|Buffy on the verge of killing a vampire|
In an article published way back in 2009, Robert Moore made the case in PopMatters for why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is such an important television show:
Without any question, Buffy revolutionized the role of women on television, more even than Mary Tyler Moore or Cagney and Lacey or Murphy Brown or Ally McBeal. If you look at female heroes (as opposed to hapless heroines–I have always thought that the definition of heroine should be “endangered female in need of rescue by male hero”) in the history of TV, you will be astonished at how few there are prior to the nineties. You have Annie Oakley in the fifties and Emma Peel on The Avengers in the sixties, and to a degree Wonder Woman (who spent a great deal of her time worrying about impressing her boss Col. Steve Trevor) and The Bionic Woman (the weaker spin off to The Six Million Dollar Man). This all changed in the nineties, first with Dana Scully on The X-Files and then with Xena. But the former, as competent as she was as an FBI professional, was not sufficiently iconic to change TV, while the latter, sufficiently iconic, was too cartoonish to inspire future female heroes. Buffy was the turning point. You can write the history of female heroes on TV as Before Buffy and After Buffy. It is not a coincidence that most of the female heroes on TV arose in the wake of the little blonde vampire slayer. Look at the roster: Aeryn Sun (Farscape), Max (Dark Angel), Sydney Bristow (Alias), Kate Austin (Lost), Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (along with a plethora of other strong women on Battlestar Galactica), Olivia Dunham (Fringe), Sarah Connor and Cameron (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Veronica Mars, and an almost uncountable number of lesser characters. Buffy made TV safe for strong women. This isn’t art, but it is the content of art. Buffy guaranteed that TV as art would make a place for heroic women.
While I recognize that we can go back and forth for the end of time about whether Buffy (the show and the character) is feminist or antifeminist, I think we can at least agree that the simple statement “Buffy made TV safe from strong women” is pretty compelling and hard to entirely disagree with.
My seven-year-old niece Sophia visited me recently in New York. When it was bedtime, and we were browsing through Netflix to find something to watch before we went to sleep, she wanted Buffy. The next day when we woke up, she immediately asked if we could watch Buffy while we ate breakfast. When we got home from New York sightseeing, she wanted Buffy. We skipped many of the violent, scarier episodes (“Hush,” anyone?), but she loved watching Buffy save her friends and fellow high school students by destroying monsters with her bare hands.
Now Sophia takes Taekwondo. She showed me some of her moves the last time I saw her, and said, “I bet I’ll be able to kick as much butt as Buffy soon, maybe more!”
I don’t want to get bogged down about how it sucks in a way that Buffy’s ability comes exclusively from superpowers. I get that, and I could write about it endlessly, but in this moment, I don’t care because Sophia doesn’t care. She watches Buffy and sees a woman who kicks ass, and she wants to emulate that. It’s tough to over-analyze and intellectualize a TV show when you’re watching a young girl practice roundhouse kicks because she wants to be a strong badass like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I have to say, it’s much more heartwarming to see her excited about becoming a strong woman with martial arts skills than it was to watch her pretend she couldn’t speak–because she wanted to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid.