Christianity, Israel, and Foreign Policy

So there is a huge movement in Christianity that encourages a kind of carte blanche support for Israel.  The reasoning goes like this:  God instituted the state of Israel with his blessing.  Christians who support Israel take part in that blessing, and those that don’t won’t.  This movement terrifies me, because you don’t have to dig very deep to find scary little artifacts of terror.  Google around and you’ll find Christians supporting preemptive strikes, Christians saying that Jerusalem indisputably is the Capital of Israel, and so on.  Even Mitt Romney seems to be on that boat, given his remarks about Jerusalem during his visit to Israel, and the fact that he’s hinted he would support a preemptive strike on Iran.

But are Christians obligated to support Israel in everything it does?  I doubt it.  If that belief is based off of the fact that Israel is the “Chosen land” promised to Abraham I feel the need to go no further than Israel’s history of being captured, burnt to the ground, decimated, imprisoned and exiled throughout the old Testament.  God never gave the nation of Israel carte blanche support when they ignored His leadership, why should we?  If the argument is that in the New Testament you see Christians that honored the Jews receiving the greatest/first blessing, my response is with Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28- there is no longer Jew or Gentile.  We are all the chosen children of God, and that includes all of the Christians in Iran, too.  Would God really want His children in Israel given thoughtless approval to kill His children in Iran?  I really don’t think so.  If the argument is that Jerusalem itself is sacred and Jesus went to Jerusalem “first”, I would like to point out that the curtain in the temple was torn at Jesus’ death and that the amazing thing about Jesus sacrifice was it got rid of the need for a sacred home for God’s presence on earth.  Jerusalem is no longer the holy seat of our faith, our own seat is so to speak.  We are the temple of God, now.  His holy city is all around us.

The problem with uniform, thoughtless support for Israel is that it ignores the wide reaching implications of our choices. Israel as a nation does not get a free pass to flout the laws of God in favor of self-preservation.  Christians that support such actions risk doing evil in the eyes of God.  If Israel’s actions lead to a preemptive strike against Iran and the death of tens of thousands, can we really, truly believe that is in God’s plan?

For those that believe the Israeli/Arab conflict is part of the Book of Revelations and that this whole thing is inevitable anyway, all I can say is that no man can know the time or the place.  Such devastation is nothing that any man should wish for or pray for or support, and should it come in our lifetime I wouldn’t consider it a blessing.

I support the faith.  I support my Christian brothers and sisters.  I support the cause of love, peace, stability, constancy, grace, sharing, and comfort.  I do not support war.

That’s all I can say.

SciFi Christianity

Or:  Why do humans imagine impossible things?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my love affair with the fantasy genre and how it’s going south, and I got some interesting responses from friends.  (Not in the comments on the post- other places, like in real life.)  I promised at the time that I’d try to write more about the role I think that fantasy and SciFi can play in the faith, and why I don’t think it benefits people to be too skittish about imaginary worlds.

It’s a difficult thing to write about, because like most of the topics I seem to dip my toes into people have very gut reactions, based off of tradition and personal experience, and I really hate to risk offending someone by poking them where they are already sensitive.  Yet, I find that my ongoing relationship with those genres compels me to write, especially since I’m considering reintroducing Science Fiction Saturday.   You see, what some readers of this blog might not realize is that long before I wrote here, I tried to break into the fiction genre writing SciFi and Fantasy.  It isn’t just my first love as a reader, it’s my first love as a writer.

But I’m a Christian, right?  What am I doing playing around with such darkness?

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Christians being involved in anything that relates to witchcraft or “unnatural worlds”.  It might open doors, says one argument.  We’re only supposed to dwell on what is holy and beneficial, says another.  It’s wasting time, says a third.  I respect each of those arguments and where they come from, but I find that I don’t completely buy into them.  Is it true for some things in the fantasy genre?  Yes, absolutely.  It’s also true for some things that aren’t in the fantasy genre.  The book that gave me the worst nightmares of any book I’ve ever read was Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  It wasn’t a fantasy novel but boy did it “open doors”, that man touched on an evil that definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.  (Chalky!  ten internets to anyone that gets that reference.)  What makes a book a  conveyer of darkness isn’t what genre it is in, it’s the spirit and intent of the author.  Books written with the intent of enlightening and teaching valuable morals will do just that, books meant to disturb and haunt and corrupt will do just that.  The only way to know which is which is to practice good discernment and do your research about the authors.  The genre and cover art don’t tell the whole tale.

The book that made me love fantasy was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, a Christian author.

“At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”  -CS Lewis

CS Lewis used fantasy, myth and magic, not to “open doors” to darkness but to open them to light.  He created a world which made a metaphor for faith, and through that world he taught all of the values of Christianity in a way that a reader either unfamiliar with the faith or biased against it could understand and believe in the value of it.  Aslan was God and Christ, the values he taught echoed Christianity in the most beautiful of ways.  There are still points today where in frustration I will stop using the Bible to try to explain my beliefs and instead turn to a very powerful passage in The Last Battle.  Those books enriched my young learning experience immeasurably.

After the Chronicles of Narnia I turned to the geek’s ever present hero, Frodo of the Lord of the Rings, and from there on out I read as much as was on the shelves of the SciFi/Fantasy section of my library as I could manage to carry home.  I learned a lot of lessons there.  I learned that there is honor in loyalty regardless of the price.  I learned that true friendship sometimes means telling someone something that they don’t want to hear, or walking away from a friend that is destroying themselves.  I learned that people are more than the stereotypes that you hear about them, and regardless of what a situation may look like to the naked eye there is inevitably more under the surface.  I learned that the hero can be flawed and broken and make horrible mistakes and sometimes the true hero is the person you least expect to hear the call.  I learned that we are all, each of us, what we make of ourselves and there’s no prophecy or fate stronger than the choice any one person makes in the moment.

I learned something else, too.  Not from the fantasy section, but from the Bible.  I learned that there are some lessons you never hear when someone tells you outright: some things have to be covered up in a story and mulled over for their true meaning to really sink in.  The Bible is full of lessons that come in the form of stories.  Jesus himself often turned to stories so His message could be easily repeated, puzzled over, and eventually understood.  I believe our propensity for imagination is one that God gave us on purpose, one that is intensely Godly.  Think, for a moment, of how Creative our Creator really is.  Shouldn’t that creativity be reflected in our own lives?

Fantasy and SciFi can tell tales that aren’t so easily told using the auspices of our present world.  I could probably write a really compelling story about relationships between Islam and Judaism.  But I can guarantee that such a story would press a lot of hot red buttons and offend a lot of people.  I don’t think I could ever write that story well enough to have the impact I hope that it would.  And I also can guarantee that a lot of people I would want to reach wouldn’t want to read such a heavy, depressing tale.  But I bet they’d watch an episode of Star Trek TNG where the Klingons and Ferengi have to learn to work together.  They’d laugh, and have an enjoyable time, and somewhere beneath all the hoopla the message would still be the same: we are more than our differences.

And that’s why as a Christian I continue to enjoy these genres that so many people find useless.  I understand the power of fantasy to take people to a place where they are receptive to ideas the real world builds walls around.  Does that make enjoying the genre perhaps a little risky, because of those doors we don’t want opened?  Sure, but that risk is all around us every day, on the TV and in the newspaper.  It’s not the genre that creates the risk, it’s the world full of evil people doing evil.  A strong, discerning mind doesn’t have anything to fear.  If I’d listened to my gut and never read Thomas Harris, I could’ve spared myself all those nightmares.

And I’m going to keep writing fiction, and start posting it on this blog again, because I believe in the power of fiction to give us relief from the burdens we carry in this world, and to teach us lessons we would otherwise tune out.

For my friends that find fantasy distasteful, please feel welcome to not click on my Saturday Sci-Fi posts.

For those that enjoy it, please do so.

Some thoughts on Chick-Fil-A and it’s role in Christian Dialogue

So this whole Chick-Fil-A family values gay kerfuffle is bringing out some really interesting qualities in Christianity. I’ve been party to a lot of debates, and sitting on the sidelines watching many more. I’ve neglected writing a blog post about it because I wanted to watch the dust settle and decide what really needs addressing.

1) “This isn’t about politics, it’s about Christian Values!”

Actually, it’s about both. Chick-Fil-A has directed money towards a number of religiously based Charities. Some, like Focus on the Family, can be seen as more or less neutral as they do a lot of work in several arenas. Others, like Exodus International, clearly demonstrate a sort of bigotry against homosexuality. The language they use to describe homosexuality shows that they view it as a kind of illness humanity is better off without, there can be no question why gay people would be upset to find their money going to a non-profit whose stated goal is to counter-act the bad affects of gayness on society. If this is added to the fact that Chick-Fil-A also funnels money into several “Family Councils” who work to keep gay people from being able to adopt or get married, and these “Family Councils” operate not in the religious but political arenas, there can be no rational argument that this isn’t at least partly about politics. This is about far more than one man defending his Biblical views, this is about several million dollars of money that Chick-Fil-A makes selling sandwiches going to actively prevent the acceptance of gay people in our society. It is personal, and political, as well as religious.

2) “If you believe in a Christian’s right to free speech you need to support Chick-Fil-A”/”If you like your gay friends you need to stop eating there”.

For the first sentence, don’t be ridiculous. It isn’t about free speech, it’s about money. If all that had ever happened was Chick-Fil-A’s CEO saying “I don’t like gay people” I would roll my eyes and say that no one should be surprised that there are Christians who don’t like gays. I mean, Westboro Baptist has taught us that one already. But this isn’t about a Christian’s right to free speech, it’s about where a Christian puts their money and their corporation’s money. At the end of the day, he absolutely has the right. But all Christians have the right to decide where they want the money God entrusted to them to be spent. We aren’t obligated to part with God’s monetary gift to us anywhere, except in the churches we choose to be in communion. I don’t *have* to support Chick-Fil-A. And as for the opposing statement, that somehow I owe it to my gay friends *not* to eat there- come on, people. There are far more effective ways to enact political change than where we choose to buy deep fried animal parts shoved in a bun. Whether or not to eat Chick-Fil-A is a personal choice, and I support my friends whether or not they eat there.

3) “All of the people making a big deal out of this are such bigots against Christians.”

I must admit, one of the reasons this post is so behind-the-times is the fact that I can’t write about this without starting to feel all veiny-green-in-the-face-pulse-pounding-hulk-roaring angry.

Christians, who has the burden here? The world to which we’ve been sent to minister like a doctor treating the ill, or US? Are we owed tolerance? Do we deserve it?

Take a moment and think about the motivation behind the opposition. Think about the gay people who have been spat on at every turn, sometimes literally. Think about the people who have felt strange, different, rejected, belittled, hated, opposed, cut out of society, cursed, and reviled. Think about the fact that they find out that here is one more way in which they are isolated. Think about the fact that someone has been asked if that person truly funnels millions of dollars with the express purpose of counteracting the effect that gay people can have on our society and has answered “YEP! GUILTY AS CHARGED!” and that he did so clearly with pride.

Imagine that the shoe is on the other foot, and that a gay person owned a multi-million dollar corporation and just gleefully admitted that he funnels millions of dollars into teaching atheism and counter-acting the negative impact of Christians on society. Feel that blood boil? That anger? That deep and overwhelming sadness? Now think that hundreds of thousands of atheists and gays line up to support that corporation and start posting pictures on Facebook and Twitter where they are swaggin’ their bags of fried goodness around saying “SEE, I THINK THE BIGOTRY AGAINST YOU IS AWESOME AND JUSTIFIED!”

Can you picture it? Can you imagine your response?

Of COURSE people are offended, of COURSE they are calling you close-minded, because you have completely closed your mind to the pain, humiliation, and suffering that your choice is inflicting on the world. Instead of seeing the world as a sick patient to whom you are called as a caregiver, you have chosen to see the world as a criminal for whom you are called as judge and jury, and your greasy bags of fried food that you so gleefully post look more like a death sentence than a show of moral support.

The Bible has this thing where it says that if we judge, we will be judged in kind. The battle lines in this ridiculous debate about Chick-Fil-A are a demonstration of that in action- Christians judged the world.

So the world judges back.

If you don’t like the bigotry you are feeling, don’t dish it out.

Gun Control: Let’s talk about it.

So there’s been a spree of postings from my Facebook friends that say things like:

Guns cause crime the exact same way spoons make people fat.

If you enact gun control then criminals will be the only people armed.

The right to bear arms is in the constitution, don’t demand limits on my constitutional rights!

And so on…

Here’s the thing:  Guns may not cause crime, but they certainly make it more efficient and deadly.  Guns may not murder people.  Sure, people do that.  But people are able to cause a much larger swath of destruction with guns in their hands.  In the wake of the Aurora shooting I’ve heard several people remark that if some of the people in the audience had been armed, things may have turned out differently.  Perhaps, but you still had a mentally unstable shooter armed with four guns, tear gas, body armor, and 6000 rounds of ammunition spraying the audience with automatic fire.  People still would have died, and there’s no guarantee that someone in the audience, had they been armed, wouldn’t have been killed by the spray of bullets before they could even aim.  Even if the killer only had one semi automatic handgun he’d bought on the street, we’d be looking at less death today.

I’ve also heard people argue that if we take guns out of the hands of psychopaths they’ll still kill people.  That’s true- the shooter may have killed people with knives or his bare hands or a bomb.  But, let’s think about this- knives or his bare hands wouldn’t have had such a death toll.  A bomb might have, a bomb might have been worse.  But does that excuse the fact that he was able to acquire a military grade arsenal completely legally without raising a single red flag?  We’re not talking about a hunter arming himself for the upcoming open season.  We’re talking about open season on innocent theater goers.

I understand that no one likes the idea of it being harder for decent people to arm themselves.  But is it really necessary for people to be able to order handguns online without even having to pass a background check?

Let’s look at a worst case scenario:  It becomes a three month process for someone to get a gun legally.  There are mental health checks which are highly subjective.  There are decent folks that can’t because the screeners think they’re a danger to themselves because they drink while their hunting.  We’re living under a totalitarian regime and people want to revolt but can’t get guns.

How will the rebels arm themselves?

I can imagine how: With knives, and our hands, and bombs, and illegal weapons.

Give me a break, my friends.  Such slippery slope arguments in the end are always going to be theoretical, and they don’t excuse the fact that in today’s society it’s simply too easy to get weapons.  Maybe there is nothing that can be done to stop truly insane people from killing the innocent.  So be it.  But that doesn’t excuse reasonable people taking reasonable precautions anyway.

Guns don’t kill people.  They just make it easier.

Guns don’t cause crime, they just make it more efficient.

And the argument “take the guns out of the hands of lawful citizens and only the criminals will be armed”…  my friends, the criminals are getting their guns legally.

Femininity and Conflict in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The following is an essay I wrote for my final English project at the beginning of last year.  A few people have voiced an interest in reading it.  It’s long, it’s formal, it uses citations and the like, and certainly isn’t for everyone.  But for those who like 20 page essays about television characters and femininity in the media… well, here you go:


Femininity and Conflict in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

When the popular movie Twilight first appeared in theaters, it did not take long for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) to shame Twilight’s Edward with a fan video smackdown (“Buffy Vs. Edward”). The video shows Edward stalking Buffy and professing his undying love, with Buffy responding in sarcastic incredulity and staking Edward. While it may appear that this “remix” of the two characters was about Buffy slaying a juvenile upstart and reinforcing her status as the queen of the genre, there was more at stake, so to speak. Buffy slaying Edward says more about the perceived masculinity and virility of the vampire in question than about Buffy herself as an independent woman. Buffy was never given that much agency in her own show. Buffy’s lovers stalked her, lied to her, and often ignored her own wishes about their relationships all in the name of “protecting” her. Many of these things are what fans of BtVS pointed out as anti-woman flaws in the narrative of Twilight, yet Buffy did not stake the vampires who denied her agency in her own relationships; instead, she pined for them! This is only one area in which BtVS as a vehicle fails to respect the ideals of a generation of young girls who crave a positive female icon. In family life, romance, and success outside of her primary role as Slayer, the show revolves around not Buffy’s strength and independence but the struggle she finds herself in because of it. The constant conflict Buffy suffers sends a mixed message to viewers; women can be granted strength but will be punished for it.

Dressing to Kill

One cannot watch BtVS without noticing the sometimes outlandishly girly way that Buffy is costumed, as well as the berating she often faces as a result. It isn’t uncommon for Buffy to climb into the sewers to head off an impending apocalypse wearing a pink sequined halter top. It is also likely that Buffy will face criticism from her watcher, mother, friends, or teachers the more girlish her garb becomes. While Buffy’s wardrobe may seem to contradict her warrior role, in actuality her feminine appearance helps to “normalize” her in the eyes of the viewer by reassuring them that she retains her female self despite her masculine strength (Jowett 23). When asked to patrol with the military Initiative, Buffy rejects their offer of camouflage garb, stating, “I’ve patrolled in this halter top before” (“The I in Team”). This rejection of the male warrior’s need to wear protective clothing in battle does not weaken Buffy, it instead positions her as a transgressive icon of female strength (Early). Buffy wields her girlish appearance like a weapon, using it to disarm and distract her opponents. Buffy’s unique approach to her role is also evidenced in the way that she and her friends often “resolve conflict nonviolently, through rationality, tactfulness, compassion and empathy” (Early, 20).

Deborah Tannen explains the way in which women are denied a “default” state in the way they dress and portray themselves, stating that “if a woman’s clothing is tight or revealing (in other words, sexy), it sends a message… …If her clothes are not sexy, that too sends a message, lent meaning by the knowledge that they could have been” (622). If Buffy were portrayed as butch, she would just be a girl pretending to be a man. If she were portrayed as too vanilla in the way she dressed, spoke, and acted she would be less interesting; her plainness would also send a message to the viewer by making her more androgynous. Buffy may be saucy and sexy and contrived in the way she dresses, but that is part of what makes her character complex. She is a warrior but also, undeniably, a woman.

Thus it is interesting that the plot and dialogue of the show often does not reinforce Buffy’s feminine dress as a positive thing, but instead condemns her for it. In the episode “Bad Eggs” Buffy and her mother are shopping and Buffy wants a new outfit. Joyce says no, “it makes you look like a streetwalker”. Buffy pouts and replies, “but a thin streetwalker, right?” This scenario is sadly common. Buffy’s peers, her mentors, and authority figures criticize her appearance as if it were offensive, and Buffy deflects such comments with sarcasm instead of defending her right to determine her own physical appearance.

Life Outside of Slaying

The punishment Buffy receives for her appearance is the least troubling aspect of the way in which Buffy is treated. From the first episode, Buffy is perceived of as a delinquent by those who do not know her dual identity as student and slayer. Buffy burnt down the gym of her old school, forcing her mother to quit her job and move to Sunnydale. Despite the fact that telling her mother the truth would assuage some of the resentment Buffy faced at home, Buffy chooses to lie to her mother to “protect” her. This pattern, in which Buffy stoically faces the judgment of others without defending herself repeats with her principal, teachers, and peers; in this way, Buffy accepts punishment that could have been avoided while reinforcing the idea that her treatment, while not deserved, is just.

As the show progresses and Buffy moves out of high school and into college and pursuing a career, she continues to encounter difficulty in her everyday life because of the dual identity slaying forces her to concoct. When her mother dies Buffy takes on the role of provider for her household. Buffy works a minimum wage job at Double Meat Palace to make ends meet as she is incapable of securing better employment. Buffy is eventually offered a position as a school counselor by the new principal in town, Robin Wood. In the episode “First Date” Principal Wood reveals that he knows that Buffy is the Slayer, and this is why he offered her a job. Buffy says, “so you didn’t hire me for my counseling skills?” and Principal Wood responds with a chuckle. Buffy may be powerful as the Slayer, but as a provider for her family and as an employee, her skills are portrayed as laughable.

Buffy’s necessary efforts to cloak some of her actions and engage in subterfuge to protect those unaware of vampires also constantly weaken her standing in society. Dramatic irony is often engaged as a plot device in BtVS, wherein Buffy is posed almost clownishly trying to hide the truth from an ignorant and often judgmental public. It is humorous as well as endearing to see how poorly Buffy lies, and Buffy’s lack of finesse outside of slaying does lend her character a great deal of humanity. Yet one must question why dramatic irony so often has Buffy playing the part of the bozo. Buffy is too often percieved of as flaky, inconsistent, or downright delusional. As one character says, a lot of people think Buffy “is some kind of high-functioning schizophrenic” (“Potential”). While Buffy may be possessing of super-human strength and a higher calling, it greatly impedes her ability to function as a normal member of society. She faces humiliation, prejudice, and conflict on a daily basis.

They Say Not to Take Work Home

As JP Williams writes in Choosing Your Own Mother (Mother-daughter Conflicts in Buffy), Buffy is “over-fathered and under-mothered” (61). She is reliant on the men around her for her survival, but denied an adequate female role model. For the first two seasons of BtVS, Buffy hides her true identity from her mother, Joyce. When Joyce does find out the truth about Buffy’s powers, they fight bitterly. Joyce tells Buffy, “if you walk out of this house don’t even think about coming back” (“Becoming”). Buffy has to leave or risk the world ending; so she walks out of her home and does not return to it until the third season. Buffy’s powers in this case strip Joyce of the ability to mother because Buffy’s calling must take precedence over her family obligations. Yet Buffy’s relationship with her mother suffers from far more than just the tension created by slaying. Joyce doesn’t seem to know how to properly communicate and often offers meaningless anecdotes, with Buffy reassuring her mother in an apparent role reversal. In “The Witch”, Joyce is attempting to encourage Buffy to follow through on trying out for cheer squad. Buffy says, “what was I trying out for?” and Joyce fumbles for words, having already forgotten. Buffy says, “that’s okay, your platitudes are good for all occasions.”

As the series progresses Joyce becomes portrayed as less neglectful, but in the first few seasons especially there are serious questions to be asked about her role as a mother. She has a teenage daughter who sneaks out nightly, lies to her, skips classes and bucks authority and Joyce is largely incapable of informing her daughter’s actions. Much of the early dynamic between mother and daughter comes down to the fact that Joyce does not realize the reality of Buffy’s “dual identity as Slayer and Student… a greater failing than Lois Lane’s traditional inability to envision Clark Kent without his glasses” (Williams, 64). The fact that Joyce is kept ignorant and Buffy routinely shuns her mothering is not entirely Joyce’s fault. The Slayer cannot respect her mother’s authority because the Slayer’s role is more important than mother-daughter relations.

Buffy the Relationship Slayer

Buffy’s relationship with her mother is not the only one which is strained. If her relationship with her mother is tense, then her romances are strenuous. Her first romantic pairing is with Angel, a vampire who is cursed with a soul. Unbeknownst to Angel, he will lose his soul if he experiences even a single moment of pure happiness. He finds this happiness when he and Buffy consummate their relationship in Season 2. When Angel then transforms into the demon Angelus, Mary Magoulick writes, it “culminates in a graphic, brutal, and bitter fight scene” (738). This is “particularly disturbing” as it comes in the second part of the episode in which Buffy makes love to Angel for the first time, giving the viewer the message that “being in love is more torment than pleasure” for Buffy (Magoulick 738).

Buffy’s later relationships may not be equally as tormented in terms of scale, but they do continue to revolve around themes of pain and conflict. This conflict is evident not only in romantic relationships, but in all her close relationships with men. Buffy even comes to blows with her mentor, Giles. While often their fighting is only in words, twice she resorts to hitting him. The first time occurs in the final episode of season one, “Prophecy Girl”. When Buffy realizes that Giles is going to sacrifice himself to save her life, she knocks him out in order to protect him. This action does lead to Buffy’s death by drowning, but she is resuscitated by her close friend Xander. The second time Buffy punches Giles echoes the first. In “Passion”, Giles is inflamed with rage after Angelus kills the woman Giles loves. Giles pursues Angelus in a suicidal rage. Again, Buffy resorts to blows in order to get through to Giles where words failed, to save his life. No matter how close the relationship, how deep the trust between two people, Buffy always seems to have to resort to her role as Slayer and her superhuman powers in order to make herself heard. This repeated theme has a serious connotation; Buffy as a girl is powerless. Her authority is intrinsically tied to her physically strength, which comes from her role as Slayer.

The Troubling Issue of Being Female On TV

One might ask how much any of this matters. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a television show, and much of the drama it depends on for ratings necessarily comes from conflict. No one watching the show should be surprised that Buffy’s interpersonal relationships are constantly disrupted, that she wears revealing clothes, or that she has to struggle in some areas of her life. The only problem with such thinking is that it assumes that such tensions could not have been written in a way that strengthened Buffy’s character rather than weakened her. It was not necessary to deprive Joyce and Buffy of a healthy mother-daughter relationship. A strong mother who supported her daughter’s calling would not necessarily have been less interesting to viewers than a mother who fumbled for words and appeared helpless. Nor was it necessary for Buffy to date men who stalked her, lied to her, and deprived her of agency in her relationships. While there is inevitably a price to pay for living a double life, the way in which Buffy is punished for her duplicity speaks volumes when viewed as analogous to the feminist struggle.

Often Buffy resorts to saying “I’m the Chosen One” when her authority is questioned; she is the Slayer, and that truth defines the way in which she acts and relates. Because of her power Buffy is forced to struggle in every area of her life. What message does this send to a young girl watching the program who is imagining being as powerful as Buffy? Rather than being an encouragement for girls to picture themselves as superheroes as boys so often do, BtVS sends the opposite message. Don’t pursue power, because that power will define your circumstances and those circumstances will define you. You will be forced to lie, to cheat, to sacrifice healthy relationships and to face constant conflict as a result of your independence.

It is unfortunately true that many shows that feature women as primary characters employ the same kind of storytelling. Xena: Warrior Princess, La Femme Nikita, The Closer, Alias, In Plain Sight, Saving Grace, Weeds and Battlestar Galactica all feature women as primary characters. All of the women in these shows have just a few things in common aside from their beauty: their intelligence and capability is challenged regularly; they face conflict in their private lives and homes; and they are punished for their physical and emotional strength. It is almost inevitable that any strong woman on TV would face the same treatment, especially those who play a traditionally masculine role. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, Xena, Nikita, Sidney Bristow of Alias, Mary Shannon of In Plain Sight and the Closer’s Brenda Lee Johnson all play traditionally masculine roles. All of those women face conflict and physical violence in almost every episode. Not only do they have to fight for respect, but their good works are seldom rewarded. Appreciation, respect, achievement, and victory are few and far between and must be won at high cost; home is not often a safe haven and interpersonal relationships are constantly disrupted. What is true for all of these female characters is especially true in the case of Buffy; she is a singular icon for female strength as well as for the punishment of feminine power.

Male Superheroes do not receive the same treatment. Spiderman, Batman, and Superman may engage in conflict in their everyday lives as a result of their necessary deceptions, but it is certainly not to the measure which Buffy does; their familial ties are free from extreme stress. They all have close relationships with older figures who mentor them and preserve their familial ties (Aunt Mae, Alfred, and the Kents respectively). They have places they can go home to which are a respite from the pressures their dual identities create. Each of the male superheroes mentioned also receives a certain measure of success both in their chosen careers outside of crime fighting and their romantic lives. While Batman does not have any long term romantic relationships he is a millionaire and dates often; he is rewarded for his power. Buffy is not afforded the kind of pleasures these male superheroes enjoy. It is because of that truth that Buffy’s story is far from empowering. Rather than showcasing a character who has achieved full agency as a woman and been rewarded for it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead chronicles one girl’s fight to be respected; a fight it sometimes seems she will never win.

The fact that women recieve unequal treatment in today’s society is made wholly apparent in the fact that feminine strength is not showcased or rewarded in television media as masculine strength always has been. Until women are allowed to be feminine and strong without fear of their homes and lives being disrupted, or facing constant judgment and critical backlash, women will remain less than men. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have gone further than any show before it in creating a female character who was independent and powerful, the fact that her strength could not go unpunished leaves a gaping hole. Young women are still hungry for a role model who can navigate all of the complexities of modern womanhood successfully. Buffy’s final fight, the fight for respect, must not be left unwon. It’s time for a female superhero to get equal treatment: strength, intelligence, achievement, and reward.

Works Cited

“Buffy Vs. Edward”. Jonathon McIntosh, ed. viewed 10/28/11

Early, Francis. “Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior.” Journal of Popular Culture 35.3 (2001): 11-17.

Jewett, Lorna. Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan. Middletown: Wesleyan, 2005. Print.

Magoulik, Mary. “Frustrating Female Heroism: Mixed Messages in Xena, Nikita, and Buffy.” Journal of Popular Culture 39.5 (2006): 729-55.

Tannen, Deborah. “There is No Unmarked Woman.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Ed. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2009. 620-24. Print.

Whedon, Joss. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seasons 1-7. Television Program.

Williams, JP Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ed. Wilcox, Rhonda, and David Lavery. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. 61-68. Print.

a post in which I say nothing significant about mental health

I spent a year working in a residential treatment facility for people with chronic mental health problems.  I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences there for some time but feel at a loss for what to say.  I cared very deeply for our residents and never felt like there was enough that I could do for them.  I didn’t have any real training for how to care for their illnesses- my position though advertised as social work mostly involved keeping the toilets clean and the washer and dryer running, and cleaning up after meals.  We did have group therapy sessions that the aides would lead, but they were repetitive and weren’t therapy so much as a way to kill time.  Working there taught me so many important lessons, though.  It taught me about our society in a way that working at the homeless shelter didn’t and couldn’t, because at the shelter you could expect the guests to get on with their lives.  You could assign them the responsibility to grow and change.  The residents at the mental health facility, though, were helpless to control their own future.  Some of them were helpless to control when they slept and woke or even their own bladders.

We had many residents who were schizophrenic.  Some had severe personality and mood disorders.  Some had “undifferentiated symptoms” that regardless of a firm diagnosis were sufficient to get them sent to a treatment facility.  Some of them were judged a danger to themselves or others, so the state paid for them to live with us.  All of them had routine meetings with their supervising doctor every few months for medication monitoring.  The aides, like me, were in charge of taking down routine group notes and individual notes to monitor how the residents were doing, and reporting any suspicions about adverse reactions to medications or symptoms not responding to medications to the nurse who worked 9-5 or to the doctor, who was in the facility once every 4 weeks.

It’s important to understand that these people were heavily medicated, some taking as many as 25 pills a day, and they saw their doctor once a month for 15-20 minutes.  We had residents who were hospitalized because of severe adverse reactions.  We had one resident who had a medication discontinued because it lowered his white blood cell count to the point that it could kill him, he went nearly catatonic and had to be moved out of our facility.  We had residents who had narcotic medications that they could request at will who would daily take as many as they were allowed.  When the staff reported that there was a concern about addiction it was met with the equivalent of a shrug.  “This person is mentally ill, at least they are more or less stable, what do you want?”

I don’t really even know what I’m trying to say.  I admire all of my ex co-workers, I admire the company that I worked for and the job that they did.  The working budget was constantly being cut.  We never were fully staffed, and everyone worked overtime constantly.  I worked 12-16 hour shifts every weekend and went to school all week, and constantly felt guilty that I couldn’t work more.  We only had two aides on in the evenings and nights to care for 28 residents, and did the best that we could.

A lot of the residents were people who had lived in poverty for most of their lives.  Most of them didn’t get into the mental health system until their symptoms were so severe that their lives were unsustainable.  A few had accidents that left them with brain damage, so living with us was their only option.  One has to wonder what their lives might have been like if there had been earlier interventions.  For those with mood disorders that statistically respond well to talking therapy, there’s this question in the back of my mind of who they might have been if they’d been able to get that therapy. Was it inevitable that they would slowly implode to the point that their rights would be revoked, and they’d have to take pills every six hours for the rest of their lives just to stay stable enough to live in a facility where they would routinely act out just to get attention, and have the staff respond by upping their meds?

Meds which could kill them.

I want to say something really deep and powerful about the mental health field, about dependence on mind-altering medications, about poverty and mental health and the sick cycle it creates.  I want to say something powerful about how ignored the mentally ill are.  How reviled they sometimes are.  How helpless they are.

All I can say is that the budgets keep getting cut, and the patients have nowhere to go.

28 patients taken care of by two overworked aides with insufficient training being paid only slightly above minimum wage, and a doctor with a case load that rivals Atlas’s.  We like to call this fair country the land of opportunity.  With hard work and dedication, anyone can get ahead.

And the budgets keep getting cut.

Hipster Paleo and watered down principles make me itch.

So every time I see the words “Paleo Diet” or “Primal Diet”, in my mind’s eye I picture a bunch of people around a campfire cooking slabs of meat, eating fresh picked fruit, and grinding veggies and herbs between rocks to make soup.  So every time I look at a Paleo website and see recipes for flourless chocolate cake and coconut milk ice cream I get the weirdest mental image, of a man in a loincloth hacking hunks of meat off of a downed buffalo while in the background his mate is eating a bowl of ice cream with her gal pals while they fan their freshly painted toenails with their hair in curlers.  It just doesn’t fit.

It’s not that I don’t love the concept behind the Paleo movement.  Over the past few months I’ve had to face my own declining health, and through trail and error I’ve figured out that eating too much carbs is pretty much directly proportionate to my insomnia, headaches, and sinus problems.  I think it’s very true that our bodies were made to eat a certain kind of diet, and that diet consists of the things we find growing naturally in our environments.  It makes sense that we should be eating mostly vegetables, fruits, and nuts with a hunk of meat thrown in here and there.  When I eat that way I feel energetic, when I eat refined flours and sugars I feel weighed down to my couch.  (If I then drink sugary drinks for energy I get caught in a vortex of ickiness that usually ends with me feeling nauseous and ready to kill someone.)  If we are what we eat, I don’t want to be a loaf of bread.

It makes sense.

I guess that’s why the hipster coconut-ice-cream chocolate-cake Paleo so deeply confuses me, because it’s trying to skirt the issue and let people eat the way they want to eat without really changing.  It’s a lie.  We weren’t made to eat desserts all the time, so we shouldn’t.  When we do eat foods like that we should be honest with our bodies about the fact it’s not healthy, because that is what prevents us from eating an entire pan of brownies in a sitting.  If we lie and say “no, this is totally part of my diet”, we end up in the same place regardless of what diet we eat.

The same thing is true with any set of principles, even religion.  If you believe that something is true, you should modify your behavior to fit the principles you want to live by.  You shouldn’t modify your principles to match your behavior.  If eating ice cream and cake makes you sick, don’t change the ice cream and cake.  Change the patterns that lead you to live that way.

After all, isn’t that the point of the Paleo diet?  A radical change in the relationship we have with our food, our bodies, and our environment?  When I see the Hipster Paleo blogs that look just like the food on any other foodie blog, I feel like instead they are changing the food they are having the relationship with.  It reminds me of a friend who often complained about her boyfriend being addicted to his XBox, so then she broke up with him to date a guy that was obsessed with his gym membership.  It may have been different ingredients but it ended up being the same relationship.

I haven’t completely changed my diet- I avoid carbs more often, but still eat spaghetti and other things from time to time because that’s how the rest of my family eats.  I figure if 60% of the day I do better, I’m 60% healthier.  And I’m honest with myself for the 40% of the day that I’m eating foods that aren’t as natural.

I’m certainly not eating coconut milk ice cream every night and saying “it’s cool!  It’s PALEO!”