Battling Evil in the Bushyverse

America’s young conservatives have President Bush confused with Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Take the National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg for example. Even conservatives have reason to "cheer the immense popularity of the Buffyverse," he wrote in June this year. Why? Because Buffy’s creator Joss Whedon makes the struggle against evil a central part of Buffy’s world:

Running like a steel spine through Whedon’s work is the conviction that evil exists, isn’t going away and must be constantly fought or it will win. Indeed, the series finale of Angel last month concluded on the eve a massive battle we’ll never see, offering a simple message – redemption is for tomorrow, but the battle against evil is for right now.

Fellow NRO columnist Thomas S Hibbs has discovered philosophical profundity in Buffy . He writes that the slayer’s love for her friends and sister is "a counterpoint to the metaphysics of evil":

By contrast to goodness and in parasitic dependence on it, evil involves isolation from the rest of humanity, a closing off of the possibility of love, friendship, and communication; it is a will to raw, unconstrained power, a nihilistic drive to destroy all that is, including oneself.

You see, Buffy didn’t want to spend her life saving the world from demons and vampires but, because she was the only one who could do the job, it became her responsibility. And when the Watcher appointed by The Council to supervise Buffy stood in the way of saving the world from the evil Mayor of Sunnydale she unilaterally decided that The Council and its officially appointed Watcher had no authority over her.

Is this sounding familiar? When you’re battling against powerful evil forces and everyone else is either too stupid or too weak to get the job done, then you have to go it alone. The battle against evil isn’t for cheese eating sissies or Massachusetts Liberals. People are going to get hurt. You just can’t do it nicely. So when George W Bush was faced with his very own Mayor of Sunnydale did he ask the Watchers for permission? Of course not. He did what Buffy would have done. He smacked Saddam so hard that the evil dictator turned and ran. Then Buffy… er… I mean President Bush… chased him out of his festering spider hole and put him in chains. As for his minions, he blew them up and took pictures to prove it.

A world filled with evil doers is no place for liberal squeamishness. That’s the best thing about it. When the world’s survival depends on rooting out and destroying evil the normal rules of civilized behavior no longer apply. If free speech, human rights, or the United Nations stand in the way then they’ll just have to be put to one side until the crisis is over. And with any luck the crisis will never be over.

The trouble with liberals is that they make everything boring. They’re like high school English teachers who make you read books with no robots, pirates, ninjas, or laser guns in them. Books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (you really should click that link). Who wants to watch the news when nothing gets blown up? What fun is CNN if our troops aren’t out there crushing evil with their Abrams M1A1 main battle tanks and AC-130H Spectre gunships? Who wants to watch forests grow or see poor kids learning to read?

The great thing about being a moral warrior battling evil is that it allows you to do all kinds of things that are normally against the rules. As psychologist Linda J Skitka argues, people who feel they have a moral mandate for their cause are likely to ignore niceties like due process (click here for a pdf paper). Normally it’s not cool for teenage girls to use rocket launchers down at the local mall but when you’re saving the world it’s another matter. Why else do you think that the Australian‘s Janet Albrechtsen is always declaring war on things? Somebody pass that woman a bazooka, somebody’s teaching those kids whole language!

Rocket launchers and their political and rhetorical equivalents are the real reason hip young young conservatives are so keen on morality. If it wasn’t for evil doers life would be very dull.

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Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Um, the youngcons (if indeed they’ve seen Buffy or Angel) obviously don’t get irony… the ambiguity of ‘evil’ in the shows is a key point of their attraction – take Spike for instance, or Drusilla…

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Also, the youngcons can’t spell “Wheedon”. Mustn’t have been taught using phonics.

Great post, btw, Don!

MD
MD
2022 years ago

We’ll forward this post to Winston Churchill, although he didn’t use the word “evil.” He usually referred to it as “wickedness.”

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Mea culpa! It’s I who have been possessed by evil and cannot spell ‘Whedon’. I can do grammar though… must be a trick of Satan!

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Jonah Goldberg is lame. And to think that he took over a column formerly written by the superb Misantrophe Florence King. Talk about dumbing down!

ct
ct
2022 years ago

So who is season 6 Willow in this scenario . . . and can we look forward to Bush committing suicide in order to save his sister.

Did the young con notice the side of ‘good’ comprised witches/gays/’non people’ (Dawn/Anya)/vampires(presumably definitely not Christian)/military drop outs; while the ‘bad’ included (a) god, a ‘non denominational but Christian’ preacher, the military/government and a figure of authority (the Mayor). Not sure Buffy supports the neocon (or even con) viewpoint all that much.

Colin Powell is obviously Riley Finn. Condi=Dru (or early Anya). Ashcroft=early Wesley. Rumsfield=Spike (unchipped!).

TimT
2022 years ago

As far as interpretations of the show go, it’s not that bad. The distinction between evil/good (a classic American theme, which pops up in Poe, Lovecraft, King, Chandler, numerous horror movies, detective shows, etc, etc) is a main theme.
I have to disagree with Mark – although much of the interest lies in the ‘ambiguity’ of the evil characters, like Spike and Drusilla, the distinction between evil and good is nonetheless absolutely clear.

I remember reading about a Whedon interview recently, to do with the last season of Angel. Apparently there are intentional references to the war on terror in the final episode. Must say they didn’t leap out at me, but I can see how an argument could be made…

Seems to me, actually, that both right-wingers and left-wingers try to claim the show as their ‘own’.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

All of Wedon’s work is about love. And love in all it’s forms.
The overt battles between good and evil are merely a backdrop to explore aspects of love.
The most important battles are the internal battles between good and evil ie the ambiguity of being human (or, at least for several characters, significantly human).

“The distinction between evil/good (a classic American theme, …”
The distinction between good and evil is a classic theme irrespective of culture. That’s why it makes such a good background. It is totally familiar and allows the viewer to concentrate on the more important stuff.

“I have to disagree with Mark – although much of the interest lies in the ‘ambiguity’ of the evil characters, like Spike and Drusilla, the distinction between evil and good is nonetheless absolutely clear.”
The distinction is made clear: non-humans are evil, and anyone bad who is partly human is capable of good eg Faith, Angel, Spike, Connor’s mum.
If Joss Wedon is sending any message about Good and Evil it is that humans are fundementally good and only can be deemed bad (ie killed quickly and without mourning) when they have lost all vestigages of humanity. Wedon equates humanity with love viz Angel loves Buffy, Spike loves Buffy, Connor’s mum loves Connor, Wes loves Fred too much to destroy the Old One, and the old one has enough love to lie to Wes that last time and assume Fred’s form and say the words that Fred never got to say: words of love.

“Rocket launchers and their political and rhetorical equivalents are the real reason hip young young conservatives are so keen on morality.”
Which shows the problem of dumbing down Wedon’s stuff. If you dumb it down to this degree you completely miss every single point Wedon makes.

One wonders how easily hip young young-conservatives accept that Spike ended up a good guy after centuries of being a really horrible guy. One wonders if hip young young-conservatives carry this through to believing rehabilitation is more important than incarceration. I mean, if a mass murderer and sadistic torturer can end up saving the world by closing the hellmouth then does that mean a petty criminal can become a functioning, productive member of society who should be allowed to vote again?
Of course, if you dumb down Wedon, then you never have to think this oh so simple and obvious analogy through.

But first I think you’d have to get hip young young-conservatives to reverse the dumbing down process on such things as the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution and indeed the Bible.

anthony
2022 years ago

It’s the vicarious bit they love.

TimT
2022 years ago

“If Joss Wedon is sending any message about Good and Evil it is that humans are fundementally good”

Er, no. Exhibit A: the character of Faith. She’s human, and yet she allies herself with evil.

Exhibit B: Willow. She dabbles in the black arts and selfishly allows it to take her over.

“All of Wedon’s work is about love. And love in all it’s forms.
The overt battles between good and evil are merely a backdrop to explore aspects of love.”

Um, wrong. The ‘battles’ are not a ‘backdrop’ for the show. Witness the constant stream of beasties, intent on new and ingenious ways of torturing and murdering people, every single episode.

I don’t buy the ‘love’ idea. It’s an interesting interpretation, but I think it’s wrong.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Still, TimT, we should note that Faith is redeemed later on. She’s also very cool…

Anton Sherwood
2022 years ago

In Buffy’s first two seasons, yeah, nonhumans are simply evil, but it’s more nuanced after that. In season 5 Buffy said to Spike, “You have no soul, there is no good in you,” and I wondered why Spike didn’t reply, “You need to believe that, don’t you? You couldn’t do your job properly if you stopped to think that a demon could ever be other than pure bad. So why did you leave your nearest & dearest in my custody rather than send them to – for example – tall dark & broody?”

On another hand, what’s ambiguous about Drusilla?!

Bet On Markets
2022 years ago

Yeah! Really.

keith ray
keith ray
2022 years ago

Both liberals and conservatives want to fight evil… see linguist and author George Lakoff for cogent explanations of the two systems of morality. Using his definitions, I would say that the Buffy and Angel tv shows were fighting evil the way liberals would write it, not the way conservatives would write it.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

Bring on the Robo-pirates. They look really hardcore.

All you Buffy and Angel fans in Australia may be pleased to know that Joss Whedon’s other show, “Firefly” (a Western/Space Opera) is now playing in Australia, on Channel 7 at the ungodly hour of 12.30am [WTF? Do you have to be a vampire to watch these shows?] on Wednesday mornings. You’ll recognise a bunch of the actors from Buffy & Angel. A feature movie of the series is also in the works.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

“Er, no. Exhibit A: the character of Faith. She’s human, and yet she allies herself with evil.”

Yes, but then she gets redeemed in Angel and shows Wes she could always break out of prison but chose not to ie she is rehabilitated into being good again.

“Exhibit B: Willow. She dabbles in the black arts and selfishly allows it to take her over.”

But the Scooby Gang don’t kill her. Why? Because they know she is good ala Darth Vader. Willow’s black magic was all about addictive drugs. Xander was a one man intervention and stopped her destroying the world (herself). How? By love. Buffy dives off that crane thingo into the dimensional rift so that her sister wouldn’t die doing so. Why? For love.

“The ‘battles’ are not a ‘backdrop’ for the show.”

I’d argue that all the interesting bits of character development and relationships between characters etc happens in the non-fighting parts. I didn’t articulate myself at all on this point before.
The battles are action but they are only very rarely developmental – apart from cleaning out one baddie to make way for the next. Maybe I should have put it that the battles were a 2 dimensional frame work on which the third dimensional stuff is hung.
Where’s a poet when you need one?

Oh, and if you are going to watch Firefly don’t watch it on TV. Find someone with the DVD set and watch it in the correct order and with all the episodes intact.

George O'Dowd
George O'Dowd
2022 years ago

That’s all very nice, but how does your buffylosophy explain the fact that the US (in particular, republican governments with Don Rumsfeld in them) were quite happily greeting Saddam as a friend and selling them lots of weapons? I don’t seem to remember Buffy giving all those evil do-ers the weapons they need to do their evil?

harry
harry
2022 years ago

George, how dare you think more than one step ahead! And how dare you look at history with both eyes open!
You will never make it as a neo-conservative. Never.
Your membership is hereby cancelled.

Hal
Hal
2022 years ago

Boy, is this guy ever an idiot.

Hal
Hal
2022 years ago

Actually, maybe I should give him some credit. Bush has been in bed with the “evil-doers” for decades… just like Buffy and Spike or Buffy and Angel.

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