So it’s here, the 20th Anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show, not that movie we never, ever speak of).
This has strangely brought out some people who have questioned this blog’s stance that Buffy is the most conservative show in history. Some liberals have claimed that it is not conservative in any way shape or form, it is clearly liberal and they won’t bother to actually prove any of their points because I’m just stupid. Granted I guess they could have meant classical Liberalism the belief that most closely matches to modern conservatism (or at least before the alt-right started dragging that term through the mud).
Now I can certainly see that in any show that lasted for 144 episodes, there are elements you can pull out as points for one side and elements you can pull out for the other. And the fact is that most episodes aren’t thematically liberal or conservative. That would be a fair point and then we could see who has the stronger and more numerous points. So yes I admit there are strains of liberal belief in Buffy, as they are there in all other conservative shows. But when faced with that kind of argument, it is very clear that Buffy is most certainly an exceptionally conservative show.
And I grant that there is a bizarre irony in that this show was created by Joss Whedon, one of the most liberal people on Earth. Or at least he claims to be. But he also created a show about the nature of redemption, a concept usually associated with religion (Angel), possibly the most inherently pro-Libertarian pro-capitalist show in history (Firefly) and a show that seemed to deal with nothing but the nature of the soul (Dollhouse) particularly odd for a professed atheist. And let’s not forget that his Captain America (Avengers) is the most pro-American version of the character around (granted Marvel does seem to change the nature of every character with every movie, but in Avengers he’s the most patriotic we ever see him). I think Joss Whedon is a very confused man. (I have also begun to wonder about writer/producer Jane Espenson’s influence on the show as she is involved in such conservative shows as Once Upon A Time and while never a writer for the show was clearly somehow involved in 24 as her name was actually mentioned in the show).
So for this 20th Anniversary let’s go over what are the 10 most conservative episodes…but to be fair I will also include the 5 most liberal episodes to not only show that this show did have some liberal elements but that when it went liberal it was some of the worst moments the show had.* Now this list is going to be a little heavy on season finales as the finales are often the culmination of themes that have existed for the entire season, so where appropriate I’ll be pointing out where some of these themes are part of whole arcs that have been building up.
Xander: I hate this guy.
Willow: He’s just doing what was done to him.
Xander: I didn’t give him syphilis!
Giles: No, but you freed his spirit, and after a century of unrest he saw you as one of his oppressors.
Xander: What, so he rises up and infects the first guy he sees? That’s no fair.
Willow: Like you’ve never woken up cranky.
Now if you know the episode you might be thinking that this is an example of liberalism. You have Willow playing the SJW whining about how terrible it was that the Indians were murdered and how they should try and make amends for past wrongs. This is insane as you have a spirit warrior killing people en masse. On the other hand as a messenger of the pre-alt-right arguing the other extreme that there was nothing wrong about genocide.
Spike: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That’s what conquering nations do. It’s what Caesar did, and he’s not goin’ around saying, “I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.” The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
The episode does a good job of showing Buffy and Giles, the only adults in the room, understanding that whatever the past atrocities may have been we deal in the here and now.
Willow: [about Hus] Are you sure we shouldn’t be helping him?
Giles: No, I think perhaps we won’t help the angry spirit with his rape and pillage and murder.
Willow: Well, ok, no, but we should be helping him redress his wrongs. Bring the atrocities to light
Giles: If the history books are full of them, I’d say they already are.
Willow: Giving his land back.
Giles: It’s not exactly ours to give.
Willow: I don’t think you wanna help. I think you just wanna slay the demon, then go – La la la
Giles: And I think your sympathy for his plight has blinded you to certain urgent facts. We have to stop this thing.
Willow: Ok, unfeeling guy.
This is conservative because it embodies the virtue of Prudence (something both Russell Kirk pointed out as being a core of conservatism, and Aristotle pointed to being one of the cardinal virtues). Prudence has a wide degree of definitions ranging from how individuals interact with pleasure in their life to caution about trying untested things. But at it’s core every definition of Prudence deals with knowing what is good in your life, in your relationships, and in society and being able to weigh those goods against each other. Liberals and Populists have no ability to weigh good against each other. Liberals see an evil and think that the opposite of it must not only be good but absolute good. They see past wrongs, and thus righting those wrongs must be not just a good, but an absolute good and are justified by anything. Populists and the alt-right see a good and think that anything justifies it. Meanwhile the very conservative principle of prudence sees that yes things in the past have been bad, but as there is no way to address them (as everyone involved is dead), and as everyone knows about it and thus has access learn the lessons of history there is nothing that can reasonably be done to address the problem then the problem that can and should be addressed in the present should take precedent. However unlike Spike, Giles does not try to suggest it should be ignored, and Buffy points out that for all the problems in the past there are now positives.
Willow: Buffy, earlier you agreed with me about Thanksgiving. It’s a sham. It’s all about death
Buffy: It *is* a sham. But it’s a sham with yams. It’s a yam sham.
Earshot is an episode with it’s own troubled past. Due to themes of school shooting right about the time of Columbine it was delayed in its release and some people didn’t even know it existed until they saw it on DVD or Netflix, so if you don’t remember this one, that’s why.
The episode follows Buffy after she has gained the power to read people’s thoughts through contact with a demon’s blood. This is at first played for a few gags but Buffy quickly learns that there is someone plotting to kill most of the students at the school.
She eventually focuses on a student, Jonathan, who brings a high-powered rifle to kill himself with but given that it’s a weapon clearly designed for long distance shooting of multiple targets it’s pretty forgivable Buffy didn’t see it as a suicide attempt (typical liberal, doesn’t know how to use a gun or even that a long-range weapon might not be the best case for this particular act). Obviously she then finds the person who was plotting to kill huge swaths of the school (you just can’t trust school cafeteria workers).
What makes this episode more conservative than most is this moment when Buffy is talking Jonathan out of killing himself.
Buffy: I don’t. I don’t think about you much at all. Nobody here really does. Bugs you, doesn’t it? You have all this pain and all these feelings, and nobody’s really paying attention?
Jonathan: You think I just want attention?
Buffy: No. I think you’re up in the clock tower with a high-powered rifle because you wanna blend in. Believe it or not, Jonathan, I understand about the pain.
Jonathan [bitterly]: Oh, right! Because the burden of being beautiful and athletic, that’s a crippler!
Buffy: You know what? I was wrong. You are an idiot. My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it’s not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening…
That’s right you precious little snowflakes (and I mean that insult both toward the traditional liberal wimps and the new modern populist snowflakes who get hysterically upset anytime their mentally challenged orange god-king is shown to the be idiotic piece of offal he is): YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL. Everyone’s life sucks at times. You feel offended? Well welcome to the human collective. You feel like the world is against you? Well you must be a human being on a day ending in “y.” You’re upset that you lost your job or that the world is moving faster than you can keep up with sometimes and would just love it if someone could help you? Oh, poor baby, I’m sorry no one told you, but that’s called life. And if you don’t get this, Buffy said it perfectly, “You are an idiot.”
But it’s not conservative because it insults one of the key tenets of modern liberalism and populism, it’s because this is in line with the Aristotelian idea of Justice. That just because you have to endure the same kind of griefs, hardships, and problems that everyone else does, does not mean you’re special or entitled to special treatment, special consideration, or special preference. And this is in line with Kirk’s first principle of conservatism, the idea that there is an enduring moral order, that “human nature is constant.” You don’t get to think yourself special for being like everyone else. But, but they picked on me…welcome to real life, everyone has been picked on. Just because you’ve suffered doesn’t make you special, it makes you hopelessly ordinary. How you choose to respond to it might make you special but if you choose to be a liberal or populist snowflake, might by the terms of Justice mean you deserve less than those who choose to fight for the good in their life, but just being a snowflake and bitching about it will get you nowhere.
The finale to the Sixth Season is often viewed as one of the only redeeming points to the poor excuse for a season** (it’s the weakest, due partly to not being properly planned, but mostly because it is unquestionably the most liberal in nature with all the whining and no one wanting to take responsibility for anything they do). Thankfully though the last four episodes of the season do a lot to make up for the otherwise dreadful quality of everything that came after the episode Tabula Rasa.
And it does this through several points. One is Xander’s actions that embody both the Aristotelian virtue of Fortitude (Courage) and the theological virtue of Charity by having the strength to both face off against an apocalyptically genocidal Willow and the strength to forgive her.
Xander: Hey, black-eyed girl… Whatcha doin’?
Dark Willow: Get out of here.
Xander: Oh no… You’re not the only one with powers, you know. You may be a hopped up uber-witch, but this carpenter can dry-wall you into the next century.
Willow: I’m not joking, Xander. Get out of my way. Now. You can’t stop this.
Xander: Yeah, I get that. It’s just where else am I gonna go? You’ve been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end… where else would I want to be?
Willow: Is this the master plan? You’re gonna stop me by telling me ya love me?
Xander: Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil, but, eh, it seemed kinda cartoony.
Willow: Still making jokes.
Xander: I’m not joking. I know you’re in pain. I can’t imagine the pain you’re in. And I know you’re about to do something apocalyptically evil and stupid and hey, still wanna hang. You’re Willow.
Willow: Don’t call me that!
Xander: First day of kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You’ve come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love … scary veiny Willow. So if I’m going out, it’s here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I’ve earned that.
Willow: You think I won’t?
Xander: It doesn’t matter. I’ll still love you.
Willow: Shut up!
Xander: I love you. I… lov-
Willow: Shut up!
Xander: I love you, Willow.
Xander: I love you.
Xander: I love you.
And while suggested in Willow laying aside her rage, as well in Buffy’s earlier conservation with Giles in the episode, this episode makes it clear that life with worth living. Or as Buffy puts it, when putting aside the mopey poor me attitude of the season:
Dawn: I’m sorry to disappoint…wait, is that happy crying?
Buffy: Yes, dummy. You think I wanted the world to end?
Dawn: I don’t know. Didn’t you?
Buffy: I don’t want to protect you from the world. I want to show it to you.
And that is not only a conservative belief (that life is worth living, is directly from The Conservative Mind, and very much opposed to the liberal idea that life is merely to be suffered through) but not just a single Aristotelian virtues, but the sum total of all virtues whose purpose is to achieve Happiness.
And as if to cap this point off the episode ends with the idea that all the suffering we go through in life is to achieve something more, to have happiness, to experience the fullness of our soul.
Cave Demon: You have endured the required trials.
Spike: Bloody right I have. So you give me what I want. Make me what I was, so Buffy can get what she deserves.
Cave Demon: Very well. We will return…your soul.
Happiness is worth it, it may take a lot of work, but it is what we’re after.
Xander: But … it’s just that it’s bugging me … this cool thing. I mean, what is it? How do you get it? Who doesn’t have it? And who decides who doesn’t have it? What is the essence of “cool”?
Oz: Not sure.
Xander: I mean you, yourself, Oz, are considered more or less cool. Why is that?
Oz: Am I?
Xander: Is it about the talking? You know, the way you tend to express yourself in short, non-committal phrases?
Oz: Could be.
Xander: No, you’re in a band! That’s like a business class ticket to cool with complementary mojo after takeoff. I gotta learn an instrument. Is it hard to play guitar?
Oz: Not the way I play it.
Xander: Okay, but on the other hand, eighth grade: I’m takin’ the flugelhorn and gettin’ zero trim. So the whole instrument thing could be a mislead. But ya need a thing. One thing nobody else has. What do I have?
Oz: An exciting new obsession, which I feel makes you very special.
In this great third season episode, the weakest member of the team, Xander Harris, has his own snowflake moment. Granted it might be a little easier to understand how you might feel the need to be special when you know two Slayers, a witch, a werewolf, a Watcher, and have just been dumped by the prettiest girl in school. You might feel like Zeppo Marx, kind of useless. So Xander sets off to find his ‘thing’, that will make him cool and hip and whatever.
But as the episode shows this attempt to be force being cool is inherently pointless, if not dangerous. He winds up getting involved with psychotic zombies out to blow up the school (and his friend). Ironically Xander would have a direct hand in blowing up the school only a few episodes later…but this again is the show with it’s inherently conservative understanding of the Aristotelean distinction between ends and means (blowing up the school for kicks, bad; blowing up the school to kill the evil Mayor turned demon, good.) So, again, we see that the snowflake desire to be special not just being portrayed as stupid as in “Earshot” but actively leading to disaster.
But what makes this episode so conservative is not the rejection of snowflakism but it’s demonstration of the Kirk principle of “Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence” and its demonstration of Aristotelean Fortitude. The first comes in with the understanding that while Xander may seem to be the Zeppo of Buffy’s Scooby Gang, like Zeppo Marx (the movies without Zeppo weren’t as funny as the ones with him), Xander not only serves his purpose (Xander is usually the only one who can tell Buffy a truth she doesn’t want to hear, and certainly the only one who could reach Willow), but that Xander is capable of fighting evil all on his own, as it is clear that he receives no help from any other member of the gang throughout his adventure (well, Oz at the very end, but that was more for comic effect).
The second point, Fortitude, is shown at the end when Xander has to face off against a zombie to ensure that the zombie’s plan to destroy the school is thwarted.
Xander: I’m not leaving ’til that thing’s disarmed.
Jack: Then I guess you’re not leaving. I’m gonna carve you up and serve you with gravy. You piss me off, boy. Now you pay the price. First the eyes, then the tongue. I’m gonna break every one of your fingers.
Xander: You gonna do all that in forty-nine seconds?
[Jack looks from bomb to the door to Xander.
Xander: I know what you’re thinking. Can I get by him? Get up the stairs, out of the building, seconds ticking away. I don’t love your chances.
Jack: Then you’ll die, too.
Xander: Yeah, looks like. So I guess the question really is: Who has less fear?
Jack: I’m not afraid to die. I’m already dead.
Xander: Yeah, but this is different. Being blown up isn’t walking-around-and-drinking-with-your-buddies dead. It’s little-pieces-being-swept-up-by-a-janitor dead, and I don’t think you’re ready for that.
Jack: Are you?
Xander: [smile] I like the quiet.
Being able to not flinch in a Mexican standoff takes the kind of courage few know, being able to make the other blink, not because Xander is without fear (we know from all the episodes that Xander has more than enough fear to go around) but because he knows it’s what he has to do (the difference between Fortitude and rashness) is about as clear a conservative value can be.
6. Empty Places/Touched
Anya: And it’s automatically you. You really do think you’re better than we are.
Buffy: No, I—
Anya: But we don’t know. We don’t know if you’re actually better. I mean, you came into the world with certain advantages, sure. I mean, that’s the legacy.
Anya: But you didn’t earn it. You didn’t work for it. You’ve never had anybody come up to you and say you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn’t make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us.
I’m counting these two episodes together as the inherently conservative message spans these two episodes that occurred in a much larger arc (and that is the problem/greatness with well constructed arcs, you can’t pull individual parts out as the themes flow from one part to another).
At the end of “Empty Places” we see Buffy’s control of all the potential slayers slip, not because she wasn’t right or because she was misusing her power or even because she was a terrible leader. They rebelled because she was correctly fixated on the idea that “the badges always go where the power is” which she is correct about, and because she understands that “it’s not going to be easy” is the correct way you have to treat loss in a war. In something that is bound to yield huge results you may have to risk huge resources. Of course the second and third most useless characters in the history of the show (Rona and Kennedy) joined by the most useless character Joss has ever written (Dawn) gang up on Buffy and tell her because she is the adult in the room, making the hard decisions, she has to go. It’s the ultimate movement in liberalism. Feelings matter more than facts.
And it is conservative in that it shows (in “Empty Places”) the wisdom of Buffy that “Democracies don’t win battles. There has to be a single voice.” and Russel Kirk wisdom that conservatism believes that “civilized society requires orders and classes.” Certainly not all parts of society require the best to give orders, but certainly in the military that is the case, and when the potential slayers revolt they violate this basic premise. They also violate the Aristotelean concept of Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. They violate Justice in not giving Buffy the respect and trust she has earned. They violated Fortitude by making their decisions based on fear not on reason. They violate Temperance by thinking that democracy can solve every situation (as showing in “Touched”) how democratic and group decision-making is utterly useless in crisis situations.
It is only when Buffy, magical scythe in hand, comes back to her rightful place as leader that things start to go right again. Showing that, yes, sometimes you need someone to come in and take control. Usually not, but in major crises, the kind that take military control (or in the private sector most major situations where the cost overall to society are less) you need one voice, determined by merit, to make the choices. Further this points out that the Kirk stance that Conservatives believe that “faith in prescription and distrust of ‘sophisters calculators, and economists’ who would reconstruct society”—the rebellion of the potential is the sophisters in action, believing they can do better on their limited experience than the person who has been doing this for seven years.
Buffy: So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?
This continues the same themes of the last two but in a different way. This shows Buffy’s fortitude in choosing not only to confront Caleb , the evil preacher from Hell, and the First Evil, but also that conservative principle that there is “a transcendent order, or body of natural law” namely that there good will conquer evil but also the conservative principle that “society must alter, for prudent changes is the means of social preservation”–that the system of the there being only one Slayer worked up until now, but as circumstances have significantly changed, then and only then should established orders that have worked for so long be changed.
But having the Prudence to realize not only to realize the change but the foresight to create a plan for when the old system fails to work (as the Scythe is) is a perfectly conservative principle in knowing that not every system is perfect but that it shouldn’t be shoved out until it has run its course and needs to be done away with.
Described by the The Weekly Standard as “one of the most explicitly religious hours of television ever aired.” Really that should end any discussion of this episode’s conservative credentials. Angel gets a Christmas miracle. But let’s go further.
Angel: I can’t do it again Buffy. I can’t become a killer.
Buffy: Then fight it.
Angel: It’s too hard.
Buffy: Angel, please, you have to get inside!
Angel: It told me to kill you. You were in the dream, you know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again.
Buffy: I know what it told you, what does it matter?
Angel: Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you. And I know it will cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn’t care. I’m weak. I’ve never been anything else. It’s not the demon that needs killing in me, Buffy. It’s the man.
Buffy: You’re weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it’s because it needs you. And that means you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die right now, then all that you ever were was a monster. Angel, please, the sun is coming up.
Angel: Just go!
Buffy: I won’t.
Angel: Do you think this is simple? Do you think this is an easy answer? You could never understand what I’ve done! Now go!
Buffy: You are not staying here! I’m helping you!
Angel: Leave! Am I a thing worth saving, huh?! Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!
Buffy: What about me? I love you so much, and I tried to make you go away. I killed you and it didn’t help. And I hate it! I hate that it’s so hard… and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don’t. I can’t.
Angel: Buffy, please. Just this once, let me be strong.
Buffy: Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do. And we can do it together. But if you’re too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can’t convince you that you belong in this world, then I don’t know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don’t expect me to mourn for you, because …
Not only does this deal with the Aristotelean concept Fortitude, “Strong is fighting!” but it deals with the Kirk belief that there is “a transcendent” order and the theological virtue of Faith, namely God and a higher purpose, to existence. This belief in a higher power is clearly something that the pessimism of liberalism and populism that see only an overarching government as the way to solve their problems.
3. The Wish
Inherent in the distrust of change within Kirk’s “change may not be reform” is the conservative understanding that change comes with unexpected consequences. Such is the case when Cordelia Chase, self-described as “not a sniveling, whiny, little cry-Buffy. I’m the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history. I take crap from no one” in an attempt to heal a broken heart makes a simple wish that Buffy Summers never came to Sunnydale finds out that changes always have unintended consequences. In this case the apocalypse. A Sunnydale where everything is worse, vampires rule all, and she dies fairly quickly.
But in amongst this is also the virtue of hope. In this terrible world you see one of the clearest differences is the complete lack of hope—“World is what it is. We fight, we die.”—versus the virtue of Hope which believes there is a point to all this.
Giles: Cordelia Chase. What did she wish for?
Anyanka: I had no idea her wish would be so exciting! ‘Brave new world.’ I hope she likes it.
Giles: You’re gonna change it back. I’m not afraid of you. Your only power lies in the wishing.
Anyanka: Wrong! This is the real world now. This is the world we made. Isn’t it wonderful?
[Giles takes her amulet and moves to destroy it]
Anyanka: You trusting fool. How do you know the other world is any better than this?
Giles: Because it has to be.
Liberalism and populism are not hopeful by nature, which is why they are so focused on short-term gratification, because they don’t have hope that things can get better in the long-term, but conservatism at its core believes that for all the inherent flaws in human nature and limits on the world if we work for it we can make a better world.***
2. Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2
Wesley: The Council’s orders are to concentrate on…
Buffy: Orders? I don’t think I’m gonna be taking any more orders. Not from you. Not from them.
Wesley: You can’t turn your back on the Council.
Buffy: They’re in England. I don’t think they can tell which way my back is facing.
Wesley: Giles, talk to her.
Giles: I’ve nothing to say right now.
Buffy: Wesley, go back to your Council and tell them until the next Slayer comes along, they can close up shop. I’m not working for them anymore.
Wesley: Don’t you see what’s happening? Faith poisoned Angel to distract you, to keep you out of the Mayor’s way and it’s working. We need a strategy.
Buffy: I have a strategy. You’re not in it.
Wesley: This is mutiny.
Buffy: I like to think of it as graduation.
It’s not exactly breaking new ground to say that much of Buffy is a metaphor for growing up. And the season 3 finale is one of the pinnacles of this metaphor as high school graduation is one of the key moments of going from a child to adult (at least metaphorically, I think we all agree most high school graduates are still a long way off from being an adult, but this is TV so we’ll ignore that point). And let’s be honest here there are few things as conservative as actually acting like an adult.
And as such this finale is just loaded with conservative themes. The Fortitude of taking on a demon mayor and his army of vampires, the Justice of Faith getting exactly what she deserves, Prudence and Temperance for Buffy being able to balance both her personal concerns with Angel and the needs of the town in defeating the mayor. All three theological virtues seen in Buffy’s willingness to sacrifice herself for Angel.
But also from the conservative principles of Russell Kirk. The distrust of sophisters and calculators (personified by Wesley and the Council), the sense that life is worth living in the individual stand to not just be a pawn of the Council, the understanding of the mantle of leadership inherent in the conservative belief in being the “party of order” in organizing the armed assault against the mayor.
With the exception of our #1 pick it would be hard to find a more conservative moment than this transition to adulthood.
Oz: We survived.
Buffy: It was a hell of a battle.
Oz: Not the battle. High School.
1. Becoming Parts 1 and 2
Angel: I wanna help her. I want… I wanna become someone.
Angelus: No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?
At the core of classical liberalism/conservatism is the belief in the individual. Modern liberalism believes in the state, populists believe only in whatever social groups you want to define yourself in. But the individual doesn’t need to the politics of class or identity because they are a person in and of themselves. Strip away a liberal’s classes and categories and there is nothing left, strip away a populist’s connection to their race or community and there is nothing left. But for a conservative what is left? Me. The individual. This is central to that conservative idea that life is worth living, because for there to be life, you must have the individual to live it.
And even from the villains the idea of life being worth it is resounded.
Spike: We like to talk big, vampires do. “I’m going to destroy the world.” It’s just tough guy talk. Struttin’ around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got… dog racing, Manchester United, and you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real… passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Piccadilly. Farewell, Leicester bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?
And as always there is the idea of Fortitude imbuing everything Buffy does.
And for an additional bonus here are 6 conservative scenes in episodes that weren’t really conservative or liberal in their nature. But I feel help to illustrate how these items do show up time and again.
Into the Woods
Xander: I’ve gotta say something, ’cause I don’t think I’ve made it clear. I’m in love with you. Powerfully, painfully in love. The things you do, the way you think, the way you move. I get excited every time I’m about to see you. You make me feel like I’ve never felt before in my life… like a man. I just thought you might like to know.
Again acting like an adult, knowing that life is worth living, and treating others with respect. It’s a damn shame that season 6 had to ruin everyone’s life with its lackluster writing, because had they carried this version of Xander forward without major alteration (the character took a major step back in maturity with season 6’s poor writing) he and Anya would have probably been the most stable couple of the show.
The Killer In Me
Willow: My mom was all proud, like I was making some kind of political statement.
That’s right liberals, treating orientation like it’s something political is not intelligent, it’s something to be mocked for your abject stupidity.
All the Way: Dance of Capitalist Superiority
Up until now there is one point of conservative belief we haven’t covered too much, that “freedom and property are closely linked” but then you have the Dance of Capitalist Superiority. Along with the very capitalist understanding that life costs money as shown even in the idiocy of season 6, it’s clear this show understands the realities of economics better than most.
An understanding in that most basic of all enduring social structures, the family along with the virtues of Charity and Justice. Can’t get more conservative than that. Added bonus making fun of a family of Trumpkins (you know they’d be Trump supporters, don’t lie).
I Only Have Eyes For You
Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It’s not done because people deserve it, it’s done because they need it.
The episode has some serious moral issues, but the virtue of charity as the counterpoint to strict Justice (which is itself a measure of the virtue of Temperance), (as Aristotle said there can be no Justice between friends) is shown quite clearly in this episode. People sometimes need to be forgiven so that they can move on, because that is the point of life moving forward, not like some addled brained populist getting stuck in a vision of the past and never moving on.
Angel: When you become a vampire, the demon takes your body, but it doesn’t get your soul; that’s gone. No conscience, no remorse, it’s an easy way to live. You have no idea what it’s like to have done the things I’ve done…and care. I haven’t fed on a human being since that day.
The flip side to forgiveness is the facts of Justice, that actions have consequences, and the things we do weigh upon us. Yes many liberals, like vampires, would like to live not having to care about the consequences of their actions (maybe not the mass murder part, but they really aren’t big on facing up to the consequences of their actions, they just want to do what they want and feel good without worry about how it actually affects people), and the populist alt-right would be fine with doing the things Angelus did. But conservatives face the consequences of our actions, maybe Angel broods about it a little too much but you do have to weigh that against everything he had done.
The fact of the matter is that every conservative principle from the ideas of Russell Kirk to Aristotelean virtues is shown again and again and again in Buffy. However the liberal/populist principles of idealistic thinking, glorification of a past or utopian future that never was or will be, of the individual only being valued as part of the herd, of change for the sake of change, of conformity and the all-powerful state, these are not central themes of the show….but they do show up from time to time I will admit (no-show can last seven season with dozens of writers and always be intellectually consistent at all points). What can be shown however is that while liberal ideas do sometimes pop up, when they do they make for the worst episodes of the show. Any honest appraisal of these episodes reveals them to be the ones you probably like the least and among the ones you just skip when decide to binge the whole series every few years. Granted there are some that are just bad (“Beer Bad” “Him”) that are bad without a political context but the general rule is the more liberal the episode is the worse it is.
Buffy: Wherever I … was … I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time … didn’t mean anything … nothing had form … but I was still me, you know? And I was warm … and I was loved … and I was finished. Complete. I don’t understand about theology or dimensions, or … any of it, really … but I think I was in heaven. And now I’m not. I was torn out of there. Pulled out … by my friends. Everything here is … hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch … this is hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that … knowing what I’ve lost… They can never know. Never.
Having come back from the dead, Buffy reveals that she was in Heaven and now being brought back finds life a living hell. First this is liberal because it not only rejects Hope and Faith, but also reality. Even a cursory look at Near Death Experiences would tell you that people who believe they have gone to Heaven and come back, come back with a greater love for life, that seeing Heaven shows them that there is not only joy to come but that the joy to come is directly related to this world and can be found here. It correctly sees that Happiness is not a zero sum game that more Happiness over there actually means there should be Happiness here…rather than the liberal take that Buffy has for much of the season that Happiness there means there must be more suffering here.
Buffy gets a job in fast food. But this is liberal fast food where work is soulless, as opposed to reality where someone with Buffy’s work ethic would propel her up the ranks fairly quickly. Also it ignores as a 21-year-old with a dependent living in one of the most welfare heavy states in the US (California) Buffy should not have been that hard up for cash, but let’s not deal in reality. After all, most of this season wasn’t dealing in reality.
New Moon Rising
Buffy: You mean Tara has a crush on Oz? No…Oh!!
Buffy: Well, there you go! I mean, you know, you have to… follow your heart, Will. And that’s what’s important, Will.
Willow: Why do you keep saying my name like that?
Buffy: Like what, Will?
Willow: Are you freaked?
Buffy: What? No, Will! [pause] No. No, absolutely no to that question. I’m glad you told me.
Willow: I don’t want to hurt anyone, Buffy.
Buffy: No matter what, somebody’s going to get hurt. And the important thing is, you just have to be honest or it’s going to be a lot worse.
The only time Willow being gay was seen as something odd. It felt forced (probably because it was, they just realized they needed to have a reason for Buffy to talk to Riley about Angel), disingenuous to the characters, and has that typical liberal BS that would think very momentary cognitive dissonance as a person updates internally what they know about a person is equivalent to some kind of bigotry. (Also Oz’s freak-out was particularly out of character, especially since we’ve seen him see Willow cheat on him before and that time he met it with his usual Stoicism).
Liberals love short-term solutions and instant gratification…which is at the heart of Dawn’s terrible Monkey’s Paw plan to bring her mom back from the dead. Quite frankly any Dawn centered episode is bad (because for a character that Joss spent years building up to, he never really made her a likeable character), but her whining in this one is a little worse than usual.
In her mind, she’s the central figure in a fantastic world beyond imagination. She’s surrounded herself with friends, most with their own superpowers. Together they face grand, overblown conflicts against an assortment of monsters, both imaginary and rooted in actual myth.
And finally what I think has to be the worst episode of the entire show. Honestly, the “it’s all hallucination and you’re in a psych ward” trope is one that no-show has ever done well. It’s always a terrible episode in any context because it is so terribly liberal in any context. Life isn’t worth living because it’s not real (and I know it’s fiction, but to have a theme like this undercuts all the emotional reason for being involved with a work of fiction in the first place). All the rules of the fictional universe (from which you would hopefully derive metaphorical lessons from) aren’t real so there isn’t any transcendent order. All the virtues we praise, not real. Every time this trope comes up in any show, it’s a liberal stab to the heart of any thematic core, but more so with this episode. Why? Because of that terrible last scene that almost suggested the psych ward was the reality and the show we’re so invested in is just a lie, that your suspension of disbelief isn’t worth it, and this all has no value. A great big F you to the audience for all the emotional and intellectual investment you’ve put in. Skip this poor excuse for an episode and pretend it doesn’t exist.
So as we’ve seen the more conservative an episode is the better it is, the more liberal the worst, and thankfully the conservative points outweigh the liberal points by a huge margin.
*For the purposes of this article I’m going to say that to be considered Conservative something will have to both meet one of Russell Kirk’s 6 criteria as put for in The Conservative Mind as well as display one of Aristotle’s Cardinal Virtues and/or one of the theological virtues. I will be using his list of six principles in his book The Conservative Mind as it is covers all traditional forms of American Conservatism, whereas his later 10 point list covers only a very narrow paleo-conservative viewpoint that gives a little too much to nationalists and traditionalists in its additions.
**Obviously Once More with Feeling is an exception to the general quality of this godawful season.
***I will fully admit this hopeful nature to conservatism applies only to neoconservatives and not to paleo-conservatives.