You're Strong. I'm Stronger: Vampires, Masculinity & Language in 'Buffy'

Malgorzata Drewniok

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been praised for its use of language. Most investigations have focused on the use of language by Buffy and the Scoobies. Here the vampires get their due.

Although Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired from 1997 till 2003 (running for seven seasons), it is still a hugely popular series. Much has been written about the show, e.g., Wilcox (2002) and (2005). Language is one of its most distinctive features. It has been extensively explored in certain aspects by scholars from many disciplines, including Overbey and Preston-Matto (2002), Adams (2003), Kirchner (2006), and others in the special issue of Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association devoted to Buffy language (Slayage 20), as well as Mandala (2007). There is still much to be said about Buffy's language, however, especially when it comes to its chief villains: vampires.

The long running nature of the series means that the writers were able to develop an extremely wide variety of vampire types. There are background vampires and there are more prominent ones; there are conventional vampires, embracing a figure we know from the 19th century Gothic novel; more contemporary ones, as well as “good" vampires, who have a soul and do not kill. It is clear then that to construct a vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer one needs more than just a black Bela Lugosi cape. The vampires in the show are constructed through acting, clothes, props, but also through language.

I would explore here the relationship between masculinity and the language the vampires in Buffy the Vampire Slayer use (macho vampires vs. the Slayer). The show aimed to abolish the stereotype vampire and to propose a new incarnation of this creature, but to do that, it had to depict such a vampire first. The vampires at the beginning of the series embrace the “macho" monster and it is achieved also through the way they speak. Lorna Jowett discussed gender in Buffy in Sex and the Slayer (2005) and Jennifer K. Stuller looked at Buffy as a superheroine in Ink-Stained Amazons (2010). I"d like to look at how vampire macho attitude is reflected in language.

The Conventional Vampire

When the series starts, Buffy has to face a group of stereotypical vampires called the Order of Aurelius. Its leader, the Master, is trapped underground in a ruined church (sunk by an earthquake) and confined by a magical force field. He is dependent on his second in command, Luke, and other minions, to get food, i.e. human victims. In the very first episode two vampires, Thomas and Darla, are sent to bring some “offering" to the Master but are prevented by a new girl in town, Buffy. In order to rescue her new friend Willow, Buffy fights Darla and Thomas, whom she stakes. Then Luke appears and is surprised that such a petite girl is fighting his brethren. He dismisses Darla, saying, “I"ll see if I can handle the little girl." He attacks Buffy and realizes she is not what she appears to be. But Luke is not intimidated. He tells her, “You're strong" and a moment later sends her flying across the room, commenting: “I'm stronger." The fight between Luke and Buffy continues for the last few minutes of the episode and the vampire finally gets impatient. He complains, “You're wasting my time." And when Buffy does not give up and hits him again and again, he smirks, “You think you can stop me? Stop us? You have no idea what you're dealing with."

Although in the next episode we learn that Luke realizes who Buffy is, his words express his disdain and lack of respect for this strong female fighting him. He describes her as a “little girl," and although he acknowledges her strength, he still seems to think he is out of her league, that she is not worth his effort. But Buffy does not back off and in time Luke needs to increase his sense of authority: his self-correction (“Stop me? Stop us?") shows he feels the need of backing himself up with others, building his identity–and strength–as a part of a group, not an individual. His last utterance is an open threat (“You have no idea what you're dealing with").

It is important to point out here that Luke's chauvinist attitude comes from his leader. The Master, an ancient vampire with huge magical power, but confined physically underground, is dismissive of Buffy even when he learns she is the Slayer, the chosen one who stands alone to fight vampires. They first meet in 1.10 “Nightmares" when everyone's nightmares come to life...

Dear reader:

Joss Whedon's importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey and analysis of his career as a whole -- until now. Published to coincide with Whedon's blockbuster movie The Avengers, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters (May 2012) covers every aspect of his work, through insightful essays and in-depth interviews with key figures in the 'Whedonverse'. This article, along with previously unpublished material, can be read in its entirety in this book.

Place your order for Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters, published with Titan Books, here.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.