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Philosophy vs. Frivolity

This just came across my dash:

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
--Lord Darlington from "Lady Windermere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde

So I've been having thoughts, as one does, about the nature of good and evil as seen through the lens of BtVS. Especially, you know: Spike. There are always posts and discussion about it, this one being most recent, and it's all really interesting. I keep waiting for people to convince me that Spike is capital "E" evil, rather than thoughtlessly destructive (among other things). It comes down to how a person defines evil, which is surprisingly difficult to define. It's sort of like love that way.

But now I'm thinking that maybe the quote above is closer to my philosophy of Spike than anything particularly deep. Tsk.


This entry was originally posted at http://rebcake.dreamwidth.org/39963.html. Please comment here or there using OpenID.

Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
shapinglight
Sep. 2nd, 2015 09:32 pm (UTC)
Very interesting post, and your answers are interesting too.

I'm not sure I have anything to add to the original post, since you've already presented the two facts that contradict the OP's thesis.
rebcake
Sep. 2nd, 2015 09:57 pm (UTC)
Well, "selfish" is nearly as difficult to define as "evil" and "love". I think most people agree that motivations are rarely purely one thing or another, but rather a mix of things. I'm willing to be convinced that Spike underwent torture for selfish reasons, or took on bodyguardianship of Dawn for same, but it'll take some doing.

Would I bother to care if I wasn't charmed by the character, though? Doubtful.
shapinglight
Sep. 3rd, 2015 08:50 am (UTC)
Would I bother to care if I wasn't charmed by the character, though? Doubtful.

Same here, of course. I really should try to comment on the OP. A discussion like that not taking place semi-incomprehensibly on Tumblr is a rarity these days.

ETA: Ah. I see I was wrong. That was cross-posted from Tumblr. Which explains, I suppose, why the DW poster in question hasn't made a post in however many years. :(

ETA2: do you yourself have a Tumblr?

ETA3: I went back and re-read the OP and the comments and I still can't think of anything intelligent to say. I think I'd better just leave it.

Edited at 2015-09-03 04:31 pm (UTC)
mercurychaos
Sep. 3rd, 2015 04:49 pm (UTC)
I really should try to comment on the OP.

OP here; please do! I love having discussions about this stuff but never meet anyone in real life who cares enough to have them. I do make posts at DW semi-regularly, but almost all of them are private; this is the only exception that I've made recently.

Edited at 2015-09-03 04:52 pm (UTC)
shapinglight
Sep. 3rd, 2015 06:13 pm (UTC)
Hello.

Thank you for this. I will try my best to think of something intelligent to say and come and join in the conversation.
rebcake
Sep. 3rd, 2015 10:06 pm (UTC)
I do have a Tumblr, under the same name as everywhere else. I don't do much with it, but there are some folks that I like to check out: magicboxprompts and drusillathekiller come mind. Now that Quin and Barb are there, it doesn't feel so lonely.
shapinglight
Sep. 4th, 2015 02:09 pm (UTC)
I still can't make sense of it, I'm afraid. As a site, it does my head in.
rahirah
Sep. 3rd, 2015 11:45 pm (UTC)
My rule of thumb is "If some other character did this, would we be arguing that they are only doing it for selfish reasons, and therefore it shouldn't count?" Because it often seems to me that people are arguing a priori when it comes to Spike. If he does something that would normally be considered a good/unselfish thing, then instead of accepting that hey, maybe under some circumstances some vampires can do good/unselfish things some of the time, they exert themselves greatly to come up with reasons why it can't possibly be that.

Since it's possible to do the same for any action, taken by any character, I'm really not sure how useful it is to do it with Spike. Buffy jumping off the tower to save Dawn? Well, she had a death wish, so she was just giving in to it. Selfish. Willow staying in Sunnydale to fight evil rather than going to a good college? Well, she'd had a taste of the power magic could give her, and wanted more. Selfish. Xander talking Willow down from destroying the world? He wanted to save his own life, and lacking super powers, that was the only way he could do it. Selfish! Etc.
rebcake
Sep. 4th, 2015 03:05 am (UTC)
People can go through a lot of contortions to make Spike fit into a particular "evil" box, but they aren't all people who prefer Angel — and therefore have a vamp in the fight, as it were — so I find it fascinating to see what they come up with. It makes me think.

Shadow said below, if I may paraphrase, that characters who hew perfectly to type end up being kinda boring and hard to relate to. On the one hand, we can complain about character inconsistency by the writers. On the other, we can marvel at the sneaky-good job the writers did at giving the character a very human internal consistency that plays out in all sorts of ways we never expected. Either way is fun for us!

As I say, I don't believe there necessarily are any "right" answers, and the fact that Spike doesn't fit neatly into any particular worldview is part of the appeal for me.

Yeah, any action can be twisted into something more pure on either the good or evil side. I don't like to give too much credit to people's intentions — which are almost always mixed — but look at their actions and their results. There's a reason we had to come up with the phrase "unintended consequences" after all. I once got into an argument with my brother over his theory that people doing charitable work were just as selfish as people who don't, because they were motivated by the good feelings they get from helping other people. Endorphins, I guess? I just...couldn't. Even if a little part of me understands what he's saying.
kerry_220
Sep. 2nd, 2015 10:42 pm (UTC)
Certainly an interesting post. I don't feel entitled to say anything over there.

I'm always fascinated, though, by the underlying assumption that having a soul - which IMO reads for a conscience in BtVS - automatically engenders selfless devotion. It doesn't. People act selfishly and thoughtlessly every day. Within the context of BtVS itself, Angel floundered about for over a century before the sight of young Buffy motivated him to want something more.

I also think it is a pretty hardcore fan who thinks that Spike would have changed without the chip.... and Buffy. Still, surely the fact these changes happened at all should be evidence of how very different he was.
rebcake
Sep. 3rd, 2015 04:16 am (UTC)
You are absolutely entitled to say whatever you think! Sometimes it's hard to know what to say when everybody is making all these well-reasoned arguments, though!

The only thing I can tell about the soul in the Buffyverse — because how Angel and Spike are with and without — is that is confers shame. That...doesn't seem like the most useful thing in terms of achieving "goodness".

It's hard to imagine Spike changing to the extent that he did without the chip, definitely. I suppose it could have also happened if he'd had the soul imposed from without, as Angel did. But he seemed pretty happy with his life of mayhem, for the most part. It's telling that the last time we see Spike being truly terrifying — when he attacks Willow in her dorm room — is right before we and he discover the chip. The commercial break marks the fulcrum of Spike's character turn.
mercurychaos
Sep. 3rd, 2015 04:51 pm (UTC)
I don't feel entitled to say anything over there.

OP here; you absolutely are. I didn't leave the post public and open to comments by accident. :)
kerry_220
Sep. 4th, 2015 02:22 am (UTC)
Thanks! I just felt that as you didn't know me from Adam, it was a bit rude
(Deleted comment)
enigmaticblues
Sep. 3rd, 2015 01:30 am (UTC)
I completely agree. The fact that Spike might be able to do good things without a soul makes him interesting, just as the fact that the good guys do bad things makes them more interesting. Reminds me of "Lie to Me," where one of Giles' lies was that the good guys always wear white hats and win the day.

It might be the reason that I liked Angel a heck of a lot more when he got his own show and was a little more layered.
rebcake
Sep. 3rd, 2015 02:20 am (UTC)
Totally true. I always get a little tired of the demon=evil/human=good argument when we have Clem and Lorne as Exhibit A against and Warren and the Mayor and Caleb as Exhibit B. Oz is one of the early examples of "it's complicated", too. I'm in the minority, but I also liked the AtS episode "She" because the supposed victims of the piece were actually dangerous, albeit not with evil intentions. Those kinds of things are what make the show(s) worth talking about all this time later.
rahirah
Sep. 3rd, 2015 03:30 am (UTC)
Heh. It may not be far off. :D
rebcake
Sep. 3rd, 2015 04:19 am (UTC)
He does keep us guessing, doesn't he?
thisficklemob
Sep. 3rd, 2015 09:42 pm (UTC)
I believe it was you who said that all the "reasons" one likes a 'ship are secondary to the lizard-brain going, "THAT ONE," and we rationalize after the fact. (I find that true of my S/B shippiness.) It may be just as true of characters. I can read other people fangirl/fanboying someone (say, Cordelia on BtVS or Harmony) and see their point... and it may actually change my viewpoint... but my initial responses are just YEP or NOPE or HMM and I have to come up with likely reasons later.
mercurychaos
Sep. 3rd, 2015 06:28 pm (UTC)
I'm flattered that you thought my post was worth commenting on. I'm planning to make some changes and clarifications later on, and I've added in some definitions of "good" and "evil" in the opening (which I should have done to begin with.)

That quote is a pretty good summary of how I choose my favorite characters - I don't care if they're good as long as they're interesting, and Spike is that.

Edited at 2015-09-03 06:36 pm (UTC)
rebcake
Sep. 3rd, 2015 10:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for making the post. Talking about this stuff is why we're all here, I think. I don't think there is an answer to a lot of the questions that the work raised, but the unexamined fandom isn't worth getting excited about, amirite?
thisficklemob
Sep. 3rd, 2015 09:36 pm (UTC)
I think this is especially true of fictional people. After all, none of the thousands of people Spike killed actually died in reality. And of course we have to, on some level, engage with the ethics when we see/read/play in fictional universes, we have a certain degree of freedom to like characters who in reality we'd find abhorrent (or just obnoxious).

Perhaps this is especially true when we play in other people's fictional universes, as we're not setting canon for millions of viewers, but rather amusing ourselves and relatively small (even for BNFs) number of people. ... Which is just one more reason to be grumpy with show creators for wrong-headed or narrow-minded moralities, but then they are working with strict time limits.

(Although I find "charming" too light a term; intriguing, amusing, complex, etc., also factor in.)
rebcake
Sep. 3rd, 2015 10:23 pm (UTC)
Heh. Yes, it's a lot easier to take when all that mayhem didn't actually happen.

Different people will find different things charming. Lots of people are charmed by simplicity, for instance. Cute puppy videos are proof enough of that, right? But tastes differ, and my people are charmed by the conundrum that is Spike. Perhaps "intrigued" is a better word?
thisficklemob
Sep. 3rd, 2015 11:32 pm (UTC)
I've definitely noticed, even in absence of actual violence or criminality, that people often love characters who are rude, mean, blunt... without filter. I suspect there's some wish fulfillment/jealousy involved, in that we wish we real humans could mouth off and say whatever. (And still be employed/in school/have people like us.)

And then there's people like me, who find cute puppy videos charming, and Spike intriguing. *g*
rebcake
Sep. 4th, 2015 03:14 am (UTC)
What I've discovered about myself is that I like to be surprised by the narrative. In real life, I'm not quite as fond of being surprised. People who are unfiltered definitely are full of surprises, but that's not the only way to be unpredictable. I liked most of the characters on BtVS because they all had a particular way of seeing the world or expressing themselves that I wasn't expecting.

And I adore cute puppy vids! Those little dickens are just full of surprises!
thisficklemob
Sep. 5th, 2015 03:03 am (UTC)
So true! I like surprises in RL about as much as I like unexpected insects in my space (i.e., very little.) In media? Gimme!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

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