Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy 30th Birthday, Buffy!

As well as having to sing Happy Birthday to one one of my all time favorite literary greats, we must also sing, or raise glass, or point a crossbow at Buffy Summers, who today, in imaginary fiction land, turns 30. Wow, right?

As anyone who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer knows, no one in the history of all media: print, comics, film whatever, had more traumatic birthdays than poor Buffy. As she said herself, "... you could smash all my toes with a hammer and it would still be the bestest Buffy birthday bash in a good long while."

Season One was birthday-free as it was a mid-season replacement. In Season Two, Buffy lost her virginity on her 17th birthday, to her (vampire) boyfriend, who she loved. Who then proceeded to lose his human soul, revert to his evil ways, and kill lots of people. As Buffy saw it: All because she had sex with him. Friends died. Of course, the genius of writer Joss Whedon is such that Buffy blamed herself, but the show did not. But, seriously. Worst. Birthday. Ever. In Season Three, her father continued his streak of lousy parenting by canceling his trip to spend time with her and, oh, she was subjected to a wretched 18th birthday Slayer test where her powers were taken away, her mother wound up kidnapped, and Giles, her watcher, fired. More horrible family drama in Seasons Five and Six, commingled with mystical problems that made her more typical young adult fuck up-ery even worse. Poor Buffy.

Creator Joss Whedon's instincts are pretty solidly on the money much of the time. Making Buffy's birthday a big deal on the show (rather than, Christmas, or some other holiday) is so smart. For one thing, it brings everything back to his protagonist. But mostly, because of the particular circumstances Buffy lives with. As she says often and is continually reminded, she is one of a long line of mystical warriors who die very, very young. As Spike once tells her, she has to be lucky every day, a monster just has to be lucky once. So birthdays carry a particular significance for her, narratively, that they would not for another character. One year older matters more as the odds of her not getting older are spectacularly high.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a unique phenomenon. A young girl's coming of age tale (rare enough itself), combined with a hero's journey - made specifically female in way no one else has quite done. So Happy 30th Birthday, Buffy, wherever in the aether you might be!

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