Friday, May 18, 2018

Converting from the Conventional: Buffyverse (post 2)

(post 2 of tbd)

What does one convert to and from in the ‘Buffyverse’ (BV)? Conversion happens when someone is connected to a community, when they participate in communal rituals for consonant goals, when “the interpretation of life is transformed into a religious frame of reference”, and someone’s role is guided by this interpretation of life, ritual structure and communal commitment. One thread of conversion has been the transformation from evil to good – usually due to some sort of intervention. A character such as Spike entered the epic as a several hundred-year-old vampire, passionately hell-bent, to later become a compatriot in the battle against evil. 

The most dominant thread of conversion in the series’ is from the conventional worldview to the mystical worldview. The mystical worldview resides in the same world as the conventional worldview. The mystical worldview is the acknowledgment of the multidimensional, demonically dominant cosmos in which humanity and others are the incarnation of redeeming grace. Crossing over into the mystical worldview employs soteriological significance when we appreciate that the pursuit of higher purpose is portrayed as a right relationship with the cosmos and the divine. People of the conventional worldview experience the effects of the mystical, however they tend to rationalize and suppress it. It would be fair to state that from the perspective of the mystical worldview people with a conventional worldview are the norm. Conventional people in the BV are not damned for their isolation, even if they are blissfully ignorant of the real danger and salvation that persists in their periphery. 

With the exception of the demon characters, most regular characters in the series’ convert from the conventional to the mystical worldview at some point in their life (or death). It would be difficult to be paranormally evil or fight such evil if you don’t acknowledge its reality. This progression happens for Giles when he is told as a child that he is destined to be a Watcher, and for Buffy as a teen who is informed by a mysterious Watchers Council member that she is the Slayer. A person who is fed on by and then sired by a vampire is forcibly converted. Association converts a few people – for example Buffy’s immediate friends and family cannot stay out of the loop. On one occasion Buffy crashes her own surprise party by smashing through a window and then dusting a vampire. Oz, the newcomer to the immediate circle (on a date with Willow), stands in awe. Xander says to him “I know this is hard to understand but, vampires are real, a lot of them live in Sunnydale.” To which Oz responds – ‘Actually, it explains a lot!” 

The conversion from a conventional worldview is analogous to religious conversion in several ways – communal mediation, sanctified focus, and ritualism. Communities, groups and institutions always mediate conversion. In the Buffyverse an encounter with supernatural evil does not automatically convert; in general even multiple encounters do not convert. It is the involvement with the Scooby Gang of BTVS or the staff of Angel Investigation that mediates the conversion to the mystical worldview and the responsibility of the converts to affect this worldview. 

A second similarity is the shared religiousness or sanctity focus. Religion has to do with life experiences and the way in which these experiences are conceived by self and community and the according response. Religious is a suitable description of the BV because it is particularly concerned with the dynamic established between the human being and the phenomenonenal and experiences that surpass the bound of currently dominant rational, mechanical and empirical assessments. This includes emotion, imagination, tradition and particularly in the BV, morality and justice. 

Overall the BV assumes the paranormal reality of the created cosmos as the concern of the mystical worldview. In the logic of the BV it is this mystical dimension that actually comprises the power of defeat and redemption in the conventional world. This is the paradoxical nature of the relationship between these worldviews. It is the phenomenal characteristics and power of the mystical worldview that makes the shift from one to the other a religious conversion. 

This has extraordinary implications for the contemporary ecumenical church; in that it’s organizing principle is by enlarge the same as the mystical worldview. Religions today dwell in the mystical in the context of a global arrangement that is constructed in the rational and commercial worldview. People may experience the phenomenal and demonic in the BV and continue with their conventional lives – so to in our experience. The difference often includes the transformative power of liturgy. A conversion process in the BV takes root if the initiate begins to participate in the Scooby or AI rituals. This ritual is a regular patterning of gathering due to crisis, investigation and reading of ancient texts, dialogue to prepare a response, the gathering of ‘ordained’ instruments and going out to act in light of the research and reflection. If a person remains in relationship with the missions against evil, the process of initiation is extended as well as complicated. It usually involves several phases and cycles of multiple conversions within the mystical worldview. Conversion from an average nominally/non-religious life to a religious life is profoundly demonstrated by conversion to the mystical worldview in the Buffyverse.

It is important to recognize a related facet of the tandem dichotomy for the church with the mystical and the conventional worldviews in regards to the socio-economic associations with these worldviews. The conventional worldview of the BV is primarily consumer driven and individualistic, much like the pervasive ideology of the contemporary 'West'. The mystical worldview is predominantly communitarian and focused on the pursuit of collective redemption and the ultimate good – arguably the consistent emphasis of the Christian and other religious testimony. 

It is often the case in the BV that a character converts from individualism and consumerist pursuits, and the enemy is often a capitalist-style demon or perversion. It takes no great leaps to pick up the radical flavor as one writer observed, “In BTVS and Angel there is a persistent association of capitalist values – among them the accumulation of wealth, the rationalization of production, the commodification of labor – with literal inhumanity.” (I will add the attribution when I find it). He goes on to point out that in the BV unselfishness, compassion, forgiveness, community, love, and self-sacrifice are critical to human freedom and well being. 

It has been suggested that this emphasis represents the feminist spirituality of the Buffyverse, given the immanence of the sacred, personal responsibility in a subjective and relational framework. This liberation ethic does not mean that individualist hierarchies and capitalist ventures are always in the way of redemption. The BV is resolutely postmodern in its approach to good and evil. Neither fit in a typology, the boundaries are not only fuzzy but good can be used for evil and vise versa. There are evil people and good demons, good magic’s gone wrong and so on. Someone of the conventional worldview is not evil per say because of their consumerism, but they are ignorant of the both the evil taint of the capitalist structures and the regular sacrifice committed on their behalf to maintain their lives and conventional worldview. There is a vast difference between being saved by the actions of the Scooby Gang or AI and acknowledging what really happened. However for those who are lifted from this ignorance, an amazing percentage of BV denizens join the fight. Which brings us to the conversion of Cordelia Chase.

(post 3)

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