Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Impacts on Media and Feminism
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Impacts on Media and Feminism
By: Joanna Benevides
November 26th 2014
To this day, when you hear the title ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ it may unleash a rather vicious case of nostalgia. You might even reminisce about favorite episodes, or quote favorite lines either from the television series and/or even the movie.
Buffy originally aired on UPN and The WB from 1997-2003 (a total of seven seasons), it was created by show runner and producer Joss Whedon and was based on the 1992 film of the same name.
Both adaptations held the same premise: One girl vs the world and all its darkness. However this article is going to focus solely on the television series which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Reasoning for this choice? With how long the show ran it had more character development and more of a cultural impact on society. Most people you ask today, will know of the series and will even have a couple words to say about it – whether they’re good or bad. The show overall puts the movie to shame. There are a good number of fans who will simply pretend that the movie never existed.
Case in point -to this very day, the show still holds an excruciatingly vast fan base. Even more so –the show to this very day still holds its place within the top 5 – of most fanfictions ever published on fanfiction.net the world’s single largest source of fanfiction from all genres (books, cartoons, movies, and animes included not just television!) 1
When it comes to explaining motives show runner Joss Whedon takes the cake. He explains in an interview that Buffy’s premise was simply to take the horrors of high school and metamorphosis them into actual horrors.2 Plot lines of individual episodes could range from completely ridiculous, to completely terrifying, and often times emotional. Every monster, every demon if not thrown in for a gimmick could stand alone as a giant metaphor for….something. The true horrors of the world would continuously be unveiled, and all the good things about this world would continuously be placed in peril.
The relatability for teenagers and even pre-teens was unmistakable. Everyone between the ages of 12-17 goes through a phase where nothing is fare is everything feels like the end. While it is a normal part of puberty – up until the show’s release the whiney ‘no one understands’ feelings weren’t really addressed on such a mass level – or taken quite so seriously. They were often addressed by begrudging parents on an individual basis.
Yes there were other media outlets that touched on these feelings (The Wonder Years, and Full House being two great examples) however most of these outlets only touched on the issue on a very campy ‘feel good’ level and everything was always tied up neatly at the end of a 30 minute timeline.
Buffy? Not so much. There were often times, where the horror, and the pain, and sometimes the mass carnage just didn’t end. So despite the monsters, and the hell mouth, and all the lore that the show had grown out of, during its duration Buffy the Vampire Slayer was arguably the most real television show in existence.
Audiences everywhere embraced this format, the acting which wasn’t always top notch was still addicting and fun. During its airtime, Buffy was one of the only television shows that lasted a full hour as opposed to the standard 30 minutes. The success of the show ultimately paved the way for other series to run on a similar format. One could assume, or deduce that Buffy indirectly killed the golden age of laugh track sit-coms.
The media impact cannot and should not be ignored. If you were to put on a blonde wig, and carry around a wooden stake on Halloween -people will know who you’re supposed to be. If you gush that your favorite show is getting a musical episode – someone may argue or simply remind you that Buffy did it first in the episode Once More with Feeling.
Since Buffy other shows have come and gone with similar pretenses; Angel, Moonlight, Bloodties, and Vampire High to name a few. However very few held the same shelf life. Angel which was a spinoff of Buffy only lasted 5 seasons, meawhile -Moonlight, Bloodties, and Vampire High were (sadly) cancelled at the end of their pilot seasons.
Today, there are a number of shows with a paranormal twist. The most popular being Supernatural which has successfully outrun Buffy’s 7 year stretch and is now airing season 10. Many argue that plots from Supernatural are direct rip offs of Buffy, and fans of this show seem to fall into two categories. Fans who dream of someday crossing the two shows over, and fans who seem to be under the impression that Supernatural came first and thus banish Buffy completely.
Of course I would be remiss if I failed to mention Vampire Diaries -a very similar show which is now in its 5th season. The Vampire Diaries like Buffy has successfully produced a spinoff with The Originals, but whether or not the show will outlast Buffy’s 7 seasons is still hearsay and ‘wait and see.’
The media impact doesn’t just end with other television series – oh no. Much like the document you are currently reading, there are hundreds of other papers out there. Articles, and tributes to this show continue to exist. New pieces are written ever year. You cannot release a book, or a movie, or a television series that features vampires without eventually being compared to Buffy.
Even The Hunger Games – a series which doesn’t involve vampires at all, has been compared to Buffy. The protagonist in this particular series – Katniss Everdeen has been referred to as Buffy’s heir3.
Which is surprising, the series though from the same genre of fantasy isn’t anything like Buffy. It can in fact be better compared to the Japanese film Battle Royale which was released in 2000, and based on the book written by Koushun Takami – published in 1999. 4
So – why the comparison? Why is Buffy’s impact so strong, and so relevant to a series such as The Hunger Games? The answer is going to be addressed in the second half of this paper.
When most people envision a young girl, in a dark alley, in the middle of the night, surrounded by garbage, and the smell of something rotting, and broken glass – their minds don’t usually cook up a happy ending. This poor girl in their mindset is automatically victimized. Either by drug dealers, or rapists. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter who or what you envision in that alley with that girl – the girl never ever comes out of the alley unscathed if even alive.
Then suddenly, all of that changed. The girl in the alley is indeed confronted by someone who wishes the girl nothing more but harm. He smiles sadistically as if he just found lunch – and he lunges, fully expecting the girl to scream, and try to run. Instead, she meets him head on. She then takes him down in a little more than three moves of perfected self defense. He lays there; hurt, and unable to move – and the girl? Is still smiling because she won.
Ladies and gentlemen it is a pleasure to introduce one of the core values of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Feminism as described by a self-professed feminist is “The central belief that females, have been, and always will be equal to males.” – Me.
Many unfortunately still construe this word to mean something more nefarious. Such as the belief that a feminist wants nothing more than for women to rule over men. While it is true that some sects of feminism do hold that particular belief and consider themselves to be Amazons of the modern world, it is not how Buffy is portrayed.
Yes -Buffy has superhuman strength; she heals faster than other humans, she is faster than other humans, and more lethal with her punches. However beyond all of that Buffy is still portrayed as a girl.
Not just any girl – a girl.
Buffy: So, what do you guys wanna do tomorrow?
Willow: Nothing strenuous.
Xander: Well, mini-golf is always the first thing that comes to mind.
Giles: I think we can do better than that.
Buffy: I was thinking about shopping. As per usual.
Willow: Oh. There's an Arden B. in the new mall.
Xander: Oh, good. I could use a few items.
Giles: Well, now aren't we gonna discuss this? Save the world or go to the mall?
Buffy: I'm having a wicked shoe craving.
- Excerpt from Buffy episode “Chosen” 2003.5
The above quote is directly from the final episode of Buffy. The scene in question takes place in the last 15 minutes of the series. The four original main characters are huddled for one last pre-game pep talk as they’re all terribly aware that the world around them is about to change dramatically. The air is tense, emotions are high, and yet? Shoes.
For ever, and ever, and ever, girls were categorized into two columns. The overly butch who are often called such slurs as dyke, and the overly girlie – they aren’t called too many names, but they’re perceived to be frail, and weak, and always in need of a male hero.
Buffy challenged this notion in a way that had never been challenged before. The character herself was a perfect balance of the two. She constantly asked the world – why couldn’t she have both? Why couldn’t she be as strong as she needed to be without giving up the materialistic items that feminize her?
Why can’t she save the world, and still care about how her hair looks? Why does the social notion exist that you either have to be one or the other? Why can’t girls just -be-?
While the show didn’t ask these questions directly, the raw intent was still there.
Here you have a protagonist who is just as strong as Superman – maybe even stronger seeing as this protagonist doesn’t have a problem with kryptonite. The world has crashed around this person constantly, people they love have; suffered, been tortured, and have been killed before their very eyes. Yet this person has lived, and cried, and fought through all of it, even defying death not once but twice themselves. These trials did not hinder them however. They still valiantly raced on to the end of their chapter – bloodied and ready for more even as the curtain dropped.
It all sounds like an amazing story – and such an easy sell given today’s popularity of superhero movies. However the second you point out that this protagonist is nothing more than a teenaged girl who accomplished all of this in a new cute outfit? Eyebrows go up, judgements are slurred, and the entire idea is then dismissed.
Once again in an interview with show runner and creator Joss Whedon someone asked him – why write a strong female character? His answer was simply to be poised, and he countered “How is this even a question? Why aren’t you asking a hundred other guys why they don’t?”6
– Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a staple in today’s society not just for girls, but for everybody.
The show teaches young girls, that everything they’re feeling, about school, about the world, and even about sex – all of it is validated. All of it matters, and no matter how terrible things become – you’re going to pull through it, and you’re only as weak as you let yourself believe.
The show teaches young boys the same morals, and that they are not lesser men if a girl wins, that they can be friends with a girl without the pretense of sex.
It teaches parents to have more faith in their sons and daughters, as the world they live in could be a hell of a lot worse (in Buffy’s case literally).
For the rest of us, it reminds us that even though we’ve left high school now and are moving on with our lives -everything we’ve been through, good and bad still exists in our memory. How we let it affect us is completely up to us.
Buffy taught us that the social boundaries between men and women can be pushed, and that each individual -not just females should be free and comfortable enough to be who they are with no reservations.
With that said, perhaps it was a mistake to choose the topic of feminism when it came to paying tribute to Buffy. This document which was written for educational purposes will surely lose marks for having lost focus, and gone far beyond the allotted word count (doubling it). Regardless it can very well be concluded that this paper should not have been named Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Impacts on Media and Feminism but rather Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Impacts on Media and Humanism.
1 Buffy FanFiction Numbers(48.3K) – November 2014
2 Joss Whedon Explains Buffy – uploaded April 21st 20122, viewed November 2014
3 Katniss Everdeen referred to as Buffy’s heir – posted by Samantha Ellis Tuesday August 12th 2014,
4 Battle Royal Stats – viewed November 2014
5 Excerpt from Buffy episode “Chosen”2003.
6 Joss Whedon responds to critics asking about strong female characters. Posted October 28th 2013.