Thursday, November 7, 2013

Girls Who Kick Ass: Why They Matter #1 - Buffy Summers

For reasons that should be obviously obvious, I chose to kick off this series by talking about the main character of the greatest TV show of all time.

Why does Buffy (the character) matter in-universe? Why does Buffy (the character) matter in real life? Why did Buffy (the show) matter? Why is Buffy (the show & the character) still relevant, more than ten years after the Grand Finale? Why is the Slayer always a girl?

Well, those are some great questions! I'm not sure if I'm completely up to the task of providing exhaustive answers to all of them - I'm going to art school for a reason, and that reason is: I despise reading Academic Papers, and I really despise trying to write them - but I've been giving them a lot of thought since yesterday (also: since I started watching the show when I was fourteen), and to the complete surprise of absolutely no one I've found that I do actually have quite a bit to say about "why" Buffy matters.

1. Buffy reminds us that good things take time.
You probably already knew that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a wonderfully cheesy movie in 1992, and you might have heard that it's quite far removed from Joss Whedon's original vision. (Did you know that, when Marti Noxon was hired between seasons one & two, Joss ordered her never to watch it, and she never did?)

Anyway. In 1992, Joss was able to bring everybody a creative, though forgettable, slightly special B-movie . . . called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Five years later, the same guy was able to bring people the greatest TV show of all time . . . called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All I'm saying is, no one could have possibly predicted the difference that five years would make.

Really casts your NaNoWriMo Writer's Block This is Not a Drill Just Leave Me Here to Die in a slightly different light, doesn't it?

2. Buffy paved the way.
For some reason, no one expected a TV show based on a disappointingly disappointing movie to do, you know, well. When the show got picked up, it was a mid-season replacement. After filming the entire first season before the pilot aired, no one who worked on the show anticipated that they would ever come back for a second season. They did, of course; by the time season two was half over, the show was basically the entire reason anybody ever even pretended to pay attention to The WB (which, eventually, gave us Gilmore Girls).

Buffy may not have been the very first TV show that revolved around a Girl Who Kicks Ass, but it was clearly something special. Without it, would we ever have gotten to know Veronica Mars? Sookie Stackhouse? Joan of Arcadia? George Lass? Lorelai & Rory Gilmore? The Charmed Ones?* Would we ever have gotten so comfortable with serious dramas that are also genuinely funny? Would we ever have learned to demand stories that really mess with our emotions?

Maybe. But, goodness, Buffy sure did make it easier.

*Charmed is actually one of my most hated TV shows of all time. But that's another story.

3. Buffy fights her own battles.
Does she ever whine about how much it sucks to be the Chosen One a little more often than her friends would like? Sure thing. Does she occasionally insist that, even though she's the only one who destiny picked, she can't or won't keep fighting the fight without her friends? Absolutely.


Does she ever whine so much that she actually permanently quits being a hero? Not once.


Does she ever NOT drop everything to do whatever she has to do to save her friends (and, more often than not, the entire world)? Never.

In short: Buffy gets stuff done.

4. Buffy never gives up.
This attitude is perhaps best summed up in the second season finale, when Angelus taunts her, "So that's everything, huh? No weapons . . . no friends . . . no hope. Take all that away, and what's left?"

And then three things happen in swift succession:
  • He tries to stab her with a sword.
  • She stops it with her bare hands and says, "Me."
  • She kicks his ass.
'Nuff said, girl. 'Nuff said.

5. Buffy taught me everything I know about family.
There are approximately 157,000 moments that illustrate this point, but Joss said it best:

"Family are the people who treat you like family. Period."

(If you're curious, he was talking about the sixth episode of season five, which is called . . . "Family.")

6. Buffy taught me to start thinking about magic and why it's important because it's a metaphor.
Do I even need to explain this one?

7. Buffy makes her own rules.
When the Watchers Council stand in the way of her doing the right thing, she tells them to leave her alone and wait for the next Slayer to show up (which wasn't a difficult decision, but it was surely much easier since they had recently fired her father figure for trying to save her life). When the Watchers Council comes back a year and a half later for a "performance review" to decide if she deserves to know what they know about the Big Bad, she reminds them that, actually, they've come back to beg her to let them work for her.

And so on & so forth. There are more than a few examples (I'm saying that a lot, huh?), the best of which is probably this one, from the very last episode:

"So here's the part where you make a choice: What if you could have that power . . . now? In every generation, one Slayer is born . . . because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman [Willow, Buffy's BFF & the most powerful witch in the world] is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power . . . should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of the Scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power will have the power . . . can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?"

NOTE: This series was started after I read this article: Yes, I will be linking to it in every subsequent entry. We can only hope that my writing will get better as I do more of it, because this is fucking important to me.

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