Ewan Kirkland

The Caucasian Persuasion of

Buffy the Vampire Slayer


[1] In his discussion of the representation and construction of whiteness, Richard Dyer (1997) argues: ‘There is a specificity to white representation, but it does not reside in a set of stereotypes so much as in narrative structural positions, rhetorical tropes and habits of perception’ (12). This paper explores Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a particularly white text. By this I mean, the series is both populated by archetypal white characters, and informed by various structures, tropes and perspectives Dyer identifies as characterising whiteness. The classic Buffy episode opens at night, in a graveyard, with the protagonists battling the forces of darkness; it ends in bright Californian daylight, as the victorious Scoobies reflect on events, the world saved once more, and oblivious to their efforts. This simplification of the Buffy narrative’s symbolic mobilisation of light and darkness reveals a whiteness extending beyond its leading cast’s skin colour. White sensibilities inform the series, producing an extremely white view of the world, of history, of the universe, and white people’s role within it. As such, Buffy the Vampire Slayer constitutes a valuable focus for deconstructing whiteness as constructed cultural identity, a text variously representing and reflecting upon what whiteness means.

[2] It is easy to find examples of threatening non-white ‘others’ in the Buffy series. There are the African hyenas who possess Xander and several fellow students in ‘The Pack’ (1006), whose subsequent descent into juvenile delinquency, rape and cannibalism, accompanied by a ritualistic drum beat, evokes numerous negative colonial and post-colonial tropes of African natives and black teenagers (though these teens are white). There are the Chumash who lay siege to Buffy’s Thanksgiving dinner in ‘Pangs’ (4008), the Inca princess who consumes various Sunnydale teenagers in ‘Inca Mummy Girl’ (2004), the African mask which brings the dead to life in ‘Dead Man’s Party’ (3002), the black gangsta Mr Trick of Season Three, and the original Slayer who threatens the sleeping Scoobies in ‘Restless’ (4022). Together with the conspicuous absence of non-white central characters, the barely-noticed disappearance of Olivia, and Riley’s black friend Forrest’s subsequent transformation into a zombie cyborg, this suggests a negative or dismissive attitude towards non-white races.

[3] A tentative case might be made for Buffy as a white-supremacy text. Buffy’s anti-authoritarian streak, identified by Wall and Zryd (2002), includes the proliferation of shadowy institutions such as the Watchers’ Council, the Initiative, the Mayor’s office, various monstrous Others’ infiltration of government and commercial organisations, and frequent indications of conspiracy between Sunnydale’s state apparatus to keep residents from discovering demonic truths. Far right American political perspectives are connoted in the white protagonists’ survivalist mentality, stockpiling weaponry and rejecting police and military authorities for direct action in their self-appointed role as guardians of the Sunnydale community. The secrecy of the Scoobies’ nocturnal activities, their fetishisation of arcane rituals, texts, artifacts and titles, resembles a sinister cult founded on the destruction of non-normative groups. Discussing the racial dimensions of Buffy’s suburban Californian location, Boyd Tonkin (2002) notes an anti-desegregation white supremacy group of the 1950s called the Spookhunters (44-5) a connection suggested in the Klan-evoking ‘Whitehats’ inhabiting the Wishverse Sunnydale (3009).

[4] However, such an assessment ignores the overwhelming whiteness of Buffy’s villains, as well as protagonists. It is not my intention to criticise Buffy, mobilising familiar discourses of racist representation, stereotypes and positive or negative narratives, or to assume a liberal white male position, criticising my own culture for its representation of social groups to which I do not belong. Furthermore, I am writing as a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a critical focus on the intersection between my fandom and my ethnicity. Racist representations, together with discourses of white supremacy, constitute limited if comparatively accessible means of exploring whiteness. The former conveniently avoids examining whiteness, focusing instead upon non-white identities; the latter sidesteps more dominant modes of whiteness in favour of political extremism. In contrast, a whiteness not solely associated with demonising non-white others, and more commonplace white identities inhabiting less vocal, less noticeable, more moderate, bland and central spaces, are harder to theorise or even identify. This totalising, embedded, invisible construction of whiteness, frequently defamilarised, satirised or mobilised for Buffy’s narrative or thematic ends, will be this paper’s focus. Largely with reference to Dyer’s work, I shall consider Buffy’s generic roots, then its central characters and villains as constituting archetypal representations of whiteness. Finally, I shall explore the ways in which the whiteness of Buffy reveals white anxieties and insecurities concerning racial identity.

White Picket Fences: The Generic Whiteness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Mr Trick: Sunnydale. Town’s got quaint. And the people? He called me sir. Don’t you just miss that? I mean, admittedly, it's not a haven for the brothers. You know, strictly the Caucasian persuasion in the 'Dale. But, you know, you just gotta stand up and salute that death rate.

‘Faith, Hope and Trick’ (3003)

[5] In ‘My Emotions Give Me Power