A quick little essay I did for extra credit in a class of mine. I thought I would share. Be gentle, though, because it's only a quick little blurb, not intricately reasoned and researched.
Why We Hate Our Heroes
When our class was evaluating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy
, it was easy to notice the extensive discussions of morality and the source of Buffy’s actions. In the book, it is discussed at length where many of the characters get their moral bearing. Faith and the Mayor are described as having Nietzschian moral origins of self-fulfillment. Vampires are described as seldom having a moral compass, represented in the show by reference to a ‘soul’. Buffy herself is demonstrated to have a significant grounding in care ethics, which is a relativistic approach to life that is not shared by any other Slayer. This is what seems to set her apart, make her more real and more resilient in her duties. This is pointed out in blunt detail by Spike, who is introduced as an adversary who has killed Slayers previously. “A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn’t in the brochure.” (School Hard
, Season Two)
What is not so openly addressed is the way that Buffy, who is by any account a hero, is treated for her trouble. We find out early on that Buffy has had difficulty because of her duties. She was expelled from a previous school for burning down the gym, even though the act destroyed the vampires that were trapped in the gym. By the storyline, she saved the lives of everyone at her school prom, and became an outcast for it. She experiences the guilt and lingering doubt of whether or not she was the reason her parents got divorced; in a nightmare episode (Nightmares
, Season One) Buffy’s father tells her that he divorced her mother because of her, and that he cannot stand her as a daughter. He calls her self-centered, and tells her that she is never aware of the needs of others. In truth, she is painfully aware of the needs of others, and sometimes cannot see to her own needs because of her calling. Many heroes in popular culture face this dilemma; because they are putting themselves and their relationships last all of the time, their loved ones often feel neglected, frustrated and confused.
Intentional or not, this causes no small amount of grief in an heroic figure; Buffy can’t not
do her job. Even when she is offered a way out of her existence as the Slayer by being convinced it was all simply an hallucination (Normal Again
, Season Six), she doesn’t take that way, returning to her life and her duties. She is so absorbed in them that she neglects her own health and well-being. She makes reference to being used to washing blood out of her clothing in season one, and even gets herself hospitalized at one point due to a particularly virulent flu virus (Killed by Death
, Season Two) because she has refused to stay home instead of going on her nightly patrol. All of this leads to the need for quite a bit of understanding from her friends. People who are not her friends, and unaware of her duties, look on her as a troublemaker, an oddball, and a freak. In the beginning, there is some hope for understanding, as the character Jonathan presents in a speech while giving Buffy an award:
We're not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn't mean we haven't noticed you. We don't talk about it much, but it's no secret that Sunnydale High isn't exactly like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here. But whenever there was a problem, or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We're proud to say that the class of 99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history. And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks, and gives you ... this. It's from all of us, and it has written here: Buffy Summers, Class Protector. (Prom, Season Three)
As the series progresses, however, there is far less understanding, and Buffy feels more and more alone. This is not an uncommon theme among modern heroes; for instance, while Batman, Superman, and other famous heroes have certain team members, sidekicks, or love interests, they always end up alone by the time the credits roll. They are the only ones who can understand their place and perform their duties. As much as we are a species of individuals, we are also a social, empathic species. Heroes like this persist in culture, but they do not make a lot of sense.
The most obvious reason for this loner syndrome is diffusion of responsibility. If the people around the hero empathize too much, they are honor-bound to join the hero in his duty. They cannot help it; our heroes do not fraternize with people whose conscience would, in the end, allow otherwise. In Buffy’s case, even the vampire Spike, who is without a soul, promises her, “Look, forget them, Slayer. I’ve got your back.” when he finds out that her friends will be unable to help her fight their current foe (Once More, With Feeling
, Season Six). This is not the normal course for a soulless, blood-sucking vampire, but it is unsurprising, given how closely Spike has associated with Buffy up until that point. If enough others felt the same way, they would all be compelled to fight.
Of course, if enough people fight evil, and enough people object to an established path, those people effect change. If enough people strike back against the darkness which we have our heroes fight every day, it would no longer exist. Without a foe, our heroes become obsolete, or they must start the cycle over again with a new foe. The system is ingrained in such a way that we must revile our heroes in order to keep them, because if we were to respect, love, and understand them in the way required, we would need
to fight, and we would win the battle… and we would lose our heroes.