The perfect combination of an interest in the supernatural and being the right age meant that Buffy the Vampire Slayer came along at the perfect time for me. Like a lot of television – and particularly fantasy television – the complexity of the narrative often gets ignored. The fantasy genre is easily dismissed as ‘escapism’, and it is for this reason that some phenomenal writers (Stephen King is a great example) are often critically ignored. A quick search of academic writing about Buffy, however, will show you that there is serious academic research out there. I started re-watching Buffy recently, and I thought I would share my observations.
There is far too much to write about (in fact, I could write a post about every episode), so I thought I would begin at the beginning: by looking at Buffy’s transferral from Hemery High in L.A. to Sunnydale High.
Whedon uses Buffy’s relocation to explore her attempt to escape her destiny. When confronted with the ‘Vampyr’ book by Giles, she makes it clear that ‘that’s not what I’m looking for.’ Because of her past, it is no surprise that a change in geographical location coincides with an attempt to change her identity. We all do this. Whether teenagers moving schools or friendship groups, students starting university or adults moving jobs, new environments bring with them opportunities to recreate our identities and generate a reimagined self with which we confront this new landscape.
Yet Whedon shows, as we all eventually find out, that this is only partially successful. We cannot entirely escape our pasts. (It is no surprise that Principal Flutie tears up and then reassembles her transcript from her previous school: it cannot be expunged, but must be integrated into her present sense of self.) We also cannot entirely reinvent our identities. What develops is something of a composite between our historical identity and the future self we wish to bring into being.
Buffy was exceptionally popular, being voted Hemery High School’s equivalent of May Queen. Becoming the Slayer caused her to become isolated and subsequently get kicked out of school – a physical manifestation of this isolation. A new start at Sunnydale High enabled her to refashion her identity, yet with the inescapable destiny of being the Slayer weighing on her. As such, she is stuck between the past and the future, unable to become either until she accepts both. The role of Slayer, as Whedon goes on to develop, is one that is both rooted in the history of being The Chosen One yet which also looks forwards to future slayers and the everlasting conflict between good and evil.
What we get by the end of the first two episodes, then, is an assimilated self that adopts aspects of both the past and the future. Buffy accepts her role as the Slayer, yet she is neither isolated nor alone. Rupert Giles, her Watcher, embodies her past and her historically-rooted destiny, and is the physical manifestation of her wider responsibilities to the world; Willow and Xander represent her youth and the importance of being connected to the immediate world around her. Maintaining this balance is one of the keys to Buffy’s, and Buffy‘s, success.