Monday, December 12, 2011

what I learnt from seven seasons of Buffy 2/2

What I leart about super powers:
We all have varying degrees of super powers. What I'm talking about now is a scene that replays through a lot of sci-fi, most commonly recognised as the paradigm/quote:
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
I'm being totally serious. It's true.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer deals with issues of birth and responsibility and life choices an awful lot. Whole episodes focus on that blessing/curse of being ‘chosen’ and whole seasons explored what it means if you are either ‘special’ or not. Every step of Buffy’s life was apparently pre-decided and she complained of never being able to control her own destiny. And yet she felt superior to the others because of her birthright.

According to Faith, she and Buffy were born as a “hot chicks with super powers”, and it’s true. The Slayer is a babe who can kick serious ass. Why? Because she was born to be the Slayer and the power is handed down to her. I’m going to be honest and say that for a long time this made me resent Buffy. I don’t like the fact that this girl is a skinny can of awesomeness for no other reason than she happened to be born into it. I acknowledge that she trains, but I’m pretty sure I would too if I was just automatically super strong and had a watcher and an easily identifiable evil to constantly fight. Buffy had it easy in a lot of ways – she was born with all the tools she needed. It reminded me of royalty.

I’m vehemently opposed to the remaining presence of royal families in the 21st century because there should be no position in society to which anyone can rise themselves up and achieve. No matter how much of an excellent person a young woman may grow to be, she can never be a real princess or queen, and that is fundamentally wrong. I felt the same way about Buffy. She was born into her abilities and potential and situation. You can’t work really hard until you turn into the slayer. You either have it or you don’t.

Anyways, it all got me thinking about what it means to be born into certain situations in the world and how people act in those situations, or improve their situation – in other words, who we are depending on what we are born into. The more horrible things I see in the vast world around me, the more I consider myself just so damn lucky to have been born into the life I was. And for so many different reasons.

If I ponder it for too long I come to feel guilty about everything I’ve been given and how little I’ve done with it. Many of the crucial elements in my life which I use to define myself as a ‘good human’ are in fact easily predictable consequences of the situation I was born into. I am at law school now not because of any brilliance on my part, but because I was born with the kind of average brain required and into a family that values education and sent me to good schools and supported me. The same goes for every single human characteristic – a combination of what we were born with (‘nature’) and what situation we are born into (‘nurture’). When I think of it in this way, I suppose there is no possible ‘good’ or ‘bad’ human. It almost seems like we each have individual fates to live out. We are, each of us, on pre-destined paths. How can any of us be doing anything different? The combination of our nature and nurture could have only ever led us to where we are right now – right?

But first – how do we judge what makes a human good? Around a year ago after a lot of brain-digging I came to realise that I had a very intricately organised hierarchy in my mind of all the people I knew. Each person had a place on what I think of as an awesomeness-scale, and my opinion of each person’s intelligence and morality and humor and attractiveness and priorities (and etc etc.) went through some kind of semi-conscious equation that translated into a place within this awesomeness-scale. I have a habit of directly comparing people to each other and others to myself and vice versa. Each person was both better and worse than another person I knew, and my own position on the scale was constantly shifting depending on my recent actions. It was a profound discovery for me, and finally allowed me to understand why I make the choices in company that I do, and why I’m so darn judgmental all the time.

In relation to the other characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers herself sits kind of low on the awesomeness-scale. Why? Because as the Slayer she was born with awesomeness in her veins, and I don’t see that she ever does anything particularly special that goes beyond what you would expect from someone born with those abilities. If we sit down and add it up, her lifetime achievements don’t greatly overpower the brilliant tools that she was simply born with from the beginning. This is where I find myself. I was born into such a wonderful life in so many ways – I cannot see anything that I have done or achieved or even tried for in my life that is particularly remarkable when you consider the easy start I enjoyed.
  • I genuinely believe myself to be a good friend – but how could I not be? I was raised in a loving household and always had time to be a good friend. Life was never so difficult that I had to focus on something else first. There is no excuse for me to not be a good friend.
  • I pride myself on my lack of religiousness – citing it as an example of my superior logic and rational mind, but I was born into a family that let me choose ‘whatever I wanted to be’. How can I expect the same from someone born into a religious family with parents that carried them to church each Sunday since birth?
  • I happen to think that I have very clear and decent priorities. Even if this is true, how could I not be well-adjusted? For the first entire 18 years of my life my parents made sure I never had to suffer through any real difficulties. I would expect any other person with such a cushy start at life to also be a relaxed but determined young individual.
  • Even the simplicities of being fit and healthy – I was born with a decent body and into a home with a well-stocked pantry and access to a nice jogging track.

If I was always going to be all of these things, then how can anyone ever be truly awesome?

Perhaps the only answer lies in those people with the determination and blood/sweat/tears to travel so much further than their position-at-birth would suggest. I suppose a very literal and extreme example of this would be someone born into poverty becoming a millionaire, or someone in a horrible accident who learns to walk again. In a more realistic way, I get super happy when I hear stories of people with sub-par or rough starts in life who go on to help others. Those people who take on the responsibilities of life despite not being born with any real super powers. (For the record, people who train seeing-eye dogs also just automatically go to the top of the awesomeness-scale.)

I hope I’m being clear, it’s a difficult topic to talk about and explore. Essentially, when I look around I know that I really need to remember that most of what I have now was given to me. I was born with super powers. I was born with a totally fit and able body – capable of doing any thing that humans can. I was born with into a financially comfortable family who were supportive – I could have chosen absolutely any vocation or field of expertise or life track that I wanted. I was born totally equipped with everything I need to change the world for the better.

In the world we live in, an education and a good start in life really are super powers.

Just being born into a developed and democratic and affluent country is a kind of super power! I went to a top-rate school with hundreds of other girls who all had the super-power of an incredible education! In the 21st century a stable and unfiltered internet connection is a new kind of super power with limitless potential. We all live with the idea that we are all humans, but the truth is that we are all born with varying degrees of power. Varying degrees of super powers.

And what comes with that certain degree of power? A certain degree of responsibility.

Surely this makes sense. Those that are born with the Slayer’s super powers have the responsibility to fight evil demons. I was born with the super powers of education and freedom and health and love, I have the responsibility to do something good with that. So do you. Sit yourself down and think about the power that you were born with – are you fulfilling the responsibility side of this equation?

You may not be able to shoot spider webs out of your wrists, but as a consumer you have power over the choices you make and those choices have consequences. You can’t literally fly, but you can get on a plane in the air that takes you to a new place where people are dying and need you to help them build wells. So what if you don’t have laser vision? Fred Hollows gave people the gift of sight! Every day, all day, for years! SHAZAM, PEOPLE! SHAZAM!

The world is so full of incredible experiences for those of us born with super powers, and if you’re reading this, then chances are you have at least some very mild super powers. You know what is a super power? Literacy. You can read? Awesome – that makes you a minority on this earth, and that means you have a responsibility.

So right about now I’m going to kamikaze off this high horse of mine and admit that I don’t think I’m using my super powers the best I can right now. But I’m honestly not really sure how to. When presented with a choice, I like to think that in general I choose the ‘right’ thing to do (eg. not eating meat) and those choices sometimes get me a higher place on the awesomeness-scale, but it’s not about waiting for other people to present you with the right box to tick. I need to think about my strengths and weaknesses and think seriously about where my life is headed and what is the best way to put these super powers to use.

That’s another point – you gotta be smart about how you use your super powers – and this particularly relates to young people these days and the choices we make about our first few post-highschool years. I’m shit at science, no kidding and I’m not gonna lie, I really don’t like kids. So – I can’t be a doctor and I’m not gonna be an awesome mum. It takes a while for some of us whipper snappers to find where our passions and abilities lie. I do think that’s understandable, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I’m not doing enough.

I turn 20 in two days time, and only now am I beginning to actually understand myself. Both individually and as a part of the big world around me. Part of this coming-of-age/getting-to-know-myself stuff resulted in me finally realising why I have felt such a shadowy sense of guilt all my life. It is absolutely nothing I have the right to complain about, and I for sure shan’t complain about it here, but it was never something I was able to explain. I looked around at my life and just felt terrible for everything I was given. Who was I to take the love of such wonderful parents and not be able to give anything back? Who am I to study at one of the world’s best universities and ignore that others my age were never taught to read. Who am I to flaunt my numerous freedoms in life, when it was only by some kind of inconceivable cosmic luck that I was born in Australia? It just gets too much! I was born with too many super powers! And now I just have too much responsibility! I can never do enough good do equal this goddamn equation!

I am totally aware of how crazy this may sound. I’m also aware that I am, in an inadvertent way, complaining about how awesome my life is – but sometimes you cannot escape it. I think the feeling is much stronger here in China, and I certainly felt crippled by that guilt/responsibility when I was in- and recently returned from- Africa. I don’t want to be the kind of person that doesn’t think about the sadness they see, but where should any of us draw the line between helping others and enjoying our own lives?

Superman enjoys flying, you can’t tell that when he’s on another crime-fighting and life-saving mission, it’s not a perk to be able to speed through the air like that and Iron man gets to live in million-dollar mansions and sleeps with hot chicks in between his time preventing WW3! But Buffy Summers was constantly struggling with the normal girl life/slayer girl life balance, and I suppose all of us 21st century kids should expect the same if we choose to take the responsibility that comes with our super powers.

I’ve done a lot in these last few years to enjoy my life, and I am so genuinely grateful for everything I have – the experiences and the family and friends and the opportunities. All of it is just so awesome it makes me smile to think of how lucky and blessed I am. I just hope to one day be able to feel like I deserved the awesomeness that I seem to have been born into.

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