Happy Buffyversary! Bill has already blogged links to some wonderful articles about BtVS and below are a few more that may be of interest:
The Guardian, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a feminist parable for everyone – including me’, Anthony Head
Vice, ‘”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Actors and Experts On Their Favourite Buffy Episode’, Various
The Guardian, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer at 20: the thrilling, brilliant birth of TV as art’, Lucy Mangan
and just for funsies: Buzzfeed, ’16 Things about “Buffy” That Make No Sense Now That I’m An Adult’, Hilary Mitchell.
Buffy had been written about by far greater academics than myself, so, for this blog, I am removing my academic-hat and writing this piece from a personal point of view. Where Proust had madeleines, I have Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I think I got the better deal.
Though we are celebrating Buffy‘s 20th anniversary, the show didn’t air on BBC 2 until 1998. It was the winter term so I would have been twelve years old. My parents had banned the television when I started secondary school – my parents were, and remain, lentil-eating, Guardian-reading lefties. I loved vampires, books and introduced myself to my future best friend by saying, “My name’s Kaja Antonia Franck and art is my forte”. I was a swot. My dad stuck a poster on our kitchen cupboards that proclaimed: ‘Stop Now Before It’s Too Late, Books Can Kill” because of my tendency to walk through my town, nose in book, dodging lampposts and the elderly. My mother was an ardent feminist. When I told her about Buffy, she checked that it passed the *Strong, Female Character* test and the television was duly dusted off and plugged in again.
That term, and the one after, I was rehearsing my role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. Rehearsals were on Wednesday nights and finished just in time for me to get back for Buffy. I can still remember the giddy excitement I felt before the first episode. Pre-Twilight, YA Gothic wasn’t readily available and, as a fledgling Gothic enthusiast, I survived on a diet of Shakespears Sister, evil Disney Queens, and staying up late to catch horror films. The publication of Harry Potter helped to quench my thirst for hidden supernatural worlds, existing in the corner of my eye, barely glimpsed. But Buffy was different, Buffy was cool and sexy and had hot guys and even hotter library action. With the call of “Buffy Time”, my sister and I would scamper upstairs to the attic. The television was lodged on a tall cupboard under the eaves and we’d lie on cushions looking up at the tiny screen as it flickered from black and white to colour.
I’m not sure if I recognised that Buffy was groundbreaking, that she was a feminist icon, that this series would lead to a lifelong love-affair with teen vampires. But I did know that I wanted to be Buffy. (And then I wanted to be Willow, and maybe a little Faith – there was a BtVS leading lady for any shade of puberty). She was honest and complicated. Her fashion was on point. I’ve still got my “Buffy coat” – an homage to the two-tone turquoise jacket she wore in ‘Becoming, Part 1’ (S2:E21). Sure, she wasn’t the most popular girl in school but she was liked and respected. The show never got bogged down in cliques and bitchiness like other American series. Instead, it remained vibrant. Bitching was replaced with effervescent verbiage. The language was as spry as the leading lady.
As I got older and started going out, my friends and I would discuss our attack moves should any guy jump out of the darkness – 80% of them consisted of going ‘Buffy on his ass’. And the boys! The boys! I remember reliving ‘Angel’ (S1:E7) with my mum as she ironed in the kitchen. I was broken by his revelation, shocked by the emotional betrayal; I’d never been so invested in a fictional world. (The Red Wedding still doesn’t compare). I remember watching Drusilla pouring holy water on a bare-chested, leather-trousered Angel who was handcuffed to her four-poster. I may not have known exactly what was going on when she called him a “Bad Daddy”, but I knew I liked it. Buffy taught me that fantasy meant escape. It gave voice to my isolation, my fear that there was something bigger going on out there from which I was exempt. It spoke to my desire that I could be part of something bigger and bolder and braver. Buffy’s difficulties balancing full time slayage with homework were my frustrations at dealing with the pressures of school when I was feeling more intensely alive than every before but weighed down with expectations and pin-balling emotions. Buffy was fierce and loyal and she had the best of best friends.
Friendship and Buffy are entwined in my memories. Buffy aired in the UK at the same time as I entered Year Eight. It was the year I sat next to Ellie, my future maid of (dis)honour, whose 31st birthday I will be celebrating this weekend. Our friendship was cemented by Buffy. After each episode we’d spend hours on the phone. My parents would bring me cups of tea whilst I lay on the hall floor watching the shadows cast by the lampshades and disappearing further into Buffyverse. By Year Nine I had a poster of Spike above my bed and one Saturday, Ellie and I spent the whole day lying in bed, fuelled by tea, discussing in what order we’d have sex with Angel, Spike and Oz. Buffy showed people losing their virginity without judgement. It opened a space for us to talk about what we thought sex would be like, what we wanted it to be like. We labelled guys at our local town hall disco on how much they looked like the leading men. With the release of the box sets, we’d spend weekends gorging ourselves on Buffy, watching for 24 hours, dissecting every nuance. (Perhaps laying the foundations for my future studies). For one of my birthdays, Ellie bought me the extended editions of ‘Becoming, Part One and Two’. It’s only looking back that I can see the power of those episodes. They meant that we were more than our relationships with boys, that stripped of everything we were still strong in our own right.
The final episode aired whilst I was on my year abroad. I was 18 and all the way in the US of A. My mum, dad and little sister watched it together without me. Afterwards they sent me an emailed review. I didn’t keep up with the final seasons. Pre-Netflix, watching a show weekly took some dedication. But perhaps these later episodes didn’t speak to me in the same way. Buffy’s university experience was not one I recognised and her decision to stay in Sunnydale didn’t reflect my desire to get as far away from my school life as possible. She dropped out, I found my place. (My sister and dad made me a Mr Pointy to take with me). Buffy and I drifted apart.
It was only when the series went up on Netflix that I made it my mission to sit back down and watch all the episodes again from start to the very end. It was like coming home; Buffy always has the door open for you to return. I watch Buffy and I’m 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, all the versions of me until now. But more than this, Buffy grows along side you. The episodes that annoyed me, I understand now. I no longer hate Riley. (In fact I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for him). Buffy’s job at ‘DoubleMeat’ reminds me of the waitress job I had whilst I was doing my MA. Dawn is my little sister. The Scooby Gang makes mistakes, lose their way but find their way back. The meandering story lines reflect the experience of transitioning into adulthood. The final episode made me cry – a poignant and fitting ending. Afterall, if Buffy taught me anything, it was that we all have the ability to be the Chosen One.
Thanks for this interesting personal history Kaja. It successfully captures the excitement of first encountering Buffy and the programme’s phenomenal reach. For me Buffy represents our secret self, our blond ambition, and the suggestion that beneath the goofiness and girlishness lies something extraordinary, something earth shattering (literally) and the possibility that the girl that ends up in the corner in most horror movies can actually be the slayer – Barbie with a Kung-Fu kick. She has not aged. For me she’s a cultural phenomena period. She is the one that got me interested in adolescence and undeadness so in many ways she inspired the whole YA and the Gothic module. Gen Dead is very much Buffy’s legacy.