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