If you haven’t watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), surely you know what I’m talking about. There are not many things in life that stick as much and as long as Buffy did. Michael Jackson is one of those. Madonna too. And hey, Harry Potter’s on the shortlist. Because try as you might, you’d have to dig deep to find someone who has no knowledge of these names. (Maybe find an isolated tribe somewhere.)
You know, I was there when Buffy showed up with nothing but her pretty blond hair and ugly monsters fetish. Honestly, the draw was instant. Sort of like coffee. You make it, drink it, and you’re hooked. Media students look at Buffy to see what makes a program engaging; Psychology majors examine the monsters to see what people are afraid of; and when someone says Joss Whedon, one association comes to mind.
Film textbooks call Buffy a phenomenon. And we all know those have more to do with timing than anything else. Apparently, people liked being scared back in the 90s. And vampires were just beginning to emerge on the big screen, moons before Twilight or True Blood. I have read analysis that links Buffy's monsters to the demons we all have inside us and the need to battle them in one way or another.
But it’s not all about the monsters, is it? When I think about the Series, I think Buffy Buffy Buffy. She is the focal point of the whole project. She is the girl who bravely battles demons and dies not once, but twice. She is the One.
And since I like to break stories down (like I did with X-Men First Class & How to Train Your Dragon) to see what makes them strong, I’ll do the same with Buffy now. After all, she's been such an integral part of my life... I owe her this much.
So what is it about Buffy that is – or was – so engaging?
1. Buffy’s attitude: I don’t know about you guys, but if I was forced to battle forces of evil and abandon any hope for normalcy, I’d probably lose my wits and energy somewhere along the way. How does Buffy do it? I mean, how does one keep doing what they have to do, even if it means doing a job that is not only dangerous, but also endless? Throughout the series, she’s peppy, she’s snarky, and she’s… alive.
She’s everything we secretly want to be. And she does it along with everything else. To a lonely kid she’s pretty much a superhero.
2. Buffy’s wardrobe: Every teen would vouch that clothes are supposed to say a lot about their owners. And because I admired Buffy’s spirit and I wanted to be her, I also wanted to look like her. The cute and sexy outfits; the pierced ears; the hairstyles. Even though this no longer applies, I couldn’t resist throwing it in the bag… for old times’ sake.
3. Buffy’s lovers: I dare you to find a Buffy fan who wasn’t in love with Angel when he first appeared. I dare you to say you didn’t think he was hot and mysterious and you wanted to have his vamp babies (that is, if you are not a guy).
But it’s not just about the package. Have you actually noticed how dysfunctional Buffy’s love life was? Twice she fell for a vampire and the third time it was a military guy, who wasn’t enough in the end. It kind of reminds me of my own love life. How I always fall for the wrong guys and the pattern never changes. Talk about relatable…
4. Buffy’s development: Where do I start? She was just a young, insecure girl, who was afraid of the ultimate monster (the Master) in the first season. She grew confident and powerful by killing bigger monsters and facing greater challenges. She grew more independent by finding a job and losing her mother. She died, got buried and resurrected to face torture among the living. She lost her grip and made some bad decisions, and yet, managed to surface stronger and wiser for it.
Her journey is every man’s journey. And her victory was well-deserved.
5. Buffy’s friends: If you’re a Buffy fan, you will remember how you felt when Buffy found Willow and Xander (and Giles). You will also recall the moments when their friendship shone through: the time when Buffy looked into the demon’s eyes and recognized Giles; the time when Xander saved the world from Willow when she lost Tara; the time when they made up just before killing Adam (Big Bad), together.
The way I see it, loyal friends are the backbone of a good story, and all the support a hero needs. And that’s the point of Buffy’s story, isn’t it? She survived as long as she did because she had friends.
So you see, it wasn’t just the ‘effects’ that drew people in, or the scary monsters, or the ass-kicking, or the world-saving, or even the pretty girl with the ever-expanding vocabulary. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a true cinematic phenomenon because it encompassed all of the elements that make a story strong: relatable hero, loyal friends, love trouble, character growth, and personal demons.
Put those together in a pot, stir up some trouble, and you’ve achieved greatness.