Let’s Ask TV About Our Organizing Problems: Getting Back In the Game
With as little manslaughter as possible.
“Let’s Ask TV About Our Organizing Problems” is an advice column for organizers, answering our questions about work by looking at fiction.
After taking some time away from organizing, I want to get back into it. That said, I’m a little apprehensive about it. I was really really burnt out when I left, and I feel like a lot of the organizing work I’ve done over the years has ended with either a full on meltdown, or my work being somewhat out of control.
Is this just me? Even if this is normal— how can I get back into doing work that matters to me without setting myself up for burnout?
— Aspiring to be UnBurnt
When I first read this question, I immediately thought, “Oh, this reminds me of that one terrible episode of Buffy. But I’m sure I’ll use something else for this question.”
But here we are.
The terrible episode of Buffy in question is called Dead Man’s Party. It holds the title of being not just the most incomprehensible episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but also one of the most racist episodes*.
Dead Man’s Party is in the third season, at the very beginning when Buffy returns from spending six months in LA pretending to be some girl named Anne.
The episode immediately preceding Dead Man’s Party covers this. She ran away from home after stabbing Angel in the heart, and spent her time waitressing, brooding, walking around sadly, and — oh shit: getting attacked by demons and sent to a hell dimension.
The prior episode had a sort of happy predestination moral: wherever you go, there you are.
But a bit more like “wherever you go, your demons will also be there, haunting you, so you will have to keep killing them.”
Maybe that’s what happened to you, AtbU.
When you took some time away from organizing, did you find you were fighting the same battles you were fighting while you were organizing?
Did you grow a lot of plants and finally realize that none of them, nice as they are, are ever going to be as interested as you in the efficacy of online petitions?
No? Just me? OK.
Here’s the reason I couldn’t get dead man’s party out of my head, as much as I wanted to think of another example.
When Buffy decides to embrace being Buffy Summers, and returns home —
everyone is really pissed at her for leaving.
But no one says that out loud.
Willow and Xander, though they are admittedly realistically teenage bad friends, are... bad friends*.
But Buffy never says explicitly “I had to stab my boyfriend in the heart and then he got sucked into hell, so I feel sad.”
No one says how they feel.
So they can’t actually address their issues.
It’s just awkward.
Like every art curator mom on a careless 90s show, Buffy’s mom’s job leads to some ofthe most regrettable plot lines of the series.
In Dead Man’s Party, Buffy’s mom has received a mask, “from Nigeria,”* she is storing in the house.
Jesus, Joyce, shouldn’t it stay at the gallery? That said, this particular piece of contrivance it seems like the type of thing that they absolutely would address in the episode, a classic 90s TV show move.
Joyce probably explained at length that she can’t keep the mask at the gallery because of recurring plumbing issues, but no one is ever going to explain how she makes enough money to live in that house as a single art curator, even in the 90s.
Anyway, Buffy throws a rager for complicated reasons I still don’t quite understand besides “plot.”
But because of the mask, which ZOMBIFIES the corpses around it, the party ends up DEADLY.
In order to have a number of dead bodies near Buffy and her friends for the plot, the gang commits an alarming amount of manslaughter over the course of this episode, from Giles hitting a pedestrian with his car to Buffy accidentally killing a lot of her party guests.
The mask brings these bodies all back to life and they attack Buffy, her mom, and her friends.
Being attacked by zombies means that Buffy, her mom, and her friends, have to fight their way through their unspoken problems, they have to say how they feel!
“You can’t just bury things,” Xander says at one point. “It will come right back to get you.”
Buffy was never a very subtle show.
At the end, Buffy tells her friends how she feels, they tell her how they feel, everyone feels better, and we’re only two episodes away from Faith.
So what does this mean for you, AtbU?
That was a fairly lengthy synopsis of a Buffy episode to sit through without getting any insight out of it.
My thought would be: go back to what you were doing before.
Not necessarily the exact same group, or the exact same role.
But jump back in.
Fight the zombies with your friends, so to speak.
What kept me thinking about dead man’s party, long after I would’ve preferred to never think about this episode of television ever again, is that Buffy doesn’t just jump back into fighting: she jumps back into fighting until she can identify what is going on under the surface.
What are the feelings that made you feel so burnt out before?
What made you feel like you needed to step back and take a break?
Before you can prevent yourself from burning out, you have to know what it is that made you burn out.
Scary as it is, the best way to do that is jump right back into what you were doing, but with a new mindset.
With a new commitment to saying how you feel, not being afraid to say “you know what? This is not working for me,” or “I don’t think I have the capacity for that,” or “Last time we did this, I had to stab my boyfriend in the heart, and I would prefer not to do that again this time.“
Saying how you feel and not being afraid to say no are key to avoiding burnout.
Its also key to building real relationships with zombie fighting/organizing friends, the kind that can help you stop burnout before it starts.
So — good luck with your post-burnout.
Try not to commit any manslaughter.
- I don’t know of any zombie myths from Nigeria, but I am very ignorant. That said, I don’t know… it’s Buffy the vampire slayer. I am thinking this mask, though it is from Nigeria on the show, is a reference to the Haitian history of zombies. Zora Neal Hurston wrote about them as part of her book, Tell My Horse, a collection of Haitian folklore. There’s also a good CodeSwitch episode about the connection between the Zombi myths and slavery in Haiti.
* Xander has long been acknowledged on the internet as a creep, but Willow is just as bad. As the seasons continue, she gets some of the grossest Joss Whedon lines because she’s played by Allison Hannigan. Picture all of lines said by girls on this show as being said by Joss Whedon and you get the “Joss Whedon go to therapy and talk about your mom challenge.”
+ A formidable title for a show that has the First Slayer, the racist caricature to end all racist caricatures. Here is interesting and meaningful stuff about Buffy and anti-blackness, and some good essays about Buffy by Black people. They’re still remaking it I think, and the showrunner is cool (.
Also did you know when you look up Buffy and race on Google it asks did you mean to ask “is Kendra Irish”