Comparing Sexuality and Power in Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
At first glance, Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the hour-long TV series which premiered in 1997 and is now in its third season, bears little resemblance to the book which started the vampire craze -- Bram Stoker's Dracula, published a century earlier. And yet, looks can be deceiving. Although the trendy -- and often skimpy -- clothing and bandied about pop-culture references of "Buffy" clearly mark the series as a product of a far different culture than that of the Victorian England of Dracula, the underlying tensions of the two texts are far similar than one might think. Beneath the surface differences in the treatment of their heroines, the two texts converge in similarly problematic anxieties about gender and sexuality.
Unlike other latter-day adaptations of the vampire legend -- such as films like The Hunger and Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire novels -- which actively shatter accepted tenets of vampirism, such as the danger of sunlight or crosses to vampires, "Buffy" relies heavily on the guidelines for vampirism established by Stoker in his novel. In "Buffy," as in Dracula, vampires can be killed by direct sunlight and harmed by holy water and crucifixes (Golden 125). When, for instance, Buffy's crucifix necklace touches her vampire boyfriend Angel's chest, it leaves a burn-mark similar to that left on vampire-defiled Mina Harker's forehead by application of a Holy Wafer in Dracula ("Angel;" Stoker 302). And unlike the sympathetic portrayals of vampires advanced in Rice's novels and in the 1960s soap opera "Dark Shadows," the vampires shown are not good or even human. They are, in the words of Buffy's Watcher Giles "demon at the core. There's no halfway" ("Angel"). Van Helsing's pledge that "Devils or no devils, or all the devils at once, it matters not; we fight him all the same" holds true both in Dracula and on "Buffy," where forces of good band to combat the representatives of evil (143).
Just how the forces of good organize themselves in each text reveals much about the assumptions about gender roles present in their cultures of origin. Buffy Summers, a teenage girl, is the Vampire Slayer -- "One girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the. . . the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil" (Giles/Buffy, "Welcome to the Hellmouth") -- and her friends, the so-called Slayerettes, and her Watcher Giles only provide assistance and support. Dracula's Mina is merely a minor -- and weaker -- member of a large group of men, including her husband, who fight in order to protect her. Without doubt, the image of the petite Buffy fighting and killing vampires week after week forces the viewer to recognize her strength and power. Despite her physical passivity in the novel, "sweet-faced, dainty-looking" Mina reveals she too is strong and necessary to the fight against evil, even if in less obvious ways (226)....