Monday, January 10, 2011

Classics: BtVS 4:8 - Pangs

Overall Rating: 6.0

A constant stream of Willow being ridiculously annoying serving as this week's liberal parrot...interrupted by a few shining moments of common sense by people aren't being incredibly stupid...the shining moments don't ease the frustration on the whole.

Plot Synopsis:

The full summary can be found here, thanks to

The Skinny:

Alright...let's get a few points out right away.

1) The first Thanksgiving, although slightly apocryphal in specific details, was indeed a true story of cultural cooperation and camaraderie. No matter what we want to do to ourselves in recompense over our subsequent behavior when battling the Native American peoples for land, that will always be a shining moment of unity between disparate cultures sharing the same land. But even if you want to assume that the story is entirely false or that it deliberately ignores the following abuses to Native peoples...who cares? Thanksgiving is not about the Native Americans's about the's about US. We've made this holiday into something excuse to count our blessings, enjoy the company of our families and loved ones, and eat ridiculous amounts of food until we pass out on the couch. What's evil about that? Willow's self-righteous, arrogant, soul-crushing diatribe about Thanksgiving being a sham is the kind of thing I hear constantly from far leftists at Christmas and's an excuse for miserable pessimists to spread their misery to others oh so generously, and to hear it coming from Willow is offensive to me.

2) I think some of the things we did to native peoples were just plain terrible. Like slavery and the subjugation of women and a host of other injustices in our past, they are to be mourned and taught carefully so that we might avoid making the same mistakes again. But it is simply not bloody fair to describe our battles with the natives as the conquest of pure, decent, peaceful peoples by evil land-hungry bastardly white guys. Here are the historical facts:
  • By the time of the American Revolution, there were about as many European settlers in North America as there were natives. If they had been civilized enough to band together and fight for their land, they'd have easily defeated us...they had all the advantages. Do you know why they lost? They were constantly warring with each other! That's right, folks...the peaceful, saccharine depiction you see in Pocahontas (Disney) is the sham here. In fact, Pocahontas' tribe was at war with four other tribes when John Smith arrived (!).
  • I believe that a huge chunk of our behavior in dealing with Native Americans was ruthless, horrid, and in some cases, just plain evil. There's no getting around that fact. But I think it's important, for those of you want to hold America to the fire over it, to look into the histories of every major nation that ever existed. At some point, the current subculture of that nation got there and took root by unseating another native culture. The history of our world is sadly one of group unseats another when it develops the mechanism to do so...militarily, economically, or by shear numbers. In Australia, the Aboriginal peoples are treated like second class citizens even today. In high and mighty France, fortunes were made first by slaughtering native Germanic tribes, then by slaughtering Native Americans in the fur trade. In Africa, there are currently tens of thousands of distinct tribal groups, all of whom are at war with...all of the other ones nearby (more or less) over land and food and resources and ideologies. We acted no different than any of our contemporary national rivals. That doesn't make it right, but it doesn't make us eviler than thou.
  • We tend to treat the education of our Native American history as an exercise in explaining one group of peoples who were mistreated by another...the fact is, the cultural legacy of Native Americans is so complex and so diverse that you'd need ten years of rigorous history just to scratch the surface. When we arrived, there were hundreds, if not thousands of different cultures to compete with us for resources...some of them were indeed peaceful and simple...some were traders who cooperated with us and, yes, even successfully integrated into American society. Some were warrior tribes who mistrusted newcomers and killed white men on sight. Some were even rather like the Aztecs and committed human sacrifices, ritual rape and torture of women, polygamy, bestiality, ethnic cleansing, and all manner of barbarism when it comes to their animal friends (we like to imagine that all Natives lived in harmony with the Buffalo and then we came along and killed them all off...yeah...we killed of the Buffalo, but that's just because there were too many of us...they were killing Buffalo as often as they could for centuries).
There are two sides to this story. This episode does try to show that...Giles and, God help us all, Spike, try to speak reasonably and with level heads while Willow is wondering if it's OK to stop the revenge-crazed knife-wielding killer from slaughtering everyone in sight, even if that means killing the killer. I would be tickled pink if I felt that this episode was as fair as it perhaps tried to be. But the voice of reason is a guy just trying to protect his own skin...a soulless vampire spouting off about how we shouldn't feel guilty for killing the natives. Of course we should feel guilty, but we cannot let it paralyze us from acting in the here and now. Portraying people who want us to stop acting like what we did the the Native Americans was worse than the Holocaust need as soulless self-centered vampires isn't helping me consider this episode fair and balanced. Nor is giving the usually culturally sophisticated Giles the duty of sounding like an ignorant git (the term is Native American, silly old man...oh right, I keep forgetting not to call all of you bloody colonials...WTF is that?).

I want to be fair to this episode...I want to see it as a balanced portrayal of a very complex problem from which there is likely no satisfactory escape. What we did to Native Americans was horrible. What are possibly going to do now to make up for it? What can we give them? How can we make it right? Got any ideas? I sure don' proposal is going to make up for the brutality of that series of conflicts. The best thing we can do is try to learn from our mistakes so that they don't happen again...not sit around feeling sorry for ourselves and ruining everyone's Thanksgiving with whiny self-deprecating snarks all day.

Writing: 7.5

The banter was actually pretty amusing and the attempt at a two-sided dialogue did come with some fairly intelligent back and forth. It's not a poorly written episode.

Acting: 7.0

The acting was pretty much par for Buffy (that is...solid work)...but some of SMG's stuff was unconvincing and I wasn't all that impressed with Hannigan here either...think she played it a bit too mopey this week.

Message: 3.5

I can't be too hard on the message here...they did try to make the point that there's no easy resolution to our problems with our native peoples...and that it wasn't one sided...I just don't think that attempt was worth the over the top guilt-tripping.

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