Angel, Spike, Oz and "Beauty and the Beast"
I lost that Bordo book The Male Body and I just found it so I'm finishing it up. Lots of stuff to chew over. The chapter I'm in right now is about the balancing act expected of men to be both primal brutes and perfect gentlemen and how impossible this is. Of course, as with any impossible standard, there is are tons of fictional examples for people to fantasize about. Bordo comes up with the movie "Beauty and the Beast", and her descriptions of the Beast in the movie, who is bookish and primal at the same time, reminded me of the way that Angel is portrayed on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as well as his own show.
The cliched shot of Angel on both programs is him alone in his office or bedroom, reading a book and being startled, usually by Buffy or Cordelia. And he'll usually remember to bookmark his book before he runs off to save the world again. They might has well flashed neon letters on the screen explaining that Angel controls his primal vampireness through erudition. The other cliched shot was Angel practicing martial arts--same message but more skin. Angel resembles the Beast so much that I now suspect that is who the writers modeled the character after.
For some reason, these shots of Angel being erudite on his own time made me bananas, and I could never figure out why. In theory, I support the idea that his soulfulness was portrayed through education and love of reading, and there is textual support for the idea that he picked up martial arts when living in China and trying to learn to overcome his vampire nature. Reading this book, I figured out why--Angel's vampirism was openly equated with his maleness, and by positing that civilization was his mechanism to overcome his inherent aggression, it was implied that inherent maleness is aggressive and that civilization is the process of emasculation.
This was the dominant approach to masculinity on "Buffy". Every major male character was shown to be struggling between some kind of internal, masculinized aggression and an external, feminized civilization. In the character of Xander you did get stories about how male aggression is also a product of civilization, that maybe, just maybe, in a culture that prizes the aggressive male that non-aggressive men might play at being aggressive to fit in. But in the characters of Angel, Spike and Oz, male aggression is shown as an internal thing that needs civilization to control it. Period. The vampire/werewolf is the thing inside, and it is jealous, controlling, aggressive and sexual, and these are the traits that also mark masculinity.
It's a shame, since the writers were great at navigating internal passions and external expectations for women. Buffy's drive to be aggressive, as much as she'd like to chalk it up to her Slayer-ness, was shown repeatedly to be a part of her human nature and part of us all. It was also shown to be culturally influenced--when she saw the respect that her physical power commands in others, it only intensifies her love of it. And her aggression was never coded as being female or male, really, but just the natural result of combining power with human nature.
But when the male characters, especially the three monstrous ones, let their aggression take over, it was usually portrayed as giving into their masculine side. All three of them--Oz, Angel, and Spike, are shown as much sexier and more manly for being aggressive. Most heart-wrenchingly for me, Oz's wolf/man side can't even keep it in his pants, and the sweetest, most tender male character on the show disappoints Willow by cheating on her. I think that's one of the reasons that Spike's attempted rape of Buffy freaked fans out so badly. Monsterness and aggression were linked metaphorically to maleness so repeatedly on the show that when they took Spike's monstrosity out of the world of the supernatural and applied it to a realistic rape scene, it ended up reading as if the urge to rape is a natural, unavoidable result of being male. And that surely wasn't the writers' intentions--the dialogue from the scene makes it clear that they were trying to show the attempted rape as a result of his inherent evilness and their bad relationship, but that reading just couldn't emerge from seasons' worth of linking vampirism to male sexuality and male aggression.
I don't want to leave the impression that I don't like the show or anything. It's my favorite program, and I think that the male characters were written well as a general rule. They did cut a few corners when it came to portraying masculinity, and as a result, there were a few plot and character developments that went sour for it. For instance, for all the talk of how Buffy couldn't manage relationships, all the male characters on the show ended up alone, and usually because their masculinity issues destroyed their relationships.