Don't Let Your Kids Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer
An evangelical father and church leader recently told me that his "must see TV" includes the news shows and weighty fare one would expect from an informed and discerning Christian. "And when no one is looking," he said, "I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He's not alone.
While never attracting a viewership comparable to Friends or other big network draws, Buffy has become a runaway cultural phenomenon. An aggressively loyal following discusses each episode online, debates future storylines, and buys merchandise from jewelry to action figures.
Buffy, which starts its seventh season Tuesday, has also crossed into mainstream influence and become a household name. (It's so ingrained into culture that earlier this year a chairman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a paper on terrorism called "Biological Warfare and the Buffy Paradigm.")
The teens and 20-somethings who watch the show say they do because it's well made and relevant to their lives. The show provides compelling stories with deeper meaning. They want top-notch entertainment but they also want to connect. Buffy takes their lives and struggles seriously. In addition, they are attracted to a world where, supernaturally, there's more than meets the eye.
Still, stigmas attached to the UPN show are enough to make any self-respecting adult hesitant to admit watching it. The silly name, the network (home of pro wrestling), and the fact that its about vampires can be hard to get past. But for Christians, there are added obstacles.
Last month the Parents Television Council (PTC) called Buffythe least family-friendly show on TV. This is nothing new. It was ranked third on last year's "worst" list, and other Christian parent groups often caution against it. Most complaints focus on the drama's frequent depictions of violence, sexuality, and witchcraft. It's obviously not a children's show.
However, as in the Harry Potter debate, sometimes it isn't enough merely to list the contents in a show or a book to determine its merit. How a taboo topic is dealt with can be just as important. In Buffy, the "how" is intriguing because of the show's honest portrayal of consequences. Those who drink beer act like (in fact, turn into) Neanderthals. Witchcraft seduces good people to evil. And there are rarely any positive results from pre-marital sex on Buffy: one character lost his soul from it.
This is not to say all is well in vampire slaying. The writing can slip into gratuitous violence and sexuality for its own sake, God isn't mentioned (although when Buffy returned from the dead last year she said she had somehow ended up in heaven), and some characters lead immoral lives.
What saves the show is its realistic grounding. Sure, it's about a skinny girl who throws demons around, but the writing honestly depicts how individuals struggle in their lives. Characters make mistakes and sin but pay consequences and change over time. In this way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has consistently confronted human suffering and addressed compelling themes.
Serious issues, silly name
Creator Joss Whedon launched the series in 1997 after writing the flippant 1992 movie of the same name. Understandably, Whedon was unhappy with the film and wanted to take the franchise back into his own hands.
As director and head writer up until last season, Whedon crafted Buffy into one of TV's most socially relevant and well-crafted hours. Buffy's plot arcs, characterizations, and dialogue are some of the best on television. It is also the most experimental. When some critics claimed Buffy only had clever dialogue, Whedon wrote the almost entirely dialogue-free "Hush." Last season's most daring episode was a critically acclaimed musical.