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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.


  1. I loved this article and I completely agree with you-you really have to get the show. For me what attracted me to the show was its ability to constantly surprise me. This set the benchmark-and still continues to do so for media as a whole. I have been unfailingly comparing everything I watch to this show and sad to say they have fallen woefully short!

  2. There is only one other tv series that grabbed me liked Buffy did (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra), and I have watched a lot (probably too much) tv. The love of the show is so personal, I agree that it's hard when you try to get someone into it and they don't like it.

  3. While I've never quite had the same high I've had for a show as when I first watched Buffy I'll admit I've had some resentment for it overtime and wouldn't call it the BEST EVER anymore. In contrast while I've never had the same adrenaline with Supernatural it's probably gained more of my respect even if I had distaste for it at times.

  4. I keep meaning to ask the Doctor Who fandom - how they'd handle a female Doctor Who?

    River Song, Clara Oswald, Missy...