Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Why Rhonda Wilcox Does Not Matter"


I am feeling very emotional right now. I have managed to read nine out of twelve chapters of "WHY BUFFY MATTERS: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer". After reading the latest chapter called, Fear: The Princess Screamed Once - Power, Silence and Fear in "Hush", I decided not to finish the book. Why? The last chapter really pissed me off. 

What I am about to say will probably not generate any sympathy toward my views. It has a lot to do with Rhonda Wilcox's opinion on the character, Riley Finn. And Riley, bless his heart, is probably one of the more hated characters in Buffyverse. But you know what? Regardless of how other fans may view Riley, what Wilcox had to say about him in her book pissed me off. It was the last straw.

The first straw - at least for me - had nothing to do with Riley. It had to do what Wilcox had to say about a character created for another fictional universe. Earlier in the book, Wilcox compared the characters of Buffy Summers and Harry Potter in a chapter titled, When Harry Met Buffy: Buffy Summers, Harry Potter and Heroism. Not only did Wilcox compared Buffy and Harry in this chapter, but their friends as well. This idiot woman had the nerve to compare the characters of Xander Harris (BUFFY) and Ron Weasley (HARRY POTTER) in the following manner:

"Their (Xander and Ron) lack of special gifts accentuates the loyalty and bravery that Ron and Xander each offers as a friend to a character frequently placed in abnormal danger.

Thus, in each world, there is a triumvirate of friends: Harry and Buffy each have a modest, normal male and an unusually intelligent female as friends."

Ron Weasely lacked special gifts? Ron? He was a wizard. He did not lack any supernatural powers like Xander. Nor was he a less gifted magic practitioner than Harry or Hermioine. Ron lacked Harry's special gift for Defense Against the Dark Arts and Quidditch. But he was still proficient in both skills. He lacked Hermioine's intelligence. But so did Harry. And Ron was better at Defense Against the Dark Arts magic than Hermioine. Most importantly, Ron was a very skillful chess player - something that neither Harry or Hermioine could boast. Apparently, Ms. Wilcox has forgotten this and decided to judge Ron's character based on his "Idiot at Hogswarts" portrayal in the movies. Not a very good researcher, is she?

But her comparison of Ron Weasley and Xander Harris was nothing in compare to what she had to say about Riley in the chapter about "Hush". In one passage, Wilcox described Riley in this manner:

"It connects Riley with the myth of Virgil's Aeneas, the hero of 'Aeneid', one of the three great Greco-Roman epics. (And I refer you to C.W. Marshall's article on Giles and Aeneas in 'Slayage' to suggest the further applicability of this particular source.) Aeneas is perhaps the most purely patriarchal of the classic heroes. This (to me) dull and duty-bound hero is an excellent parallel for Riley, the least liminal of Buffy's significant others.

This woman is a moron. Okay, perhaps I may have been a little too harsh. But Wilcox actually have the nerve to label Riley as "purely patriarchal". Riley Finn? Had Wilcox been so blinded by her dislike of him that she failed to notice that he was hardly patriarchal? For me, Riley's problem - at least in early and mid Season Four - seemed to be his willingness to blindly adhere to authority figures, whether they were patriarchal or in the case of Maggie Walsh, matriarchal. If one good thing that came out of Riley's relationship with Buffy was that he learned to stop following authority figures in such a mindless manner. Yes, he had rejoined the Army. But post-Season Five Riley was open-minded enough to allow Buffy to make a decision on what to do about Spike when they learned he was smuggling demon eggs in Season Six's "As You Were". It was the same Riley who helped Buffy get rid of the chip in Spike's brain in Season 7's "The Killer in Me", despite his dislike of the vampire. 

She also claimed that following the end of Riley's relationship with Buffy, he decided to invest his identity in being a fighter and not a lover:

"Those familiar with the Bufy story beyond the standalone "Hush" episode can see further parallels: after Aeneas and Queen Dido's love affair, he leaves to fight for his (future) country and she kills herself. Just so, Riley eventually decides to invest his identity in being a fighter, not a lover; he rejoins the Army and departs the Hellmouth, leaving Buffy to kill herself during the battle against Glory (and consider the military implications of that phrase: the battle 'against' Glory)."

Apparently, Wilcox forgot that not only did Riley rejoin the Army, he GOT MARRIED! She forgot or had decided to dismiss that one little tidbit.

Later, she accused Riley of fearfulness:

"But to return to the fearfulness of Riley. That phrasing ambiguously allows two implications: that Riley is fearful, and that Riley is to be feared. And I would argue that this episode suggests the same - and applies the fear to all that Riley stands for."

If Wilcox was referring to Riley's inability to communicate to Buffy his fears about their relationship in Season Five - I could understand this. But . . . as usual, she overlooked something else. Namely Buffy's inability to communicate her own fears to Riley. She also failed to mention that Buffy's fear of being emotional damaged in a relationship after her experiences with Angel led her to get involved with Riley in the hopes of having a "normal" relationship. I suspect that by Season Five, Riley began to fear this. And this is where Riley's fearfulness came in. He failed to communicate his fears to Buffy before it was too late.

Had Wilcox been so willing overlook Riley's more complex nature in order to paint Riley in such a one-dimensional manner? It seemed like it. In fact, she seemed so driven by her dislike of the character that she dumped the blame of their break-up solely upon his shoulders. And as I had stated earlier, she literally viewed Riley as some human version of the Gentlemen from "Hush"

"Riley is both Aeneas and the Gentlemen. Heroic self-denial and repression - with all the attendant miseries."


"Consider the closing scene. This episode presents patriarchy as horror in the form of the Gentlemen, and patriarchy with its best face on as the kindly, brave Riley. Riley can help Buffy defeat that worst side of patriarchy, but is he, its best incarnation, enough for Buffy?"

Riley Finn is a symbol of the patriarchy of the Gentlemen? Riley Finn was the series' best incarnation of patriarchy? Wilcox was speaking of a character who had allowed his view points and his life to revolve around women - whether it was Maggie Walsh in Season Four or Buffy in early Season Five. I only hoped that he had managed to break this habit with his marriage between Seasons Five and Six.

Right now, I am desperately trying to maintain my temper . . . and remember that I am discussing fictional characters. I realize that Ms. Wilcox, like many Buffyverse fans disliked Riley. I understand. I dislike Angel. I have for a long time. But I have always felt that Angel had the capacity to grow as a character. I have also experienced moments when I have either sympathized or even liked him. But I hope and pray that I would never devolve into the kind of characterizations of Angel or any other fictional character I may dislike in the same way that Wilcox has characterized Riley Finn. Her portrait of Riley in her book only makes me realize that I had wasted my time reading her book.

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