Having a come to Buffy moment in the United Kingdom

>> Thursday, August 28, 2008

The headline from last week's Telegraph, though a bit sensationalistic and misleading (not to mention the fact the story is really kind of non-newsish in a way), is awesome:

There you have it folks, the latest threat to Christianity in Britain (and who knows if it will spread to American shores?): Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And what is this threat, pray tell?

No, it isn't Joss Whedon-and-gang's clumsy and erratic treatment of Christianity in the "Buffyverse," where the attempt to include traditional tropes of vampire lore and the ecumenical needs of network television and Whedon's personal atheism all collide in a sodden mess. Fans of the show may well be aware that the power of holy objects to repel or destroy the undead have varied from season-to-season: in one season, we learn that the crucifix's power over vampires is somehow based on the vampires' subjective fears, despite the fact that earlier episodes (for instance) show us a vampire exploding after he's tricked into unknowingly drinking a vial of holy water. Apparently, the power of Christ compels thee whenever it's convenient for the writers, but whatever--it was still an awesome show for five years.

Incidentally, and before we get back to the Buffy-induced crisis of faith in the English church, one may wonder why an atheist (yours truly) might be bothered by poor religious continuity in a TV show. Let's put it this way: if you tell me in one movie trilogy that there's a magical power that binds all living creatures and even links people (and yodas) to the rocks in a swamp, and then try to tell me in subsequent sequels that the magic power is really cooties, it bothers me. Similarly, if you tell me in one movie that some people are immortal for strange, unknowable, mystical reasons, I'm down with that; please don't turn around in subsequent continuity and try to tell me, no, it's really that the immortals are aliens: do not want. Will not eat.

With that, I can totally get into the idea of an all-powerful, omnipresent and omniscient and benign deity as part of a fabulous premise, whatever you might want to call it. I can totally accept that God and Satan are duking it out in New Hampshire or Las Vegas or even at a traveling sideshow. And vampires, when you get down to it, have a religious context: whether Christian icons have an effect on vampires or they don't or they only do sometimes is a kind of religious commentary, one that can sometimes be the entire point of a vampire tale. (As an aside: all of the stories, books and television shows Wikipedia-linked in this paragraph are well worth seeking out if you haven't already read or seen them, even the ones by people you might be understandably sick of these days.)

In short: if a vampire is repelled by the cross, it says something about the universe. And if he isn't, it suggests something else. And Buffy kind of missed that and flubbed it over the course of its run.

But on to those wacky Brits and their Buffy conversion: I knew Buffy had a tremendous following in Great Britain, but apparently I had no idea. Buffyphilia is so strong, it drives formerly-religious Brits from the faith of their mothers and into the arms of Wicca. Or not exactly. Actually, what the article seems to tell us is that women in Great Britain are dropping out of traditional religions, and that one faith they're turning to is Wicca, because of "favorable" presentations of Wicca in various entertainments, including Buffy. This starts to sound silly, but we are talking about the character Willow's faith on the show, and Alyson Hannigan is totally hot, so I suppose I shouldn't speak too dismissively too quickly about dropping one's church because of a TV show; cute girls have led me to make dumber choices. (And the shouted vow, "Never again!" sounds so shaky and hollow in my own head.)

Read further in the Telegraph article, and you find that the defections seem to have less to do with a belief in the unlikely proposition that covens are full of adorable magical redheaded girls (well, hell, I'd consider converting, too) and more to do with traditionally patriarchic church hierarchies, repressive sexual attitudes and archaic views of gender being a major turnoff to--well, probably anyone with post-1960s sensibilities, actually. But women, it seems, in particular.

This, of course, is neither new nor news.

Nonetheless, it is a fun story if only for the opportunity to riff on religion in vampire stories and to imagine hordes of women flocking to covens as a result of a television program. Indeed, like many such stories, it's actually fun to imagine what things might be like if the headline were true: picture a country full of Buffy-adoring witches; Buffy witches at work, Buffy witches in restaurants, Buffy witches representing their nations at the next Olympics, Buffy witches in space. The first Buffy witch to be elected to Parliament unsuccessfully lobbies to have Sarah Michelle Gellar's birthday made a national holiday, and on the other side of the Atlantic, Republicans in Congress froth themselves into a lather at the spread of the Buffy witch-cult to American shores. The family of a Buffy witch who died in the Second Abkhazian Conflict successfully sues the U.S. Armed Forces to have a pentagram (already, I think, allowed as a Wiccan religious symbol) and a picture of Saint Sarah Michelle etched into her gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery. In 2130, Orthodox Buffians leap ahead of New Reformed Jedi as the most popular religion in the Transatlantic Federated Union, knocking Catholicized Baptists permanently into third place, a direct cause of the War Of Ioian Quaker Secession in 2142.


vince Friday, August 29, 2008 at 11:47:00 AM EDT  

With that last paragraph, I think you have an idea for a novel or two.

...so I suppose I shouldn't speak too dismissively too quickly about dropping one's church because of a TV show; cute girls have led me to make dumber choices.

And any man who doesn't say the same is a liar.

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