Thursday, August 26, 2010

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural: Confronting the Inherent Evil?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural are two highly successful television shows that have embraced the supernatural, both use representations of flesh and blood demons to answer questions about good and evil and the inner struggle of right versus wrong. The supernatural is no longer confined to the metaphysical world, rather vampires, werewolves and demons, through the use of highly sophisticated media products are as tangible and alive as human beings, the “supernatural [now] appear[s] natural” (Hjarvard, 2008, p9). Each show demonstrates at different points that within the black and white good versus evil fight, there are also shades of grey which are expressed in the re evaluation of specific vampire characters in episodes ‘Potential’ and ‘Bloodlust’

Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows the story of Buffy Summers, a school aged Californian blonde who has a sacred calling, as the one and only chosen one, to slay vampires and demons. Vampires in ‘Buffy’ are constructed as “soulless demons devoid of goodness and humanity” (Stevens, nd, online), they have no conscience and simply are incapable of caring for the worth of human life or feeling remorse. This generalized representation of an evil soulless vampire is directly juxtaposed against two vampire characters who, over the course of the series, gain their human souls back. This antithesis is a common theme throughout the series, and is consistently re-evaluated in terms of the embodiment that evil presents, and the inherent goodness predisposed in a character with a soul. Angel starts the series as an anomaly in the vampire world, he has a soul and feels the pain of remorse and deep irrevocable shame of the atrocities he committed whilst his inner demon was in control. Spike however actively seeks to regain his soul, battles to have it returned to make him the man he was. It is in season seven in the episode titled ‘ Beneath You’ that Buffy learns that Spike has regained his soul and with that knowledge comes a reevaluation of Spike’s vampire character. This becomes evident in the episode ‘Potential’ in season seven when Giles returns to find the Spike has been given free unsupervised reign amongst young girls, to which Buffy replies;
“It’s different now, he has a soul.” (Season Seven, Episode: Potential).
Buffy believes that the presence of Spike’s soul is cause for a total reevaluation of his character, that his actions now are a result of an ensouled being consciously choosing right over wrong. Whereas previously, he was a creature who had no hold on humanity and whilst inherently evil was also not responsible for his actions as he had no agency to choose another path of action.

The TV show Supernatural is constructed differently to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy has a sacred calling in which vampires feature predominantly as the enemy evil, whereas Supernatural follows two brothers who hunt different evils in every episode, or ‘town’ they visit, that borrow from religions, lore, legends and urban myths from across the globe (Engstrom & Valenzano, 2010, online). Dean and Sam Winchester travel in Dean’s black Chevy Impala across North America seeking the supernatural and eradicating it. In season two they come across a vampire nest in a small American town in the episode ‘Bloodlust’. Dean meets another hunter, Gordon and they both revel in a ‘devil may care’ attitude towards the things they hunt. A quote from Gordon in the episode sums it up quite well as he talks to Dean about why he loves the hunting life;
“It's all black and white. There's no maybe. Find the bad thing, kill it. You see, most people spend their lives in shades of gray. "Is this right, is that wrong?" Not us.” (Season Two, Episode: Bloodlust).
In this episode Dean learns his assumptions and his life aren’t always right and is forced to question some of his convictions in regards to his black and white perceptions of good and evil. The following dialogue between brothers Sam and Dean demonstrates this conflict;
“Dean: What part of "vampires" don’t you understand, Sam? If it’s supernatural, we kill it. End of story. That’s our job.
Sam: No, Dean, that’s not our job. Our job is hunting evil. And if these things aren’t killing people, then they’re not evil!” (Season Two, Episode: Bloodlust).
The vampires in question have chosen not to drink from and kill humans; rather they consume animals, not unlike the Twilight Saga’s famed ‘vegetarian’ diet of its main vampire family, the Cullens (Stevens, nd, online). The exploration of the embodiment of evil plays a significant role in this saga. Where one brother (Dean) may think that the physical character of a supernatural being defines its inherent good/evil, the other brother (Sam) forcefully opposes this view. This is contrasted directly with Sams’ need to regard the inner character as displayed by its respective actions. A similar view is echoed in Buffy, as aforementioned in her dealings with Spike, dependent on the presence of his soul.

Both ‘Potential’ of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ‘Bloodlust’ of Supernatural question the concepts of what is inherently evil in the supernatural world. In ‘Potential’ Giles is aghast to learn that Buffy has released Spike, but she believes wholeheartedly in his soul and his redemption. In ‘Bloodlust’ Dean struggles with questioning his conviction in the inherent evil of vampires which shakes his world but he ultimately believes in the hard right versus the evil wrong and comes to a new understanding of evil. In both depictions choice is privileged, the soulless Spike didn’t possess any humanity which meant he lacked the agency to act in a humane way and therefore lacked choice. However when he regains his soul he is able to actively and consciously chooses good over and therefore loses the inherent concept of evil that comes with being a vampire. The vampire nest that Dean and Sam encounter choose not to prey on humans, instead finding their sustenance from the local livestock population and wildlife, therefore through choice these vampires also do not fit the stereotypical evilness inherent in vampires.

Engstrom E and JM Valenzano III. 2010. Demon Hunters and Hegemony: Portrayal of Religion on the CW's Supernatural. Journal of Media and Religion. 9, 2, 67-83.

Hjarvard S. 2008. The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change. Northern Lights. 6,1, 9-16.

Stevens K. nd. Meet the Cullens: Family, Romance and Female Agency in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. Slayage 8.1 (29). Online. Retrieved from:

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