Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Girly and Brutal After 20 Years


WBuffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-TV-Serieshen Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired, I should have been well within the borders of its target audience – teenage weirdo with a taste for anything dark. Maybe I would have been into it had I encountered the show on my own, but it was the stuff of girly sleepovers and watching parties at the time.

So instead of being introduced to Buffy as a campy, episodic horror-mystery mashup, I was introduced to it as “You hafta see this! Ohmygawd Angel is so hawt!” I then spent a weekend in a basement den with three girls eating trash, experimenting with makeup, and listening to running commentary on the physical perfection of season 1-2′s mopey-faced love interest. I was too busy grasping at the tatters of my poor masculinity to appreciate the funky monster costumes, snappy characters, awkward fight sequences, and ridiculous plot arcs.

After that weekend, I refused to watch Buffy again, even with college friends who clearly regarded it as savvy comedy rather than a chance to ogle awkwardly bulky shirtless dudes.

That is until this December when I got snowed in at a friend’s place in Portland (it snows so rarely that the city just shuts down when it does). We wound up watching the musical episode from season six, and it struck me: this show is brutal. The musical episode is 45 minutes of upbeat song and dance around fear of commitment, control issues, sexual manipulation, and self destructive depression. The song and dance presentation encourages you to laugh through these dark topics until the very end when the music stops, the narrative looks you in the eye and says, you know all these things are daily realities, right?

So, when I got back to Helsinki and my borrowed Netflix subscription, I watched all seven seasons in a span of two months. I can definitely say young Elizabeth missed out.

Although my reservations differ from those of my 17 year old self, it’s not a perfect show. Season 4, with its blond, Iowan plot arc, sags under the weight of fake good mental health and implicit patriotism. While Buffy is all about strong women, the show could have handled sex and gender a bit better. “Nice” women aren’t supposed to like rough sex, there is such a thing as too many partners for a woman but not a man, and lesbians are cool but gay men are ugh-gaaaay in Buffy. On the other hand, it does feel pretty realistic to the climate for queer teenagers and 20 something women in the late 90s to early 00s in the US.

The first two seasons are delicious candy with their rubbery monsters, hamfisted fight scenes, and satirized high school angst. As the show progresses, it gets into the ugly problems that often accompany the transition into independent adulthood, albeit usually couched as a metaphor involving a witch who can flay a man at a glance or a vampire with a synthetic soul. The metaphor has kept the comment relevant, however, not to mention entertaining. Even if the socio-cultural climate of the show has aged, the problems it laughingly outlines in fake blood and prosthetic makeup recur through modern society.

More subtle is the shift from childhood black and white morality to an adult’s grey rainbow. The hero remains righteous, but increasingly ambiguous scenarios confront the viewer until, no matter how attached you’ve grown to Buffy, you have to ask if the “good and righteous” response is really the path of least harm in certain situations, especially where people and feelings are concerned.

The show also provokes the viewer more directly. This paragraph and the next should be ambiguous, but may veer into spoiler territory. Be warned. For several seasons the show serves up cartoonish violence – a lot of funny villain death and a little melodramatic heroic death or suffering. Then a villain falls into a coma after one of these cartoonish fights, and she just lies there handcuffed to the hospital bed, looking very human with her makeup removed. And the season’s final boss villain, a dad figure to the comatose woman, formerly jovially evil, brokenly snot cries. She just lies there and eventually the handcuffs come off. She does not wake up for a long time.

In another instance, a beloved support character dies of natural causes prompting an entire episode of very realistic grief. For a full episode our hero desperately tries to do CPR on a cold body and hears ribs crack, stares at walls, vomits in a hallway and tries to hide it under a towel, returns to look at the corpse as though it may come back to life and get up. The viewer tunes in expecting silly, entertaining death and instead watches real death for a harrowing 45 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is primarily entertainment, but it will occasionally come upside your head, teeth bared and free of fear. The campy fun of the first few seasons slowly expands to encompass cleverly posed questioning of sociocultural constructs, without getting too po-faced. I especially appreciated the de- (and re-) construction of the masculine romantic hero in seasons 5-7. Too bad my 17 year old boy self couldn’t have seen that through all the shirtless Boreanaz.

Geeking out in London: Guide to Fandom Activities

(c) Laura Kurki

Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock, Buffy the Vampire Slayer…have these fandoms taken over your life? Do you suffer from Tumblr addiction? I can say yes to both of those questions, and as a public service to my fellow geeks and fangirls (and boys, of course), I’m bringing you this guide to the fandom attractions in the bustling city that is London.

(c) Laura KurkiThe Who Shop

The Who Shop is a store as well as a museum dedicated to – you guessed it – Doctor Who! It’s owned by a charming couple who love the show and serve every customer as if they were just new friends waiting to happen. The store has everything from magazines and posters to duvets and bathrobes. And for just 3 pounds you can enter through the TARDIS to the museum that boasts a number of props and costumes from the show. The admission fee also includes your personal tour guide, so be sure to ask any and all questions that might be nagging you when you step inside. The intern at the shop who shows you around (and makes sure you don’t try to smuggle a dalek home with you) is extremely knowledgeable about the show and is happy to even take your pictures in front of the props. Just beware of blinking in front of the weeping angels!

You can easily get to the shop with the underground: just take the Eastbound District line to Upton Park and it’s a short walk away. The website has detailed instructions on finding the place as well.


(c) Laura Kurki

The Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾

The Platform 9 ¾ has been a staple at King’s Cross station for a while now, but a newer addition is the Harry Potter shop next to it. The shop isn’t very big but it has some of the greatest Harry Potter merchandise you could imagine. Naturally you can buy your very own wand there as well as a Quidditch jersey or a house scarf. And don’t forget to get your picture taken at the platform while trying to push the cart through the solid wall. On a more personal note, I am slightly saddened how the Platform has been commercialized in the last years because during the first time I visited there (pre-shop years), you could just go and take your own picture without having to queue and have the shop print out an “official” photo. But it’s a fun experience nonetheless, so if you don’t mind the wait, I’d definitely recommend it!

There are several buses that go to King’s Cross and the underground lines Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan, Circle, Victoria, Piccadilly, and Northern will get you to the King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station from where you can walk inside to the railway station.


(c) Laura Kurki



The Warner Bros Studios

Another Harry Potter location…this is arguably the most expensive and most impressive attraction on this list! The studio tour will take you to a magical journey to the world of Harry Potter and the making of the films. The studios have massive set pieces like the Burrow, the Great Hall and Dolores Umbridge’s office. You can ride a broomstick, drink frothy Butterbeer, and spend all your galleons and sickles in the huge gift shop at the end of the tour.

From central London you’ll have to grab a train to Watford Junction and from there a studio bus will take you to the Warner Bros studios. The price for the tour is 33 pounds (for an adult).


Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet is a store that sells any and every kind of fandom stuff you can think of. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for geeks. The store covers fandoms from Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings to Portal and Breaking Bad. You can find comics, books, and much more from this best known science fiction/fantasy/comic book/etc. retailer in the world. The Forbidden Planet megastore is located on Shaftesbury Avenue, a walking distance from e.g. Tottenham Court Road Station.


The Cinema Store

The Cinema Store is similar to Forbidden Planet, only in a lot smaller scale. Located next to Leicester Square, it boasts a great location and often competitive prices; Forbidden Planet and the Cinema Store have many books, for example, on sale in both stores and it is not uncommon to find the item cheaper in the smaller store.


(c) Laura Kurki

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

For the Sherlock fans, there’s a Sherlock Holmes museum located on – wait for it – 221b Baker Street! The house is a museum for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock, not the new BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman – so don’t get your hopes up, Cumberbitches! But if you are a fan of the stories, the building is a very interesting attraction and it’s maintained as a Victorian household so be prepared to step back in time!

You can get to the museum by taking the Bakerloo underground line to Baker Street station, and the admission fee is 10 pounds for an adult.