How Buffy The Vampire Slayer Shaped My Life
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended it’s seven year run a whole 10 years ago this month. Scary. I caught the first episode when it aired on BBC2 in 1998, making me ten years old. Since then I watched every episode, bought the VHS tapes, bought the DVDs and rewatch the entire show at least once every year. The show is as intrinsic to my growing up process as neopets and dairylea triangles, but far more meaningful. I have spent more than half my life watching and thinking about Buffy.
What has kept me watching the same thing for so long? I have quite an addictive personality, but generally go through phases with things. I was convinced that United States of Tara was a life changing experience but as soon as I finished the finale I was onto something else. The Pokemon games dominated my life for a good couple of years but I can barely pick up my DS now. My interests, sticky as glue, eventually wear off. Not Buffy though, and I think the way it grows with you.
Starting out in high school and ending as a twenty-two year old with actual responsibilities, I’ve gone from coveting the “grown up” parts to romanticising the youthfulness. Buffy is one of those shows that you get different things out of, depending on where you are in life. As a ten year old, bonding with my Dad for forty-five minutes every week, I loved the monsters and the comic book villainy of foiled plans and heroes saving the world. As a nineteen year old, I loved the emotional scenes of passion, break-ups and heartbreak. At twenty-five, I love the friendships and how flawed each of the characters are. When you’re a kid, Xander is goofy. When you’re an adult, Xander is manipulative. Is “Spuffy” a tortured romance between lost souls or a straight up abusive relationship? My opinions have changed with the more life experience I’ve accrued whilst still enjoying the show rather than finding it immature or limiting. My only consistent opinions? “Dawn is annoying” and “Riley is boring”. Other than that, my Buffy Truth is constantly evolving. That’s a pretty impressive feat. Also, I always joke that I knew I had become a woman when I looked at Giles and thought, “He’s hot.”
Another part of Buffy that doesn’t get old is the dialogue. If you were to picture my inner thought processes, you would see a Buffy character writing in a Livejournal. When you’ve heard the same line fifty times it’s obviously not as funny as the first time, but the rhythm of Buffy is right. Someone told me recently that my thought patterns and way of speaking was like Willow, and I took that as a compliment. I have totally absorbed that rambly, adjectivey way of speaking through years of watching Buffy. I don’t know how else to describe the “speaky vibe” of this show other than that the characters are self-deprecating, yet with a confidence in what they say. A charming bumblingness. It’s probably ironic that I can’t put into words how I want to describe the dialogue in a show that I profess to have shaped me as a person. Explains why I’m so bad at presentations.
I’m always surprised when I talk to someone my age and they tell me they’ve never watched Buffy, because it felt like such a huge part of my life. Yet, at school, I didn’t meet anyone who watched it on the regular until I was sixteen. With the absence of the all encompassing internet, obsessions were kept in your head and plastered over your bedroom walls. And I thought about Buffy all the time. I still have daydreams where I’m protecting people, but now it’s from muggers rather than vampires. I have forced my brain to give me reoccurring dreams where I’m at high school with the Scooby Gang. I’ve felt, at times, like I know the characters like I know my friends. Better, even. When you’re a shy kid who has trouble fitting in, “learning” sociability from a teenage drama isn’t as shameful as it sounds. Channelling the Scoobies has definitely helped me bullshit my way through a fake confidence and affected my sense of humour. Dorky Willow, laconic Oz, blunt Anya. I want to be them all.
Buffy has taught me things as well as just inhabited my head. It’s taught me that you can be good but flawed. Buffy Summers makes shitty decisions and can be a bad friend. I don’t feel encouraged to like her because she is the main character, The Slayer, but because her weaknesses make her real. Every one of these wonderful characters has done something stupid or straight up disgusting, morally. I didn’t learn it as a lesson then and there, but over time and endless rewatches. I basically watched all the shit that teenage girls go through on Buffy and then repeated it a few years later. Ooops. But the characters developed though and they learnt. Cordelia went from Queen B to this amazing champion and is arguably my favourite character. Watching people work through bad shit is comforting though. When it hurts to confront your own demons, it’s nice to watch someone’s similar suffering on television and feel through it. Sure, I never had to send my first love to Hell but it sure has felt symbolic at times. Start finding women attractive? Better watch Willow and Tara’s Season Five relationship and feel okay about it. Buffy has reached critical levels of despair and self-destructiveness. When I had a breakdown, I went back to my parents’ house and watched Buffy. When I’ve felt sad, my mum has asked me if I need to come home and watch Buffy. I don’t, but I do lie in my own bed with my cats and watch Buffy.
A lot of people probably have a close relationship with a television show. Some people have watched the same soap opera for thirty years, and some people just really like cult seasons of stuff. I think I’d struggle to omit Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a list of things that have affected me over the course of my growing up process. It’s in the top ten, definitely, of “important life experiences”. Joss Whedon’s supernatural creation has ironically grounded me, like a media parent. People who don’t have close relationships with television, books or other media will probably think I’m stark raving mad.
Maybe I am. Maybe in reality I’m locked in a mental asylum having convinced myself that I’m Red The WordPress Blogger. Maybe spending fifteen years obsessed with Buffy is a strange dream. Maybe my fandom is due to a magical spell or test of endurance. Maybe I’ll wake up from all this with no voice, ten years old and unable to talk about it… whilst haunting figures glide through my neighbourhood stealing hearts.
… Yup. Just like those episodes of Buffy.