-Buffy Summers, Lessons*
Looking back on the past few weeks in politics, in Texas and North Carolina in particular, but in the US more generally, what has become eminently clear is that it's all about power. White men have it, and the spate of hateful, yes hateful, legislation and decisions coming down are clear indications of who they are afraid of losing their power to: women, people of color, Muslims.
Why else would legislators in North Carolina attach extreme (but increasingly common) anti-abortion regulations to a bill banning Sharia law in North Carolina? (Because, as a friend of mine noted, I'm sure that Sharia law is the biggest problem facing North Carolinians these days.) This as over 150 people have been arrested in the Moral Mondays campaign protesting among other things voting restrictions aimed at limiting (in effect if not in name) the rights of people of color (aka non-Republicans) to vote.
Why else would Texas Republicans stop at nothing, including lying about having passed legislation, to halt Senator Wendy Davis' historic filibuster against SB5, which included a similar spate of restrictions as the NC language and which, in its new second special legislative session iteration, will close all but 5 abortion clinics in a state 10% larger than the country of France? This on the same day that within 2 hours of the Supreme Court overturning sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Attorney General of Texas moved to implement a voter ID law and redistricting maps previously blocked because they were unconstitutional.
Why else would Texas Governor Rick Perry find a don't-text-and-drive law to be an unacceptable intrusion on personal liberty, but be just fine passing laws that limit women's personal liberty?
Why else would that same governor have no qualms about executing the 500th person in Texas the same week he publicly speaks to a "pro-life" conference and excoriates Senator Davis for not learning a lesson about the value of "life" from her own experience as the daughter of a teen mother and as a teen mother herself?
Why else would countless politicians categorically refuse to entertain gun control legislation ("out of my cold, dead hands!") even as they seek to control women's bodies? (The same could be said of any politician who calls for small government - i.e. no regulations on business and capital - while also calling for that same small government to regulate women's bodies.)
I could go on, but you get the point. They don't want anyone to stop them from doing the things they do (carrying guns, texting while driving, passing laws to serve their own interests, making a lot of money), and so all of the non-small government bills they propose and pass have to do with limiting the rights of those whose power they fear (women, people of color, Muslims, and really anyone not just like them). That they have just lost on the issue of gay marriage is interesting, but not surprising given that 1) marriage (and its related category, family) is a conservative institution that is ultimately hard for conservatives to argue against, and 2) there are enough white, gay men in positions of power to make "them" into "us."
Now I've just laid a lot out here about the intersections of various movements (anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action in all its forms, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay) in a very cursory way. It's not my intention here to provide an in-depth history and analysis of those movements, but those analyses do exist and I encourage you to seek them out (start with Political Research Associates and the writing of Chip Berlet). Instead, you probably noticed that I opened this discussion with a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And that's intentional. Because what I'm trying to do here is to understand this current political moment, and a big part of that is being able to identify where the fault lines are, and discerning how best to mobilize along those points. And that's also why I've knowingly engaged here in a lot of gross generalizing - referring to white, male, Republicans - and a simplistic us vs. them construction* of American politics, because doing so makes the fault lines perfectly and painfully clear.
Now, what does this all have to do with Buffy?
In the university classes I teach, I'm known for citing pop culture to both clarify and exemplify theoretical points. I mean, really, if you're talking about ideological state apparatuses and then the FLOTUS, surrounded by military personnel, presents the Oscar for Best Picture to Argo, a movie about how the movie industry helped the CIA free US embassy workers from Tehran, then, in the immortal words of GOB Bluth, (and at the risk of over-referencing): "Come on!" Pop culture helps us understand who we are as a people (again, gross generalization) and where we are politically and culturally. What are we obsessed with? What are we trying to think about in new ways? What can we not let go? (see for example "Is It Possible to Make a Hollywood Blockbuster Without Evoking 9/11?" )
But I cite Buffy here specifically because she is a young woman with power. And that is what is at stake right now: power. Who has it, and who is afraid to lose it. Buffy creator, Joss Whedon (a white man - see I'm not demonizing them all), famously created the character with the premise, "what if that young, blond woman running from the bad guy in the horror movie, you know the one who can only fall and scream and be overcome over and over again in every single movie, instead turned around and fought back?" So for seven seasons on TV (and two-and-counting in comic book format), Buffy learned to use her power, until in the final episode of the TV series she makes the radical decision to share her power. Now it is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is magic involved in the power-sharing. But still, it's not easy, and it involves a really difficult fight. And even once it's done, things are not immediately rosy. The comic books (seasons 8 and 9) explore the consequences of power sharing. In short: A shift in power results in fundamental changes to the world. A lot of people are pissed about the new order and fight against it. Others feel scared or lost. Still others take their new-found power and begin to wield it in old ways. And Buffy herself has to struggle with what it means to not be the "chosen one" and what her role is in the new world. (Briefly: even as she continues to fight the good fight, she becomes more like us: gets a job, has roommates, has what seems like an unplanned pregnancy* and decides with the help of friends to have an abortion.)
So, what does this have to do with Texas and North Carolina and Ohio and Wisconsin and Congress or, really, anything? Well, basically I think we're a few episodes before the end of this iteration of the series. We're at the point where people are aware that power might be shared, and therefore shifted, and frankly they are scared. And pissed. And they're fighting back, cruelly and unfairly. And they're using stories and we should, too.* And what I'm trying to do here is use the story of Buffy to help us understand that this ugly fight is happening BECAUSE WE HAVE POWER. And sometimes that's the hardest thing to imagine or understand. A friend of mine says of The Walking Dead that it's evidently easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of white male privilege and patriarchy. But we have to imagine it. Imagine it and act accordingly. And understand it's not going down without a fight. And understand that we shouldn't be defeated by these current battles (which after all are the culmination of decades of preparation). And also understand that winning a battle, like the filibuster of SB5, doesn't mean we've won everything. And that being defeated in the Texas legislature, as we are likely to be later this month, doesn't mean we've lost the fight.
So watch some Buffy and eat your spinach and do whatever else it is you need to do to assure yourself that you, that WE, are strong and capable in this fight.
"I just realized something, something that never really occurred to me before. We're gonna win."
*I'm just saying right up front that Buffy and Foucault disagree about the nature of power. It's a contradiction I'm willing to work with. And here's a link to a scholarly article that says they aren't that contradictory after all: http://slayageonline.com/essays/slayage24/Brannon.htm
*I also don't want to suggest that the Democrats are the "us" here, or to let them off the hook for the current state of affairs. Like I said, far more complicated than my portrayal suggests.
*This deserves a whole separate blog post.
*Check out Mike Carey's ongoing comic, The Unwritten, for a stunning series about the power of stories. George Lakoff eat your heart out!