Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Nature of Power

It's good to be back - and with an episode as chock-full of ideas to discuss as "Earshot," I barely noticed the jetlag! (For a summary of the episode, click here.) Turkey was wonderful and I've brought a few friends back with me - everybody wave to Bookworm, who's joining us from Austria! (hi, bookworm!)

So - Buffy becomes telepathic through the accidental absorption of a demon's blood (demons without mouths - creepy!) What seems like a wonderful gift turns into a curse as Buffy discovers she can't shut out the thoughts of others and that so often, those thoughts are full of desperation and despair the thinker tries mightily to conceal from others. She "overhears" a voice promising, "This time tomorrow, I'll kill you all" and has to discover the identity of the would-be killer. She thinks it's a student in a clock tower (see the screen capture at the start of the post), but Jonathan is preparing to end his own life to end his pain. Xander's love for junk food (in this case, Jell-O) once again saves the day as he discovers the identity of the true killer.

Buffy's power at first seems very forceful and invasive - in this case, the ability to actually pierce into a person's mental life. It's a power that nearly destroys her as she learns secrets that she would just as soon not know. ("On the hood of a police car? Twice?") By the end of the episode, it appears that the true power is non-invasive - the ability to empathize with another person; in other words, to communicate with compassion.

Originally scheduled to be broadcast the week after the Columbine shootings, "Earshot" was delayed out of sensitivity to that event and that brings us to an age-old debate - does life imitate art, does art imitate life, or is the whole snarled mess just a slew of coincidence? While I'm not sure of the answer, I do know that fantastic art comes out of horrific tragedy, which does not lessen the tragedy. See Picasso's Guernica, for example.

About the mural, Picasso said, "A painting is not thought out and settled in advance. While it is being done, it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it's finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it."

This is true of all art - including Buffy episodes. What you see is going to be filtered through your own perceptions and experiences and that means it's going to be at least slightly different from what I see. And the fact that we're still talking about all of this years after the show was canceled indicates that the stories are continuing to change and evolve, although we often think that once something is captured on film, it stays that same way forever.


The demons in "Earshot" communicate telepathically because they have no mouths. Next week, we'll continue to discuss communication - its goals and methods - by examining one of the most groundbreaking episodes of Buffy Whedon dared to create. We'll talk in person on Monday; feel free to use the boards to discuss your ideas in the meantime.


Anonymous said...

This hits on the debate in political science about the difference between aesthetics and mimetics. With aesthetics, it is said that politics happens in the space between the representated and the representation. One grafts their own experiences onto what they are looking at, etc. and this is what drives the different approaches and understandings to the text. With mimetics, this space doesn't exist at all. This debate and the political implications comes out when Oz tries to understand who he is when he is thinking about his relation to Buffy and particularly her ability to read his thoughts.

Fred said...

With regard to "true" power, Buffy's telepathy was an aspect of the demon she encountered. Since it had no mouth, it used telepathy to communicate, and this was not "power' any more than our ability to talk to communicate is "power", although it is certainly an example of how what seems desirable at first glance may have hidden difficulties.

The true power was Angel's strength which enabled him to rip out the heart (was it the heart? It's been a while since I've seen the episode) of the other demon to make the potion which saved Buffy, and Buffy's strength which let her get to Jonathan before he killed himself, and to the cafeteria to beat the lady with a knife senseless before she could kill Xander (though, in my opinion, that would not have been a completely bad thing).

This is an instance of what Angel's demonic nature can provide him - the power to save others, particularly Buffy - which results in his decision not to stay human in one of the episodes in his own series. Buffy herself in another episode finds that the loss of her power (from drugs administered by Giles)causes serious problems not only to others' safety but to her sense of identity and worth.

I did love the sequence in the library where Buffy could read everyone's thoughts, which are different than what they express aloud, except Cordelia, who is so one-dimensional that what she thinks (something like, "What does this have to do with me?") is exactly what she says.

Lena said...

Well said.

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