I recently rewatched “Once More with Feeling,” the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, with my family. And once more, I was filled with the feels. Upon reflection, I don’t know if I have ever experienced as much sustained happiness in my life than the hour I spent watching this episode the first time around.
Every scene was a new discovery, a new joy. Each song had the full weight of seven seasons of fantastic character and plot development behind it, and they hit me like an emotional sledgehammer.
Buffy turned 20 this year. Besides making me feel old, it also made me reflect a bit on the legacy the show left behind.
Joss Whedon famously created Buffy specifically to subvert the “bubble-headed blonde girl as a victim” trope that pervaded horror movies at the time.
“The first thing I ever thought of when I thought of Buffy, the movie, was the little…blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed, in every horror movie,” Whedon said. “The idea of Buffy was to subvert that idea, that image, and create someone who was a hero where she had always been a victim.”
But the show was more than that. It was unabashedly feminist. Much like William Marston Mouton intentionally created Wonder Woman as a pop-culture icon to show the world the type of woman he thought should lead it, Whedon created Buffy as a means to show teenage boys that girls and women were not just damsels in distress that need saving. As he told Time shortly after the series premiered:
“”If I can make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes charge of a situation without their knowing that’s what’s happening, it’s better than sitting down and selling them on feminism.”
But perhaps Buffy’s greatest contribution to pop-culture feminism was the way that it erased the artificial line between being a girl and being a hero. She was a cheerleader. She experimented with boys. She fought with her mother. She was impeccably fashionable; quick with a snarky comment loaded with pop-culture references; and she was a hero.
Because you don’t have to choose between being feminine and being heroic.. Buffy’s competency was never built up by devaluing the things that made her a teenage girl. Becoming more of a hero never meant becoming less feminine in the Buffyverse. They never made her choose one or the other because there is no reason you can’t be both.
There have been criticisms of Whedon’s brand of pop feminism, over the years. And I do think it is important to think critically about established narratives. But I also think it is important to remember what a show like Buffy did for the concept of female heroes; the kind of role model it provided for both girls and boys; the way that it makes you feel, even after two decades have passed.
In my case, it makes my heart sing, “Once More with Feeling.”