I have this weird obsession with the television show Love American Style. It’s this quirky recorded history of life in the U.S. during the late 60’s and early 70’s. From its view of women and their roles in marriage and society, it’s like opening a time capsule; a sociological study of the history of pop culture and a splendid tribute to women in television and how far they’ve actually come.
Love American Style is the history of the women’s rights movement, the earliest stages of women taking control of their roles in marriage, sexuality, and their careers. It’s a strong reminder that even though Hollywood is labeled sexist and there is still a huge pay gap, women have evolved from playing secretaries, nurses, teachers or housewives.
There might still be a long way to go, but today women can be anything including Secretary of State, space travelers, ship captains, detectives and vampire slayers. Yeah, this is where I’m going. I’m a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don’t hide my love of the show or of the character and I thank Joss Whedon for creating her.
Buffy Summers is the chosen one, the one girl in her generation that will fight the demons, and vampires as prescribed in the Vampire Slayer mythology. It is her destiny, not something she can quit or run away from. The power makes her physically strong, and a little cocky. And the somewhat superior attitude keeps her determined to cling to her old life, her friends and her family and that keeps her grounded and extremely vulnerable.
As female television characters change and evolve, I’m drawn to well-rounded women who exhibit the strength and vulnerability, the real woman. In the episode “Helpless,” as Buffy nears her 18th birthday, she loses her slayer strength. Though she complains mightily through the first three seasons about not wanting to be the slayer and wishing for a normal life like a regular girl, she’s confounded by the loss of her powers and begins to miss what made her special, made her tough, made her, well Buffy. It’s this episode that Buffy, accepts her role wholeheartedly because she realizes she misses it and doesn’t want it any other way. Buffy is being tested by the Watchers, the group that controls the slayer. It’s an attempt to find out what the slayer has learned. But its Buffy who learns she isn’t just the strong killer, she is smart, and capable and able to defeat the vampire and save her mother and she likes being able to do so.
This is reinforced in the episode “The Replacement.” Buffy comes to the realization that she has two distinct halves of herself and wonders what life would be like if she was just the human girl half. The demon Toth plans to split the slayer into two distinct people; the slayer half and the human half, so that he can easily kill the human half whereby killing the slayer altogether. And as it turns out, Buffy’s best friend Xander takes the spell instead.
This episode illustrates super goofy Xander, the side we usually see and yet we see his other half, the responsible, successful man who receives a promotion, wears business casual clothing and finds an adult apartment. Though this episode is mostly about Xander, Buffy ultimately understands what the implications are if her two halves are split and she realizes how without one or the other, she truly isn’t herself.
Buffy is an ultimate example of how to write not just a female character but a well-rounded multi-layered character that can hold their own, or fail miserably and still find a way to get back up and move on. I’m thrilled this character is back for another generation. Strong, smart, beautiful and vulnerable, every week she struggles to live a normal life like the rest of us and she does it while saving the world.
Here’s to the old shows and how they recorded and shaped society and to the new shows that give us hope for change. And most importantly, here’s to Buffy’s who back to save Sunnydale all over again.
You can catch Buffy on ABC Family at 5pm EST.