There is an episode in Buffy The Vampire Slayer's fourth season which is frighteningly prescient given the current political climate. (Does Joss Whedon possess an authentic crystal ball? If yes: Sir, we should talk.)
In "Hush," Sunnydale is plagued by The Gentlemen — seven nefarious fairy tale villains who steal their victims' voices so they can't scream while their hearts are being cut from their chests. The Gentlemen's only weakness is classic cheeky Whedon: They can only be beat back by the sound of a woman screaming.
The metaphor doesn't take a genius to figure out: Think of the ghouls as the crushing weight of the patriarchy squeezing your voice, and your rights, out of your boob-burdened lady chest. It's no coincidence that The Gentlemen attack when people are sleeping: Complacency and vulnerability are dangerous.
Nor are similarities between "Hush" and today's political climate a far cry: For a segment of the American population, Donald Trump's electoral victory has felt akin to a horror film come to life — especially in light of his burgeoning administration's dismissive attitudes towards women and minorities. So while the president elect might not look like the dapper demonic dandies of this Buffy episode, the situations are more similar than any of us should be comfortable with.
I know, I know. Countless think-y things have been written about Buffy, and the way it has shaped popular culture, from feminism to fanfiction and beyond. There are entire college classes devoted to the literary relevance of this show (seriously, Buffy Studies is a thing), which has inspired more academic articles than The Wire, The Simpsons, or even The Matrix. (A quick Google Scholar search turns up titles like "A Postcolonial Analysis of Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "The Third Wave's Final Girl: Buffy The Vampire Slayer." ) You may think you've read all the Buffy thinkpieces you can bear. That was then. A lot's happened in 2016, and in this post-electoral landscape, a Buffy catch-up sesh seems in order.
Hillary Clinton's electoral defeat was crushing, not just for those hoping to see a woman ascend to the presidency, but also for women hoping to retain a modicum of control over their bodies. In light of her landslide popular vote win, it also feels like the people — particularly, young women and people of colour — spoke. But like that poor boy in Buffy's dorm who gets his heart carved out with a scalpel as well-bred monsters leer above him, our voices either weren't heard or didn't matter.
Trump's position on abortion remains a little murky. But it is undeniably crystal clear that mere weeks after the election results were announced, Ohio's governor, former presidential candidate John Kasich signed a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks — which seems to telegraph the political tides. And if you're unsure what Trump thinks of your right to choose, be certain that Vice President-elect Mike Pence believes that it's not your choice to make.
To quote Buffy: "Thank God, we're hot chicks with superpowers."
There's a reason the Gentlemen are routinely featured in roundups of the most frightening villains. They're the ultimate nightmare, particularly for women: to be hunted, persecuted, sliced open, and silenced — unable to scream. It's also worth noting that in "Hush," the media has no idea what's going on: Sunnydale residents wake to the news that their town has been struck with a strange epidemic of laryngitis, information that — given the town's position on top of a Hellmouth — seems like it may have originated in the same sad basement as Facebook's fake news problem.
But all doldrums considered, there's a hopeful message buried in Buffy that's also worth reading in the Age of Trump. At first, the lost ability to communicate vocally causes social mayhem in Sunnydale — fights break out between total strangers who can't understand each other, bodies start piling up, and the Slayer is ultimately called upon to save the world yet again, even though her college Psychology paper is alarmingly overdue.
But in the end, the lack of speech forces Buffy and the gang to find new ways to communicate with each other. Some relationships, like Xander and Anya's, start to blossom; others, like Willow and Tara's, finally start to take root. Sometimes, it takes a setback to make any headway on the road to progress.
So sure: Buffy sometimes (okay, usually) uses cheeseball allegories to make a serious point, borrowing everyday issues that plagues teens and turning them into monsters to be slain. "Hush" isn't exemplar in this way. But this episode tackles a serious issue — having a voice, and making that voice heard — with elegance and relevance, revealing that the best way to battle forces of evil (and the patriarchy) is sometimes to scream until you're finally heard.
Of course, in the real world, evil antagonists won't just back off at the high-pitched sound of a woman's angry voice. We have to do more than that. But finding your voice is a start. Trump alone is no monster. But remember, The Gentlemen travel in packs.