Xander in Africa: World on Fire
Xander in Africa: Alegria
Now that's out of the way.
I got me some questions, sparked mostly by the meta on going around on the FList regarding BtVS characterization. After pinging around my FList for an hour or so, I got to wondering, I mean really wondering, about why fanfic writers are attracted to the characters they are.
For example, at the risk of sounding like a stereotypical Xander fan, I'm going to bring Spike into it.
Let me clear, the only reason why I'm bringing Spike even into this is because there actually does seem to be a strange splinter line between fans of the two characters. I am not comparing Xander vs. Spike because that way lies the way to madness. I prefer look at characters on their own merits (or lack thereof). Xander and Spike are two very different characters in two very different circumstances, so IMHO, comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges: you can't.
You can like apples without liking oranges. You can like oranges without liking apples. And you can like both apples and oranges. And if you like neither, it also does not automatically follow that you don't like fruit.
Having said that:
I don't hate Spike as a character (although I truly hate the strange writing around the character that ME did in S6 and S7), but he doesn't capture my imagination. I, personally, don't find him interesting. I've read characters like him before and he doesn't code to me as particularly unique. I tended to view him as something Heathcliffe-lite on BtVS.
In short, I thought (again IMHO) that he was a great wasted opportunity of a character.
However, I can completely understand why there are a lot of people out there who do find Spike to be an interesting or compelling character. They find something in that particular character that they can identify with and it fuels their imagination. They can take those bits of canon and run with them in interesting ways. They have interesting takes on the character and are able to take him to interesting places.
Although, I do sometimes *boggle* at some of the characterization in fanon. However, there are plenty of Spike-writers out there who are boggling with me, usually about the same things I'm boggling about. Which only goes to show: people can agree on a lot of things even if they don't see eye-to-eye on some things.
Yet, I love Xander as a character. In many ways, he's no more unique than Spike in literature. The stereotypical everyman who ends up fighting supernatural forces has a rich literary tradition that has been mined and mined some more. The sidekick who (it would seem) will amount to nothing yet still manages to accomplish a lot, even if no one seems to see it, is also a common theme.
Yet, this is the character that catches my imagination in a general fiction way, as opposed to a slash or het shipper way.
[Side note: There are days when I honestly think you can fit the number of female het and gen Xander writers in a small hotel room at the Marriott. I suspect I have most of them on my FList. I know it's not true, by the way, but there are days that it just seems like that.]
Yet, it seems, there's a certain segment of fandom that's every bit as stubborn as the anti-Spike segment that hates Xander as a character. Their reasoning, when I read it, boggles me on many levels. Sometimes I wonder if we're even looking at the same character or even saw the same show. I'm often left sputtering, "What...what...what? Hunh?" when I read it.
I'm also 100% certain that my brief reasons why Spike doesn't thrill me has a couple of Spike fans on my Flist boggling their eyes out, so boggling is a two-way street.
Also, to be fair, there are some characterizations of Xander, both positive and negative, that has me boggling (as I wrote in my Stalking the Fanon Xander essay a year ago). And there are other het, slash, and gen Xander writers that often boggle at the very same things I do. Which, again, goes to show...
Which brings me around to the purpose of this post.
I'm curious, legitimately curious about why people are drawn to the characters they are, whether you're talking about canon, fanfic writing, or fanfic reading. What characters are your goldmine characters? What characters captivate you? What characters give you that little "eureka" moment?
But more importantly, why do they grab you?
So, here's the deal:
- Come here and talk about the character(s) you love. Say why you love them. It can be any reason at all. I only ask that please, please, please don't include "because he/she/it is hot, sexy, and makes me all wet and wibbly" in your list of reasons. It is as legitimate a reason as any, but I don't want to concentrate on the hotness factor. I want to hear other concrete reasons.
- Come here and talk about the characters you hate. Say why you hate them. It can be any reason at all. I only ask that please, please, please don't include "because I don't think he/she/it is as hot as XYZ." Again, legitmate reason, but I don't want to hear it. I want to hear other concrete reasons.
- Leave the actors' personal lives out of it. Sure, talk about the acting talent (or lack thereof) since the reasons why we like or dislike a character can come down to acting choices. But I don't want to hear any criticism of any actor's personal life (or lack thereof) because there's no place for it here.
- Try, as much as possible, to leave meta reasons out of it (i.e., contract issues, the "favored actors" card, backstage stuff, etc.). I'm primarily interested in characters and characterization in canon and fanon and fanfiction. I'm 100% certain I've heard most of the meta reasons before now and I really would like to avoid hearing/reading it (again) as much as possible.
- I'm allowing anonymous comments to go unscreened. This is for people who want to rant and rave on an unpopular opinion, but fear getting creamed by rabid fans of one character or another. All things being equal, I would prefer if you kept signed in for comments, but I'm not going to penalize someone who wants to remain anonymous on this subject.
- I'm not going to debate you. I want to learn people's opinions and why they think they way they do. So, if you smash my favorite characters over their collective heads, I may be at home asking what drugs you're taking, but I will otherwise sit on my hands. I want to hear what you think about characters and characterization. I'm here to be the grasshoper, not the master, if you get my drift.
- That said, if the respondants want to engage in a debate, I'm not stopping anyone. However, please keep it polite. This is a place where people can safely rant and rave about characters they love and characters they hate. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and not everyone has to like it. All I ask is that everyone please listen (or read, as the case may be) to what everyone else is saying. Give people the benefit of the doubt for being sane human beings, and not raving fengrrls or fenbois.
- I am especially interested in BtVS and AtS characters. However, if you want to talk about characters from any fandom at all, be my guest. The floor is open to any rant or statement you desire.
Right, now that's out of the way, I'm gonna post some questions (regarding the "why I love" angle) under the cut. To be fair, I'm also going to post my answers. I'm not going to debate them. I'm just stating my opinion (and only my opinion) the way I hope other people will come here and state theirs.
So, here goes...
Number one with a bullet, Xander. Followed by Gunn, Giles, Faith, Doyle, and Cordelia (all incarnations). I like, but sometimes get annoyed with, Willow, Oz, and Anya. I like Buffy as a general rule, but couldn't stand her in S7. I liked Angel on his own show, but was meh on him in BtVS. I'm overall meh on Wes and Fred (especially as a romantic pair). I dislike Spike S6 and S7, but adore him in S2, and like him in S4 and S5. I'd love to shoot Dawn and Andrew and most of the potentials into the sun. I can't figure out Lorne's purpose at all, so I don't feel anything for him.
Why this/these character(s)?
I'll be here all night if I go through my whole list, so I'll just concentrate on Xander, 'kay?
I've been thinking hard about this, and I wonder if it comes down to the literary traditions I love. It's no secret that I have deep fangrrl love for Nathanial Hawthorne and all his works. It's also no secret that I have a deep abiding love for 19th Century New England literature. Characters like Xander are a staple in such stories. He is, for lack of a better way to put it, a character that is Hawthornian at his heart.
19th Century New England writers (and a number of modern-day New England writers like Stephen King) wrote about the "invisible world" or "the supernatural" and the normal, everyday people caught in between. Sometimes, the supernatural in these stories were natural things (like, say, a whale) that were accorded supernatural status by people (like, say, Captain Ahab believing that a whale was an agent of the devil or god, depending on Ahab's mood). The people who interact with the supernatural are normal, everyday people. Sometimes they survive. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they are victorious. Sometimes they are not. But they are always changed by the experience.
I often boggle when people don't find the everyday characters "interesting" because they're "normal." My argument back always is: "Dude, you've got a teenager volunteering to help stake vampires and risking his life on a regular basis. How normal do you think this guy actually is?"
What I'm trying to say is that Xander has a very strong cultural resonance for me. Characters like Xander are both celebrated and reviled, often by the authors of the stories and often in the same stories. They are characters to both admire and pity for their lot. In the literary tradition I love, a normal man can take a walk in the woods with the devil himself, or call upon the spirit of his ancestor to help him in his time of need. He can get more than he bargained out of the deal. He can land in over his head. The path to failure is not always obvious and the price of victory is not always apparant. In the end, failure or success is not the issue, but the fight itself is the issue.
Aside from the Hawthornian aspects, I almost wonder if there's a bit of class identification. Aside from Faith, Xander is the only one who codes as straight-up blue collar. (Anya codes as the child of immigrants.) Having grown up blue collar, I strongly identify with blue collar characters and my teeth grind when I see them put down in canon (and fanon) simply because they're seemingly not as well-educated or as cultural as the people around them.
The fact is, there's a big difference between a lack of education and being stupid. In many ways, Xander is a self-made person. He didn't have good adult role models in the home, so he had to learn how to become a man from other examples (like, say, Giles) who may or may not have been aware (or wanted) that kind of responsibility. The fact is, Xander was smart enough to know that Tony Harris was not a guy he wanted to be (even if he, at times, strayed into that behavior). He's also smart enough to read Latin (and we've seen on screen that he can read Latin) and probably can read other languages besides since he has helped with research for years. He landed in his construction/carpentry job by accident and because he actually had an instinctual talent in that direction because lord knows he didn't learn it nor was he encouraged to learn it that we know about. (We won't get into the completely unrealistic view ME had of the building trades. That's a biiiiiig rant.)
Finally, in the end, Xander did have success post-BtVS by even BtVS standards. One of my biggest fears for the character when Andrew showed up on AtS was that Xander wouldn't be mentioned at all or (worse) that Andrew would say that Xander had given up and was no longer involved in the good fight. Instead, we were told that Xander is involved in rebuilding the Council, he is in Africa (something completely outside his realm of experience), and looking for Slayers. We can deduce that he's in a position of trust, if not a full-fledged Watcher, and still fighting despite everything he's lost.
So you think he/she is perfect, then.
Heh. Heh. No. Not a chance. I tend to like Xander more for his faults than for his strong points. His faults are very human and, at times, can be his greatest strength.
Taken stubbornness for example. For sheer bull-headed stubbornness, Xander is the king. He could eat every single person in the Buffy-verse for dinner and still have room left over on this score. This comes out in some very bad ways, like his insistance that he is right goddamnit when the proof that he's wrong is staring him in the face. On the other hand, if he wasn't a stubborn SOB, he would've walked right after he staked Jesse and Buffy would've been dead after meeting the Master.
Or how about his facility with words? That ability gives him the ability to make jokes, to lessen the tension, and to give people pep talks. He's good at it. Xander knows what to say and how to say it when given the chance. However, he can also use it for evil. When pissed, that same facility with words gives him the ability to strip the skin off his target with some nasty effects for both himself and the person he's aiming at.
Xander has an inner asshole, but he also has an inner good guy, and very often the two sides are battling it out for dominance. Sometimes one side wins, sometimes the other, but the point is, Xander tries and he keeps trying even though the odds are very much stacked against him on every level.
See? Positives and negatives are in how you look at it.
Okay. I've babbled long enough. I'm not expecting an essay. I'm just throwing my own hat in the ring.
But now I want to hear what you think about your favorite and hated characters. Rant away! I want to hear/read it!