idealised families, friends and females in Buffy – Owen


Taking a postfeminist approach to Buffy, A. Susan Owen writes: “This series has much in common with other popular dramatic teen series such as Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, and Party of Five. The humor is edgy and the story lines are serialized (to varying extents). The narratives illustrate that friends are family, because the traditional family unit has fragmented. Ironically, the story lines are steeped in television nostalgia, the public forum in which the idealized American family was imagined and perfected” (p.25)

The playful irony of the dramatic setting-a high school with vampires explores the social and psychic horrors of American adolescent rites of passage. Sometimes comedic, sometimes farcical, sometimes tragic, the series meanders from the deadpan to the deadly.” (p.25)

“[Buffy] generally experiences intense pleasure in physically challenging encounters with various monsters. And heretofore in television, we have not seen the adolescent female body in this way-signifying toughness, resilience, strength, and confidence. Nor have we seen adolescent female pleasure embodied as “a supremely confident kicker of evil butt” (Katz 35). It is worth noting, however, that Buffy’s body is a site of considerable struggle in the narrative. She is recognizably coded as slim, youthful, fit, and stylish; her body is a billboard for American commodity culture. Sometimes her face and body are dominated by the camera; sometimes she fills and dominates the frame. But there can be little doubt that Buffy’s agency drives the narrative and saves the world. Moreover, she talks back, she looks back, and she can take a blow as well as she can land one.” (p.25)

“Buffy’s struggle to conceal her identity as a slayer, and as an exemplar of how clueless suburban parents (especially mothers) are about the dangers their children face.
Buffy’s emotional and social life is most clearly seen in her interaction with three teen friends: Willow, Xander, and Cordelia. The contrasts provided through structured oppositions between and among these characters offer subtle shading for Buffy’s character.” (p.26)

“Cordelia’s embodied social power is an important contrast to Willow’s girlishness and Buffy’s re-gendered power; the scenes between and among these three characters set up
the possibilities for exploring the transfer of social power from the bounded performance of a given social script, to the transgressive re-visioning of the script.” (p.26)

Buffy’s relationship with these three teens establishes narrative momentum toward collectivity and away from the individualist quest narrative typical of the action adventure, mystery, and horror genres. Most problems and challenges are evaluated and solved through cooperation and shared responsibility. The constructed social conflicts and competing desires between and among characters underscore the necessity of social cooperation and tolerance. Buffy is the keystone signifier of a youth community that fights Evil and deals with reconstructed problems of middle-class, Anglo, heteronormative, North American teenage socialization: shifting gender scripts, sexual maturation, sexual violence, drug use, peer pressure, clueless adults, the numbing banality of educational systems, the fragmented heterosexual, middle-class family unit, and the failures of the rational world paradigm.” (p.27)

Each episode negotiates the claims of a rational world view in the context of social fragmentation and institutional failure; each crisis illustrates the incommensurability of rational claims (God is dead) with the lived experience of everyday life in urban America (the devil is undead). In each episode, postmodern playfulness is juxtaposed with the narrative demand for social order.” (p.27)

“Angel is arguably the most sexualized and eroticized of all the characters in the series; this beast is a real beauty. His body invites the constructed consumer gaze of romance novel covers, softcore pornography, and mass circulation advertising. Angel is appropriately (and humorously) named, in that he functions in the narrative as the object of teen fantasies and anxieties. Played woodenly by David Boreanaz, Angel is the only character in Buffy’s inner circle (other than her mother) who lacks wit, savvy, or special talent.” (p.27)

Vampires generally lurk in the “bad places”-cemeteries, dark alleys, basements and tunnels, abandoned buildings, and suburban parks.hIn Sunnydale, however, they also lurk in the ordinary spaces where contemporary teens are exposed to urban threats: dance clubs, high school locker rooms, classrooms, lounges, and parking lots, shopping malls, and private homes.” (p.28) “Like their literary and filmic forebears, these vampires infiltrate human social gatherings to stalk prey. To some extent, their presence in the narrative rehearses lingering cultural anxieties about hidden danger, contamination, and infection.” (p.28)

“…In Sunnydale, the threat is inherent within the culture; reason, science and social order fail in the face of predation, because predation is part of the modern project. In this narrative, vampirism is the inverted human face of power and domination. Significantly, when vampires are on the scene, the name of the game is creepy fun. Vampires are signifiers at play: they invite the audience to play with matters that seem frightening.” (p.28)

A hard-edged, humorous assault on the shortcomings of liberal reform and the inherent flaws of American civil society, the series is most challenging to mainstream culture when it manipulates irony and fragmentation as modes of critique. The series reconfigures some of the relations of power in the body rhetorics of horror and action by relocating narrative agency from masculine to feminine. Vampires are cartoonish figures standing in for the failed grand narratives of middle America: stable family life, equanimity, justice, rule of law, and the conquest of nature.” (p.30)

The series is most conventional in its uncritical embrace of American capital culture. Assumptions about social relationships are predicated upon the very commodity culture that television helps to construct and mediate. Buffy’s power is domesticated by her oft articulated longing to be “normal”-to have a steady boyfriend (with all that entails) and to consume life uninterrupted by the demands of civic obligation. The narrative opposes the costs of leadership and political potency, with intimacy, stable relationships, and material comfort. The quality of a woman’s private life is diminished by the burden she bears to participate in civil society. Moreover, in spite of Buffy’s narrative agency and physical potency, her body project remains consistent with the rescripted body signs of American commodity advertising.’ In other words, political potency is both imagined and reduced to matters of consumer style.” (p.30)

“Racially, the series is very conservative; whiteness is not marked but rather constitutes the presumptive grounds of the series.” (p.30)

“Buffy’s strength and confidence are not learned from the vast experiences of past generations of women; rather, they are her mystical birthright as a slayer.” (p.31)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) A. Susan Owen (1999): Vampires, Postmodernity, and Postfeminism: Buffy the Vampire Slayer , Journal of Popular Film and Television, 27:2, 24-31


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