Buffy the Vampire Slayer – 20 Years On…

Unless you’ve been spending the past twenty years living with your eyes shut, fingers in your ears, under a rock on Neptune, you will have at the very least heard of the legendary television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Created by revered geek God Joss Whedon it follows the life of Buffy Summers (played by Buffy Summers), the latest in a long line of Slayers. Slayers are young women chosen by fate to protect the world from the forces of darkness. Buffy is mentored by her watcher Rupert Giles (played by Anthony Stewart Head) and supported by her friends Xander (played by Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (played by Alyson Hannigan.) Through the series she grows from a self-involved, immature 16 year old girl pining for normality into a mature, battle hardened 22 year old woman ready to share her power.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is far more than a standard horror show with all kind of demons and “oogily boogilys”. It’s a show about a young woman trying to balance her regular life as Buffy and her duties as a Slayer. The show explored a variety of themes and issues in ways that had never been done before in television history and evolved as it went on. Characters revolving around the core four Scoobie Gang members came and went ensnaring our hearts and imaginations as they did. It made a massive impact on me as a viewer. As someone who watched it when it aired in the UK, I grew up gaining not only an enjoyable show I enjoy rewatching regularly but also a show that taught me valuable things I would hold forever. Here are some things that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer a force to be reckoned with.

The presence of strong female characters

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Buffy Summers was a tough, determined woman of immense physical and mental strength that was also humanly flawed. None would doubt her status as a strong female character but she is, by far, not the only strong female character. Willow ends up becoming one of the most powerful magical forces in the universe with incredible intelligence and a spirit that cannot be destroyed. Cordelia may have been at odds with Buffy at numerous occasions but her resilience and her straight forward manner made her a force to be reckoned with on both Buffy and the spin-off Angel. Even Buffy’s little sister Dawn showed potential at the end of the show’s run. Shows and films centered around strong female characters have become more prevalent ever since. Arguably there would be no Katniss Everdeen or Veronica Mars without Buffy Summers.

It’s exploration of LGBTQ+ relationships

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Whilst LGBTQ+ couples are starting to become more common on television, most people forget that it was still very taboo when Buffy the Vampire Slayer began. In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres lost her career after receiving a lot of backlash for coming out as a lesbian on her sitcom. Only 3 years after that, Joss Whedon brought in a female love interest for Willow after the departure of her boyfriend Oz. Resistance came from the WB network who were very restrictive on what Willow and Tara could/couldn’t do on screen. Whilst UPN was more relaxed, it was still controversial to show anything beyond kissing between couples of the same gender despite their heterosexual counterparts getting free reign. Despite this, Willow and Tara became one of the most popular couples in the series and touched the hearts of many LGBTQ+ audience members. Willow and Tara were the first long-time lesbian couple on an American television series and whilst LGBTQ+ representation still has a long way to go, this was a great start.

Exploration of masculinity

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For a story revolving around a strong teenage girl, there is great commentary about different forms of masculinity that go against the patriarchal grain. Xander Harris was the cool-to-be-uncool nerd whose uncanny ability of perception gained him key insight at times of crisis whilst Giles was the protective father who would fight anyone who threatened the safety of his children. Even Buffy’s love interests – Angel, Riley, and Spike – were all three dimensional characters with their own agency despite their flaws. The misogynistic characters that came to stop Buffy always got their comeuppance whether it was in the form of ball splitting death or a more metaphorical character destruction. This really aids the general feminist message that Buffy the Vampire Slayer prided itself on.

It’s had some of the best crafted episodes of any television series ever

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Some credit The Sopranos as one of the first television shows that made television an art form but really Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it first. It’s rich variety of episode moods really put itself apart from its contemporaries. One moment you can be watching a comedic episode like “Band Candy” or “Superstar”, the next you can be crying your heart out to gut wrenching emotional episodes like “Becoming” or “?”. There are three episodes that really stand up for their technical and artistic achievements: “Hush” for spending 2/3s of the running time with no dialogue, “The Body” for creating a compelling story about the death of a significant character without a score and “Once More With Feeling” as a sublime musical episode reminiscent of the golden age of musical films. They have paved the way for other television shows to be ambitious and ground breaking.

Its community-based form of feminism was revolutionary

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All too commonly female characters are seen to strip each other down in typically patriarchal ways whether it’s fighting over the affection of a man or cutting each other down for the sake of coming out on top. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was different. It taught women that strength is not just physical and that working together in mutual support will yield better results and more victories. The final season was a perfect reflection of this with Buffy and Faith sharing their abilities and powers with the potentials in order to win against The First evil, their biggest adversary. In the political climate of not only the UK but across the world, we need this brand of feminism in order to bring a more equal world.

For me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a major influence in not only my personal life but in my writing life. It gave me an active sense of encouragement to be as honest and hard working as possible regardless of what obstacles come to me. In the face of an incredibly dark period, Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me get back in touch with my emotions. I and many others would not be the writers we are today.

For that, I thank Joss Whedon and everyone else who made Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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