I’ve been seeing people point out the parallels between The Cabin in the Woods and other Whedonverse material since Cabin’s release (probably even before). I’m one of those people that both looks for parallels between everything and everything and that loves director/writerverse in-references, though. These things make me smile when they’re done well, and most cult-following-type director/writer/universes do use them to some extent.
One of the ones I see pulled up is “Do not read the Latin!” / Buffy’s 4×17 “Xander, don’t speak Latin in front of the books.” And yes, that’s reasonable. There are other parallels, parallels galore really, and I mean that with affection. But here I want to talk about one I haven’t actually seen brought up before. This is probably because everyone is so busy comparing Cabin to the Buffyverse, and I don’t dispute that that’s the easiest option, but my parallel pertains to sociology students.
In Cabin, we have Chris Hemsworth’s Curt. Mid-film, Marty (Fran Kranz) muses, “And since when does Curt pull this alpha male bullshit? I mean, he’s a sociology major, he’s on full academic scholarship and now he’s calling his friend an egghead?” Curt is a sociology major, but he’s been cast as the athlete; given that the first scene with him shows him discussing textbooks, flirting with his girlfriend, and playing sports only seconds apart, we could believe that he’s one of those hybrid athlete/honor student/socially savvy/whatever people, the kind that really isn’t that rare in real life but doesn’t seem to exist too often in film.
Then we turn back to Dollhouse. In 2×13, “Epitaph Two: Return,” Mag (Felicia Day) and Zone (Zack Ward) are discussing their lives in the before. Zone reveals that he was a landscape architect; Mag says that she was at Berkeley studying sociology. I always found this pretty in-character for Mag, who I have said before that I adore: sure, it’s the thoughtpocalypse and she has to fight to survive, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for sociological concerns on the one hand, but she was thoughtful and inquisitive about the situation they were all in, she clearly had some regard and concern for the ultimate fate of society.
See, and this is such a small thing on one hand: who really cares that two characters in two separate stories were studying the same thing at college? Lots of people study the same thing at college.
Except… not necessarily. The other Whedonverse characters to have officially explicitly declared majors are all proper science sorts (Bennett [Summer Glau] with neuroscience and probably boatloads of other related degrees, Fred [Amy Acker] with physics, Jules [Anna Hutchinson] being pre-med, Simon [Sean Maher] being a graduate of MedAcad). Obviously, Topher (Fran Kranz) would have similar degrees to Bennett; Adelle (Olivia Williams), Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Wesley (Alexis Denisof), and many other minor characters undoubtedly had degrees that were never discussed, and the rest of the Cabin kids, as well as Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), all attended college for varying lengths of time, though Dana-Marty-Holden and Tara died before graduating, Buffy dropped out, and Willow never actually canonically declared a major, I don’t think. With the exceptions of Wesley and Giles’ inferred degrees, likely in some archaic and intellectual subject pertaining to demonology, and possibly Adelle’s in business or some sort (though I imagine she also held one in some type of science, largely from the comment in 1×09, “A Spy in the House of Love,” about her previous job pertaining to stem cell growth), the properly held degrees are in the “hard” sciences for specific reasons. They serve some larger function in the plot.
So why do these two throwaway lines about two characters having degrees in something that doesn’t directly affect the plot wind up being so similar? I imagine it’s because they actually do affect the plot, just not in the same way.
“Sociology is the scientific study of human social behavior and its origins, development, organization, and institutions,” says Wikipedia.
- Human social behavior, which Rossum largely destroyed with their remote wipes and which must be rebuilt at the end of “Epitaph Two.” Topher’s restoring everyone’s minds served as new origins for human social behavior, the remaining characters do form an institution devoted, to varying degrees, to the redevelopment and reorganization of human social behavior. And why Mag? Mag wasn’t even a character on most of the show. She only appeared in the Epitaph episodes. Yet for this reason, Mag is suited to studying this: “Epitaph One” was about discovering the reasons for and the story behind what Rossum did, and there Mag was, prompting these discoveries as an observer (not impartial, per se, but someone who was original to the story, which allowed her some degree of detachment from the lives of those in the imprinted flashbacks). “Epitaph Two” presents a theoretical future fix, which Mag will be there also to observe.
- Human social behavior, which is the very thing that the situation in the cabin revolves around. This is, in a sense, doing human social behavior backwards: an institution organizes and originates the social behavior how they want it and let it develop in one of many terrible ways. Curt is mentioned as being a sociology major because the dichotomy between multi-dimensional athlete/honor student/socially savvy/whatever person and intentionally douchey jock boy is easy to illustrate and easy to be startled by.
“It is a social science which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity,” says Wikipedia.
- As mentioned above, Mag was leading the investigation and analysis of the files left behind. She was willing to explore options, to follow tiny Caroline (Adair Tishler) to Safe Haven, to follow the group back to the Dollhouse to better understand everything.
- Again, everyone running the show in Cabin was doing just this: Curt’s sociology major, being the only one established save Jules’ pre-med (which in turn served to remind us that no, she wasn’t the “dumb blonde” Whore they wrote her as), simply sheds light on the ways that he and his friends are being played. He is a sociology major in order to deconstruct the absurdity of the social situation at hand.
Mag is a sociology student because she’s part of the resocialization of the world; Curt is a sociology student because he’s part of the unsocialization of the world. Both Dollhouse and Cabin offer commentary on institutional behavior, abuses, and reform; both characters find themselves unwilling participants in sociological experiments pertaining to the institutions of their canon. They just happen to come out on opposite ends of it.
–your fangirl heroine.