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Buffy, Riley (yes, Riley) and Spike (1/2): Not-Entirely Random (Feminist) Ramblings

When it comes to BtVS, I'd promised myself that I would not write on my own journal here about subjects that are generally quite well-worn and have been discussed at length - and with great intellegence - by other people. Nevermind that I'll rant or blather at length about a variety of subjects (the comics, the episode AYW, etc etc) on other people's LJ convos. When I write more metas I'll want to focus on topics that are not generally discussed (at least in the few corners of fandom I've seen).

But - BUT - every now and again the random thought does pop in:



[Random musings and rants after the cut - consider yourselves forewarned]1) AYW: First off, I hate that episode in general.  (I can name a hundred reasons, but other people already have discussed at length and more coherently than I can.)  But I do love Buffy's apology - I love that she is taking responsibility for her own actions and treating Spike "like a man" who deserves to be treated better and deserves an apology. I personally don't need her to grovel and beg for forgiveness (she's done enough self-flagellation to last a lifetime IMO); and in S7 she demonstrates care and forgiveness in her actions time and again.

There's something very particular in her phrase "I'm using you": if we are meant to see Spike as a metaphor for Buffy's dark side, the demon within, her "death wish" ( gabrielleabelle writes about this brilliantly in her "Buffy Came Back Wrong" meta series), as well as a character in his own right, and if I watch the scene through a Buffy-oriented lens, rather than a Spike-oriented lens, it occurs to me that the sentence can also be interpreted to imply that Buffy is "using" herself, not unlike the way Faith used her body in "Who's That Girl". And it ties in with the sense of having "come back wrong": whether she can consciously vocalize it or not, that she has only been using the body she was inserted when Willow resurrected her in Bargaining, that neither her body or her life have belonged to her since then, and she's been unable to fully inhabit them until she takes back full possession of herself, of the space called "Buffy". I'm not negating the sincerity of the apology to Spike, but she is apologizing to herself at the same time.

But I'm sure I'm thinking about this too much and fanwanking to high heaven and unholy hell here. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Or I'm retreading VERY old ground.

2) I love the Buffy/Spike arc, the relationship in all it's phases, even if I regret some of the decisions made by the writers/M.E. and the way certain things were handled, or mishandled as the case may be.  Balls were dropped, so I'm not intending a huge discussion on that right now.

However, when I read comments by the writers and the time and within fandom that S6 - S7, from SR to Chosen, was really "all about Spike" and his journey, does it bother me?  Yes, yes it does. When it feels as though Buffy, the titular hero, is no longer the center of her OWN story, I have issues. They don't keep me from loving Buffy & Spike in all their messy glory, but I''ve always been a bit of a contrarian.

It's not the first time it's happened, either: When I watched S2, I thought the Angel/us arc was some of the best television I'd ever seen - and I only watched it for the first time this year. So I'm a grown adult, and S2 had me laughing outloud and sobbing  (*Oh, Jenny, I miss you*) in ways that no other TV show ever has. But I was puzzled when some of the key episodes - featured voice-overs by David Borezanz as Angel, and flashbacks to key moments in his history.  It made for fantastic television and character-building, but it made Angel the center of the tale, even if very briefly - I was watching his story, not Buffy's.

Now, in literature of course this happens all the time, the shifts in POV from one character to another, but feels very different on a TV episode, particularly one like Buffy. And all through S3, there were many times as though the season were really just a set-up to get Angel onto his own show; Buffy and the show were essentially being kept in a holding pattern because of that, outside of her relationships with Faith and the Watcher's Council.  I didn't feel that I really discovered much more about Buffy in S3 that I hadn't already learned in S2.

I want the people in Buffy's life to be part of her story, but not to take it over.  Unfortunately, I think the trend continued on TGiQ (based on what I have read - I will admit I haven't watched it) and on some level, even in the comics.  The story is no longer "about" Buffy: whereas on her own show she was a presence, on AtS she becomes an absence, a symbol; her only importance is what she means to Angel and Spike.  Buffy herself is both a prize to be fought over, and the battleground on which the contest is played out.  (To a draw, apparently; although it's clear from the "shipper wars" that each faction has chosen their own champion.)

And this is nothing new, and certainly part of a cultural pattern: men at the center of not just stories but THE STORY, the central story of existence, of meaning, around which all other stories are shaped and retold. Even when women are protagonists, men are often central to their lives and their stories, in a way that occurs far less often than in reverse.  Hence the existence of - and the need for - the Bechdel-Wallace test.

With the comics, I get the sense that this Buffy is a changeling, not the one from the show at all, or barely so; and that the story is, again, not about "Buffy" but about Joss's regard for the character who has become both his meal ticket and the albatross around his neck; about his true feelings towards fans - which may or may not be conscious on his part, but has rather ugly implications nonetheless; and the feelings of the mostly-male writers of the comics in general toward the notion of "strong", "opinionated" or "empowered women" or Buffy in particular and perhaps even of SMG.  A way to get back at her perhaps, for insisting on a certain view of the character she was playing?  No more "Buffy wouldn't do that" to hold them back, no real life actor who has some say in how the character and her own very real body were used, and willing at times to vocalize it?

I'm reminded of the time I took an undergraduate women's studies class in college that I had to drop out of because of a too-heavy classload; the class was made up of 20 female students and perhaps 3 male undergrads. A few weeks later a former classmate approached me and said that ever since I had left "the guys have been dominating the discussions."

"Why do you let them?"  That was what I wanted to say to her...and what I'm certain I didn't say. My memory is fuzzy on this point, but more likely I held my tongue, not wanting to give offense; I'm sorry now that I didn't say it.

And I certainly don't want to offend anyone here now, or seems sexist: I've experienced that in my relationships with other women: being talked down, silenced, interrupted as though I weren't already speaking, dominated in conversation, etc. It's not a "male" thing in terms of individual men, it's really about power and control, personality issues, and who is the "dominant" person in the relationship (sometimes from moment to moment).

3) I've read that the writers "needed" to get Riley out of the story in S5, that Buffy needed to be alone for the Glory/Dawn storyline to occur. And in some ways it makes sense: Buffy has already been painted as self-absorbed (which is a different thing than self-centered, IMO) and tends to put all of her focus on whomever is most important in her life, usually her lovers/partners: Angel, Riley Spike.  So, Dawn needed to be Buffy's focus that season, so get rid of the boyfriend (and get rid of Joyce) so Buffy has no one to distract her focus.

I think that is selling Buffy short as a character, but moreso selling women short in general.  And yes, I am fully on board with the arguement that whatever happens on BtVS has to be interpreted in context, and isn't meant to be a comment on RL issues in general.  (Except, of course, when it is, and who gets to decide when it is and when it isn't?  YMMV) But nonetheless, there is something somewhat uncomfortable in the notion that the writers of BtVS, which set itself up as a show that subverts cultural tropes, that originally presented Bangel as a parody of romantic tropes - again, that's the conclusion gabrielleabelle came to, and I'm more than happy to go with that - actually do believe in the trope itself, or rather, that naturally a woman's life will revolve around her man as played out in the character of Buffy.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this - if anywhere except in circles - and I suppose I'm as guilty as the writers of taking Buffy out of the center of her own story, and making it all about me.
1) it occurs to me that the sentence can also be interpreted to imply that Buffy is "using" herself, not unlike the way Faith used her body in "Who's That Girl". And it ties in with the sense of having "come back wrong": whether she can consciously vocalize it or not, that she has only been using the body she was inserted when Willow resurrected her in Bargaining

OOOOH. I'm glad you did decide to post because I've never seen this point brought out before but it sounds exactly right. And I really, really like the comparison with her experience with Faith.

I'm not negating the sincerity of the apology to Spike, but she is apologizing to herself at the same time.

aw, yes. She really can't make an honest apology until she's started to forgive herself, really.

2) See, I never get that, that it became All About Spike. I liked his arc in S7, don't get me wrong, but I think Buffy's was at least as interesting. I wonder how much that is, as viewers we're used to prioritizing the POVs of male characters? I know I am, though I try not to. Female characters have to be twice as strong and flashy to get half the attention a similar male character would.
Thank you for reading my tossed-brain-salad! (I shall try to be more coherent in future.)

I'm glad you did decide to post because I've never seen this point brought out before but it sounds exactly right. And I really, really like the comparison with her experience with Faith.

I actually had to have that pointed out to me - I watched the scene and TOTALLY missed the fact that Faith was really raging against herself, (not against Buffy -in-Faith). When I was first watching a few months back, I was also reading Noel Murray's reviews on the ATV Club, and someone made note of that in the comments. (I felt foolish for not catching it.) Fortunately it's an episode that rewards multiple viewings. I hope to do some meta on that episode more specifically.

I find it interesting that in this ep and in S3, Faith represents Buffy's dark side, a role that Spike then takes over in S5-6. I also have wondered how much the body swap reflects Buffy's actions in future; we see that being in Buffy's body/life affects Faith greatly, but not so much the other way around. (Buffy certainly takes on a lot of darkness in the coming seasons, but I suspect that the writers really weren't connecting it specifically to the bodyswap, and I'm just fanwanking.)

I wonder how much that is, as viewers we're used to prioritizing the POVs of male characters? I know I am, though I try not to.

A very interesting point, and I definitely need to give that one further thought!

ETA: Something I've noticed in various fandoms whether for movies/tv shows, celebrities, etc, at least in the fanbases I've been aware of or participated in - most of the fans are female, straight (generally white, middle-class, and either quite young, or skewing middle-aged), and there tends to be a strong identification towards a character/person they find sexually attractive, be it Spike (duh) or Ewan McGregor or Keith Urban, etc, which gives a sort of fierce passion to the fans of that character/person that is often lacking in female characters/celebrities. (I know for myself I tend to identify with female characters and actors, but there is very rarely a sexual component to that identification, even though I am a lesbian. Of course I'm not talking about the fanbase of specifically lesbian icons such as kd lang, etc. That's probably another story.)

The sexual element of BtVS took me by surprise - it's the first time I've been part of a fandom where porn/erotic fantasy (often quite explicit) seems to be a huge percentage of fanfic.

In other words, I think you are right, but I would add that the sexual element is a strong part of it. It may be what allows people to be "Spuffy" fans without actually liking Buffy at all - do people identify WITH Spike - and certainly his feminization on the show makes this possible - or are they inserting themselves into Buffy's place, or a bit of both?

Female characters have to be twice as strong and flashy to get half the attention a similar male character would.

Your comment reminds me of the notion that a woman has to do twice the work to get a fraction of the reward. (etc and so forth) You remind me of the fact that in the Buffyverse, Angel and Spike have centuries of history that can be worked off of and explored (FFL is does so brilliantly), but Buffy has very little backstory; she is very young and her character exists in the here-and-now (something Giles says explicitly to Joyce in the episode Angel, if I recall). So compared to the Fanged Four, she has a bit of a handicap in that regard.

Edited at 2012-09-20 01:50 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. Very interesting. Will come back to this (and all your lovely comments you gave last week) once i have a bit of free time at my hands (like, next century?!). :-)
(like, next century?!). :-)

No hurry, trust me! (And did I send you replies last week? I cannot remember at all. That's the thing about ADD - everything old is new again.) And thank you for reading it - I'm not claiming it's coherent at all, more of a mental jumble. I'll probably refine some of these ideas later on.

BTW - I was reading one of gabrielleabelle's posts from two or so years ago the other day in which you had commented, and you mentioned that you were a man who believed in feminist ideas, or somesuch, and I admit it made me all sorts of happy if so. I've read your posts and always sort of assumed you were a woman based on what you've written. Which is terribly sexist of me, I know. But it also makes me think of Buffy in S5 looking over her mom's flowers: "Still some guys getting it right." (And if I misread that - never mind me.)
2) Hmmmmm, that's an interesting idea. I can agree about Buffy feeling like she's not been fully ~inhabiting herself since coming back from Heaven. Her affair with Spike was all about trying to "feel", after all. She needed the tactility of their relationship (… violent sex) to make her feel connected and maybe tethered to something, but that also had the adverse effect of leaving her even more adrift. Because while I believe she was able to be her worst self with Spike (and that this was a really valuable thing during a period where she felt she couldn't be honest with her loved ones), she was also brutally splitting herself in two. No wonder she felt so adrift.

3) Word to this. Spike is my favourite dude on the show and one of my favourites… ever. But he still doesn't beat out Buffy. And I understand why more focus would be given from people to Spike's arc because it's so huge and dramatic (as opposed to Buffy's subtler development), but it is bothersome and says troubling things about fandom's attitude to men and women. : \

I do get what you're saying about S3 re: Angel, but I actually thought the Buffy/Faith arc was really important to Buffy's character? I didn't feel that her story was being taken over (by Faith) or anything. It was really just the Angel/Buffy that was problematic in that regard.

I have mixed feelings about TGIQ. It is true though that AtS is more or less about Buffy's "absence", but that was kind of inevitable with the spinoff - the entire premise of the show was Angel-without-Buffy. So. ; \

3) Ugh, WORD. As though Buffy would ever prioritise Riley over Dawn? And wasn't Riley's whole huffy exit precisely the result of him feeling that she was ~neglecting him in favour of more important people in her life? IDGI.

Anyway, you have very interesting thoughts and thanks for sharing.
Her affair with Spike was all about trying to "feel", after all. She needed the tactility of their relationship (… violent sex) to make her feel connected and maybe tethered to something, but that also had the adverse effect of leaving her even more adrift.

I agree with that entire paragraph there - "splitting oneself into two" seems to be a major theme on the show from WTTH when Buffy first encounters Giles. (Her speech to him in that scene is what sold me on the show right off the bat.)

Word to this. Spike is my favourite dude on the show and one of my favourites… ever. But he still doesn't beat out Buffy...it is bothersome and says troubling things about fandom's attitude to men and women. : \

Word back. I think what you're saying here connects to what I said upthread to norwie_2010 and eilowyn about the relative awareness of women to their own issues in RL politics.

I do get what you're saying about S3 re: Angel, but I actually thought the Buffy/Faith arc was really important to Buffy's character? I didn't feel that her story was being taken over (by Faith) or anything. It was really just the Angel/Buffy that was problematic in that regard.

I probably should have clarified myself better in that regard. I DO think Buffy/Faith is very important to both of their arcs. I was thinking in terms of the Angel storyline and may not have made that clear, sorry. I could probably stand to do a S3 rewatch (which I did not do before I wrote this.) I think my memory of the season was that the time spent on Angel actually robbed some of the time that could have been spent on BuffyFaith but that's just my memory and I may be wrong.

I actually want to do some meta just on Buffy and Faith - Buffy is, in Buffyverse terms, Faith's grandsire (grandmother?).

And wasn't Riley's whole huffy exit precisely the result of him feeling that she was ~neglecting him in favour of more important people in her life? IDGI.

Yes, it was, wasn't it? This may be slightly OT but I just rewatched Doomed in S4, and there's a scene where Riley point blank calls Buffy "stupid", self-centered, etc for rejecting trying a relationship with him and not giving him a chance; and that if she sees people and her life in a negative life that's what she's going to get back. I know there's truth to what he says but the WAY he does it, when he knows nothing of the circumstances and hardly knows her (which she calls him on, btw) really bothered me. He was being patronizing, belittling, shaming her for her feelings, and essentially telling her that she was wrong not to give him a chance. Because, you know, he's a great guy, and she SHOULD do what he wants. By the end of Doomed he's rewarded with a kiss and her opening herself up to him. I find that extremely objectionable.

And oddly, it occured to me watching it that there is a little bit of that in what Spike does in S5-6: "I'm in LOVE with you, therefore you ought to love me back, you know you are," etc. I think the difference is that Spike figures out his mistake, Riley never does.
However, when I read comments by the writers and the time and within fandom that S6 - S7, from SR to Chosen, was really "all about Spike" and his journey, does it bother me?

Hmm, I've been in the fandom a long time and I don't remember any of the writers saying that. Where did you come across it? In fact, the only people I can remember seeing say it are people who hate Spike and insist he took over the show and ruined it.

I freely admit I may well have missed it, though.

Spike's story arc is amazing, I know, but no way does it trump Buffy's. For a start, Spike's story only happens because of her, which is in fact true of all the characters, even Willow, though hers then takes on its own trajectory. I like that. Usually, it's a male character who is the 'still centre' of the story, if you like, and around whom the other characters' stories revolve.

Re: TGiQ - I'm always astonished by the amount of hatred this episode generates, especially when it's hated because of Buffy. It's not about her at all. It's about Spike and Angel and their silly rivalry over her (this was long before Joss thought of the comics, after all), and how they should get over it and grow up. Buffy never appears, but even the idea of her as presented by Andrew (which tells you a lot) is way more mature than Spike and Angel.

The worst thing about the episode IMO is that some of the comedy is way too broad.

Great post. And I think you're 100% right about comics Buffy and how she's suffering at the hands of unsympathetic male comic book writers.
Hmm, I've been in the fandom a long time and I don't remember any of the writers saying that. Where did you come across it? In fact, the only people I can remember seeing say it are people who hate Spike and insist he took over the show and ruined it.

Argh, I should have done a specific link to the reference to the show writers themselves. I do see that a lot of fans either focus on Spike (to the exclusion of Buffy) or the Buffy-haters who claim Buffy really didn't have anything to do with the final victory. I may be conflating all this a bit but when I find the specific reference to the show's writers again I'll edit my post to include it.

I'll confess again to not having watched TGiQ, and I know many people like it; I'm not talking about it's quality as entertainment in and of itself. I guess it's fair that Buffy be merely a representative of an ideal to Angel, because that's what she was to him from the first moment ("my destiny"); but going away was about being his own man. Fair enough, but Spike KNOWS her in a way Angel didn't, and was a friend and companion as well as enemy (as Spike said to Buffy and Angel in "Lover's Walk", "You'll never be friends".) So the idea that he's taking up Angel's habits - lurking, watching her from a distance, making decision on her behalf - is not something I want to see. (And the notion that, knowing her abandonment issues, he wouldn't even call her to let her know he was still alive? Maybe not to be lovers, but that seems a huge negation of their friendship, and a step backwards for Spike. Just my opinion, and I'm probably letting my fangirlishness cloud my judgement.)

But the point being, the way it's handled in that episode seems to be part of a larger pattern which in and of itself is part of a larger cultural pattern.

I guess I should remember that Joss may claim to be a feminist, but he hasn't really done the work to examine his priviledge (that he's less of a feminist than he thinks he is.)

Great post. And I think you're 100% right about comics Buffy and how she's suffering at the hands of unsympathetic male comic book writers.

Thank you; I know that what I have to say about the comics is old news by now, but it was new to me this year and quite a shock. And I don't have to read every issue; the few I picked up literally reeked of it, IMO. (But I know there are people who love it, so to each their own.) I don't know if that's a gender divide, in terms of those who love the comics and those who don't?
I've always had the impression that the last really important thing Joss had to say about Buffy as a character was her sacrifice in S5. Everything since then has been a holding pattern, because he really doesn't know what to do with her.
I think you are quite right about that - in which case I'd prefer that he let her go. Either let the story end, or allow someone to take it up who is genuinely interested in the Buffyverse and in Buffy and her friends.
(Rather than continuing his role as "God", getting the final say because everyone defers to him ultimately. Which is a meta in and of itself.)

I think it was norwie_2010 (?) who wrote an interesting meta saying that the comics (S8) essentially retell the same story as the show (merely twisting or reversing the outcome).
This was so interesting (and original!) to read, and I'd love to respond to specific points, but I'm on my phone at Denny's and making good responses is kind of hard with the LJ app. So I'll respond later, I hope!
I look forward to your thoughts! I enjoyed reading your responses on gabrielleabelle's metas; as I said to norwie_2010 above I'm thrilled that people are taking the time to read what I have to say and remark on it.
I don't believe that any of the writers have said that it was Spike's story? I think it's just the fandom that makes it Spike's story and ignores Buffy or treats her as nothing but a muse and/or a frustrating object of desire in Spike's story. Since Spike is the more open about his feelings of the two, and since his storyline is flashier, there was a danger that Spuffy could turn into a Spike-POV-dominated story, but I don't think it ever did in text itself, as evidenced by the many people who relate to Buffy during those seasons. However, a lot of the fandom does privilege Spike's POV.

But I was puzzled when some of the key episodes - featured voice-overs by David Borezanz as Angel, and flashbacks to key moments in his history. It made for fantastic television and character-building, but it made Angel the center of the tale, even if very briefly - I was watching his story, not Buffy's.


I don't agree with that. On BtVS, Angel was never the center of the story - Bangel was largely told from Buffy's POV, Angel was mostly just Buffy's love interest, and Angel very rarely got to have his POV shown (unlike Spike in later seasons). It was necessary to flesh him out and finally show some of his history, which Becoming I flashbacks did. But he's not the center of Passion, despite his flashbacks (it's split between Giles and Buffy), and he's certainly not the center of Becoming: Becoming part 1 focuses more on him, but in the flashbacks rather than in the present day, and Becoming II is all about Buffy, she's absolutely the center of that episode.
Re: the writers of the show, I promise if I ever mention something "somebody said" again I'll actually have an example; that was lazy writing on my part. Basically I do agree with what you say there; I think I mentioned something upthread about the sexual component of that (Spike appealing to a largely female fanbase? I've certainly seen it in other fandoms.)

Re: Angel, fair enough. I hadn't done a rewatch of S2 when I wrote this, so I probably should have been more specific, or left it out altogether. Yes, Becoming part 1 really is the episode I had in mind (I was being lazy and not double-checking myself), and it still did surprise me at the time that his story and voice-over were used as the framing device, I guess because I was so oriented to Buffy. And it's an unusual move because at this point Angelus is the antagonist, not protagonist of the story. Reading your post has me thinking that maybe that was another intention subversion of viewer expectation? I can appreciate it from that point of view. And you're absolutely right about Becoming Pt 2 being Buffy's story.

And all through S3, there were many times as though the season were really just a set-up to get Angel onto his own show; Buffy and the show were essentially being kept in a holding pattern because of that,

Ha! Yes, this has been my feeling, too. Truth be told, S3 was the closest I ever came to giving up the show because it's exactly as you say: Everyone is stagnant. Buffy, after Anne, isn't driving the story anymore. I wouldn't even say the Faith arc is much about Buffy very much, so much as showing what she isn't. The whole dark side of power aspect doesn't work for me regarding Buffy's character. I actually think Faith works better as a "dark side" character for Willow since they both have similar resentments and trajectories.

With the comics, I get the sense that this Buffy is a changeling, not the one from the show at all, or barely so; and that the story is, again, not about "Buffy" but about Joss's regard for the character who has become both his meal ticket and the albatross around his neck; about his true feelings towards fans - which may or may not be conscious on his part, but has rather ugly implications nonetheless; and the feelings of the mostly-male writers of the comics in general toward the notion of "strong", "opinionated" or "empowered women" or Buffy in particular and perhaps even of SMG. A way to get back at her perhaps, for insisting on a certain view of the character she was playing? No more "Buffy wouldn't do that" to hold them back, no real life actor who has some say in how the character and her own very real body were used, and willing at times to vocalize it?

This whole paragraph speaks to me because it's what I think as well. I do think there's a layer of antagonism directed at Buffy the character and the actress that played her in the comics. Joss said before they began that Buffy didn't need to look like SMG and that has always bugged me. It seemed so bizarrely unneeded, especially given Gellar had image rights. It seems all too common that actors Whedon has a beef with get their characters trashed.

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