On March 10, 1997, the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on the WB channel. I don’t remember what day it aired on because it changed to different nights throughout its television career. No matter the day, my mom, my brother, and I would sit in a room together to watch Buffy conquer vampires and other supernaturals while slaying those pesky homework assignments.
I was in sixth grade at the time. My mom had moved my brother and I into her boyfriend’s house because we were forced to move out of our previous house. Long story short, my dad didn’t pay the monthly mortgage, so we had to live elsewhere.
I was in a new house that was thirty minutes away from my private school. Junior high was turning out to be this horrible part of the education system where I didn’t get to play on the playground with my friends anymore. It was now all work and no play because my friends were now busier and more importantly I couldn’t relate to my fellow peers.
This is where BVS comes into play. I could relate to Buffy, Willow, and Xander’s butting heads with high school. I wasn’t liking Junior high too much. It seemed only to get worse each year. I could relate to being demeaned by my peers because I didn’t follow society’s standard or in Cordelia’s case, her standard. My school believed in a Christian based faith. It taught almost an hour of Bible every day. There was a definite standard to follow. I was far from following it. I wasn’t excited about who I liked or what boy band was trending.
I was excited about Vampires and other dead things. I had a hole in my heart from many things and I wanted to fill it with something tangible. Buffy killed vampires. She won over evil. Just when we think she is done for, she surprises us. I wanted to be someone whose courage and passion surprised them when they least expected it.
The show became more than a show. It was a guidebook to life’s emotional ride. I saw Buffy fall in love with a vampire despite her job description. I saw a tough jock admit he was gay. I observed how Buffy struggled with her mom and vice versa. That was just in the high school years.
When the Scooby Gang graduated from high school on their twenty-second episode of season three that aired on July 13, 1999, a lot of drama occurred. Buffy’s first boyfriend turned against them. There was another slayer, two in fact. An evil mayor wanted to eat all the graduates. Their difficulties made the hurdles I had to jump seem minor. It helped a lot in that way.
When the college years began, I was still watching this show with my mom and my brother. I was three days from turning thirteen. A full-fledged teenager. You learn about the world in small bits and pieces when you are a tween (ages 8-12), but once you were a teenager the world flooded your eyes and ears from all around you.
There may be a fine line for a Christian mother letting her kids watch a show about vampires who kill people and a slayer who kills those vampires. There may be another fine line for letting her kids watch the light sex scenes in the college years of the show. It wasn’t dramatic for me, but maybe it was for my brother who was three years younger than me. But to not let your kids watch the show because Willow and Tara, both Wiccans and both female, are in a relationship? The Wicca part wasn’t the problem. It was the latter part that made my mom draw the line.
I grew up in a household, a school, and a church that told me what I was and wasn’t supposed to do. Then here was this show, saying it was okay to be gay. It was accepted to be Wicca if that was your way of life. It was okay to love who you wanted. Buffy loved Riley even though he was part of a militia who they weren’t certain was on the entirely good side.
Among all the opposition I was receiving from everything my mom surrounded me with in my life there was finally someone somewhere saying the same thing that I believed. The themes underlining the show constantly spoke of equality. Because even if you are a vampire you can be good. And even if your are the slayer or are apart of her entourage, you can make mistakes too, some really bad ones. In the end, the friends forgave each other. Enemies formed an unexpected alliance. All these things and more. Seeing forgiveness, friendship, and love in this show taught me the things my parents, teachers, and peers couldn’t or wouldn’t teach me. Thank goodness for Joss Whedon and the writers on the show like Jane Epsenson. They fed me the knowledge and the fuel I needed to get through junior high and high school.
I shook Jane Epsenson’s hand after one of the panels at WonderCon 2013. I thanked her for her shows and I walked away. Also in March, I had the opportunity to meet Amber Benson who acted the role of Tara the girlfriend of Willow. I shook Amber’s hand and hugged her, but I didn’t directly thank her for acting the role she did on the show. Maybe someday I will have the chance to just say thank you. Perhaps she already knows.
So that’s the impact Buffy the Vampire Slayer show made on me. To me it’s not a hit cult show. It’s the beacon of hope that led me through the dark ages of my life. When I thought I couldn’t endure another week of religious oppression, I sat down to watch an episode of BVS and all was well.
Today I don’t see any show on television that would do the same thing for me if I was in junior high again. There may be shows that have one of the elements, but not all of them in one show. It will be ten years since the last episode of the show on May 20, 2003. That’s less than a month before I graduated from high school on June 13, 2003. It seems as if the forces that control the things we don’t see was giving me the help I needed from the time my parents separated to the day I graduated from high school, when the religious oppression from school and church would end for me. I hope that these forces are sending more outlets like this show, or books, or movies, to other teenagers in need. More great work needs to be published no matter the cost. If the people meant to help us aren’t doing so, we need to get the help from wherever we can find it.