– Or An Introduction to Storytelling in Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Note: This journal post may not make much sense. I tried to connect thoughts as best I could. Apologies; E.  

However narrative is defined, they know it when they feel it.

– Jeremy Hsu, The Secrets of Storytelling

As Buffy the TV series develops, the precariousness of identity becomes ever more pronounced…not only are we introduced to the instability of peer group identities,…but also to the untrustworthiness of adult identities.

– Sue Turnbull, Who Am I? Who Are You?

If there is one thing I love about Buffy (though I haven’t seen every episode), it’s the characters, and how they interact with each other and the supernatural happenings of Sunnydale. What I loved about the first episode, however, was how hard Buffy seems to be fighting her identity.

We see identity explored in loads of teen dramas, but Buffy’s rebellion in the first episode to her position as the slayer is somewhat different. Yes, it’s different because of the supernatural lit to the show, but that’s not what I mean. Buffy’s exploration of self seems much more genuine, because of how much her destiny has ruined her life. Her exaggerated situation reflects the smaller, ‘normal’ teenage rebellions well; like a parent pressuring their child to become a doctor, Giles presses the slayer issue with Buffy. And she rebells. She refuses. There is something really realistic in that; her selfish refusal of her role mirrors one most teenagers know really well.

But, as Sue Turnbull points out in her article about identity in Buffy, it’s more than that. Joss Whedon created characters that, in an exaggerated way, reflect the issues teenagers wrestle with growing up. Realizing adults are not all powerful, and, most of the time, don’t know what they’re doing. The ever changing identity of friend groups. These things are real, and not fluffed up or padded during the writing, filming, or editing process. I’m sure there are things that got cut or added in to placate the studios, but Buffy is a dark, witty, and fully relevant show, even to teens today. I think that’s why I gravitate towards it so much – when the scripts is dark, the environment reflects that (music [ambient] that is too loud to make out the words in the Bronze, for instance). The viewer is not talked down to; Buffy’s rebellion is not looked at as unreasonable. Self-exploration and loss of identity are not trivialized.

I think that’s where the genuineness of Buffy shines – there are lots of other shows, according to Turnbull, that use the same formula that Buffy does. These shows include soap operas, who may just have identity crises to give new life to an old plot, and weekly shows, which deal with a new ‘badie’ every week. But Buffy puts a spin on both of these models – nothing done on the show feels forced. The plots arcs from episode to episode, and characters truly develop through identity crisis (whether individual or not). There are silly episodes and there are regrettable episodes (probably), but, overall, Buffy tries to bring you a version of reality you can relate to, and explore issues in. That, after all, is one of the more important definitions of story telling.