Originally written a few months ago now, this ramble has appeared on TheMostCake.co.uk and Oxford WomCam zine (of which I’m still waiting for a copy, get on it Terrell). Any thoughts/comments welcome.
Since first appearing on our telly screens in the halcyon days on the late 90s, Buffy has captured the hearts of a million girls (and boys) worldwide. Whether it’s the kick-ass moves, the witty dialogue or the damn sexiness of the show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer finds its fans in all walks of life, but particularly, it seems, from the gay/feminist path. I’m certainly no exception, having drooled over the Buffster once or twice in our younger years. Sure, the credits may have rolled for the last time as long ago as 2003, but the series seems as fresh and relevant as ever. Here are my top reasons why we can’t get enough of the Scooby Gang.
1. Buffy the Patriarchy Slayer Joss Whedon is, unashamedly, unequivocally feminist. In interviews, he proudly proclaims how he wrote Buffy as a response to the clichéd damsel-in-distress set-up of many vampire stories (see Twilight). Indeed, watching today’s anaemic, abstinence-obsessed vamp flicks, with their mopey love interests and embarrassingly wimpy girls, it’s easy to pine for the solid, strong women of Sunnydale. Buffy herself is clearly a feminist role model, with her no-shit attitude to misogyny and ability to beat up any guy (demonic or human) who gets in her way. But there’s also Joyce, her mother, who represents the strength many single mothers need to get on in today’s society, whilst retaining a sense of humour. At the end of the day, it’s always the women that are doing the rescuing; ever noticed how many times Xander, Giles or Spike need saving by the fairer sex? Point made.
Similarly, unlike in Twilight, the show was always unafraid to deal with issues of sex and sexuality head on. In the second series, Buffy decides to have sex with her vampire boyfriend Angel (the ‘Care Bear with fangs’, as Cordelia dubbed him). Sure, it ends with Angel losing his soul and becoming an evil, murderous bastard again, but at no point is it implied that it’s a ‘punishment’ for Buffy taking control of her own sexuality. At the end of the series, Buffy sends Angel to Hell by penetrating him through the chest with a huge phallic sword. And he gets sucked into a big fiery whole. Man, do we love metaphors. Plus, Angel was much more interesting when he was evil.
Yet despite all the trauma and drams of her ‘first’, Buffy continues to have a sex life. From her college years, we get never-ending shots of her writhing around with dull All-American Riley (yawn), or sexy but demonic Spike (yay), implying that her stamina in the battlefield is matching by her stamina in the bedroom.
2. The soundtrack Music was always a big part of Buffy; drawing heavily from the grunge/indie scene of the 1990s, much of the soundtrack was dominated by awesome female-fronted bands such as Garbage, Hepburn and K’s Choice. For many viewers growing up the Willow, Xander et al, Buffy provided a resource base for accessing alternative artists. Plus, it had one of the coolest theme songs of all time, sung by the geeky-but-punky Nerf Herder.
Music was so important to the series that an entire musical episode was made during the sixth series, Once More, With Feeling. Taking many of the clichés from musicals and turning them on their head, the episode featured Xander and Anya in a retro pastiche of the horrors of coupledom, to Tara revealing her crumbling trust in Willow (sob!). There was even a song about how great it is to get mustard stains out of clothes. All in all, it was amaze.
3. Wara/Tillow Ah, Willow and Tara. Buffy was, let’s face it, pretty damn brave to show a same-sex relationship on a huge network in the US in the early noughties. Hell, can we really say it’s much better now? Sure, The L Word did great things in terms of lesbian visibility on TV, but how many times can you flick over to Fox, or UPN, or the BBC and see a lesbian love story unfolding (here’s hoping Lip Service will change that…)? Joss Whedon famously had to tiptoe very carefully around TV censors when implying the sexual nature of Tara and Willow’s relationship, but as shown below, he thankfully wasn’t always too subtle.
Unfortunately, when it became clear that Willow and Tara were, y’know, big ol’ gays, the response wasn’t too great:
‘For real: how fucking disappointed was I in the American public after Tuesday night? Of course I realize the rabidly homophobic posting contingent represents a smaller percentage of Americans than the EVIL GAYS they were posting about, but that’s not it. It’s the fact that everyone went nuts about it THIS WEEK, when this has clearly been going on for MONTHS? Did anyone see the spell scene in episode 16? Hello? It’s the not the bigotry that offends me, it’s the lack of filmic insight.’ – Joss Whedon, May 2000
The relationship also inspired some lovely/terrifying fan art.
4. It was realistic
Ok, this probably doesn’t make a great deal of sense when we’re talking about a vampire show, but this is the very thing that makes Buffy so great; it didn’t ignore reality. Joss and his writers knew that they couldn’t just lie down and let right-wing America trample all over them, censoring every gritty or painful plotline. They stood up for their storylines, for their characters. So yeah, Willow and Tara broke up, Buffy’s mother died of tragic but entirely non-supernatural causes and Spike tried to rape Buffy. Because that’s what life is like, and that’s what the show intended to portray; the vampires, demons, Hellmouths were all elaborate metaphors. Whether it was Willow becoming addicted to magic, Buffy falling into a sexually violent relationship or Angel losing his soul, they were all allegories for the real, terrifying experiences of young men and women. As the fabulous queer theorist and Buffy critic Roz Kaveney suggests, Buffy is all about trying to get on with other human beings; the sex, the fights, the break-ups and make-ups are all part of ordinary life. But throw vampires into the mix, and it all gets a lot hotter.