Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003, The WB/UPN)
With this semester quickly coming to an end, I’ve taken on the mundane task of planning my next semester of classes. With options that seem far less than interesting, I get discouraged (especially considering a university in Europe is now teaching a Britney Spears class on how she was overly sexualized by her management and ultimately became a feminist icon). I began looking for more fun alternative classes at other schools and stumbled upon “Buffyology,” which is the study of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and how it explored issues in sexuality, gender, religion, family dynamics, and more.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a staple of my favorite television series a few years ago when it was first added to Netflix. Having heard little to nothing about the show, I gave the first episode a shot. Once I had gotten over the (admittedly cheesy) vampire face makeup, which resembled that of a villain on the Power Rangers TV show, I fell in love. Buffy was a literal kickass teenage girl who dealt with divorce, moving to a new school at a young age, young love drama, and all that comes with hunting vampires at night.
The show transgressed vampires and played with lure and mythology long before the Winchester brothers did so on the CW’s hit show, Supernatural. Buffy also took on social elements like interracial dating, homosexuality, and divorce, as well as death and the psychological tolls it can take on a character. These elements are what add to the “Buffy formula” that makes it truly something more magical, enchanting, and profound than it may appear to be.
In a sense, Buffy broke the mold of network television and brought something different to the screen – a supernatural element that seemed unfitting next to network shows like Melrose Place or Beverly Hills 90210. Yet, somehow, Buffy also seemed to fit in perfectly with its forerunners while bringing with it a new twist. It broke the stereotype that a cheesy, sci-fi dramedy has to be superficial by adding depth to its storyline and characters. The show often spoke to tough social situations like school shootings, parental loss, and discovering sexuality.
Buffy herself also broke the female stereotype. Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, was a young, beautiful girl from California – the idealistic valley girl. However, Gellar’s valley girl was vastly different from Alicia Silverstone’s Cher, from Clueless. Buffy took on the valley girl dialect, but repudiated the idea that she had to be ditzy and helpless simply because she was a blonde beauty. Instead, Buffy would often be the one to save men from their perils while managing to maintain a sassy sweetness that made her so lovable. Buffy was “the chosen one,” and she was chosen for a reason – to save the world and show everyone that she is more than she appears to be.
Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, was ambitious. He took on challenges like writing a silent episode or musical episode willingly, and those became some of the best and most beloved episodes from the series. The mostly silent episode, “Hush,” was up for an Emmy in 1999 due to its adventurous spirit and the heightened level of acting required from the cast, who had to move the story along with expressions and movement alone.
In 2001, the most heart wrenching episode, “The Body”, revolved around the loss of a loved one and contained no music, only diegetic sound. This made the episode seem just as heavy as the situation would be in real life. This episode was nominated for a Nebula Award. This episode also featured many continuous takes done on a handheld camera, which allowed scenes to seem more chaotic, syncing perfectly with the sentiments of the episode.
So, if you’re looking for a fun sociology class to take, check out schools that offer “Buffyology”. Between its adventurous spirit and ambitious episodes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is something more than a relic of the early millennium – it’s the chosen one.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is available for instant streaming on Netflix.
— Michael Cotter, Assistant Poetry Editor & Blogger