refrigerator gulping down blood out of a clear container. Some of it runs down her chin.
    ANGEL: I don't think I ever realized just how disgusting that was. (Expecting)


    Angel’s revulsion probably has more to do with the double monstrous vision of himself as both vampire and human. His very existence evokes the most disgust and scorn from both sides as a vampire with a soul – his presence is a very violation of being, a disruptive force that mocks the idea of purity because he is seemingly an impossible creature of both worlds.

    Angelus feels he must purify himself after a hundred years of being a disgusting in-between. In some ways, the freeing of Acathla feels more like penance than anything else after being souled for so long.

    ANGELUS: I will drink – the blood will wash in me, over me, and I will be cleansed. I will be worthy to free Acathla. Bear witness as I ascend –
    Angel bites the young man hard and fast, drinking deeply and lets him fall to the floor dead with the man’s blood on his hands. He starts to walk slowly toward Acathla.
    ANGELUS: Everything that I am, everything that I have done, has led me here. I have strayed, I have been lost. But Acathla redeems me. With this act, we will be free.
    He holds onto the sword tightly, trying to draw it out of Acathla. A bright red flame bursts from the sword, throwing Angelus back and onto the floor.
    SPIKE: Someone wasn't worthy. (Becoming, Part One)


    Putting aside Spike’s hatred of ritual and purification (more on that later), souled Angel haunts even the soulless Angelus because such a creature violated the natural order of things – vampire, human – human, vampire – and yet, he’s bitterly resentful that Angel seems to have had something he now lacks – a certain self-awareness that stems directly from the soul. It’s telling that Angelus cannot truly understand the ritual that he’s asked to perform in front of Acathla. He believes it’s simply a matter of once again victimizing someone else – but true purification requires a personal sacrifice that only a souled Angel would have understood without the help of Giles.

    The Otherness of Angel as a souled vampire mirrors the plight of others who are similarly trapped in the mire of impurity that defines the boundaries of cultural disgust. The impure or ‘mixed’ individual represents an adulterated Self that is neither firmly one thing nor another but simply perceived as unstable, grotesque disorder.

    ANGEL: Why'd they fire you?
    JUDY: Because I'm not what I say I am. I've been passing since I was 15 years old.
    ANGEL: Passing?
    JUDY: For white. My mother was colored, my father – I didn't even know him! My blood isn't pure. It's tainted.
    ANGEL: It's just blood – Judy. It's all just blood.
    JUDY: Nobody believes that! Not even my mother's family. I'm not one thing or the other. I'm nothing.
    ANGEL: I know what that's like. (Are You Now or Have You Ever Been)


    Like Judy, Angel has been ‘passing’ in different worlds for some time – The fear of ‘mixing’ is literally represented by monsters in the Buffyverse – the living undead, the half-human, half-beast, hybrids created by man, alien beings from another planet or dimension, grotesque mixtures of race, gender and sexuality – all spreading pestilence and pollution to the community. But it has its origins in discrimination against others for race, gender, sexuality, religion – anything that places one outside normal society.

    BUFFY: Wow! Apparently Noah rejected the hyenas from the Ark because he thought they were an evil impure mixture of dogs and cats.
    WILLOW: Hyenas aren't well liked.
    BUFFY: They do seem to be the schmoes of the animal kingdom. (The Pack)


    Transitional states like the non-earthly monster in The Blob– which represented formlessness, dirt and disintegration – devoured the tidy divisions of purity. Unusual anomalies in nature or marginal people who crossed social, physical or metaphysical boundaries – outsiders – were especially likely to be polluted or polluting.



    And the only way to truly purify was to use the impure to destroy the impure. Dirty or potentially contaminating ingredients (like a rabbit’s foot or a skeletal totem) are used to ward off pollution – the idea was that only corruption could fight itself. And the most monstrous of all defilements – death – required the dirtiest and filthiest of rituals and rites. In ancient societies, a scapegoat was designated to transfer all the pollution to an object, animal or person – and then exiled, degraded, destroyed or slaughtered to purify and bring renewal to the community.

    The ancient idea of the ‘hero’ was aligned with this scapegoat – whether warrior or sacrificial lamb, a metaphysical death (and sometimes actually physical) in terms of banishment from the life and sense of wholeness given by living in the community was necessary to eventually purify and heal everyone. Although it was everyone’s duty to self-patrol, the destroyer of mixing was the ideal of purity itself as represented by a priest or a King or a hero – or even a young vampire slayer who just wants to live a normal life.

    GILES: This is madness! What can you have been thinking? You are the Slayer! Lives depend upon you! I make allowances for your youth – but I expect a certain amount of responsibility and instead of which you enslave yourself to this – cult?
    Buffy stands before him wearing a cheerleader outfit.
    BUFFY: You don't like the color? (The Witch)


    In a show like Buffy with its vampires, demons, zombies, mummies and other unnatural things that metaphorically represent cultural taboos, isolating dangers isn’t enough – the offending creatures have to be destroyed before they infect the general populace. And the only way to do that is to find a monster to defeat a monster – one who is trainable, pliable and expendable.

    And like Angel, Buffy must live in-between worlds as a ‘mixed’ being – the tension between the normal, pure human Buffy Summers and the heroic, impure half-human, half-demon Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the one girl in all the world – is at the heart of the show. Buffy’s powers aren’t a gift from the Gods that naturally descend upon her – as a creature created to fight the thoroughly impure, she becomes essentially a human rabbit’s foot for the Watcher’s Council, a disgusting being corrupted and ‘mixed’ to fight for their black-and-white dualism of good vs. evil.

    And we see how Buffy accurately reads their intentions as they attempt to merge her with the demon through ingesting a black smoke, the magical soot a mass of impure particles making her less human.



    RED HAT SHADOW MAN: Herein lies your truest strength.
    BLACK HAT SHADOW MAN: The energy of the demon. Its spirit.
    BROWN HAT SHADOW MAN: Its heart.
    BUFFY: This is how you—
    RED HAT SHADOW MAN: Created the slayer? Yes.
    Black smoke comes out of the box in long tentacles; it seems sentient as it dances around the circle. The men keep tapping their staves rhythmically.
    BROWN HAT SHADOW MAN: It must become one with you.
    BUFFY: No!
    RED HAT SHADOW MAN: This will make you ready for the fight.
    BUFFY: By making me less human?
    RED HAT SHADOW MAN: This is how it was then. How it must be now.
    BLACK HAT SHADOW MAN: This is all there is. (Get it Done)


    Buffy was always a coming-of-age story – and coming-of-age mythologies often feature characters who suffer major tests of bodily endurance, emotional deprivation and ritual purification before they could be acknowledged as an adult. But Buffy is literally the descendant of a victim forcibly ‘mixed’ – the smoke heavy-handedly suggesting some kind of magical gestation within each slayer that corrupts her just enough to fight the forces of darkness. The Hellmouth is the way that dirty passes into clean – the thin line between purity and impurity – Buffy’s job is to clean up the dirt. In that sense, she is like a fireman allowing the waters to roll back – creating a constant purification of the area for its inhabitants.

    And it’s her struggle against monsters like Caleb that represent repressive cultural beliefs. For Caleb is both a physical personification of the First Evil and a metaphor for cultural misanthropy and rank misogyny – a grotesque parody of the inability to fight a system of cultural beliefs that classifies the Other into simplistic categories of pure and impure – or clean and dirty.



    XANDER: Are you okay? Let's go – c'mon.
    Xander pushes Kennedy ahead of him. She runs toward the exit as he pauses for a moment, checking to see if anyone's left. Caleb suddenly grabs Xander by the neck, laughing.
    CALEB: You're the one who sees everything, right?
    Xander struggles, but he can't break Caleb's grip.
    CALEB: Let's see what we can't do about that.
    Caleb takes his thumb and PLUNGES it deep into Xander's eye socket. Bloody and horrible. Xander screams. Spike slams into Caleb, grabbing his arm, knocking him back. Buffy's there with Xander, holding him in her arms as he clutches his face in agony.
    BUFFY: Xander! Come on!
    Retreat. Buffy turns, walking Xander up the stairs with Spike. Caleb rises, smiling. (Dirty Girls)
    A classic trope used by everyone from Sophocles to Shakespeare to represent the horrors of bodily violation, the depiction of Xander’s eye-gouging is visually disgusting and audibly gut-wrenching with a repulsive sound effect of something wet bursting – it’s truly stomach churning to watch as Caleb presses his finger into Xander’s eye.



    It’s horrifying on one level because the eyes are our window into the soul – and also out to the world. They aid in protecting us by preventing anything bad entering the body through sight, a means of identifying friend from foe, a way of negotiating within your own society. On a day-to-day level, our senses are as powerful in many ways as any supernatural abilities – and so Xander’s ability to ‘see everything’ is greatly compromised by the loss of an eye. In the script, it’s made clear that Caleb was planning to go for the other eye as well before Spike stopped him – Caleb was attempting to take away one of Xander’s true gifts within the gang.

    But the horror of losing an eye also has much to do with the idea of bodily integrity – a presumption of wholeness and well-being and essential ideal of purity that is part of living inside our own bodies and society at large. The mutilated body throughout the ages was viewed as a disgusting sinful state of being – an impure body that represented a threat to society – stereotyped as sinful, dirty and culpable for its inability to remain whole. In almost all cultures, wholeness is equated with purity and disability with impurity – a kind of moral sickness that represents the unworthiness of the individual.

    Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he is that has a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or lame, or he that has a marred face, or any limb too long, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. (Leviticus 21:17-21)
    And this calls back to Caleb’s ‘good folk, bad folk, clean folk, dirty folk’ – it’s not just that Caleb is trying to destroy Xander’s ability to ‘see’ – but also perpetually mark him as one of the fallen – the ‘mixed’ who are not capable of remaining within the boundaries like Buffy, Willow, Angel, Spike, Andrew, Anya. The male Xander must live without his eye in order to supposedly reflect the filthy impurity of his moral allegiance with the wrong side. Death is too good for Xander – he must suffer the indignity of another's disgust.



    For purity must always be defined against the impure and impure against it; purity cannot exist as a concept without creating its opposite. Cleanliness must have filth, good must have evil, right must have wrong as its opponent for a true concept of purity to exist.

    CALEB: Now it's a simple story. Stop me if you've heard it. I have found and truly believe there's nothing so bad it can't be made better with a story. And this one's got a happy ending. There once was a woman. And she was foul, like all women. For Adam's rib was dirty, just like Adam himself, for what was he but human? But this woman, she was filled. With darkness, despair, and why? Because she did not know. She could not see. (Dirty Girls)


    Because we are so entirely dependent upon our individual and cultural perception of what constitutes filth and contamination – a shifting definition as society itself changes – a biologically-based behavior that evolved to protect against contamination and illness can turn our moral world view into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality in which our personal sense of purity can end up enacting laws and ethical codes. It’s essentially all about self-protection from any kind of pollution expanded into a springboard that controls our entire moral universe. And at the nexus of this are desire and disgust – the dueling emotions that work together to create our sense of Self.

    These two involuntary emotions even affect the ways in which we actually see things. When we are delighted, our eyes open wider and the pupils dilate, increasing sensitivity and expanding our field of view to identify the cause for joy. But when we are disgusted, our eyes narrow in shape as the pupils contract, blocking light to sharpen focus on the source of our displeasure.

    So our sense of desire and disgust literally shape how we see the world around us, determining who and what we should trust – and what we should not.



    VAMPIRE ANNE PRATT: I feel extraordinary. It's as though I've been given new eyes. I see everything. Understand –
    Her eyes land on her son.
    VAMPIRE ANNE PRATT: Everything. (Lies My Parents Told Me)
    Last edited by American Aurora; 21-03-19 at 06:26 AM.

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