Anya

- Or The Body  -

But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.
Anya; The Body; Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If I were petty, (or perhaps just lazy) I would simply post this quote and leave it at that. But it is unfair to rip quotes out of their context and just expect people unversed to understand why something, contextless as this is, can be so important to a character.

I have always admired Joss for how he writes his characters. Namely, his characters are people — though, with Anya, that is a little less than true. She’s technically a demon (is this a good time to shout SPOILERS? Okay, spoilers). To top is off, she is, essentially, a replacement Cordelia – not totally Cordelia, of course, but she fills the roll of blunt, at times inappropriate, and generally the fringe member of the Scoobies.

But this speech defines her. It is a fantastic bit of dialogue that I bet my bottom dollar most writers would never think to give a character like Anya. Anya is supposed to be the 1000 year old blonde girl who is a bit on the evil side – better not humanize her in any way. That’s what makes this bit of writing unique.

Anya is terrified. She has never had to deal with the mortality of those around her, because a) she was previously immortal, and b) has never taken the chance to get to know the women she previously avenged. She doesn’t know what to do, so she asks the most morbid questions because she literally does not understand. No one is telling her why or what to do and she literally cannot comprehend the idea the Joyce is gone. And how could she – death was never real to Anya. She asks things like “Will we see the body” and “Will they cut open the body” because she is Anya, and mortal things confuse her, but it is incredibly plain to see that she has no concept of how one operates in grief.

We are meant, at first, to react like Willow does – horrified and disgusted that someone would even say such things about a women they all knew. And that’s why this speech is so important. It humanizes Anya in a way almost nothing else can and carries through the scene (the worry in hr voice when Xander punches through the drywall and ‘could have hit an electrical thingy’ is clearly part of her emotional hangover).

People are never only one thing – they are always changing, always growing in some way. To give a speech like this to a character that most TV shows would treat as a one dimensional cardboard cut out is what cements Joss’ skills (to me at least) in character development. He used emotions we all know – aching sadness and grief – and applied them to a character that would not understand the situation and (much like a child), grows up because, in the end, know one really has the answers she seeks.

Enter the Bad Ass

- Or How Warped Has Our Image of Women Become -

As a writer, I pay a lot of attention to how people are portrayed in media. As a woman, I tend to also pay close attention to how women are portrayed because of how much of a Big Deal it is to me. Buffy, as a whole, does an excellent job of presenting characters that are human. They aren’t shamed, really, for who they are. Each character is well rounded and feels, you know, like an actual human being.

Buffy, in particular is fascinating to me because she is a ‘girly-girl’ – she’s into fashion, cheerleading, and boys – but the audience never once doubts that she is intelligent (just maybe not in a ‘public school’ sort of way), brave, strong, and empathetic. She was allowed to care about how she looked and also care about her physical strength. She is allowed to be caring and defensive and offensive and Bad Ass.

I wonder, sometimes, how girls in my generation would handle a character like Buffy today. I have seen arguments that would lead me to believe that, if they did not already associate Joss Whedon with feminist characters, they probably would not react well to Buffy.

There is this idea out there that a Strong Female Character must be Physically Strong, or Mentally Dominant, or Controlling. She must not care what anyone says about her, and must not care about others, except in a…leaderly way. She cannot be Motherly, Girly, or Conform to any Gender Norms.

But that’s a really limited definition of a ‘strong’ character, and perhaps strong isn’t the right word. In my opinion, Buffy is a strong female, but she is also a person. She has flaws and a personality that fluctuates as she tries to figure out who she is. She is simultaneously a typical teenager and a responsible adult in Band Candy. She is able to take charge and deal with Angel’s conflation of strength and cowardice (while crying, might I add) and she is not seen as weak. On the other end of the spectrum, we quite literally see two sides of Willow in Dopplegangland, and both, I would argue, are excellent representations of women. Yes, one Willow is Vampiric, and a little sadistic, but she’s still her own person, not a cardboard cutout side character.

Strong, I think, is the wrong word. Well-rounded is better, but that calls to mind ‘well adjusted’ for me. Buffy and Willow represent people to me – their personalities are malleable and they have flaws and they are not shamed for anything that they do. They suffer through the consequences of their actions, but they are never, ever, outright shamed. I think that is what makes Buffy and Willow great representations of women in the media; they were written, first, as people.

Intertextuality

- Or Fandom and Separation Between Fans and Creators -

Fair Warning: This post is sort of Tangentially Related to an article called  I Know What You Did Last Summer: Sarah Michelle Gellar and Crossover Teen Stardom. I’m going to be talking about trends in fandom and also advertising. 

Many of these posts…say nothing about the fans’ preference for seeing stars, such as Gellar, on film versus television, and instead focus on the star as a text unto itself.

-Susan Murray, I Know What You Did Last Summer

In Murray’s essay, she examines how, using the popularity of Buffy, advertisers for films, television shows, and other products of the 1990′s and early 2000′s use the fame of an actor or actress to draw fans from one show to another, with the entry point being the star. The actress, in this case, Sarah Michelle Gellar, is the ‘entry text’ to a new series, item, or movies. I have experienced this advertising method many a time, as it is, in fact, how I rediscovered Whedon (I was on a Neil Patrick Harris kick at the time).

Something that I found interesting, was how the essay refers to Sarah Michelle Gellar as a ‘text’ – a way to read into new franchises, brands, and media, through a person’s physicality and attachment to a role on a television series. I tend to think of texts as…well, written objects, not entry points or, stranger still, people, that allow a person to connect a show, like Buffy, to a movie, like I Know What You Did Last Summer, to a brand like Maybelline.

Advertising normally feels like a shady business to me,  but using someone’s intertextuality, their connection to a single popular character to boost the ratings and/or profit margins of other companies and films seems extra shady to me. If they are doing what Murray suggests, and treating actors like ‘texts’ it seems to work. The girl, Katy, who Murray is using as an example in the quotes, has seen almost everything Gellar has been in (up until the point that post was written), but it seems…wrong. It seems like you lose sight of the person behind the character, and they just become an idol, a text of entry, a thing to be read into.