One of my all-time favorite TV shows; Joss Whedon’s brilliantly bizarre action horror comedy mashup Buffy the Vampire Slayer just turned 20, which makes me feel old. That got me thinking about the show, and how strangely prophetic it was.
In a scary example of life imitating art, there are at least three Buffy storylines that came partially true. Our streets are not plagued by vampires; and I haven’t heard of any politicians turning into giant worms, but at least three Buffy stories provided disturbing glimpses of future events.
The Buffy storylines that provided a partial glimpse of future realities include:
During the show’s fourth season Buffy encountered a covert military organization that operated a secret detention facility for Demons and other supernatural beings – shades of Guantanamo Bay.
The Initiative employed a force of commandos that abducted beings suspected of being threats to national security, held them without trial and tortured them. Therefore Buffy predicted the War on Terror policies of abductions by commandos and secret prisons. It also predicted torture and the abuse of prisoners in the name of national security. What’s extraordinary is all this was shown two years before September 11 and the War on Terror in 1999.
That was not the only plot twist that proved prophetic, just like George W. Bush’s War on Terror the Initiative became as great a threat as the enemies it was supposed to fight. The organization created a Frankenstein type monster named Adam; a demon/human cyborg super soldier that became a bigger menace than any creature of the night.
Viewed from 2017 the Initiative is a parable for the war on terror and the American tendency to use the military to solve all problems. Just as the Second Iraq removed one monster; Saddam Hussein, but created a far greater menace in the form of ISIS the initiative’s end result was to create bigger and badder monsters.
During the Sixth Season, Buffy’s writers gave the demons and bloodsuckers a rest and created a frightening gang of villains called the Trio. Although they were at first dismissed as comic relief, the Trio frighteningly forecast male isolation and the violence and misogyny it can breed.
The Trio is a group of bored, nerdy young men who decide to become supervillains. That seemingly comic plotline quickly took a dark and disturbing turn that eerily resembles some of the tragic events of recent years.
The most shocking aspect of the Trio’s behavior is their abuse of women, the group’s leader Warren turns his ex-girlfriend into a mindless sex slave and murders her when she breaks free. They also build a “sex robot” and use an invisibility ray to sneak into a woman’s spa to peep at naked female bodies. What’s most disturbing is they start out as harmless porn addicts whose addiction to objectification of the female body spirals out of control.
Along the way the creepy nerds turn voyeur and start spying on Buffy and her allies with hidden video cameras. A prediction of real world abuse of digital technologies such as the creeps who hack into baby monitors
The Trio soon turns violent and begins murdering anybody that gets in their way including an innocent security guard. Eventually their plans fall apart, so Warren goes to Buffy’s home with a gun to murder her and ends up killing Willow’s girlfriend in the crossfire.
If all that wasn’t bad enough like Silicon Valley technocrats who pop brain enhancing drugs; or nootropics, the Trio get themselves hopped up on magical power enhancing orbs and attack Buffy. All this sounds like a forecast of the creepier elements of modern nerd culture such as nootropics, misogyny, objectification of women, an obsession with violence, voyeurism and porn addictions.
Just a few years back, Buffy fans usually dismissed the Trio as a bad joke. Today commentators like The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg and Thought Catalog’s M.J. Peck sing their praises. More than a few writers such as Jayson Flores of the Mary Sue blog have noted the disturbing similarities between the Trio’s misogyny and that of Donald J. Trump and some of his followers.
Like the Initiative, the Trio is an eerily accurate forecast of some of the darker trends in American society. Disturbingly both plotlines proved prophetic, as did another classic Buffy story.
Moloch the Corrupter
A gem of a first season episode called I Robot, You Jane provided a disturbingly accurate of forecast of cyber warfare and internet corruption.
Like the Trio, the story begins with a ridiculous premise that quickly takes a dark, disturbing and prophetic turn. A 15th century demon called Moloch the Corrupter gets uploaded to the internet by being scanned from an old book. Once in cyberspace Moloch proceeds to wreak all manner of havoc much like today’s cyber predators.
Like the Trio Moloch is frighteningly misogynic he cat fishes Willow by pretending to be a boy in an online chat room. Yet his evil soon escalates to deleting the FBI’s serial killer database and stealing money from the Catholic Church’s accounts. Moloch also recruits a cadre of nerds to serve him and convinces them to murder Buffy. Instead they end up murdering each other at his commands.
When Buffy finally encounters him, Moloch gleefully boasts about knowing “the secrets of your kings.” In other words, Moloch is a hacker who steals information online to wreak havoc with two decades before WikiLeaks. Moloch loses all his power when his form is expelled from the internet by a magic spell.
Even though it’s a one episode story I Robot, You Jane accurately forecast how the internet can be used to revive, spread and magnify old evils such as racism. It also predicts some of the damage that cyberwarfare causes. A particularly insightful element of the Moloch story is the focus on internet voyeurism and its dangers in 1997, years before Tinder, Gawker and Dr. Phil’s constant focus on catfishing
Although it was meant to be a horror series, Buffy turned out to be a brilliant glimpse of the darker elements and trends in modern culture. It also turned out to be great TV drama and tremendous storytelling that had a profound influence on later series.
If you’ve never watched Buffy stream it on Netflix you’re in for a treat. Those who watched it years ago; should re watch because it is far more profound and frightening when viewed from a modern vantage point.
Instead of mere entertainment, Buffy the Vampire Slayer becomes a disturbing premonition of some of the darker aspects of our modern reality. That’s saying a lot for a teen series that was often ignored when it first appeared.