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Buffy The Vampire SlayerAn Analysis of Cheese as Metaphor in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Wednesday 7 July 2004, by Webmaster
Remember the cheese cuy in Restless? There has been a great deal of speculation about the metaphysical and psychological importance of the cheese guy, but many devoted Whedon fans argue emphatically that the cheese man means nothing cos Joss says so. “The cheese man means nothing. He is the only thing in the show that means nothing.” Ah ha! See? This can mean only one of two possibilities. Either Joss is trying to throw us off the scent... or he is in denial. So I have made it my mission to discover and reveal the secrets of the cheese guy. And I think I may have cracked it.
The secret may in fact lie in the wisdom of nursery rhymes. And for this tip off I must acknowledge one Seth Good, who, it appears, must be a student in a pop studies course at Purdue. Seth points out that the cheese man is obviously carefully placed to trigger a resonance with the children’s song, The Farmer in the Dell. The song ends with the words “The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone, The cheese stands alone, The cheese stands alone, Hi-ho, the derry-o, The cheese stands alone.” Clearly an echo of the words of the first slayer, who growls “We ... are ... alone!” Buffy responds by looking at an image of the Scoobies, and saying, “I am not alone.” Effectively she is saying, “I am not cheese.” She is not yet ready to accept this aspect of her identity. When the cheese guy appears and dangles the cheeses in front of her, Buffy says, “That’s it. I’m waking up.” She doesn’t want to be faced with what she is. Cheese.
Let’s turn for a moment to the dreams of the other Scoobies, and the central role of the cheese guy. When he first appears, in Willow’s dream, he says to her, “I’ve made a little space for the cheese slices.” Obviously the most important issue in Willow and Buffy’s relationship is finding space for each other amidst all the relationships and slaying and other commitments. Then, in Xander’s dream, the cheese man holds up the plate of cheese slices and says, “These ... will not protect you.” This is an important dynamic in Xander and Buffy’s relationship, and ultimately the cheese (Buffy) will not be able to protect him from the loss of an eye and a lover. To Giles the cheese man says, “I wear the cheese. It does not wear me.” The key issue in Giles and Buffy’s relationship is about control and authority. Who wears the cheese? All of these relationships clearly point to the fact that Buffy is the cheese.
In fact the metaphor spreads beyond the confines of Restless. I am not able to go into every use of the cheese metaphor at this point, but I would like to list a few examples.
Way back in season one we can find references to the cheese metaphor. In Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, Xander makes a comment about string cheese. What he is actually making a comment about is Buffy, and the fact that he is jealous that she has a crush on another guy.
The cheese metaphor crops again in Bewitched, Bewildered and Bothered Buffy that rat feels “a sudden need for cheese.” This is the need to return to her true form, as Buffy/slayer/cheese.
In Dead Man’s Party, Giles votes for a smelly cheese night (focussing on Buffy) but the others are not ready to totally forgive her yet.
In The Freshman Olivia says “Rupert, is this Bleu cheese or is it just cheese that’s gone blue?” She is questioning their relationship - she is subconsciously and prophetically beginning to have doubts about whether there is a place for her in Giles’s life, which is already so full with other cheese (Buffy and slaying).
In The Initiative. It cannot be insignificant that when Riley asks Willow to help him get to know Buffy, the first thing Willow replies is, “She likes cheese.” What she is in fact saying though is that Buffy is the cheese. And perhaps Willow is saying that Buffy is starting to find some kind of self-acceptance. Riley must realise the full significance of Willow’s statement, because later in the episode he says to Buffy, “Did Willow tell you I like cheese?” By doing this he is letting Buffy know that he likes her.
In Doomed Spike mocks Xander for “delivering melted cheese on bread. Doing your part to keep America constipated.” Spike is rubbing in the fact that Xander is merely a sidekick, Buffy is the only real cheese. And in fact sometimes Xander actually slows Buffy down.
In Once More With Feeling Xander sings, “She eats these skeezy cheeses that I can’t describe.” Perhaps he is suggesting that Anya sometimes turns to cheeses other than Buffy, and this disturbs him.
In Wrecked, Willow talks about keeping stinky yak cheese in her bra. She is acknowledging that she has made another, inferior, cheese (magic) more important than Buffy.
In Storyteller, Andrew and Jonathan dream about the cheese man. This symbolises the fact that they will return to Sunnydale, the home turf of Buffy.
And, finally, it should be noted that David Boreanaz (Angel) likes Cheese Steaks (Buffy).
Finally I would like to discuss the expansion of the cheese metaphor to include Dawn. One of the first hints that Dawn will appear comes in Graduation Day Part 2, when Faith foretells the coming of “Little Miss Muffet.” The reference to the old nursery rhyme is continued in Real Me, when the crazy guy mumbles about curds and whey. Curds and whey are of course bi-products of the cheese making process. The milk is curdled, separated, into curds and whey. The crazy guy can see that although Buffy and Dawn share the same blood, they are made from the same milk, that milk has become curdled. He sees the changes in reality that lead to the separation of curds and whey, the separate form that Buffy has taken on. Buffy needs to be cut, pressed, hardened, salted and ripened (she needs to go through a death and resurrection) before she will once again be stable in her mature state as cheese.
To conclude, let us return to the original children’s song, The Farmer in the Dell. The song was originally sung by colonial children in America, to accompany a game. Marcia Faye McGee has written from the painful sense of isolation that could be triggered by the calls of “The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone.” This is the refrain that occurs over and over throughout every season of Buffy. The cheese stands alone. Buffy stands alone. But it does not have to be so. The loneliness of the cheese can be shared, and thus extinguished. The farmer takes a wife, The wife takes a child, The child takes a nurse, The nurse takes a cow, The cow takes a dog, The dog takes a cat, The cat takes a rat, The rat takes the cheese, and the cheese reaches out and takes all the potential slayers in the world, and everyone lives happily ever after.
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