Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making Friends with Monsters

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

Two summers ago something spectacular happened.  Something mind-blowing that changed my life and the way I viewed the world.  It made food taste better, drinks more refreshing, and hugs felt like two hugs given at the same time! Two summers ago I watched the entire series run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Now it would be entirely possible for me to write a book on the meaning of Buffy, and I know people who have done just that, but I want to look at this wonderful show and especially the amazing lead character in the light of creator Joss Whedon’s most recent work, The Avengers, and my favorite character from that movie, Bruce Banner aka the Incredible Hulk.

One of the running themes throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the weight of responsibility on the main characters shoulders.  In show, Buffy is tasked with defending the fictional town of California from all the demons and vampires which congregate there.  This is actually quite a large population since the town, Sunnydale, is located directly above the entrance to Hell.  The most interesting aspect of the series to me is the relationship between Buffy and her friends and family.  Due to the dangers posed by the unruly lot of supernatural creatures and her own belief that she is destined to die (as all in her occupation eventually do), Buffy continually attempts to withdrawal from those close to her.  However, in spite of the peril that if often places them in, her friends continue to support her and do their best to protect her.  Occasionally, they are injured, and in a few cases, they die, but the bonds of friendship and community are more than enough for them to confront not only the vampires and demons of Sunnydale, but also to overcome the barriers Buffy tries to throw in their paths.

Whedon has written a similar character in the form of Bruce Banner.  Due to his proclivity of turning into a large green rage monster, Banner has isolated himself from the world of those he loves and of those who desire to be close to him.  Even when he is brought into the group of Avengers, Banner feels as if he is an outcast of some kind and a danger to all those around him.  Much like Buffy, he feels that his situation in life has made him a ticking time bomb, death and destruction will follow in his wake.  In the movie, Banner is embraced by the witty, occasionally reckless playboy of Tony Stark/Ironman.  Stark appreciates Banner’s intelligence and as the movie progresses their relationship grows.  Stark also finds redeeming qualities in Banner’s inner-monster and their relationship allows Banner to alter his curse into his strength as a superhero.  Instead of being a danger to all of those close to him, he can become their champion and their salvation.

This idea of friendship and love is a powerful one.  The idea that people will love us in spite of the dangers and pain and suffering that our life brings along with it.  And not only will they love us through this suffering, but their love and support will chase us down when we try to flee from them.  There is an idea prevalent in our society that we, as individuals, choose to be part of a community, but perhaps it is the community that chooses us.  Perhaps it is the community that refuses to let us go, even though it would protect them from the pain we may inflect upon them.  Buffy’s friends love her and stay with her even though monsters threaten them at every turn, and Stark stands by Banner and helps him to harness the monster within.  One can only hope that our communities stand by us as we battle our own demons and work with us to overcome them and turn them into strengths, and that we in turn will refuse to let our friends fade away into their own turmoil.  Friends don’t let friends go through it alone.


P.S. Back to the Future! Tonight! 7 pm!  St. B’s!

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