Why Buffy the Vampire Slayer Still Matters

BUFFY: My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening…
(Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3, Episode 18, "Earshot")

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, without a doubt, my favourite TV programme.

I love many other quality TV shows too - shows like Alias, Six Feet Under, Game of Thrones and even Battlestar Galactica - but Buffy holds 1st place and always will, for a good number of reasons.  

Much like in a previous blog post, ‘Why Lara Croft Should Your Girlfriend’, where I highlighted that Lara Croft mirrored the strong female role-models and archetypes in my real life; Buffy too fits into my life through it’s familiar picture of depicting a strong and empowered female character.

When the show first aired in the UK I was 16 years old - so in the grips of teenage angst and the living nightmare we affectionately call ‘High School’. During this time, I identified with the central oddball group of characters - Buffy, Willow and Xander - as they mirrored my own friend group of arty weirdos and social outcasts. In terms of character and sense of humour, I basically was Xander (except I didn’t make-out with a teacher who later tried to eat my head - praying mantis style).

Frankly My Dear, I Don’t Give A Genre

To the uneducated, Buffy the Vampire Slayer could be misread as a naff 90s programme about a hot blonde chick, violently stabbing vampires in the heart with a piece of wood.

But, as you and I know, it’s so much more than that. 😎

The programme stood out starkly in the the TV landscape for it’s dry-wit, horror sensibilities and a knack for forming an uber cultural pastiche. Blending together cultural reference with an unnerved ability for self-referential humour.

There’s a sense of “...generic hybridity of the series: its ‘spasms of viciousness’ are punctuated by the conventions of the soap opera, horror, comedy, music video, action and sci-fi genres...In the age of cable and satellite television, genres have been increasingly recombined to attract niche markets and coalitional audiences” (Jancovich and Lyons [Editors], 2004: 122).

It’s this blend of genres that is one of Buffy’s stark selling points and perhaps why it has aged so well. Without adhering to the visual and storytelling norms of any one genre, it’s managed to continually bridge the gaps between the current fashions and tastes to consistently remain relevant.

Many came in the wake of Buffy and tried to recreate the magic (I’m looking at you Charmed and Alias) but just couldn’t quite reach the level of success that Joss Whedon and his his team managed to create.

LGBTQV..For Vampire?

Part of the success of the programme, which has since become a staple of quality TV, is the ensemble cast structure. Whilst Buffy the Vampire Slayer does follow the life (and slaying) of the main protagonist Buffy, there’s a whole cast of characters which have significant story arcs throughout the seven seasons.

 

“...the ensemble dynamic of Buffy...does not necessarily contradict the claim for a central agent, but rather allows multiple points for investment and the extension of the central ‘trouble’ across multiple plot-lines; ensemble casting fosters greater permutations of each narrative's central probmatic (or enigma) and plays into the very demands of the serial structure.”
Hammond and Mazon [Editors], (2005), The Contemporary Television Series: 161

 

One fine example of this, and a prime example as to why Buffy still matters today, is the character journey of Willow. Through several seasons, this character journeys through a number of interesting plots including, but not limited to: stumbling through adolescence as a social outcast and bullied nerd;  blossoming into an empowered female witch; a surprise turn as a supremely evil, if not vengeful, supervillain (human flailing included) and then a painful journey through mourning, self-acceptance and redemption.

Before the darkness - Alyson Hannigan as season 3 Willow. You know, before she goes a bit crazy and evil in season 6. 

Before the darkness - Alyson Hannigan as season 3 Willow. You know, before she goes a bit crazy and evil in season 6. 

The thorough-thread within these storylines is Willow's sexual identity - a storyline which creator Joss Whedon is said to have always had in mind since the programme’s conception. Name another 90s American mainstream, internationally successful TV programme which dared to have (heaven forbid!) one of it’s main characters identify within the LGBTQ spectrum, I dare you! It was scandalous and fantastic and progressive. Apart from that one character in Dawson’s Creek, I’m struggling to come up with an example from a similar type of programme. 

And to think that now we hardly raise raise an eyebrow to a token gay storyline within that one season of Game of Thrones.

We’ve come so far.

Yay. 🤷‍♂️

To be honest, it perhaps would have been a braver and more progressive move to have selected a male central character identify as gay. However, this would have been a move perhaps a tad too far for the 20th Century Fox TV executives. It’s undeniably easier and sexier to sell the idea of a couple of  ‘sexy lesbian witches' than ‘Xander - the token gay’. But nevertheless, this writing decision is still a powerful one.

In a world where minority groups are still fighting to have their voices heard and are fighting to protect their own basic human rights, the character of Willow still stands the test of time and proves to be a force to be reckoned with. She's a flawed but capable role model. 

We need powerful female protagonists, now more than ever.

Vampires! Vampires For EVERYONE!

One other thing that makes Buffy still relevant today is that it’s a highly globalised text. Like much of American television, it’s ready to be shrink-wrapped and exported to other westernised cultures. Like in the UK, where the BBC aired the series originally on BBC2 in the 90s.

 

“Globalization is about power. Which way does it flow? Is it a circuit, a connection or draining blood-suckage? “It’s about the power”, says Dark Willow on her way toward world destruction at the end of Season Six. “This is about power,” says Amy when she shows Willow “The Killer in Me” (7.13). “It’s about power,” says Buffy, teaching Dawn to protect herself at the beginning of Season Seven; and at the end of the same episode, “It’s about power.” says the First Evil to mad, unbad, and dangerous-to-know Spike. Whether the power is good or bad depends on who is using it and how it’s used; so, too, globalizastion”.
Wilcox, Rhonda, (2006), Why Buffy Matters - The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 91.

 

That’s not to say that TV should always be made with a globalised stance or structure. Sometimes it’s necessary or even imperative to have programmes especially made for local territories. However, part of the power of a show like Buffy is that it can speak volumes to so many people all over the world - even 20 years later!

Now, Slay!

One final reason why I think Buffy is still relevant is how the characters overcome evil and work for the good of humankind. Each season has it’s own ‘Big Bad’ which the characters have to battle throughout, sometimes episode by episode before eventually working towards the inevitable show-down in the season finale.

Perhaps the ‘Biggest Bad’ of all wasn’t the monsters, demons or things that went bump in the night. Sometimes the scariest ‘Big Bad’ isn’t the monsters at all! But the people. There’s a number of seasons which took this approach and, in turn, made the horror far more affecting. For instance the Mayor in season 3, the nerds in season 6 and even the fan favourite, ‘Dark Willow’. As we know too well,  people can make questionable decisions: politicians, our peers or even our best friends.

In our ever shifting political landscape, a programme like Buffy is necessary now more than ever as it helps to critique and comment on the darkness that we face on a daily basis. It’s a programme that helps to show how when we come together, we can face the worst and overcome.

I still love Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it shows that the 'loser', the powerless and the disenfranchised can actually become the most powerful - particularly when they band together.

So that’s why Buffy matters.

Because she died three times, kicked ass and proved not even Sunnydale, the hellmouth or even a ‘Big Bad’ could overcome her.  


BUFFY: So here's the part where you make a choice: What if you could have that power…now? In every generation, one slayer is born…because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power…should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of the scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer...will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power…will have the power…can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?
(Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7, Episode 22, “Chosen”)
Entertainment Weekly's 20th Anniversary reunion, 2017

Entertainment Weekly's 20th Anniversary reunion, 2017


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Pitch Perfect - The Time I Accidentally Ignored Peter Molyneux

Peter Molyneux. You will either know that name very well or you shall think it irrelevant. He’s a visionary who changed the gaming landscape with such classics as Populous, Black & White and Fable. 

For a time, He empowered people [probably most likely males in the 15 - 34 age bracket, who work in part-time unfulfilling jobs or have a problem with authority figures], with the ability to create. Create what you ask? He gave them the power to create civilisations. To craft landscapes and foliage and communities and families and, for a time, it was good.

But as we know, the tides shift and change rapidly in the world of video games and entertainment. Those who refuse to embrace change end up coasting or at worst, run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

In 2012, I had a brilliant learning experience. One that will definitely stay with me throughout my career as a personal highlight – I not only got to meet the man who changed the landscape of gaming, I also managed to ignore him.

You see the trouble is, having worked for a national radio broadcaster, I really am not fazed or intimidated by anyone. Literally. It’s quite an odd thing and to be honest it’s something I realise many people in return find odd, frustrating or intimidating. Which to me is actually one part baffling, one part hilarious. Now that I come to think of it, having worked at Scotland’s biggest music festival - T in the Park - for over 10 years, I’m definitely resilient and unmoved by those of grandeur. Soz.

'Why on earth did you ignore him’, you say?!

‘He’s Peter chuffing Molyneux!'.

Well, I didn’t really. Not on purpose. But as with everything, it’s always that frustrating tension between different perspectives. What I had failed to remember was the first thing I learned in my work experience days at Real Radio in Manchester 3 years previous.

THE ELEVATOR PITCH

Picture the scene, you’re in an elevator and the chief executive of a company walks in. Instead of squealing like a fangirl of a Buffy-undoing movie franchise, you suck-it-up and in that short elevator trip, inspire said chief executive to embrace your idea and let you run with it.

Sounds easy? Try it. Literally try summing up the idea for a book, film, video game, radio show, advertising campaign or a design layout and cram it all into a 2 minute pitch. It’s really not that easy. It’s definitely a life skill. Some people find it easier than others but most people work hard to achieve the perfect pitch on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.

For me, it had been so long that I had to actually try at anything. I was coasting at Real Radio and frankly bored with the lack of creativity I was granted during the latter part of my time with the company. So when it came to meeting Peter, this is literally how it went - from my perspective - but in bullet point form because my fingers are sore from typing and your eyes are tired from reading:

  • Overnight Megabus journey to London.

  • Changed into a suit in the Costa’s toilet at Guildford train station.

  • Taxi to interview.

  • Waited for 15 minutes in 26 degree heat, in a suit, on a leather couch in a room void of personality.

  • 1 hour interview with a charming, attractive German guy.

 

Then in popped Peter to ‘turn the air conditioning down’.

It was a surreal experience. Internally I thought to myself, “SH*T! That’s Peter! Haha! Just be cool”. T in the Park, cool. But externally, I must have just appeared like I didn’t know who he was. Brilliant. Well done Jamie, you have failed the elevator pitch.

A screenshot from 22 Cans' game, Godus. Available now on Steam, iOS and Android. 

A screenshot from 22 Cans' game, Godus. Available now on Steam, iOS and Android. 

Then after this awful metaphorical elevator ride, the rest of the conversation with the charming, attractive German continued until I found myself waiting for...another interview!!! Literally minutes later. SERIOUSLY.

Here’s the next phase of the interview process:

  • 1 hour interview with determined and stoic female head producer.

  • Great advice was given.

  • She didn’t like me on a personal level as she clearly thought I was crass and unclassy - AKA Scottish.

  • She also identified the real reason why I wanted the advertised job of community manager and in turn, helped me identify it too. I basically wanted to move on from radio production!

 

To be honest, in hindsight, the whole thing was perfect. It was exactly what I needed. The experience helped me reevaluate my career trajectory and aspirations. Also, being able to look someone in the eye and say:

“I am worth £XX,XXX a year”

…is a necessity in the creative industries.

It’s all about knowing your worth. You are not a commodity. You are a unique human being with a unique skill set. As cheesy as it may sound, just remember that there is only one you. So strive to diversify yourself from your competitors as much as possible through a constant cycle of refinement and diversification of your skillset.

I have come to realise, through personal experience, that there is power in words. Especially in the word "no". It's a word that needs to be said sometimes and being told no* in relation to a job interview at 22 Cans was the best thing that could have happened to me professionally that year. It gave me razor sharp focus and reminded me what I wanted to achieve, the type of companies I wanted to work for and the type of person I wanted to be. 


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*Note from author: I never heard back from 22 Cans after the interview. 

On Being Scottish

Haggis.

Irn-Bru. 

Buckfast.

All things that are, decidedly Scottish. 

All things that mostly give me the boke.

Also, what's with bagpipes?! Good lord they're awful! That being said, yes, I am Scottish - born and bred.

I was born in Glasgow - a city which is actually far larger than Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh.

Although born in Scotland, I have an interesting family heritage. Both my mother and father are English and moved up a few years before I was born. Unlike many Scottish people I know, from a young age my British cultural heritage was stamped all over me. Like a ready for international delivery Amazon Prime order. Postage paid and good to go! 

My grandfather served in the British Royal Air Force and my great uncle served in the British Army. Both inspirational, wise and dignified men who served their country and helped protect future generations. My Granny was also incredibly proud of The Empire and all it had achieved. If there was a wee union jack flag to wave, she would wave it. 🙄😅 She was also an 8th Scottish...? Or she said something along those lines anyway and would always say how proud she was of that too. 

Historically Speaking 

As you may be aware, the United Kingdom has quite the history.

We have a rich, cultural heritage of sweeping over the world and providing future generations with the English language, our idealised value system and empowering them their own day of independence.

You're welcome?

Whilst perhaps internationally regarded as a society where everyone speaks in a "British accent" (good lord, that isn't a thing!) and is the home of Harry Potter, we actually have a pretty sordid past. Something which current generations are starting to forget. I'm sure this is the part of the blog where I'm supposed to outline the dawn of the British Empire and summarise hundreds years of history but to be honest, I'm still reading-up on it and it's a bit too eyebrow raising. 

MOVING ON!

As I've grown-up, I've felt incredibly connected to both my Scottish and British cultural heritage and proud of the good parts. This is why I found the Scottish independence referendum such a confusing and frustrating experience.

For the first time in my life I started to feel my Scottish identity slipping away from me. With the fervour and the momentum of 'Yes!' campaign, I started to feel that my bipolar heritage wasn't 'a thing' anymore. It felt like there was no longer the luxury of being a product of both Scotland and England. That I had to either choose to be Scottish and deny my British-ness or be British and deny my Scottish-ness.

As the tensions started to build, the daily commute to work was becoming unbearable. People seemed visibly concerned as they scrolled through their timelines and flicked through the day's newspapers. For every person displaying common sense and sound judgement from either political standpoint, there were friends and work colleges exposing themselves left, right and centre - pun intended - as naive xenophobics.   

Freedom Intensified?  

Then, as the world watched with baited breath, Scotland chose the remain part of the United Kingdom.

So many people were disappointed but to be honest, I felt relieved.

If Scotland became independent, there were so many unanswered questions: pensions, our education system, national security or even what currency we would use?! But many people just wanted the opportunity for a fresh start without the ball and chain of The Empire.

Even these unknowns couldn't sway the opinions of the 'Yes!' voters. Their optimism for Scotland's future was resounding but it wasn't enough to draw in the nay-sayers. 

It was a close vote though, with 53.3% voting remain.

Should Scotland be an independent country?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/events/scotland-decides/results

No independence day for us, eh?

Not yet anyway. 

And Then To Brexit

Whilst the Scottish independence referendum result was no doubt disappointing to many in Scotland, it sent a powerful message worldwide: in the UK, whilst we may not all agree we're - for better or worse - together. 

When it came to the next history-making vote, I felt a sense of overconfidence. The Brexit vote to me felt like an exercise in the illusion of choice - that we were being presented with a choice to make us, the people, feel empowered. Not for one second did I think that the United Kingdom would actually vote to leave the European Union! That would be crazy, right?! 😅😭💀

This time round, it was undeniable that widespread xenophobia was at play. Instead of patriotism being the focus, the fear of "the other" combined with a loss of national identity and resources were being weaponised by the far-right, in a bid to force the hand of voters within an older and more dominant demographic. 

It worked.

UK Votes To leave the European union

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/eu_referendum/results

Waking-up to the result felt like an actual fever-dream-nightmare and for Scotland, who voted by a 62% majority to remain within the EU, it was devastating. 

Living In The Post-Apocalypse...

So what's it like living in the post-apocalypse...sorry, I mean "Brexit"!

What's it like living in the post-Brexit Scotland?

For the most part, it's pretty much business as usual. Much like every supposedly pivotal political moment in history; we wake-up, we have a shower, we go to work, we come home and spend time with our friends and family - then repeat.

There's definitely the default British self-deprecating humour in full force on a daily basis though. A world-renowned sense of humour that helps keep the good-ship United Kingdom afloat. However, there's definitely a sense of worry in Scotland. A sense of worry with a dash of 'impending doom' for any European residing here. There's just so many unknowns.

What it means to live in a post-Brexit Scotland?

"Being British" - what does that even mean anymore?

Most of the people I know from my generation in Scotland really wouldn't regard themselves as "British". Even more so now. 

As the lines that divide England and Scotland seem to become further refined with every questionable decision made in Westminster, the things that brought the United Kingdom together seem more and more arbitrary.

This kingdom doesn't seem that united anymore, does it? 

What about "being Scottish" though? Well, as history has proven, being Scottish means being resilient, being passionate and being willing to fight for what you believe in.

Here's to the future!

Whatever it might be.


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Time for some music?

Inspired by this blog post, here's a new Spotify playlist!

Click or tap the image below.