Take 5: Why I Love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The Sunnydale Project Year 3)
Buffy: A New Kind of Hero
As someone who reads on the Internet a lot, one of the complaints you’ll read over and over again is the lack of female superheroes. Where IS the Black Widow movie, people ask? Why can’t they get a Superwoman reboot off the ground? Buffy, I would argue, is in fact a superhero. She has special powers. She fights evil. She has to make incredible sacrifices to do it. She tries to keep her identity as the Slayer secret. Etc.
Buffy is also a complex hero. She makes sacrifices, but not always gracefully and sometimes not without complaining about it. She is allow by the writers to mourn the sacrifices – the moments and relationships – that she has to sacrifice in order to keep the world safe.
And the best part is, she gets to do all this with a sense of style. She is strong, she is fierce, but she also likes to go shopping for a great pair of shoes. In order to make her appear as a strong female, the writers don’t force her to give up some of the more simple pleasures of life. Sure you could argue that it’s stereotypical to have a female character who likes clothes and shoes, but the truth is that a lot of women do in fact like to go shopping, they like to wear nice clothes and shoes, they like to accessorize. And a lot of men do as well. I love that the writers were able to present us with a hero that had a fierce edge who wasn’t totally asked to sacrifice the idea of femininity. Buffy is both strong and feminine, whereas a lot of female characters who are written as strong tend to come across as being more what we consider traditionally masculine.
The other great thing about Buffy is that she was also very much a teenager. She whined. She pouted. She was full of angst. She worried about things like dating and prom. Thus much like Harry in the Harry Potter books, she is a hero that is also more developmentally accurate. Even though she wasn’t played by a teen, Buffy the character was very much a developing teen and seeing her balance those struggles against the life of a hero made for some interesting storytelling.
Giles: A New Kind of Librarian
I don’t know how you can watch Buffy and not fall in love with Giles. Sure, Giles had a locked cage with prohibited access to a large number of books, which I am fundamentally opposed to as a librarian. Plus, sometimes students got locked into this cage. Sure, they were deadly and dangerous, sometimes even werewolves, but it seems like a bit much for a library. And the ways in which he taught the Scooby gang their basic research skills is kind of questionable. But he grew a lot as a character over the years. He came to love Buffy and her friends. He began to stand up to the council and the authority and the tradition that they used to try and manipulate the slayer. Giles is by no means an example of a good librarian – were there ever any students besides the Scooby gang even in his library? – but he was a great example of a caring adult and mentor. And he got some truly great lines.
Cordelia: Perhaps the Best Character Arc of All
When we first met Cordelia she was a stereotypically shallow, vapid and quintessential mean girl. A cheerleader even, just to drive the stereotype home. But man that girl had some tremendous character growth over the years on both Buffy and Angel. I can count the number of female characters that have exhibited such tremendous growth on a TV series on one hand sometimes it seems. Certainly Carol from The Walking Dead is another example. But Cordelia went from worrying about her reputation to developing true compassion for others and the state of the world. Sometimes she would still hide it behind the veneer of her clothing, but she still kept showing up at the library to be a part of the fight. I loved Cordelia’s story perhaps more than any other characters. The writers managed to do something remarkable, take this girl that we all loathed and detested and turn her into her own type of hero. Also, check out these fun Cordelia Chase quotes as motivational posters at Buzzfeed.
The Idea of Sacrifice: “She Saved the World. A lot.”
We live in a world that can trap you under its dangerous and false mottos: Look out for number one. You Only Live Once. Live for the Moment.
One of the major themes of Buffy, I would argue, is the value of sacrifice. Every single character is forced to make sacrifices of some kind in order to keep the world safe. Sometimes those sacrifices may seem small, a first date. At other times they are the most costly sacrifices of all: Having, for example, to kill the man you love in order to literally save the entire world. Buffy isn’t just kicking vampire ass and taking names, she is reminding us all that success involves training and practice and commitment, and sometimes sacrifice. Sometimes we are forced to make difficult decisions and the right way is often not the easiest way. Sometimes doing the right thing means having to sacrifice your time, your talents, your comfort. I think the world would be a better place if we were all willing to sacrifice a little more every day to make it so.
Family is More than Blood
One of the running themes through the Joss Whedonverse is the idea that family isn’t just the people you share blood with. Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Oz, Anya, Tara – they all became family to one another. They all failed each other miserably at one point or another, then they chose to forgive and keep being family. As a kid, my parents divorced and we moved around a lot. By the time I graduated high school I had attended 9 different schools. The fact that Buffy could transfer to a new high school and build these friendships for herself was the most life affirming message someone like me could ever hope to see on my television screen.
This past summer, I rewatched all of Buffy with my girls. Well, to be honest, I did skip an episode here and there in the last couple of seasons. I know that there are people who would find this thought appalling. I was once told by one of my Sunday school teen’s parents that I was a bad spiritual leader because I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some people may look at it and see a show with violence and demons, but I look at it and see an empowering show that features a strong, sympathetic female lead who is able to build for herself in love and commitment a strong family that practices the art of forgiveness and sacrifice. Like all of us, they are imperfect humans trying to figure out how to live this thing we call life, but they offer themselves and others grace time and time again. They are, in fact, really great and realistic examples of what being a good person is all about. And they do it all with some of the best quips imaginable.
Now it’s your turn, are you a Buffy fan? Tell us your reasons in the comments. Also, please feel free to share your favorite characters, moments and more.
There will be new posts everyday here at TLT and at Bookish Comforts as part of The Sunnydale Project. I’ll link to all of the posts to make sure you don’t miss them. Guest bloggers include authors Alexandra Duncan and Annie Cardi, as well as some of my favorite author librarians, readers and Buffy fans. You can join in on the conversation by using the hashtag #SunnydaleProject.
Buffy Guest Posts this week at Bookish Comforts
Monday – Welcome, Girls’ Stories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s World of Women (Sarah)
Tuesday – Mixed Feelings on Spike’s Character (Bridgette)
Wednesday – “It’s not noise! It’s music!” Music & BtVS (Rachelia)
Thursday- Teen Girls, Fandoms & Buffy (author Annie Cardi)
Friday – Are You Ready to Be Strong? Buffy & Strength (Justine)
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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