I came lately to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) when I started watching it on DVD while preparing material for the Bible in Popular Culture course back in 2009-2010. Somehow, I missed its arrival on television here in the early 2000s, had no idea there was an original film back in 2002, and sort of knew there was a spin-off series called Angel (1999-2004). Watching it after the fact, and also as a middle-aged man, meant that some things that were part of the Zeitgeist of its original time bypassed me, it became just one of a number of similar supernatural shows rather than a trailblazer, and I probably wasn’t the target demographic. That said, I enjoyed it overall, have all the DVDs, and get some of the intertextual pop culture references to it that still turn up. I also spent a bit of time reading academic engagement with the series.
25 years on from it and Buffy and other shows, films, and comics from the mind of Joss Whedon (aka the Whedonverse) now sit awkwardly, and in many cases hypocritically, in the light of allegations about the creator and his attitudes and actions towards (particularly) women he worked with. Where that leaves Buffy, which was touted and engaged with as a serious and transformative watershed moment in feminism, as somewhat conflicted and complicated.
This recent BBC article, How tainted is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 25 years on?, Hanna Flint explores exactly how we can read/watch the Slayer in out current times.
But now, 25 years ago this week since it first premiered in the US, a cultural reappraisal is happening as fans have increasingly found themselves confronted with certain questions about the show: does it still hold up as the important piece of groundbreaking, feminist television it was once heralded as, in the cold light of 2022? How do they square their ardent affection for the iconic cult series with its more problematic elements? And given the disturbing accusations made by the cast about its creator Joss Whedon and his allegedly “toxic” and “not appropriate” behaviour on set, to what extent should the art be separated from the artist – or not – in this case?Hanna Flint, How tainted is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 25 years on? (2022)
Flint examines some of the impact the show had, some of the bits which haven’t transitioned well, some of the bits which despite its self-declared feminist agenda clearly undermine that claim, and what it might have to offer today. She concludes:
With all that to consider, has the show’s legacy been irreparably tainted? Whedon’s mission statement of delivering “the joy of female power” does not always seem to have manifested behind the scenes or in front of the camera. And yet, 25 years on, one cannot deny the importance of what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did, in centring several strong female characters within a populist genre format, thereby pushing the boundaries of what was expected from a female-led TV series. But, as with a lot of old shows, including its peers from the 90s, like Friends, it’s hardly a surprise, perhaps, that there are character and narrative elements that have aged badly. “There are some characters that you’re going to look at and go ‘why on earth are they behaving that way?’ but you have to remember that was 25 years ago, and if you can look at it as a period piece, you can still get a lot of modern day benefits from it,” says McKillop, who is rewatching the series with her own daughter. “She’s getting a lot out of it. Not necessarily the same things that I got out of it when I first watched it, but she’s definitely getting some good messages.”Hanna Flint, How tainted is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 25 years on? (2022)
It’s an interesting article and well worth a read even if you’re not a Buffy fan, reminding us that sometimes elements of popular culture transcend their setting, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes popular culture becomes the property of the fans first and foremostly regardless of and in spite of the creator and their flaws.