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Buffy The Vampire SlayerBuffy’s importance stands tall, and it’s not over yet
By Joanne Ostrow
Tuesday 27 May 2003, by Webmaster
Forget the damsel in distress thing.
"You know me, not much for the damsel-ing," Buffy said in last week’s finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Buffy is a female hero, as opposed to a heroine. Nobody ever swooped to her rescue. In the end, she handed off to us: Girl Power! After seven smart seasons, Buff’s importance shouldn’t be underestimated. Besides giving grown-ups a satirical cult classic, she gave a generation of girls a new way to think about themselves.
She taught the industry a lesson in the changing expectations for teen television, giving the horror, drama, and even musical genres freshly blended life. She helped establish a network (the WB). She led the way in the union of TV and the Web, resulting in an ongoing effort by fans that has become its own body of work.
And she kept the world’s academics busy.
As written on her tombstone, before she was resurrected last season, she saved the world a lot.
Now Sarah Michelle Gellar can make movies, and series creator Joss Whedon can take a rest. He has said the decision to quit was his. The ratings were down. The time had come.
The series may be gone, with a satisfying ending that keeps the Slayer alive for possible spinoff appearances, but the "Buffyverse" (the universe of Buffy as it’s known) lives on, in books, scholarly conferences and college courses.
"Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies" offers dozens of essays with titles like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Pedagogy of Fear" and "Buffy the Vampire Disciplinarian: Institutional Excess and the New Economy of Power." A religious humor magazine, The Door, recently named Buffy "Theologian of the Year."
"In short," the site said, "BtVS is a parable, a postmodern morality play in which Buffy is a Christ figure, her Scooby Gang is the church and the vampires and demons represent the variety of temptation and moral hazards we all encounter in life."
For a show with a silly, tongue-in-cheek title the WB once confessed was a "barrier to entry" for the un-hip, "BtVS" scaled the heights.
The series forged a groundbreaking online collaboration: Producers and fans deconstructed the episodes each week, tweaked aspects that didn’t quite work and wrote tangential plotlines. On-air, the show sometimes tipped its hat to devotees. Fans are currently writing season eight on the Web themselves.
David Lavery, co-editor of "Slayage" and the pre-eminent Buffy scholar, found the finale "completely satisfying. Not in my top-five favorite episodes but in terms of things that had to be accomplished. It pulled that off beautifully. The most striking thing, of course, was its non-conclusion conclusion. The First Evil had not been destroyed, just defeated."
Lavery relishes the finale’s moment when Willow (Alyson Hannigan) cast a spell to empower all the potentials in the world, and the priceless image of a little girl at bat, first looking apprehensive, then determined.
"She wasn’t going to battle an uber-vamp but she was going to stand up to a fast ball," he said. It’s an example of how the show was always able to "combine the real and magical," Lavery said. "People read the metaphors."
The fan fiction is proliferating amazingly, and contributors display "an intuitive understanding of the narrative of the show," Lavery said. "They’re going to keep this going, something that I think is going to surpass ’Star Trek’ in its longevity."
More than a dozen books are due next year, including a 3,000-page lexicon of "Slayerspeak" by Michael Adams from Oxford University Press. Jana Riess, religion book review editor for Publishers Weekly, is writing a self-help book called "What Would Buffy Do? A Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide."
Australia’s first symposium on "BtVS" is this summer; the fourth international conference in Nashville, Tenn., is slated for next year. English departments everywhere study Buffy.
"We’re just tired of doing Faulkner," Lavery said.
The show’s mix of myth, allegory, religious metaphor, post-feminist theory and wit made it an English major’s favorite. Never a top-50 ratings hit, it was always a literary standout with a sizable cultural impact.
The central metaphors - that growing up is hell and adolescent girls are plagued by demons - carried creator Whedon into rich territory. Love and loss, bonding and betrayal, peer pressure and self-actualization. It was all there in the tale of a pretty blond cheerleader by day, the Chosen One anointed to kill vampires by night, in lovely Sunnydale, Calif., a "one-Starbucks town" that happened to be located atop the Hellmouth.
Whedon, who created the show and the 1992 film of the same ironic title, always stressed the classic hero’s journey at the heart of Buffy’s story. On top of that, he piled references to classic literature (even a poem by Sappho in the original Greek!), Valley Girl lingo and knocks at other teen fictions ("don’t go all Dawson on me"). The result was artistry with subtext for everyone. Plus sex and vampire butt-kicking.
Like all of TV’s best efforts, "Buffy" stretched the boundaries of the medium.
Thank you, Slayer, for leaving us standing at the edge of the abyss with a good idea of what to do next.
And thank you, Joss, for modeling Buffy on your feminist mother, leaving us all empowered.
Joanne Ostrow’s column appears Sunday in Arts & Entertainment as well as Mondays and Thursdays in The Denver Post’s Scene section.