This year, Buffy celebrates its 20th anniversary. Though the show began in the late 90s, the era of choker necklaces, overalls, and subpar technology, (Buffy: “If the apocalypse comes, beep me”) it’s surprising that the show still holds up so well today (and, choker necklaces are back in style!) The show still manages to be hilarious, subversive, refreshing, and downright entertaining, and it’s almost sad to note that even 20 years later, we’re dealing with some of the same struggles and issues that parallel two decades ago. Here’s a quick list of why Buffy is still engaging today, and why its core themes still ring true.
“I May Be Dead, But I’m Still Pretty”
Once, Joss Whedon was asked why he writes strong female characters. His response was, “Because you’re asking me that question.” There’s no doubt that even 20 years later, we still need tough female characters. In 1997, the world was slightly lacking when it came to bad ass babes. We had Ripley from the “Alien” series, and of course, Dana Scully from “The X-Files,” but most teenage girls on TV were depicted as boy crazy fashionistas. Buffy took those ideas and turned them on their heads, creating a character who is, yes, slightly boy crazy, and does care about her appearance, but can also fight off a team of vampires in a dark alley before heading into The Bronze to grab a cappuccino with friends.
On the cusp of the first Wonder Woman film coming out this summer (why did we have to wait so long?) feminism and strong female leads are still completely relevant, and somehow, sometimes, still overlooked…yet, always compelling. And the damsels aren’t in distress-they’re swooping in to save the day!
“I’m Under Your Spell”
Most of us don’t even notice when two women or two men brush lips on TV. We’ve been seeing that for, wait, how long? Oh, right. 20 years! Did you know that Tara and Willow’s blossoming relationship on Buffy was actually a historical event? The two actresses shared the very first lesbian kiss on television! This seemed to pave the way for mainstream depictions of homosexuality on TV, including gay characters on daytime soap operas and comedies like “Friends.”
For those of us watching Buffy 20 years ago, this was a landmark. Whether struggling with your own sexuality or just trying to get a handle on being young in a confusing time, the sweet romance between the two women was a breath of fresh air, and we could all identify with Willow finally finding her footing as not only a lesbian, but as a witch with growing power (nice metaphor, isn’t it? Coming of age, coming into your power.) Despite the fact that Joss had to haggle with the network to keep the kiss in the episode, it made a lasting impact on the TV landscape (and Buffy fans.)
“I’m The Thing that Monsters Have Nightmares About”
Total nerd becomes powerful Wiccan? Tiny blonde cheerleader saves the world from certain death? Meek, frightened guy ends up losing an eye fighting to stop the apocalypse? Buffy is all about turning your expectations upside down, and leading characters away from stereotypes, whether it be regarding gender generalizations or other expectations. On Buffy, a little sister could be a magical key. A scary vampire could be madly in love with you and help you fight other scary vampires. And this is what makes the characters role models, no matter what their flaws are.
We are them, and they are us. We relate to their struggles, whether it’s homework, dating, going to the prom, or working a normal job. Fighting for their lives feels like a parallel between simply surviving the teenage and college years.