Spoilers: General ones for much of the show, I guess.
Email: diedalittle at gmail dot com
So, my question for you all is, in the fandom for a show that is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer... why is there so much anger that the focus, the center, the heart of that show is, well, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?
Why are we all surprised that so many episodes focus on Buffy's pain? On Buffy's problems? On Buffy's struggles? Why do we get upset that Buffy is the focus?
(Well, aside from the fact that apparently the show's title was changed to, "Spike, the Vampire With a Soul and a Magic Penis to Boot". I wish someone had told me about that, 'cuz here I am, still loving Buffy like an idiot.)
Why is there so much Buffy-hate in a fandom whose very existence is due to her? Guys, I've got news for you. Before there was Spike, before there was Angel, before there was Lilah or Wesley or Giles or Willow or Cordelia or Xander or Oz, before there was even Sunnydale or Wolfram and Hart, there was a fifteen year old girl whose goal in life was to "marry Christian Slater and die", and who instead suddenly found herself with a sacred duty to protect mankind.
Before there was anyone else, there was Buffy. The Vampire Slayer.
This show is, at its very heart, the story of a ditzy blonde California girl who's just trying to deal. She eats all the jelly donuts, she kicks ass on her SATs, she likes guys with nice arms, she wears her heart on her sleeve, and she could, to borrow a phrase from another Joss Whedon show, kill you with her pinkie. She has a little sister, a mother, and a father -- and by the show's end, she has lost two of these three. She leads with her heart, and it gets her into trouble -- trouble which she, when all is said and done, is prepared to fix herself.
This show is, in the end, when all is said and done, the story of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. When we could no longer refer to this universe as the Jossverse, because the Jossverse could mean the world of Firefly, did the universe of BtVS and Angel become known as the Angelverse? The Sunnydaleverse? The Vampverse? No. It's the Buffyverse. Because everything began with Buffy Summers. This universe, this world, owes its existence to Buffy Summers. It owes its existence to an idea this guy Joss Whedon had, about a teenaged girl who suddenly finds herself with a destiny.
So why do we, in this fandom, hate Buffy Summers so much?
"But she's arrogant," I've heard. "She's self-centered." Also, "she's a whiner." So, let's talk about that.
Yes, Buffy Summers is, at times, self-centered. Yes, she does have angst, and if you ask, she will probably tell you about it, perhaps at great length. Yes, she drives away the people who love her, the people who can help her. Yes, there are times when she tends to consider herself the most important person in the universe. Do you know why this is?
Because a lot of times, she is the most important person in the universe.
How many times has Buffy Summers been the only thing standing between the world and its destruction? At those times? I'm thinking it's safe to say that yeah, she's probably the most important person in the world. Which, wouldn't that tend to give anyone kind of a big head?
The flip side of that, though, is that this is a girl who has "carried the weight of the world on [her] shoulders since high school." Remember the cautionary words of Uncle Ben to Peter Parker: "with great power comes great responsibility." And Buffy? Has some of the greatest power ever. Yes, she does whine. Yes, she angsts. Yes, she is self-centered in her angst. Because she really is the most important person in the world.
And you know what else? She's entirely justified in having that angst, in whining, in being self-centered.
Partly, this is an oldest sibling thing -- the tendency to go "if something bad happens to me, or to someone I'm personally connected to, or, hell, within ten miles of me, it's my fault and I should've stopped it". Whether it's right or wrong, it's something that Buffy does. Because she has, more often than not, the job of fixing these things. This is the world that she is supposed to be policing. If something slips by, yeah, she's going to blame herself, even if there's no way she could've known.
Permit me to use an example. Doctors often have big egos. Like, huge egos. Partly, this is because the work they do? Is important work. They save lives. They make lives better. They help people. But partly? It's a survival mechanism. It's something to keep themselves sane, because they can't save everybody. It's to remind themselves that if they screw up? Someone might well die. That if they're not on, it could destroy someone's life.
Now, multiply that by, like, a few billion for Buffy. If she's not on? It could destroy everything in the world. Like, everything.
Dude, there are times when, if she's not on, "every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and death." Guys, when I say her not being on could result in the destruction of everything? I mean her not being on could result in the destruction of everything.
Besides which? Dude, she's a post-adolescent girl. You expect her not to have angst and be ready to tell you about it at great length and think she's the center of the universe why, now?
Ultimately, I tend to think that one of Buffy's greatest crimes, in a show whose main characters are often social rejects, geeks, unpopular, awkward, outcasts, and in a world where people like Cordelia and Lilah are punished for being successful and confident and -- shock! -- even popular? Is that Buffy has some self-esteem. It's that she knows that there are things she does well. She knows that there are things that make her valuable. She knows that she is important.
And, again, in what is a great shock to all of us? She's not happy with it.
Buffy does not like the hand she has been dealt. She feels the burden of Slayer-hood, even though she does it better than anyone else. In "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", she even confesses to Cordelia that she knows what it's like, to be popular and unhappy.
Buffy, like Lilah and Cordelia, shows us that beautiful, popular, talented, successful people? Do have pain. Just like people who aren't successful, or popular, or socially adept.
And god knows we can't have that.
It's also that, unlike characters who shall remain nameless but who almost end the world, who murder, who rape, who lie and steal and betray but get away with it because they widen their eyes and say that they feel Really Really Bad about it, and because they're pretty?
Buffy takes responsibility.
It's that in a world that is so full of characters who are uncertain, who are insecure, who don't know where they belong or what they're meant to be doing? Buffy knows. Buffy knows who she is, Buffy knows what she is, Buffy is well aware of her own power and her own strengths and weaknesses.
But, you say, how can I possibly write someone who's that important? I don't know what it's like to be the person standing between the world and its destruction! I don't know what it's like to be popular! I don't know what it's like to have self-esteem!
Uh, dude, and you do know what it's like to be a hundred and thirty year old vampire with a soul who writes bad poetry and likes Manchester United (which is just further proof of what a wanker Spike is, but we won't get into that)? You do know what it's like to be a high-powered, morally ambiguous lawyer who works for an evil law firm? You do know what it's like to be a middle-aged British man who went to Oxford and dabbled in black magick in his youth?
Which brings us to the question of writing Buffy. For those of you who are most interested in character of Buffy Summers and how to write her, there are some great essays over on Blood and Honey (http://www.cornflake-girl.org/honey/), the just-Buffy zone of the BtVS Writers' Guild, about writing the character of Buffy. There's A Slayer is Born (http://www.hideous-beauty.com/slayage/), which has information about Slayers in general -- the nature of the Slayer's duty, her weapons, her origin, etc., and biographies/information on particular Slayers, including, naturally, Buffy Summers.
And, at last, 'shipping/slashing Buffy.
Now, I am maybe not the best person to talk about this. Because personally, there come points in the show where I can buy, and enjoy, almost every pairing. Or maybe that does make me the best person to talk to about this, because I'm not biased. I can't always buy Buffy/Willow (I Kind of Love You), but in S7? I can. There are points where I can buy Buffy/Giles (The List). There are points where I can buy Buffy/Faith (Shared Destiny) -- and I know, I'm awful, but honestly? I don't, always, buy the Buffy/Faith. There are points where I can even get behind Buffy/Spike (Sinister Attraction).
The majority of my favorite Buffy pairings are not popular ones, though -- Buffy/Tara, Buffy/Lilah, and especially Buffy/Gunn. None of which have sites, and really, that's just wrong.
And damnit, screw Angel AND Spike, my One True Canon Pairing for Buffy? Is and always shall be Buffy/Riley (Sorta Kinda Normal, which is no longer active, still has a great deal of good fic).
So go. And write. And read. Or, at the very least? Remember where this show, this entire universe began: with Buffy.
The Vampire Slayer.