In which I ramble about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and pretend to know what I’m talking about

A subscriber sent me a list of interview questions and I got carried away. I acknowledge up front that my answers here are mostly unsourced. But since I’m not going to be able to make a video for awhile this may be my medium (see what I did there) for cathartic rambles.

1) Why do you think Buffy has maintained a high level of popularity and a level of dedication 20 years after it was first aired? Why do you think people who weren't even alive when the show first hit US television love it so much and make up much of your fan audience on youtube?

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer wrap party. Source

I think your question has a few parts that cover a decade plus worth of developments. Because of the way the show was written it was bound to create…not just fans but PASSIONATE fans. Whedon said that he and Mutant Enemy always prioritized writing about the human experience first. ‘Where is Buffy at THIS stage in her life and what challenges would she be facing at that age?’ Everything else took a backseat to that priority including occasional issues with lore and continuity. While that had some consequences, the result was that Buffy’s stories resonated deeply and personally with the viewers. It wasn’t manipulative drama or just action/comedy. It was about what it is to be human and it had a perspective about questions we all have to face in life. Couple that with writers who are also funny and know good drama and that BINDS people to your stories because they feel those stories are about THEM. People weren’t simply entertained. They related. In the book by Mark Field that inspired my channel, he quoted an interview with James Marsters where he spoke about this very thing. (I would argue the questions Marsters bring up here raise their head at various times again and again throughout our lives.)

“It’s a very potent metaphor. I don’t want to oversell this but it’s the same theme as Catcher in the Rye, it’s the same theme as Hamlet; how do you get through adolescence? How do you get through the period from childhood to adulthood when you realize the world is not a perfect place? How do you care about the world, how do you not give up on the world, how do you accept the fact that it is a corrupt environment and still engage it? I think that’s an important thing to talk about, I think that artists should go back there more often, and I’m really glad Joss was able to find a metaphor to talk about something that is a serious subject with so much humor.” Source

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Now it all makes sense…

The second part of the question is how is it the show is experiencing a sort of…second renaissance? I think that relates to a few things. Whedon went on to make Firefly which, despite Fox’s best efforts, became a pretty meme’d and iconic show in its afterlife. Then to the Avengers, arguably still the most magical of the MCU movies and definitely the most profitable worldwide. Those two things connected with a massive new audience (myself included) who were looking for more of his stuff to consume. And today the barriers to media are massively broken down compared to even a decade ago. Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and all the rest. Those new fans of his went home and had immediate access to a massive pile of content that was entirely new to them.

2) How much of a debt do you think other shows owe to Buffy from a creative viewpoint: such as the Big Bad over season arcs, and standalone episodes with a specific spin like “Once More With Feeling” and “Hush?”

I will almost certainly get this question wrong, but I’ll give it a go anyway. I’m not much of a historian on either media or feminism, but I think that Buffy was a part of a significant shift on TV that was going on at the time. Genre shows were really the first to consistently make the change from episodic format to serial story arcs, beginning as hybrids at the time with shows like Buffy, Xena, and the X-Files. Previous to that (other than Soaps) you had a smattering of shows that had done it, but not consistently and then usually they didn’t last very long. Twin Peaks comes to mind. And right in the midst of Buffy’s run, DVR sprang up, helping to eliminate the greatest impediment for serial television: people’s inability to schedule their lives around the broadcast time. It seems like today, serial shows are, by and large, the standard.

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Buffy, Scully, and Xena

Buffy, Scully, and Xena were also complete, feminist leading characters. Strong women, not significantly defined by their relationships with men. There is an extensive list of significant feminist shows that came previously (for some reason it seems like they were typically sitcoms?) Some obvious examples being I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Cagney and Lacey. But it seems to me that these three shows were part of a transition from them being remarkable feminist one-offs, to being the expectation. Since Buffy we’ve received a greater abundance of strong female characters to watch. The women of GOT, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Homeland, Scandal, The Killing, The Fall, Orphan Black, Jessica Jones. And sure, today there are some aspects to Buffy and the X-Files that don’t appear progressive. But progressivism is a sliding scale and weighing a show within the context it was MADE is important.

Within genre TV it’s kind of hard to measure Buffy’s impact given it is SO broad. Buffy sort of created the quippy teenage genre show and revitalized the TV superhero show, defining the format for things like Smallville and later Green Arrow, the Flash, and Whedon’s Agents of Shield. Many significant creators have cited Buffy as a direct influence including Lindelof with Lost, Davies with Dr Who, and Rob Thomas with Veronica Mars and iZombi.

3) Do you think there have been enough strong female lead characters on TV since Buffy? Did she change television at all in that respect or is she an outlier?

I answered this a bit in the previous question. Buffy was definitely a major part of a landmark shift in feminist leads. Has there been “enough?” The question reminds me of Whedon’s speech from Equality Now. He said something he gets asked quite often is, “Why do you write such strong female leads?” And his answer was, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Source

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photo by Gage Skidmore

What does “enough” equality look like in entertainment? Maybe that everyone can look to TV and movies and easily discover stories that reflect themselves and their experience? That everyone can find some piece of fiction they relate to? I don’t think we’re there yet. But things have gotten better.

4) Do you think Buffy was responsible for the interest in the Gothic and genre films/TV, and how do you find the community of fans you talk to on YouTube, do you find the conversations rewarding?

(First part — Buffy responsible for the interest in…etc.)

Genre yes (as talked about above) Gothic? No. Buffy probably isn’t a great example of Gothic genre television. It’s too much of a hybrid. I don’t think Mutant Enemy set out to make a great vampire show or a great superhero show. I believe they set out specifically to tell strong relatable stories and used genre tropes to build them. And after season 3 a lot of Buffy’s Gothic aesthetic falls away. Through the first season and a half, they clung pretty tightly to Gothic horror tropes, especially in self-contained episodes. But Angel’s turn in Season 2 and the emotional devastation of the finale was a paradigm shift for the series. Season 3 is a little brighter and more high school than horror (though still of the supernatural, obviously.)

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Buffy clearing a nest in ‘The Freshman’

By Season 4 the color palette of the show makes a vast departure, possibly to distinguish itself from its noir cousin Angel. The Freshman is bright and vivid and colorful by comparison to anything in Season 1 or 2. And the stories (with a couple of specific exceptions like Hush) are driven almost entirely by the characters rather than any ties to genre tropes. Maybe then what Buffy did was free genre shows from being pigeon-holed by their tropes? I’ll have to think about it.

(How do you find the community of fans you talk to? Is it rewarding?)

I am a fan first. By and large, we’re all passionate. Most other fans I know feel a sense of connection to one season or another because they went through experiences like that and took strength from the characters’ journeys. It isn’t just hilarious dialogue and kick-ass action. It’s a mirror of ourselves. When I talk about the show, I often come at it from the perspective of what the show has meant to me personally. How I found it revealing or how it acted as a prism to consider my life from a different angle. That requires a certain amount of vulnerability and can be terrifying when you put that out into the internet ether — not usually a place known for a being warm and hopeful. But somehow, the little community that visits my channel has always been kind. Always open. People have shared with me intimate details of their lives, and how the show helped them find strength. I am humbled by the people who watch the channel and honored by their time. Our conversations are a constant hopeful reminder to me that I am not alone. We are all human. We are all Buffy.

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Source: https://medium.com/@iannitram/in-which-i-ramble-about-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-and-pretend-to-know-what-im-talking-about-b038b666a176