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BTVS: Spike's Soul As A Metaphor

Been thinking about Spike's soul tonight, because of rusty_halo's pointer to a journal entry by hecatehatesthat. The journal entry in question concerns Spike and redemption, but it reminded me of my own thoughts, and so I decided to write them down, as much as I can.

BUFFY: This is all you get. I'm listening. Tell me what happened.
SPIKE: I tried to find it, of course.
BUFFY: (impatient, cold) Find what?
SPIKE: The spark. The missing ... the piece ... that fit ... that would make me fit.
When I heard Spike speak these words in "Beneath You," I wanted to cry. To my ears, he was speaking the emotional truth of so many people I know, including myself. His voice was that of every woman who has tried to lose weight in order to make herself "loveable." His voice was that of every child who has tried to get straight A's to prove to his parents that he isn't worthless. His voice was that of everyone who has ever felt that if they could just fix this one thing -- no matter what it is -- then everything would be okay. They would be loved. They would be accepted. They would fit.

And like the abused child who thinks he can win his parent's love by getting straight A's, like the media-brainwashed woman who believes that her loveability is inversely proportional to her weight, like the man who thinks his wife will stop nagging him if he gets that damned promotion at work ... Spike felt this way because someone told him so. Buffy told him so. Repeatedly.

In "Dead Things," while beating him, Buffy yelled, "You don't have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you! You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never be your girl!" But this wasn't the first time she'd told him this ... it was just the first time she'd worded it so succinctly. She'd been sending him the same message with her words and actions all along: You are not loveable without a soul. Not only that, but your love is meaningless without a soul.

Now, if that message had been, "You are not loveable without a high-paying job. Not only that, but your love is meaningless without a high-paying job," it would have been immediately recognizable as offensive. If it had been, "You are not loveable in a size 14. Not only that, but your love is meaningless as long as you wear a size 14," women would have been up in arms, protesting the show. If it had been, "You are not loveable with a D average in school. Not only that, but your love is meaningless as long as you have a D average," there would be no doubt that it was abusive. But because it was a metaphor -- a soul, something that we don't have to deal with in reality -- it was okay.

I'm sorry, but telling someone that they are unloveable unless they toe the line you've drawn for them is always going to offend me. Convincing someone that they are beneath you, for whatever reason, is always going to offend me. And Buffy's treatment of Spike offended me. Spike's pathetic explanation in the darkened church in "Beneath You," that he had accepted someone else's definition of what would make him loveable, and so he had gone out to try to satisfy those requirements, made me want to cry for every other damn person in the world who has done the same exact thing.

Buffy herself admitted, in "Conversations With Dead People," that it hadn't been about Spike at all. It was about her: "... even though they love me, it doesn't mean anything, because their opinions don't matter.... Sometimes I feel — this is awful — I feel like I'm better than them ... superior." And she did a bang-up job of convincing Spike. Sent him on a belly crawl around the world to try to be worthy of her. When -- really -- she didn't consider anyone worthy of her, whether they had a soul or not. The soul issue was just an excuse. Spike was just unlucky enough to buy it, because he loved her too much not to try to give her what she said she wanted. He never understood that she didn't particulary want him to have a soul ... that if he'd had a soul, she would have found a different excuse for why she couldn't love him, why he was beneath her, why he was unloveable. Because it wasn't about right, it wasn't about wrong ... it was about power. Her power over him. Her power to set the definitions of what was loveable and what wasn't. The soul was just a handy tool in that power relationship.

In the end, Spike believed Buffy. Believed that he was nothing more than a monster, that he was worthless without a soul, especially after the bathroom scene in "Seeing Red." Never mind the fact that rapes, attempted rapes, near rapes, and other physical assaults are committed every single day by people who already have souls. Never mind the assaults -- both physical and emotional -- which Buffy had committed against him. Buffy defined the soul as "the missing piece," and so Spike got the soul.

Okay, yeah, so souls might be reasonably expected to be a big issue for Buffy, given the fact that her first love was a seductively-brooding-dark-hero when he had a soul and a gypsy-computer-teacher-killing-maniac when he didn't. But is it fair for a parent to say, "Why can't you be more like your brother Joey?" Is it fair for a man to complain to his lover, "Well, my last girlfriend gave me head every day! And, since she was down on her knees already, thanked me afterward!"? Is it fair for Buffy to tell Spike, "My last vampire boyfriend was only loveable with a soul!" Is it fair? Is it kind? Is it ethically right?

Even Dawn recognized the arbitrariness of the whole soul issue, when she said (in "Him"), "But ... to get a soul? Like that would make him a better man? Xander had a soul when he stood Anya up at the altar." Spike's decision to seek a soul was simply a response to Buffy's beating him with the you-don't-have-a-soul stick when he was so desperate to earn her love.

Spike shouldn't have needed to get a soul in order to be loveable, in order to be "good" or "clean" or "real". And when he explained in "Beneath You" that he'd bought into Buffy's definition of what would make him acceptable, it not only made me want to cry ... it made me sick to my stomach. Because I think we all deserve a little more respect than that. Not only respect from other people, but respect from and for ourselves.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2003 12:06 am (UTC)
Re: BTVS: Spike's Soul As A Metaphor
I'm glad that I read your Buffy posts even though I don't watch buffy.

This is me after recovering from sobbing with my head on my desk. Yes, you've got it in one. If only...If only...If only...

Thank you very much for this piece. I'm going to go find Cindy now.
Mar. 4th, 2003 12:38 am (UTC)
soul blues
I just posted a longish response about Spike's soul and his quest to change, on this post by elz, in repsonse to her question tonight of the same topic-- Spike's soul as a metaphor, and how it could or should be interpreted.

So much neat conversation tonight!
Mar. 4th, 2003 01:31 am (UTC)
Re: soul blues
I actually pretty actively disagree with the basic point behind that post, because I think it completely disregards everything that happened in season 6 before the final episode. I don't think that Buffy's emotional and physical battering of Spike throughout that season can be so easily dismissed. Spike, if anything, became increasingly "demonic" in season 6 in response to their fucked-up relationship, after his gradual progress in the opposite direction in the previous couple of years.

So ... I disagree.
Mar. 4th, 2003 01:40 am (UTC)
Re: soul blues
I don't think that Buffy's emotional and physical battering of Spike throughout that season can be so easily dismissed.

For my own post, it wasn't that she was dismissed, it's just that I wasn't talking about Buffy. For the purpose of this speculation, I factored her into the general category of "things that affected Spike to make him become more human"-- whether it was good or ill behavior (mostly bad behavior, in season 6). Certainly, from Spike's perspective, he got the soul becuase she told him too. If you pull back a bit and speculate on what that is means in the big picture of what demons can or cannot do or be about redemption, then its philosohpizing on the nature of souls as they're presented in Buffyverse, and its not so much about Spike or Buffy, but rather how/where they stand as examples of the whole.

Trust me; I had big, long, ranty issues with Buffy after BY. It was the ziper scene that did it for me-- the purely conditioned reaction it seemed to be. If you remember what day BY aired, there's v. v. unhappy rants about it in my journal that day and the next.
Mar. 4th, 2003 01:49 am (UTC)
Re: soul blues
We disagree on the larger picture. I think because we're looking at the same picture but seeing different things. Like a Jackson Pollack painting, or something.

I think we can talk all day about what "soul" means in the Buffyverse, and it won't change how I feel about the issues I discussed in my journal entry. I don't care about the larger picture if it's achieved through a means which offends me. A mosaic peace sign made up of photos or text encouraging hatred would still offend me.
Mar. 4th, 2003 02:39 am (UTC)
Re: soul blues
True true.

I'm constantly re-evaluating how I analyze Buffy, as a verse or an episode. Some days, like today, I'm more removed in my criticizing, whereas other days I feel like they personally kicked me in the rear just to be nasty.

I often find that I agree with multiple people at the same time, all of whom disagree with each other.

See hear, I agree with you. I'd like to have seen him be accepted for what he was. And I've thought about this before. But I just can't stick to one opinion on the matter; every time I talk to another fan or see another episode, my opinion alters to a greater or lesser degree. Right now I'm tempted to say that Spike wasn't accepted for what he was without being forced to change, because we were supposed to see him as fundamentally not human, and thus he doesn't apply. But then, that argument can be countered with the fact that he was presented as having overtly human traits for at least two years on screen.

Round and round it goes.
Mar. 4th, 2003 09:35 am (UTC)
Re: soul blues
Spike, if anything, became increasingly "demonic" in season 6 in response to their fucked-up relationship, after his gradual progress in the opposite direction in the previous couple of years.

But that makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, the ideas aren't mutually exclusive. Identity isn't just something that wells up from inside of you, it's affected by the people you interact with and how they treat you. If you're talking about vampires as a metaphor for alienation (for the sake of simplicity) then Buffy actually *did* help to make Spike more demonic by treating him like garbage and cutting him off from her world. (Remember Buffy's description of how the Hellmouth works? "The way a thing feels - it starts to become that way." That's how the metaphors work on the show.) Spike eventually overcomes that despite her influence, and it makes his progress all the more remarkable. For me, the poignancy of BY is partly in the fact that the soul *is* a good thing and a sign of growth, but it doesn't make Buffy any more capable of dealing with her feelings or guarantee a happy ending.
Mar. 4th, 2003 07:37 am (UTC)
Buffy Soul Music
Please keep in mind that I have only seen a few episodes of Buffy, so I might be missing something important, but....

By your argumentation, don't you kind of rule out that there may be some things that are just _unacceptable_ in a lover?

Of course you should not judge a person's worth on their weight or their grades in school, but I can kind of relate to drawing the line at not having a soul. After all, killing people and drinking their blood would definitely be up there on my list of turn-offs. There are superficial reasons to judge someone, and there are deeper ones that just cannot be changed.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my own life was that love is NOT enough. Love is a start. To have a real loving relationship, you have to know your own boundaries of what is acceptable in a lover and what is not. To try to love someone who lies outside these boundaries will only lead to heartbreak in both parties.

Now my boundaries include having some of the same goals in life and being open to communication. Buffy's apparently includes having a soul and not killing people for the fun of it. I don't think that it is wrong for Buffy to know herself well enough to know what is unacceptable for her. Maybe by rejecting Spike's love outright, Buffy was actually being wiser than I was when faced with an impossible situation.

It doesn't mean that everyone who has not crossed my (or Buffy's!) boundaries of what we need in an acceptable mate is actually the right person for us. People _with_ souls can still do horrible things, and people who have a similar goal in life to me may still be unacceptable for a myriad of other reasons. But it does give us a place to start.

Buffy was perhaps wrong in not being clear that she can only define someone as being unlovable to herself, not as being unlovable period. Love, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and the most horrific person to you could be the apple of someone else's eye.

The problem as you have defined it, I think, lies more with Spike than with Buffy. Spike wants to change his entire nature in order to become acceptable to another person. This is a doomed endeavor. Spike would be better off accepting that no matter how much both of them want it, his life will never mesh properly with Buffy's, and search for a better way to make himself happy. I don't think it has ever worked, to radically change yourself to become suddenly attractive to someone who has rejected you.

Spike's endeavor to get a soul is not necessarily bad, if it was undertaken to make himself a happier and better person. As some kind of tribute to Buffy, it is only wasted. Just like losing weight or quitting smoking are fine goals if they are to make yourself happier and healthier, but if it is only to conform to other people's desires it is probably doomed. It won't make you happy, and it will probably not be successful.
Mar. 4th, 2003 09:18 am (UTC)
I missed Buffy and this may be corny but...
Something about this makes me think of The Wizard of Oz and the Tin Man... the whole thing about how he's looking for a heart the whole time, and it turns out he has one already. Maybe that's the same point with Spike.
Mar. 4th, 2003 09:47 am (UTC)
Re: I missed Buffy and this may be corny but...
That's how it seemed to me. Because until Buffy started beating him with the you-don't-have-a-soul stick, he was acting like he had one. It was only once she got started that he started acting demonic.
Mar. 4th, 2003 10:42 pm (UTC)
Just wanted to say that I loved your post. That scene was really emotional for me for the same reasons. Of course, also because of my emotional investment in this character, but for those reasons as well. Thanks for it.
Feb. 22nd, 2006 02:26 am (UTC)
I just have to tell you that this touched me very deeply. You are exploring a very painful truth in life, and you explored it well, honestly, with feeling. As someone who has struggled with eating disorders for years, it meant that much more to me to have someone understand why we do the kinds of things we do. It was especially helpful in understanding Spike, who, it goes without saying, we all love.

Thank you for sharing this. I'm so glad to have read it.
Feb. 22nd, 2006 02:42 am (UTC)
I'm glad it meant something to you. As you can probably tell from reading it, it's something that I feel pretty strongly about.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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