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07 December 2011 @ 05:36 pm
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The Meta Arsenal:
Stakes, Fangs and Other Symbolic Weaponry in
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer
"


by Lostboy




"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil



"Being a vampire sucks!"

- Harmony Kendall, "The Harsh Light of Day"





A short while back, my LJ friend blackfrancine advanced a theory about the use of the stake as a phallic symbol, both in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and within vampire lore generically.  We had a fun conversation about it (during the course of which we stumbled upon some very interesting territory regarding a different symbolic weapon in Buffy's arsenal - more about that later), but I left it still thinking that the notion of the stake as meta-wiener was a case of Freud missing the forest through the phallic trees.

There are a couple of reasons for that, but before I get into them, I wanted to talk about the novel, Dracula, a bit.  During our weapons discussion, she noted that part of her reasoning behind stake-as-phallus was that the vampire's fangs were themselves phallic, and that the biting of the throat therefore symbolized sexual penetration.  That notion struck me as a bit hypotactic, since the mouth is itself a sexual organ, and one that is gender neutral.  After all, both men and women use their mouths in erotic ways: to kiss, to lick and suckle, to nibble and bite.  During puberty, we sometimes even ritualize this mouth play; I surely wasn't the only boy in the world to receive the dreaded “hickey” from a girl who was subtly marking me as her sexual property.

So, when Dracula bites Lucy Westernra, it's maybe sufficient but surely not necessary that he “penetrates” her with some sort of metaphorical dual-penis in his mouth.  In fact, the mechanics of the sex act itself aren't important. The transformation that occurs in its wake is what matters; Lucy herself becomes a “biter”, complete with a set of fangs.  If we tried to see Dracula as a symbolic male penetrator with phallic fangs, the metaphor would fall apart completely.  Lucy's fall is not that she becomes a penetrative "man"; it's that she becomes a sexualized woman.  This is the sexual danger of Dracula; not that he penetrates, but that he sexualizes, and his victims therefore become similarly dangerous new viral transmitters of his lust and moral decay.

Anyway, I don't want to get into a whole thing on Dracula.  I've read some scholarly work on the book, some of which I found to be pretty good, other of which I think is postmodern folly.   My personal take on the novel is somewhere on the level of “epidemiological real estate thriller with twinges of xenophobia and sexual panic,” but even that probably falls short of what Stoker was fully after, and it's not like he's around to defend himself.  But I think the interesting connecting thread, the one that sews together all vampire pop mythology since its publication, is this notion of dangerous, sexy mouths and wooden stakes as a potential method to defeat them.

It would be pretty easy to look at a stake and claim that it's phallic, as many Freudians seem apt to do with any object that is longer than it is wide.  But in the Dracula source material (and in most pop interpretations that followed), the stakes are actually wielded in a way that lends itself more to Christian imagery of the crucifixion than to anything sexual, reminiscent of the legionnaires pounding nails into the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  The stake method is a perversion of that image, just as the immortal vampires themselves are perversions of the risen Christ.  You might even say that the stake by itself is not the weapon; the method requires a hammer as well, and one without the other is useless. And while it's true that the vampires who are killed with a stake are females (Lucy, Dracula's harem), they are fully sexualized females at that point.  As I said, I think that phallic fangs beg the question.  But, even if we accepted the theory that what Dracula is doing to these women is a phallic proxy, and that only Dracula's fangs are phallic (i.e. not Lucy's or the other female vampires'), why would more sexual penetration of Lucy and the harem be the cure?  The evidence of religious crucifixion imagery far outweighs any Freudian reading.  On this subject, the weapon of choice might actually be Occam's Razor.

It's worth noting that, in the novel, Dracula himself is not actually killed by a wooden stake, but rather by the combination of two knives: Johnathan Harker's Kukri and Quincey Morris' Bowie.  This has always struck some readers as strange, given how the novel's resident expert Van Helsing insists Dracula can only be defeated by particular methods, including the method of driving a stake through the heart, lopping off his head and then stuffing it full of delicious garlic that worked so well for Lucy and the Count's harem.  Some people have surmised that Stoker was simply leaving room for more story (i.e. Evil never dies; it only shape-shifts in order to trick the Good into believing it is gone), while others point out that the sun had not yet fully set, perhaps leaving Dracula vulnerable to more mundane tactics.  The creators of "Buffy" seem to side with the former group, given their own memorably funny interpretation of Dracula's “death” ("Buffy vs. Dracula").   But in either case, whether Dracula's was an actual death or the illusion of death, the fact that the vampires are penetrated (in Count Dracula's case, both slashed and stabbed) doesn't seem to be the most important part of what is going on.

knives

*Hopefully a helpful chart.


What does seem to be important - and lasting, in the pop mythology - is that vampires can't be defeated with “normal” weapons.  Most of the weapons in the anti-vampire arsenal seem to have Christian allegory written all over them (wooden stakes, holy water, crucifixes, silver); others have the tint of pseudo-medical quackery and pop-psychology (garlic, mirrors, blood transfusions).  The most important thing is this: if you have a vampire problem, you need to consult an expert to learn about these weapons, and then recruit a gang of star-crossed, romantically-interpolated Monster Mashers to wield them.

Enter Rupert Giles, Buffy Summers, the Scooby Gang and “Mister Pointy.”

The first vampire we are introduced to in BTVS (in the very first scene of the show, no less), is the female vampire Darla; the matriarch of a gender-mixed gang of vamps popularly referred to as the “Fanged Four”.  As with many elements of the comedy-horror series, Darla's introduction is an old gag upended; the teen boy is leading the teen girl into an abandoned place, where something terrible will happen.  You already know from the title that the “something terrible” has to do with vampires, so when the boy acts suspicious (“Yeah, you can count on it.”) we are introduced to our first examples of what would become hallmarks of the series in the years to come: trope-flipping and the mockery of its audience's facile expectations.

The show contained many female vampires, but, like Dracula and his harem, the problem with them didn't seem to be that they were metaphorical converted males, or symbolic of male power.  The main problem posed by the Buffyverse vampires (and perhaps the problem posed by the entire series) had to do with souls: losing them; finding them; having them thrust upon you; winning them back.

What are souls?  Well, that's a whole other mess, especially in the Buffyverse.  It is clear they don't have anything to do with gender or phallus symbols, and while individual episodes and seasons are often dissected by academics in accordance with the precepts of various “isms” (gnosticism, feminism, racism, militarism, altruism, etc.), it's worth noting that all of these “isms” are, at one point or another, subjected to textual ridicule by the show's creators.  This is especially true in the fourth “college” season, when even the kind of scholarship of the show I'm attempting here is itself poked fun at and subverted.  The self-parody is so obvious that I've found it impossible to take the allusions to various academic theories any more seriously than the characters on the screen who are, often explicitly, making fun of them.

The same holds true for Spike's poor neutered mouth.  It was fodder for a couple of good impotence gags (“The Initiative”; “Pangs”), but the allusion is so obvious that it doesn't have any thematic heft to it, and is never mentioned again.  In that sense, it comes off as a sort of a highbrow fart joke (“It's true.  He had trouble performing.” Rim-shot).  It's funny, facile stuff, but it's also the same pop semiotics that the writers are always nudging us with, usually to lampoon them for our entertainment.  Meanwhile, the real world corollary of the chip isn't "medical castration", but rather “A Clockwork Orange.” What the chip actually does is introduce us to the very serious and real question that persists for the rest of Spike's arc: Can external conditioning and behavioral modification really change what's inside a person's heart? The show is full of semiotic bluffs and misdirections like this.  Buffy's stake gets a similar dose of anti-Freudian lampooning in season four (“Hush”; “A New Man”), playing off the old phallic meme.  In the Buffyverse, this sort of goofing is always a signal to me that there's something deeper going on behind the scenes, a meta-metaphor that's lurking back in the shadows and fog beyond the stage.

But if the stake is not a phallus, what is it?  It's definitely not a sexualizing mouth, and it doesn't seem to work as crucifixion imagery either.  Buffy doesn't wield the stake like a parody of those Romans at Golgotha, pounding it into prone, undead Reverse-Jesus vampires in a ritualistic manner.  Rather, she wields it like Johnathan Harker and Quincey Morris wielded their knives in their pitched final battle with Dracula.  Buffy doesn't hunt vampires in their crypts while they lay dormant and sleeping like Van Helsing; she chases them out in the open and battles them hand-to-hand.  She must get close to them to kill them; putting herself simultaneously in the same kind of physical peril that Quincey Morris did and the same kind of moral peril that Lucy Westernra did.  In this closeness, I think we find a clue to not only what the stake really symbolized, but to what the show's main – or, at least its most successful – theme really was.

Back to Dracula, and to mouths, for a moment: there is a scene in Dracula when the Monster Mashers walk in on him “forcing” Mina to drink blood from a wound in his chest.  I've seen academics tap-dance all around this scene in the past. This avoidance is shocking to me given the directness of the image, which is mirrored by a similar perversion of the act that undead Lucy visits upon her child victim.  After all, once you accept that the mouth is a gender-neutral sex organ, it is worth digging a little deeper, and tracing the origins of our oral fetish surrounding love-bites, suckling and both male and female oral sex.

What's the first thing that we all put into our mouths without intending to devour it?  It's a nipple, of course.  It is our first source of nourishment, and perhaps our first experience with intimacy of any kind.   Before we are born, there is no such thing as intimacy.  We are just floating around in a some sort of automated goo machine, solitary except for perhaps the occasional sensation of the ghosts dwelling beyond the machine's walls.  Once we emerge, and the umbilicus is cut, we are completely at the mercy of an alien world, and when we are hungry or afraid or alone, the mother's milk is our only succor.  Note that this part of us has little if anything to do with gender; we all fed from the teat.

As with Dracula and Mina, the vampirism of the Buffyverse represents a perversion of this first urge – this primary intimacy we all experienced.  The show even gives us subtext that supports this read (“Lies My Parents Told Me”), and not in the winking “highbrow fart joke” way that seems designed to sabotage many of the show's misdirection-metaphors before they can gain traction.  The vampires feed upon us the way we fed upon our mother's milk, sucking out the nutrients.  Like the infant, they can't flourish without it.  However, unlike the infant, they have a choice in the matter.  A vampire can drink blood without killing, and can even survive on the blood of animals.  So, why do they drink our blood?

Gender-coding of vampires to males and humans to females can't answer this question satisfiably, and therefore needs to be set aside.  Good and evil are gender-neutral concepts in Sunnydale; there are far too many instances of that to cite, and it might be more useful to search for episodes where this is explicitly not the case.  Besides, phallic penetration would imply not only that penetration is the most important aspect of sex, but that sex is the most important aspect of biting.  Sexuality isn't sublimated in the Buffyverse; humans have sex with other humans, vampires have sex with other vampires and humans have sex with vampires.  What is important about the Buffyverse vampires isn't what they are doing, but why they are doing it.  They bite us not for sexual release, but to feed, and they feed on us not to nourish themselves but to... what?

I suspect their motive is the same motive that all of the monsters of the Cain Tradition have.  It's the same complaint, for instance, that motivated Grendel's bloodfeud with Heorot.  They bite us because they hate us, but it is a special kind of hatred.  It's a hatred born of envy, and that envy itself is born of the loneliness that a lack of empathy both breeds and enforces.  Without the self, there are no others, and without others there can be no intimacy, let alone all the special pleasures that derive from it. Vampires of the Buffyverse are brains without minds, purely reactive beings that are neither fully alive nor fully dead. They don't know themselves, and they can't know; the mirror holds no reflection.  Without the tools to self-examine, they are alone inside the hollow prisons of their bodies, and don't even have the ability to understand why they are lonesome, let alone how to resolve the condition.  They feed not to nourish and grow, but because they are empty and have a hunger for vengeance that even they aren't equipped to comprehend, only to service via their natural weaponry - their fangs.

It's not all gloom and doom, of course; the nihilistic Buffyverse vamps are often crass and funny, and happily snark along with the rest of the cast.  But something important is missing in them, and they aren't capable of knowing what it is, because their third eye has been blinded.  Violence seems a sensible way to address this situation, because the alternative is unbearable: drifting through a world filled with living mirrors of what you once were, who seem to mock you with all the connections they are able to make - to family, to friends, to lovers, and to themselves.  In this way each vampire is Nietzsche's proverbial “last man”; each is an island unto his or herself, too distant and apathetic to perceive a moral universe, let alone create or interact with one.  They lack what Nietzsche called the "will to power", and so by being rendered incapable of action and creation, they can only react and destroy.  Everything else is stasis for them... like never aging, or sleeping in a tomb, for instance.

The lead vampires of the show's reality (Angel, Spike, Drusilla, Darla, etc.) sometimes conflict with and occasionally subvert this amoral arrangement in various ways, but the broad message is clear: the vampires of the Buffyverse are not primarily perverts who want to fuck us and turn us into fellow perverts; they are primarily nihilists who want to murder us and turn us into nothingness.  There are many real individuals, groups and ideologies that fit this mold, and the metaphor works well precisely because of its broadness.

So, we need to return to the stake – that close range weapon our heroine uses to protect all us ordinary folks from the monsters who want to destroy us.  In effect, the stake is her “fang”; Buffy is a predator who must get close to kill her physically and morally dangerous prey.  The dramatic irony of this is clear in the character's arc, for while she is very strong and brave when it comes to bashing monsters and physical combat, she retains her most grievous wounds in the realm of intimacy that the vampire bites mock.  A pattern emerges over the course of the first six seasons of the show, in which Buffy continually risks her heart only to have it wounded (Angel), held cheap (Parker), underestimated (Riley), or utterly deceived and betrayed (Ben).  This process – a sort of scarification of the heart –  is coupled with her growing fears of losing the ability for intimacy, and thereby becoming different from a vampire only in function.  She begins her path down this road early on, but her experiences with Faith and Angel mark hard lines in the sand for her, past which it becomes increasingly difficult for her to see herself any other way.  Her third eye is looking inwards, but it doesn't like what it sees.

For an example, consider this exchange from the fifth season's, “Intervention”:

BUFFY: Strength, resilience ... those are all words for hardness. (pause) I'm starting to feel like ... being the Slayer is turning me into stone.

GILES: Turning you into stone? Buffy-

BUFFY: Just ... think about it. (gets up, paces) I was never there for Riley, not like I was for Angel. I was terrible to Dawn.

GILES: At a time like this-

BUFFY: No.

GILES: You're bound to feel emotionally numb.

BUFFY: Before that. Riley left because I was shut down. He's gone. And now my mom is gone ... and I loved her more than anything ... and ... I don't know if she knew.

GILES: Oh, she knew. (gets up, puts his hand on Buffy's shoulder) Always.

BUFFY: I don't know. To slay, to kill ... it means being hard on the inside. Maybe being the perfect Slayer means being too hard to love at all. I already feel like I can hardly say the words.

GILES: Buffy...

BUFFY: Giles ... I love you. Love ... (robotically) love, love, love, love, Giles, it feels strange.


Notably, this is also the episode that begins the new arc of Buffy and Spike's relationship.  But, by the time Buffy begins her physical romance with Spike, she has lost that sense of self-connection that differentiates her from him – or, rather she believes she has lost it.  In other words, she thinks she has fallen into Nietzsche's monster trap, and imagines that she's finally become one of the monsters she fights.  This is reinforced by her relationship to the "Hellmouth" itself – the physical manifestation of the abyss she gazes into, and which gazes back into her.  This abyss is the primary enemy of the Buffyverse, embodied by its final villain, “The First Evil”.  The First Evil is not the usual personal, political, social or gnostic bogeyman of previous seasons, but rather nihilism itself the vast emptiness that Nietzsche called “the danger of dangers.”  That is why, for instance, the First's underlings are represented by "blind" people(The Bringers) and the symbolic perversion of belief (Caleb).  This is the battle against nihilism that was always being fought throughout the series, brought to physical form for the finale.  By the episode “Grave”, Buffy is convinced she is losing this particular battle, and that she might herself become one of Nietzsche's “last men” before she dies.  She's wrong, of course, but the reason she's wrong won't become clear to her until the seventh and final season, when the stake is finally replaced by the Scythe, and that necessary intimacy with monsters represented by the stake is replaced by a weapon that reminds her of her true self, and her real calling.

Buffy uses many weapons over the course of the show: Mister Pointy, The Troll God's Hammer, the sword that pierces Angel's heart, a bazooka, whatever that Scary Laser Shit she pulled on Adam was, etc.  But of them all, the Scythe is uniquely fitting.  Like the Slayer herself, it seemed poorly named.  The word "Scythe" connotes the Grim Reaper, the prosopopoeia of death.  But it doesn't actually look like a scythe; something which even the characters themselves seem to recognize (“that axe thing”; “cool axe thingee”, etc).  In fact, its color scheme seems to reference a different tool altogether: a fireman's axe.  So, by the end of the show the grim fang of the lioness yields way to the tool of the human firefighter who saves lives because she is brave and strong.  This is the “hero” boiled down to its essentials in the crucible, and the part of her character that her third eye could not see because it is itself the locus of that heroic strength.  That inward-looking eye is the organ that allows us to search for the courage within.

During my conversation with blackfrancine on her thread, when the topic of the Scythe came up, she discovered another really interesting wrinkle about it.  In "School Hard", she noted, Buffy is rescued from Spike by Joyce, who wields a fire axe.  No, I don't think that the writers were implanting an ingenious seed five years ahead of schedule - nobody's that good!  But I do think it was an example of the writers knitting in an old memetic thread that they discovered in their earlier work.  It's pretty clear that the image of Joyce, holding aloft the axe, was an intentionally heroic one.  It stands to reason that in season seven, the arc of which finds Buffy discovering the hero in herself by rescuing Spike from his own inner blindness, the writers mined the axe from their back catalog of motifs in order to connect Buffy back to her true self, and to connect Spike's redemption to her own awakening.  Both of these final arcs begin with that fire axe in the basement of the school, but the characters don't know it yet (fascinatingly, the writers probably don't "know it" yet either).  That's why it's ultimately not enough that Buffy can say the word "love"; she must be able to actually do it and know that she is doing it, as she did in her final scene with Spike in the Abyss. It's also important that Spike, having been saved by Buffy in a real and final way, save her back by letting her go. Their long "axe arcs" intersect, burst into flame, and crumble to dust. It's a brilliant theme, wonderfully executed, in my opinion.

In conclusion, I think that: mouths are symbols for, well, mouths; stakes are symbols for the spirtual risk involved with fighting evil directly; the Hellmouth is Nietzche's abyss that gazes back; vampires are people who can't self-examine; vampire bites function primarily as a perverse metaphor for intimacy; Dracula hates Italians for some reason; what the heck was that Laser Shit Buffy pulled on Adam, anyway?; that was awesome!; oh, and the Scythe is a metaphor for the self-actualization that completes Buffy's heroic journey from a jejune Predator who learns to fearfully guard her heart via harsh experience to a brave Protector who owns and understands her scarred and wounded heart enough to let someone else inside of it.

Of course, YMMV, but that's what's so cool about the show.  It's so juicily polysemic.

 
 
 
shabazmatazshabazmataz on December 7th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
This was an amazing meta post, both informative and insightful. I never really looked at the scythe as a metaphor for a fireman/hero, but I can see that connection, and I appreciate all the things you've pulled from canon to support your theories. It's also a nice thought that it ties in with an image of Joyce from so early on.

And you're right about one thing: the show was notorious for making cheap gags about obvious connections to sexuality and saying, "But not that, guys. Really now?"

So basically, I'm shabazmataz, and I approve this message.
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 7th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
And you're right about one thing: the show was notorious for making cheap gags about obvious connections to sexuality and saying, "But not that, guys. Really now?"

I'm only right about ONE thing? JEEZ U R TUFF!

Hahah, but, yeah, that's what I'm talking about. The cheap gags are great, don't get me wrong. I LOVE a good dick-fart joke, but they were always a clear signal to me that the writers were up to something else. The whole life of a good metaphor requires it be hidden, so it was always a joy to see another instance of "Nope! Sorry guys, that isn't what it's about." You could almost hear them cackling!

lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 8th, 2011 12:39 am (UTC)
Oh, P.S...

It's also a nice thought that it ties in with an image of Joyce from so early on.

That was NOT my own thought. That was a brilliant deduction from blackfrancine, which I happily agree with.
hello_spikeyhello_spikey on December 8th, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC)
Great discussion. Uh... I have nothing else to say, sorry!
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 8th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
The One Who Isn't Chosengabrielleabelle on December 8th, 2011 09:46 pm (UTC)
This was interesting.
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 8th, 2011 11:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks.
norwie2010norwie2010 on December 9th, 2011 03:54 am (UTC)
Not enough comments! :D

And just to play devil's advocate:

why would more sexual penetration of Lucy and the harem be the cure?

Subjugation of the female under the male. The bite actualizes their sexuality, the stake subjugates them again. You see, the (male) heroes don't "penetrate" Dracula himself, since that would be - icky homosexual stuff...

;-)
lostboy_lj: 5x5lostboy_lj on December 9th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
The bite actualizes their sexuality, the stake subjugates them again.

This assumes a couple a things, though:

1) That Dracula is helping them to actualize, rather than corrupting them.
2) That male penetration is a panchreston, able to either liberate or subjugate depending on the penetrator and his motives.

In the first case, it's clear that Stoker thought Dracula was corrupting Lucy, not freeing her, but I don't think that was the point you were making. I think the point you were making was that Dracula is perhaps an anti-heroic Feminist of some sort, freeing women from Victorian sexual constraints and turning them into libertines that were considered dangerous at the time, but are preferable given our modern sexual sensibilities.

I disagree that the Count is a liberator; in the text he is somewhat venal and aristocratic. In fact, it's the monster bashers themselves (Harker, Morris, Seward, etc) who stand out as more cosmopolitan and recognizable to our current standards, not controlling women at all but in fact wooing them and competing for their affections. Van Helsing appears grotesque to them at first; a sort of amalgam of old world superstition and new age-y cruft. They think he's nuts.

In the second instance, I think this is was what I trying to say when I mentioned Occam's Razor. I could perhaps be persuaded to believe that either the fangs or the stake are a phallus, but not both, because they have completely different functions. And because the religious and oral analogies don't require any logical fallacies or political spin, I think it's more likely that the answer is "neither are a phallus."

You see, the (male) heroes don't "penetrate" Dracula himself, since that would be - icky homosexual stuff...

Actually, this isn't really true. If we are going to count every time a "phallic" (penetrative; longer than is is wide) object is used against Dracula, then Dracula was penetrated twice at the end of the book, by Harker and Morris' knives... in a sense you could say he was "double-teamed", if you want to go for purely sexual imagery. :)

But even without that, I think my point stands because the stake was still the way you were "supposed" to kill Dracula, even though they never got the chance to, and instead were forced to engage Dracula in a stand-up fight, the way Buffy engages her vampires.

Edited at 2011-12-09 04:34 am (UTC)
norwie2010norwie2010 on December 9th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
I completely agree that "Dracula's bite" isn't sexual penetration. You explained that one very well. Err, as "devil's advocate" i was merely trying to rouse you - in which i obviously succeeded. :D

But, to play devil's advocate some more (hehe!) i would like to point out that there is a difference in staking (in this case aka homosexual intercourse ;-) and cutting (up) - especially in the context of victorian body images, ie the body as the holy temple of strength (and stone) vs. the "chaotic" world of fluids, which is laid bare by the cutting knife.

Oh, and i have to give you another point (damn, my whole advocate-y thingie is falling apart!): The count isn't a liberator per se - that's just a side effect (and also condescending).

Putting the stake and the knife in the same category seems not right to me under these considerations.

(Also: I said i would play devil's advocate - not Freudian idiot! ;-))
lostboy_lj: 5x5lostboy_lj on December 9th, 2011 05:32 am (UTC)
You are a very devilish advocate indeed! :-)

i would like to point out that there is a difference in staking (in this case aka homosexual intercourse ;-) and cutting (up) - especially in the context of victorian body images
...
Putting the stake and the knife in the same category seems not right to me under these considerations.


Oh, no doubt, if that was the case. Your only problem here is that Dracula was both cut and stabbed through the heart. Why is it only having a stake pounded into your chest with a hammer that is symbolic of male penetration?

If the only criteria is the stabbing itself, then what Quincey does to Dracula is the same. If the particulars of the stabbing matter (location, timing, method,etc) then the staking seems to fit the perverse-crucifixion motif very nicely. They are pounding the stakes in with a hammer, after all. You can even say that the stake is not the only weapon involved in the method... it's actually the combination of the stake and the hammer. One without the other is useless to them (or at least, that is the way it is presented).

Edited at 2011-12-09 11:20 pm (UTC)
norwie2010norwie2010 on December 9th, 2011 05:10 am (UTC)
In the first case, it's clear that Stoker thought Dracula was corrupting Lucy, not freeing her, but I don't think that was the point you were making. I think the point you were making was that Dracula is perhaps an anti-heroic Feminist of some sort, freeing women from Victorian sexual constraints and turning them into libertines that were considered dangerous at the time, but are preferable given our modern sexual sensibilities.

Complicated.

The (my) preferred model of (sexual and political) liberation is of course for the individual (in this case: woman) to liberate herself. I don't need the goodwill of my oppressor to help me "see the light". So - condescending.

But, Lucy is freed from the corset her society (tries to) force her into, so - side effect. Actually, i think the corruption angle is true, but also the self-acutalizing angle: once the female vampire bites someone else, she is acting and not passive receiver of something.
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 9th, 2011 05:54 am (UTC)
But, Lucy is freed from the corset her society (tries to) force her into, so - side effect. Actually, i think the corruption angle is true, but also the self-acutalizing angle: once the female vampire bites someone else, she is acting and not passive receiver of something.

It's interesting that you put it in terms of "once the female vampire bites someone else, she (Vamp!Lucy) is acting and not passive reciever", since that is pretty much the opposite of my argument about the Buffyverse vamps. In other words, you are saying that Stoker's female vampires are free in a way that, say, Mina Harker can never be, and that their deaths give them agency.

I think... well, I don't think I quite agree with you on that. I mean, I would not consider Dracula's harem to be "free" in any meaningful sense of the word. In many ways the book is about the tension between the Old World of Counts and arranged marriages and harems and the new one of science, reason, law and courtship (with the female, Lucy, positioned as the sexual selector, choosing from a variety of suitors).

I don't see much liberation in the vampire versions, even in Lucy. She becomes a slave to her appetites, a killer of children, and a monster in the thrall of parasite who has sapped her will.

But that's Dracula, and I'm sure there's much room for argument there. In the Buffyverse, we have vampires of all sizes, shapes and colors who are, well, just "missing" something. I guess my point was that this "something" isn't related to politics or gender, but rather to that same agency you think Lucy might have. I think this is the reason Buffy refers to them as "things" - they are sapped of their will to action, destroying because they cannot create.

norwie2010norwie2010 on December 9th, 2011 06:07 am (UTC)
In the Buffyverse, we have vampires of all sizes, shapes and colors who are, well, just "missing" something. I guess my point was that this "something" isn't related to politics or gender, but rather to that same agency you think Lucy might have. I think this is the reason Buffy refers to them as "things" - they are sapped of their will to action, destroying because they cannot create.

I agree with that - i said myself that the elusive "soul" acts as a mirror in BtVS (self-reflection).

As to Mina and Lucy - as i said (in too few words) i think it is complicated. Because, you do have a point. Lucy becomes a "slave" to her passions, which is why i said the "corruption" is true. But she is also acting on her passions (no matter how perverted they are), which gives her a kind of agency. It is not black<->white: free agency vs. slavish follower. It is all kinds of mixed up: She is a slave in a harem, a slave to her passions, but within this limited world she acts out her agency, when she didn't before. She's not "free" in the sense of enlightenment, but an active pursuer of her own follies, and that's not the same as a passive victorian damsel.

Ok, back to basics. I think the Buffyverse vampires are very different from Stoker's vampires. These two vampire species only meet when Buffy meets "named" vampires (and indeed one of them is Dracula!), who - while still having their limitations (the "missing piece" you and Spike refer to) - also have agency.
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 9th, 2011 06:47 am (UTC)
As to Mina and Lucy - as i said (in too few words) i think it is complicated.

Yeah, absolutely, I agree it's very complicated. That's why I tried my best to steer clear of it in my essay except for when directly related to the weapons themselves (fangs, stakes).

These two vampire species only meet when Buffy meets "named" vampires (and indeed one of them is Dracula!), who - while still having their limitations (the "missing piece" you and Spike refer to) - also have agency.

I guess this is pretty tricky and complicated too, and that's sort of what I'm trying to say when I said "The lead vampires of the show's reality (Angel, Spike, Drusilla, Darla) conflict with and occasionally subvert this amoral arrangement." I could have thrown Dracula in there, and also The Master, The Anointed One, Mister Trick and a few others.

I think that what they all share with the other run-of-the-mill soulless, nameless vamps is this inner blindness and unawareness of themselves that makes their them mostly apathetic about the actual outcomes of their actions. Their actions seem to have a sort of agency - but the decisions they make are stymied by the fact that the motives are purely destructive and their stated goals are non-sensical or paradoxical. They don't appear to assign relative values to anything, and their logic circuits are totally fucked.

*Lostboy pretending to interrogate the Ingenious B-Verse Vampires*:

"Kill all the people? Why? I thought they were your food? Kill the Slayer? That will just make a new one. Why not trap the current one somewhere instead? Destroy the world? WTF? Why? That's where you live, you doofus!"

That's one of the "weird" things we find out about souless, sparkless Spike early on. He seems to actually care about a few things, and to some degree have a perspective on himself and his relationship to the world. He is protective of Drusilla, which has been shown to be bizarre behavior for a vampire. He strikes a deal to save the world, and even bargains for her life in the process. His inward eye isn't exactly 20/20 vision, but he somehow has a small sense of himself and others. This shouldn't be possible, but there is a degree of Shopenhauer's "will to life" in Spike, even without the soul or the chip.

norwie2010norwie2010 on December 9th, 2011 07:48 am (UTC)
I have to work now (8 o'clock in the morning here)- will come back once i'm done!
lostboy_lj: choculalostboy_lj on December 9th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
One other quick thought about Lucy and harems I think is worth noting: in the text itself, Lucy jokes with Mina in a way that suggests her suitors constitute a sort of male harem ("Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save us all this trouble?") It subverts in some way the notion of Lucy as strictly a passive creature, and becoming an active one after her transformation. After all, the human Lucy can at least choose her suitor, whereas the vampire version is in thrall to Dracula. She goes from having a pseudo-harem to becoming part of a real one.

Not saying that's the only consideration, but it is food for thought (Confession: I am a Dracula freak and could talk about Dracula all day and night, as you probably guessed from all my references in "Clocks". :-))
Rebcake: btvs_buffy_bazookarebcake on December 11th, 2011 01:27 am (UTC)
Nifty! I like the bits about evil, vampirism, and nihilism being gender neutral in the Buffyverse, as are heroism, intellect, and love. I'm thrilled with the idea of the Scythe being the offspring of Joyce's axe. So, thanks to BF for that.

I've been thinking lots lately about Xander as a sort of fireman, in that he is an imperfect human being (so, so imperfect) who nevertheless repeatedly puts his life on the line in the service of the greater good. However, it is Buffy who gets the "I'll be a fireman when the floods roll back" message. I always see her as more of an enforcer than strictly a protector -- but that might just be putting too much stock in her "What's My Line" scores. ;-)
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 11th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC)
For me, Xander is the "carpenter." But, I mean, it's more complex than that; he's the builder and the fixer, but also the bumbler and the breaker.

This is why he gets a job in construction, I think. He's not a nihilist - he wants to create the world - but he doesn't have a full sense of himself. His inner eye is functioning, but he doesn't much like what he sees either. He can only describe himself and his own problems by relating them to the similar problems of others, who he sees as superior versions of himself, and he tries to fix their problems instead.

It's not pure projection; the problems of the others are real, and his instincts are usually pretty good about what the problems are (because they reflect his own). He can see his friends better than he can see himself, because he likes them much better than he likes himself.

I also think this is part of the reason they partially blind him in season seven (when it was happening, I figured they would fully blind him, to press home the point about his outward vision of others). In Hells Bells, his self-loathing manifests itself in Old Xander. Xander is quick to believe the old man's illusion, because he is so quick to believe the worst about himself. Interestingly, this self-loathing and reverence of others sometimes emerges as his "super power" (as it did in "The Zeppo" and "Grave").



Edited at 2011-12-11 11:53 pm (UTC)
lostboy_lj: Death is your giftlostboy_lj on December 11th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
However, it is Buffy who gets the "I'll be a fireman when the floods roll back" message.

Yes! Excellent catch. I completely forgot about that. I think between you, me and blackfrancine, we have completely solved the riddle of the Scythe (or, at least come as close to solving it as anyone ever will.)

BUFFY: I talk. I shop, I sneeze. I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back.

I always see her as more of an enforcer than strictly a protector

I actually think that's how Buffy sees herself at first too. I guess what I'm saying is that I think the arc of the show was her transformation from hunter/enforcer to protector/savior. I think they foreshadow it with that wonderful gift Jonathan hands her, "Class Protector". For that moment, I think she sees herself that way too, as giving them shelter from the storm, but as the years and seasons pass and the wounds pile up, she forgets.

"When the floods roll back..." What a great image. Oh, hell, now I have to go watch "Restless." :-)
Elena: Buffymoscow_watcher on December 12th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I wonder what's your take on Buffy's bazooka on "Innocence"? Guys often find Buffy with bazooka especially hot.
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on December 13th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't know about it being "hot", but the bazooka was awesome because it blew something up. Men love watching stuff blow up, for reasons yet unknown to science. I do like that the scene where they steal the bazooka has an HFJ:

Cordelia: (hops onto a crate to sit) So, does looking at guns really
make girls wanna have sex? That's scary.

Xander: Yeah, I guess.

Cordelia: Well, does looking at guns make you wanna have sex?

Xander: I'm seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.


As for my take on what it means for Buffy, I think it's important because it shows she's not alone in the fight. Without any direction from her or Giles, the Scoobs are able to come up with and execute the plan behind defeating the Judge.
Emmie: Angel monstrousangearia on January 2nd, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
Just gonna throw some thoughts your way! Here they come!

I think with Dracula, the sexy mouths for women and the need to stake the female vampires is because well, women being sexual beings? MADNESS. So, it's like saying all women who are sexual beings have literal penis envy when they grow fangs and begin sucking -- because it's teh menz who are active in the pursuit of sex while women should be ~pure and just lie back and think of England. It's a duty. And that's the perversion -- that these vampire women are sexual at all.

So the vampire women themselves are violating the gender coding by growing fangs. And yes, all men and women have mouths and suck, men and women are sexual beings, but the Victorian mentality of male sexuality (ACTIVE) and female nigh asexuality (MAKE BABIES, DUTY) mean that these vampire villains are only villains because of how they're corrupting the gender norms of the time. Dracula is EVOL because he corrupts innocent women, transforming them into sexual beings. And these women must either be ~saved from themselves or killed before tearing apart the very fabric of society.

lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on January 2nd, 2012 05:35 am (UTC)
I think with Dracula, the sexy mouths for women and the need to stake the female vampires is because well, women being sexual beings? MADNESS. So, it's like saying all women who are sexual beings have literal penis envy when they grow fangs and begin sucking -- because it's teh menz who are active in the pursuit of sex while women should be ~pure and just lie back and think of England

I think you run into two problems here, based on the text of the book. The first problem is your simplification (and, in my opinion, your misunderstanding) of Victorian sexual mores. The sexual suppression associated with the Victorian era is often missing out on a larger point. The Victorian era brought about an atmosphere of such wide-ranging, explicit and public discussion about sexuality that the suppression many people associate with it was actually a backlash to an age of very explicit and frank sexuality. In other words: how can you have suppression unless there is something to "suppress?" In this case, it was trying to suppress the increasing phenomena of bourgeoisie turning away from the teachings of Christianity and towards a more dispassionate, scientific model of humanity, including human sexuality.

Dracula was part and parcel to the sexual obsession of the Victorian age - part commentary, part parody and part celebration of the age. After all, this was the age when psychology flourished, and when large masses of people began to describe themselves in terms of popular psychology rather than in clerical/religious terms.

This new order applied to men as well as to women, and suppression of (widespread) urges applied to both sexes in Dracula as well as in other art of the time. How else would you explain Jonathan Harker's harrowing experiences with Dracula's harem? After all, before he left for England, Dracula threw Jonathan to his women to feast upon. If the age (and the text) was as sexually binary as you imply (MALE SEX GOOD; FEMALE SEX BAD), then Jonathan would have happily lived among Drac's harem, drank from them, and become one of the undead, rather than escaping his fate.

So the vampire women themselves are violating the gender coding by growing fangs.

You have to prove this in the text though. Before Dracula saps her will and makes her part of his real harem, Lucy is the one with the "harem" in Dracula (her collection of suitors, of which she is the sexual selector). in that sense, she is enslaved (not freed) by the Old World Eastern Count, when he turns her into a "biter". Jonathan was also in danger of being turned into a "biter" in Castle Dracula, but there's nothing to suggest he was violating a gender role by being subjected to the whims of Drac's female slaves, only that he was in danger of giving into lust. That's because it's not just "female lust" but "all lust" that is on trial in Stoker's book. Jonathan and Mina are both being sexualized by vampires, and it isn't considered acceptable in either case. They both must escape these temptations in order to save their souls.

I think the other big problem has to do with the scenes of Mina feeding on Dracula's breast and Lucy feeding on the child's breast. Nothing you wrote above makes me read those scenes any differently than I wrote in my essay, because they are so obvious. It's just obvious what Stoker means when he paints these images, and that it has to do with that original intimacy of the nipple. Dracula is about mouths, not about cocks.

I'm sure it was obvious to Victorian readers at the time, too, who I don't think you are giving enough credit. They really were a sex-obsessed bunch, which the book's popularity proved. Dracula is many things. It's filled with psychosexual imagery (as well as direct and satirical references to psychology, sociology, phrenology, sexuality and medical quackery) and comparisons of the Old (aristocratic) World to the emerging modern world of reason and sociology. But to the extent it suppresses sexuality, it does not seem to favor one kind of lust over another.
red_satin_doll: Lesbian Vampire Seal of Approvalred_satin_doll on March 1st, 2013 04:50 pm (UTC)
A pattern emerges over the course of the first six seasons of the show, in which Buffy continually risks her heart only to have it wounded (Angel), held cheap (Parker), underestimated (Riley), or utterly deceived and betrayed (Ben). This process – a sort of scarification of the heart – is coupled with her growing fears of losing the ability for intimacy, and thereby becoming different from a vampire only in function.

This? Is brilliant. That is all.
Moony McMoonsomethe_moonmoth on April 22nd, 2014 08:45 am (UTC)
I have just come across this essay and I would like say unf and thank you.
lostboy_ljlostboy_lj on April 22nd, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the unf!

A high-five and an air guitar, right back atcha!