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4 December 2018

11 questions about the political economy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Do Slayers receive maternity leave, and other vital questions.

By Jonn Elledge

There was champagne in the office at lunchtime, because of baby Jesus, and if I’m honest it’s entirely wrecked my concentration a bit. So here some questions I’ve been pondering on politics and economics in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

1. Are Watchers paid? I assume so, because there seem to be quite a lot of them and they can afford suits and trans-Atlantic flights and stuff. But if so, how can you square that with the fact that the Slayer, who does all the hardest work, clearly isn’t paid? Isn’t that exploitation – and worse, child exploitation?

2. Why isn’t the Slayer paid? The Watchers’ Council requires her labour, and in normal times she has a complete monopoly on the provision of slaying services. So why has she not been able to extract an income? Do the laws of supply and demand not apply in the Buffyverse?

3. What would happen if a Slayer were to withdraw her labour? Obviously Buffy isn’t going to form a union with herself – I mean, what would be the point – but she doesn’t have to. She can just stop slaying until she is offered better pay and conditions. Clearly this hasn’t happened. Why?

4. Since the Watchers’ Council is based in the UK, is it covered by Ofsted? If so, why has the regulator never intervened to prevent the ritual where the Watchers deliberately poison Slayers on their 18th birthday? Doesn’t this suggest that the Council isn’t a fit and proper body to care for young people?

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5. Actually, are the Watchers’ Council and its affiliated educational institutions regulated like a private school? Because those can get away with anything, pretty much. So scratch that one.

6. Why is the Watchers’ Council based in England, come to that? The only Slayer and only hellmouth we know about are in southern California. Wouldn’t it make sense to relocate the Council, rather than continuing to spend a fortune on flights? It can be difficult to move a government body, admittedly – you’d lose a lot of institutional memory as staff who don’t want to pull their kids out of school or leave ageing parents and so forth quit – but I imagine it’d be easier to effect a move to California than, say, Swansea. Why hasn’t this happened?

7. Why are there so many more Watchers than Slayers? It’s like a hospital with 200 managers for every doctor. What are all the Watchers who don’t have to hang out in school libraries with teenagers doing the whole time? Do they have other responsibilities, unexplored in the programme? Is this like the thing where the Secret Service is actually an arm of the US Treasury Department? Perhaps the vast majority of its work is about collecting rare books, but it also has this sideline in stopping the apocalypse because of something that happened in 1791, and nobody can remember why.

8. Given the slaying industry’s all-female workforce, does it have provision for maternity leave? We know of at least one Slayer who has a child. So was she incredibly young when she had him, so had not yet been chosen? Or was she slaying all the way through her pregnancy and immediate post-natal period? If so, doesn’t this present a danger to both mother and child? But if not, doesn’t this present a danger to the entire universe?

9. Do Slayers receive a pension scheme? I’m assuming not – no salary, no maternity leave, and so forth. But doesn’t that imply that the Watchers Council’s entire economic model is predicated on the idea that the Slayer will die before she has dependents? Why hasn’t a Slayer ever withdrawn her labour?

10. Given the exploititive nature of the slaying sector, can Buffy really be considered a feminist text?

11. Is the thing where there’s only one Slayer really the most sensible way to make a stand against the vampires and the demons and the forces of darkness?

All these things still make more sense than Angelus’s Irish accent, mind.

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