What BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
tells us about kids today and war tomorrow
“Into each generation, a Slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the…”
“…the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil, blah blah. I’ve heard it, okay?”
-Rupert Giles and Buffy Summers,
“Welcome to the Hellmouth”
Myriad critics have recently come around to what legions of fans had been saying for the past four years: that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most cleverly written, daring and inventive shows on television. Garnering an Emmy nomination for best script last season for “Hush,” an episode which, ironically, contained nearly half an hour of silence, series creator Joss Whedon has managed to top himself twice this season. The first was with “Fool for Love,” a globe-spanning history of one of the show’s most charismatic antagonists (the punkish vampire Spike, played by James Marsters,), then later with the chillingly realistic, “the Body,” where heroine Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) faces the sudden-and apparently natural-death of her mother (Kristine Sutherland.)
“On another series,” writes Salon TV critic Joyce Millman, “the death of Buffy’s mom might have been an excuse to pull out all the Very Special Episode bells and whistles. But Buffy is the ultimate anti-VSE show. Every episode is special, every episode is momentous, every character matters, every feeling, big or small, is meaningful. On Buffy, stuff happens — things change, people change, people die, and sometimes, arming yourself with a big pointy stake just won’t do you any good.”
Make no mistake: on a very real level, this is simply a very clever and stylish show about an attractive young woman who kicks ass in high heels and stalks creatures of the night in Pashmina scarfs while spouting a never-ending stream of witticisms. That it’s well-acted is certainly a plus. What differentiates it from other shows (including the lovely to look at but agonizing to listen to knock off, Dark Angel) is that Whedon and his writers have an unerring sense of these rapidly changing times, and of the children growing up in them.
“To some generations much is given… and from some generations, much is expected.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
Consider for a moment the world of Buffy Summers. Not the world where undead monsters rise from their graves to terrorize innocents and where the bassist of the band your listening to doesn’t book gigs during the full moon because he’s a werewolf, but rather the world she shares with any other twenty year old woman. A few observations: Buffy would have been an infant when the obsequious “Baby on Board” stickers were making their rounds, and attended grade school during the advent of the PMRC’s “Parental Warning” labels. Movies of the 1970s that featured demonically possessed children, such as the Omen, waned in popularity slightly before her birth-giving way to insipidly cheerful movies starring lovable-and capable-tykes living in a world where adults were either hostile or inept. Home Alone, anyone? She has no conscious memory of the excesses of the 1970s.
The trends continued through her high school years. Rates of teenage sex and drug use plummeted with breakneck speed each year she attended high school (1995-99.) Incidences of violence amongst children decline across all racial and economic lines, and even the tragic Columbine shooting fails to raise the number of deaths in US schools to the amount it was at even the previous year. (45 in 1997-98, opposed to 25 in 1998-99, including the Columbine deaths.) Surveys of 7th through 12th graders conducted by authors and historians Neil Howe and William Strauss in 1998 reveal that students believed the major causes of problems in society was “selfishness, not thinking of the rights of others,” along with “people who don’t respect the law and authorities.” Concurrently, President Clinton urged America’s schools to adopt school uniforms. The campaign’s motto? “All kids are created equal.”
Buffy Summers is anything but equal to her peers. She’s superhumanly strong and fast, gifted with the ability to heal wounds at an accelerated rate and has the mystical ability to perceive the future through (often confusing) precognitive dreams. She has a sacred destiny to protect mankind from the forces of evil. But she’s also very much a product of her times. The cynical veneer of the slightly older “Generation X” is there, but the jaded cynicism and self-reliant individualism that denotes that generation is, for the most part, a show…a well-trained reflex. For someone who may well be the most unique person her age in the world, Buffy strives for nothing more than normalcy. “I wish we could be regular kids,” she says of herself and her friends Willow and Xander, who assist her in her battle against evil.
It’s this reliance on others that differentiates her from the succession of Slayers preceding her all the way back to the dawn of mankind. This eventually brings her into conflict and confrontation with the spirit of the first Slayer, perturbed by her lack of self-reliance. Buffy responds to the first Slayer’s accusations in typical Buffy fashion:
“I walk. I talk. I shop, I sneeze,” replies Buffy. “I’m gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There’s trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don’t sleep on a bed of bones…You just have to get over the whole primal power thing. You’re not the source of me.”
It’s a telling piece of dialog. Buffy believes that it’s not the qualities that make her different that she gains strength from, but rather the qualities she shares with others. This is reaffirmed when Spike, in the fifth season’s “Fool for Love,” claims “The only reason you’ve lasted as long as you have is, you’ve got ties to the world.”
“The humans need a leader. A champion. The Slayer can do that-can even the odds.”
Adam in “The Yoko Factor”
Howe and Strauss, in a series of books on generations in American history, classify four types of generational archetypes–Prophets, Artists, Nomads and Heroes-who come of age during four types of historical periods, called turnings, defined by the four generations relationship to each other. “Generation X,” a Nomad archetype born in what the historians call an “awakening.” More precisely, between the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.” As the preceding Boomer generation came of age and turned their attention inward towards self-discovery, children were, for the most part, left unsheltered and neglected. Latchkey children were commonplace as the divorce rate skyrocketed, and a sort of “rugged individualism” took place, culminating in a shift towards a new turning, an “Unraveling.”