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American Speech 79.1 (2004) 92-97
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Richard W. Bailey
University of Michigan
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) brings out the INNER MOPPET in otherwise normal and even learned adults.1 BTVS began with a 1992 feature film written by Joss Whedon, which had dismal reviews despite Whedon's success with other projects. Others might have put the characters aside but, as Michael Adams writes: "Whedon is something of a genius, not only persistent and ambitious, but brave" (1). Obviously he was able to gain the support of angels when other potential backers were ANGSTY. BTVS began its remarkable career as a television series in March 1997 and concluded seven episode-filled seasons in 2003.
BTVS is a twenty-first-century incarnation of other serials involving groups of young people in combat with malefactors, but none of these older sagas inspired scholars to drop everything and hasten to do philology, philosophy, and anthropology to explicate the agon. Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and various other series books captured the attention of those who are now "Buffy-geezers," and the evildoers in those stories tended to reflect the anxieties of the 1930s and 1940s: property criminals, smugglers, and saboteurs acting on behalf of whatever foreign powers threatened the American way at the time. In that same era, the children of the Our Gang film shorts (1922-44) (later televised as The Little Rascals) were agents sent by the forces of chaos in an attempt to thwart the yen for order among the bourgeoisie, and Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, and the rest aroused hilarity by putting footprints in the wet cement of sidewalks or spilling buckets of whitewash in the parlor. (They also regularly engaged with supernatural haunts, ghosts, and spooks, but these demons always had human agency manipulating them and were eventually unmasked.)
The BUFFIATRIC, among whom Adams counts himself, were youthful admirers of Scooby Doo, a television cartoon series (1969-86) in which a canine detective assisted by teenagers fights against various supernatural [End Page 92] characters who were safely removed from the domains of real life formerly occupied in the earlier entertainments by Nazis, Communists, or respectable matrons wishing to keep footprints off the clean kitchen floor. This connection with the cartoon teenagers was made explicit in BTVS when the name SLAYERETTE 'person who assists Buffy in her role as the Slayer' (all glosses from Slayer Slang unless otherwise credited) gave way to SCOOBY GANG and its by-forms, SCOOBIES, SCOOBS, SCOOBY, SCOOBYCENTRIC, SCOOBY GANGER, and SEMI-SCOOBY.
All the oeuvre so far mentioned is CARBON-DATED 'very out of date'. In the older works, the characters were prepubescent, and the phantoms, when they appeared, were only a little threatening. Not so with BTVS. SLAYAGE is violent business with flaying and slaying and characters turning into corpses contorted as suddenly as the special-effects technicians can manage. Willow, one of the principal Scoobies, offers viewers a word for it: HEART-OF-DARKNESSY. But there's lots of teenage stuff that isn't so otherworldly. For instance, Willow discovers that she is a lesbian when she falls for Tara, an out witch. In 1998, Faith speculates that a couple of her friends have been KICKING THE GEARSHIFT 'having sexual relations (in a car)'. In the 1999 episodes, Buffy gets GROINY 'sexual' with Angel, a "vampire with a soul whom Buffy loves" (gloss, s.v. ANGELY). There's an enormous amount of WOW-POTENTIAL in the saga and lots of SPARKAGE 'romantic possibility'. In the television series, Buffy is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, an accomplished actress and a HOTTIE soapstar. In her comic-book incarnation, Buffy is so extraordinarily female that she makes the Barbie doll look anorexic. Not all is SLAYERESQUE: Like too many teens, Buffy spends a little time employed as a burger flipper.
Buffy is an EDGE GIRL 'girl whose values or behavior place her on the margin of mainstream culture'. Really, all she wants is like to sail through high-school as...