Wednesday, April 3, 2019

What Would Buffy Do?

Here is a somewhat whimsical tweet:
I followed that up with the following statement:
There are times when I think back to Buffy's conflicts with the Watchers' Council and I notice how relevant that set of conflicts is to how reformers in the psychological sciences deal with an established hierarchy and rules that are still currently in place.
I am a fan of the TV series (and comic books that followed the series) Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I sometimes like to remark that the first three seasons were part of what got me through grad school. Perhaps that overstates things slightly, but it was a series that was in the right place at the right time.

A number of facets of that series fascinated me then, and continue to fascinate me now. One is the on-going conflict that Buffy Summers had initially with Rupert Giles (her Watcher) and by extension the Watchers' Council.

Buffy was never particularly keen on the mythology perpetuated by the Watchers' Council. You know that whole bit about how "unto each generation a Slayer is born", right? That never sat well with her, and to a certain degree the "One Slayer Theory" was effectively debunked the moment Buffy briefly (as in for a few seconds) died, before being revived. After that, there were effectively two slayers - the more notorious of those being Faith. Another story for another time.

She also was not too keen on the rituals and rites, nor the secretiveness that came with being a Slayer. Buffy let several non-slayers into her circle of friends and allies over the course of the series, initially to the chagrin of Giles. Maybe a bit more openness would help with slayage, I could imagine Buffy reasoning. Buffy also is adept at uncovering some of the ethically questionable practices of the Watchers' Council, including their use of torture and kidnapping (as experienced by Faith), and in doing so eventually severs her ties with the Watchers' Council. Indeed, that organization gets exposed over the course of the series as moribund and out of touch with changing realities that require action. Ultimately, she sets on a course that empowers potential slayers at all levels to become involved in the work that she had initially been told she alone must do. A certain amount of openness and cooperation, and a willingness to keep an open mind toward those who might not seem like allies on the surface proved beneficial by the end of the television series.

I doubt I am the first to connect the ethos of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the struggles we are going through within the psychological sciences (replication, measurement, and theoretical crises) and the rather lackadaisical approach by those most positioned to effect change, to connect those reforming as struggling with a hierarchy that rewards maintaining an increasingly untenable status quo. I don't yet know anyone else who has made that connection. It's a series I have lately been rewatching and finding renewed inspiration.

Perhaps I will write this up into something a bit more formal. There is an actual journal devoted to Whedon Studies, which does cover Buffy the Vampire Slayer in quite a bit of detail. Pop culture and fandom are of some interest to me, even if I have not had much of an excuse to really explore that avenue in greater detail.

In the meantime, as I teach and as I deal with research projects, I ask myself the question, what would Buffy do? The answer to that question is often my guide for action.

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