Spike Isn't Scary

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Title: Spike Isn't Scary
Creator: Wiseacress
Date(s): 2003 or before
Medium: online
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Topic: Spike
External Links: Spike Isn't Scary, Archived version
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Spike Isn't Scary is an essay by Wiseacress.

It is one of many essays at Octaves, a Buffy and Angel website, where its summary is: "An interesting look at the character of Spike."


About a year ago, peasant pointed out that Spike isn’t scary. This struck me as interesting for several reasons. First, Spike is a vampire. He ought to be scary. Second, I'm interested in scary things. And third, I'm interested in narrative technique, which is what makes the difference between your basic garden-variety vampire being fey and attitudinizing (Anne Rice), brutal and otherworldly (Poppy Z. Brite), flat-out unreadable (Bram Stoker), or sexy, complicated, and not very scary (Joss Whedon). So the question of why Spike isn't scary seemed worth thinking about a little.

I should probably define what I mean by “scary.” Because of course Spike has threatened and postured and displayed game face like a mountain silverback, and that can occasionally be impressive and fun—but I haven't found him particularly scary. (I don't find any of the vampires in Buffy particularly scary, but that’s beside the point.) He has never made me uneasy in my bones, has never given me the feeling that I wouldn’t want to turn my back on him. I probably wouldn’t like to meet him in a dark alley, at least not in S3, but I could say the same thing about a lot of people. Maybe I’m asking too much, but I can’t help but feel that the walking dead should provide a little extra frisson. And that he does not do.

By “scary,” I don't mean the tendency to jump out suddenly from behind privet hedges, or scrabble at ankles through the stair risers. I'm actually thinking of what we might call “the uncanny.” Which is to say: “not quite safe to trust to, or have dealings with, as being associated with supernatural arts or powers,” or “partaking of a supernatural character; mysterious, weird, uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar.” (OED, second edition. Shut up. I'm a librarian.) The uncanny interests me. Brushing up against this stuff invokes a predictable set of physiological responses: adrenaline rush, jumpiness, clamminess, a creeping feeling at the neck, a small-prey-type urge to check over one’s shoulder. Faced with the uncanny, one’s eyes may tear. It’s innate and autonomic and, most interesting of all, it isn’t in response to a direct physical threat, but to the perceived intrusion of the supernatural in daily life. In other words, it's the fear of the unseen and the unknown.