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Loyalty conflicts in Buffy

May 20, 2013

BuffyDrawing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in his study of loyalty, James Connor writes:

“Creators of television programming must make the emotions appear real in their representations and effects on television, otherwise there is no resonance with the audience, who consequently, will not relate to the show. This is particularly the case with shows like BtVS that ask the audience to suspend their disbelief in relation to the core story drivers: super-powers, magic, demons and vampires. Emotional reality allows the viewer to more readily bridge the gap between an unreal world and their own existence. It is the emotional response that matters here, rather than the eliciting events, as the audience merely has to feel that they would act, think and emote in the same way that the characters do.” (p.118) Furthermore, Connor claims that: “Emotions in television can be seen as distilled and concentrated versions of the emotion in reality. This makes it easier to identify the emotional themes and motivations and hence easier to engage with critically.” (p.119)

Arguing that Buffy can be used “as evidence for the way loyalty is construed in society” (p.118), Connor explains that his “methodological rationale for using popular culture sources such as television shows as evidence to inform my argument [draws primarily] on Docker’s (1994) work. The key rationale is that television drama must reflect to some degree the lived reality of emotions or the audience would not watch. BtVS provides excellent material because loyalty has been a central [-p.118] emotional theme of the series.” (pp.117-118).

He explains: “Loyalty is one of many emotions that we feel. Consequently it is often mixed with, for example, love, jealousy and anger. The examples that I use to illustrate loyalty necessarily have aspects of other emotions tied in with them. This does not diminish the expression or feeling of loyalty, as all the emotions are intimately tied together. … emotional life is inherently complex, this is one area in which television drama mirrors reality.” (p.120)

Connor proceeds to  offer a number of examples of how loyalty is used in Buffy, showing how loyalty is often invoked to provide characters with motivation and justify action in BtVS. Connor interprets this as evidence for his broader theory “that loyalty helps to drive action.” (p.121)

According to Connor, “loyalty can motivate behaviours, actions and beliefs. Loyalties are used to maintain social connections and as a way of governing reciprocity in relationships.” (p.122)Buffy and friends

“[In BtVS and, Connor would argue, in everyday life,] Loyalty plays a role in furnishing identity. The identities of the Scooby-gang are inextricably intertwined with Buffy and slaying—they are who they are because of that loyalty. As discussed above, Xander’s identity becomes linked with his role as Buffy’s friend. Similarly, slaying creates a space and identity for Willow beyond computer-nerd, as her identity grows and flourishes through her connection with Buffy.
A lack of loyalties to help define an individual’s identity can affect who they are and how they act. Spike, a problematic character who is significantly transformed over the course of BtVS, goes through a stage when he lacks loyalty to [-p.123] anyone but himself. He loses the ability to actualise his vampire nature when he is ‘de-fanged’ by the Initiative (The Initiative). Spike goes through a process of being lost, no longer is he a ‘true’ vampire—his identity is challenged. As Kaveney (2001: 21) argues: ‘Spike at this point is incapable of loyalty, sometimes supporting the Scoobies out of self-interest . . . and sometimes betraying them’. He is lost until he develops a true attachment to the Scoobies through his developing affections for Buffy (season five). Not only does this new connection provide Spike with purpose and reason for action, it also spurs him to try and become more human during season six, culminating in his re-ensoulment in Grave.” (pp.122-123)

“The progression of this particular BtVS character, Spike, reiterates how loyalty and identity interact. As I have shown in the previous chapters, loyalties help the actor assess with whom they have a social connection. Loyalties also allow people to claim an identity position—by affirming their connection to others, be they close (such as family) or more distant (like the nation). This example further supports the case studies of previous chapters. Further, this popular culture representation not only reflects but must also propagate a particular view of loyalty. The perspective that is being created and reflected is that the connections the actor has to others, as mediated through loyalty relationships, is a determinant of identity. This includes not only the identity of the actor that is self perceived, but also the identity position that others perceive that actor to have.” (p.123)

Buffy has a number of competing layers of loyalty to contend with. She has family loyalty, loyalty to friends, loyalty to lovers, school loyalty and loyalty to her calling—slaying. These layers of loyalty often come into conflict. For Buffy the strongest layer becomes slaying—she has been ‘chosen’ for this role in the world and after an initial period of resistance comes to revel in the role. Buffy’s various layers of loyalty are called upon in different episodes.” (p.123)

“…loyalty is a social emotion, both in its expression and formation. [These] examples serve to highlight how social interaction fosters loyalty and how dominant societal views on loyalty are reflected by television. In effect we see two social constructions here, the socialisation with others fostering loyalty over time (due to shared ideals and friendship) and the societal construction of loyalty focusing on the maintenance of social bonds.” (p.120)

“The ‘Scooby-gang’, as Buffy’s friends and supporters come to be known, is partly bound together by their shared experiences and knowledge of the underworld—vampires, demons and the dark. Conflict within the group often occurs because one of the members is not included in the current information and gossip.” (p.120)

Buffy never comes easily to the decision of which loyalty to favour. Much of the time in the episodes is devoted to her consideration of the choices offered. It is this often angst-ridden contemplation that illuminates the layered nature of loyalty. The choice of which layer to follow is never easy (it cannot be easy for Buffy, otherwise the purpose of television is lost—to entertain) and forms the basis for much conflict.” (p.124)

Connor’s study of the depiction of loyalty relationships within BtVS leads him to conclude that “loyalty is a socially mediated emotion that occurs through interactions between the actor and other actors and social institutions. It is also closely linked to social action. The effects of loyalty can be inferred from the behaviours, cognitions and feelings of the actor. Television thus provides a unique lens with which to explore emotion.” (p.126)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) James Connor (2007) The sociology of loyalty. New York: Springer Verlag


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