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Yeah, the world sucks, but so what? Musings on morality in ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and the Whedonverse

August 22, 2009

tvd The fury Dark ReunionWarning: If you have yet to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, this is slightly spoilery. Ditto for reading The Vampire Diaries book series, though less so.  I say read it anyway, but use your own judgment.

I found an interesting connection between L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries and the Whedonverse, but it’s not what you think.  Humans in love with vampires?  Who cares?  I’m more interested in another similarity.  In Dark Reunion, the fourth volume of The Vampire Diaries series, Matt (a human teenager) has an existential crisis. He’s fed up with the violence, pain, and death he sees everywhere around him. In one of my favorite parts of the series, Matt releases his pent up frustration: “Is [the world] basically the kind of place worth saving or is it essentially a pile of crap?” (359) He continues: “What I’m really asking is, what’s the point? Is there some cosmic joke I’m not getting? Or is the whole thing just one big freaking mistake?” Stefan (a vampire hundreds of years old) replies: “So what?” (360)  Matt is disbelieving, but Stefan continues to push: “So what are you going to do, Matt Honeycutt, if every bad thing you’ve said is true?  What are you going to do personally? Are you going to stop fighting and swim with the sharks?” Matt protests against getting in league with evil, just because the universe is already frakked up: “Like Hell! […] That’s Damon’s way, maybe! But just because it’s hopeless doesn’t mean it’s all right to stop fighting. Even if I knew it was hopeless, I’d still have to try.  I have to try, damn it!” (361)  Stefan smiles, and says, “I know because I feel the same way […] There’s no excuse for giving up just because it looks like we’re going to lose. We have to try—because the other choice is to surrender.”

DavidBoreanaz

David Boreanaz as Angel

Sound familiar, Whedon fans? It should, because this philosophy is one shared by Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Angel (Angel), and Captain Malcom Reynolds (Firefly).  The most immediate parallel to me, upon reading the above referenced passage, was Angel’s speech to Kate in “Epiphany” (Angel 2×16): “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. The smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.”  In an interview I once read (or watched), Joss Whedon said that this sentiment was the closest he ever got to expressing his core beliefs on one of his shows.  It’s also the way I respond when people wonder how morality can exist without religion.

Nathan Fillion

Nathan Fillion as Malcom Reynolds

An additional example can be found in Mal’s sentiments at the end of the Firefly pilot, “Serenity.” After quite a number of misadventures and brushes with death, Mal comments, “I had a good day.”  Simon: “You had the Alliance on you, criminals, and savages. Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded, including yourself. And you’re harboring known fugitives.” Mal responds, “We’re still flying.” Simon: “That’s not much.” Mal: “It’s enough.”  Again, we can see the parallels to Stefan’s philosophy, although in a less obvious light.  Regardless of what this crazy mixed up world throws at us, making it through, and living to fly another day means something.  Sometimes, all we can do is keep on flying, despite the odds against us … and that makes it “a good day.”

Joss Whedon (with a couple uber vamps)

Joss Whedon (with a couple uber vamps)

Angel also expresses very similar sentiments in “In the Dark” (Angel 1×03). After destroying the ring of Amara, which enabled him to be human for the first time in 200+ years, and being tortured and kidnapped by Spike, Angel reflects: “I don’t know about you, but I had a nice day. You know, except for the bulk of it where I was nearly tortured to death.” Doyle affirms Angel’s actions: “Hey, you stood up.” Angel makes a joke out of this, stating: “Oh, God. I was this close to telling him everything. I mean, one more hot poker and I was giving him the ring, your mom, everything … How is your mom?” But don’t let the joking fool you. This was a very important moment for Angel, and one in which his understanding of his place in the world is markedly solidified.  This interchange helps explain how Angel can continue to “fight the good fight,” despite the odds against him.  This is a theme continued in earnest throughout the fifth season, and culminates with Angel still fighting in the series finale. In the final shot of the series, there are all manner of demons attacking, the apocalypse has started, and the good guys know they’re going to lose; but this doesn’t stop our heroes. In the last line, Angel says, “Let’s go to work.” I find it truly inspiring.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, in "Once More with Feeling"

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, in "Once More with Feeling"

And, of course, I would be remiss if I forgot the amazing musical episode, “Once more with Feeling” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer 6×07).  In one of the later songs in the episode, “Something to Sing About,” Buffy sings about needing a reason to live–anything to make life worth living again.  At this point in the series, she was deeply depressed, as she was recently torn from the comfortable embrace of Heaven, back to a very un-heavenly world. Spike interrupts her self-pity, to snap her back to reality: “Life’s not a song. Life isn’t bliss.  Life is just this: it’s living. You’ll get along. The pain that you feel, it only can heal by living. You have to go on living.” Dawn pipes up: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.”  Not the most optimistic of world views, but I find it strangely comforting and inspiring. Eventually Buffy takes this to heart, and snaps out of her funk.  She is ready to step up to her responsibility, and fight, even if she might fail.  Life isn’t always warm and fuzzy, and that’s o.k., because all that matters is what we do.  Thoughts? Please comment below.

*Page numbers are from the following edition: L.J. Smith. The Vampire Diaries: The Fury and Dark Reunion. New York: Harper Teen, 1991; 2007.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. francesca permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:51 pm

    man cia, you could write and essay on this topic. references and everything. very well stated. especially after hering joss’ great speach on humanism (is that what it’s called?)

  2. heroine_tv permalink*
    September 8, 2009 6:16 pm

    Aw, thanks!! And, yes, it’s called humanism–cultural humanism–good for you 😉 P.S. I’m glad you loved Joss’s speech so much.

  3. Dalton permalink
    September 13, 2009 6:42 am

    Absolutely. All that matters is what we do. The ethical imperative to act justly and humanely is a directive I think we all carry within, but the existential baggage of reality often gets in the way. And as we all know, reality if fraught with injustice, both acquired and innate. In my own journey, I’ve become particular burdened and bitter concerning the innate injustices so many face on a daily basis through no fault of their own. Surely these impediments pose a substantial obstacle inhibiting the realization of a better world. How one overcomes and conquers these things is a question I’ve been working on for a long time. In combination with the political and religious zealotry we see all over the globe, it’s no wonder some people lose hope and simple give up. How do we conquer these things? How do we conquer ourselves? How do we make this world a better place?

    • heroine_tv permalink*
      September 13, 2009 12:15 pm

      Well said. I’m still working on these conundrums myself. Isn’t it great that our favorite Joss shows can bring these kind of musings to the surface?

      • Dalton permalink
        September 13, 2009 1:07 pm

        I suppose, heroinetv. There’s a danger in it, as well. That is, overreliance on someone else for one’s personal ethical and moral progress. My background is in physics and philosophy, and I’ve noticed the confusion mass philosophy can produce. One has to find one’s own way, in my opinion. Leaning on others for help is okay, but anything beyond that kind of bothers me. I think you have to find what’s right by crawling through the trenches on your own. It’s tough. I don’t have any answers. Nobody does, in my opinion. I have my hunches. I suspect what’s really important is trying to find the truth in each other, what we mean to one another, what our obligations are to each other and how we should go about fulfilling those ideals. That’s what I suspect. I always thought the light was in academia, but after years and years and years (did I say years?) of study, I’m starting to change my mind. That’s my two cents, which doesn’t amount to much.
        On a side note, what I love about Buffy is the show doesn’t cram philosophy down your throat, but gives you just enough to catalyze the thought process. In combo with the fun stuff, Buffy is just so cool.
        I forgot to mention that in addition to The X-Files, I also got into Six Feet Under and True Blood.

      • heroine_tv permalink*
        September 13, 2009 2:42 pm

        Yes, that was the point I was trying to make in my last comment, though I did not succeed as eloquently as you. These are conundrums, not answered by Buffy, etc., but these Whedon shows can make us think about them–not necessarily make a decision about what we think.
        I have never seen ‘Six Feet Under’ but I am a ‘True Blood’ fan. Have you read the Sookie books? I found them quite enjoyable. As for ‘X-Files’ I tried a few eps via Netflix, but have yet to get hooked. I will keep trying.

      • Dalton permalink
        September 14, 2009 5:35 am

        Hi heroinetv,

        No, I haven’t read the Sookie books. I should, however. I lived in Louisiana for 4 loonngggggg years. Ughola. The books would no doubt bring back memories. I think you’d like Six Feet Under. Some of it is cornball (particularly some scenes in the beginning), but the vast majority of the show if very very good. But what do I know? Unlike yourself, I’m not a real critic. I’m just a poor schmuck with a Buffy addiction. As for the X-Files, unless you have an interest in ufology and paranormal stuff (like myself), I’d skip it simply because the last two seasons and the final movie totally decimate the entire series. It makes me so so sad, because I seriously loved the series up until that point. They should have ended the series after season 7.
        I have a problem with Whedon worship, or hero worship of any kind, for that matter. I can rain on anyone’s parade. But, some of these Whedon fans take it to extremes. Herd mentality. Boring. Most importantly, these sorts of fixations can lead to a neglect of the person standing next to you, if you know what I mean. One more thing, I don’t think Whedon is all THAT talented. He got lucky with Buffy. Angel was mediocre. Firefly sucked. I’m watching Dollhouse right now and I don’t see anything atall special. But hey, like I said, I’m not a real critic. Just one man’s opinion….
        Just my two cents.

      • heroine_tv permalink*
        September 14, 2009 11:52 am

        I do plan on checking out 6 Feet Under at some point. Currently, I’m catching up on Big Love and am quite enjoying it. I’m not sure when or if I will ever pick back up on X-Files.

        I’m not quite sure how to reply to your second paragraph. I think we will just have to agree to disagree. I’m not a “real critic”–just a girl with a blog who has a point of view. Firefly was my first Whedon viewing, and I love it. I also adore Dollhouse. However, I respect the fact that some have different opinions. I became a Whedon fan before I knew anyone else who was, and before I had read all the hullabaloo on the internet. I feel secure in my love for Whedon and won’t apologize, but I don’t always agree with everything he does or writes (see the Dragon Con videos I posted and my tweets about it for evidence of that). It seems a bit unfair to call 7 seasons of Buffy awesomeness “luck.” But again, I respect your right to your own opinion, and am glad that you chose to comment on my little blog.

      • Dalton permalink
        September 14, 2009 12:40 pm

        Hi heroinetv,

        Well if you’re gonna put it like that. Okay, you’re right. I cannot reduce 7 seasons of Buffy to luck, but Whedon did have a lot of help, I’m quite sure. Buffy beauty can’t be attribute solely to Whedon. But hey, my comment was unfair now that I think about it. But for the life of me, I can’t understand what’s so wonderful about Firefly. Or Angel (although this is my favorite of my least favorite). Or Dollhouse. I just do not get it, atall. If someone could articulate what’s so wonderful about Whedon and his stuff (excluding Buffy), perhaps I could understand better. I haven’t watched Dr. Horrible, as of yet. I’m not even quite sure what it is, except that it has won an Emmy. I looked on the net once, and it seems to be some kind of website.
        I’ll check out your comments via DragonCon post. I don’t know how to tweet, but I’ll check your post. Pretty sad for a graduate student in physics, huh?. What can I say (I don’t own a cell phone, either). Also, I was in no way implying you were a Whedon lock/stepper. No way.
        Thank you for continuing this conversation for so long. You are very kind and very sweet. Are you always this nice to socially maladjusted weirdos? I just think I might be falling in love here…..
        🙂

      • heroine_tv permalink*
        September 14, 2009 8:46 pm

        Thanks for the clarification and your kind words. I always enjoy getting comments on my site, especially as they are rather rare so far 🙂 Twitter is a black-hole of time suckage, so it’s probably for the best that you have not joined.

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  1. Morality in the Vampire Diaries, Italian airdates, YouTube’s Fall TV preview, book reprints, and blood donation drives : Vampire-Diaries.net | A Fansite for L.J. Smith's Vampire Diaries

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