The Whedonverse and the Monsters Inside Us

You know how in a dream sequence you’ll be running from zombies or staking vampires, and when you wake up you realize that your brain was trying to deal with a real life problem?

I’ve been thinking about the reason real life is so difficult to navigate. We have all these issues to work on, problems to solve, and mazes to walk through, and we don’t even have the luxury of a wand, a sword, or a superpower.

Because the monsters are inside us.

We can’t fight intangible monsters with tangible weapons.

I thought of Buffy the Vampire Slayer specifically and the Whedonverse in general and realized what Joss had done: he’d taken intangible issues and presented them in a tangible way. For example: in “I Robot, You Jane”, Willow begins dating someone online, only to realize he’s a dangerous robot. In real life, we don’t have dangerous robot boyfriends, but we do deal with abusive relationships. There’s a host of monsters: abusive fathers (“Ted”), parental pressure (“The Witch”), bullying (“The Pack”), roommate anxiety (“Living Conditions”), cheating (“Wild At Heart”, “Superstar”), and death of loved ones (“The Body” and “Seeing Red”).

While the “monsters” in Buffy are more specific and individualized, tailored to peoples’ daily lives, Angel went a little broader to talk about social fears, like serial killers (“Lonely Hearts”), unexpected pregnancy (“Expecting”), past mistakes coming back to haunt you (“Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been”), and corruption (“Blood Money”). Instead of highschoolers dealing with intensely personal problems, Angel is peppered with twenty-something adults now faced with a world full of unexpected dangers.

With Firefly and Dollhouse, Joss once again expanded his view on monsters, focusing on corrupted business and political practices, sexual abuse, poverty, and loss of freedom. These global fears are becoming more and more prevalent as we see the exposure of political scandals, bombings, riots, protests, abuse by those in a position of power, starvation, sickness, and lack of help for those desperately in need. These problems affect us all which is why the shows have a range of ages from the very young to the very old.

The Blue Hands, the Rossum Corporation, the handlers, the Alliance, the Reavers, and other monsters in the Whedonverse all symbolize the darkness of the human condition, the depravity of those who would mistreat and abuse others. Choosing to fight against these ideas is often met with resistance or even apathy. The darkness grows, the fear heightens, and we wish for a hero when in fact, we have to be our own. We have to face our own fears.

And what we fear can only be fought by bringing it out in the open.

Being able to grapple with issues via the medium of science fiction and fantasy gives us the ability to fight our own demons. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse can help us understand our problems while handing us the tools to counteract them.

While we may not be given tangible weapons, we can pick up on the tools that serve our heroes so well. All of Joss’ heroes (Buffy, Angel, Malcolm Reynolds, and Echo) share the same traits.

Buffy, Angel, Mal, and Echo fight their own demons by relying on the same core principles: tenacity (never giving up, or the relentless pursuit of a goal), empathy (understanding and loving those around us), and an unflinching conviction that we must be our best (doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences).

Tenacity, empathy, and conviction has helped me overcome a host of problems. From breaking through the writer’s block barrier and finishing up a script by sheer tenaciousness, to empathizing with someone I previously disliked only to become friends, and the conviction that despite the loss of my husband I still have a life to live and that I must continue to pursue my dreams despite the loneliness and pain. These traits are slowly becoming ingrained in who I am. I am beginning to fight my own monsters.

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone

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  • http://culturemass.com/tech-science Nate Humphries

    That was a terrific article. I’d never really looked at his (or anyone else’s) cornucopia of shows and pulled out such real and helpful similarities. And I’d agree – sci-fi and fantasy have been extremely potent in my own life, although to a different extent. Mostly in providing a place of escape and aiding my creativity. But learning how to fight your own demons is another very real and palpable lesson.

  • MrMerch

    Great post, Kate!