Even with years off the air, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's is ripe for study and analysis. It's studied at the college and graduate level, very often cited as an example of a female forward show in published works, and its fans take it very seriously. Gabrielleabelle of Livejournal has been analyzing and critiquing Buffy The Vampire Slayer for years with her Feminist Filter, meta analysis, and statistic posts, full of painstaking detail and needed discussion. With her journal's popularity in the fandom, the great amount of thought she puts into her meta breakdowns, and it being Buffy Month, Margaret Bates had a few questions about what makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a cut above the rest when it comes to women, their relationships, and their issues.
How did you get drawn into the Buffyverse? Do you remember which episode or season got you hooked?
I actually started with Firefly.
I didn't watch much TV (besides Star Trek) during my teenage years, so I missed Buffy when it aired on TV. I've never been one for 'vampire stuff', so I never had any inclination to watch it after the fact, either. However, a guy I was dating brought Firefly over to my place one evening and we started watching. We stopped dating afterward, but I still had his DVDs. I felt horribly guilty for this and didn't do anything with them for a whole year until the guilt had dissipated enough to give them another try.
I enjoyed it a lot, and I was intrigued by this Joss Whedon fellow. I managed to get the Firefly DVDs back to the guy I'd dated, but I was curious to see what Whedon could do if given a full series - not just part of a season - to work with. As such, I went to his first project, Buffy.
What's your favorite season or plot arc from the series and why?
My favorite season is, without a doubt, season five. It has the most cohesive story and thematic arc, and it manages to highlight every character in some way. I love the epic scale of it. I love the progress that all the characters make. I love Buffy going up against a god. For me, there's not a dud episode in the lot. It's gorgeous.
Similarly, who's your favorite character?
Is it too much of a fangirl cliche if I say Spike?
He intrigues me. I like his story arc. I like how it developed organically. I like all his personas and I like where he ends up.
What has inspired you to write so much meta about the show?
I love the show. I don't feel compelled to write meta about most other shows. Buffy, though, has a structure and narrative that calls out to be analyzed and played with. That's what I like to do.
Is there a general theme that comes up most in your meta or something about the show you feel compelled to address over and over?
I think there are times when I get attached to a particular event to write meta about. Generally, though, my interest in the series runs the gamut from Willow's hats to the feminist subtext in Checkpoint. One of the joys of Buffy is that it is such a broad show. It gives us a lot to talk about.
Have you written meta on Buffy as a feminist series? If so, can you list a link to it or favorites of them?
I actually have an entire meta series about it - The Feminist Filter - where I post outlines of the feminist text of each episode to prompt discussions. We're just about to start season three.
I find I'm endlessly fascinated by the complexity of the female characters on the show, as well as how they interact. It's a novelty in genre shows, and I'm thankful for it.
What do you think is the most problematic thing about the Buffyverse?
Not an easy question. With seven years of story, it's inevitable that there would be problems. Buffy is a narrative that skews towards the feminist, though it's not necessarily a feminist narrative. Oftentimes, the story gets prioritized over any sort of political message.
As such, a lot of the more controversial story decisions - the empowerment spell in 'Chosen', for instance - don't ping me as much as they might other people. That's a result of the complex intertwining of the fictional story with real-life politics. There will always be friction between the two.
There is one issue, though, where the series falls down that can't be explained as a story decision, and that's in its dearth of characters of color. For a show set in Southern California, it's unbearably white. When it does have non-white characters - Kendra, Trick - they tend to die.
The show made some effort in the final season to diversify its cast. We get Robin Wood, Kennedy, Rona, and a number of other Potentials who are not white. However, at that point, it's too little too late. We still have six seasons full of mainly white people. By the end of the show, we don't even have any characters of color in the main credits.
This erasure of racial diversity leaves us with a very white-washed view of feminism.
What season or plot arc did you dislike the most and why?
Well, the season and plot arc I dislike the most is the second half of season three because it bores me. I'm usually watching the clock and waiting for season four to come along. Not the most intellectual of reasons, to be sure, but it's there.
If you could change one thing about how the television series progressed, what would it be?
I tend to like the TV series as is. I suppose if there were one thing I could change, I would redo the plot of season seven so as to make it make sense. I like the season, but it's a mess, and it detracts from the general feminist message they were going for.
Specifically, I'd have liked the Guardian to have been introduced earlier, and I would have liked for the First Slayer to be fleshed out as a person. The Guardian is a nice concept for the feminist metaphor of forgetting women's history, but she's thrown in at the last minute and ends up being merely a plot prop. The First Slayer doesn't get much of any play in the final season, and she should have. What better way to get to the root of what a Slayer is than to go back to the very first, the beginning? It would have doubled as an opportunity to do justice to a character of color who was introduced (in Restless) as primal and savage.
What would you say to people who actually want to get into Buffy analysis and meta?
Patience is a virtue. People will disagree with you, no matter what. Sometimes you'll pour your heart into something but people will either not notice it at all or will disagree vehemently with it. Try not to get too attached to your interpretation because it's inevitable that someone else has another interpretation that's equally nifty. Don't get defensive when people have a different viewpoint. Think of the show as presenting a kaleidoscope of different interpretations such that the presence of one doesn't necessarily detract from the validity of another.
And then have fun. It's not worth it if you don't have any fun.
Anything else to add?
Not as such, no. :)
Big thanks to Gabrielleabelle for giving us this glance into Buffy analysis from the fan perspective. Please feel free to click the links and join in the discussion!
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