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Buffy The Vampire SlayerCollection considers the phenomenon of Buffy
By Craig McDonald
Friday 31 October 2003, by Webmaster
Once in a great while, a TV series comes along that forges a profound connection with its audience.
While it may never achieve substantial mainstream status, the show gathers to it a dedicated, vibrant, intellectual cult following — a phenomenon only enhanced by the advent of the Internet.
Most often, these shows fall within the fantasy/science fiction genre — deliberately, subversively creeping in social commentary and moral allegories more conventional television series cannot, or don’t even aspire to attempt.
Star Trek was the first television series to forge such a fan community.
More recently, there has been the Highlander TV series starring Adrian Paul, a martial arts-informed/Talmudic study in immortality, moral obligation and centuries-long angst that launched a lucrative merchandising empire for its producers.
And, of course, there was the long, lauded run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, creator/writer Joss Whedon’s attempt to mount "the ultimate high school horror show, very basically taking the pain, humiliation, alienation, and all the problems of high school and ballooning them into horrific proportions. The show only works if it resonates. That’s the important thing."
Resonate it did, across age groups and gender and various intellectual strata.
Seven Seasons of Buffy (BenBella Books, 205 pages, $15.95) is a new collection of essays penned by a host of academics and science fiction- and fantasy-writer fans of the now defunct series.
The nearly two dozen essays contained in the trade paperback encompass most of the good and bad aspects embodied in rabid fandom.
The revered name of the late mythologist Joseph Campbell, and his charting of the classic hero’s journey (as laid out in his seminal The Hero with A Thousand Faces), figures prominently in more than one of the pieces.
The story arc of Buffy’s final several episodes is persuasively measured against Arthurian myth by Nancy Holder. Contributor Scott Westerfeld also takes a serious, academic view of the series, its implications and value to young female viewers and the complexity of its story-telling techniques.
David Brin paints a case for Buffy as the ultimate post-modern bourgeois champion ("What does she need after a stint of saving the world? A bath and then a trip to the mall...She likes being one of us. That matters.")
At the other end of the spectrum you get the flavor of fan-geek arguments that choke the bandwidth of too much of cyber space: Is Xander the unstated axis of the series (as Roxanne Longstreet Conrad contends)? Who makes the better long-term romantic prospect for Buffy Summers? (mulled by author Lawrence Watt-Evans).
Justine Larbalestier’s "A Buffy Confession" embodies the double-edge sword of true fan admiration: There are those fans who hop aboard early, proclaiming their discovery of a series, then wait, wringing hands for the first signs of weakness in order to be the first to jump off the bandwagon. Or, more poignantly, those viewers who so bond with a show and immerse themselves in its characters and world that they find themselves hoping for the series to end before it can disappoint them.
(Common consensus, as reflected in Seven Seasons of Buffy, seems to be that the series stuck around two, or possibly three seasons too long.)
Contributor Kevin Andrew Murphy takes that love-hate tendency on the part of fandom a step further, considering whether fans’ chatter about the show on the Internet — and creators’ awareness and monitoring of that chatter — in fact came to direct the creative choices made for the series, possibly for the worse.
In effect, Murphy seems to indicate, fan blather may in fact have contributed to the decline many fans felt the series suffered during its final two seasons.
Tongue-in-cheek or serious, the pieces in Seven Seasons of Buffy should fuel fan debate for the series which, in the manner of the creatures who give the show a portion of its name, does not die.... Its DVD collections, reruns, comic books, video games, and still-running spin-off series, Angel, continue to assert a considerable force on popular culture.