Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or-God- even studying! But I have to save the world. Again.-Buffy Anne SummersNo one ever would have guessed when Buffy Summers first stabbed her way into American pop culture with the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that the young, blonde 'Valley girl' cheerleader-cum-assassin of the undead would still be saving the world today--15 years after 'dusting' her first demon.
Yet despite the somewhat complicated back-story and one significant change of actors and settings--Kristy Swanson's Los Angeles-based Buffy moved to fictional Sunnydale, Calif., and came to be portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar--the legend of Buffy is one that has been told for well over a decade: the campy tale of a girl whose fate it is to rid the world of blood-sucking, night-crawling vampires, one wooden stake through the heart at a time.
Through several incarnations--the feature film, a seven-season television series and a new comic-book series (Season Eight), among others--the Buffy saga has garnered millions of fans worldwide, many of whom are as loyal and devoted to the young slayer's ongoing and often humorous battle against evil as they were when her smirk-provoking name first fell on their virgin ears.
For legions of Buffy fans, this Slayer's story is far from over. Between the continuation of series creator Joss Whedon's approved Buffy story lines, the explosion of Buffy-related 'fan fiction' and the advent of 'Buffyology'--a newly recognized and legitimate field of study within the academic community--the legacy of Buffy and the cult following that has blossomed around it appear poised for longevity. For many, the story of Buffy Anne Summers and the rest of the 'Scooby gang' (the core group of characters in the series) is merely just beginning.
Self-proclaimed 'computer geek' Matt Hohlfeld, a gregarious 33-year-old who works for Qualcomm, says he was first introduced to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series while completing his graduate studies at UCSD.
'The first clear thought I remember having when I saw it was, Why didn't I start watching this from the beginning?' the Hillcrest resident laughed. By the time his first Slayer experience took place, the series was already at the end of its second season.
Hohlfeld's girlfriend, on the other hand, admits she was a fan of the series from the earliest episodes.
'I remembered the movie, which I thought was pretty stupid,' says 39-year-old Lily Jackson, 'and I thought, What the heck are they doing putting this on television? But as I watched the episodes, I really got into it.'
Hohlfeld and Jackson have spent the last two years living together and have been dating for four. Both of them agree their love for Buffy was an important factor in determining the seriousness of their relationship.
'I don't think I could have ended up with someone who didn't like Buffy,' Jackson said. 'If it was someone who had never watched it and I introduced them to it and they hated it, I might be a little offended.'
Hohlfeld says the two relationships he had before becoming involved with Jackson were also with fans of the series.
'Maybe, just maybe, there's a coincidence there,' he chuckled. 'Buffy can be quite the effective tool of seduction. If you know someone is a Buffy fan and you think they might be attracted to you and you're attracted to them, a convenient way to make sure that you will have substantial amounts of time with them is to schedule some time to watch the show together.'
As he continued, his words slowed. 'You know, you watch a few episodes--and you're together for a while--.' His voice trailed off as he grinned.
'And then you can watch Angel!' Jackson quickly interjected, referring to the Buffy spin-off television series about the slayer's undead former boyfriend.
'Right. And then you can watch Angel,' Hohlfeld laughed, taking his girlfriend's lead. 'It's not like it goes directly from Buffy to the bedroom.'
In addition to keeping up with the comic-book series, Jackson has recently begun subscribing to various Buffy-related podcasts on iTunes, including one called 'Undead America' by a fan in Chicago named AlyRenee. In it, AlyRenee regularly dishes updates on actors and writers from the series, as well as news about toy lines, comic-book lines and fan fiction.
The couple also has started the tradition of inviting their Buffy-loving friends over for a few rounds of a new Buffy fantasy game.
'Our friend Julia came up with it,' Jackson said. 'It's kind of like fantasy football.'
In the game, each player gets a sheet of paper on which all of the characters are listed along with a list of possible actions the characters might perform in a given episode ('killing a vampire,' for example, or 'neologism'--the coining of new words that occurs quite regularly on the show, usually in the form of adjectives derived from nouns). Each player matches her characters up to an action in combinations that cannot be repeated by any of the other players, and an episode is randomly picked. Points are earned for each character-action combination that takes place in the chosen episode, and hilarity ensues.
'You might think that 'kill a vampire' is the bread-and-butter action,' Hohlfeld says, 'but 'snappy comeback' is really the good one. It's where the money's at.'
'We got pretty drunk last time,' Jackson snickers, revealing the drinking-game aspect involved in the proceedings. 'We'll drink whenever Giles fixes his glasses, or whenever Buffy looks confused,' she laughs. 'That's a lot of drinks right there!'
North Park resident Justin Schiedel, 25, admits that while he wasn't a huge fan of the film version of Buffy, he fell in love with the television series immediately after watching the first episode.
'The movie was so much worse than the show,' Schiedel said. 'It was just stupid '90s humor that was trying to be '80s humor. It was awful. But the series took the dark aspects of the story line and made it funny.'
Schiedel, who recently earned his bachelor's degree in English from Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., has incorporated his adoration for the series into his future academic career. Upon learning about the masters of arts program in the humanities department at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Schiedel realized this was the grad school for him.
During a recent visit to Pacifica, Schiedel divulged to a member of the faculty his ideas about a critical analysis of Buffy, focusing on the psychology of the characters and the mythology involved in the plot.
'Many of the characters have psychic powers,' he explained. 'A lot of it falls in line with Carl Jung's concepts of dream theory and how it relates to [Jung's] theory of collective unconscious.'
Another theory Schiedel discusses is one he's developed about the possibility of stories like Buffy and Superman becoming the mythology of the future. 'It's the same thing that happened with original mythology,' he said. 'These stories that were told to children to get them excited about life and to try to explain things to them--they turned into something that we, now, don't really know if they ever happened.'
'For example, we don't know if the Minotaur in the labyrinth was real or not. We don't know if Jesus was real or not. It's all just a concept of history repeating itself,' he exclaimed, excitedly slamming his fist on the table. 'I believe that Buffy will actually become an important mythological figure.'
After his conversation with the educator at Pacifica, Schiedel says, it was strongly suggested to him that he focus on Buffy for his masters-thesis topic.
'That's one of the main reasons I'm applying there,' he said, smiling.
Sheana Director, 23, a master's student in women's studies at San Diego State University, is one of the few Buffy fans who actually enjoyed the first incarnation of the slayer.
'When I saw the movie, before the television show had started, I thought it was really fabulous,' Director said. 'It was kind of cheesy, and the plot wasn't as pro-feminist as the show, but it focused around this Valley-girl stereotype and the archetype of a dumb blonde who just happened to be strong. I liked it. She was empowered and she was kicking butt!'
As much as she liked the film version, Director, who is focusing her studies at SDSU in feminist and queer theory, found herself an even bigger fan of the television series at a relatively early age.
'Once the show started, [Buffy] became friends with the outcasts and had more of these alternative-type friends,' she said. 'That seemed to make the show more feminist or radical or queer, and I liked that better, even though I was only 14. I didn't really understand it, but now I can look back and know why.'
Throughout the latter half of her college career, Director says she's become exposed to a field of academia known as 'Buffyology,' or Buffy studies, which can cover a wide range of disciplines, from sociology and theology to philosophy and psychology. One of the academic texts she mentions is Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a collection of essays examining the several levels of meaning in the television series. The book tackles such issues as postmodern politics, race relations, human sexuality and violence in communication, to name a few.
Last spring, as part of her master's program, Director wrote a paper about Buffy in the context of queerness. Referencing postmodern queer theorist Rosi Braidotti's book Metamorphoses, she analyzed the queer nature of the entire series. 'I called it 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer as queer, or, the most redundant title ever,' because, really, pretty much everything in the series was queer,' she said.
Director's Buffy studies thus far appear to be merely the tip of the iceberg for her.
'I hope to do more work with the show in my academic career,' she says. 'Now that I know about it, there's so much text that hasn't been studied and so many new ideas that are coming out. It really does seem like a rich area to explore.
'It's not even my main research area,' she continued, 'but just since I've started learning about it, the other feminist and queer theory that I use, and the colonialism and postmodern theory, it seems like there are so many different ways you can look at it, so many possibilities that it still has for exploring new identities.'
'Even though the show has ended,' Director says, 'it still seems like the more we delve into it and explore what it was really saying, the further we can go with liberating ourselves.'
Songs about vampiresNearly every TV series has it: the episode in which characters break into song and dance. For Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that episode came during the sixth season (its second to last). It was called 'Once More, With Feeling' and contained more than a dozen songs written (music and lyrics) by series creator John Whedon.
The plot goes something like this: A tap-dancing demon comes to Sunnydale and puts a curse on the town's residents, forcing them to sing and dance, all the while revealing their deepest secrets. At some point, everyone will spontaneously combust unless Buffy can save the day.
At midnight Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5 and 6, the Ken Cinema (4906 Adams Ave.) hosts the national tour of Once More With Feeling: The Buffy Musical. It's a Rocky Horror Picture Show-type production that started in Boston three years ago and is currently staged monthly at the IFC theater in New York City. This year, the live cast, who call themselves the Uncool Kids, launched a national tour and San Diego's one of only a few cities where it's scheduled to stop. Watch the episode onscreen, sing along to the songs (subtitled for virgins) and engage in all sorts of other Buffy buffoonery.
Tickets are $12 and, according to reports from other cities, they go fast. www.uncoolkids.com/buffy or www.landmarktheatres.com.