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Thursday, March 9, 2017

20 Years Later, Are You Still Buffy?

I assume everyone reading this knows that Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on March 10, 1997, 20 years ago. I thought it would be worthwhile to review how I think the show still speaks to us.

This may seem redundant, since I wrote the essays here and the whole book to demonstrate that the show provides timeless themes. What I want to do in this post is to distill its core message, not just for reference, but for inspiration. SPOILERS for all episodes and for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

We begin as individuals: “You are the center. And within you, there is the core of your being ... of what you are.” It’s that core from which you draw the strength you need to face the challenges of the world:

Angelus:  So that's everything, huh? No weapons... No friends... No hope.

Buffy closes her eyes and steels herself for whatever's coming.

Angelus:  Take all that away... and what's left?

He draws the sword back and thrusts it directly at her face. With lightning-fast reflexes she swings up with both arms and catches the blade between the palms of her hands. She opens her eyes and meets his.

Buffy:  Me.

You were not born with that core. You were not given it by someone else. You created it by the choices you’ve made in your life. Those choices were never entirely unrestricted. Our abilities have natural limits and we make choices within those constraints. Others make choices too, and those may constrain us as well. Past choices may affect the options available to you now.

Don’t mistake those constraints as traps. “You have a choice. You don't have a good choice, but you have a choice!” The choices you make going forward today can reinforce or even redefine the kind of person you are. I wish there were a pithy quote from the series to highlight this point, but it’s implicitly shown throughout almost every episode. Instead I’ll quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (edited for brevity, my bold):

“Professor Dumbledore….. Riddle said I’m like him. Strange likenesses, he said.”
Did he now? And what do you think, Harry?”
“The Sorting Hat told me I’d – I’d have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin’s heir for a while…. The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin’s power in me, and it – ”
“Put you in Gryffindor. Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many of the qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. … resourcefulness – determination – a certain disregard for rules. Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”
“It only put me in Gryffindor because I asked not to go in Slytherin.”
Exactly. Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Not every choice defines your life all by itself. Most choices are small ones, though their cumulative impact may be large. It’s hard to know, though, at any point in time, which choice will prove to be critical; that’s why we need to make every choice a deliberate one. “There's moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you're gonna be. Sometimes they're little, subtle moments. Sometimes... they're not.”

What is it that you do afterward? That’s when we remember that we are Buffy:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Local max made some typically insightful comments recently on OoM, OoS. He caused me to think through the mechanics of the metaphor in OoM, OoS in more detail than I did in the original essay. I think my response to him outlines the more detailed analysis, and since you can read the comments here I won't change the essay. If anyone thinks the comments need more explanation, say so and I will add to them.

However, I did modify that chapter in the book. As always, you can get the modified version of the book by asking Amazon for the latest version (this update will take a few hours from now to process). Getting the updated version is free, but you'll lose any bookmarks or highlights from previous versions. I do updates a few times per year, but most of those are fixing some links and modifying the wording slightly. This edit was more substantial, and while it doesn't change the basic analysis, it does add some important detail so I thought I should mention it here.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Passion of the Nerd

I've previously recommended his video reviews of Buffy episodes, and this seemed like a good time to repeat that recommendation. He just put up The Zeppo, which may be his best yet. His site, with links to all videos, is here.

Updated October 5, 2016: He's now completed S3 with a terrific review of Graduation Day.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Seeing Red-ux

This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for BtVS Season 6, for book 5 of ASOIAF, and for S5, E6 of Game of Thrones.

I chose the post title for the obvious reason that I’m going to discuss the attempted rape scene in the episode Seeing Red and the actual rape of Sansa Stark – she of the red hair – in the GoT episode Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. The hyphen splits the word "redux" because I can't resist a pun and "ux", in Latin, is a common abbreviation for "uxor", meaning "wife". As I discussed in my post on Seeing Red, that episode was extraordinarily controversial, and the rape of Sansa Stark has generated a similar level of controversy. I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to read the various reactions to Sansa’s rape and to formulate some ideas of my own, but my thoughts here will necessarily be incomplete because the consequences of the rape have yet to play out.

I’ll begin with a point that seems to distract some viewers, namely whether it’s proper to call Sansa’s experience “rape”. The argument against doing so is that the sex took place after her wedding, and the law/culture of the fictional universe (and the actual Middle Ages) would therefore not consider this rape. This strikes me as technically accurate but too narrowly focused. Yes, at that time and until fairly recently, a husband could not legally rape his wife. But the fact that the legal system wouldn’t hear a charge, doesn’t mean people living in those times would have approved any and all abuses by the husbands. Ramsay’s behavior towards Sansa was unusually cruel even by the standards of the show, because he forced Theon to watch and was then very rough to her. Since in my view the people of that fictional world would have disapproved of his actions, though they might not use the word “rape”, I have no trouble calling it that and I’m going to use the term throughout. Bear in mind, though, that the specific term is not crucial to my argument; if it bothers you that much, just mentally substitute the word “abuse”.

The bigger dispute I saw on line was whether the rape was gratuitous. At the point I’m writing this I think that conclusion is premature, though it could be proved true depending on what happens in the remaining episodes. My judgment is that “gratuitous” – which I understand to mean “without purpose except to shock the audience” – will prove to be the wrong term. In the books, the treatment of Jeyne Poole, whose story has become Sansa’s in the show, served to motivate Theon’s attempted redemption (“attempted” because his story isn’t over yet). I think it’s likely that the rape of Sansa will have at least this effect on Theon.

If that turns out to be the only impact of the rape, I’ll be extremely critical. In my view, it’s dubious, to say the least, to use the abuse of a female character as the motivation for a man’s redemption arc. It’s not that this doesn’t happen in the real world – it might very well – but (a) it’s an old trope in literature (see the rape of Lucretia); and (b) it subordinates the female role to that of the male’s. The latter is less of a problem in the books, where Theon is a much more significant character than Jeyne Poole, though I still found it problematic. But switching from Jeyne to Sansa, in turn a much more important character than Theon, changes the dynamics of the situation entirely. While it's hard to justify using the rape of any female character to further a man's arc, there’s no justification at all, in my view, for using the brutal rape of a more important female character for the sole purpose of motivating a less important male one.

This brings me to Seeing Red. Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy was introduced in the episode for the express purpose of motivating his decision to reclaim his soul. If you review my post, I had lots of criticisms of the scene, but not that one. I don’t think Seeing Red deserves that particular criticism because it resolved when Buffy exercised her own determination, agency and strength to stop the assault. So while the attempt did motivate Spike, it also reinforced Buffy’s superior character.

It’s possible, of course, that the rape in UUU will further Sansa’s own arc in an important way. I’m skeptical that the show will pull this off successfully; certainly nothing of what we saw in that scene demonstrated any particular strength by Sansa, not even the strength that sometimes comes from yielding. The trope that “being raped makes you stronger” is both factually dubious and pretty much a cliché at this point. In my view, it’s not much better than a purely gratuitous rape, as long as there was some other way to demonstrate the woman’s character development. I think there was an alternative in this case, which I’ll offer below.

I saw some arguments on line that there had to be a rape because nothing else would have been consistent with Ramsay’s well-established character. Without debating the details of that assumption, it rests on the further assumption of the immediate wedding we saw in the show. As book readers will recall, the wedding of Ramsay and Jeyne Poole (a fake Arya Stark) included the invitation to all the Northern Lords to attend. The book doesn’t explain the reasons why the Boltons would do this, but it’s fairly easy to identify the most important: Fake Arya was supposed to carry the Stark heritage and legitimize the Bolton claim to Winterfell. The Boltons needed witnesses to the validity of the marriage in order to assert that claim. Getting all those Lords to Winterfell takes time.

Now, let’s suppose that instead of the rushed wedding we saw with Sansa, she had convinced the Boltons to postpone the wedding until the Northern Lords could see for themselves that she was voluntarily committing herself to the Bolton cause. Her case for the delay would be much stronger than that for the actual delay we saw in the books: Fake Arya was given to the Boltons by the crown, conforming to Medieval notions of wardship, whereas Sansa came to Winterfell via Littlefinger, who had no right to control her marriage; Sansa had previously married Tyrion, so everyone, including especially the Boltons, would need assurance that her marriage to Ramsay wasn’t bigamous and therefore incapable of conveying the Stark claim; the Boltons have a, um, reputation in the North and the other Lords would need to see that Sansa’s commitment was free and voluntary in order to accept the Boltons as successors to the Starks.

I think this sequence is both more consistent with the books and gives Sansa agency in the whole process. But there are more benefits. Sansa could use the delay to exercise her burgeoning talent and pit Myranda against Ramsay and Ramsay against Roose. She could rally her supporters in the North, including Brienne and perhaps even Stannis. This could probably be written plausibly to make any marriage unnecessary, but if it were, Sansa could agree to it in order to motivate a rebellion against the Boltons.

Well, we all like our own ideas best, but I think my story line grants agency to Sansa, coheres better with the books, and eliminates the problematic aspects of the rape.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

200,000 Thank Yous!

It's pretty amazing to me that this blog has gotten over 200,000 page views. I never would have imagined that essays about a show which ended 10 years before I started writing could have generated such interest. Thank you all for visiting, and special thanks to those who've commented.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Katniss, Buffy, and the Cost of Heroism


I’ve now had the chance to see Mockingjay 1 twice, and as I mentioned in my last post, I re-read the Hunger Games Trilogy before seeing the movie. I have a number of thoughts about the book, the movie and about more general issues, all of which I’ll try to organize here. I’m going to tie those thoughts to Buffy and make some comparisons to HBO’s Game of Thrones too (no spoilers for GoT).

A number of reviews of Mockingjay 1 expressed disappointment at the “lack of action” in the film. I didn’t find this to be a problem, but I can see how it might appear that way to others, so I need to start by talking about what I think Hunger Games is “about”.

Each reader will emphasize different aspects of the books, of course. As I see it, there are 3 dominant stories playing out in tandem: Katniss’ heroism both in the Arena and outside it; the love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta; and the cost, physical and mental, paid by Katniss in the course of the Trilogy. When reviewers mention the “lack of action”, they’re clearly talking about the fact that Mockingjay 1 contains little of the gladiatorial-style combat which formed the basis of the first two books, and which many viewers obviously find the most interesting part of the books. Leaving aside whether this is good or bad, it’s faithful to the third book, where the only such “action” occurs in the second half and will be the subject of Mockingjay 2.

I’ll talk about the “action” issue more below, but I want to digress by saying that it may very well be that the Trilogy would have been better suited to an HBO series like Game of Thrones. It would have been pretty easy to set up at least 4 seasons for such a series, possibly 5 (a magic number for series generally because of re-runs, though this affects HBO less than it does network TV). In general, I’m a fan of the way HBO has translated George Martin’s series to television, though I have some specific criticisms of individual scenes and characters.

The big advantage HBO has over movies is time: it can devote 10 hours or more to a book, rather than 2-4 when each book has to be made into a single movie (two for the finale). This extra time allows all of the dominant themes to play out, which is likely to make all the readers happier.

HBO has other advantages too. There’s a good deal of graphic violence in the novels, though it’s stated rather than described in explicit detail. The movies need to downplay this in order to maintain a PG-13 rating, but the cost of that is that this de-emphasizes the horror of the Arena and over-emphasizes the adventure aspects. HBO certainly does not understate graphic violence, and that would inevitably change the impact of the Trilogy on screen.

Similarly, the books actually contain a great deal of nudity and people dressed only in underwear, something I didn’t really notice on first read but did on re-read. The nudity is all stated rather than described; it’s not salacious and it’s not sexual, but it’s there constantly and it can’t be shown in a PG-13 movie. At the risk of the understatement of the year, I think we can safely agree that HBO wouldn’t find this a limitation.

Both graphic violence and nudity are controversial, and I’m generally of the view that they are both overdone in books and on screen. That said, there’s a place for both when essential to the author’s point, and I think that’s the case in both Game of Thrones and Hunger Games. Both authors are (IMO) trying to dispel the romanticism so often associated with war; the violence and nudity in the books are designed to drive home this point.

Nudity in The Hunger Games emphasizes the fact that the Capitol holds the 12 Districts in what amounts to slavery (a point made often throughout the books). Slaves traditionally have no personal privacy – they are stripped of dignity among other rights. In the American South, slaves were often displayed naked at auction and poorly clothed by their masters, who used them for sex the way Finnick was used and, as suggested, Katniss herself might have been. Nudity in preparation for the games demonstrates the tributes’ lack of autonomy. Nudity in the Arena titillates the Capitol audience but doesn’t violate any norms because the tributes aren’t “real people”. The books are making a serious point here, but it gets lost in the movies because of the restrictions and assumptions of the medium.

I’ll give one relatively minor example to make this point. Catching Fire, the second movie, includes the scene of Johanna stripping at the elevator, but it gets the scene completely wrong. It’s played as sexual, with Peeta and Haymitch obviously looking at her and enjoying the sight; Johanna then winks at Haymitch. That’s what we in the US commonly associate with nudity. But in the book there’s no sexual vibe at all. To the contrary, Johanna is using her own choice of nudity to emphasize that the Capitol can’t hurt her, can’t embarrass her, can’t make her vulnerable by stripping her clothing.

I want to emphasize that this is NOT any sort of rejection of Mockingjay or of the previous Hunger Games movies. Generally speaking, I think they’ve done very well in their adaptations, helped by the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is (IMO) so good and can express such a wide range of emotions. I have some criticisms of Mockingjay 1, mostly of the way they handle the rescue of Peeta, where I personally would have preferred that they spend the time on Katniss’ issues. Overall, though, I think the movie is a reasonable compromise for viewers with different tastes and I liked it better than most reviewers.

The fact that I liked the movie better than most reviewers despite the lack of “action” scenes brings me back to where I left off above. For me, the most important theme of the books is the internal cost paid by Katniss, not the “adventure” of gladiator combat or the choice between Gale and Peeta (though all 3 themes are connected). You can see that cost as realistic – think of all the news reports of PTSD and other issues faced by troops returning from combat – or as an anti-war message (my own view), but there’s no doubt that book 3 spends the vast majority of its pages on Katniss’ mental state and not on her ability to shoot an arrow or which boy she’s kissing.

At other times of my life, I was more attracted to the adventure aspects of fantasy and SF. Even in LOTR, for example, while the cost paid by Frodo was explicit, I focused on that far less than on his struggle to destroy the Ring and I could imagine myself in such an adventure without the unpleasant traveling conditions or risk. I think we all find that part of the attraction of these kinds of stories.

At this point in my life, though, I’m more interested in considering the cost paid by our heroes. It was, of course, Buffy which brought me to this point. The fact that there would be a cost was expressly stated in Welcome to the Hellmouth:

BUFFY Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends?For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them?

By cost here, I mean the impact of being the Slayer on Buffy's psyche, not the external injuries she suffers along the way. The show, probably intentionally, diminished the effect of those because "accelerated healing comes with the Slayer package." (FFL) The Trilogy solves this problem with the advanced medicine which restores Katniss physically even as she continues to suffer mentally.

Buffy pays psychic costs all along, but those costs don't become the focal point of the show until late in S5, and they continue in S6-7. Even the loss of Angel in S2 -- which is less a cost of being the Slayer and more simple bad fortune -- gets mitigated with his return in S3. Writing the episode essays for the later seasons forced me to confront the internal costs Buffy paid in a way that I never really had before. Maybe that alone, or maybe that in combination with current events caused me to reassess my assessment of the relative importance of the price of being a hero.

I'll just briefly list the costs Buffy pays so I can compare her to Katniss: flashbacks; nightmares; self-loathing; the deaths of numerous people whom she, in her own mind, failed to save; her episode of catatonia after she failed Dawn in Spiral; her own life, which she sacrifices for Dawn; a long period of depression after she's pulled out of heaven by her friends; isolation from her friends and mentor. As Andrew puts it in Storyteller, Buffy's is "a story of ultimate triumph tainted with the bitterness of what's been lost in the struggle."

So what costs does Katniss pay? All of the above, basically. The Arena gives her flashbacks and nightmares which she never loses. She suffers guilt from her failure to save first Rue and then Peeta. Depression and isolation are constants in the later books.

Another cost is her friendship with Gale. At the start of the books, he's her best -- only? -- friend and an obvious romantic possiblity. At the end, he plays no role in her life, at least in part because he re-creates a mine cave-in very similar to the one in which her father died and which has caused her nightmares ever since. She gains Peeta, but that's partly because she comes to see him as essential to help her deal with the costs in a way that Gale never could. When I first read the books I thought Gale was the obvious choice for her, only to be corrected by my daughter who assured me that Peeta was the right one. I now see that she and Katniss were right.

Another cost is her mother, just as Buffy lost hers, though in neither case was that loss directly related to the actions as the hero. Katniss had a difficult relationship with her mother from the beginning of book 1 because her mother suffered such severe depression after Katniss' father died that she nearly let Katniss and her sister starve to death. Katniss comes to understand that depression intellectually in Catching Fire, but only really recognizes the emotional core of depression when she herself suffers it on two different occasions in Mockingjay. Compare the cathartic effect of Katniss finding Buttercup back in District 12 to Willow's breakdown on the hilltop in Grave.

Speaking of fathers, Katniss lost her father in a mine accident, but began to see Haymitch as a surrogate father at some point because of the way he helped her survive. She lost that affection when she learned that he'd used her as part of the rebel plan (compare Giles in LMPTM).

That brings us to her bitterest loss: unlike Buffy, Katniss loses her sister Prim, the one person she loves most in the world and, like Dawn, a metaphor for innocence. The whole "adventure" of the Games begins with her heroic decision to volunteer as tribute in place of Prim. Katniss didn't set out to save the world, any more than Buffy set out to save the world in Prophecy Girl or The Gift. In both cases Buffy focused only on saving first Willow and then Dawn; saving the world was a by-product of that.

But as a direct result of the Capitol's defeat, Katniss loses Prim. And the reason she loses Prim is that both sides used Katniss as a pawn in a larger struggle -- that's one meaning of the mockingjay, a bird that sings songs given to it by others -- a struggle the Katniss herself always resisted joining. I see this as similar to the way the Watchers used the Slayers over the years. Katniss finds love and hope at the end not because of her roles in the Arena or the revolution, but in spite of them, when she and Peeta find them in themselves rather than in the larger cause. To me, that's a very Buffy message.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why are we obsessed with Buffy?

My friend shadowkat posted this on her lj today and I got her permission to share it. I edited it slightly and I have a few comments at the end.

"Was discussing [Buffy obsession] with a friend today, who'd told me she'd just blasted through the first five seasons of Supernatural on Hulu. 

Me: For all the television shows that I record and watch, I don't care about 98% of them.
Friend (laughs)
Me: And the last television series I really cared about or was obsessed over was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

I don't know why I haven't been able to emotionally invest in a lot of these series. Oh there are a few I do enjoy and would miss a little bit if they waived by-by tomorrow. A handful. The Good Wife, Justified, Once Upon a Time, and possibly Game of Thrones?

The following shows...I find interesting, but weirdly don't care what happens to anyone in them.

1. How to Get Away with Murder
2. Marvel Agents of Shield
3. Scandal

Not sure why this is exactly.

Revenge? I just want everyone but Nolan and Emily, to die. Which is caring, in a way.

I do care a bit about Grey's Anatomy, Defiance, Gotham, Nashville, Vamp Diaries, the 100, Elementary, Doctor Who, Dowton Abbey, Blacklist, and Sherlock but not really enough to be upset if they got cancelled. 

Arrow, Constantine, Sleepy Hollow and the Flash - am thisclose to giving up on. 

Nor do I know what it was about Buffy that obsessed me and nothing else really does. Not sure anyone on my correspondence list understands this? I don't understand it. Maybe Buffy just had a combination of factors that the others don't quite have?

Buffy - I seemed to love just about everything about it in the latter seasons. The music, the characters, the story arc, the metaphors - I think it just resonated on a deep level? Don't know. Not obsessed with it now. 

I wonder sometimes if there are just too many tv shows...and they all seem a bit alike. Watching State of Affairs right now, and it feels like Madam President meets Homeland by way of Covert Affairs. I've admittedly seen too many of these series.

It hit me watching Marvel: Agents of Shield or rather discussing it - I realized I didn't care who died, who was redeemed or what happened. Vaguely curious...but not emotionally invested at all. Same with How to Get Away with Murder. If I didn't DVR these series I'd forget they were on. And when I think about...I haven't deeply cared about any of the characters in a Whedon series since maybe FireflyDollhouse - I had troubles relating to. It was too all over the place and I found the set-up to be slightly patronizing, and sexist. A personal reaction, clearly. Bewildered me - that others online seemed to prefer it and Firefly to Buffy and Angel, obviously they were in the minority...

I did love the first season of Veronica Mars, and for a while was emotionally invested in that character - but I related more to Buffy, weirdly enough. I don't know why. Was it the music? The actors? The Writing? 

What is it about a story or book or tv show that compels me? Or grabs my heart, sinks its hooks in, and won't let go? Is it a character? A story arc? And is it mood based? Will I love Buffy as much now as I did then? I'm not obsessed now? Rarely read any fanfic on it any more, when between 2002-2010, I read quite a bit. 

The Buffy/Angel comics sort of burned me out on the comic genre. I lost interest in the entire genre and gave away my comic book collection this year. The entire collection except for four books that a next door neighbor talked me into keeping. I remember the next door neighbor commenting on my Buffy/Spike/Angel comic collection and in what pristine condition it was in - I had them in binders, and plastic sleeves. In mint condition. But I gave them away, put them out on the street, without a backward glance. It seemed odd to my neighbor. But I knew they were worth nothing.
And I didn't want them any longer.

When I stop being obsessed, I stop. 

There was something about Buffy...and it wasn't in the first four really wasn't until the fifth and sixth that I became obsessed. Or rather, it was when I re-watched the series on FX, with the current one airing - and realized, wait, all of these episodes build on each other, the characters are evolving, and the the writers seem to comment on previous episodes in future ones - there's a discernible pattern here and it's really cool and I've never seen anyone do that before. I think that was part of it.

The other part - was, on a strictly personal front, my world and what I believed was true was falling down around my ears. I discovered that people I had placed a great deal of trust in - were stabbing me in the proverbial back, no where was safe or secure, and the coping mechanisms I had in place had stopped working. In short, without warning, my world turned upside down on me. This, I think, happened to quite a few people in 2001. It was a major water-shed year for the world.
There was life before 9/11 and life after. 

On screen - there was a character who was metaphorically dealing with that same thing - her world had turned upside down on her. What she believed was true wasn't any longer. All her illusions had been smashed wide open. She was being forced to see the world as it was, not as she imagined it to be.

Buffy: Does it ever get easy?

Giles: You mean life?

Buffy: Yeah, does it get easy?

Giles: What do you want me to say?

Buffy: Lie to me.

Giles: Yes. It's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and... everybody lives happily ever after.

Buffy: Liar.

- From Lie to Me (BTVS S2).

And later...

Everything here is ... hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch ... this is hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that ... knowing what I've lost... 

- Afterlife (BTVS S6)


Xander: I know we've been going straight because I've been following the North Star.
Willow: Xander, that's not the North Star, it's an airplane.

- Bargaining Part II (BTVS S6)

and finally...

Life's a song you don't get to rehearse
And every single verse
Can make it that much worse
Still my friends don't know why I ignore
The million things or more
I should be dancing for.
All the joys life sends
Family and friends
All the twists and bends
Knowing that it ends
Well that depends
On if they let you go
On if they know enough to know
That when you've bowed
You leave the crowd
There was no pain;
No fear, no doubt
'Til they pulled me out of Heaven
So that's my refrain
I live in Hell
'Cause I was expelled from Heaven.
I think I was in Heaven.

Spike: Life's not a song;
Life isn't bliss.
Life is just this.
It's living
You'll get along
The pain that you feel
You only can heal
By living
You have to go on living
So one of us is living.
Dawn: The hardest thing in this to live in it.

- from Once More with Feeling (BTVS S6)

I thought, whoa. This is what I'm feeling metaphorically. I feel lost. And I don't know what they are doing in this show or where they are going with this - and I need to analyze it. I need to pick it apart. I need...and I think, I think I felt that somehow if I figured out the characters, their arcs, I'd find a new way of handling what was happening to me - another way of coping, a better way, that through discussing and analyzing the metaphors in this story, through this story - I'd solve the riddle of my own life. I'd find a way out. 

I remember at the time, a friend of mine commenting that the fan boards I was on were operating as a sort of group therapy for pretty much everyone involved. Through the tv series we seemed to be working out our own issues, our own fears, and our own problems. In reality, I think that's what stories do. They are in essence a way of solving a problem. Often one that we can't quite articulate or understand. Jung and Freud stated at various points that stories were gateways to the collective unconscious or the subconscious's way of communicating to us - as were dreams. A safe way of dealing with our own demons.

Fantasy series often work better in this regard than reality based series do, I think, because it's easier to work through metaphor. And metaphors tend to be more relatable and universal. Less painful. Sci-fi and speculative fiction works in a similar manner - I think. It's less painful to look at a problem through the lens of a fictional novel than reality. 

I think, I don't know for certain, that various things on Buffy hit my subconscious hard. The songs, the themes, the character's arcs- I deeply related to on some level. The story was in essence about dealing with your own and others demons. Not just our own, but the one's projected onto us by others. Such topics as financial issues, bullying, unemployment, romantic rejection, failure...were explored and through the lens of monsters and demons. Life is hell the series seemed to state, but we can make it less so if we work together...and pool our resources. 

It started out simply - high school is hell. But over time, the writers expanded on this theme. And this weekend, a friend of mine said to me - the world is an intense place and people are intense. People who are sensitive, should take baby steps. Don't jump in all at once. And see the world as it is, not as you wish or imagine it to be. For what it is - can be wonderful.

Buffy seemed to convey that. It also conveyed how we underestimate our own power. Buffy often underestimated hers. 

Spike: I'm not tryin' to cheer you up.
Buffy: Then what are you trying to say?
Spike: I don't know! I'll know when I'm done sayin' it. Something pissed me off, and I just-- "unattainable," that's it.
Buffy: Fine. I'm attainable. I'm a-- I'm an "attain-a-thon." May I please just go to sleep?
Spike: You listen to me. I've been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I've seen things you couldn't imagine, and done things I prefer you didn't. Don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood... which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred-plus years, and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of. You... Hey, look at me. I'm not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it's not because I want you, or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are. What you do. How you try. I've seen your kindness, and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you, and I understand, with perfect clarity, exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the One, Buffy.
Buffy: I don't want to be the One.
Spike: I don't want to be this good-looking and athletic. We all have crosses to bear.

- from Touched, S7 BTVS.

Sometimes, I think, the world causes us to forget who we are. We get lost inside our duties, the pressures, the demands, the desires, what others say about us whether they are our teachers, our friends, our husbands, our wives, our children, our boyfriends, our girlfriends, or our parents - we can lose ourselves in how they define us - whether it is a vampire, a werewolf, a witch, a 100 year old vengeance demon, a slayer...that we forget who we are. And our own power. 

Buffy: [to Spike] You faced the monster inside of you and you fought back. You risked everything to be a better man. And you can be. You are. You may not see it, but I do. I believe in you, Spike.

- From Never Leave Me, S7 BTVs.

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone else to tell us, I believe in you. You are okay. Or to find it in a story - and think, wait, I get it now. This isn't so bad. Or simply...yes, I get that, I felt the same way, I know what you are feeling.

When I was interacting with the fandom on Buffy, some interesting things happened.
The fandom helped provide me with the courage to leave a horrible work situation without a safety net in place, and more importantly to survive that. I remember corresponding with one woman, a navy nurse working in Japan, who sent me flowers the day I left my job. With the following quote:

"When life gives you lemons, make lemon-aid..." - I Was Made to Love You (S5 BTVS).

In the bottom were lemons. Six months later, her husband took me to dinner, to pay me back for being her friend, for helping her survive her own crisis of faith - to get through each day. To have someone who listened. Who got it.

And it wasn't an isolated occurrence. There were many other things that happened similar to that. Without going into gory details? The Buffy Fandom saved my life in 2002-2004. And I saved others lives. That blew my mind.

It was before social media took off. Before we had tumblr, twitter, or facebook. Just livejournal, voy, and yahoo newslists. We were a complicated, sensitive, vulnerable group of people who spanned age ranges, nationalities, ethnicities, class, and gender. Online - no one could tell your race, gender, ethnicity, or age. You were stripped of such definitions in most cases. One poster - refused to be identified by gender. We were forced to deal with the essence of what we wrote. No nifty visuals or GIFs or icons...just text. 

Buffy seemed to have so many things to discuss, to think about. We could pick it apart and we did rather obsessively. I've not really seen it done elsewhere. Granted I'm not really that involved in any other fandom. Doctor Who lacked something - it didn't quite deal with quite the same range of issues, and the writing didn't quite focus on gender - in the same way. Once Upon a Time - also lacking. Lost and BSG - too male, I think, and not quite as broad. None of these shows broke new ground or flipped gender roles. I keep meaning to ask the Doctor Who fandom - how they'd handle a female Doctor Who? Buffy took the concept of the vampire slayer, typically male (see Grimm, Supernatural, etc.) and made it female. Breaking Bad...I just couldn't relate to, and it felt...way too familiar, not conveying anything new. Any more than Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Veronica Mars or various others did. 

Buffy surprised me. Most shows rarely do. But it did more than just did this weird thing. It was not what it appeared. If you just looked on the surface all you saw was a campy show aimed at tween girls. With a funny premise. Who could take a show called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" seriously? Heck when I first watched some of the earlier seasons - I didn't pick up on certain things. And it was far from perfect. Uneven at times. And yes, you could argue that from a purely objective point of view Breaking Bad was far better written, Sopranos certainly was...few television snobs would say that Buffy was stellar. But...that was the surprise. Dig deeper...and you uncovered something special. It did more than just surprise - it delved into some our of deepest fears, pains, and sorrows ...and gave us hope, provided a whimsical solution.

The humor was off the cuff, at times snarky, at others pure slapstick. It made fun of itself, and it commented on itself and our world. The first true meta-narrative. Slyly showing how pop culture defined and limited us. 

AMY: It's crazy, all the things that've happened since I went away.
BUFFY: No kidding.
AMY: Snyder got eaten by a snake ... high school got destroyed...
BUFFY: Oh, Gatorade has a new flavor. Blue.
AMY: See? Head spinning. (shakes head) People getting frozen ... Willow's dating girls ... and did you hear about Tom and Nicole?!

-Smashed (S6 BTVS)

In Buffy, pop culture was a presence. It wasn't ignored. The characters commented on the changes and how they'd get lost amongst them. Giles would rail about the blasted computers, while Willow seemed to adore them. 

And the show didn't stop seemed aware of the fact that what we do, everything we do has a counter-effect. Events may seem random, but we are connected. Everything is. Yet it also questioned all of this. There was nothing definite regarding God. Or anything. 

You made your own way. You loved. You trusted your instincts. You got through it.

Buffy: I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. 

Buffy continually defines herself. She allows no one to define her. Unlike Alicia (The Good Wife) who is defined by her husband, her job, her kids, her roles, or Walt (Breaking Bad) who is defined by his illness and his failures, or even Angel who is defined in some respects by his father and his own failures...Buffy stares back at those around her and says, I'm not what you define. I'm not the slayer as you define a slayer. I don't lie on a bed of bones. Death is not my gift. I am not your hero. I'm my own. I will not do this alone. I will ask for help. I will not sacrifice my sister. I will not sacrifice my soul. I will find another way.

She reminds me a lot of the character Gerda in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale - the Snow Queen. She's not Persephone or the variations, she doesn't stay in the underworld or make frequent visits. She lets go of her undead lovers...after she frees them much like Gerda in the Snow Queen frees her friend Kai from the cold deathly clutch of bitter hatred. 

It's odd, I've watched this series more than any other. Written more about it than any book, movie, tv show, song or thing I've loved. I've in effect electronically published and shared over 500 pages of essays on it, and at least three fanfics. Through it I discovered fanfic and meta and how to write both. I have the show mostly memorized. The characters, all of them, live in my psyche. I loved, hated, and related to the entire cast, supporting, guest...what have you. I've ripped this series apart, critiqued it, and showered love upon it. I've railed at the writers for disappointing me and not going in the direction I'd have preferred, and lauded them for taking insane risks and surprising me. I've followed the actors. I've followed the writers to new shows.

Something in this series struck a chord deep inside me. And you either get that? Or you don't. It's not quite explainable, or something I can articulate, although I did try above. And have in various other posts. I'm not sure I understand this myself. Perhaps it's as simple as I liked this. I just did. No wait. I didn't just like this. I fell irretrievably in love with it. To the extent, that I remain wary of sharing it with others who may not get it. I make fun of it - like I did to a friend above, although she watched it, but she didn't love it as I did. 

It used to embarrass me that I wrote so much about it. I remember my mother rattling off in a book store once to a stranger that I wrote media essays about Buffy and I wanted to shake her - and kept trying to get her to shut up. And when someone introduced me in public as doing this - I almost kicked them verbally. In part, because when I talked about it to my friends offline, they didn't get it. They did not understand why I loved the show.

CW: You realize that this show is marketed to tween girls right?

Yet, the people I knew who watched online weren't tween girls. They were over the age of 35 mostly. All walks of life. Our paths crossed over our shared love of the show. I remember doing a meme on two different fan boards once - and discovering the ages, nationalities, etc of the viewers. It surprised me. People from the ages of 15-80 were posting. Geneticists, scientists, monks, philosophers, etc. 

It's odd. How life can surprise you? How a tv show, simple tv show about a girl who fights vampires can...change how you see yourself and the world and for the better? At any rate, it taught me not to take things for granted, not to make assumptions, and to look deeper. But mainly to trust my instincts...and trust my heart.

So, while I may not care all that much about what's on now...I'm certain others do and maybe they've found the magic I found with Buffy...even if I don't understand how they did so."

I just want to expand on one point shadowkat mentioned, and that's the on line discussion. I think that had a huge impact for both of us. Before the internet, I expressed my obsession for, say, LOTR by reading it over and over again. But I didn't have anyone to discuss it with.

That changed with Buffy, dramatically so for those of us at ATPO (and presumably elsewhere too). Not only could we discuss the show, the others there would see things we didn't. Then we could go back on re-watch and find not just those things, but still more. For me, every time I went back, I found something new, something I hadn't noticed the first time around. I began to keep track of all that, and that led to the blog and the book. I like to think that doesn't just reflect the obsession, it justifies it.