Emmie (angearia) wrote,

Buffy and the Final Girl

I've been reading a few links today that led to some thinky thoughts.  It started here at elisi's where she proclaimed "Behold!  I have discovered where S8 came from!" and there's some interesting discussion in the comments.

Then I read The Final Girl and Buffy the Vampire Slayer by coffeeandink:

A week ago, I promised [info]yhlee a follow-up to my post on Carol Clover's Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992), explaining my comment that Buffy isn't a Final Girl. These notes are from the first chapter, "Her Body, Himself," which was first published in a longer version in 1987. "Her Body, Himself" describes the B-grade slasher film and theorizes the appeal of its female protagonists for an adolescent male audience. Clover defines the slasher as a descendant of Psycho in which Psycho's split protagonist--victim and detective--are merged into one figure, "the Final Girl"; other attributes of the subgenre are the Killer, the Terrible Place, Weapons (largely hand-held and personal; guns are sometimes used by victims but seldom effectively and never by killers), and Victims.

The attributes of the Final Girl are:
+ First and most obviously, she is the survivor. The slasher flick has a series of victims, not exclusively female; the Final Girl is the one who gets out alive in the end. She is spirited, resourceful, and makes an effort to defend herself; in earlier films she is sometimes fortuitously rescued at the end, but fairly soon she becomes her own rescuer.

+ This offers the paradoxical corollary that she is the one who spends the most time terrified or threatened. The other characters are skeptical of the threat and die quickly; the Final Girl is believes in the threat and is hunted for a relatively long time. Clover calls her "abject terror personified" (p. 35).

+ She is not sexually active, a trait which Clover associates with androgyny: "She is the Girl Scout, the bookworm, the mechanic....The Final Girl is boyish, in a word." (p. 39-40) This boyishness is frequently emphasized by her name: Stevie, Marti, Terry, Laurie, Stretch, Will, Joey, Max. The Final Girl is attractive, but not as conventionally attractive as the victims. Clover only looks at the (lack of) sexual activity briefly, but I think it's particularly interesting, especially since this is one of the attributes that defines the Girl as Final: that is, sexual activity during the film is invariably punished by the killer and many death scenes are explicitly arranged as faux seductons or the aftermath to seduction. To the extent that this asexuality is read as androgyny by the audience, a girl outside the romantic norms may have been a "safe" fantasy for the original audiences in a way oddly analogous to the appeal of slash to some of its audience: having your own gender removed from the scenario offers an escape from the real-life pressures of gender roles that enables identification and fantasy.

And I was thinking about this in light of penny_lane_42's discussion of Sexuality, Consent and the Buffyverse that paints a dire picture of women being punished for their sexuality as well as the continued trope of dub con and violations of consent in the Buffyverse. 

In reading this description of the Final Girl, it struck me that Buffy's character subverted the victim trope as coffeeandink notes, but that Buffy the Vampire Slayer the series continues to perpetuate the misogyny and punishment of sexuality in horror tropes.  Why is it only the Victim figure (the helpless blonde woman in the alley) that is subverted through Buffy's character while women's sexuality continues to be punished?  I think Whedon's propensity to explore rape (as someone else described it: his "obsession with rape") results his unconsciously perpectuating the misogyny he seeks to subvert in his works.

As coffeeandink describes:
Season Two's arc is the slasher plot stretched out over half a season, with some crucial differences. The killer (Angelus) is unleashed by desire--but it's not the sexually active who die here. There's been a lot of criticism of how Buffy is "punished" for sexuality, but I tend to think Season Two's greatest legacy may be the way it represents sexual disaster as survivable. This is not a particularly common message for girls.
That's an interesting point to consider, that "sexual disaster is survivable" but doesn't that again just bring you back to the concept of the Final Girl who is defined as a "survivor"?  Sexuality in the Buffyverse isn't something to celebrate for the main character, Buffy, but it's something Buffy has to survive.  Just as all romantic relationships in the Buffyverse are doomed--sexuality is something you survive, not something you celebrate.  Buffy is not the Final Girl: she is the pretty, blonde cheerleader victim who turns around in the alley and saves herself.  Buffy is not the Final Girl, but the Victim subverted.  That's how her figure subverts the misogyny of women as victims in slashers. 

But doesn't the constant damage to Buffy's psyche continue this concept of the Final Girl?  Sure, maybe Buffy's not the Final Girl in the role she plays, but emotionally, romantically and psychologically she is the Final Girl (as coffeeandink notes, it many ways it's the Slayer loner persona that pulls Buffy into her Final Girl status).  But besides her Slayer influences, it is really her emotional and romantic trauma that transform her into the Final Girl, the lone survivor, the woman who can't let anyone into her heart, can't let anyone be close, she can't trust them, she is "abject terror personified" of letting anyone in just like the Final Girl. 

It appears that in trying to subvert misogynistic horror tropes, Whedon still gets pulled back in by the allure of the straight trope.  It's like the story defines drama based on this internal conflict: Buffy is caught between becoming and defying the Final Girl figure.  And her success in defying the Final Girl, the lone Slayer, culminates in Chosen when she shares her power and becomes not the lone survivor, but the empowerer of many who survive and join her.  She doesn't "want to be the One" and now she isn't.  Though in her romantic life,she remains the survivor and the Final Girl--she lost Spike in the Hellmouth just as she'd said "I love you."  Buffy is the lone survivor of her and Spike's love affair; she carries the scars of that relationship with her into Season 8 (she breaks down about how loving her leads to people leaving or dying in A Beautiful Sunset).  Buffy is both the Victim subverted (plucky brave hero) and the Final Girl played straight (psychologically and emotionally damaged loner).

Buffy's success in defying the Final Girl in Chosen hits a snag in Season 8 and then falls apart.  She tries to emotionally reach out, but can't go the distance with Satsu and again retreats back behind her Final Girl loner wall.  As Willow describes her, she's still the General and no one else can understand her burden.  As Buffy wonders why she can't feel connection like all the other Slayers, Xander says maybe she can't because she's the one that created that connection for others, so she can't be a part of it.  Once again, Buffy is the One.  Buffy is further pushed into the Final Girl role when Willow discovers all the other Slayers around the world are dying, being killed by demons and human mobs, all while Buffy is growing exponentially in strength.  The Universe says she's special.  And in Twilight, she is supposed to be the lone survivor (along with Angel) while the world is destroyed.  The Universe ascends Buffy to god-state to survive the purge because she's worthy.  That makes the entire world the victims of the slasher while Buffy is the Final Girl (with Angel along for the ride).  Buffy rejects the Final Girl when she refuses to stay in Twilight, surviving isn't enough, she wants to again be the Protector, the Victim subverted becomes the Warrior Protector.  That seems to be a key difference-- the subverted Victim is a proactive force, a protector, while the Final Girl is fighting against forces she can't really conquer, but she can survive through them.

coffeeandink also noted how in Becoming, when Buffy clasps the sword and says "me", that it's symbolic of a female power encapsulating a male power.  And while women might pick up the stake, the stake is not the power.  The power is internal.  While Buffy might pick up the Scythe, the Scythe is not the power.  And that reminds me of Fray and how in Season 8 Buffy destroys Fray's own Scythe as Buffy's fighting to get back to her own reality--the crux being that if Buffy returns to her reality, Fray's own reality may be destroyed--but even after Buffy leaves, after Fray's Scythe has been destroyed, Fray's world remains.  And it's a good day.  Fray, her sister and her reality have survived.  Though Fray doesn't really defeat anyone, she herself is defeated, but through a fortuitous turn of events, she still survives.  Doesn't this make Fray the Final Girl?  Yet, she's been robbed of her Scythe which wasn't really her true source of power to begin with.  To be honest, I'm more interested in Fray's story now that she has no Scythe than I am in the continuation of Buffy's story.  In many ways, I think Chosen really did close the book.  For Buffy's story, it began and ended in Sunnydale.  Which the last arc of Season 8 will be bringing us back to Sunnydale--which makes me wonder if Season 8 isn't some long, drawn-out coda to BtVS.  It all comes back to Sunnydale, right?  That space is Buffy's space and it's all been a "long way home" to the Hellmouth.

I haven't really made sense of all these thoughts.  So feel free to continue.  This post is my thinking through the implications of Final Girl/Victim Subverted and how it relates to Buffy's journey in the show and how it's not manifest in Season 8.

ETA:  And then I have to look at Dawn's role in Season 8.  Dawn who is written to deliberately play the Victim.  She cheats on Kenny by sleeping with his roommate Nick.  She uses the rules of her misognystic world to get herself punished for her sexuality (she's using the rules of her horror movie world).  It's not merely being a victim, it's her willfully conspiring to be a victim.  All so Buffy will notice her and come rescue her.  Buffy meanwhile is the Victim Subverted.  But if Dawn is symbolic of a part of Buffy, then what perhaps is this saying about Buffy herself?  That there's a part of her that's crying out to be rescued, that's being ignored, that's being victimized?  (I'm thinking it comes back to the Final Girl and how Buffy is playing the victim--she has good reason of course, but she isn't letting herself heal--in her inner psyche regarding emotional intimacy and connection.  I think it connects to her having ignored how losing Spike has emotionally affected her for all of Season 8.)  And beyond being symbolic of Buffy's inner psychology, is it perhaps symbolic of the world, of a group that hasn't been saved by Buffy's empowering Potentials and freeing them from being Victims?  Well, if you see the Chosen spell as flawed, that is essentially true.  That not all women were empowered by Buffy.  Some women were ignored by the spell and the metaphor's selective nature.
Tags: buffy, comics, meta, my love is for buffy always and forever, season 8
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