End of Slays: The Many Meanings of Buffy

For many, the end of the series is only the beginning of the journey.

By Rachel De Nys
May 19, 2003

Every aficionado knows that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more than just a TV show. It’s an ideology, an attitude, a way of life that has, sometimes to a scary extent, hit us on a pretty heavy emotional level. Whether it’s the various romances the Scoobies were entangled in, or the wisecracking dialogue that camouflaged the constant tension, or the various threats that continually doomed the town of Sunnydale (and, as the years went on, the whole goddamn planet), this crazy world of Whedon became a place many viewers could live in from week to week, and between shows, hash out with others of their kind.

I first became conscious of the Buffy phenomenon as it developed a steady following among a few of my friends. One of the most devoted of these fans is my friend Sandra, who has watched every single episode from the series premiere on, and has always been a devoted lover of all things BtVS — so much so that at the end of the season she’d tape the last episode and put off watching it for weeks because she didn’t want it to be over.

Over the years, several others mutual friends have also become fans, sporadically emailing back and forth after a particularly bizarre, dramatic, or sometimes simply unfortunate episode. One of these friends has come to the series relatively recently, and often gets confused in flip-flopping between the new season’s episodes and the steady flow of reruns from multiple seasons on UPN, FOX and FX.

The intensity of this fixation became more apparent one day while I was at work. The Powers That Be had deigned to bless us with pizzas for lunch in the conference room. I forget why. I ended up sitting with a few people I was relatively friendly with, but didn’t know too well.

Soon the chitchat drifted towards the show. The unfortunates with no BtVS experience were drifting off as I and two others dissected the show fervently, season by season. Yes, Riley was a putz. Yes, “Once More, With Feeling” was a totally amazing episode. No, Giles wasn’t gone for good. Totally, Dawn was the most annoying character BtVS had ever encountered.

The banality of work became a bit more bearable with this fellowship to carry us through the tough times…there were articles to email and a reason to make small talk over the cubicle wall. Once again, Buffy was making people’s lives better.

But over this last season I’ve realized more and more that this meaning I’ve been finding with my friends is not simply a powerful bond of understanding between fans. Buffy has reached widely diverse groups of people who are not only interested in the show, but more importantly understand it and look to delve into its incredible wealth of themes.

I was astonished by an article by Todd Hertz published in Christianity Today last fall which was able to expose the deep and intriguing themes in Buffy, regardless (or sometimes because of) its treatment of themes such as witchcraft and unwed sex — themes that are seen as dangerous by many conservative Christians. He writes, “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.”

The impact of Buffy on the intellectual community hit home for me recently when I had dinner with my dad and sister. My dad is an old-school sci-fi fan who grew up on Flash Gordon episodes, watched Star Trek, and went to Star Wars with my mom, leaving a very jealous six-year-old me behind with a babysitter. He was saying that he regretted not following Buffy now that it was over. He’d heard me talk about the show before and had evinced interest in it, but had never gotten around to watching it.

But as a philosophy and theology teacher at George Mason University in Virginia, he’d recently started hearing of programs around the country that are using Buffy to teach varying themes of philosophy, theology and ethics, among others. James South, a professor at Marquette in Milwaukee, WI, has edited a book of essays on the variety of philosophical themes found in the show. The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies has critical essays and contributions from professors and scholars from all over the globe, and plans to host a conference on the show Memorial Day weekend of 2004.

The amazing phenomenon that is BtVS lives on. Whether your relationship with Buffy is as a devoted fan, a new viewer renting the DVDs, or a scholar from a host of disciplines dissecting the themes and subtleties of the show,Buffy still provides an enormous amount of fodder to intrigue, challenge, and placate its viewers.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is done. Long live Buffy!