In the eleventh episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s mother accompanies her on a patrol and discovers the bodies of two dead children. She decides to form an activist group to confront the evils of Sunnydale, and EVERYTHING IS RUINED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Fuck the P.M.R.C. and fuck Tipper Gore.
I started listening to punk rock and metal when I was eight years old. I was lucky enough to have an older sibling who played fantastic music and would pass along things I should listen to. That’s how I learned about bands like Bad Religion, Metallica, Black Flag, and Iron Maiden. That soon branched off to Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and The Smiths. Then it was Run DMC and Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest. Then I couldn’t keep track of the bands that I enjoyed because it was like a complicated web of audio pleasure. The reason I latched on to music as a form of catharsis was because it understood me. Living in a strict Christian household, knowing I was gay but could never show it, knowing I lived with a mother who was openly racist, knowing that I was despised and bullied in school, I found that the people who sang the songs I loved also knew that my life was hard. They knew what it was like to be depressed. They knew what it was like to have difficult parents. They knew what it was like to experience racism from people you cared about.
But in the early 90s, the Parents Music Resource Center was impossible to ignore; even though I’d missed the main thrust of their action because I was a toddler, the use of Parental Advisory stickers was already in full force by the time I started sneaking and smuggling records into my house. Most of the time, I’d give a friend ten or twenty dollars and a list. Get me these CDs or these tapes. Used is okay. Whatever gets me more music for the money. Then they’d hand them over at school and I’d stick them inside textbooks or three-ring binders. I had a shoebox in a chest in my closet, and by the time I was fourteen, I needed a second one. Then a third. Then it got to the point where it was impossible to hide.
Those records were my only link to the outside world. I wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of school. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. I couldn’t get phone calls from friends. No one was allowed to visit me. I couldn’t go to the movies without my parents, and even then, we weren’t allowed to pick a movie that wasn’t rated G or PG. My television use was regulated as well; cartoons or PBS only, and nothing after 7pm on a weekday. Once I got in high school, this meant that I usually finished my homework well after my television curfew, so I wouldn’t get to watch anything.*
That meant that the only way I learned about the world was through my records. A.F.I. taught me how to cope with self-hatred and depression. Bad Religion taught me political theory. Public Enemy taught me about racial oppression. Metallica’s “Dyer’s Eve” was my own personal anthem, if there ever could be a song to represent what it was like to live in my house. I just had a long Facebook conversation with my friend Kasper about how a lot of the riot grrrl and queercore bands of the 90s were the only punk/hardcore bands that talked about queer sex and how Team Dresch once made me cry because I wanted to be accepted like that.
I know I am probably preaching to the choir at this point, as I’m sure plenty of you had music, books, television, or movies that spoke to you on such an intimate level that they were yours. They helped you through difficult times. They gave you hope. They gave you strength.
I don’t remember the exact date in 1996, but that was the first time my mom threw away my record collection. She wasn’t even discerning about it. She saw a special on the news, or perhaps 20/20 or Dateline or whatever “news” show was airing back then, and she heard that children were hiding satanic and occult records in their bedrooms. She heard that it was turning children into social deviants who worshipped witchcraft, or turned to a life of crime, or became homeless. She heard that albums didn’t get Parental Advisory stickers unless they were reprehensible and socially irresponsible. So she threw all of them away. She threw away my support group. Suddenly, all those voices I had telling me it was okay to be angry, to feel sad, to be gay, to be Mexican, they were gone in an instant. And it was all because of fucking Tipper Gore and her righteous brigade of offended rich women.
“Gingerbread” upset and disturbed me on a visceral level, more so than most horror movies. The thing that will always get to me is that people like Tipper Gore will never know how her actions branched out to affect other people. She will never know that her ridiculous moral crusade was responsible for my mother believing I was satanic. SATANIC. I barely believed in God, and now I was believing in Satan? Tipper Gore will never know that her actions inspired my mother to tell me that I was wasting my life, that I wouldn’t be a successful person because I listened to “scary” music. She’ll never know that my mother made me feel worthless because of the music that I listened to.
In that sense, it’s easy to see the parallel to Joyce’s actions in this episode. Even if Tipper Gore, my mother, and Joyce all had the best intentions in mind, their careless crusades ruined things. They judged people purely on the basis of misconceptions, misinformation, and difference. There’s a powerful metaphor here for how a mob mentality approaches something or someone they don’t understand, and how that sort of behavior is inherently destructive. I have a lot more to say about this episode, but it’s honestly one of my favorites of the whole series because it shows us that these people care only about being offended. They don’t care to root out the problems that might cause people to write about killing themselves or to swear at their parents. Their delicate sensibilities are more important than actual social ills. Think about it: Joyce starts the group because she lets her feelings over the death of those kids get the best of her. Even if she really wants to protect the kids in Sunnydale, that’s not what M.O.O. ultimately comes to be about.
So yeah. Fuck you, Tipper Gore.
I HAVE OTHER THOUGHTS I NEED TO TALK ABOUT
- OH MY GOD IT’S WILLOW’S MOTHER. Her character has been completed. It’s like we’ve been missing this piece of Willow this whole time. I can hardly believe it. WILLOW MAKES SO MUCH SENSE NOW. Now we know why she’s an overachiever, why she’s a perfectionist, and why she intellectualizes so many things. Her mother does this to a degree that is horrifying. Oh my god, Willow. MY HEART.
- I seriously love Joyce’s speech at the vigil, as uncomfortable as it is. It’s totally plausible to me that the city of Sunnydale purposely refuses to engage the weirdness of their town. Despite that Joyce takes her beliefs to an irrational level, I really respect the fact that she was sick of disengaging from reality. I also sat with my mouth agape during that whole scene.
- When we’re shown Willow performing a spell around that symbol with Michael and Amy, I may have yelped. THIS EPISODE WAS SO SHOCKING. So many plot twists!
- Bless you, Buffy, for standing up to Michael and Amy’s bullies.
- For real, the locker raid scene was kind of triggering to me? We had a locker search during my P.E. class in eighth grade, and I’d checked out a book about being gay, and I was terrified that the campus security would show everyone. They found whatever they were looking for before they got to my locker, but yeah. Fuck that nonsense.
- Giles on a computer will never not be hilarious. You resist technology forever, dude.
- HANSEL AND GRETAL ARE DEMONS. I’M SORRY, I FUCKING LOVE THIS SO MUCH.
- Okay, I know it’s heavy-handed as hell, but the book burning/witch burning scene is just such a cool metaphor for the whole thing. It’s also SUPER DISTURBING, especially when Joyce and Mrs. Rosenburg make plans for lunch AFTER BURNING THEIR DAUGHTERS ALIVE.
- The entire scene where Cordelia wakes up Giles is just comic perfection. I love when those two interact. WAKE UP IN A COMA.
- Oh my god, Buffy asks Angel if Sunnydale is better since she arrived. WHY COULDN’T THESE CHARACTERS REMEMBER “THE WISH”?
- Okay, so did something happen between Giles and Joyce in “Band Candy”? Either they did something more than hang out, or they are currently dating. I kind of like this idea?
- Okay, I laughed when Oz and Xander showed up to rescue Willow and Buffy. Excellent timing?
- Will Amy remain a rat forever?
*To this day, I like to tease my mother about the fact that she made exceptions to this rule for two things: The X-Files and The Silence of the Lambs. I mean, I cannot believe those were acceptable, but staying up past 8pm on weekday was highly uncalled for. She readily admits that she made little sense when raising me with these rules.
Death Count: 1. The demon! Total: 31.