By: Sonora Bravo
Ah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Mercury’s in retrograde and everyone suggests rewatching some of your favorite old shows and movies, so I’ve been rewatching Buffy. Influential, quality television, right? There’s something very soothing about the aspect ratio, the survival energy, that witty joke you forgot, Willow’s fluffy sweaters, and, oh yeah, some uncomfortable light misogyny.
Xander: Let me tell you something. When it’s dark and I’m all alone, and I’m scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think “What would Buffy do?” You’re my hero. OK, sometimes when it’s dark and I’m all alone, I think “What is Buffy wearing?”
In the first episode of Season 4, “The Freshman,” Buffy starts and hates college after having an egregiously horrible day. She goes to The Bronze to mope, and Xander kneels on the ground to give her an uplifting pep talk. It’s a sweet, emotional moment that I’m promptly snapped out of because he ends it by making an inappropriate comment about her. She’s rightly grossed out and doesn’t want to hear about it, but it’s brushed off and they immediately go on to solve a vampire murder mystery together. This is only one of many, many examples.
Interestingly, Xander’s behavior is usually framed as mildly annoying as opposed to legitimately problematic. His comments are shrugged off, looked down on and met with a “Xander!” but not ever really called out. If one of the main good guys can get away with this sort of thing, does it undercut the feminist message of the show? I understand Xander’s not supposed to be the pinnacle of a male feminist or anything. He’s a particularly filterless teenage boy. Perhaps his non-role model status was enough to overlook (or not even notice) his gross antics 10 or 20 years ago, but watching this show today… it was glaringly obvious.
Which brings me to the question – why did I even like Xander the first watch? Wasn’t I a budding feminist then, one of the reasons I was drawn to a show like Buffy in the first place? I must admit Xander is my type, Tall, Dark, and Nerdy. He’s also well suited to joke delivery, Nicholas Brendon firing off witty lines with rapid panache. (Side Note: Googling Nicholas Brendon and falling down a rabbit hole of TMZ articles was not a great idea.) He’s not popular, or in a position of social power; “nerd” was more of an insult about being on the bottom rung of the school hierarchy in 1998. Part of his “cuteness” stems from his self-deprecating nature. So if he’s attractive, funny, and semi-pathetic, he somehow gets a pass for sexually harassing his friends? Times certainly have changed, in addition to the identity of cis-male-white-nerd becoming less of a so-called cross to bear.
Now that my eyes are fully opened to this weirdness I have to ask myself… is this simply annoying me? Or does it actually put me off from enjoying the show? I love looking at television under a critical feminist eye, and the occasional rant doesn’t lead to me hating a show. Sometimes it’s part of the enjoyment of the show for me. Like a perfect meal with one flaw, it’s dinner that also provides a conversation starter. But when does fave turn into problematic fave and then not a fave at all? For many, Joss Whedon lives in the “not a fave at all” camp, but I’m not ready to turn my back on Buffy. I decided to keep watching and write about my experience.In 2019, it’s not so strange to rewatch a show and hate a character you once liked. It’s a testament to our culture’s evolution. I’m pretty sure I’m not capable of “who cares, it’s just a tv show”-ing it anymore. I can only assume our collective senses for unacceptable bullshit will sharpen further, and rewatching is one way to see how far we’ve come.