Pangs, Patriotism, and Thanksgiving

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series)

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In Season 4, episode 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, written by THE Jane Epenson, one of the more annoying displays of white liberal guilt was displayed by Buffy’s witch friend, Willow. From the beginning of the episode where she recognizes Thanksgiving as a day of remembering white genocide to her refusal to help Buffy fight the vengeful Indian spirit gone mad (you know, there isn’t any use in struggling with the Angry Minorities, because they are right). The evil (up to this point) vampire Spike lectures Willow, because you know the West won, “Caesar didn’t say, I came, I conquered, I feel really bad about it.” That, and along with Giles the senior vampire-slayer mentor and English gentleman not being able to resist calling his U.S. American friends “bloody colonials” made for a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Thanksgiving from both sides.

Willow’s liberal white guilt, along with Spike’s reactionary unapologetic defense of genocide are two sides of the same coin. In both instances, the characters (and those people we know who agree with S & W) are overcompensating for lost identities. Because we are all interconnected, the slaughtering of one people group by another, and the subsequent colonial lies that are told means that untruths rule the day. Deception, as Howard Thurman states in his classic Jesus and the Disinherited, destroys the soul.  I would amend Thurman’s argument to say that existences founded upon falsehoods mean that both the oppressed and the oppressors do damage to our inner lives, our very souls.

Not to say that Willow or Spike are not without some truth, but that it is the incompletion of that truth that leads to the false sense of self that each character is advancing.

In “Pangs,” the Native American evil spirits can transform themselves (hide their true identity) in the form of animals, a wolf or bear for instance. I could say this plays into the stereotypical Indian Other, that Natives on film are turned into animals for the sake of animalizing their personhood. To a limited extent, there is some recognition by writers and producers that in Native American religious mythology, people turn into animals. However, the purpose of this, according to Vine DeLoria in God Is Red, is to teach religious adherent the idea that all of life is interconnected, closer to Whiteheadian process thought (89,93).  Deloria says, “the task or role of the tribal religions is to relate the community of people to each and every facet as they experienced it” (84).

Now, knowing some of what Epenson has written for television in regards to religion (I watched every episode of Caprica twice!), religion is portrayed as something that may be beneficial to people as individuals, but in public spaces, it is primarily divisive.  However, like the idea in Native American religions, it is not lost on the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that there are places that are sacred.  For Vine Deloria, the conservative/patriot is overcompensating, “But their allegiance is to democracy, a powerful idea, but it has not relationship with the earth upon which we walk and the plants and  and animals that give us sustenance” (page 59).

It is good that people like Willow want us to confess our corporate guilt in the matter of the Native Americans’ genocide, but the approach to reconciliation of “giving them what they want” is just a sign of surrender, discouraging dialogue and relationships of mutuality.  In short, the Native colonized Other becomes just another recipient of the Westerners’ goodness.  The idea of democracy in the abstract still prevails over the care of nature and sacred spaces.

What if instead of making Thanksgiving about white liberal guilt trips or conservative patriotic misinformation, we begin to use this time to remind ourselves to give gratitude to our Creator, living in the power of the Eucharist, to take care of our environment in preparation for the New Creation? Just a thought.


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