HOW TO RUN YOUR OWN DEMON ECONOMIC SYSTEM
“Hell…is other people.”
Particularly when they sleep with your wife, leading to the subsequent breakdown of your marriage. Or at least that’s what jazz enthusiast and avant-garde writer Boris Vian might have pointedly said to that quotation’s originator: Jean Paul Sartre…
Ahem. The guy who slept with his wife.
I also happen to think its rather a stupid statement (although for the sake of brevity I don’t intend to analyse it too deeply). No Hell is…
Work. Bullshit jobs. The anonymity of the labour process. Repetition ad infinitum, ad nauseum, et cetera et cetera…
For years humans have tried to avoid it and been called scroungers or dossers or whatever insult came to mind. Most of us from viewing work, in some moment or another, with disgust or hatred. Beasts, slaves, the disenfranchised, colonised peoples…Even before the rise of the machine age we’ve been trying to subcontract it to someone else — this instinct predates capitalism.
In the Season 3 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Anne” (1998) capitalist demons get in on the act of getting someone else do your shit: forcing humans live in a subterranean pit, where their bodies are literally used up by the effort of diabolical industry.
The demons in “Anne,” are like dwarves or trolls from the fairy tales — troglodyte nightmares. They’re not exactly a handsome bunch. Yeuch.(although let’s admit, he may be a fiend but he’s got a good dentist):
In this particular hell dimension, time moves a lot more quickly than on the streets of sunny LA — it’s magic, like. This presents an opportunity for the demons.
To articulate the plot of the episode (SPOILERS!)- here’s a presentation of their fiendish business plan (or at least a cultural critique of how they run their business / infernal poorhouse):
- Have a front company run as a street mission on the LA surface. Give it some schmaltzy name like “Family Home.”
- Have one demon (who probably went to human finishing school) masquerade as a street pastor. Get him to lure in dispossessed youths with promises of connection and “hope.”
- Capitalist USA has a system where poor people sell their blood (some nice, extra symbolism for you for the machinations of capitalism?). Those bleeders need to have blood tests to ensure that their claret is good vintage. With a stooge at the blood bank, you can find out who’s fit for work and who’s not (quicker than using Atos). And thus: who is fit for demonic abduction.
- As soon as these youths come through the gateway to your hell dimension, rough them up and terrorise them a bit.
- Set these sorry, indentured labourers to work. Add a few regular whippings and thrashings from the overseers. Voila. You got yourself a subservient, dull eyed slave population.
The demons also have some clear rules for running this 90s-subterranean -homesick-delinquent-operation (and keeping that operation underground and away from nosy vampire slayers):
- Once they get too old to work, chuck the youths back out on the LA street. Remember that time runs a 100 times faster in the hell dimension? These sorry saps will be old and senile on their release back to the Earth above…so they won’t be believed. Plus — anyone who might have recognised them before, sure as hell won’t when they look 93.
- Once the luckless humans are in hell dimension they are “no one,” Anyone with the urge to use their own name has it beaten out of them. Workers need keeping in a permanent state of despair. This second rule helps to ensure the continued success of 1.
- Punish the the whole lot if one steps out of line (or at least threaten to) This might seem a bit like a return to school-time discipline. But the profits speak for themselves ok?
It’s pretty sinister. But pretty standard Buffy / Angel fare, in terms of the level of evil-cunning. But one question emerges from the sulfur and brimstone of this damnable scheme…
What are the demons in this particular Buffyverse narrative making in their infernal workshop? We never find out, and it doesn’t really matter. If it’s anything it’s: despair itself. The demons that frequently appear in the Buffyverse often feed off, or demand something in tribute. They often have a parasitic quality: living off of hatred in an episode like “Gingerbread,” or corrupting / twisting people’s minds in one like “I Robot, you Jane.” But these demons are not really this usual type. The Hell they create is much more subtle. The fiery forges they have designed are where the wretched humans consume and produce hopelessness. Or you could say in another way….
The very hopelessness the workers experience through this fiendish labour process is itself the product of that labour process.
The street pastor and public “face” of the business (soon revealed to have a ghoulish demonic one hidden by a latex mask) himself says at one point in the show :
Ken: What is Hell but the total absence of hope? The substance, the tactile proof of despair. You're right, Lily. This is where you've been heading all your life.
In some senses these demons of 1998 were ahead of their time. It’s a representation of 21st capitalism writ large and satanic.
The Hell that the young humans in “Anne” are stuck in is a haunting echo of modernity. It’s exploitative, monotonous latter-day capitalism represented in uncanny, devilish purity. This hell dimension exists outside of our world, but really it contains it. There is nothing outside of demonic capitalism. Nothing else that we can imagine, no reality that is not painful. That’s what makes it so hopeless and so hellish.
But this demonic realm (at least from the point of view of the plot) can’t last forever. Ken (head demon overseer and creepy street pastor) is cast in the mold of many pantomime villains. He is far too in love with the sound of his own voice. He takes a long walk of a short rampart:
And isn’t long before Buffy has beaten up the rest of the demonic exploiters and trashed their realm. And good riddance we might say. The episode gets our heroine “Buffy” her mojo back. And despite being a place of “hopelessness” the experience gives her some much needed pep and sense of purpose(mainly through engaging in the brutal violence she so enjoys). She crushes Ken’s head like a fetid watermelon on the way out. Huzzah.
So is this a happy ending?
There’s a sense that Buffy and other slaves like Lily have worked together; they rise up as comrades against the tyranny of the demons and overthrow them. And yet it still it wasn’t totally happy for me. As a victory it feels hollow for a couple of reasons:
1. It is not clear the vampire slayer is able to save that many of those trapped in the hell dimension, and only a few leave with her via the gate (which quickly seals up again). You can’t escape demonic capitalism.
2. Buffy’s friend Lily, on learning that Buffy is going to leave and probably go back to Sunnydale, is all too eager to step into her old job at the diner. She even wants to take the name of “Anne” (which Buffy has been using in LA) instead of “Lily.” The owner, as Buffy then confirms, is unlikely to care. It shows you in one fell stroke firstly how expendable a person like Lily is in that flexi-capitalist reality, and secondly, how anonymous you can become whilst lost in the big, bad world. “Anne” is as good a name as any. So is “No one.”
The radical, and shocking proposition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Anne” is this: that those used-up people unable to even say their name — those “no ones” aren’t really subject to infernal torture. Hell is really just a proxy — a tool for representing reality, if with ghoulish imperfections. What makes “no ones” is a life caught between the endless toil of poverty, and a life on the street.
In 2012’s Communist Horizon Jodi Dean refers to the “ communicative capitalism,” we live in today. Democratic impulses, workers rights etc. are displaced to make way for emotional expression. If we need obvious examples look at the world of social media — the “likes” bought on Instagram, or terms of debate set by Twitter with no hope of reconciliation, or the economic significance of emoji generators. Youtuber Cuck Philosophy did a nice little take down of the dreadful The Emoji Movie not so long ago, exploring this idea. “Anne” feels to me a bit like the nascent strands of where we are socio-economically in 2019. In terms of plot, “Anne” would never work in the old world, in Sunnydale, the town where Buffy is normally set. It’s a place for small-town stories. Los Angeles is the perfect backdrop to an episode exploring hopelessness under capitalism, exploited underclasses, and worlds within worlds…
I love this episode and have been wanting to write about it for quite some time. Like a lot of Buffy fans re-watching the show a bit more critically after twenty odd years, it’s great to see how tantalizingly progressive it could be: strong female characterisation, the screening of a lesbian kiss, the take-down of toxic masculinity in some episodes… (like when Buffy busts the nose of an entitled and creepy frat-boy using a steering wheel in episode “Reptile Boy.” God, that was a glorious moment. I haven’t quite to the point of admitting that Xander is about 3 Kleenex boxes away from being a bitter incel during season 1–3. But I’ll get there.) A wonderful podcast called Buffering the Vampire Slayer gets more into these issues than I have, which you can find here.
Unfortunately, due to feeling rather down and un-Buffyish she doesn’t get a chance to do anything quite so rad in this episode:
There’s a lot more to write about in the Buffyverse, with Angel also being an excellent show at times, exploring interesting ideas in a sci-fi / fantasy way. So I think I might come back to it later.
What “Anne” represents is more of what Angel starts to explore. And I hope to look at this in a future blog-post.
Links and related content:
America Is Selling Blood for Big Profits to the Rest of the World
Blood transfusion is a relatively novel medical procedure. The idea that the primordial red liquid might be a positive…
(I wanted to include the link for the transcript but it is broken)