[personal profile] thecarlysutra

I warned you. Thanks, as usual, to [livejournal.com profile] myhappyface's wonderful beta.

Othello in "Becoming II," or How Xander is Iago
Alternate title: Xander sucks, and I've had too much college.

Joss Whedon is a big fan of Bill Shakespeare; I mean, come on, he named one of his protagonists “Cordelia,” and he has a demon named “Illyria.” Plus all the other stuff.

I’m a fan of Shakespeare, too, and I just reread Othello. Othello is mentioned specifically in Buffy (“Earshot”), though the parallel is the third season binary of Buffy and Faith: how Faith, who betrays, and who enjoys doing bad things, is “the darkside of [Buffy herself],” her Iago. And that’s very interesting. But I find myself more interested in how Xander is Buffy’s Iago.

This essay will focus on Xander’s Iagoing of Buffy throughout the series, with special attention paid to the “handkerchief” events of season two’s “Becoming II.”

The Play

Let’s assume that not everyone has studied Othello, and that, among those of us who have, some of us were so busy daydreaming about Buffy that we missed a few things. So that we’re all on the same page, let’s begin with a brief overview of the play.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s late tragedies. The story is of a Moor (a term which is early modern English for “unspecified dark-skinned guy”), general of the Venetian army, and of how his fledgling marriage is destroyed by a jealous officer, Iago. As the play opens, the Moor, Othello, has just done two things: promoted a new lieutenant, Cassio, and married a (younger, virginal) white woman, Desdemona. Iago is incensed at being passed over for Cassio’s promotion (and at gossip that both Othello and notorious ladies’ man Cassio have been shacking up with his wife); he doesn’t really care that a black man has married Desdemona, but the mixed marriage provides the perfect vehicle to get under Othello’s skin. Over the course of the play, “Honest Iago” sews lies and innuendos that lead Othello to believe irrefutably that his new bride is sleeping with his new lieutenant. Jealousy drives him mad, and he kills Desdemona, and then himself.

Othello is not really about race. Othello is about Othering: the process of distinguishing a minority (the person who is not “Us,” but “Other”) from the majority, usually paired with ranking that “Other” in a hierarchy of race/sex/religion/whatever. In Othello, Othello is both Othered by the Venetians, and by himself.

It is important also to note that Iago is not, until the very end, recognized by any character in the play as a villain. He is constantly called “honest,” and he is a trusted friend and advisor to Othello, Cassio, and several other characters. I’d like to repeat this, because it is what makes Iago’s betrayal so cutting: Othello trusts Iago implicitly. When Iago’s lies are revealed to him, Othello does not believe it, and seeks to discover whether his friend is the devil in disguise, so betrayed is he.

Everyone on the same page? Super. Now let’s talk about the Othello in Buffy.

Othering and Iagoing

Let’s start with Othering, and position our characters. In the play, Othello is an outsider to the community; it is made clear that he is only respected because of his prowess on the battlefield. Both Angel and Buffy, in this way, are put in Othello’s position; Angel is Other because he is a vampire, and Buffy because she is a woman. They are both uniquely gifted tacticians and warriors, and this secures them unusual position within the group. Though Angel’s relationship to Buffy buys him some benefit of the doubt – helping him, as a vampire in a group of demon hunters, not get killed, for example – his key function within the group is as muscle. He’s almost a secondary Buffy (placing him as Buffy’s second-in-command, the Cassio to her Othello); when Buffy is unavailable, the Scoobies have no qualms in turning to Angel to fulfill her role (“Earshot”).

Buffy’s case is more interesting; she is human, and the peer of Xander, Willow, Cordelia, and Oz, but her position within the group is based upon her place and abilities as Slayer. If Buffy were not the Slayer, how would the other members of the group – especially Xander and Giles – treat her? Would they treat her the way they do Cordelia? As it is, Buffy is the group’s leader; were she not the Slayer, would she be straggling at the rear, the butt of the occasional, “ha ha, you dress like a whore” joke?

So Buffy and Angel are Othered, and they will, at turns, play Othello. Angel will sometimes also find himself in Cassio’s place. Buffy and Angel both will also be, from time to time, Desdemona. The reasons for this are a lot less complicated than it seems: if Angel is Othello, and Buffy is his lover, then Buffy becomes Desdemona. Similarly, if Buffy is Othello, and Angel is her lover, then Angel becomes Desdemona. Of course, since Buffy can also be the virgin, and the innocent, and can be seen simply for her sex, and Angel cannot, Buffy will be Desdemona more ably than Angel.

And then there’s Xander. Xander is not Othered; Xander is, when you think about it, kind of the poster boy for the majority. He’s white, he’s male, he’s “normal;” he has no pesky supernatural powers to differentiate him from the pack. Xander Harris is the majority; he is what Buffy and Angel are Othered from.

But being in the majority is not enough to make Xander Iago. He also needs the implicit trust of the group, despite his ulterior, self-serving motives. And he has it; Xander is rarely questioned, and he is even designated as the “Heart” of the group (“Primeval”); he is Honest Xander, pure of thought and deed. Which brings us to how he’s not so honest or pure.

Xander Iagos Buffy. He lies and manipulates in order to get things he wants, things he feels, as the majority, he deserves. What is interesting about Xander’s Iagoing of Buffy is that it is made complicated because it is defined by her Otherness; Xander would not have the same aim were Buffy not a woman. Let’s look at Xander’s motives, and what he wants, the things he will deceive for. Xander is upset that Buffy chose Angel over him; he asked her out and she said no, because “a guy has to be dead” to get with her (“Prophecy Girl”). So Xander’s aim is not only to best Angel/Cassio, who Buffy/Othello chose instead, it is to “win” Buffy; Buffy herself is the prize that Xander hopes to redeem through his deception.

Revelations and Buffy’s Sex Life

In the play, Iago’s first act against Othello is to run to Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, and inform the man that “an old black ram is stupping your white ewe.” Brabantio was previously unaware of the relationship, and he goes apeshit, running off to the Senate to complain. Othello and Desdemona are both eventually brought in to plead their cases at what has essentially become an impromptu trial.

Which brings us away from “Becoming II,” which we haven’t actually gotten to yet, my bad, to “Revelations.” Xander happens upon Angel, recently back from the dead, locking lips with Buffy. What does Xander do? He convenes Giles, Willow, and Cordelia to sit trial on Buffy, an “intervention,” as she calls it. Without consulting her, he has told everyone not only that she has been “harboring a vicious killer” and lying to all of them, but that she and Angel were kissing, which, were his concern really, “Oh my God, that guy that killed a bunch of our friends is back!” should have been toward the bottom of the list of outrages. But Xander not only informs the group of Buffy’s romantic indiscretions, he uses her sexuality against her. “What [were you waiting for]? For Angel to go psycho again the next time you give him a happy?” Poor Buffy is just a woman; she cannot be trusted with her own sexuality. Especially when she does that with it.

As in Othello, the only person who seems to be interested in Buffy/Desdemona’s voice is her partner. In the trial scene in Othello, Desdemona is brought forth before the Senate, but it is Othello who asks the girl to tell her side of the story. Similarly, the only person who seems interested in Buffy’s thoughts and feelings when the subject is love is Angel, and even he doesn’t do that great a job some of the time, making decisions about their relationship for her (“The Prom”). Anytime the topic is broached with anyone else, their reaction is to tell Buffy that “when it comes to Angel, you can’t see straight,” and “we’re here to help you [make the correct decision]” (“Revelations”). Xander is the worst one with this, again and again, from his constant demonization of Angel to his telling Buffy that she is “acting like a crazy person” by “treating Riley like the rebound guy” (“Into the Woods”).

Majority Xander does not act as though Buffy’s sexuality belongs to her. Think of his yay, Angel is leaving forever! fantasy in “Surprise”: Xander gleefully imagines Buffy – who is a “Denny’s waitress by day, Slayer by night,” as though Xander doesn’t gift her with enough intelligence or agency to have an actual career – crying gratefully when rich and powerful Xander – “fly[ing] into town in [his] private jet;” apparently, Xander gives himself all the intelligence and agency he’ll need – sweeps her off her feet, and out of Angel’s arms. Why wouldn’t Buffy be grateful to be rescued from the life she’s made for herself? I mean, a poor woman, being rescued by Majority Man? A dream come true.

Becoming and Joss’s New Ending for Iago

As season two progresses, Buffy and Angel become more and more removed from the group. And they begin, as Othello does toward the end of the play, to Other themselves. Angelus takes pains to distinguish himself from any scrap of humanity. “Your boyfriend is dead” (“Innocence”). Buffy often finds herself separate from her friends, who all have happy, normal lives with happy, normal relationships, and in the end, she chooses her duties as a Slayer over her family, her normal life. During the events of the “Becoming” episodes, the final ties are broken: Buffy is kicked out of her home and her school, thus eliminating her last ties to a “normal,” majority life; Angelus discovers that it is his blood alone that can unleash the supreme evil of Acathla and send the world to hell (“Becoming II”).

Fully Othered, there’s only Iago to contend with.

In “Becoming II,” as Xander leaves to assist Buffy in her storming of Angel’s mansion, Willow tells him to let Buffy know that she and Oz will be attempting to restore Angel’s soul. When Xander arrives, however, he instead tells Buffy that Willow says to, “kick [Angel’s] ass.”

The question of course is, had Buffy known what was going on, would she still have had to kill Angel? Certainly her attitude might have been different; she might have done more toward stalling the release of Acathla, and less toward killing Angelus. There’s no way to know. However, we can guess the answer to a more interesting question: the question of intent. What was Xander’s intent in omitting Willow’s true message, and instead submitting his own agenda? An argument can be made that he was afraid, if Buffy had hope that Angel could be saved, she would immediately become a weak and helpless girl in love instead of the warrior she really needed to be. However. To me it seems much more likely that Xander’s motives are, as usual, purely selfish: Xander does not want Angel to make it out alive. He does not want Buffy and Angel back together; even though he is, at the moment, in a relationship of his own with Cordelia, he is still not happy about the thought of Buffy with another man, especially Angel, his challenger. His Cassio. Iago’s aim in Othello, remember, is not only to rise to Cassio’s rank; in the process, he wants to punish Cassio, who has taken his place, and Othello, who passed him over. And he does both.

Since Buffy is both the goal of Xander’s deception, and the object/originator (read: Othello) of it, Xander’s desire to punish Buffy is at constant odds with his desire to own her, which accounts for Xander’s mercurial moods toward her. At one turn, he is joking and flirting with her; the next, he is puffed up full of righteous indignation, putting the blood of all Angelus’s victims on her hands (“Revelations”) or telling her that he’ll kill her (“When She Was Bad”).

So what is the outcome of Xander/Iago’s deception? As it is in the book: Xander’s lie results in Buffy/Othello killing her lover, and then, in her grief, removing herself from the city. Now in the play, Othello doesn’t hop a Greyhound as Buffy does; he kills himself, too. Perhaps it is Buffy’s survival that changes Xander/Iago’s fate. In the play, Iago is found out (too late, but much sooner than Xander is), and then dragged off to be tortured and, presumably, killed for treason. His last line is a vow to never speak again. But Xander is never punished for his deceptions. Even when his lie is revealed (five seasons later, in “Selfless”), it goes completely unnoticed. Xander is never punished for his deception, and he never gives up his speech, so he is free to continue deceiving. Which begs the question: do the writers of Buffy sympathize with Iago? Do they condone Xander’s manipulation of his friends? Why else would he continue on, uncensored and unpunished, unless Joss was trying to tell us something?

Let’s think about early modern England, Shakespeare’s time, for a minute. During Shakespeare’s time, women were very Other. They were considered to be physiologically and psychologically inferior to men; they couldn’t own property, or have a legal say, without a man. A man who murdered his wife was tried for murder; a woman who murdered her husband was tried for murder and treason, because she had acted against her king and god, and in those days the country was the same as the king was the same as God. What’s the relevance to Xander’s lack of punishment? Perhaps Xander gets away scot-free because he’s the majority. The only crime he committed was against an Other, and that’s only the natural order of things, that the majority should control the world, including the world of the Other, and if they need to get Machiavellian about it, so be it. And, to follow up on the king and god bit, Xander is a character-insertion of the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, who is white, middle-class, and a man. He represents the same majority Xander does. And in this universe, he is God. It’s only fitting that God’s will be done.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Date: 2008-07-23 04:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clevermonikerr.livejournal.com
I loved this essay, and thought the last paragraph was a nice addition, especially with the 'god and king' analogy.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

I loved this essay

Thank you! <3

and thought the last paragraph was a nice addition, especially with the 'god and king' analogy.

Holly makes me look much smarter than I actually am. :)

Date: 2008-07-23 04:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dlgood.livejournal.com
Somewhat tangential note, but Xander's lie in Becoming is, I think, of two parts. Not one. Namely the two lies concern:
a) omitting the second attempt at a soul spell
b) asserting "kick his ass" as Willow's opinion

Such that, not only is Buffy uninformed about what might happen in the mansion - but Buffy is unaware of Willow's sympathy with her position.

Maybe be I'm overstating the potential effect of this on the Buffy-Willow relationship, but it could bear exploration. (though that's tangential here...)

But, it does speak to one more aspect of othering... Xander doesn't just punish Buffy for her choice - but perhaps also Willow for sympathizing with Buffy instead of him.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] a-white-rain.livejournal.com
Actually that's the biggest part that bothered me. That Xander spoke for Willow about something that Willow did not believe in. In that time, Willow spoke hardest for Buffy and her feelings for Angel. Willow was Buffy's BFF way more than any other character, and Willow's anger in Selfless was nice. But we never got any more development. :(

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Xander who?

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Re: Xander who?

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Date: 2008-07-23 04:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] a-white-rain.livejournal.com
From [livejournal.com profile] clevermonikerr

I'm not quite sure what to think of Xander wrt the lie in Becoming II. Because we aren't given explicate motivations for Xander and there is no development past it, besides Willow's 'WHAT I DIDN'T SAY THAT' with regards to the 'kick his ass' line. I'm not sure if it has to do with Otherness or what. *PONDERS*

Date: 2008-07-23 04:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Of course it's up to interpretation, but as I find Xander's relationship with Buffy to be very much hinged on propriety, that was my reading. I could be wrong. :)

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Date: 2008-07-23 04:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] myhappyface.livejournal.com
My Xander rage is so epic right now, I can't even describe it. What right does he have? Every time I want him to be Buffy's friend before he's a rejected suitor, and he never is. Dick.

Your thoughts are excellent. <3

Date: 2008-07-23 04:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Okay, I'd make an intelligent, irreverent answer about how Xander's "right" is that he's the majority, but I'm too busy laughing. Hee! I heart you big, lady.

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Date: 2008-07-23 04:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ljgould.livejournal.com
Very good, my dear.

I always enjoy a well written essay using an idea that I'd not considered. Your usage of Othello was inspired. I think the next time I watch an episode of BtVS, I'll be seeing Xander as Iago.

Date: 2008-07-23 03:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed my insane theories. :)

Date: 2008-07-23 06:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] omankoshojou.livejournal.com
do you mind if i copied and pasted this to a few actor friends of mine? you're extraordinary, and this essay makes alot of amazing points. maybe joss views himself as an iago... "No Iago punishing plots. Sorry. Ex-nay on the ighteous-ray engenace-vay." if buffy is othello, and she kills her lover(because of iago, who i've always thought was madly in love with othello), but she doesn't die, only skips town, then... will joss hedon write "Othello 2"?

/totally going to see "Hamlet 2"
//thinks you're brilliant.

Date: 2008-07-23 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Knock yourself out.

/is jealous.
//hearts you.

Date: 2008-07-23 08:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ba4ever.livejournal.com
First off this is a fantastic essay, and very well written and although I LOVE Xander and his...Xander shapedness. Doesn't mean I don't completely agree with all of this. [livejournal.com profile] canadiangirl_86 and I have had many a discussion about Xander's betrayal (and subsequent lack of punishment), and this is an excellent comparison and character study. Because I think this fits him EXACTLY. He is very much loved and trusted, which makes his betrayal even more..er...betray-y haha.

I've never thought about this "otherness" and I have read some Othello/Buffy comparisons - none as good as this one ;). And there are certainly a whole bunch of other literary works that tells of a trusted friend/brother etc and their betrayal, but this, with all the backstory (because I never studied Othello) in school) seems to fit like a glove, as if you've covered every angle possible :).

And yes, IMO to Xander Buffy has always seemed like an object, someone/something to be won, very implicitly. I always thought out of ALL the scoobs, Xander always saw her as the "girl" and although he acted all cool and turned on by her slayerness, I think he just prefers dom women, someone he can fight a little with. Isn't it a coincidence that Xander's significant others have all seemed to like Buffy the least. Cordy and Buffy def didn't get along - there was a respect and bit of grace for saving her life, but if for one second Cordy could usurp Buffy you know she'd do it in a heartbeat. Same with Anya, to be honest, I don't even know if they like each other. They were THAT remote from each other, and Anya's little rant about Buffy being "lucky" (please she fought and died for you how many times? The love of her life is the one man she can never have? Her sister is/was the Key?), really solidified to me that they just never ever were close, and that is a huge reason why.

And although you make some really good points, frankly I don't think this was done intentionally on Joss' part. Joss is great with character development, and all that, but I really don't think he thought THAT far ahead (was he even around in S7?). And yes, I know Cordelia is a Shakesperean character, Cordelia was created from a really bitch he girl from high school. I mean Xander IS him, (and Joss has betrayed on how many occasions? :P), but to me it's a rags to riches story for him (Joss), what it would be like for poor old Jossy to get the most popular girl in school, to be deflowered by someone has wild and exciting as Faith, to have a girlfriend/fiancee rave about his prowess in the bedroom? So on that front, if Xander is indeed Joss, I really don't think he'd willingly and consciously make himself Iago, the ultimate betrayer (or..one of them).

But despite that, I still think you put in an excellent argument wrt that - Joss is God of that universe. Heh, great line, great note to end your thoughts on.

Ah, how I missed discussing Buffy (I hope you do more of these ;)

Date: 2008-07-23 03:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

And although you make some really good points, frankly I don't think this was done intentionally on Joss' part. . . .

Oh, neither do I, and I certainly hope I didn't give that impression. I mean, if Xander is his self-assertion, and Joss is a Shakespeare nut, why would Joss purposefully make himself one of the most reviled characters in literary history? But on a subconscious level . . . ? Play ball, you know?

(I would like to add, since you're not that familiar with Othello, that in addition to being one of Shakespeare's great betrayers, Iago is one of Shakespeare's great storytellers. He manipulates things through telling stories which is, come on, kind of what Joss does for a living.)

I'm glad you liked the essay; thanks. And I miss discussing Buffy, too. *nostalgia* I miss my dead gay show.

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Here from buffyphilosophy

Date: 2008-07-23 04:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eumelia.livejournal.com
First of all, I really liked both your interpretation of Othello and how you correlated it to BtVS.
As a fan of both Shakes and Joss, it was very gratifying to read this kind of essay.

Second of all, I think the way you managed to weave Hegemony and Other into Xander and the Buffy/Angel dynamic is nothing short of inspiring and very original - I've read a lot of Buffy academia and this is really one the most fun essays I've read in regards to Buffy and literary/cultural criticism.

And third, my 12 year old Xander-is-a-bad friend sentiment has been fed so well, you have no idea!

*thumbs up* :D

Re: Here from buffyphilosophy

Date: 2008-07-23 06:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Thank you! When I write grown-up, scholarly things I get scared that I'll be found out as an idiot, so your thumbs up is extremely gratifying. I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for saying so.

Date: 2008-07-23 07:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] samsom.livejournal.com
Here via the Herald -

What I know about the play could fit on the head of a pin, but from what I can recall, you managed to make some great points. And you verbalized quite well my issues with the way Xander saw and sometimes treated Buffy - as somehow his, who needs to be punished for making the 'wrong' choice of the vampire. He not only uses the group to punish Buffy in Revelations, he also stokes Faith's anger and sense of betrayal before aiming her at Angel, wanting a front row seat to the staking. Then in Dead Man's Party, after the shattering events of Becoming II send Buffy into a three month tailspin, he again leads the group in punishing Buffy for making the 'wrong' choice, for not being able to handle killing Angel.

He is Cassio, using others to right his sense of being wronged, and no one sees him as anything other than a good friend. Excellent comparison.

Date: 2008-07-23 08:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Thank you for bringing up the other times Xander "leads the group in punishing Buffy for making the 'wrong' choice;" those are excellent examples, and I wish I'd thought of them myself. :) Thank you for reading, and for commenting; I appreciate it.

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Date: 2008-07-23 07:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skipp-of-ark.livejournal.com
The beginning of the post says it will discuss how Xander has "Iagoed" (read: betrayed) Buffy throughout the series, and then focuses only on Season Two and "The Lie."

Wow. Ten years and this tired old wank is still on people's shoulders. I'm not sure which I'm rolling my eyes at more, the implicit "Xander kept right on betraying her in every season thereafter" or the implicit temper tantrum that Joss hasn't "punished" Xander for it -- and the continued Iago correllation makes it clear that the only "acceptable" punishment is Xander being cast out and killed, even Joss has made it clear that's not going to happen.

Do people honestly believe Joss considered ending Season Two any other way than Buffy having to kill Angel?

Date: 2008-07-23 08:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

You're correct; I could have gone through every season step by step, and didn't. Perhaps I'm shortsighted, but I don't really view Xander as a character who changes very much, so I chose to narrow my focus.

And no, I don't believe that Angel was going to make it out of season two alive. I don't even believe that, had Buffy known about what Willow was doing, things in "Becoming II" would have ended differently. What I do believe is that it was wrong of Xander to not trust his friend with the complete truth, to not believe that she deserved to know everything that was going on.

Additionally, if my essay led you to the conclusion that I thought Xander deserved to be "cast out and killed," I apologize, as this was not my intent. But, as as I was discussing with [livejournal.com profile] a_white_rain, when characters do bad things in the Buffyverse, they are punished. Buffy indulges in forbidden love; Buffy gets that lover taken away. Angel tries to bring about hell on earth; Angel goes to hell himself. Faith kills somebody; Faith falls into a coma, and then goes to prison. Et cetera. The fact that Xander is never punished for lying to Buffy in "Becoming II" leads me to the conclusion that his lie is not considered (by Joss & Co) as a bad thing, which worries me given the sexual politics of the Buffy-Xander relationship.

But perhaps I've had too much college. In any event, thank you for reading, and I appreciate you taking the time to leave me with your opinions.

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Date: 2008-07-23 07:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] citizenjess.livejournal.com
Here from the Buffy philosophy community.

First of all, kudos to coming off as more academic than simply Internet-warbly. Most of the meta I've read in recent times is entirely too marked in personal agendas and unnecessary anecdotes to have much of a point, and this certainly does. It's still obvious that you aren't a big fan of Xander, and I differ there, but it's a well-supported theory that you've provided, nonetheless.

My main rationale for why Xander's an okay guy is, I guess, character development. If you don't move beyond his season two persona, he's arguably kind of a douche - although one of my most favorite crack-ish pairings in the entire series is s2 Xander/Cordelia, so. My appreciation for Xander has always been, in part, sympathizing with him. His friends have all the powers and the special talents, and he is, at most times, painfully normal. His acting out seems justified, in that sense; he feels inadequate, and often times the most his friends do is cluck their tongues and then tell him to go hide because he'll get in their way with the fighting and magic stuff.

Also, Xander's oafy and he sticks his foot in his mouth, but he's not really a schemer. His actions are in accordance with Iago's around the time that Angel becomes Angelus, but I still have difficulty reading so much vengeance into what he does. Arguably, Xander represents the truth that nobody else wants to point out: Angel poses a big threat in that he's basically got an on/off switch, and it would be safer for them all if he died, for instance. Some of it is borne from his own vendetta against Angel - I agree with you there - but I see a lot of redemption and general good in Xander that didn't come across so much with Iago. In essence, his being the Typical White Male isn't enough of a crime to warrant permanent exile from the group, in my opinion.

This essay actually came at a good time; I'm re-watching the series after a lengthy hiatus with my girlfriend, who is completely new to the 'verse. Her reactions to things happening on the screen in the immediate sense are not clouded by later knowledge of the characters beyond that episode, which I think is why the Xander-Iago comparison is most jarring to me. Xander may not always be the shining pinnacle of friendship and good sense, but neither are any of the other characters. They all hide stuff from one another; they all have prejudices and things that encourage bad decision-making; but as episodes like "Primeval" show us, they manage to pull it together when the chips are down.

/rambling. Anyways, thank you for the fascinating read!

Date: 2008-07-23 08:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Here's my thing with Xander, because I don't want to come off as full of Xanderhate. I like Xander unless I think too much about what his motives are, and then I get cranky, because yes, he's had not the best role models for sexual dynamics, but the way he treats the women on the show, especially Buffy, is not good. And it makes me sad, because Buffy is kind of my hero, and I don't like that she takes this shit from Xander. For a show that is about power, about a woman who steps up and takes some power, Xander seems . . . antithetical. You know? But at the same time, I do really want to like him, because he's earnest and funny and, yeah, has that whole Jimmy Olsen complex to overcome.

And again, if what you read in my questioning of Xander going unpunished was that I thought he deserved "permanent exile," then I apologize, because that was not what I meant. I'm just concerned, given the sketchy sexual politics of the Buffy-Xander relationship, along with the general Buffyverse caveat that people who do bad things get punished, that letting Xander off completely scot-free for his lie in "Becoming II" condones the act. (This is also why I have big, big problems with Andrew. But that's another essay . . .) Which, you know, only leads to more sketchy sexual politics, and hey, now I'm in a Mobius strip.

Anyway, thank you for reading, and taking the time to leave your comments. And happy reviewing!

Date: 2008-07-23 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jslayeruk.livejournal.com
This is superbly done. I have thoughts sometimes about Buffy (at the moment, I'm trying to explain how slaying is wrong to a housemate - it's not easy) but the way you've managed to express your opinion so fluidly is admirable. See my jealous face at your brain.

Edit: Also, may I pimp?

Date: 2008-07-23 09:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Well, hey there! It's nice to see you around. :)

And thank you, J! I'm glad you liked it.

And pimp all you like. I'd be honored.

(On an unrelated note: I have always found that icon really hilarious.)

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Date: 2008-07-23 11:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shiny-n-new.livejournal.com
Here from the Herald.

Wordy McWord to all you've said. I've never studied much Shakespeare beyond high school classes, so this was both interesting and informative.

I've always felt somewhat irritated that Xander was never called on his dishonesty. It could be argued that the ultimate outcome of Becoming II was as much Xander's influence as it was Buffy or Angelus' (although maybe not. That's one of the things I love about Seasons Two: dozens of possible outcomes besides what actually happened) and no one ever addressed it with any seriousness. It was a skeevy thing to do, regardless of intentions. I feel like if someone, anyone, had said, "Hey, Xander, what's up with lying about Willow's spell?", then there could have at least been some closure on the situation, because Xander would have had to give *some* answer.

To me, it's always seemed as though addition to being the "Majority", Xander was also the most typical of the gang. In a sense, he really was just an average teenage boy who couldn't see past his crush on a girl who only saw him as a friend. Yes, he had many, many good reason to dislike vampires, but his interactions with Angel (Pre-Season 4, anyway) always seemed to be, at some level, a version of, "He has her and I don't. That bastard, what does she see in him? At least *I'm* human. At least *I've* never killed anyone." But my thoughts on Xander as the stereotypical Nice Guy Who Isn't Always So Nice would be an entire essay...

But at the same time, that doesn't make him a bad person, neccesarily. Just a normal person who could be both good and manipulative, a white knight and a lying jerk, all at the same time. It's the fact that no one ever pointed it out that bugged me, and perhaps make it seem like his actions got more "approval" from the show's creators, even if that wasn't the case.

Whew! What a long way of saying I agree with you and am very impressed by your essay!

P.S. Did I read in your comments to someone else that you had a problem with Andrew? I'd love to see your take on that, because my dislike of that character is so intense that my teeth grind everytime he's on screen...

Date: 2008-07-24 12:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed my take; I just got out of a five-week college course on the later Shakespeare plays, and I fear it's affected my world view.

I agree; Xander isn't really a bad guy, but he's also not really a good guy. He's layered, like people tend to be, but I think that he gets more leeway than most of the other characters, that people tend to give him more benefit of the doubt towards being a good guy, ignoring all the "lying jerk" stuff.

Okay, here's my thing on Andrew: Andrew participates in all the Trio's crimes, including Warren's magical entrapment, attempted rape, and subsequent death of Katrina. He murders Jonathan in cold blood. And, like Xander, he is never punished (not that Xander's going around murdering people. But we're kind of on the topic of men in the Buffyverse who get away with things). He becomes fully integrated into the group, and is later made a Watcher with the power to spank Angel & friends. At worst, he's laughed about for being annoying, not, you know, for murdering someone who was a friend to the Scoobies. Why is it that some people in the Buffyverse can commit crimes and never be punished, and others spend their entire lives making amends? It makes no fucking sense to me, but it makes me furious.

Also: I like your icon. :)

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Date: 2008-07-24 03:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] a2zmom.livejournal.com
As it so happens, I saw your post referenced on another blog, but your argument was basically reduced to "Xander is a poopyhead" and I agreed that the argument was pretty lame sounding.

Of course, you make a serious, cogent argument. But I still disagree with most of it.

I'm not going to go point by point, I'm too lazy for that for one thing. Instead I'm just going to ramble around here.

Xander as liar/manipulator. Let's forget Becoming for a sec (I'll get to that later on). I would suggest that Xander's problem is the opposite. Not only doesn't he lie, he also doesn't know how to look at things from anyone's pov other than his own. When Xander is angry or frightened, he's a blunt instrument. Look at him in the season 2 opener. When he fears that Willow is in danger, he turns his anger on Buffy. It's not totally misplaced, but that doesn't mean what he's doing is helpful. This is pretty much a preview of how he's going to act all through the season once Angel loses his soul.

Xander doesn't say anything that isn't true - every day that Buffy doesn't kill Angel, more people are losing their lives. But what Xander doesn't take into consideration is Buffy's guilt over this and how it's eating her up. Xander is (rightly) terrified and it causes him to lash out. That's his modus operandi.

In season 3, when Xander see Buffy and Angel kissing, I don't blame him for jumping to conclusions at first. For Angel, it's been hundreds of years. For Xander, Angel's reign of terror was only four months ago. That's not sexual jealousy, that's fear. His statement that What [were you waiting for]? For Angel to go psycho again the next time you give him a happy?” is anger pure and simple. Xander is a hothead and as far as he's concerned, Buffy doesn't act rationally around Angel. (And Buffy's opinion is much the same. Note that she yells at Angel after the kiss as if it was all his fault.)

Also, while Xander is quick to anger, he also is willing to admit mistakes. In this same episode he basically sics Faith on Angel. But note that when he spots Giles, he immediately says this isn't the work of Angel and asks Faith to wait. (She, of course, doesn't. Faith never thinks beyond her immediate impressions.)

Now, how Xander views Buffy. I agree that in season 1 and 2, he still desires her sexually. But by season 3 I believe that fades. Don't forge tthat in Restless, Xander views himself as Buffy's "big brother". He sees himself as trying to protect her (and failing, both in the dream and in RL).

It's getting late here, so for now I'm going to talk about "the lie" and wrap this up. Point number 1, is it doesn't make a difference. Angel removes the sword before Buffy starts to fight him. Next, to claim that Xander's sole motivation is jealousy is to turn Xander into much more of a simpleton than he is. It is part of his motivation? Yes, I would say so. So is anger that Angel is a stone cold sadistic murderer and deserves to die. So is fear that Buffy will be killed if she thinks she could get Angel back and tries to stall him. None of us do things for staight forward reasons (well, rarely), why should Xander be any different?

I think the real damage the lie does is that Buffy now believes that Willow also wanted to see Angel dead. I think season 3 is where Buffy really starts to pull away from her friends emotionally and I think Xander's lie is a big part of that. Plus I think it also was a big factor in her running away. I think she felt that none of them could possibly sympathize with her grief.

Date: 2008-07-24 04:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dlgood.livejournal.com
Also, while Xander is quick to anger, he also is willing to admit mistakes. In this same episode he basically sics Faith on Angel. But note that when he spots Giles, he immediately says this isn't the work of Angel and asks Faith to wait.

He does admit mistakes, but it's notable who he does and does not admit these mistakes to.

I think it's part of his nature to try to fix his error where he can (in admitting to Giles) but also to not look to closely at himself for it...

For all the times he's lashed out angrily and hurtfully at Buffy, how often does he acknowledge it or apologize to her for it?

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Date: 2008-07-24 04:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quirkytaverna.livejournal.com
Can I have you remind me about this one, too? Man, I can't wait to have my own internet access and then I can *read* things again!

Date: 2008-07-24 08:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lusciousxander.livejournal.com
I don't think Xander's sole reason for the lie was that he was jealous Buffy chose Angel over him. It just doesn't make sense.

Kendra wanted to kill Angel in What's My Line, before Angel became Angelus, why didn't Xander cheer her on? Instead, he rejected her request to kill Angel by saying, "Hey! Angel is our friend! Except I don't like him."

He doesn't like Angel yet he doesn't wish him to be killed. Why? Because he's their friend, and possibly someone very important to Buffy.

Even when Angel became Angelus, Xander was very sympathatic toward Buffy. In Phases, he hugged her close because she was upset about the Angelus thing. He showed his support and told her not to be tricked because Angel isn't the same guy she knew. (Meaning: He admits that Angel used to be a good guy but now he's a murderer.)

As for The Lie: Xander went to Buffy to tell her about Willow's message, no other intention, but when he said "Willow said..." "What?" Buffy replied with hope. Xander looked at her face and feared that with that hope Buffy would never fight as hard as she should be. Especially since Willow is very sick and might not be able to pull the spell off. So he lied. Sure, he wanted Angelus to be killed badly, because Xander is scared, and he's got a right to be scared, Angel is trying to end the world for God's sake. But I think the other reason was that Buffy would slack in hope of Angel returning and then get killed for it.

Date: 2008-07-24 04:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Apparently I have made a major flaw in my writing, because several other people have also thought that my aim in writing this piece was to pinpoint Xander's reason behind the "Becoming II" lie, as simply an act of jealousy. This was absolutely not my intent; I didn't really want to discuss, in depth, the complex reasoning behind the decision, because it was not in keeping with my essay's thesis, which was simply to point out perceived similarities between Othello and the Xander-Buffy-Angel dynamic. It appears that I was less than clear, however.

Thanks very much for commenting; I appreciate your thoughts, and your further testimonial of the convoluted nature of my argument.

Date: 2008-07-24 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] madcap-shiny.livejournal.com
I like Xander a lot, but he definitely has his "ohmygod you are such a dickhead" moments. Even if I don't totally agree, I found this to be a really well-thought-out essay and comparison, especially went it comes to the 'Othering' aspect.

Date: 2008-07-24 08:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hiddenw.livejournal.com
Yay. I feel like I haven't read a good meta post in awhile.

This is a big part of why I could never support a Buffy/Xander pairing. I think the uglier parts of Xander tend to show up because of his feelings for Buffy - he has this sense of ownership/entitlement that leaves me stunned.

Also, they both suffer from a big ol' case of self-righteousness that I CAN'T stand in characters.
From: [identity profile] youngest-one.livejournal.com
You've got some interesting ideas here, and I will agree that the writers could have done more to explore how "Becoming" might have affected the Scoobie's relationships.

But I don't buy your idea of Xander being Iago. For one thing, you seem to be a little dismissive of the idea that Xander has any motivations besides hatred of Angel and a desire to possess Buffy. Yes, there always has been some sub and not so sub - textual jealousy in Xander's dealings with Angel, but Angelus is a murderer who takes delight in torturing his victims. Xander has every right to be afraid of him and to worry that Buffy's romantic attachment to Angel might cloud her judgment when it comes to dealing with him.

As for persistently manipulating Buffy and never treating her as a person and never getting punished for it - I don't agree. Sure, he has fantasies like in "Surprise", but I got the feeling in later seasons that he'd started to realize how immature these fantasies were and to treat Buffy as an equal. Speaking of punishment, by the end of the show Xander's lost two girlfriends due to his actions, had his eye gouged out, and been forced to face his own relative weakness in comparison to the other characters.

Date: 2008-07-27 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ludditerobot.livejournal.com
My biases: I'm in the "he was right to lie and I'm glad he did it" camp. He had seen her not be ready for a fight with Angelus before, several times before, and here, she seemed ready, and I see him thinking that saying something wrong and hurting her determination.

I am also in the "Buffy has had enough" camp. She's determined. She's had enough. I am not sure that Xander saying everything would've changed her mind.

I would also suggest that casting Xander as being part of the Majority is not quite on. He is a geek, a social outcast. "The Zeppo" for one, goes into this. I don't know how much this undercuts anyone's argument, but it seems worth mentioning.

I have never seen Othello, only going as far as skimming the Wikipedia entries for the play and Iago. But I'm seeing Iago as a major player, as the main driving force here. People move, actions occur because Iago convinces them to. People listen to Iago. People don't listen to Xander, and the more he thinks someone needs to hear it, the louder and nastier he puts it. You can say that Xander is jealous of Angel and I would have no grounds to disagree. You can say that Xander is only jealous, with no other and more justifiable emotion and I would begin to quibble. But take the events leading up to "Becoming, pt 2". The closest things to a point where he manipulates, he talks anyone into an action that changes the story arc are in "Passion", where he says "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill", and in "Killed By Death", where he keeps Angelus out of the hospital. Angelus, Buffy, Giles and to a lesser extent Spike are the major players. "or How Xander is Iago" doesn't work because he wasn't making actions happen that weren't going to happen anyway.

Yes, by all rights, he should've killed all subsequent friendship with Buffy and Willow as soon as they figured it all out. But they were all alive for that moment. The world had not been sucked into Acathla's hell. At the very least, Xander did nothing to hinder Buffy in saving humanity. Some would argue that by telling the lie, he helped her to stay focused and save humanity. But that's something way different from being Iago.

random thought

Date: 2008-07-27 02:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clevermonikerr.livejournal.com
I know it's not really productive to play what if with tv shows-or in real life too-but I watched Becoming part I on my ipod today, and had a thought. If Xander hadn't lobbied so hard against re-ensouling Angel when Buffy and Willow brought up that possibility, maybe Willow could have done it before Angel killed that guy and tried to open Acathala and Xander would have never made that lie in the first place. Kendra might have lived too, but that means no Faith.

Date: 2008-08-01 02:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cherrynorth.livejournal.com
Okay, I know I'm like a million years late but I wanted to wait to comment until I could read it a few times over and collect my reaction-type thoughts. Trying to be concise, but I will probably fail.

I feel that sex is probably the truly defining difference between Xander and Iago. Iago seems to have no interest in sex, despite being incredibly sensitive about having his masculinity/sexual dominance over his wife challenged. He doesn't want to, for instance, seduce Desdemona as revenge for Othello allegedly bedding his wife. He exhibits no interest in Emilia, sexual or otherwise, except insofar as she can further his plans for Othello. (Cordelia = Emilia, obviously. She has all the sass for it, and all the misplaced devotion.) All his actions are founded on sexuality, but not sex. Xander is all sex. The offense is sex, the goal is sex.

That said, both Xander and Iago are incredible cock-blockers. Iago effectively ensures that Othello never consumates his marriage by interrupting at every opportunity. Xander tries to do the same, but in a less dextrous manner, and, obviously, fails. (Interesting that not having sex with Desdemona probably contributed to Othello's increasing jealousy/craziness, whereas it was having sex that released the truly monstrous side of Angel.)

I can see how each being the other's lover turns Buffy and Angel alternately into Desdemona. I think there's a lot more to Desdemona, though, like her outright defiance of her father's and society's choices for her, which everyone seems to take for granted. She tells her dad to his face that she belongs to Othello, her husband. Then there's her absolute virtue, including a remarkable capacity to forgive. As she's dying, she refuses to implicate her husband as her killer. Which does, I suppose, lend itself more to Angel being Desdemona. He forgives Buffy for murdering him, even though she, very probably, never does.

I don't know if the writers are siding with Iago so much as being taken in by his charm. If he represents the "norm," then he also represents "us." Meaning we see his failings as our own, his imperfections are acceptable because he represents all of us, and we are imperfect. Moreover, we forgive those imperfections out of a desire to forgive ourselves of them as well.

Personally, I wanted Buffy to murder him when she found out, and I can't understand why it had never come up for them before, especially circa "The Yoko Factor."

This got incredibly long, I'm sorry! Needless to say I was absolutely absorbed by this essay. It makes me want to revisit the essay I wrote about Othello and magic. Or take another Shakespeare class, at least.

Date: 2008-08-01 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carlyinrome.livejournal.com

Oh, baby, I love your response. This is exactly what I hoped would happen when I wrote it. And I agree with many of your points, especially the bits about Iago and Xander as cockblockers, and Cordelia as Emilia.

The thing about Desdemona's defiance is that Othello seems to suggest that her contrary acts lead to her bad end. (If she'd never disobeyed her father, if she'd never attempted to manipulate her husband, etc, none of this would have happened . . .) Of course, for the period, that's incredibly in keeping with the social mores, but as we're viewing it now, it's not so empowering, even if she is a very empowered female character. Of course, this is in keeping with Buffy and Angel as Desdemona; when they defy their position as Other, things go badly for them. (The example that leaps immediately to mind is what happens to Angel in The Wish, but there's more, and probably better ones.)

Thank you so much for responding!

Date: 2008-08-03 07:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] m-mcgregor.livejournal.com
I'm also coming to this late, having seen this after [livejournal.com profile] nocturnalista made a post about it.

I've written a long response to this which is too long to post here. Suffice it to say I strongly (very strongly) disagree with you, and I find some of your points to be sexist or just plain untrue.

My full response is here: http://m-mcgregor.livejournal.com/153008.html

Wow, just ... wow.

Date: 2008-08-03 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gpi-s-avery.livejournal.com
I don't think I've read a more biased, truth stretching, and unambiguously wrong essay on "Why Xander is a poopy head and I hate hate haaaaate him" in a long long time.

Most likely the last time I came across something so venom filled was reading comments on the Cross and Stake following the aborted wedding with Anya.

So let's look at the premise of "the Lie."

Not how you feel about it... let's look at the facts.

Fact, Buffy had previously shown a distinct inability to stop Angelus because doing so meant killing him and thus never being able to potentially recover Angel.

Fact, this lack of ability on her part directly led to Mrs Calander's death. Full stop, this is a fact that is incontrovertible. Had she not LET him go, Ms Calander would not have died. Buffy had him dead to rights in the mall movie theater when he'd just tried to kill hundreds of people in the Mall. Her letting Angelus let him continue killing (at the very least) a shop girl (remember the heart in a box?) and one computer teacher/neopagan. I mean what did she think he'd do when she let him get away, take up clam digging? (note, she didn't even try to capture him, she kicked him in the crotch and walked away)

Fact, Buffy's desire to get her boyfriend back took precedence over the welfare of her friends. When put to the test, she left her friends such that Willow ended up in the hospital as a direct result.

At this point, Xander had evidence in front of him that Buffy had let her fixation cloud her judgment. Buffy had repeatedly shown that she apparently accepted letting Angelus rack up a death toll and kill innocent people so long as she might possibly recover Angel.

So he had a choice, either to respect her right to know, and thus tempt her to possibly again put the lives of everyone on the planet at risk for her personal (individual) wants, or to not tell her and remove that temptation. Did his desire for Buffy figure into this? We'll never know, unless Joss tells us. Let's assume that it was, and he wanted the competition out of the way.

Should he have told her? I'd say yes. Out of respect. Respect is founded on letting people make their own choices with their life.

But at the same time, with the fate of the world in the balance... was his action the right one. Yes.

Because when the choice is between Buffy risking the lives of everyone on earth for her petty wants, and her not risking them...

I'll side with not telling her and not giving her the option of risking the whole world sliding into hell on the weakness of a teen girl's first love. Teen girls, and teen boys aren't known for making the best choices with their lives.

Date: 2008-08-04 04:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nocturnalista.livejournal.com
Aaaaaaaannnd another thing: Angel has become a guy without a soul, who is murdering people and trying to suck the world into Hell. How is he the victim? He lost his soul due to his own actions, and I do blame him more than Buffy because he should have known better, but she did her part. Why is Xander the villian of the piece?

Date: 2008-08-04 06:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clevermonikerr.livejournal.com
Why do you blame Angel (or Buffy?) for him losing his soul? Angel had consensual sex with someone who he loved, I can't find fault with that. If you're playing the blame game, I'd fault the gypsies who put the happiness clause in there. I think Angel and Buffy are both the victims of what happens at the end of Surprise.

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