The ‘Buffy Paradigm’ Revisited

The ‘Buffy Paradigm’ Revisited

A Superhero and the War on Terror

It was a hard sell to my colleagues when I tried to convince them that the teen social satire show Buffy the Vampire Slayer was mocking the War on Terror. What else could one think when, in a recent episode, command central in London is blown up right after the chief of staff assures a nervous subordinate, “We are the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls.” Little did I know that in real life anti-terrorism strategists were pointing to Buffy as an example of what not to do. Just three weeks after 9/11, a forty-two-page report by Anthony H. Cordesman on “Biological Warfare and the ‘Buffy Paradigm'” was issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Cordesman, a former director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and author of more than twenty books dealing with war, terrorism, and defense, provided an analysis that was mostly on target. I wondered, though, whether he, who clearly was not a dedicated fan, hadn’t missed some deeper lessons, hadn’t dug deep enough for a viable terror-fighting paradigm. After all, Buffy may not have won her war on terrorism, but she hadn’t lost it, either.

If you’re over twenty-five, or don’t have teenagers in the house, or missed the stories in the right, left, and mainstream press about this series, you might not know that Buffy is the “chosen one,” the person in this generation who will save the world from a terrible axis of evil that operates from a “Hellmouth” under Sunnydale High School in southern California. Season after season, she and her friends stave off the Apocalypse, slaying armies of vampires and demons that threaten to obliterate them and all of civilization. The mainstream press loves the smart writing, character development, and satire of teen angst; the right deplores the sex and violence, the lesbian subplot, and the heavy emphasis on the occult; the left thrills to all of the above, plus the strong feminism and critique of consumer capitalism (one particularly gripping episode has Buffy rallying fellow slave laborers with a plea for solidarity, then using a hammer and sickle to free all the teenagers trapped in a factory in a hell dimension). In 2002, the show was hailed in Christianity Today as “one of TV’s most socially relevant and well-crafted hours,” and Buffy was named “Theologian of the Year” by the Christian satirical magazine The Door. This show takes moral issues seriously. It’s not only about fighting evil, it’s about how to fight evil and hold on to your humanity. (This may not seem like a big deal, but in a show where half the cast are either the soul-less undead or demons, it is.)

And it is in the moral arena that Cordesman could have offered the government even better advice than he did.

What Is the Buffy Paradigm?<...