Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Post: Buffy Virgin Watches Season One

Ed.: The 90s! It buuuurns!
Our guest contributor, Elizabeth Kobayashi has just finished watching Season One of Buffy, and is here to report on what she saw. She'll be back with the other six seasons as soon as she has that much free time.

Buffy: Defying Gender Stereotypes, 90s Teen Thriller Style (Season 1)

Let’s start with the basic facts. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, is approximately 540 minutes of awesome.

And Anthony Head wins at everything.

Okay, now for the pertinent details, one character at a time.

No, we’re not starting with the title character. We’re starting with my personal favorite. Can you guess whom?

How’d you know?!?

Giles: (Played by the illustrious Anthony Head, of whom I am a fan, as of the Merlin video diary episode in which he goes on roller coasters with Angel Coulby, Colin Morgan, and Bradley James. But I digress.) Giles redefines manhood in a really good way. Apart from the scene in the finale when he takes an axe to the earthworm from hell, he really doesn’t get much of the action (in any positive way, that is—he does nearly get his brains chopped out and gets thrown across the room a couple times). He doesn’t do any significant slaying or punch anyone out. He’s not at all your macho man, brimming with testosterone and rippling muscles. Nope, he’s got a sweater-vest, glasses, and messed up hair.

Ed.: Studly.
And the kids would be dead without him. Giles spends his time poring over books, deciphering prophecies, seeking solutions, and cracking mysteries. He’s quiet and shy and you’re pretty sure he’s never had a date. But he figures out how to reverse the witch’s spells. He speaks the incantation that imprisons Moloch. His smarts almost always shed a critical beam of light on the supernatural situation, enabling Buffy to take care of whatever happens to be going on. He’s proof that intelligence, depth of knowledge, patience, and sometimes a backseat role can make a man a worthwhile hero.

A guy doesn’t need boxing skills, visible chest hair, and a gun (or motorcycle) to be a monster-killing expert, let alone a brave protector and guide. And despite his flustered, slightly stammering social skills, Giles is rather comfortable in his identity. He certainly doesn’t suffer from boneheaded-need-to-prove-myself syndrome (unlike a certain someone I will mention later). Giles knows when he can’t handle what he’s up against (though he does get this crazy idea about facing the Master), but no one in their right mind would call him cowardly.

I think society *coughhollywoodcough* could take a tip from Giles and stop asking men to prove their worth by punching out villains and kissing girls.

Ed.: I tried to get this look for years.
Buffy: And as if a nerdly middle-aged librarian dominating the male protagonist scene isn’t enough, now we come to the vampire slayer: a sixteen year old girl. With superpowers(ish), no less! As the slayer, it’s Buffy’s job to take out the monsters (particularly vampires) that plague Sunnydale High School.

She’s bold, she’s fearless (generally), she’s witty in the face of danger, and she’s really rather good at killing vampires. She’s confident in her skills (slash powers, seeing as she has seemingly superhuman strength, endurance, and acrobatic skills). She’s not impervious, though—she’s susceptible to fear, rejection, hot boys. I like to see a heroine who is still human, a superstrong girl who can cry when her dad utterly rejects her (don’t worry, that was just part of the curse, not real), but without being weepy or a sap. She gets upset when there’s something really serious to get upset about, like death. Or a missed date. She is sixteen, after all.

But as a slayer, she’s pretty darn cool.

Have I mentioned that the lead female does all the slaying, while one of the lead males does all the supporting and advising? I’d say that’s a little atypical, and I’m rather fond of it.

Xander: Um…I’m gonna say Xander is basically a stereotypical high school boy companion character. He sometimes functions as comic relief. He does obnoxious things. He has crushes on teachers who wear tight sweaters and doesn’t even try to hide it from Buffy (you’d think he would’ve learned after the praying mantis incident, but nooooo).

Ed.: Leave. Xander. Alone.
I mean, I’m fond of him and everything. He’s kinda funny and he’s cute in that boy-next-door kinda way. He’s a good friend to the girls, though a bit oblivious, and he’s generally ready to charge into danger to save Buffy.

Again, stereotypical. There’s nothing wrong with a guy charging in to save the girl he’s in love with. Unless the guy is an average high school kid with no exceptional skills and his girl is a supernatural vampire killer. Then charging into the underground lair of the oldest vampire in the world is just stupid. It worked, because he was technically too late, but it was a stupid idea.

(Note to Buffy fans: I’ve only finished the first season. I’m hoping for some good character growth over the course of the coming seasons. This is just my impression of Xander so far.)

In the first episode, he said something about being “not good enough” because he couldn’t follow Buffy into the vampire lair. That told me right off the bat that he was putting his worth in his ability to match up with Buffy—which he will never be able to do. Thankfully, after a few episodes, he got the idea that Buffy’s a slayer and he’s not.

He’s not an idiot, he’s just a bit bull-headed. He’s always well-intentioned, he just isn’t giving me a whole lot to root for. He’s a fun enough character, but he fits a mold and hasn’t done anything remarkable yet.

Ed.: Isn't it weird that she has kids now? With Wes?
Willow: Awww, Willow! I’m a fan of nerdy characters, in case you can’t tell. Anyway, I think Willow’s very cute and a decently solid character. Like Xander, she’s an ordinary companion to the far-from ordinary Buffy and Giles. Unlike Xander, she is very smart and has a definite set of useful skills. She contributes to the team very consistently and they always know what jobs to give her.

I can’t really speak to the stereotype that is or isn’t being fulfilled here as I’m not terribly familiar with female nerd stereotypes, but I like the fact that the supporting female in this show is a useful and consistent character. She doesn’t usually need saving. She’s brave. She resists Moloch. She gets the job done.

I’m really interested in where Willow is going to go over the course of the show. I think she has a ton of potential. I find her a very sympathetic character. She’s funny because she’s cute, not because she’s obnoxious. I feel sad that Xander’s her best friend and doesn’t know she’s in love with him. He’s a dumb boy, what can I say. (Wow, Xander keeps losing points in this article…I didn’t mean for that to happen…I suppose we ought to cut him some slack since he’s only sixteen…but wouldn’t that be encouraging the prolonged childhood that plagues our culture? Ah, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.)

That’s all for now, folks. See ya next time on Reading Rainbow.

Er…I mean Kiss My Wonder Woman.

Ed.: I just wanted them to be my friends.
Elizabeth Kobayashi is recent film school grad working in online learning by day and writing by night. She approves of llamas and frogs. You can watch her video blog here, or read her previous article for this site here.


  1. Replies
    1. Well, I'm a fan, but I can't speak for Elizabeth. Probably she didn't register like she will in Season 2.

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