FEATURE: A Very Buffy Birthday
Trying to articulate exactly how much Buffy the Vampire Slayer means to me on this, the twentieth anniversary of its arrival into the world, is a bit like trying to tell you why my oldest friend is my oldest friend. It’s a spark, a bond forged in a heady mix of circumstance, affinity, and personality. And like my oldest friend, Buffy has always been there for me when I’ve needed it (though perhaps without the same amount of visits to Frankie & Benny’s).
Many people have spent this week discussing Buffy’s cultural impact, its feminism, the cross-generational appeal etc. and so on. There are some great articles out there and I encourage you to sally forth and peruse at your leisure! But I’m going to focus a little more on the personal for this piece. When I realised I wanted to write something about a show that has been around for the majority of my life, I was hit by all the little moments that Buffy has impacted me in various ways over the years. Slowly, this turned into a wandering road map, full of quotes, laughter, and tears.
The first is obviously discovering it for the first time. As I’ve detailed during The Buffy Rewatch, I didn’t begin at the beginning with Buffy. I wasn’t allowed. My parents decided that despite my macabre tastes as a child (Tim Burton fangirl from aged 5), Buffy was probably a bit too much for me. So, the first few episodes passed me by. Unfortunately for my parents, they’d forgotten that I was the only person who knew how to operate the VCR record timer. I recorded the episode Angel, watched it furtively before anyone got up one Saturday morning and the rest, as they say, is history and an entire shelf full of tie-in novels, Watcher’s Guides, and a Sunnydale High Yearbook (if you can get your hands on one, it’s bloody hilarious).
Quite simply, I’d never seen anything like it. I’d always leant towards genre fare. Star Wars of course, Star Trek was a permanent feature of our dinner times in its various iterations. But when Buffy came along, I was still very much ruled by what CBBC had to offer in (Ghost Hunter and The Demon Headmaster to be precise). But then, here was a show with the quippiest quips, the weirdest fashion, action sequences, scary bits, heroic triumphs, and most of all, it was about a girl. A girl with powers. A girl who could kick ass, take names, and still definitely be a girl. For a child needing a little more than Princess Leia, it was catnip.
Especially one who was, let’s face it, too gawky to ever be considered cool. That leads me to the next moment… I was the bookish one at school, the one who was the butt of the jokes, didn’t have particularly cool clothes, and suffered from a chronic lack of self esteem. Enter Willow. Buffy might have all the physical strength, but arguably, Willow had the greatest mental toughness (which was why it was so galling when she finally broke). She was, mostly, there for Buffy when she needed her, far more than a sidekick, and with a keen intelligence that made her invaluable. She inspired me and continues to do so, perhaps even more than the Slayer herself.
One which is less specific to pinpoint in my life is the way in which Buffy influenced my developing interest in feminism. My actual feminist awakening came a few years later when, sat cross-legged on my bed, I finished reading The Bell Jar for the first time and said “fuck this shit” out loud to a pile of dirty washing and some stuffed animals I hadn’t had the heart to get rid of yet. But I credit Buffy with laying those foundations. Men constantly underestimate Buffy and the other women of the show, but they consistently prove them wrong. I mean, just Buffy kicking the shit out of misogynists would be enough, but the show empowered women across the world (literally, in the seventh season). I will always have this show to thank for making me believe that, however bad the day got, if Buffy could deal with being a teenager and save the world, I could get through a rough patch. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be hugely important several years later.
It’s one of the reasons I’ll defend the later seasons because they dealt with emotional pain in some extraordinary ways, with varying degrees of success. Buffy’s depression was never named as such as I recall, but it arose from the constant weight of having the fate of the world (literally) on her shoulders and trying to be everything to everyone; something which rang so true with me. It wasn’t something many shows were doing and mental health issues carried an even greater stigma than they do now. Obviously, I wasn’t fighting the physical demons, but the mental ones. I could probably take out a guy with a little exacto knife if I really needed to, but admitting I need help is something I’ve never been good at. Seeing Buffy struggle with a similar thing didn’t hit me quite as hard on the first watch. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I connected the dots.
I watched Once More With Feeling in a moment where I was feeling particularly low, fully expecting it to cheer me up with all the singing and the dancing. It worked for a bit. Then, I got to the bit where Buffy sings her confession about everyone bringing her back from heaven, rather than a hell dimension as they had assumed. Then Dawn repeats the line that Buffy says to her in The Gift: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Reader, I bawled. Full on, ugly crying. Shortly after, I booked an appointment to see a counsellor, finally admitting to myself that I wasn’t doing so well on my own at that particular point in time. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
There are plenty of happy moments too. Buffy has helped me make other friends, most memorably at university when, in halls, we sat discussing the prospect of a flat party and I deadpanned that we needed to decide between a gathering, a shindig, and a hootenanny. I didn't expect anyone to get the reference. The face of the girl sat next to me lit up and she responded, “whole lot of hoote, liiiiittle bit of nanny.” We’ve been darn good friends ever since. Another set of friends embarked on a marathon of our favourite episodes with me and mentioning Buffy on Twitter will always bring more fellow fans out of the woodwork.
I know I’m not the only one with these stories and one of the best bits about being a Buffy fan is getting to share them with everyone. Today on social media, watching everyone post favourite moments and quotations, ridicule the fashion and Riley, and generally basking in the show’s legacy has been wonderful to watch. I’ve no doubt that Buffy will only grow in popularity and affect our lives in untold ways for many years to come. After all, into each generation...