Spike was an abused sex toy -- and Gunn is no Oreo! Enraged "Buffy" and "Angel" fans fight back.

Published November 6, 2003 9:00PM (EST)

[Read "Methadone for 'Buffy' Addicts," by Laura Miller.]

I have several issues with Laura Miller's article "Methadone for Buffy Addicts." The title itself assumes that the only use for the show is as a second-hand replacement for the departed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The truth is, "Angel" has always maintained a quality and consistency that "Buffy" lost sometime in Season 5. Plus, one can still feel some empathy for what the main character, Angel, is going through, which is a lot more than I can say about the character of Buffy over the past two years. Fans were forced to watch the character lose pretty much all of the redeeming features that got them involved in her journey to begin with. Too often the character's unfeeling ways were glossed over by the series writers.

Secondly, it is a huge disservice to the characters of Wesley, Gunn and Fred to consider them only pale imitations of members of the Buffy cast. There is a reason that Alexis Denisoff was given the "and" spot in the Angel credits. He took a character that was considered nothing more than a joke on "Buffy" and became a complex, noble character struggling to do the right thing, and paying for sometimes making the wrong choices for what seemed to be the right reasons at the time. And one has to wonder why the writer immediately relegates Gunn to the role of "Oreo" simply for gaining some education (in a mystical way) and taking on more of a thinking role this year. Plus, the show has chronicled Gunn's struggle with adjusting himself to his new environment, as anyone who has actually watched the show through its entire run can tell.

-- Terrina M.

Wow. What a horrible article. Clearly the author has not watched most of the seasons of "Buffy" or "Angel."

This phrase about the character of Gunn -- "but does he have to be such an Oreo?" -- was so offensive, I had to write. The term "Oreo" generally means black on the outside and white on the inside. So apparently Gunn is still black on the outside, but all the knowledge and skill he has gained is "white"? Or does hanging out with white people make you white on the inside? Either way, it's sickening. Does this make every black person who is a lawyer or a doctor or a success an "Oreo"? Or every black person who lives and works among white people an "Oreo"?

What makes this all the more ridiculous is that the author asks, "Doesn't Gunn ever feel a twinge of homesickness, of identity confusion, of racial alienation?" If the author had ever watched "Angel," she would have known that this issue has been brought up several times. In fact, a whole episode was devoted to it in Season 3, when Gunn is confronted by his old gang, and accused of "selling out."

One of the great things about shows like "Buffy" and "Angel" is that they encourage viewers to look past the surface of a character. Beautiful women and men are sometimes villains and ugly demons are sometimes fighting the good fight. How sad that your reviewer can't even look past the most offensive stereotypes.

-- Kristin Matey

I cannot believe that we live in a day and age in which someone would refer to a black character (Gunn) who happens to be successful in a white-dominated field (in this case, the law) as an "Oreo." The implication is, of course, that if a black man manages to achieve some level of success, exert some level of authority or show any degree of intelligence beyond "street smarts" that he is some sort of anomaly to his race.

Obviously Laura Miller does not watch much of "Angel," because her assertion that Gunn does not "ever feel a twinge of homesickness, of identity confusion, of racial alienation" is patently false. Gunn's upbringing, his feelings of distance from those he works with and his racial identity have been addressed in many wonderfully written episodes as the series has progressed.

But Miller's reliance upon stereotypes does not stop with that. She refers to Spike in his most recent years on "Buffy" as "that dire cliché of deluded femininity, the bad boy redeemed by his love for a good woman." Apparently, she did not watch much of this show after Season 4, either, as Spike was always depicted as the stereotypical female in the Spike/Buffy relationship -- abused, used for sex and constantly beaten and publicly humiliated by his partner. True, the writers went in a different direction with his attempted rape of Buffy, but the show was never reliant upon the cliché she espouses. Spike's "reform" was not based upon the fact that he changed externally, but rather that he changed internally, as was ultimately indicated in the finale, when his sacrifice to save the world had more to do with his acceptance of himself than with his love for a "good woman" (whose major concern was not the deaths of her friends, but shoe shopping).

Apparently, Miller wants this deep and passionate character to be reduced to the one-liner guy, the jerky ass who has regressed to the stereotypical insensitive (and misogynist) bastard he was four years ago. Just as she seems to want the character of Gunn, a strong, articulate and intelligent black man, to be reduced to the stereotypical, just-out-of-the-hood street fighter who is out to get whitey.

-- Kirsten Edwards

What I loved about the portrayal of Willow's relationship with Tara on "Buffy" was that it was intentionally a nonissue, that it was treated like any other relationship on the show, allowing us to see, for the first time, on prime-time network TV, an actual loving, complex and adult relationship between two women that wasn't about them being lesbians, but about them being two people in love, while at the same time not neglecting to address their fears of not being accepted by the outside world (for instance, in the episodes "The Yoko Factor" and "Family"). I feel that Mutant Enemy has done the same with Gunn. Where he came from was not glossed over or ignored, but his skin color is by no means the most important thing about him, nor is it a close second.

I believe it's about time popular entertainment moved away from sexual orientation, skin color or gender being portrayed as the most important factor, and sometimes the only factor, in the character and personality of anyone who isn't a heterosexual white male, and I love that ME sees it that way too. I think that the fact that Miller doesn't feel comfortable with that tells us more about her own prejudices than about Gunn and his "Oreo"-ness.

Unfortunately, this is not the only point where Miller shows her prejudice and ignorance. Her take on Spike's character is simplistic at best. Not only has Spike never benefited from the support and guidance of a "good woman," he has repeatedly been abused and ridiculed by Buffy, in a role reversal that caused many women to identify with him instead of with Buffy. It was the struggle to overcome his inner demons and to become a better man despite the complete lack of encouragement he received from both the object of his affection and her friends, that made him such an intriguing and captivating character. The fact that Miller prefers him as nothing more than an amusing sidekick, and cannot see him as anything more than a one-dimensional serial killer reformed by a woman, speaks volumes as to her own shallowness and suggests that she is the one unfortunately caught in the patriarchal mind-set that spawns cheap clichés about reformed bad boys.

-- Ronnie Brosh

Um, I'm a black man who (quite often) leaves his community to fight the good fight with a handful of white folks. And guess what? I don't feel homesick or conflicted about who I am or what I'm doing, as I am an individual first and black second.

I suggest you check yourself before you decide who's an "Oreo."

-- Stacey Lester

The world of sci-fi/fantasy is not the most culturally diverse. Yes, aliens and fairies abound, but black folks are rarer than enchanted gemstones. When you do run into the occasional black person she is usually more a caricature than a character. A white person's idea of what a black person should be like -- an idea based mostly on videos from MTV and BET. Mutant Enemy has been no exception. The audience for the genres tend to be as white as the worlds they portray. (Coincidence?) As such, the few black people who are into sci-fi and fantasy quickly learn to be very comfortable being the only black person in the room. Which is why, for most of us, Gunn's relatively easy adaptation to the world he has chosen is more real than any amount of teeth gnashing angst.

-- Wahrena Pfeister

I was completely disgusted by the article on "Angel" in which the author called the black character an "Oreo." Because he has black skin and now practices law, that makes him an Oreo? To have education is to be an Oreo? To move out of your old neighborhood and move on to bigger things is to be an Oreo? Come off it, this is utterly disgusting condescending racist bullshit. While this attitude is typical of many liberal do-gooders, I am still amazed and outraged that such things would ever be thought, let alone published.

-- Brett Verona

In Laura Miller's article "Methadone for 'Buffy' Addicts," she asks: "Gunn's situation -- a black man who left the community he grew up in and defended with his life to fight the 'bigger' good fight with a handful of white folks -- just naturally generates the kind of internal quandaries that make Whedon's characters' travails so fascinating. Doesn't Gunn ever feel a twinge of homesickness, of identity confusion, of racial alienation?"

Miller should be pleased once the Season 3 box set is released in February, as she will then be able to view episode 3.03, "That Old Gang of Mine," which deals with all of these issues. Granted, that was two seasons ago. Perhaps Joss Whedon felt that one full episode was as much as he wanted to devote to these questions, or perhaps he felt that the issue was sufficiently dealt with, and now wants to take Gunn's character in different directions.

Or perhaps these issues are in fact ongoing. Gunn's current character arc flows directly from his growing dissatisfaction with his role in the group, which was repeatedly touched on last season. That the one character who feels like his mental contributions are being undervalued happens to be the only black character on the show is probably not an accident. Though it is almost never addressed explicitly (which is probably a good thing), there is little question in my mind that the theme of racial tension underlies all of the decisions Joss makes for Gunn's character.

-- Michael Gentry

Being a huge "Buffy" fan, I was excited to read Laura Miller's piece on Spike's new life in the series "Angel." But this quickly soured when I read her critique of the characters, and she described the character Gunn as an "Oreo."

It is offensive that the character doesn't meet Miller's standard of "blackness," whatever that is.

It is offensive that she suggests that an African-American must feel a sense of alienation when constantly hanging out with a bunch of white folks. Never mind the fact that there are also assorted demons, ghosts, vamps and green folks in the picture.

But most of all, it is offensive because she uses such a flippant racial term so casually, one often used with malice to describe African-Americans who aren't "street" enough for ignorant people like Miller. Whether Miller is white or black, it is offensive.

As a reference point, my former university dean essentially lost his job over using the exact same derisive term after being overheard at a school function.

I rarely get offended, but I am shocked that this would enter into and be tolerated in Salon's vocabulary. When political commentary enters into your entertainment section it can be frustrating. But commentary with racially offensive overtones is extremely disappointing.

-- Bill Ardolino

I was appalled by Laura Miller's article for many reasons, but what angered me the most was her preference for Season 4 Spike. Yes, Spike was entertaining as the Fonzie character in Season 4, but his evolution in Seasons 5, 6 and 7 made him one of the most compelling figures on TV. The fact that Miller can't see this makes me believe she missed most of Joss Whedon's deep metaphors peppered throughout the years and just enjoyed the show at its most shallow and accessible level.

By the end of Season 7, Spike's character growth had far outstripped Angel's and the Buffy/Spike story was far more complex and multileveled than the high-school romance of Buffy and Angel, which was the stuff of typical teen dramas we see every night on the WB.

-- Lee Wood

OK, first off, as a black woman that has heard all of the racism possible in my short life -- I have to say I am offended by this. The message I'm getting from this is that black inherently equals an absence of intelligence. I get what Laura Miller is saying, that Joss Whedon should have used this opportunity to show the isolation that Gunn would feel as a black man, the problems that he has now with alienation from his race -- all issues that should have been dealt with -- but to say that he is an "Oreo" is just piss crap.

I have heard too often in my lifetime that I "don't act black enough," that I "act white" and these are the most racist, ignorant things that anyone can ever tell you. Basically, this means that blackness means stupidity, ignorance and hostility against whites. That is not what blackness is about, and I hope that someday Miller understands that what she wrote was not only wrong but a reinforcement of negative stereotypes.

I think that Whedon has failed Gunn as a character. There were plenty of social issues that could have been tackled with him instead of forcing him into the background. I always thought that Gunn thinking of himself as the "muscle" was just a shadow of his feelings of inferiority. It is difficult to be a minority, especially a black minority, in an environment where you don't see anyone else from your race. You can feel isolated when you don't have the liberty to indulge in your culture, to talk about the things that are deemed inappropriate to talk about. But you adjust, you learn from other cultures, and through contact you learn respect. I think we needed to see Gunn's journey toward this kind of respect and the struggles he had with this. But would I call Gunn an Oreo? No, because that's just plain racist.

-- Vedonia Ingram

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------