Creator and executive producer Joss Whedon said, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t fantasy, its reality T.V’. It is this factor that makes the series so popular over the globe. Joss Whedon has a series of films to his list of screen writes including Alien: Resurrection, Toy Story, and the 1990 Buffy the Vampire Slayer film. The film itself wasn’t a hit but the idea behind it obviously was as it is now one of the most popular and successful series on television. Joss’ idea was seen as opposition to the original horror films where the women were victims who ran away screaming from situations waiting for a man to come and be their hero.
Instead Joss created a heroine who took the role of the typical male hero but who still had the vulnerabilities of her teenage counter parts. When the pilot for Buffy was released it was originally thought by critics to be targeting a teenage audience, but to every ones surprise it has become a popular series for vampire fans of all ages. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a success, now in its sixth season with the spin off Angel in its third season and two more spin offs in the pipeline.
There is a large fan base all over the globe who not only follow the series but also have a large part to play in the success of the merchandise. Buffy is what Pierre Bourdieu calls ‘mediatization’ – the delivery or channelling of television itself as a mass media genre. This is true in the sense that every episode is made on a large-scale film budget with writers who are used to writing for the large screen.
The largest part of a teenager’s life is growing up/maturing. Joss Whedon has done what most producers do anything to avoid, he’s let his characters grow up /mature and taken the show with it. They’ve moved on from high school and are now attempting to cope with college and careers in the real world, and their relationships have developed from the teen angst and petty neuroses. This is what Robert McKee classes as a maturation plot in his book, Story.
This has kept the audience interested because the characters are dealing with similar situations at the same time as they are. Buffy therefore offers some form of guidance/reassurance in the sense of they are not alone. The main aspects of growing up/maturing, which I am going to explore, are school/college, sex/sexuality and death, respectively. These are every day/real life issues which, are explored in every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but is this enough to call it reality T.V and is it this that makes the series so popular?
High school and college are key locations for teen films especially in the horror genre. Robert McKee commenting on the horror genre and step down reality said that the location of the film has been adapted from gothic castles to high schools in order to relate to the characters and scenarios, which affects the audience. In an interview packaged with “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Joss Whedon remarks that he came up with the Hellmouth to explain why there are so many monsters in Sunnydale and more importantly the Hellmouth literalises a key thematic of the show: that high school is hell.
This chiastic relation is exemplified by Buffy’s response to Willow’s apology that she can’t help her friend study for finals: “I’ll wing it. Of course if we go to Hell by then, I won’t have to take them. [sudden fear] Or maybe I’ll have to take them forever. . .” (“Becoming, Part 1”). Critics writing about the show have been quick to pinpoint the parallels between Buffy’s demonology and real-life high school horrors, focusing heavily on the high-school-as-hell metaphor: Demons are the gangs; the transformation of gullible kids, victimized and “turned” by demons, represents the effects of drugs; and the helplessness of grown-ups in the face of all this.
Then there are parallels to real teenage life – as opposed to parents’ fears about drugs and gangs. You can’t bring your boyfriend home to meet your parents ’cause they just won’t understand and your parents will never understand you or your problems. It’s no accident that most of the demons are male and adult, or that the teenage demons often look like those we know. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a continual illumination of the transformations in the lives of young people as they are initiated into high school, college, and the realities of adulthood. Naturally, any series that is, on the surface, about slayers and vampires must be about transformation especially regarding the Angel/Angelus figure.
At Sunnydale High you see throughout the series the different psychological types of students; the jocks – sports people, in this case swimmers and footballers; queens; swats/geeks; rebels and goths. This is typical of the teen genre, along with as many teen films have within the opening scenes popular teen music playing and a scene of the front of the High school with students making their way inside.
While Xander is casually leafing through a powerful book of spells, in “Superstar”, at the very second he says “Right. You can’t just go ‘librum incendere'” the book spontaneously combusts. Angered by Xander’s lack of proper respect for the magical power contained in his books, Giles snaps, “Xander, don’t speak Latin in front of the books.” This along with other examples shows the characters knowledge and use of language as having significance to the characters importance in the scale of things.
Buffy herself is easily able to play with language, quipping rhapsodic while staking vampires. This, I imagine, is because she understands the role of language, when facing more dangerous, out of the ordinary demons, she seldom resorts to the same kind of language play. The importance of paying attention to different levels of language is illustrated in “Fear Itself.” An authoritative book reveals the exact nature of the threatening demon, and even provides an illustration of it, but Giles, the only one who can read the “Gaelic” text, reads it insufficiently. When the demon ascends, it is approximately eight inches tall, and Buffy promptly stomps him with her heel.
Giles sighs and says: “I should have read the caption. It says ‘actual size.'” So ignoring language is as important a didactic lesson as attempting to manipulate it without the proper authority. The hierarchy of importance in the show appears to be related to each characters knowledge and use of spoken language. While the everyday vampires have very little if anything to say, specialized categories of demon employ more formalized and often esoteric languages.
Each member of the gang contributes a distinctive type of language-skill to the communal arsenal; Xander introduces new slang and reverts to bringing things down to their basic forms; Willow speaks the technological languages of magic and computers. And while Buffy’s combative dialogue is crucial, and Giles provides the authority of the translator, Buffy and Giles must learn from one another – he must learn spontaneity and intuitiveness, while she must learn discipline and the importance of research and studying.
Speech-acts in Buffy the Vampire Slayer are as important in defeating evil as are acts of physical strength and agility, this is put into speech for us in, “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” as Xander says while regaling Giles’ super-librarian status, “Everyone forgets, Willow, that knowledge is the ultimate weapon.” In “Graduation Day, part II”, the scene is set for one rite of passage, graduation, as another, the mayors ascension, builds up.
The whole school pulls together as a mass not only to attend their graduation ceremony but to save themselves and the world, something Buffy and company are all too familiar with. Buffy switches gender roles, and leads the mayor to his death as the school is detonated into a huge ball of cleansing flame. The team are preserved, the evil is gone, the high school years are over, and they carry on into a new life in college. At this point Oz, the werewolf, notes to the rest of the gang that they have survived, but not meaning the apocalyptic battle but that they had survived high school.