I'm Buffy and You're History
August 7, 2016 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: a role model for the modern feminist "After more than a decade of reading Buffy academia, to which Patricia Pender’s I’m Buffy and You’re History is a very laudable addition, I’m starting to know why this show continues to inspire sincere and thoughtful devotion among intellectual people who need to talk about gender and about what it means to be a woman in our world." ~ Naomi Alderman, The Spectator

The book: I'm Buffy and You're History by Patricia Pender
Exploring the Slayer's postmodern politics, her position as a third wave feminist icon, her placing of masculinity in extremis, and her fandom and legacy in popular culture, this is a fresh and challenging contribution to the growing literature on the pitfalls and pleasures of a great cult TV show.

Rock-horror: how Buffy the Vampire Slayer's music continues to draw blood Almost 20 years on from its debut, Joss Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues to exert its influence. Just ask the Potentials, a Buffy-inspired UK pop-punk band readying the release of their smart, scuzzy EP, We Are the Potentials.

We Are the Potentials "We play Buffy inspired diy feminist queer pop"
posted by pjsky (75 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Currently on Twitter, @theferocity is live tweeting his astute observations on watching for the first time with the hashtag #latebuffy. Worth a look if only for the Xander revelations.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:39 PM on August 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Worth a look if only for the Xander revelations.

Is the revelation something like Xander is the worst? Because he is, he really is.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:56 PM on August 7, 2016 [24 favorites]

There's like 150 tweets about how Xander is the worst, followed by two about how maybe he's so awful because his family is fucked up.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:02 PM on August 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

siiiigh i have been lonely here as the only person who thinks Xander is basically okay since like 2001 but I am used to it.
posted by nonasuch at 9:02 PM on August 7, 2016 [27 favorites]

The older I get, the more I'm horrified that the Buffy/Angel relationship (16-year-old girl as the great enduring love of a man who looks 30 and is actually like 100) was presented as cool. Parts of Buffy are amazingly questionable and look worse all the time. Still a good show, though; at least until they bafflingly chose to cancel it after that weird dream episode at the end of season four. I guess we'll really never know what would have happened if there had been a fifth season.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:11 PM on August 7, 2016 [24 favorites]

The later seasons of Buffy are hellaciously uneven and the wonky pacing makes it hard to follow at times, but I maintain that they are essential. Not even counting the end of season seven (which is thematically perfect, if wobbly in execution) the huge amount of character development for Willow and Xander in particular are really important.

I actually identified HARD with Willow in the high school years (when I, too, was an awkward brainy teen), but sometime in season 4 I began to feel the most kinship with Xander; as an adult, I think Buffy herself has the character arc that resonates with me the most. Also now Giles is the age-appropriate hottie? So that's weird.

Also my speech patterns bear the permanent stamp of Joss Whedon. This is a mixed blessing, at best.
posted by nonasuch at 9:26 PM on August 7, 2016 [25 favorites]

wow, I haven't done a buffy rewatch in almost six months, time to start again, looking forward to seeing Cordelia and Oz again.
posted by skewed at 9:48 PM on August 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I always identified with Xander, especially when all my friends went off to college and I stayed home working. There weren't a lot of shows about college students that accounted for the people like me who were sort of on the outside of all that. It was nice to see a character in my situation get to still be included in the action (even though all my friends had actually moved many hours away and I hardly got to see them).

Although now that I'm thinking about it, I guess some of my friends also laughed about how Xander and I were both kind of dopey losers, so maybe I'm looking back on all this with rose colored glasses.
posted by teponaztli at 10:24 PM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Xander is flawed, but essential, and at least to me, likable.

Full disclosure, I named my cat Xander. My first statement could be about either the human or feline Xander, both equally true.
posted by greermahoney at 11:41 PM on August 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

There's like 150 tweets about how Xander is the worst, followed by two about how maybe he's so awful because his family is fucked up.

Yeah, that's kind of key to understanding most of the main characters on the show. They start from a not so great place and crow over the course of the series. Whedon puts the bad families in the text, but left a lot of the implications of the relationship more implicit or subtextual. The show made frequent use, for example, of parallels, where one character's situation informs how we might look at another's.

In the first couple seasons, for example, the show sets up parallels between Buffy's father Hank, the Master (who's given name according to Whedon was Heinrich), and Giles, around the notion of fatherhood and abuse, with the suggestion seeming to be Buffy herself may have once suffered abuse, something reinforced throughout the run of the show, but not brought out in much detail. Buffy fights as much against letting her past destroy her as she does those who allowed their upbringings or circumstance to rule them in negative ways.

Angel/Liam, Spike/William, and Xander are the male children of abuse who, through Buffy, come to find their own paths to bettering themselves.

In the case of Angel's relationship with Buffy, I think it was necessary to make the relationship seem romantic in order to show how seductive a bad relationship can be, so when the twist comes and Angel behaves viciously the consequences are more powerful and Buffy's actions doubly so.

Xander, aside from a brief Hyena turn, doesn't follow Angel and Spike in letting his upbringing destroy his soul. His awareness of the possibility of that happening becomes one of his big hurdles to overcome. I think his growth as a character makes him as interesting as any of the others, it's more that the character resonates poorly with current events that makes him seem so much worse than the other fucked up characters on the show.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:11 AM on August 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Note: This is Mefi's own naomialderman!
posted by adrianhon at 1:27 AM on August 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I think Angel's relationship with Buffy was always meant to be highly questionable, and I think one of Joyce's finer parenting moments was stepping in and confronting Angel about that. It was good to see someone who generally lived outside of the supernatural world, stepping into it to insist that normative human values were still going to apply to her daughter. It's really striking, the childishness of the romantic doodles on Buffy's textbooks.

As for Xander, it wasn't until a few years later that Nice Guy behaviour came to be as vilified as it is now, so in context he just seemed ordinary and flawed. Regardless of what you think about his wanting to get Angel killed, the reality is that Angel is and remains *incredibly* dangerous from the start of the narrative to its finish. If there's one person who's not eager to indulge that and make infinite allowances, I'm not sure that's *so* bad.
posted by tel3path at 4:09 AM on August 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Xander's bad behaviour was mostly understandable bad behaviour, given the time and the creator and the self-insertness. The biggest problem with Xander is that he never, ever faced any consequences or repercussions for his behaviour. (Seeing the tweets about the Xander/Buffy stuff at the beginning of S3 is raising my ire again.)

I'm curious how a first watching of Buffy now, 20 years on, does. I'm not sure if I would have loved it as much, and I have been sort of avoiding a rewatch because I suspect the suck fairy has grown a little bigger.
posted by jeather at 5:30 AM on August 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Xander isn't the worst, Riley is the worst.
posted by Foosnark at 5:35 AM on August 8, 2016 [29 favorites]

Not sure what you mean by that jeather. Could you be more specific? I mean he did pretty much sabotage his own marriage chance and lose an eye by the end of the show's run.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:41 AM on August 8, 2016

I mean he did pretty much sabotage his own marriage chance and lose an eye by the end of the show's run.

The way I remember it, he didn't deserve to lose an eye. It was very "O'Brien must suffer" to me. So I don't think that counts as a consequence.

I suspect the suck fairy has grown a little bigger.

Once More With Feeling's still good.
posted by Leon at 5:50 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I actually had a lot of love for Xander. He was the only one in the gang with zero powers. Not even "above average intelligence." He was just the most average of guys. He was deeply flawed, but he was always there for his friends. The fact that we now know that the actor who played him is an alcoholic doesn't really change the original character. Who was always a (lovable) mess and a f*ck up.

More interesting to me is this from the article:
Buffy started to air in 1997. The Spice Girls had released ‘Wannabe’ in 1994 and their brand of ‘girl power’ was what passed for feminism in those days. Women were being encouraged to embrace the ‘power’ of learning to pole-dance or wearing ‘stripper heels’. On television there was Ally McBeal, about an ostensibly high-powered lawyer whose main interest was finding a boyfriend, and Sex and the City, about four ostensibly high-powered women whose main interests were boyfriends and shoes.

And then there was Buffy, whose main interest was fighting the forces of darkness. She sometimes longed to be a normal girl and just worry about boyfriends and shoes but she knew she had a bigger purpose — that her life was part of a project handed down to her by other women and which she would hand on herself. It wasn’t just a feminist show. In an arid time, when women would routinely say ‘I think feminism’s battles are over’, it was a show about feminism.

Joss Whedon's genius was that he didn't deny Buffy's desire to be a girl, but he didn't equate feminine sensibilities with "pole dancing" and "stripper heels." Buffy proved you could wear cute skirts and kick ass. You could have flouncy hair and fight the man. And, perhaps most importantly -- we never ever ever win the fight for female equality. You can never stop fighting for it. Which is why I encourage every young person I know, male or female, to watch BtVS. The next generation needs to feel they have a bigger purpose in life than keeping up with the Kardashians or the world is doomed.
posted by pjsky at 5:55 AM on August 8, 2016 [21 favorites]

I always identified with Xander the hellmouth

posted by Fizz at 5:59 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, not a direct kind of consequence, more a symbolic one I'd say, but he ends up as he began, alone, having cheated on Cordelia and losing her, and screwing up his relationship with Anya, though that was in a sort of undetermined space before the finale sorted it out for him, a little too brutally for my liking.

He showed growth in adapting himself to the reality of his situation and, in particular, developing a close relationship with Dawn that seemed pretty unproblematic. That he at one time asserted feelings for Buffy and was hurt about the rejection would be more of a problem had he persisted in that vein, but he moved on while retaining friendship with Buffy and Willow. Seems like a fairly decent guy, with some occasional issues he had to work through. Which he mostly did.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:02 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I know there is discussion about him as a hyena trying to assault Buffy -- but as this happened in wildly uneven season 1, I am letting it go.

So let's look at some consequences the other characters had. Buffy (because Xander lied to her), killed Angel at the end of season 2 and ran away/was kicked out of the house. When she got back, SHE had to apologise to everyone else about this. Xander's actions were never brought up again.

Xander summoned a demon who killed a lot of people (OMWF) and this was never mentioned again. Willow killed/tortured the people who killed Tara and we spent a lot of the next season dealing with the consequences for this.

Faith was put in a coma, then in jail, then spent an arc on Angel atoning. Where's the Xander arc like that? He made Buffy feel guilty for dumping Riley just because Riley was cheating on her with vampires while she dealt with a new magic sister and her mother's illness.

He treated Anya horribly from day one -- the wedding was just the icing on the cake. He shamed her for wanted sex, he shamed her for wanting money, he shamed her for wanting to tell their friends they were engaged, he shamed her for having sex after he dumped her. But no one ever called him out, and really Anya lost her friends when he dumped her at her wedding, not Xander. (You can't "stay friends with both people" in this sort of context.)

The eye wasn't a consequence, it was a shitty random thing happening. Xander's actions were bad, but it was the narrative's support for them that made him so terrible.
posted by jeather at 6:03 AM on August 8, 2016 [24 favorites]

One other thing is that Xander starts the action as around a 16-year old, and not a mature one, in part as a result of parents who constantly made him feel terrible about himself and kept him from dating. It felt quite natural that he would fail to notice Willow's affection, and that he could crush on Buffy (as someone he could credibly reinvent himself around), and that he would be a volcano of "why-him" jealousy when confronted with Angel, expressed through concern both legitimate and illegitimate.

Obviously, Xander as a character being played by an actor with ten years on him made this reading less instinctive - there's obviously a proud tradition of twentysomethings playing teens on TV, but Nicholas Brendon I think looked really quite definitely grown-up from day one, and as such the Whedonesque dialog seemed less Rory-Gilmore-precocious and more yes-this-is-a-twentysomething.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:11 AM on August 8, 2016

Ah, I understand where you're coming from and I guess I just put a different weight on some of those things, though not all to be sure.

I guess I might have had a blind spot about the relationship with Anya and shaming since the relationship was strange and Anya got grief from the rest of the gang as well, though not as often of course. Since her own actions her often questionable, to be nice about it, I guess I didn't think of it in the same terms as were it a normal relationship. I'll have to go back a rewatch to see if my memory of the events has been misguiding me about Xander.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:13 AM on August 8, 2016

I don't want to encourage Hollywood in engaging in another remake, but I think Buffy would make a much more interesting subject than most of what does get made. It's brand of feminism, while unique at the time, feels outdated to me. Like, really outdated. I still love the show to death, but yeah. This book seems like it could be an interesting reflection on some of that.
posted by lownote at 6:14 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Anya got short shrift from the other characters simply because they didn't like her. She was blunt, literal-minded and radically honest, while the other demons got a pass purely because of their charm. Pretty much all of the Scoobies are horrid and contemptuous towards Anya, literally while Spike is eating dozens of people during his dual-personality crisis thing. Okay, so Spike can be a good man (eventually), but the body count is getting a little high in the face of everyone's increasingly remarkable patience.

I'm not about to over-sympathize with Xander for the way he Nice Guy'd Buffy and Willow, because like everyone else I've had it up to here with real-life Nice Guys and the suffering they cause while wangsting about how awful their lives are. I just don't want to overreact to it. His unconditional reaching out to Willow when she was trying to destroy the entire world did a lot to redeem him for me, I guess.

Crime and punishment, or at least consequences, are really really unevenly applied throughout the show and the characters are very readily forgiving of each other, except sometimes like when they're not charming enough.
posted by tel3path at 6:28 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm always the lone defender of Riley, who I think is hated upon by many Buffy fans mostly for looking like a big dumb jock. He struck me as a basically mature and well-adjusted person who just Could Not Hang with the insane world of the Scoobies. Once he extracted himself from it, his decency and good nature quickly reasserted itself, and he got into a much more positive situation than any of our heroes ever would.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:31 AM on August 8, 2016 [22 favorites]

complaining about Xander seems to assume that a good show or one about Feminism must have an entirely likeable cast of characters. Xander was the "everyman". Xander represented a kind of unaware white male privilege against which feminist issues could appear. Without Xander's constant failures it would not have been possible to explore the issues so "naturally".

The feminist issues needed a persistent character like Xander against which to set itself. But also by having Xander not become an outcast, it show that transformation and growing awareness is possible. He was there to illustrate a path to a more equal and feminist freindly attitudes for the "everyman" white male.
posted by mary8nne at 6:36 AM on August 8, 2016 [19 favorites]

In an arid time, when women would routinely say ‘I think feminism’s battles are over’, it was a show about feminism.

Yeah, but no. It is bizarre to me to see the nineties ret-conned into being a non-feminist time. "Girl Power" and Ally McBeal were intensely controversial and routinely discussed from a feminist standpoint, for one thing. I mean, the nineties virtually began with The Beauty Myth, which was widely available, widely read and set a lot of the terms for popular conversations about feminism. "Girl power" was talked up as a kind of feminism - an awful kind of feminism, yes, but feminism.

The nineties were a liberal decade, in some ways well eclipsing the "liberalism" of the present. They were a decade when liberalism was gaslighted by the Clintons and our social safety net pretty much destroyed, but until about two years ago, the public discourse in this country was far to the right of what it was through most of the nineties. Black Lives Matter, tumblr social formations, Beyonce and a few nationally prominent political figures have changed that, mercifully, but this teleological formulation where everything was just right-wing anti-feminist darkness until recently is depressing.

It is particularly weird since tumblr feminism draws on the conversations of the nineties. That whole "can you wear heels ["stripper heels"? really? do you know sex workers?] and lipstick and be a feminist" conversation was...well, it was kind of dumb in retrospect, but it was also a conversation about femmeness and femininity and ideology, and it was a necessary conversation. It's pretty automatic now that you can wear lipstick and be feminine or femme and be a feminist - that's not a battle that most people even have to fight.

Sure, third-wave feminism was pretty flawed and in fact I hated it at the time and was therefore relentlessly unfashionable - but every fucking wave of feminism is flawed, because feminism is always situated in the world. It doesn't come down from the mountain on tablets. That's not to say that we shouldn't criticize and change, or that we should hold up flawed people as if they are unflawed idols - but we should understand how movements are produced by their times.

Also, Buffy was understood as a specifically feminist show at the time - I remember having a whole conversation about this in 1997 with an older friend and being appalled that a feminist would waste her time on television.
posted by Frowner at 6:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [33 favorites]

Riley is one of those characters I just see as an irritant, like Mason from every version of Hannibal. What they have in common is they are both necessary devices in the narrative, Mason for being someone Worse Than Hannibal and Riley for being The Good Boyfriend That Only Works On Paper. I don't disagree with defenses of either character, but I don't really enjoy those characters either.

I dunno, I guess they both served their purpose but that didn't make me any less annoyed whenever they appeared on screen, which was far too often. Watching this type of character is like having to scoop the cat litter: not the worst thing in the world, but an unpleasant chore that I put out of my mind as soon as it's done, and every time I see I have to do it I'm like "oh no, not again".
posted by tel3path at 6:39 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Right, Anya, along with Tara and Drusilla, was one of my favorite characters on the show. Since she had been a vengeance demon, and given the hyberbolic nature of her relationship with Xander, I didn't mind some of the distance between her and the other characters since it seemed a necessary informative element. I guess since I appreciated the character, I didn't see the talk against her as being defining since I didn't see her that way myself.

I didn't like Riley much through season 4, but I grew to like him more after that once he got out of the Initiative and was allowed to grow a little more. I didn't care much for his return in season 6, but that didn't have anything to do with his character, more just the way that season went in general. (It really seemed to work against many established metaphors and character developments, so it just didn't fit well with the other seasons.)
posted by gusottertrout at 6:42 AM on August 8, 2016

Yeah, I sympathize with the objections to Xander to the extent they interpret him as receiving authorial approval *for* bad behaviour rather than despite it. However, a narrative through-line in which he progresses from taking Willow for granted and stepping on his feelings while expressing entitlement to Buffy's affections, to telling Willow that he has loved her all her life and he loves her now - and notably, he is probably the only person in Willow's life including her own family who has ever expressed that kind of unconditional love and understanding - shows progress, however uneven.
posted by tel3path at 6:46 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

It was made clear that Xander knew Willow had a crush on him but that it wasn't reciprocated. You're welcome to compare how he treated Willow and Buffy knowing this.

Riley was fine, if generally boring, until he started cheating on Buffy because she didn't drop everything for him all the time.

Xander was likeable -- more likeable than some of the other characters. That was never his problem. His problem that he was a Joss Whedon insert, and Joss Whedon wanted to protect him from consequences. Sure, the show could be uneven about things, but all the other characters had consequences for their crappy actions now and then, Xander never.

Interesting, his reaching out to Willow made me more annoyed with Xander, because it continued to position him as The Right Person Who Does Right. But by then I hated that entire season, so who knows how much that irritation poisoned that plot.
posted by jeather at 6:48 AM on August 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

And Frowner, I think you've picked up on something which was that the show was always very firm about not having to be perfect, or "perfect", to be great. Sure, what's her name? the Jamaican Slayer? is in theory the model pupil, but she's inadvertently weakened by the Watchers' mandate that she be isolated. Isolation is, of course, always how abusers take power over their victims and the Slayer is shown to be very much a victim of the patriarchal Watchers' Council throughout the progress of the show.

Buffy doesn't want to bear the burden she bears, but she makes herself do it out of a sense of duty. After Angel dumps her, she insists that everyone MUST have a nice time at the prom while she dispatches the hellhounds. Then she changes into the prom dress she had packed away, and joins the party. She's not some inaccessible paragon, she's a very human person who has duties in life and gets by with a little help from her friends (who all throw their lot in with her quite readily).

This continues at the end of Angel, when Gunn spends his last day on Earth helping out at his favourite shelter. Gunn himself started out looking like some kind of superhero, then sold out and went mainstream partly out of internalized class- and race-induced self-loathing, then ended his life in an ideal way. Etc.
posted by tel3path at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Kendra. Kendra, the Perfect Slayer.

It was never clear to me how the organization was funded, post-Watchers' Council. Did they have to apply to RCUK every three years, or?
posted by tel3path at 7:05 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw Doublemeat Palace too, tel3path, and what I learned from that episode is that I never wanted the show ever to discuss finances again.
posted by jeather at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah. The idea that it's remotely possible for Buffy to support herself on a fast food server's salary, let alone support Dawn - that's even if the mortgage was paid off by her mother's life insurance - is just not plausible, never was.
posted by tel3path at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2016

GRRM:Numbers::Whedon:Normal-ass jobs
posted by The Gaffer at 7:37 AM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Xander is definitely not my favorite character. Among the Awkward, Nerdy "Nice" Guys of the Whedonverse his is the least satisfying arc* because it's really not that much of an arc. On the other hand, that pretty much tracks with the "Xander is an ordinary dude" thing.

*Most satisfying: The epic Five Season (and a half on "Buffy") Wesley Wyndham-Price arc on "Angel," which I still contend is the biggest reason to watch "Angel."
posted by thivaia at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Jeather, I guess where we seem to fundamentally disagree is that it is narrative situation where one finds either intent on the author's part or the optimal manner for understanding the moral perspective of the characters and how we might relate to them.

Using Buffy's apologizing as an example, the viewer almost certainly doesn't feel the need for Buffy to apologize since we've followed her as Anne and saw what having Angelus revert to Angel did to her. The other character's feelings, in this case, are not as informed as those of the viewer so their reactions or needs don't hold the same weight as our own regarding what Buffy did. The situation the narrative puts her in is a way to reinforce that knowledge as well as show Buffy as a self sacrificing person who is better than the situation warrants.

With Xander, the show might not provide much in the way of plot consequences, but at least form my perspective, his wrongness is brought out to the viewer more than any of the other main characters throughout the show's run. He isn't punished by the characters, but he is, in a different sense, punished by the viewer for not seeing things clearly. Is it enough? I can't answer that, but I do think the dynamic is there and I think that is something Whedon wanted, for whatever that's worth.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of the reason I think I identified so hard with Xander at that age was that he did shitty stuff. He wasn't kicked out of the friend group, but he was constantly ruining things by being dumb. At that age, I related to seeing him crush on his friend and hurt his other friend. I related to seeing him lie out of jealousy and cause a bunch of pain. It fed into the shitty self image I had, but he also wasn't totally defined as a bad person just because he messes up so badly.

And then all the other stuff about him being the Everyman. There was a lot of value in having that for someone who is young and confused and feels like a loser. He was a loser by every standard I knew - he didn't go to college, he didn't excel at anything, and he wasn't even a great friend all the time - but he still had something to contribute.

Or maybe that's debatable. Bear in mind this is mostly based on my memories of watching the show as a 19ish year old guy. In sure I also related to him because he was the guy in the cast and made the easiest audience proxy for me.
posted by teponaztli at 8:34 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dare I point out the irony that the post is about Buffy + feminism and 99% of the comments here are about Xander?

posted by pjsky at 8:52 AM on August 8, 2016 [39 favorites]

Overcoming toxic masculinity is pretty revolutionary, and a requirement if feminist movements are to have any staying power. I like Xander because he's a good illustration of that process.

Cordelia's growth in Angel was so awesome. Her exit from the show is the big flaw in the Buffyverse.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 9:07 AM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

What a great show. One of its best, most fundamental qualities is one that many shows in fantastical genres have forgotten lately: science fiction and fantasy are, to a great degree, allegorical modes of storytelling. While I don't want to see a Buffy reboot, I do think we could use a contemporary show exploring similar themes via scifi or fantasy or horror. I think it would be especially timely for a show to openly assert feminism and to portray and explore hypermasculinity (and its toxicity) more deeply, as well.

(That's why I think some of Xander's worst moments are important, despite my own dislike of the character: they show common selfish, presumptive, sexist behaviors that many boys have learned by their teenage years, and the negative effects and outcomes they create. Boys watching the show learned a lot about feminism, but also about how badly boys/men can act, and I think it helped many to both see that, and to understand why those attitudes/actions are bad.)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

(on non-preview, ditto Strange_Robinson)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2016

One of my favorite things the show did was take their critique of patriarchy all the way to the top in season five with Buffy essentially inverting the Christian mythos by giving her life to save her only begotten virgin birthed "daughter" Dawn.

The way that season's twin plot threads were the god Glory seeking to kill/bleed Dawn and the effect of Joyce dying, was an interesting spin on the more usual father driven narratives. Linking motherhood and a femme fatale godhood was pretty interesting even if the plotting seemed awfully odd at times.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:28 AM on August 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

The idea that it's remotely possible for Buffy to support herself on a fast food server's salary, let alone support Dawn - that's even if the mortgage was paid off by her mother's life insurance - is just not plausible, never was.

Wasn't that sort of the point of "Flooded," though? That she couldn't support herself and Dawn on a food server's wage, and that Giles eventually gave her quite a lot of money to help her with the house and everything.

That episode also has one of my favorite lines from Buffy, and something I still say to myself at moments of frustration or exasperation:

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:28 AM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Buffy essentially inverting the Christian mythos

Hey now. What I liked about Buffy was that it wasn't ultimately incompatible with a Christian worldview, even though apparently none of its characters were themselves Christian. Though I would argue that Spike was Christian, whether he was aware of this or not.
posted by tel3path at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2016

I'd more say it wasn't incompatible with certain aspects of the Christian worldview, but did seem to have some significant disagreements with it, less with the do as Jesus would and more with the Patriarchial nature of its construct.

From my perspective, the very idea of sacrificing one's own son seems to be getting a purposeful twist, fitting in line with one of the show's themes of parental abuse, suggesting instead one who truly loved the world would sacrifice themselves before their offspring since the state of the world is more their responsibility than that of their child. To put it roughly.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:17 AM on August 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

I loved Buffy when it was a show about how having connections and friends made you stronger and better, but I was less in love when it became a show about how being a leader makes you lonely, and brittle and nasty to people trying to help.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:20 AM on August 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

Dare I point out the irony that the post is about Buffy + feminism and 99% of the comments here are about Xander?

Sorry, if I didn't make it clear, the reason I'm talking about Xander is that I related to him for his "nice guy" entitled behavior. At the time I didn't process that as anything more than him being an idiot, but reflecting on him as an adult gives me an opportunity to remember some of the attitudes I used to have that were absolutely toxic. This didn't really occur to me until people started talking about why they hate him so much, because I hadn't given it much thought. At the time, I seemed to assume – like maybe Xander would have – that just because I was friends with a bunch of girls in high school I was somehow outside that kind of toxic masculinity. I had to grow into feminism, and I'm left thinking about how much that show informed the path I had to go down (we were all so, so into it), or if it even detracted from it because of how Whedon treated the character. I never finished the show, and it sounds like his character never gets to a point where he could at least try to understand his privilege and sense of entitlement, which is what I try to do today.

But if entitlement is my word of the day, I'm aware that my talking about Xander isn't necessary for the thread. But I did just want to clarify why I'm talking about him so much in this context.
posted by teponaztli at 10:26 AM on August 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hmmm, I thought the important part of the message was about laying down your own life for the world. I did not see Glory's sacrifice of Dawn as putting Dawn in a Christlike position since the sacrifice was for Glory's own selfish benefit and Dawn herself wasn't on board. That was more like your basic human sacrifice, which the Judeo-Christian God very pointedly does NOT want from His people, but which He did willingly put Himself through on our behalf. By getting in there first and sacrificing herself, Buffy put herself in the Christlike position, but I don't see that as scuppering any plan that could be overidentified as Christian but rather one that was very much not Christian at all.
posted by tel3path at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do think we could use a contemporary show exploring similar themes via scifi or fantasy or horror.

If you're not reading Ms. Marvel, I recommend it highly for just exactly this-- the first few volumes in particular do a great job of turning adolescent struggles into literal monsters in the way that Buffy always did.

but I was less in love when it became a show about how being a leader makes you lonely, and brittle and nasty to people trying to help.

I feel like S7 could have executed it better, but the payoff at the finale was good enough that I didn't mind. What I ultimately took away from Buffy, as a show, was that it was a very long meditation on the price of power-- that if you have power and no one else does, then yeah, it can make you lonely and isolated and angry. But the solution isn't to give up your power-- it's to share it, so other people can be strong enough to share the burden with you.

Which is a pretty damn feminist message, really.
posted by nonasuch at 10:57 AM on August 8, 2016 [19 favorites]

I loved this show. I'm the guy who grew up snobby about fanfic and never understood crazy fandoms, and I was *still* a moderator at a posting board for Buffy discussion circa the original airing of S2/S3, (my only real engagement with such things in my life). At the time, I had never seen anything like it. In retrospect, it's gotten a lot harder to rewatch - the seams show a lot more - but I still love what Whedon was doing. It was very sophisticated, especially for its time.

Addressing the current thing about Buffy's sacrifice, I do feel like there was a play on Christian themes there. Buffy is Dawn's mother by the time this happens: they started out sisters, but Buffy has had to raise her, and she was made out of Buffy's own blood. I do think it's meaningful that she threw herself into the pit even though Dawn could in no way replace her. I also think it's worth noting that she came to love someone so much even though Dawn was literally imposed on her. I'm not sure it was supposed to be an inversion, but I don't see how the parallels and differences could be accidental.

Some other stuff I thought was important:
* Cordelia was my favorite, and it's hard to talk about this show without talking about her.

Cordelia's the only person there who is completely unapologetic about who she is. She's better adjusted than Giles, (who is still vulnerable to Ethan Rayne because he's ashamed about his Ripper days). It makes sense that the others aren't: Buffy's basically been abandoned by her father, Xander comes from a continually abusive household and Willow's parents are almost absent. Cordelia's spoiled from the outset instead, so her ego makes sense.

Still, I appreciated that about her, and I appreciated that it was not an impediment to character growth. She manages to go from self-absorbed to heroic over the years even though she never really leaves her Mean Girl roots behind. (Apart from that last season when everything went off the rails.)

I really liked that - a lesser show would've left her a foil. Instead, this one emphasizes that no, the unpleasant popular people can grow up too, and that by the time high school's over, the distinction is meaningless. I really appreciated that. (As a socially awkward person who ended up with popular friends, this all rang pretty true.)

* Xander screwing up gets a lot of play, but Willow screwing up was the important plot point.

I'm in camp 'Xander sticks out because nobody ever called him out,' but holy crap is it small potatoes compared to what Willow did. Sweet, harmless Willow goes on to abuse a partner and nearly kill everyone... and that's probably the most meaningful thread for me in the overall narrative, I think?

See, Willow got power and she abused it in a way that was directly parallel to many of the evil creatures they faced. Tara explicitly compares Willow's actions to Glory's, and Willow's 'end the world' plot was a pretty good bait-and-switch on the Trio. Then she came back from those things, but it was work. Even though her friends still loved her, she had to make changes in her personal life to get past it, and doing those things never really went away.

I feel like this was maybe the most important message the show ever conveyed to me as a viewer: the heroes weren't good because of an innate characteristic that made them better than the people or beasts they were fighting. It was a choice, and one they both had to work at and would not always succeed with. That was a good thing to tell kids. Most of the other stuff I saw at the time carried more of a 'you're special, don't sweat it' message, while Buffy carried the notion that 'if you are not mindful of your power, you could be the bad guy next time.'

I think this gets lost in how dumb the whole 'magic == drugs' thing got on Marti Noxon's watch, and that's a shame.

Also, I don't like harping on Xander so much as seeing it as tragic. Nobody grew up on the show without external impetus: Buffy only ever Slayered-up because she was encouraged and nurtured by outside forces. On her own, she cut and ran repeatedly, even though she was the one with the power for most of the narrative. Willow was forced to confront what she did because it was enormous and terrible. Even Cordelia only got better because she was exposed to a bigger world - she got less shallow, the more suffering (anybody's suffering) she saw.

Xander's male privilege actually ends up insulating him from growth, which is... accurate, but more sad for all concerned than a statement about how awful he is, I think.

... okay, time to actually do some real work today. Hah.
posted by mordax at 10:57 AM on August 8, 2016 [14 favorites]

Oh, sure, of course Glory threatening Dawn alone doesn't fit as a direct analogy, it's more in how I see the relationship between Buffy & Dawn, Glory/Ben & Joyce as a group of different parallels, where the crux of the season is about the role of motherhood and by contrast patriarchy.

I suppose it's sort of a laborious set of connections which I'm sure not everyone would or even should agree with, but given the way Buffy seemed to explore different themes each season, where each was built around a different important set of relationships one might have, the fifth season seemed to me to be built around motherhood. Buffy loses her mother, who in her parenting role was something of the final direct authority in her life, and like all parents somewhat godlike in that capacity. Glory being an actual god in the show is a very different figure of authority, unconnected with some stereotypical femme fatale-like traits, self interest with a destructive femininity. Buffy is given a daughter of sorts in the season, Dawn, and has to choose how she will relate to Dawn even knowing she is also not "real". Buffy's often shaky relationship with Joyce and the Glory's counter representation of stereotyped destroyer inform Buffy's decision to sacrifice herself as the ideal action of a parent for a child, adopting the idea of a relationship between parent and child that Buffy herself never had, and that, by extension, speaks to another story of a immaculately conceived child and sacrifice.

Heh. Hard to make that a clear line of thought in a paragraph, but I hope at least you can get the drift of where I'm coming from, even if you disagree, since I don't want to bug anyone with even longer versions of my idiosyncratic responses to the show.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:08 AM on August 8, 2016

I feel like S7 could have executed it better, but the payoff at the finale was good enough that I didn't mind

I've never been of the mind that a finale can ruin (see Battlestar Galactica, for example) or redeem a season or a show. I liked the ending montage, but it didn't make up for the endless depressive clunking about of season 6 and 7.

I do really appreciate Joss and Buffy for giving us the snarky female slayer of supernatural baddies, which I still greatly enjoy in TV (Wynonna Earp) and novels (recently October daye.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:24 PM on August 8, 2016

Cordelia's growth in Angel was so awesome. Her exit from the show is the big flaw in the Buffyverse.

I consider the sidelining and then disposal of Cordelia to be a fairly effective foreshadowing of what the next 20 years held for women in general. "Oh you've got a degree of power? Well it's obviously bad for you. Let's cripple you, remove your autonomy, and then dispose of you."
posted by happyroach at 1:51 PM on August 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Author of the original article here. This thread is making me very happy.

FWIW: season five is not only the best season of Buffy but also one of the finest seasons of TV ever constructed. The arc work alone on that season is just sublime. Fight me. *takes up stance with stake*

Regarding the 90s as a feminist decade... obviously feminism has never *gone away*, but man it felt to me like the tide had receded in popular discourse at the time. Possibly it was just the people I knew and the conversations they were having. Maybe it was more this way in the UK than the US. Maybe it's just that I was at Oxford and then working at a corporate law firm. But I felt so alone in those times, reading my Susan Faludi and listening to clever women friends tell me why they wouldn't call themselves a feminist.
posted by naomialderman at 1:53 PM on August 8, 2016 [20 favorites]

My memory of the ninties matches your own, naomi, and I'm stateside. It's better today, but only marginaly so. Maybe I worry about all the corporate co-option too much.

I do hope, and push the boundaries on what it means to be male as much as I can.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 2:01 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Xander Harris looks much worse in retrospect than he did at the time (same with fellow "Nice Guy" Chandler Bing). I understand how terrible a character he is from the perspective of a rewatch. And he deserves all the criticism he gets, absolutely. And yet, as a struggling hopefully former-"Nice Guy" myself, I really identify with the guy. Even if you were kinda enlightened, growing up in the 80s did a number on white straight guys (I know, I know, boo-hoo). Learning to be a decent man was no easy task, and Xander did not accomplish that by the end of season 7, and arguably never would. He abuses privilege that he shows no awareness of having. He's gross and typical on a show where characters are expected to do better, try harder, introspect. That said, at least he's not Spike. I really think most of the problems of seasons 5-7 stem from the Devil's bargain of making James Marsters a cast member. Keeping a popular character around may have kept the show on the air, but it did nothing good for making sense of the show. Xander was a character crying out for an arc of learning and redemption, but the writers weren't far enough ahead of the culture to manage it. Spike got a soul after real attempted rape and emotional abusiveness and got to be a hero at the end (and then went on to ruin what was left of Angel, too!)?

Cordelia was the comic spark of both shows, IMHO. Without her, both shows suffered a lot.
posted by rikschell at 2:05 PM on August 8, 2016

FWIW: season five is not only the best season of Buffy but also one of the finest seasons of TV ever constructed. The arc work alone on that season is just sublime. Fight me. *takes up stance with stake*

I'm not mad at you, I'm sad at you (j/k -- I really like the article!).

But everybody knows it's season 3
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:43 PM on August 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

which the Judeo-Christian God very pointedly does NOT want from His people, but which He did willingly put Himself through on our behalf.

The Christian God, yes. The Jewish God, emphatically not. Don't try to drag us into this.
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:43 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, I beg your pardon. I was referring to the human sacrifice thing, not the Messiah thing when I conflated the two.
posted by tel3path at 7:07 AM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I consider the sidelining and then disposal of Cordelia to be a fairly effective foreshadowing of what the next 20 years held for women in general. "Oh you've got a degree of power? Well it's obviously bad for you. Let's cripple you, remove your autonomy, and then dispose of you."
posted by happyroach

Was this always where her arc was going?
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:24 PM on August 9, 2016

I don't think so. I think she rubbed Whedon up the wrong way by getting a rosary tattooed on her wrist (having just converted to Catholicism) and then getting pregnant. At least that's how legend has it. Except he wrote her pregnancy into the storyline so I'm not sure I believe Legend.
posted by tel3path at 12:39 PM on August 9, 2016

Was this always where [Cordelia's] arc was going?

I don't think so. I think she rubbed Whedon up the wrong way by getting a rosary tattooed on her wrist (having just converted to Catholicism) and then getting pregnant. At least that's how legend has it. Except he wrote her pregnancy into the storyline so I'm not sure I believe Legend.

The long-term arc was allegedly for her and Angel to end up together, but it died in S3. Whedon and Jeffrey Bell (showrunner for S4/5 after David Greenwalt left) couldn't think of anything for her to do after the pregnancy, so *poof*.
posted by Etrigan at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

So I watched Buffy as a teenager but I just this year watched the first season of Angel, and you remember Doyle? That guy? Who lasted for like 9 episodes? See I had no clue. So here I am, blissfully unaware of the truck that's going to hit, and I'm thinking, "Wow he definitely has a crush on Angel. Wow they have so much chemistry wow that's a lot of eye contact whoa hold up wait a sec" and then it happens and I realize why there's no fanfic and I can't even talk about it with anyone because this aired two hundred years ago and if anybody was ever on board that ship it has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Point is, both Buffy and Angel were incredibly open to a queer view, over and on top of the explicitly queer characters. And that has ever and always meant a lot to me. And I needed to talk about that.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 1:38 PM on August 9, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yeah, RIP Glenn Quinn. So sad.

But Spike and Angel were complete embodiments of the whole Slap Slap Kiss trope.
posted by tel3path at 1:45 PM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I mostly shipped Doyle + MsDaniB... but there's no fanfic, I swear.
posted by MsDaniB at 1:58 PM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

...now I need to rewatch the first season of Angel so I can get on Rainbo Vagrant's train.
posted by MsDaniB at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2016

Seconding both @kittens for breakfast and @naomialderman -- Seasons 3 and 5 (along with, if memory serves, Angel Season 3) were the tightest Whedonverse serials.

One point in favour of Season 3: as the show went on, it largely put aside its horror elements and didn't even try to be monster-movie scary anymore. ('Hush' is transcendent horror TV.) The show wasn't particularly scary, honestly, but it could be when it wanted -- yet as it went on, the writers stress the characters' more 'domestic,' internal struggles over monsters'n'spooks. (Think of the opening of 5x22, 'The Gift.') The final third of S5 is intensely focused on domestic drama in the wake of 'The Body,' and moves toward something like Epic Fantasy, however much ironized and undercut.

Season 3, meanwhile, was still mashing the old monster-movie buttons with some enthusiasm, and included a few episodes which didn't rely on deep connection to the 'background' character stuff -- which of course was never really 'background' at all. And it was the last season of the show's original form: once the characters graduated high school, it felt a little like Whedon was disconnected from some kind of creative wellspring. I imagine his college memories were a lot more pleasant than his high school ones. :)

Buffy was less well equipped to handle stories about adults making normal adult lives; the finale makes a beautiful summary cultural-political argument and puts the whole story to bed, but S7 is a hot mess, and S6 as evil twin of S2 is often frustrating. (Marti Noxon seems to've played a major role in S2's closely observed tales of Buffy's sexual awakening -- she was a new hire that year -- and she led S6's descent into erotic squalor.)

God damn, I miss this show. At its best, not a lot of TV shows can touch it.
posted by waxbanks at 2:11 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I mean, not just "Slap Slap Kiss" or "Enemy Mine" tropes but there were so many, essentially, dogwhistles, about so many characters, being like "yes these characters might be gay if you want them to be" and for 13-year-old me that was pretty darn great

(wait a sec I just looked and there are fifty two fanfics hell yeah)
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:21 PM on August 9, 2016

Only fifty-two? I wonder if Stacey and showbiz_liz could help you out there...
posted by tel3path at 2:33 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Angel annoys the crap out of me as a character but I always did like Doyle so, y'know, I'm not saying NO. I'm just saying I would have to find my way around to not being annoyed by Angel to write that. I haven't done an S1 rewatch in years, though, maybe I'm due.
posted by Stacey at 2:51 PM on August 9, 2016

He is really annoying. I mean, Cordelia figures out she needs a spiritual prophylactic with Gru, yet Angel mopes his way through the centuries as a form of atonement that's not really necessary.

The flip side of this is that he does his best to be a good guy despite living in a world with no rewards, in fact BY living in a world with no rewards. There's nothing in it for him, but he fights the good fight for goodness' sake. That's really admirable.

But so emo.
posted by tel3path at 3:30 PM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

There's nothing in it for him, but he fights the good fight for goodness' sake. That's really admirable.

Yeah. The show itself was rather more nihilistic than BtVS was. As exemplified by the line we get from Angel when he's learned the real truth about Wolfram & Hart (or was it the stupid shanshu prophecy?): If nothing that we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.

Which is both kind of stupid and profound all together, I think.
posted by suelac at 4:42 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Xander Harris looks much worse in retrospect than he did at the time (same with fellow "Nice Guy" Chandler Bing)

I used to refer to Xander as "Xandler" for this reason, and am not the only one.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:17 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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