Thoughts on Willow's uncertain Jewishness in Buffy, and a weird attack on Beer Bad

I was sifting through my files and found a couple of pieces. One is a long essay that expresses considerable concern over the representation of Willow as Jewish (because it seems to be so irrelevant to her being when one might expect it to have rather more informing power). I think this was for a seminar series but cannot remember.

The the piece is super short and looks like a companion piece to strong defence of Beer Bad. It's short and the exact opposite of sweet!

Willow Rosenberg, in the very last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, saves the world. She does so by summoning her extraordinary magical powers and performing a spell of such magnitude that it transforms all of the girls and young women who may have become the Slayer on the death of the previous one into a Slayer now. In other words, it alters millennia of (super)-natural law and lore and, in the process, allows Buffy (the current vampire slayer) to have an army strong enough to defeat the First Evil. As a by-product, Willow glows in translucent white light, seemingly become a goddess, and she comments in happy, exhausted satisfaction at the conclusion of all of this that it was ‘nifty’. A cool Jew indeed. Except that she isn’t. Or, rather, while Willow’s status as cool is not in doubt (though it certainly has been), her status as Jew seems much less assured.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a programme, and as a title, demands, through its frivolity, a high level of serious consideration. The juxtaposition of the name ‘Buffy’ (with all of its tremendous connotations of American teenage vapidity, of the blonde and fluffy mall-worshipping fashion junky) with the phrase ‘vampire slayer’ (which inspires thoughts of pre-modern forms of existence and relations to the world, of a supernatural world of threat and promise) alerts us the programme’s doubleness.  Not only is this true in the sense that different relationships to history are offered immediately (contemporary, depthless, postmodernity set against Modernity, pre-modernity and an archaic mythic time), but also in the sense that the show and its main character accommodate the seeming contradictions inherent in that juxtaposition. For Buffy is not only an American teenager, she is also the vampire slayer. Her identity is constantly being renegotiated, re-articulated. Neither wholly one thing nor the other, Buffy is a complex and purposefully complicated and difficult character. As the focus of the show, it is her identity and the problems which surround it which provides the main focus of most seasons. However, it is a testament to the strength of the series, that Buffy is also committed to exploring, unravelling and engaging fully in the development and construction of the identities of the rest of the so-called Scooby Gang also. While this, in part, is a function of time (the characters change as they grow up over the seven seasons), it is also a function of an attitude to identity which the show constantly projects; and this attitude is an aesthetic one. Identity is constructed as performative in Buffy: rather than identity being fixed, given and immutable it is open to change and transformation. In some sense this is nowhere more apparent than with Willow. As Jess Battis puts it:

Throughout the seven seasons, Willow has occupied many personas: shy academic; computer expert; budding witch (‘budding’ being a signifier commonly ascribed to Willow’s magical studies, which holds all kinds of double-voiced meaning when connected to her name) […] ingénue; agent of the apocalypse; and, finally, a guilt-stricken, ‘reformed’ addict.[1]

This list is important for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the range of Willow’s subject positions over the seasons and shows the transformations from shy geek to would-be apocalypse-inducer to world-saver. Second, it hints at some of the ways in which Willow’s name can be read etymologically. This is interesting insofar as Willow has always had an allusive meaning which relates to notions of pliability[2]. And this is interesting because of what is not mentioned in Battis’s list at all: Willow’s Jewishness.
            The absence of her Jewishness from the list seems to corroborate one of the concerns raised by Naomi Alderman and Annette Seidel-Arpaci in ‘Imaginary Para-Sites of the Soul: Vampires and Representations of ‘Blackness’ and ‘Jewishness’ in the Buffy/Angelverse’.[3] In this essay, the pair regret the fact that Willow seems either to claim her Jewishness by virtue of its opposition to Christianity, or, more problematically, simply not assert it at all; indeed, she seeks to hide it. In so doing, Buffy loses its claims to multicultural representation, and promotes, however much it might not want to, a white, Christian, normative America:

Willow has, in fact, become a reverse-Marrano: she appears to be Jewish, but has taken on Christian practices, hiding her paraphernalia. After a fashion, as we have seen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel have similar traits: they appear to be ‘multicultural’ programmes, with characters of various backgrounds, but the Buffyverse is, in many ways, a distinctly Christian, ‘white’ place. [4]

I am not sure that Buffy can have many pretensions to a ‘multi-culturalism’ for the reason of its refusal to accede to an aesthetic of representational heterogeneity. The demands on its ‘realistic’ portrayal of Sunnydale deny its multi-cultural possibilities but instigate very interesting debates regarding a more subtle (and, therefore, more contentious) notion of ethnicity. Willow’s Jewishness is one example of this, at least so far as it is contentious.
      Buffy’s watcher, Rupert Giles, is quintessentially English and retains his ethnic identity even after bouts of amnesia, and his sense of cultural belonging is ever-present, even when mocked.[5] Willow appears to have no such sense of her ethnicity as a positive expression of identity. Indeed, as the above-quoted essay goes on to say, despite the performative (as opposed to fixed) aspect of ethnicity, it is noticeable that the performance is itself rather limited. While demons may not be, categorically, evil, the de-ontologised performance of ethnicity is not necessarily any less restrictive for that:

We hear of ‘breeds’ and ‘half-breeds.’ Literal ‘non-humans’ come from ‘other dimensions,’ or from South America, ‘ancient Egypt,’ from Pakistan, the Middle East and so on: in other words, ‘from outside.’ And vampires do regularly come from England or Ireland, hence ‘from within.’ Various ‘tribes’ of demons and monsters have ‘ancient’ and weird cultural practices. ‘Doing good,’ for ex-demons, such as Angel, Anya and, latterly, Spike, is inextricably linked to becoming part of a new, acceptable group, and giving up old associations. The weird ‘tribes’ and individuals in Buffy and Angel have to either drop their cultural habits and history to be assimilated, or remain ‘other’ and face the ultimate sanction of the stake.[6]

And the assimilation is into a Christian world-view, dominated by WASP sensibilities and cultural expectations, even as the show seems to be trying so hard to undermine many of these stereotypes and constructions:

This leaves the non-WASP characters in Angel and Buffy, standing on ever-eroding ground, unable to access parts of their own cultural background for fear of being dubbed ‘evil,’ but unable fully to assimilate into the homogenous, white Christian world represented by Buffy. It seems that even shows that are produced with an ambition to deconstruct racialised ‘identities,’ may still reproduce them, unable to escape the internalised forces of the dominant culture.[7]

Willow’s Jewishess, according to this argument, has evidently been eroded to the point where it is not assimilated so much as eradicated.[8] In each case, there is a worry that, despite itself, the show is rehearsing and perpetuating cultural practices that lead to the exclusion or assimilation of groups outside of the norm. For Jean-François Lyotard, writing in Heidegger and ‘the jews’ the fact of cultural exclusion is part of a process of forgetting at the core of ‘Western’ thought. The term ‘jews’ is used by Lyotard in a non-ethnically specific fashion (the quotation marks and lack of a capital letter make this clear) but as a term which nevertheless signifies under the inevitable specificity of Jewish history. It:

refers to all those who, wherever they are, seek to remember and to bear witness to something that is constitutively forgotten, not only in each individual mind, but in the very thought of the West. And it refers to all those who assume this anamnesis and this witnessing as an obligation, or a debt, not only toward thought, but toward justice.[9]

This forgotten thing, following Freud, Lyotard calls the ‘unconscious affect’. As long as the unconscious affect remains forgotten, remains undiscovered, ‘it will give rise to inexplicable formulations (expressions, symptoms) […] Its ‘expressions’ form a tissue of ‘screen memories’ that block the anamnesis’.[10] Lyotard’s notion of screen memory is taken from Freud’s. The latter’s conjecture about the individual’s relationship to memory, especially in terms of amnesia, is that ‘[…]what is important remains in the memory. But through the processes, already familiar to you, of condensation and more especially of displacement, what is important in memory is replaced by something else which appears unimportant.’[11] This notion is then used by Freud in part 1(C) section 3 of ‘Moses and Monotheism’ to draw an analogy between the trauma suffered by an individual which might be responsible for amnesia, and the trauma of a nation (or tribe) and its collective amnesiac condition and concomitant substitutive memory. The affect of this memory has played itself out in expulsions, assimilations and, of course, in the Final Solution where even the ‘assimilated Jew was forced to remember that he stood as a witness, however involuntarily, for something about himself which Europe did not want to remember:

Through mass extermination, Nazi Germany attempted to eliminate without trace or memory the physical presence of all Jews in Europe; and [...] by doing so it also sought to eliminate from within Western thought (and therefore within the thought and political project of Nazism itself) the unrepresentable itself ‘represented’ by ‘the jews’, namely, what Lyotard argues is a relation to what is always already forgotten in all thought, writing, literature, and art, to a ‘Forgotten’ that was never part of any memory as such and which memory, as memory, forgets in turn by representing (that is, by giving form to it or producing an image for it).[12]

Willow’s Jewishness, by its seeming lack that tends to its almost complete disappearance, offers a sense of this forgetting that is rather more literal than that outlined by Lyotard but which, nevertheless, is part of a representational economy that occludes certain ethnicities at the moment of seemingly engaging with them. The concern of Alderman and Seidel-Arpaci that Buffy is ‘unable to escape the internalised forces of the dominant culture’ would appear to have a significant level of validity when that dominant culture is not simply U.S. majority culture but something as vast and historically embedded as western thought.
            However, while the criticism outlined above has a certain validity, it resides in a particular emphasis on external expressions of cultural belonging that are not necessarily appropriate or necessary for 21st century claims to heritage and history. In The Watcher’s Guide, one of the very many companion guides and other pieces of merchandising spawned by Buffy, the writers, in their brief introduction to Willow, claim that she is from a ‘strongly Jewish’ home.[13] This is borne out by Willow’s comments in ‘Passion’ (2.17) in which, in order to try to keep Angel out of Willow’s house, a spell involving a crucifix is used. Willow expresses concern about her father’s response and says: ‘Ira Rosenberg’s only daughter nailing crucifixes to her bedroom wall? I have to go over to Xander’s house just to watch ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ every year’. The particularly strict Ira is never seen, and his absence, even from casual mention, places Willow in a context that seems both archly traditional and very modern. The absent father, and emotionally distant and professionally-focussed mother[14] are a far cry from the over-bearing, over-protective Jewish parents of popular culture.
            In Buffy, parents are largely ignored, and the absence of much information regarding Willow’s parental situation is much more a feature of the show’s concerns than any overt comment on her Jewishness, but by refusing the stereotype of a Tevye the Milkman on the one hand[15] and the butt of a thousand Jewish-mother jokes on the other the show insists that Willow can be Jewish without having to be seen to be Jewish all the time either by her family or by her friends.
            And it is the notion of being Jewish that is at stake here (or being anything). Beyond her surname, there is very little that indicates that Willow is Jewish in the first season of Buffy. Her Jewishness then is nominal fact, but seems to have little influence on our understanding of Willow’s cultural concerns; nor does it seem to have a great impact on her personality. She is intelligent, well versed in computers, enjoys science, is goods at most subjects, she is shy, she is in love with Xander and she has an unexpected strength when confronted with danger or horror.

This may well indicate little more than the fact that Buffy is a ‘white’ show as described by Ewan Kirkland in ‘The Caucasian persuasion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer[16] and Willow’s Jewishness is unable to counter this:

Willow’s Jewishness might problematise this analysis were it not so marginalised, only occasionally mentioned, and never permitted narrative centrality. Indeed, Willow’s Jewishness represents the extent of ethnic colour permitted within Buffy’s central cast, constituting occasional one liners about crucifixes and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Willow shares Giles’ slightly nervous, unassuming, initially sexually inept qualities of mainstream whiteness, together with his thirst for knowledge.[17]

The problem with this assertion, as with Seidel-Arpaci and Alderman’s is that they all read the absence of explicit representations of Jewishness as being equivalent to a lack of Jewishness per se. And this is patently untrue. One does not need to assert a version of identity anywhere near as unflinchingly ontologically fixed as that proposed by Giles in the opening episode of season seven to be able to grant a continuity of performance.
            Giles’s claim is one of the most surprising comments ever made on the show in relation to notions of identity, ethnicity and race. It comes as part of his effort to reassure Willow, as she is due to head back to Sunnydale after recuperating in England. This recuperation follows her murder of Warren and her attempt to destroy the world towards the end of season six. Giles says, ‘In the end, we all are who we are, no matter how much we may appear to have changed’ (7.1). In a series that has seen Willow, for example, transform from season one geek to season seven goddess; that has witnessed Anya’s strenuous efforts to overcome having been a demon, in order to construct an amalgamated postmodern American identity that can also accommodate her Dark Age Scandinavian incarnation; that has seen Faith reconstituted as a penitent, responsible person after her homicidal havoc; and that has allowed Dawn to be invented out of nothing in order to live the life of Buffy’s sister, it is odd, to say the least, to have an assertion of such steadfast ontological security. While the series’ increasing reliance on the concept of the soul as a guarantor of humanity may well explain a certain insistence on a core identity, the metaphysical awkwardness of the soul itself should give us pause for thought before it can be seen as an instrument of ontological grounding[18]. And if there is no ontological grounding, or if the fashion of its being is such an insubstantial thing, then Giles’s comment seems remarkably out of place in the Buffyverse.

            Placed against this notion of a fixed and unchanging self that is resistant to the external force of some metaphysical notion of a soul, there is the theoretical model that would claim for performativity an entirely un-rooted self capable of almost unending change and resistant not only to external features like a soul, but equally resilient to external features such as skin colour:

…ethnicity would seem to be culturally rehearsed and performed into an imaginary ontological status; indeed, as the contrived (through constant and repeated endogamous marriage) repetition of traits such as facial characteristics that are merely external, representational graphics without meaning or signifiers that signify nothing more than themselves, ethnic identity consists of the performance into imaginary being of something which has no existence outside of the repetition of traits.[19]

To decry the representation of Willow’s disappearing Jewishness is to largely invoke a model of the latter kind; to assert that she remains Jewish despite external endorsement is seemingly to tend towards Giles’s position.
            Willow herself makes a claim that implies a performative element to her Jewishness (indeed to her identity in general, but at this moment specifically to the extent that her identity is partially understood as comprising Jewishness within it) in ‘Amends’ (3.10). This episode was initially aired on December 15, 1998 and was, unmistakable, the Christmas episode. To have a central claim about Willow’s Jewishness in this episode then, is important. For Alderman and Seidel-Arpaci, it simply affirms the extent to which Willow’s Jewishness is only expressible as the opposite of Christianity; that it is only ever in a negative relation to the dominant culture.
            At one point in the show, Buffy asks what everyone is doing for Christmas. Willow’s response is short and absolute, ‘Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everyone worships Santa’. There is a directness and security in this that, while being posited against Christianity is also a strong positive claim.
It is a strong positive claim that carries within a dual relationship to Jewishness that underpins the show’s representation of Willow. ‘Being Jewish’ is obviously the attenuated remainder of the elided full phrase ‘I am being Jewish’. In response to the question, ‘what are you doing for Christmas’ it allows us to read the phrase as expressive of a particular, willed, finite and bounded experience. It sits in paradigmatic companionship with phrases such as ‘I am visiting relatives’, ‘I am watching telly’, and ‘I am going away’. In other words, Willow’s phrasing asserts the specificity of her action and the contextually-limited nature of its performance. To that extent, Willow performs her Jewishness in an environment of negative assertion in response to dominant culture. In avoiding the ontological absoluteness of fixed identity, Willow falls prey to a seemingly inevitable rear-guard action to avoid cooption by the dominant culture: perfomativity in this context in the show is the same as majority rule.
            But, Willow has not simply asserted a limited performance. ‘Being Jewish’ is something that Willow constantly is. It is, quite literally, one of the many predicates of her existence. A little later in the same episode Willow disputes the notion of forgiveness as a specifically Christian virtue and rebukes Buffy’s use of the phrase ‘Christmas spirit’ to illustrate it. Willow declares ‘Hello, still Jewish. Chanukah spirit, I think that was’. If ‘being Jewish’ alerts us to a continuous present tense, then ‘[I am] still Jewish’ demonstrates the past, present and future assertion contained in the simple present declaration of ‘to be’.
            And between these two grammatical possibility lies Willow’s predicament. It might be argued that by locating the argument in English grammar rather than in Hebrew or Arabic, I am rehearsing the same manoeuvres of exclusion or cooption as the show is felt to have done. That would be to ignore one of the most important aspects of the show: it is American, and more particualry Southern Californian.
            The shooting script for episode one indicates that, although the students going to school ‘could be from anywhere in America’ they are still demonstrably ‘So Cal’.[20]The ‘anywhere in America’ aspect has been well documented by David Lavery[21] and the specifically So Cal nature of the show has been analysed by Boyd Tonkin in ‘Entropy as Demon: Buffy in Southern California’.[22] These two essays provide a geographical, topographical, cultural and geological analysis of Buffy that is essential to anyone wanting to understand the concept of a global product set in the SoCal region.
            The main American characters in the show are white and, with the exception of Willow, are simply American. The common-place hyphenated American is absent, with no self-defined Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans and very few African-Americans.[23] This denial of hyphenated ethnicity is recognised in a fashion that is both playful and knowing, as well as potentially offensive in ‘When She Was Bad’ (2.1). Utilising her enormous power of the quip as she is about to stake a vampire she says ‘You’re a vampire. Oh, I’m sorry, was that an offensive term? Should I say ‘undead-American’’ (2.1).
Willow is Jewish-American, although she never actively refers to herself in that way. Any assertion of ethnicity is always simply Jewish, with all the paraphernalia of everyday culture operating as the identifier of her Americanness. When Joyce is in hospital in season five, Willow brings gifts to her and to Buffy and Dawn. Joyce’s present is, rather incongruously, a beer hat. Willow declares that she feels like Santa Claus (nicely reprising her chastising of Buffy two seasons earlier), but continues that this is true except that she is ‘thinner and younger and female and, well, Jewish’. The cultural trappings of a certain version of America (beer hats and Santa Claus) are here co-opted by Willow (rather than vice versa) and used to assert her identity via a range of subject positions (physicality, age, gender and ethnicity) none of which has precedence over the others in any absolute sense, although her Jewishness is the most significant disbarring aspect in relation to the explicitly Christian (via European paganism and Coca Cola) Santa Claus.

Willow is Jewish and is being Jewish at different times in the show. That one is highlighted more than another is a problem only if there is a belief that the character is being somehow diminished as a consequence. While there is a clear difference both of quantity and degree, Buffy is the Slayer and is being the Slayer at different times; Giles is English and is being English at different times. With Giles, the audience recognises that he is English much more than they might recognise that Willow is Jewish, but this is largely because he cannot avoid cultural difference (accent, lexis, habit, dress and so on) and so appears to be being English always whereas the non-Orthodox Willow has very few moments of such clear cultural difference.
This is not, however, an apology for the show. It is clear that having introduced a character as Jewish, more could have been done to have made that a more noticeable part of her identity. It is perhaps appropriate that it is in episodes that trade on specific aspects of American culture (Christmas, Thanksgiving) that we see the most explicit expressions of those who do not fit easily into mainstream WASP America. Willow’s Jewishness is seen most at Christmas or in reference to Christmas; the Chumash tribe have their history repeated and are annihilated at Thanksgiving; Xander’s working class background is most deeply felt at Christmas and at prom time. When the cultural eclecticism that seems to mark America out is pressed into homogeneity, the fissures are much more pronounced. Willow’s Jewishness is not especially prominent throughout all episodes and seasons, because it does not ‘disrupt’ the vision of the US (and of a deeply homogenised humanity) with which the show is working.
Willow’s Jewishness, therefore, disappears from screen as a central fact of her character, but this is not to say that the character at any point is no longer Jewish. What it does suggest is that representations of Jewishness do not require a superabundance of cultural signifiers in order for Jewishness to be recognised. It is curious, perhaps, that beyond her name on the credits, the first time that anything like an expression of Willow’s Jewishness occurs is in relation to European Jewry and anti-Semitism in literature. In an English class, The Merchant of Venice is being discussed. In a scene that is designed as much to highlight Cordelia’s character as Willow’s, Cordelia illustrates her touching empathy for others:

Ms Miller: So talk to me, people. How does what Shylock says here about being a Jew relate to our discussion about the anger of the outcast in society?

Cordelia: Well, how about color me totally self-involved?

Ms. Miller: Care to elaborate?

Cordelia: Yeah. With Shylock it’s whine, whine, whine, like the whole world is about him. He acts like it’s justice, him getting a pound of Antonio’s flesh. It’s not justice, it’s yicky.

Ms. Miller: But has Shylock suffered? Whats his place in Venice society?

Willow: Well, everyone looked down on him.

Cordelia: That is such a twinkie defense. Shylock should get over himself.[24]

            Willow’s comments are not made from a self-identified position as a Jew, but nevertheless the audience is aware of her Jewishness which here is used to signify humanity, empathy and consideration for others, as opposed to the selfish, self-obsessed concerns of WASP America as exemplified by Cordelia. It is not necessary here to labour the point of Willow’s Jewishness; instead it is seen as an aspect of a character for whom the audience has an enormous amount of affection, and who provides a muted moral compass which stands both alongside but sometimes in opposition to the dominant morality of the show which is not Christianity but is Buffy herself. Buffy’s complex morality is the subject of a whole other chapter, at least,[25] but a shorthand account would highlight a certain ethical pragmatism informed by a mutable moral code. Willow’s own moral journey is equally as complicated and allows us to see the extent to which her identity is constantly in the process of being performed (with all the attendant changes in costume, physicality and so on that this implies), and yet also allows us to see the continuing aspects of her that we have known from the beginning.
            When Willow holds her dead girlfriend, Tara in her arms, with blood-soaked clothes and the sun pouring in to the room we have a quintessentially dramatic moment (‘Seeing Red’ (6.19)). Outside, Buffy lays wounded, Xander is oblivious to the real events that are unfolding. The audience through the window in Willow’s room sees the brightness, almost too bright, sees the vivid blood stain, feels, too, the shock of the unexpected (a shock that is disabling and mortifying – Tara is dead, Willow is in agony- but also thrilling and delightful – the frisson of a drama blowing us (and Tara) away), and then we see Willow turn. Before our eyes, her eyes become deep, liquid jet; her hair becomes raven; her face is ruptured with protruding veins. There is no doubting the way in which aesthetic is leading us. It is clearly the case that Willow’s transformation into the irrational, world-destroying uber-witch is mirrored by her physicality.

Within the economy of representation that the programme has been working with, this is an inevitable and necessary step. Her potential for mis-use of magic and therefore, scary behaviour has been demonstrated by her warning to Giles not to mess with her earlier in the season (6.3)[26] and, unlike the more straightforward examples of ugly equals bad, Willow offers a chance of a much more playful and involuted strategy. Willow has already, if only obliquely, been shaded evil by Darla’s and her clothes in the very first episode (1.1). Teasingly, the possibility of Willow losing herself if she allows herself to become unrestrained has been hinted at in ‘Halloween’ (2.6) when, at Buffy’s insistence, she dresses up in semi-goth clothes only to hide under a sheet and pretend to be ghost. When a spell turns everyone into what they are wearing she becomes a ghost, incorporeal, and walks through walls in her skimpy outfit. 

The outfit (and the ontological dislocation) are then reprised in substantially modified form in season three’s ‘The Wish’ (3.9) and ‘Doppelgangland’ (3.16). In these episodes, a Willow from another dimension, in which Buffy never arrived in Sunnydale, is turned into a vampire. Yellow eyes, bumpy face and shocking red hair as well as a black leather bustier, vamp Willow is a goth-girl dream. Her attitude is one of laconic boredom, a sinuous devil with sex on her mind. The sex, though, is ‘kinda gay’ according to ‘our’ Willow still resplendent in fluffy pink pullovers and dimmer henna hair. Willow, of course, is gay as the seasons unfold which presents, at least, a sense of the possible inter-relationship of the two Willows; of normal Willow’s potential for evil. This is not due to her lesbianism, of course (though some on the Christian right may disagree), rather it is a function of the drawing together of the two characters in terms of dialogue, clothes and scenography such that their aesthetic coincidence implies an ethical corollary.
This is exacerbated by the episode ‘Tabula Rasa’ (6.8) in which Willow, addicted to magic, casts a spell to make Tara and Buffy forget how miserable they are. The spell does not succeed as planned and all the characters lose their memory. Once again, an ontologically disturbed Willow shares something with vamp Willow; this time it is her own sense that she is ‘kinda gay’. The relationship between the two is made explicit when season six’s grieving and evil Willow captures Warren and tortures him. After a long and agonizing session, evil Willow directly quotes vamp Willow by intoning ‘Bored now’ (6.20), one of vamp Willow’s expressions. Evil Willow’s return to normalcy is shown to us through her morphing back into henna-haired sweet-eyed, smooth-faced Willow, the black jacket and trousers now little more than part of a young woman’s wardrobe.
Willow’s journey is not over however. In season seven, despite her reluctance, she is cajoled into performing a major feat of magic. The spell this time does go according to plan (and thereby brings about the demise of the First Evil, the destruction of Sunnydale and Spike’s ascendance to absolute hero) and during it Kennedy, her new lover, is present. At the height of the spell, at the height of her powers which are being used for absolute good, Willow transforms again. This time, she turns an almost translucent, bright white from head to toe. Kennedy calls her ‘my goddess’(7.22) and the good triumphs. The apotheosis of good in the aesthetics of the Buffy universe is light and white and Willow’s shining performance presents us with the climax of moral and ethical excellence.
            This moral and ethical excellence is not derived from the fact that she is a witch capable of performing the spell, nor a lesbian whose love is clearly profound and intense. Her moral excellence derives from a personality that while incorporating witchcraft and lesbianism, among other salient facts, is also strongly informed by her Jewishness. Indeed, before we understand Willow as witch or lesbian we know her as a Jew. From the shy girl who is picked on in school, to the saviour of the world, Willow is always Jewish and it is as a Jew, as a very, very cool Jew indeed that she helps save the world one last time.


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_____. ‘Performance and the Postmodern’. In ibid., pp. 123 – 43.
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Freud, Sigmund. Moses and Monotheism. Trans. Katharine Jones. New York: Vintage Books, 1939.
Golden, Christopher and Holder, Nancy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Watcher’s Guide, Vol. 1. New York: Pocket, 1998.
Grossberg, Lawrence. ‘Identity and Cultural Studies: Is That All There Is?’. In American Cultural Studies, eds. Hartley and Pearson, pp. 114 – 24.
Harris, Charlaine. ‘A Reflection on Ugliness’. In Seven Seasons of Buffy, ed. Yeffeth, pp.116 – 20.
Harts, Kate. ‘Deconstructing Buffy: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Contribution to the Discourse on Gender Construction’. Popular Culture Review, 12:1 (2001): 79-98.
Jobling, David; Pippin, Tina and Schleifer, Ronald (eds.). The Postmodern Bible Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
King, Neal. ‘Brownskirts: Fascism, Christianity, and the Eternal Demon’. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, ed. South, pp.197 – 211.
Lavery, David. ‘A Religion in Narrative: Joss Whedon and Television Creativity’. Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, Number 7 (December 2002), <>.
_____. ‘Fatal Environment: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and American Culture’. Unpublished conference paper, presented at Staking a Claim: Exploring the Global Reach of Buffy Adelaide (July 2003).
Levinas, Emmanuel. ‘On the Jewish reading of the Scriptures’. In The Postmodern Bible Reader, eds. Jobling, Pippin and Schleifer, pp. 319 – 33.
Lyotard, Jean-François. ‘Heidegger and ‘the jews’’. In Political Writings, trans. Bill Readings and Kevin Paul Geiman, ed. Bill Readings, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp.141 – 48.
_____. ‘A postmodern fable’. In Postmodern Fables, pp.83 – 102.
Money, Alice, Mary. ‘The Undemonizing of Supporting Characters in Buffy’. In Fighting the Forces, eds. Wilcox and Lavery, p.98 – 107.
Ono, Kent. ‘To be a Vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Race and (Other) Socially Marginalized Positions on Horror TV’. In Gender in the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, ed. Helford, pp.163 – 86.
Pateman, Matthew. ‘You Say Tomato: Englishness in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. Cercles 8 (2003): 103 – 13, <>.
_______. The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Jefferson: McFarland Publishers, 2005).
Playdon, Zoe-Jane. ‘The Outsiders’ Society: Religious Imagery in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies, Number 5 (May 2002), <>.
Shuttleworth, Ian. ‘They Always Mistake Me for the Character I Play!: Transformation, identity and role-playing in the Buffyverse’. In Reading the Vampire Slayer, ed. Kaveney, pp.211 – 36.
Fighting the Forces, eds. Wilcox and Lavery, pp.195 – 206.
South, James. B (ed.). Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 2003.
_____. ‘My God, It’s Like a Greek Tragedy: Willow Rosenberg and Human Irrationality’. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, ed. South, pp.131 – 46.
Tonkin, Boyd. ‘Entropy as Demon: Buffy in Southern California’. In Reading the Vampire Slayer, ed. Kaveney, pp.37 – 52.
Wall, Brian and Zryd, Michael. ‘Vampire Dialectics: Knowledge, institutions and labour’. In Reading the Vampire Slayer, ed. Kaveney, pp.53 – 77.
Wilcox, Rhonda, V. ‘Who Died and Made Her the Boss?: Patterns of Mortality in Buffy’. In Fighting the Forces, eds. Wilcox and Lavery, pp.3 – 17.
Wilcox, Rhonda, V. and Lavery, David. Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham, New York and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.
Yeffeth, Glenn (ed.). Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2003.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Script Book: Season One, Volume One. New York and London: Pocket Books, 2000.

Beer Bad Hate Piece
Beer isn’t bad; beer’s bloody brilliant. And more beer is even better. After a dozen pints, the world’s a better place (or you’re so smashed and unconscious that its not being a better place is not a worry).

Buffy is also brilliant – a morally nuanced, socially engaged, generally liberal show that offers an examination of being in the world in different ways and at different times of your life.

This episode was, at best, a blunt metaphor of absolutely no aesthetic worth, no narrative interest and peculiarly dull acting and direction; or it was a cow-towing act of nauseatingly obsequious obeisance to a corporate dictat from a bunch of hypocrite cynics and two-bob bullies.

The episode is dull, didactic and stupid. Worse, it parades its ignorant message of abstinence in a context that has always been open to multiple possibilities and to oppositionality. To love this episode is to pander to the worst aspects of a non-reflective, self-satisfied, moral myopia; it is to side with the philistines and life deniers.

No one episode has ever done more to try and defile the artistic integrity, aesthetic bravery and politico-moral sophistication of its parent show. It is an irredeemable excrescence.

I am not fond. 

[1] Jes Battis, ‘She’s Not All Grown Yet: Willow as Hybrid/Hero in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ in Slayage, Number 8 (March 2003).
[2] Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Willow C’
[3] Slayage Vol. 10 (November 2003), <http;//>.

[4] Alderman and Seidel-Arpaci, ‘Imaginary para-sties of the soul: Vampires and Representations of ‘Blackness’ and ‘Jewishness’ in the Buffy / Angelverse’ in Slayage, Number 10 (November 2003).
[5] In relation to notions of Englishness on the show, see : Matthew Pateman, "'You say tomato': Englishness in Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Cercle 8 (2003): 103-113. and Matthew Kilburn, ‘Slay up, and Slay the game! How Buffy gets Britain’ in The Tides of Time Issue 29, pp. 16 – 24.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Mary Alice Money appears to adhere to a much more liberal notion of ethnic inclusion when, in discussing the ways in which peripheral character become less and less demonic, she asserts, ‘in these rehabilitated humans and demons, the main characters and the audience confront the Other: the marginalized figures who are worthy of inclusion, the nonhumans who are people after all, the strangers who become us’. ‘The Undemonization of Supporting Characters in Buffy’ in eds. Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery, Fighting the Forces, p.98.
[9] Jean François Lyotard, ‘Heidegger and ‘the jews’’ in ed. Bill Readings, Political Writings, p.141.
[10] Jean François Lyotard, ‘Heidegger and ‘the jews’’, p. 144.
[11] (Sigmund Freud, ‘The Archaic Features and Infantilism of Dreams’, in eds. J. Strachey and A. Richards, trans. J Strachey, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis: Penguin Freud Library Vol. 1, p.237.
[12] David Carroll, ‘Foreword: The Memory of Devastation and the Responsibilities of Thought: ‘And let's not talk about that’’ in Jean-François Lyotard Heidegger and ‘the jews’, trans. Andreas Michael and Mark S. Roberts, pp. xi - xii.
[13] Golden, Christopher and Holder, Nancy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Watcher’s Guide, Vol. 1. (New York: Pocket, 1998) p.164.

[14] Our only real knowledge of Willow’s mother comes from the episode ‘Gingerbread’ in which a demon fakes the murder of two young children in order to create outrage and violence among the town’s adults. The strategy works, and Willow’s mother along with Buffy’s, putt heir daughters to the stake for witchcraft.
[15] See Norman Jewison’s 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof, based on the stories by Sholom Aleichem.
[16] Ewan Kirkland, Slayage 17
[17] ibid
[18] Greg Erickson’s excellent essay ‘Religion Freaky or a ‘Bunch of Men Who Died?’: The (A)theology of Buffy’ in Slayage Numbers 13 and 14 (October 2004), makes, among others, the following crucial point with regard to any supposed grounding of identity through the concept of a soul: ‘On Buffy, it is not the presence of a soul that separates humans from vampires (Angel, a vampire with a soul is still not human), but it is the lack of a soul that seems to make a vampire evil’. Martin Buinicki and Anthony Enns make an even more striking point when they try to demonstrate how the soul is itself a disciplinary category wherein, ‘Buffy’s exercise of disciplinary power actually rehearses the process by which souls are produced and sustained’. ‘Buffy the Vampire Disciplinarian: Institutional Excess and the New Economy of Power’, Slayage, Number 4 (December 2001).
[19] Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, ‘English without shadows’ in eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, p.855.
[20] Buffy The Script Book Season One, Volume one, p.7.
[21] I am very grateful to David Lavery for sending me his ‘Fatal Environment: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and American Culture’ which he presented at the Staking a Claim conference held in Adelaide, July 2003.
[22] Boyd Tonkin, ‘Entropy as Demon: Buffy in Southern California’ in ed. Roz Kaveney, Reading the Vampire Slayer, pp. 37-52.
[23] The character of Charles Gunn in Angel is interestingly critiqued from the position of ethnicity in Naomi Alderman and Annette Seidel-Arpaci ‘Imaginary Para-Sites of the Soul: Vampires and Representations of ‘Blackness’ and ‘Jewishness’ in the Buffy/Angelverse’ in Slayage, Number 10 (November 2003).
[24] ‘Out of Sigh, Out of Mind’ BtVS 1.11
[25] See chapter nine of my The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Jefferson: McFarland Publishers, 2005).
[26] We have also seen the physically disabling effects on Willow of attempting high level magic in her spell to make Glory disappear in ‘Blood Ties’ (5.13) which causes her to have headaches and a nose bleed, in addition to her eyes turning black.


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