Uncertainty in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Myth of Lock-in
James Ogilvy, writing in Strategy + Business, states, “The old production economy was predictable because it operated in the realm of necessity; it produced goods and services people needed, and those were relatively stable. The new economy plays in the realm of freedom; it produces goods and services for a customer who is not bound by needs.”
Many scenario planners ascribe to periods of relative stability. They call these periods lock-in. Lock-in, however, represents periods of perceived stability, not actual stability. As the “old production economy” was cranking out automobiles, homes, airplanes and refrigerators apace during the period between the end of World War II and roughly 1960, the computer industry was emerging, creating the nascent information age. The lock-in was only perceived by those not paying attention to the implications of new technology.
In the Buffyverse, the first four seasons represent a myth of lock-in akin to the “old production economy,” despite the Season One existential threat from The Master. The Master called to the past. He was an attempt (and others would be made) to reestablish a previously thriving universe of vampires and demons on Earth. Though The Master called to the past, a victory would have proven highly disruptive to many in the Buffyverse.
The Master’s ascension would tilt the balance of power toward vampires and demons against humans. While highly disruptive locally, at a global level, the reversion would prove incremental much as communism taking over the West would have been an incremental change in the 1960s when looked at from a broad historical perspective. More than half the world in the 1960s was already Communist.
While the change of Greater Europe, America and other democracies toward that economic model would have been highly disruptive locally, the idea of communism and various forms of its implementation already existed. In both instances, the world would be radically different, but not so radically different for those who were already vampires or communists.
The bigger question that the fictional and real-world poses in these scenarios are: “what future do you want?” Navigating the future requires choosing among the options you are handed. There are also choices to be made in trying to achieve the future you want. We see this today with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos creating their own science fiction futures from personal fortunes—they assert their visions against a backdrop of navigating current technological, political and economic issues that preclude, for instance, NASA from taking a leadership role in human space exploration.
Buffy seasons 1-4 established a historical perspective that contributed to the lock-in myth. Slayers were created to fight vampires and demons. Watchers and their councils were created to train the slayers and maintain the knowledge base. Most people didn’t know about vampires, and if they did, they thought they were fictional. Rules about what a vampire could or could not do existed, as did the relationship between slayers and vampires. The path to Vampire Slayer succession was also clear: upon the death of a slayer, a new slayer was given the power.
A winning reach for the past is also a disruption
But already in these first episodes, there were underpinnings of future changes to assumptions. Buffy died in the Season One finale, only to be revived by Xander. Following her resurrection, she returned with reinvigorated strength and conviction. She was able to not only keep The Master from breaking through into their realm; she was able to actually kill him. The saving of Buffy introduced the first discontinuity to the Buffyverse, which wouldn’t be seen until Season Two: the calling of another slayer upon Buffy’s death. With her revival, the world found itself with two slayers for the first time.
The exploration and exploitation of demons became a military matter with the unveiling of the “initiative,” a research organization based beneath UC Sunnydale in Season Four episode Four, “Fear, Itself.” This created new uncertainties by introducing human interaction not only into the fight against demons but in the human creation of demons. What a demon was, who knew about them and the strategies required to fight them—even the concept of who was the enemy, offered themselves as uncertainties in this storyline.
Change percolates under perceived lock-ins
Like the Buffyverse, the underpinnings of change that characterized the 1960s and beyond were already scampering under the economic and technological veil for over a decade. The Beat Movement and Rock-and-Roll were challenging assumptions about society.
Rocket technology refined in the West and in the Soviet Union by recruited Nazi scientists, along with computer technology derived from wartime investments, spurred growth in microelectronics, and computing, eventually leading to the information and knowledge economy alluded to in Oglivy’s opening quote. Improvements in transportation and communications drove globalization. And the stand-off between The West and the Soviet Union resulted in a technological race that accelerated the nascent electronics, software and weapons industries.
To some, the late 1950s and 1960s appear as another lock-in. The inevitable pace of technological change leads to ever more sophisticated electronics, and more-and-more data that could be leveraged to analyze things, behaviors and other factors. Today we face the assertions that this is an information age lock-in even as disinformation, information warfare, social pushback on data privacy, and the burgeoning costs of emergent technologies like Blockchain roll under the radar as their more superficial and near-term benefits outweigh potential risks that could derail their role over the long term.
The myth of lock-in driven by human lifespans
The myth of lock-in exists in the Buffyverse and in our context as well. Why does this happen? Short human lifespans. Most people concentrate on their local context, which usually does not need to involve dealing with disruptions to lock-in. And when change does occur, the relatively slow pace related to their experience was historically slow enough that people need not be concerned with changes that affected only the end of their lives.
As lifespans extend and the pace of change (for now) accelerates, the ability to accept, navigate and leverage change will become an important survival tool. Interestingly, of those with long lifespans in the Buffyverse either deal well with change or have attached themselves to some historical point and wish for a return to the context of that time.
Regardless of this desire to return to a previous era, all but the most mentally unstable recognize the changes around them and have learned to navigate change in order to survive. Long lifespans require different perceptions, tactics and strategies. As human lifespans increase, we too will need new perceptions, tactics and strategies if we want to not only survive but thrive in the future.
For more on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Uncertainty, see:
Also consider reading: In an Uncertain World Scenario Planning Teaches Agility.
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“What Strategists Can Learn from Sartre,” James Oglivy, Strategy+Business. Winter 2003 / Issue 33 (originally published by Booz & Company).
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