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I'm honestly at a loss as to what the vampires represent

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  • I'm honestly at a loss as to what the vampires represent

    Vampires in literature are basically a metaphor for the transition from feudalism to industrialism. Obviously, the Buffy vampires can't really serve this same function. At the same time, it would be strange if vampires weren't a metaphor of some sort. The only thing I can think of is that they either represent the animalistic/counter-revolutionary tendencies of the youth, or the "parasitic," non-productive elements in society, the "useless eaters," which seems to me an almost fascist theme. The latter seems more likely to me, there are many metaphors for the former.

  • #2
    This is quite an interesting topic to look at. I mean, we've all heard about the central "high school is hell" metaphor to Buffy's first three seasons. We normally focus on Hyenas as peer pressure, invisibility as unpopularity and bodyswitching as parental tyranny but not so much on what the titular vampires of the show represent.

    Unlike the MotW elements of the show which could be moulded to specific story and metaphorical needs, vampires symbolised different things throughout the run of the show. The first season was deeply entrenched in the conflict between old and new, tradition and counterculture. This is reflected in the opening credits, going from Hammer horror organs to 90s guitar rockout. The Master symbolises the institutions of the Horror genre and of traditional patriarchy. He resembles the ancient Nosferatu, he is at the head of the Order of Aurelius. He's literally trapped in an institution of the Church, stuck in the old ways. In rejecting the role of the feminine weakling and defeating the Master, Buffy breaks down traditions of both genre and society.

    Even then, within the same season, Angel represented something completely different. His status as a vampires resonated with the fear of the older boyfriend, the one with more experience and a little bit dangerous. Naturally, Joss extrapolates this into a man with a bicentenary and a penchant for murder/mayhem. This is very specifically seen in the lies Buffy tells Joyce in the first two seasons about Angel. When Buffy wards Joyce off of Angelus by telling her he's her ex-boyfriend who went bad, she isn't lying. Joyce's reaction to Angelus when confronted by him is one that works on both the level of dangerous ex-boyfriend stalker and that of murderous vampire.

    I can't easily explain the role of vampires later in the series as they became less central to the plot and more walking stake magnets. Obviously there's Spike who I haven't gone into but I doubt that, for example, the Ubervamps served a purpose beyond the surface plot.

    Oooh, another thought. You mention the idea of Vampires = feudalism transitioning into industrialism. The Wish seems like an especially relevant episode to that, in which the Master pushes vampires into mass production. Which, funnily enough kind of undermines my own point about him being a symbol of old structures. :/ Very interesting idea though.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by zarus View Post
      Vampires in literature are basically a metaphor for the transition from feudalism to industrialism. Obviously, the Buffy vampires can't really serve this same function. At the same time, it would be strange if vampires weren't a metaphor of some sort. The only thing I can think of is that they either represent the animalistic/counter-revolutionary tendencies of the youth, or the "parasitic," non-productive elements in society, the "useless eaters," which seems to me an almost fascist theme. The latter seems more likely to me, there are many metaphors for the former.
      You're confused because you're trying to read some sort of historical/political symbolism into vampires, and there's no such thing in BtVS. In fact, I would contest your statement that "vampires in literature are a metaphor for the transition from feudalism to industrialism"; that may be the case in some literature, but not in all of it, for sure. Vampires have been represented in very different ways in different fictional works and had different symbolical resonances. Most of the time they represented repressed/forbidden sexuality; e.g. in Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, vampirism was very obviously about lesbianism. And as we move further into the 20th century pop culture, the more we find modern style vampires who have nothing do with 18/19th century economical issues, e.g. the vampires from Near Dark or Lost Boys.

      In BtVS, vampires pretty much stand for human serial killers and sexual predators (years before literal rape was ever mentioned on the list of Angel's and Spike's past crimes, there were many times when vampire attacks were coded as rape metaphors). As Andrew observed above, The Master and the Order of Aurelius were representatives of tradition and patriarchy, with the Master as a demonic father figure, adored in a literally religious way. The vampires in season 1 even had their own (anti)religion. This really fit with the themes of season 1. However, since season 2, these old school vampires were replaced by younger, unconventional, anarchistic vampires like Spike, Angel(us), Drusilla (Darla is an odd link between the two, but her characterization as Master's minion in season 1 was very different from her later characterization as a member of Whirlwind) who came off as stand-ins for serial killer couples who enjoy having "fun" with their victims. Zachary Kralik made the subtext text, since he was literally a serial killer even as a human and didn't seem to change much. Something similar was the case with the Gorch brothers, Texan outlaws/mass murderers who remained the same, only with immortality and superpowers. On the other hand, Mr. Trick was a slick, technologically-savvy modern vampire who knew how to make money and talked about shopping online for fresh young humans from exotic countries, a clear reference to the real world sex trafficking. The film producer from AtS pilot was the big time Hollywood version of the same kind of evil. But whatever flavor they came in, vampires represented ruthless, evil predators that treat other people as commodity, "food".

      Except for the Ubervamps. They really didn't represent anything from real life, they were just plot devices.
      You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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      • #4
        I think the vampires are a special case because they come to be characters - love interests, people in their own right, with their own shows even... and a character can never be reduced to a metaphor. However sexuality, as people have mentioned above, is one of the areas where vampires have a lot of metaphoric resonance. Well, they're literally very sexual, for starters... but the relationship between need, hunger and lots of icky fluids, between power and desire and abuse...

        I'd say the vampires are a matrix of metaphors, crossing over into real, complex characters - depending on the vampires.

        But the stake-and-move-on comedy vampires that Buffy slays... I see those more as a metaphor for the day to day slog. They're hard work, they're a pain in the arse, but you can joke about them. Like doing your paperwork at work - it's a bit routine, but can be weirdly soothing once you've finished.

        Then there's the "women's work" question of unpaid slayage... but that's more general than just vampires.


        -- Robofrakkinawesome BANNER BY FRANCY --

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        • #5
          BTVS is a metaphor for growing up and the struggles that come from it.
          Not sure what vampires represent, but you have Spike and Angel, both vampires, that struggle for redemption and righting their wrongs.

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          • #6
            From a review of the book "Sex and the Slayer" by Lorna Jowett

            http://www.thingsmeanalot.com/2012/1...a-jowett.html?
            Another source of contradiction is Buffy’s portrayal of male and female vampires. There’s simply no female Spike or Angel, and while Darla makes some progress on Angel, it still doesn’t feel like enough. In the end, “male vampires are used to problematize the boundaries between human and monster, while female vampires, though retaining the attraction of the villainess, remain monsters, objects of fear.”

            [...]

            This Jekyll and Hyde approach always bothered me: Angel, Oz, and even Giles all have to struggle with the “beast inside”, and this has troubling implications. The idea that the thin veneer of civilization is the only thing keeping men’s “natural” aggressive tendencies in check is what’s behind the “rape as a natural phenomenon” kind of rhetoric, for example. If men are seen as unable to control their inner monsters at all times, then the onus is entirely on women to get out of the way and keep themselves safe, much like they would if dealing with a tornado or a flood. It’s revealing that even a show as conscious of gender as Buffy replicates these ideas.
            "Gunn dies, Illyria Survives, Spike shanshus, Angel looses an arm and Xander looses an arm too, which is odd because he wasn't even there."
            Joss Whedon at the High Stakes convention - 2004

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