I was recently given the most amazing gift. I’ve got to tell you all about it.
So, we visited some friends at the weekend, and (as well as having a wonderful time), they made my husband and I – or, well, me really – a present of seasons 1-3 of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer.’
No – wait! Don’t run away!
I know the topic of ‘Buffy’ can divide opinion – and, sometimes, it’s the people who’ve never watched the show who can have the loudest opinion – but I have to nail my colours to the mast right here.
I’m a fan.
I’m a massive fan of Joss Whedon, for a start; I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything he has had a hand in which I haven’t liked, at least somewhat. I love the way he writes women, and his imaginative use of myth and folklore, and the intelligent, complex humour that weaves its way through everything he’s made. So, it stands to reason that I’d be a fan of Buffy Summers and her ragged little Scooby Gang, battling to keep the world vampire-free.
However, I came late to ‘Buffy’. To me, the show is all about Willow being a powerful and sometimes rather evil witch, and Buffy’s complicated relationship with the vampire Spike, all of which comes well into the show’s development. Season 1 is all about Buffy’s relationship with the vampire Angel, of whom I was never really a fan – mainly because the show was all about Spike when I watched it – but I’m finally developing an appreciation for Angel as a character and as a focus for Buffy’s affection. It was moving to watch them fall in love, all the while with Buffy thinking he was human, until the inevitable moment when his true nature is forced to make an appearance.
In fact, I spent *cough* several hours yesterday watching one or two (or six) episodes, and it was huge fun to see all the characters as they were at the beginning of the show – young, and innocent, and in possession of the clunkiest high-heeled shoes and the frostiest lipstick known to man. It made me very nostalgic for my own 1990s teenage-hood, when girls went out to nightclubs dressed in slacks and jackets and nobody had mobile phones and the very idea of the internet was mind-blowing and most people listened to decent music and sarcasm was the lingua franca of everyone under thirty.
Sometimes, I really miss those days.
It was also great to see Willow the way she was at the show’s beginning – gentle, and quiet, and nerdy, and devoted to Xander, and totally unaware of her own magical powers. She was always one of my favourite characters (even when she was, you know, evil and set on destroying the world, and stuff), and watching the show would be worth it just for her.
It’s a strange experience, from a narrative point of view, to watch the show backwards – as in, to only be experiencing its beginnings now, despite knowing how the story arcs end and how all the characters develop. It makes my viewing experience at once brand-new and exciting, as well as bittersweet. It also makes me appreciate exactly how much the characters grow and mature, and how interesting their stories are. For me, Buffy herself was always a weary, sick-and-tired-of-saving-the-world-again type character, so to see her as she is in season 1 (a cheerleading wannabe, running away from her past, trying to date and have a normal teenage life, full of pep and snarky humour) is great.
But mainly what watching ‘Buffy’ does is make me really, truly crazy that ‘Twilight’ is the vampire story that most young people are familiar with these days. ‘Buffy’ is still popular, and still a part of the mental world of teenage audiences, but I do think it has largely been replaced by Bella Swan and her moping nonsense. How has this happened? How have we replaced Buffy Summers – a kickboxing, weapon-slinging, intelligent, brave, resourceful, fearless, duty- and honour-bound warrior – with Bella Swan, whose single greatest achievement is managing not to fall over while walking down a school corridor and having a crush on a guy who sparkles in the sunlight?
It makes me ferocious to think that role models for girls have regressed to the point where they’d rather read about a character who devotes herself – body, mind and soul – to the needs of a man than learn about Buffy, who is a self-possessed, confident heroine in her own right. Buffy doesn’t need anyone. Her relationships are her own choices, and she owns her mistakes. She bravely goes wherever her duty calls her, and she never backs down. She sacrifices everything she has in order to save the innocent. She looks like the kind of girl who could cause some serious damage (and, indeed, the actress who played her had a black belt in taekwondo); Bella Swan looks like she’d fall over in a stiff breeze. Bella Swan never thinks about anyone outside of her own small circle. Bella’s story – from what I remember of it, which isn’t much – is largely about herself, and Edward (the vampire who becomes her husband), and their family. They fight, sure, but it’s to save themselves. Buffy fights evil because it is the right thing to do, and because it is her responsibility, and even though it weighs heavily on her she doesn’t shirk it. She fights to save people who don’t even know they’re in danger, and she suffers for it.
But no. We’d rather squee over Bella Swan’s wedding dress than fangirl over Buffy’s prowess with a crossbow.
I know where my loyalties lie.