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The Buffynaisance: why we’re newly obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer

24 years since it first aired, the show is still recruiting an army of superfans, many of whom weren’t even alive when Buffy was saving the world.

by Roisin Lanigan
21 October 2021, 8:49am

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The leaves are changing, the influencers are returning to the pumpkin patches, and everyone you know is perfecting their totally unique Squid Game inspired Halloween costume. Yes, the most wonderful time of the year has returned again. It’s spooky season! Tis the season for eating your weight in fun size chocolate and indulging in Autumnal comfort viewing. So it is the right time of year to be obsessed with the ultimate spooky season show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Almost a quarter century after she first graced our screens, Sunnydale’s Class Protector of 1999 is experiencing a serious renaissance. 

That revival is thanks, in no small part, to an army of new fans, many of whom weren’t even alive when the show first debuted. On TikTok, Buffy superfans are in overdrive, and the show’s hashtag has over 200 million views and counting, with videos speculating on what lipstick Sarah Michelle Gellar might have used while slaying vampires in (inexplicably!) one of the sunniest places on earth, or doing some deep linguistic investigation on “Buffyspeak” the show’s idiosyncratic use of dialogue to make the characters sound character-y. Other videos thirst over Spike and Angel, hate on Buffy’s universally reviled boring college boyfriend Riley Finn, or celebrate the show’s most iconic outfits. 

“The fashion on the show is amazing,” says content creator Ellie Addis, who at 21 years old came into the world roughly around the same time as Buffy’s younger sister Dawn. “Buffy was a fashion icon of her time, for sure. Even Spike with his long leather trench coat -- timeless!” Some of Ellie’s most popular videos see her reimagining what characters from TV shows and scary movies would wear in 2021, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The short clips can take up to a week to film and source clothes for, if the pieces aren’t already in her wardrobe, and see Ellie channel Faith Lehane’s leather looks, Willow’s fluffy dayglo jumpers and Buffy’s Y2K slip dresses. Cumulatively the videos have hundreds of thousands of views. “Streaming services are making shows like this accessible to a new, younger audience,” says Ellie, who first fell in love with Buffy as a kid (her dad was a huge fan). 

But it’s not just accessibility that’s driving a renewed interest for the show on TikTok. Our thirst for nostalgia and rediscovery of Y2K’s most popular fashion, beauty and pop culture moments is, after all, nothing new (in fact, recent research indicates that our thirst for nostalgia over a particularly anxious and difficult period of our lives could actually be an act of collective self-care). While many new-era fans of BtVS are those who, like Ellie, grew up watching someone they admired and loved watch the Scooby Gang save the world, others are discovering a love for the show because its storytelling and feminist credentials hold up surprisingly well under a 2021 lens. “I think Buffy specifically is just such an interesting character,” says Ellie. “Physically she’s a girly, blonde embodiment of the ‘Girl Who Dies First’ horror trope, but she’s the slayer. She’s the powerful one, doing all the saving, so it feels very empowering and inspiring to watch her character, fashion sense included.”

Buffy was also one of the first shows with a lesbian relationship,” Ellie points out (a 2003 scene showing Tara and Willow in bed together was the first of its kind for a broadcast network series, and later that same year, BtVS also featured the first lesbian sex scene in broadcast TV history). “I think at the time that was seen as a huge deal, and it would have been so important to people who could relate to Willow and Tara’s relationship.” 

It’s that surprising level of “holding up” to modern day audiences that has also led to a slew of Buffy-inspired podcasts, reintroducing the show to Gen Z viewers. Shows like Prophecy Girls, Still Pretty and Buffering The Vampire Slayer celebrate the joy of bingewatching Buffy, while providing insight and examination of the show’s feminist, queer and symbolic storylines. In one notable episode of Prophecy Girls, hosts Stephanie Chow and Kara Babcock weigh the evidence for and against Angel’s guilt, considering issues like consent and age-gap relationships, as well as culpability and whether punishment means rehabilitation. Deep, academic-esque stuff for a show about teens killing vampires.

The show lends itself well to modern, pop-culture inspired academia too. “I wrote my dissertation on Buffy last year, having been too young to watch it when it was first on TV”, says Freya, who fell in love with the show at 17, but like many fans, recently renewed the obsession following a big pandemic rewatch. “My dissertation was on the way the show uses temporal disruption in series three to deal with the unsolvable problems of millennial adulthood… But I also had to cut out a significant portion that dealt with the implication Buffy’s hairstyles have on her emotional state.” And just this week, the most recent contestant on Mastermind -- a UK show for brainy people to show off how brainy they are to win money -- was crowned champion after choosing Buffy as her specialist subject. “I used to love watching it at university,” Marianne McKillop told the show’s host. “Recently I’ve started rewatching it with my 12-year-old daughter. We love the fact it turns some of the horror movie tropes on its head and you’ve got a wisecracking female hero. So what’s not to love?”

Sadly, for many fans new and old, there is something not to love about the Buffynaissance: the show’s creator, Joss Whedon. In February of this year actor Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia on Buffy and spin-off Angel, accused the show’s creator of creating a toxic culture of harassment, bullying and verbal abuse on set, one that culminated in Whedon allegedly pressuring Carpenter to end her off-screen pregnancy, before cruelly writing her out of the show. In the aftermath of the allegations, more stars from Buffy and Angel began speaking out against Whedon. Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Dawn, claimed on Instagram that there was an on-set rule that banned Whedon from being in a room alone with her. James Marsters, who played Spike, too shared an occasion where Whedon, annoyed with his character’s popularity, allegedly backed Marsters against a wall and verbally attacked him. “It’s just hard to believe when he wrote all these amazing women characters,” one Buffy fan lamented on the show’s still remarkably active subreddit after the allegations came out. “The hypocrisy of it is what really stings,” replied another. “It’s not like he just wrote a good show, he masqueraded as a feminist activist for decades and it was all a lie. The betrayal of it is like if in Season 7, Buffy revealed she’d been working with the First Evil all along and never was the Slayer.”

The revelations left many hardcore Buffy stans -- both those who loved the show the first time round and those just discovering its magic -- uneasy, and many have only managed to remain fans of the Buffyverse by performing the tricky mental gymnastics of the old favourite, ‘separating the art from the artist’. The show’s star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, perhaps put it best. In a statement hours after Carpenter first spoke out, the actor wrote on Instagram: “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon.” She added that she “stand[s] with all survivors of abuse”, applauding them for their strength in speaking out. 

It’s perhaps surprising that a show would have a renaissance just a few months after its creator was so publicly exposed as an alleged megalomaniac bully, but given Gellar’s statement, it kind of makes sense too. It’s the characters of Buffy and what they mean to modern fans, new and old, that explains why people flock back to the show and its universe, in increasing numbers, year on year. Whether it’s reconnecting with a comforting, nostalgic pandemic bingewatch, discovering a new connection with a loved one who was obsessed with the show the first time round, or celebrating Buffy’s love of long-line leather blazers, there’s still plenty to love about the 90’s most iconic teenage vampire slayer. The show’s legacy may not be perfect, but the fans have created their own legacy to replace it, and in turn become their own Buffy-esque champions. After all, she lived, she died, she saved the world, a lot. What’s not to love?

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