Once More, With Feeling: In Praise of Buffy

I absolutely love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It may be is the greatest television series of all time (bold claim, I know, but I stand by it) and features the almost undoubtedly single-greatest episode of television: “Once More, With Feeling”—the famed musical episode from the sixth season. I was skeptical at first, but quickly became a convert (and fell in love with all the things Joss Whedon does). Sure, it seems like genre, campy, teenage-drama television and it is. But it’s SO MUCH MORE. (Here’s a twitter thread I made of loads of links about why Buffy matters.)

10 March 1997 was the premiere of Buffy, which makes this the 20th anniversary. I thought I’d chime in on that conversation with what Buffy means to me and why I think everyone should check it out. Seven reasons for the show’s seven seasons.

1. Life is Light-hearted and Serious. Buffy captures what I think is a fantastic approach to life. It is simultaneously light-hearted and silly and deathly serious. That seems like a contradiction and it sort of is, but the show manages to pull it off. Yes, it is a campy teenage drama about vampires and monsters, but it’s also about life and being strong and overcoming life’s problems and facing fears and all sorts of other heavy things. The show is ridiculous and has a great wit and sense of humor to it, but doesn’t shy away from the complexities of real life. I try to approach life the same way—taking it seriously, but also laughing as much as I can.
2. Responsibility (and its weight and costs). Throughout the show the theme of responsibility is played with. A quote that I’ve used here before, but that I think is applicable here is:

“Angel: There’s a lot I don’t understand. But I do know it’s important to keep fighting. I learned that from you.

Buffy: But we never…

Angel: We never win.

Buffy: Not completely.

Angel: Never will. That’s not why we fight. We do it because there’s things worth fighting for.”

Responsibility is a common theme in loads of archetypal hero stories (“With great power comes great responsibility”, anyone?), but Buffy seems to more deeply explore the weight and costs of responsibility than most other similar narratives. This idea in the dialogue between Angel and Buffy that we still fight, we have this obligation to keep fighting, even when we cannot and will not completely win is a powerful one. I think it shifts the focus from the outcome to the process (the journey if you will). It highlights the need to keep doing and keep striving (keep enduring you could say), even when you know you’ll lose. There’s a responsibility there.

3. Grief. Really all that needs to be said is “The Body.” That absolutely devastating episode of Season 5. But I’ll say a little more. This is one of the best depictions of grief in any medium that I know of (Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, and A Monster Calls are all also notable depictions I’ve recently experienced, but this captures some part of that experience that none of those can—perhaps because I’d lived with these characters for such a long time at this point that they felt real). This episode (and in particular Anya’s famed monologue) came to mean something extra personal too soon after I’d watched this episode for the first time when my cousin Dallin unexpectedly passed away (and then about six months later when my cousin Stuart passed away). I even used Anya’s speech in my blog post about Dallin because it captures something quite powerful, I think. Here it is (since I’ve mentioned it twice now):

“But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”

Ooophf. Still gets me.

4. Teenagers/Youths are People Too. Buffy treats its teenage (and then twenty-something) characters as fully-fleshed out people. People with concerns as valid as adults. Different sure, but no less important or severe. I think much of culture downplays the concerns and problems of being a teenager and young adult and it was refreshing and empowering to see something that takes those concerns seriously (even though I’m not a teenager and graduated from high school eight years ago). But yeah. High school was great, but also kinda hellish. College is wonderful, but also awful. Buffy validates those concerns in the best possible way. Light-hearted and silly, while being deathly serious.

5. Humanism. Buffy follows in the footsteps of its creator Joss Whedon and is a powerful humanist manifesto. I’ve often quoted Joss on humanism, but can’t pass up an opportunity to do so again:

“Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers.”

Joss explores loads of the reasons to not believe in humanity throughout the show, but ultimately comes down on the side of humanity. That even though it’s the worst, it can still do great, marvelous, beautiful things. Over and over again, the show reinforces its belief that humans are worth fighting for, that humanity is more good than evil, that great things can happen when we believe and work together. The Scoobies in general reflect this and particularly throughout the last two seasons. Powerful stuff.

6. Power of Myths, Monsters, and Metaphors. The show is filled with mythic elements, monsters, and both as metaphors for more practical life problems (sometimes more subtly than others). Perhaps just because I study literature, but the idea of metaphors and an entire show about the problems of teenagers and twenty-somethings that works with monster and myth metaphors to explore those problems is super rad. The show is then able to function as an advocate for story-telling generally to help us deal with reality and the problems that we face and I’m all about that. It’s incredible. Super referential and intertextual and it is amazing. Gah. I love it.

7. Girl/Woman Power. (Alternatively, “She saved the world. A lot.”) A list of the reasons Buffy matters to me and why people should watch it would definitely not be complete without the strong presence of girl/woman power as a theme. The show is built around it. The series finale is a glorious feminist manifesto and it is amazing. An empowering show. Powerful to watch girls and women do all the things they do throughout the series. Praise be for Buffy. And Faith. And Willow. And Tara. And Anya. And Joyce. And Drusilla. And Cordelia. And Glory. And Jenny Calendar. (And maybe even Dawn.)

Clearly I adore Buffy. The show is hilarious and moving and delightful and tense and dramatic and real and ridiculous and so remarkably well-written and filled with witty quips and just the greatest. Perhaps you see a little of that now. If you ever need someone to watch it with (or talk about it with) hit me up (as Buffy said, “If the apocalypse comes, beep me”).

And remember:

“What can’t we face if we’re together? – What can’t we face?

What’s in this place that we can’t weather? – If we’re together.

There’s nothing we can’t face.

Except for bunnies.”

 

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