maandag 10 maart 2014

Why I love... Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my 100th blog)

It was bound to happen, me talking about my love for Buffy. I think I can even say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is kinda like my first love. I know how this sounds, but it's the truth. A lot of people don't get how people can get this excited about a tv show (or about anything for that matter). And partly I understand them. I can't really explain it either, but in this blog I'm gonna lay my soul bare for you and try for three simple reasons:

1) This is my 100th blog and I wanted to do something special
2) Today it's been 17 years since the series premiered with 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and 'The Harvest' (10 March 1997)
3) Buffy has been a huge influence on my life and I simply love talking about it

Starting from A: My first episode 'Anne'
I have a thing with numbers and important dates. Now, I don't remember the exact date on which I found Buffy, but I do know when I watched my first ep. It was a friday night and my big sis was going to her first high school party. We were doing the dishes, while my dad was zapping through channels. My dad came across this show, where there was a young girl, dressed in a long coat, walking alone through a dark street. For some reason it captivated me because I asked my dad to go back to this show. Back then I had a thing with drama, the stories behind people always interested me, especially the ones that were based on true events. Anyway... that's what I thought it was. Some drama show about a girl having to live by herself in a big dark scary city. Boy was I wrong! I could explain the entire scene here: How someone came up to her, asking her for money to come to a party, how a man walked into the street in front of a car and how this lonely girl ran to save him. Which she did. It got my interest to say the least. So I kept watching and I asked my dad what show it was, so he looked it up. He answered: "....Buffy the Vampire Slayer...." I remember that it sounded very weird to me. 'Buffy,' what was that? A name? And a 'Vampire Slayer'?? What the hacky-sack was that? My dad just couldn't be right. Surely it was a misprint. But after the commercial it appeared on the screen as well. But this girls' name was 'Anne', at least for a minute. As the show progressed I was more and more intrigued by this character who put her own needs aside to help others. The moment I completely fell in love with her, was in this epic moment, where she found herself again: "Hi! I'm Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. And you are?" She said this in the most perky way to a demon who was going to smash her brains in with a club!!! After that a big fight scene followed and the show had stolen my heart.

(I didn't make this, but found it on Google)

Becoming a fan
I don't know what it was, but for some reason I didn't wanna miss another episode. So I watched everyday (they were reruns of the third season) and everyday I couldn't watch it, I asked my parents or sisters to tape it for me. After season three ended, I was hoping they would start again from the first episode, so I could catch up. But when it started again, it was the first episode of season four. By then I already found VHS boxsets in stores such as VanPiere and the FreeRecordShop, so I bought the first season. The other ones I got for my birthday and then came the dvd's. It started out with me catching up on everything I missed, which was a lot. I only watched a big part of the aftermath of the Bangel relationship and I HAD to know what happened. There were many characters that came back as well as characters talking about things that had happened in the past, which I had all missed out on. Soon I was caught up and I couldn't get enough of it. I got action figures on my birthday and  when me and my mum went birthday shopping in Amsterdam (I was well in my teens now) we pretty much only went to the American Book Centre. That's where they sold Buffy books as well as the magazines from both England and America. My room filled with posters, books, scripts, I even saved clippings. Of course the internet helped as well: This way I could read interviews. And it was in this time when the trialers started to come online and by either season five or six episodes could be downloaded! Thinking back it was the worst possible quality (sound and/or image), but I simply couldn't wait till Net5 would get caught up again. And when they did, of course I was the first to sit in front of the tv to tape it. I guess I became a fan without even realizing it.

(Again, not mine, but I do like how it looks)

Laughs, love and heartbreak: Why it's so good
When you hear the cast and crew talk about why Buffy is such a great show they talk about how unique it is. And it truly is. Buffy was one of the first shows that broke genres: It was funny and romantic as well as action packed, horrific and scary. But another reason is that the heroine of the story is a teenage girl. Not some Amazone like woman 'bigger with muscles and all that' (as Angel put it in the first episode). She was just a girl, like all of us (girls), going through high school. And THAT made her very relatable. She wasn't some all powerful Slayer, she wasn't made of stone, but she had emotions, friends, loves and made tough decisions. She broke down in tears telling her Watcher (her mentor/tuder if you will) "Giles... I'm sixteen years old... I-I don't wanna die" (1x12 Prophecy Girl). A teenage girl with the weight on her shoulders and she came through in the end.

One of the shows strong points is the metaphore that high school is hell. Personally I never really found high school hell. I guess I was lucky to have great friends and a small school where there weren't really groups like they show in the movies and series. But the metaphore still holds. Joyce (Buffy's mom) once said 'Everything's life and death when you're a sixteen year old girl' (1x02 The Harvest) and she couldn't be more right. You go through so many changes in high school and you juggle to do everything right. Buffy was trying to hang with her friends, do her school work, find love as well as fight monsters. Except for the monsters, we all go through it and even without the monsters it's a lot to handle. The pressure that goes with it. The monster aspect also highlighted the issue that a lot of teenagers face, namely that they're not understood. Grown ups and parents have all been teenagers, but for some reason they can never really understand what it's like to be a teenager. Lot's of things have changed since then and if all the changes (technology and all the new rules, exams/ways of testing) weren't enough, there's always the reason that you can't know what a person is going through: Everybody is unique, so that makes it hard to give advise or really understand them. In that aspect, Buffy was the embodiment: She couldn't tell her mom or her teachers. She wasn't even supposed to tell her friends, but that happened. And with every boy she dated, she had to make up stories for her extracurricular activities. So in short, the stories on the show are relatable, monsters or not. By using metaphores the cast and crew also got to go where other shows hadn't gone before. They were breaking bounderies and took social issues further. Whether that's Willow getting addicted to magic (a very on the nose metaphor) or issues like not being born into a family or dealing with death.

Another reason why it's so good is the humor. Living in Sunnydale a lot of the time it looks like summer, which also means that they wear a lot of light colored clothes. And that's the feeling of the show. Just like there are darker episodes, a lot of them are funny as hell. And even if the the episode isn't exactly a funny one, there's always something to laugh (or maybe smirk) about. The characters are gripping and take you into their lives. When they laugh, you laugh, when they love, you love and when their heart breaks, your heart breaks. They created their own family and in a way you become part of it. I also just loved it because it was about a girl kicking ass, making puns while being in danger and honestly there hasn't been a female heroine like Buffy since. There are glimpses of strong women or some essences of them, but it's almost shocking that this wonderful show didn't inspire more of these characters.

Rewatching it... again and again
I can't get enough of Buffy. Every year there's several moments when I think about something that happened on Buffy and I want to watch it again. But I don't just want to start half way... I start thinking about all the fun stuff that happened before a certain episode and I would want to watch that one too. So... Every year I start from the first ep and rewatch the entire series. All because I love the storylines, the quotes, the characters and...well maybe there's a little nostalgia in there as well. I love how it made me feel, because in high school  everyone was catching up kinda slow, while I already had the boxsets. So I had inside information. I remember overhearing some 'more popular' girls talking about Angel and asking questions about his curse or something... I responded and I loved being able to talk about it. But even before... When I was like eleven or something, after I had just seen it, I had to tell my friends. So I was all excited and one of my friends was like "Oh, yeah... That's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's a great show", so we talked about it for a while. But a week later, when I talked about it again in all my enthousiasm she simply responded "it's not like I'm a fan or something. It's just a tv show". I for the life of me couldn't understand this, because everyone was always talking about soaps - which I didn't watch. At all! The brilliance of it was lost on them I guess. Or maybe they stopped watching because when I started catching up, all episodes had already been aired. Anyway... For most of the time I was the only one I knew who loved the show that much. Hearing my classmates talk about it during gym class and being able to talk to them about it, was wonderful.

After the show had ended on the 21st of May 2003 I stopped watching it a while, until I got my final dvd boxset. When I felt like it, I got them out and started from season one again. But every now and then I also stopped watching Buffy, focused on my school work and I started watching other shows. However, when I came across a fan vid on some website, it made me want to watch all these episodes again (as I mentioned above). It's pretty much goes around in a circle like that. The beauty of a show like this is that you can watch it over and over again. It's pretty much timeless. Maybe the first season stands out because of the clothing and make up, but all the issues that are addressed as the social and family situations the group finds themselves in, are of all times. As I grow up I realize that I'm watching episodes differently, look at situations differently and sometimes only now getting the metaphores. To me this proves that you can never watch it too many times, because there's so much to see and discover.

I learned this in another way. When I went to university I decided that, as Buffy was more about high school and teenagers growing up, to stop watching it for a while. I was gonna be an adult and get a new start. Boy did I see things wrong! In my second year of Film and Television studies I realized just how much of the things I was learning about I had already seen on Buffy. So I started doing case studies for my uni, I even did my Bachelor thesis on both the show and the movie. I soon learned that there are actually Buffy and Whedon studies, that there are online journals (Slayage and Watcher Junior) and the many many academic books that are written about Joss' work. Nothing gave/gives me more joy than reading those books and learning how other people see things. I think it's safe to say that I didn't hold up my decision to not watch Buffy anymore for long. I think that only lasted for about a year ;-).

My season five and six: the breakdown
So... there's this... It's something that I actually never ever talk about. Or at least not in relation to Buffy, because I know how it sounds. It's something that most of my friends and family members don't even know about... I don't like talking about it, because I guess I'm ashamed of it in a way, but also because it was a pretty dark time in my life that I don't want to dwell on. Anyway there was this big thing in my life... My great aunt died at the age of 98(and a half) in december when I was fifteen years old. Not too much later, coming back from Christmas break, I found out that a friend of mine had a brain tumor... And yes, that was a lot to deal with. It was hard. But I got to visit him and went by his house sometimes when he was released from the hospital. I really thought he was making progress, because after his operation and all the visits I noticed that he could start to speak again and even use his hands. Then in June a classmate died, this boy was hit by a car and we ended that school year with a funeral... Two days before our new high school year started in september 2004 (I was sixteen by then) I found out that my friend with the brain tumor had also died...

I can't say it in any other way than that my heart broke. Old people dying, that's one thing, but a friend, so young... that's ....  I'm sorry but there just aren't any words... I literally broke. For about a year I was extremely down, possibly depressed. I just couldn't see why life was worth living or doing anything for that matter. I couldn't really talk about it with anyone, I couldn't pretend to be cheery all the time or to care about silly things such as nail polish or school work or parties... I remember crying myself to sleep for weeks after he died. Hystericly crying, and wanting to kill myself (this is something I haven't actually admitted to anyone of my friends). I still don't have an answer for it, but for some reason birthdays were the worst. On my sisters' 15th birthday I went to bed early but I simply couldn't take it anymore. So I opened the window in my bedroom intending to jump out. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die and I think I understand what they mean. I didn't jump...(obviously), but I did think about what it would mean to my family if I did. I remembered all of my family and friends, my youth and everything I went through. And I thought of Buffy. I know it sounds cheesy, but for the longest time, she was my hero. Still is. She had been through so much in her life, and at least when she died, she did it to save the world. She was someone I looked up to and - despite being a slayer - wanted to be, because I loved everything about her. In a way she gave me the strength to close that window, walk down the stairs - still crying hysterically - and scaring the crap out of my parents and sister who had no idea what was going on. It was literally my cry for help (which I got) and in a way I do feel that Buffy was part of me not ending my life, but I guess... saving it. It's something I will always be greatful for and won't ever forget.

This was me laying my soul bare and sharing a piece I had never shared before. And in a way this blog doesn't even come close to all the reasons why I love Buffy. Like I said: I can't really explain why Buffy means so much to me. But I think sharing all this information should give a better idea into some stuff that might have been connected to it. If you're still not convinced, you don't have to take my personal word for it... You coud also take the academics words for it, like Rhonda Wilcox with Why Buffy Matters, or Televised Morality by Gregory Stevenson or a book like Fighting the Forces (edited by Wilcox and David Lavery).

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