As almost everybody I know is currently saying, how can it be 20 years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired? It’s been such an important part of life, and I can still remember the first time I saw it, completely by accident. I was at university, with less than regular access to a television, so had somehow managed to miss the first series. One day at the family seat, I was channel hopping, and stopped at the sound of Cibo Matto. Hello, ‘When She Was Bad‘, where have you been all my life? Note: before you proceed, if you’ve never watched the show, there will be spoilers in this post.
That was all it took. I didn’t know the characters, the plot, or the actors, even the name of the programme, but I watched it to the end. Very soon thereafter, I wasn’t just a fan, we were involved. Or something. It became an essential part of my week.
Rupert Giles was my favourite character almost immediately – smart, and a little bit sinister, and really rather attractive in his 3-piece suits. I even named my cat after him. While I sadly no longer have the cat, I still have my Mr Giles action figure, and the school library playset in which to keep him. He’s my idol and one of many role models, so you can imagine my glee when I became a school librarian – see this post. Now all I need is this (horribly expensive and difficult to find) replica Vampyr book with which to scare some poor 16 year-old pupil one day.
I used one of his speeches about the importance of the written/printed book as the starting point for one of my Information and Libraries Studies MSc papers, and subsequently as the inspiration for my dissertation on medieval manuscripts (Illuminated Manuscripts of the Middle Ages: Access, Preservation and Relevance in the 21st Century):
Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell… musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is… it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um… smelly.”
(From ‘I Robot, You Jane’, in series 1, episode 8)
I also looked at the use of the library space in the early seasons of Buffy as part of my research into the library space, for a paper at the 2011 International Conference of the Book. Although my forays into academia are on hold for now, could I be part of the academic cult of BTVS studies? Read David Lavery’s paper on the subject here, and the more recent Atlantic article ‘The Rise of Buffy Studies’ by Katharine Schwab here. There’s definitely worse company in which to be. But the point I want to make here is that since the first time I saw the series, it’s become part of me – I think of it instinctively as a means of expressing myself, personally and professionally. I will only watch certain episodes when in certain moods.
There have been so many articles, blog posts, and papers in recent weeks as the 20th anniversary has come ever closer. I’m not the only one in shock that the show is that old, but it’s great to see that it has inspired so much writing and discussion once again. Of course I’m going to direct you first to the words of Rupert Giles, in the form of Anthony Stuart Head writing for the Guardian: ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a feminist parable for everyone – including me‘. For the most part, I agree with what he says, but it’s impossible to forget where the show’s feminism got lost, in the “relationship” between Spike and Buffy in series 6. It’s abusive, it’s unhealthy, and it culminates in Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy. The apparent attempt by the show runners in series 7 to retcon this horror into a relationship based on love – see Buffy’s question to Giles “Why does everybody in this house think I’m still in love with Spike?” – is far removed from feminism, not to mention from basic acceptable standards of behaviour towards any person, and is dangerous. No man or woman, boy or girl, should be given even the slightest suggestion that such an abusive situation, and such abusive behaviour, is an acceptable way to treat someone or is in anyway synonymous with love and the respect that should come with love. Willow’s relationship with Tara latterly becomes similarly abusive. As a sidenote to that observation, I have always thought that the show runners misunderstood and miswrote Willow as a character in later seasons – it was obvious in earlier episodes, even when the Scoobies were still at school, that she had issues with being in control of her life, with being taken seriously. Magic gave her that sense of control, to which she grew addicted. Magic was merely a means to that end, not a drug in itself. That’s how it should have been written. Like Spike, Willow wanted control, and like Spike, she attempted rape, of Tara’s mind, to keep their relationship going. I could write several posts about the ways in which the series dropped in quality and lost what made it special, but that’s not the point of this post, so I will get back on track. Buffy ends with the family, the small group that made it possible for Buffy to truly be, and survive being, a Slayer, standing together, with a larger group supporting them, having survived the Hellmouth and come back to each other as a group. It’s a good ending, considering what went on in the years immediately before it.
Anyway, at least in the earlier series, particularly those set at school, the writing was sharp, intelligent, funny, and emotional. The characters seemed real, even, sometimes especially, the monsters. Situations we encounter in everyday life are succinctly expressed through the supernatural. The programme celebrates the people who don’t fit in, and creates a new family out of those people. Of course it speaks to girls in particular, as they see strong, successful, intelligent, confident girls and women, of different kinds. Stacia M. Fleegal’s article for Salon makes a lot of good points about the ways in which Buffy “slays the patriarchy” (unfortunately, the analysis of Spike’s attempted rape ruins the article. In the Buffyverse, having a soul will not stop a man raping a woman – see Warren, for example, and his sickening treatment of Katrina).
In this post, I keep trying to express why I love this programme, and what it has achieved in my world, and in the wider world. But I feel like I keep failing, distracted by my memories of and concerns about series 6 and 7 in particular. It’s not a good feeling, really – I want to inspire people to watch, or rewatch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I think I may be putting them off, or at least setting myself up for some very mean comments. On the one hand, I like that the series is not straightforward, and that I can’t unquestioningly love every aspect thereof, but on the other, some parts of the series did it, its characters, and its fans, very wrong indeed. With that in mind, I’m going to conclude with a list of my favourite things about the series, in no particular order, without further comment or explanation.
- The Wish (series 3, episode 10)
- Vampire Willow
- Once More With Feeling (series 6, episode 7)
- Faith’s character development
- The Body (series 5, episode 16)
- Willow’s intelligence, computer expertise, and academic nerdiness
- Becoming, parts 1 and 2 (series 2, episodes 21 and 22)
- Amber Benson and Anthony Stuart Head singing together
- Series 2 Spike
- The father-daughter relationship between the Mayor and Faith
- Hush (series 4, episode 10)
I gave myself another problem with this way of writing the post, in that I found it difficult to keep the list reasonably short (short enough that I can publish the post before making dinner for hungry parents, at least). But at least it’s a positive end to a post that proved surprisingly tricky.