Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seth McFarlane, Satire and Take 2 on The Humorless Feminist

Last July I wrote this post about Daniel Tosh and rape jokes.  It was about how some jokes CAN be harmful and how unfair the "humorless feminist" label is.  I'm going to jump off a couple of points from that post in this one, but this is different.  This is about another male comedian I have very strong feelings about.

I'm not a huge fan of awards shows in general--except for the Golden Globes, which are basically the Drunk Oscars--but I did consider watched the Academy Awards this year.  That's mostly because I loved Argo and Christoph Waltz's performance in Django Unchained so much.  But then I saw that Seth McFarlane was hosting and I basically rolled my eyes so hard they got stuck.  THAT was The Academy's way of trying to attract a younger audience and more ratings?  If I wasn't certain that the film industry was basically a club for white men, I certainly know it now.  And McFarlane delivered on exactly what was expected of him.  He delivered sexist, low-brow humor that got him huge ratings.  So, good for him, I guess.

I really hate Seth McFarlane.  The first season of Family Guy wasn't so bad, and the show occasionally has clever bits here and there.  I am sure that McFarlane started out writing satire, but eventually realized that subtle humor like that was not as successful as just outright being shocking and gross.  Because, as I said in the Daniel Tosh post, that's what this generation wants--they want to be shocked as much as possible, and considering how much our entertainers have catered to that desire in recent years it takes a lot to clear that bar anymore.

So McFarlane decided to do a song called "We Saw Your Boobs" at the Oscars.  Bar cleared?

I debated long and hard about whether or not to embed the video of the song here or post a transcript, but I decided to go with the video for two reasons.  One, it's important to see the reaction shots, an two, I didn't really want to Google Image search "we saw your boobs reaction shots" at school in order to prove my point without the video.  So, here it is.  If you haven't already seen it, don't say I didn't warn you that it sucks.  Also it's incredibly catchy and ti will get stuck in your head and you will want to smack yourself in the forehead with a hammer.

So this happened.  And yes, just to cover ALL my bases, I get that this was part of a device where McFarlane was poking fun at HIMSELF for being controversial and over-the-top.  But what a convenient excuse to do exactly what was expected!

Now let's get into the nitty-gritty.  This is why I find this video offensive.  There are several reaction shots from the actresses who are mentioned in this song--namely Naomi Watts, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Lawrence.  The first two women I just listed look incredibly annoyed that this is happening.  Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, grins and waves coquettishly when McFarlane sings that "we haven't seen your boobs at all."

It's been pointed out that the reaction shots were most likely pre-recorded, which almost makes it worse.  That means there were three options--one, these actresses were annoyed but figured they'd better go along with the joke for the sake of not getting called out, they were genuinely annoyed and showed it, they have internalized this idea that they, as women, need to make fun of themselves and do what is told to them in a universally-known tough business for women..  Or, possible as well, they genuinely thought the joke was funny and decided to go along with it.

Even if they were in on the joke and thought it was funny, those reaction shots reveal the sad double standard of Hollywood and our culture.  Women are expected to show their boobs in Hollywood and get a song written about it when they do.  On the other hand, that song also comes off as publicly shaming women for possessing and showing their feminine bodies. As evidence for this claim, I point to Jennifer Lawrence's reaction.  She seemed pretty happy that no one had seen her boobs.

Also, two more really terrible things about this song: one, some of the instances listed in this song where female actresses showed their boobs were explicit rape scenes where I'm almost 100% certain that the nudity was not meant for titillation (no pun intended), and the line "Scarlett Johansson, we saw them on our phone."  Her phone was hacked and private photographs were leaked.  And it was a long time ago.  And Seth McFarlane had to shame her about it again.  That, folks, is class.

Now I want to talk about satire.  Because the "satire" defense has been used a lot, in relation to McFarlane and pretty much anytime a joke is offensive.  Satire requires some irony, and it is typically subversive and is supposed to be social commentary.  I hold up South Park, surprisingly, as a good example of this.  South Park is a show in which the characters that are supposed to be terrible are the ones doing terrible things, and we see this through the eyes of the everyman characters of Stan and Kyle.  Cartman is often the vehicle through which satire goes--we know that Cartman is deplorable so when he does anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, classist things, it's expected and the other characters point out how terrible it is.  South Park is over the top, also, using fantastical and ridiculous scenarios that would never actually happen to prove its points about society and politics.  Is it offensive?  Yes.  That does not mean it can't be satire and can't be productive in some way.

Family Guy isn't that.  Peter Griffin in the everyman character, and he's also the terrible one.  Actually, most of the people in Family Guy are terrible.  Again, I can believe that the show started out as satire, but quickly devolved into just being shocking for the sake of being offensive.  Go look up the Family Guy episode about domestic violence.  Or the episode about trans people.  I honestly believe that South Park exists to make fun of people who hate minority groups while Family Guy actually hates them.

And "satire" isn't just a catch-all term for any offensive joke anyone makes.  A lot of them AREN'T ironic.  A lot of them are just offensive for the sake of being offensive.  And even if these jokes are supposed to be satire, they aren't over-the-top enough for people to look at them as anything but part of the dominant narrative.  Thus, things like the "We Saw Your Boobs" song do more harm than good.  This is, of course, working under the assumption that it was supposed to be satire and therefore pointing out something negative about our culture.  The "We Saw your Boobs" song just reinforced those double standards in media, it wasn't turning any stereotype on its head or using any irony.  It was just a song about actresses flashing their breasts in movies.  Even if it was intended as something else, that's how I'm willing to be the majority of the Oscars' apparently enormous viewing audience saw it.

And yet again, I am the humorless feminist.  Well, you know what?  Throw that label at me, I don't care anymore.  Because this shit is harmful.  You can say "it's just a joke" as much as you want, but again, it's an acceptable joke in a world where these are acceptable beliefs to hold.  And until that's not the case, you have to fight the tiny battles and nitpick and do whatever you can to show how unacceptable it is that women who did films about rape have "hahahaha, boobs" jokes thrown at them while male actors get off scot-free both not having pressure to get naked and getting naked if they choose to.  Am I a killjoy?  Well, I'm sorry I ruined your little jokes, go ahead and oppress me some more.  Oh wait, you're already condoning that oppression.  
And yes, it is exhausting having this conversation over and over again.  This humor is seen as acceptable because the culture is acceptable.  But maybe he did succeed after all--I mean, I did write this blog post.  And i am one of hundreds, probably thousands, of bloggers writing about this.  Perhaps that was McFarlane's scheme all along, and I just didn't know it.  Maybe he is smarter than any of us.
I seriously doubt it, though.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 15

Day 15: Favorite Male Villain

This was another one, much like Least Favorite Female Character, where I was stuck with trying to choose a winner out of a pool of so many choices.  I have a few honorable mentions, but I ended up going with my gut reaction.

 Honorable mentions go to The Gentlemen (because they're the only villains I found genuinely scary in the whole series), The Judge (because "what does that do?") Sweet (because AWESOME) and D'Hoffryn (because he's actually pretty complex for being only in a few episodes)

I'm going to use Warren as a contrast again here.  You know how Warren was just a one-note misogynist without any background or complexity?   It was in my Least Favorite Male Character post.  Anyway, I feel like Angelus was truly the original misogynist Big Bad, and he did it RIGHT.  He had a history, he was compelling, and this made him scarier and more frustrating.

Angelus appears when Angel and Buffy have sex.  This is problematic in and of itself--he's clearly the representation of that guy that you sleep with and then turns into an asshole.  But taking that aside, we learn a lot about his past and his character after his soul is removed.  We learn that he was turned by Darla, that he did unspeakable things to women, and that he has no qualms about doing them again.  Much earlier on in the season while Angel is still around, we learn that Angelus was Drusilla's sire and that he drove her insane before he turned her.  Even more, she went to a convent and the day she took her vows he turned her.  In fact, the catalyst for Angelus gaining a soul and became Angel was him killing a Romanian girl and having a curse put on him. Angelus has issues with women.

In the second half of Season 2 we see him primarily prey on female victims.  He does torture Giles in "Becoming" but it is primarily to get information that he knows only Giles has.  Besides that, he watches Buffy and Willow in their rooms and murders Jenny Calendar.  He tries to edge in over Spike for Drusilla's affection, thus asserting an alpha-male dominance in his ownership of herHe also slut-shames Buffy, critiques her sexual prowess and uses condescending, gendered nicknames for her when they fight.

But we see him as Angel still.  He still has the same outward appearance as a character we saw as good for so long.  This is what makes Angelus complex--we are frustrated by him suddenly being entirely different.  And his level of attractiveness has always played into his success as a vampire--"the demon with an angel face"--so this isn't a situation that is limited to the audience or even to Buffy herself.

I always kind of hate that they gave Angel his soul back just as Buffy kills him.  This makes Buffy killing him not a triumph but a tragedy.  I know it needed to happen in order for Angel to continue as a character on the show, but I hated the timing of it.

Still, Angelus was interesting because he was so embroiled in emotion and complexity for the characters.  He was the other side of Angel's coin, but with the same face.  Plus, he was fun to watch.  One of the most fun villains to watch, in my opinion. 

We're starting to get into the really interesting prompts now, but I have a non-Buffy related post for later today.  There's something I need to get off my chest. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 14

Favorite Female Villain

The obvious answer for me is Anyanka, but I've covered that already, so we'll go with someone else.  I was torn between Dursilla and Glory--both interesting--but I decided, in the end, to go with the choice I could talk about more.


The first four seasons had male Big Bads, each of them supported in some way by a female villain.  The Master had Darla, peripherally.  Angelus was the Big Bad of season 2 but he was supported by Drusilla in his quest for the apocalypse.  The Mayor had Faith at the end of season 3.  In season 4 the Big Bad was Adam but he would not have existed without Maggie Walsh.  Women were always working in the background but never got to play the lead in the villainy department, until season 5.

Glory is a GOD.  She's not just a Frankenstein monster or an ascending demon or a sort of extra-badass vampire.  She's actually a deity.  And she's pretty badass.

Our first female villain is pretty stereotypically feminine.  She wears only dresses and heels, she talks constantly about shopping, talks in a very "Valley Girl" dialect, and thinks that bubble baths are one of the only good things about this dimension.  But she also kicks ass!

There's a caveat to this, of course.  That caveat is named "Ben".

Ben is the mortal conduit through which Glory comes to the world.  She can invade his body wherever he is at any time, which is kind of creepy and rapey honestly.   And naturally, the female GOD would need to have a male human form to use.  While Glory is practically impossible to defeat--I still kind of think the final fight scene in "The Gift" is selling short the power she was set up to have for the rest of the season--she has a mortal man who has that pain taken out on him.

Glory is really the only female Big Bad, with the exception of Dark Willow who I still have trouble calling the single Big Bad of Season 6.  And damn does she give the Scoobies a run for their money.  I would love the message that Glory sends--you can love makeup and heels and still be super strong and awesome--if that message weren't already the primary focus of the show.  I guess we get Glory's contrast in Dark Willow, but that's a whole other issue that I will DEFINITELY be covering later.

Glory is also straight-up entertaining.  I enjoy watching her because she's an interesting, sarcastic, catty villain.  I kind of wish that Glory and Cordelia could have met--that would have been the best scene ever. 

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 13

Favorite Potential Slayer

I don't even know why this is a prompt.  I have literally never met a Buffy fan that thought the plot line with the Potentials was any good or really liked any of them.  In exploring Tumblr most of the answers I saw were just "I hate them all but I'll pick Vi because she's played by Felicia Day!"  So I guess I'll make the unpopular choice...I really hate all the potentials but the least boring/annoying of them is clearly


I didn't say she WASN'T annoying, just the LEAST annoying.  I think Kennedy gets a lot of unjustifiable hate.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that the writers had her replacing a character that could never be replaced--Tara--and doing it far too soon at that.  By the time Kennedy comes along Willow is not yet at a point where "Come on, you need to move on already" is a sentiment she should be getting--her girlfriend was murdered and she went into Dark Magic Overload as a result, which she was still recovering from.  So I will give the fans a little credit for that, pairing Willow and Kennedy with each other was not exactly brilliant writing.  But neither was the entire Potentials arc, so...

The difference between Kennedy and every other one of the potentials is that she has a personality.  The rest of them basically sit around panicking and waiting to die and fighting the rest of the time as a single unit.  I actually almost picked Eve for this prompt despite the fact that we never actually meet Eve--we only see her as The First--because at least Evil Eve was interesting.  Molly, Rona, Chloe, Vi, Amanda...they're all just kind of there. 

Kennedy is the leader of the group.  She's the oldest and takes the leadership role willingly.  She's headstrong, stubborn, assertive, and often insightful.  No doubt all of those things can rub other people the wrong way, but I feel like Kennedy is what a potential Slayer should be--she has the attitude already, and she's cynical enough to get it without being too downtrodden.

She's also sexually aggressive with Willow, which isn't necessarily a great thing because of the state that Willow's in, but Kennedy does make it known how she feels and that's not a terrible thing.  She's also very supportive of Willow, which is a step in the right direction for someone who has been without much support for awhile.  

All in all, I think Kennedy is all right for a Potential.  I hate the Potentials in general because I hated the whole plotline of being the Slayer being a huge burden just to be treated like it was some great power that was being bestowed on the world in "Chosen".  I thought that the apparent fear that all of these young girls--and for the most part they are girls--were feeling at the very thought of being a Slayer set up that finale in a bad way.  Plus they were basically archetypes: the funky British Potential, the high-class British Potential, the black Potential, etc.--and never got any full characterization despite having a fairly long arc through the season.  With the exception, of course, of Kennedy.  Which I really don't mind considering she was clearly the most Slayer-y of the Potentials.

Ugh, that was hard to write.  Worst prompt ever.

Monday, February 25, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 12

Day 12: Least Favorite Episode

So I know I am so enormously behind at this point.  I spent the weekend finishing up Angel and I have many thoughts, so I'm going to commit to powering through this meme so I can get to 30 Days of Angel next.  Anyway, today is Least Favorite Episode, and it wasn't easy.

Normal Again

I didn't select any of the weird one-shot episodes like those from Season 1 or "Go Fish" from Season 2 or any of those because I think they have a place and I actually enjoy a lot of them.  This episode...I really just don't like it.

I recognize that it is a marvel of television writing.  It's incredibly well put together and the ending with all of its ambiguity is really brilliant.  It's a great episode.  But I have actually skipped it upon every rewatch because I just really HATE it.

Season 6 is a super dark season.  The darkest of all of them, in my opinion, and Season 2 is pretty damn dark.  Even "Once More With Feeling", which is a MUSICAL, is really dark in its themes and what it reveals about its characters.  We have Willow's magic addiction, Buffy's deep depression and her mutually abusive relationship with Spike, Giles leaving, Katrina's attempted rape and successful murder by Warren, and Dawn's kleptomania and general dysfunction.  "Normal Again" comes after an episode that would already on its own seem to be piling onto the darkness--the one happy beacon of Season 6 is the impending nuptuals between Xander and Anya, and when Xander leaves her at the altar it would seem to be just one step too far into Everything Going To Hell.  "Normal Again", one of the darkest episodes that COULD exist in this show, comes directly AFTER the wedding episode when the gang is still reeling from that particular plot twist.  It just seems like piling on. 

It also seems like piling on to remind us that Buffy was originally an only child.  And to bring back both of Buffy's parents, seeing as one is now dead and one estranged.  As if the hallucinations weren't enough on their own, we have to be reminded of the tragic aspects of Buffy's family life as well.  This episode just plays on everything bad about this season.

And by that I mean that we're reminded of Xander's mistakes, of Anya being incredibly wounded by being jilted, of Dawn's issues with her sister--who is now a surrogate mother--and her adaption to a difficult life, and of Buffy and Spike's tumultuous and problematic relationship.  There are no bases here that are not covered.  

And things only get darker after this, too!  Tara dies, Spike attempts to rape Buffy, Willow turns evil, Anya and Spike get it on, it's too much.  No one catches a break.  That's why, on rewatch, I think to myself "there's another set of bullshit depressing episodes coming after this and I just dealt with a slew of bullshit depressing episodes, this is too much the straw that breaks the camel's back" and I skip it. 

Also, from a Reading Too Much Into It feminist perspective, it seemed inevitable that the super-strong heroine of the show's sanity would be undermined and her abilities completely brought into question.  Clearly she's crazy!  That's the way this makes sense.  Because strong women aren't called crazy enough as it is.  We just needed to add possible credence to that paradigm.  And the show really does leave it entirely ambiguous as to whether or not Buffy is crazy--whether everything in the show is just a made-up delusion in her schizophrenic head.  It undermines everything, and that really pisses me off.

So there it is.  One of the most well-written episodes in the show and I really really hate it.  I'll do Day 13 later's gonna be a tricky one. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 11

Day 11: Least Favorite Romance

Man, I'm going to manage to piss off EVERY Buffy fan with this one.  But hear me out, I promise you'll understand.

Every Relationship Buffy Is Involved In

LET ME PREFACE THIS BY SAYING: I like Angel.  I really like Spike.  I do NOT like Riley and we didn't get to really find out enough about Parker for me to decide to like him or not.  I did not necessarily like those two first characters in their relationships with Buffy.  HERE IS WHY.

Look, I don't mind Buffy and Angel together at first.  But after they get all thrusty and sweaty and he turns evil...well, first of all he's a much more interesting character (Angelus over Angel 4eva) but we start to get into questionable territory.  First of all, it comes off as if the world is punishing Buffy for having sex--something Xander may outright do at some point in seasons 2 and 3, if I recall correctly--and it dooms her to a chaste relationship with Angel forever.  Plus then he turns evil and...well, kills and threatens her and her friends and lots of other people.  And then he tries to bring about the apocalypse.  And then she kills him and sends him to Hell.  And then he comes back, and then they get back together.


I'm sorry, no.  That's the point at which you say, "Y'know what?  I love you but you're a vampire and if we bone you're going to become evil and kill and hurt a bunch of people I care about again.  And I can't have all that after what you did to me before."  And he's a vampire.  Who can't go outside during the day.  And who drinks blood.  And who will never age.  And who will TURN EVIL IF HE HAS AN ORGASM.  At a certain point you realize that, as the wise Patty Smyth once said, "sometimes love just ain't enough."

Not to mention--and I can't emphasize this enough--HE KILLED AND TORTURED AND THREATENED HER AND HER FRIENDS.  And yes, the argument can be made that "well it wasn't Angel, it was Angelus, that's a whole other deal!"  To which I say--and I will emphasize THIS again--THAT ANGELUS WILL COME BACK IF THEY EVER HAVE SEX.  And as much as it might seem worth it to say "oh well, we just won't have sex", trust me, eventually you will want to have sex.  TRUST ME.

But in some ways this is a realistic first-time relationship.  Eventually you realize that it's not a feasible relationship and move on.  Of course it was Angel who condescendingly broke it off deciding that he wasn't good for Buffy and then skulked off to LA to be emo for awhile (yes, I'm on the fifth season of Angel now).  And after Angel breaks up with her, Buffy gives that whole "I feel like I'm dying, I can't breathe!" speech to Willow. 

And then she goes off to college and meets Parker, who...okay, who has not had a Parker?  Who has not met a guy that seemed charming and then he wanted to sleep with you and you regretted it?  I'm not necessarily saying we've all SLEPT with that guy (I haven't) but I'm saying that we've all met him and been charmed by him and then been ignored by him.  But Buffy just...doesn't handle that whole thing very well.  Once again, she is emotionally punished for having sex.  And while Parker is slimy--in a totally archetypical and boring way--it is totally normal for people in college to have sex with each other without it having to turn into a marriage proposal.  I give Buffy a big ol' pass here because she is still getting over Angel, but I do think the whole Parker thing is sort of poorly handled by the writers.

Then there's Riley.  Riley has problems with self-confidence.  He's also got this weird idea that his girlfriend can't be stronger than him because she's a girl and girls all need protection and chivalry and to be rescued and shit.  And he's BORING.  Oh God is he boring in comparison to every other character.  Now, yes, after all the weird crap Buffy had to put up with Angel someone boring is probably the right thing.  But not for as long as it went on.  And then he turns out to be a giant jerk in the end by basically cheating on her WITH VAMPIRES and then giving her an ultimatum.  And the fact that she chases after his helicopter...comoe on Buffy, so not worth it.

And then there's Spike.

I actually like a lot of the aspects of Spike and Buffy's relationship.  He does genuinely care about her, and she does lean on him in a way that is at times very unhealthy but at times very genuine.  But they do abuse each other.  Over and over again.  And then there's the rape.

As much as I could root for Buffy and Spike to eventually be good for each other, it's so hard to recover from the episode "Seeing Red".  And in all honesty I think it was sloppy writing.  The writers wanted Spike to get a soul eventually so they needed an event that would be a catalyst for that to happen.  And they used rape as a plot device and for later misdirection.  It backfired because so many people--myself included--could not recover from the image of Spike trying to sexually assault Buffy and think it was okay for her to still want to be with him (or even near him) after that.

 So then Spike gets a soul.  And he doesn't really change very much.  And while the speech that he gives to Buffy in "Touched" is sweet and pretty cool, I still can't fully accept any of it because I can't stop thinking about Spike pushing Buffy down onto that bathroom floor.  In the seventh season Buffy acts like an abused girlfriend in a lot of ways when it comes to Spike.  As much as I'd like to root for them because Spike does seem to genuinely care about Buffy and does want to support what she does as much as possible, they're both just not in a place where they can be good for each other throughout their relationship. 

She also exhibits a lot of the signs of being in an abusive relationship during season 6 when she's with him.  She is depressed and often upset about their relationship, she often just wants him to get away from her, she feels that she can't talk to her friends about her and Spike being involved.  She makes apologies for him constantly.  He isolates her from her friends--a good example being this scene from "Dead Things":

You see? You try to be with them.
But you always end up in the dark.
With me.
Spike appears out of the shadows. Buffy doesn't turn around as he slides in close behind her.

What would they think of you? If
they found out all the things you've
His hand moves down her body.

SPIKE (cont'd)
If they knew who you really were... BUFFY
(a whisper)
Stop me.
She doesn't. His overcoat swings in, obscuring the action as he gets her skirt up. Her breathing quickens. She gasps. Spike moans, his face consumed in the moment. Buffy grips he railing, her knuckles white.
She sees Xander, Anya, and Willow down on the main floor, dancing and laughing, totally oblivious. She closes her eyes, unable to look at them.

SPIKE (cont'd)
No. Don't close your eyes.
Buffy opens her eyes. Spike continues moving rhythmically behind her, his breath hot on her neck.

SPIKE (cont'd)
Look at them. That's not your world.
You belong in the shadows... with me.
Look at your friends... and tell me
you don't love getting away with this
right under their noses...

Creepy, and really abusive.  Spike is broken, because he's a vampire, and Buffy is broken for a million different reasons.  I want to root for them.  I really do.  But I can't.  It's another example of "sometimes love just ain't enough."

What I'm saying is, Buffy does not know how to pick 'em.  And that's a shame because she's a great character.  But the show tries to hammer home over and over again that love isn't compatible with being the Slayer, which is in itself problematic.  Buffy's strength, for some reason, seems to make her more likely to be involved in abusive relationships, which is not a great message to send. 

So there you have it.  I like these characters (for the most part) but I don't like them together.  Don't shun me!

I'll have another probably-not-that-controversial opinion for you later today.  Next up is "Least Favorite Episode".

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 10

Day 10: Least Favorite Season

There is very little contest here.  This is actually one of the easiest prompts I've done so far.

Season 4
 Honorable mention goes to Season 7, which was by far my least favorite during my first watch of the show but which grew on me during the rewatch.

Herein lies my list of reasons for disliking this season

1.  It's a major letdown.  The high school seasons are by far my favorites--I would still take season 1 over season 5, for the most part--and this following the epicness of season 3 was just disappointing.  It's disjointed, it falls away from aspects of the show I really enjoyed, and even the interpersonal drama that existed previously seems more boring here.  Thinking about watching "The Freshmen" after the blaze of glory that is "Graduation Day Part 2" just always sets off a sad trombone noise in my head.
2.  I hate Buffy's romantic relationships in this season.  Look, we've all met and been involved with a Parker.  I get it.  It's that introduction-to-college type thing.  But too much damn time was spent on it and it always seemed after-school-special-y to me.  And Riley...oh boy.  There's not much controversy to disliking Riley, as I think most Buffy fans do.  But man did he just...deflate everything.
3.  Most disappointing Big Bad of the whole series.  The Initiative had potential.  Maggie Walsh as a villain had potential but her arc got cut off before we could really learn about her motivations or backstory.  She was just kind of there.  And Adam was just lame.  He didn't seem insurmountable at all, he was a boring character and he was thrown in in the latter half of the season and poorly handled. 
4.  It was a low point for all of the romantic relationships in the Scooby Gang.  Xander and Anya have not truly developed into anything yet, Buffy and Riley get together and she becomes more boring for it, and the devastation that was the end of Willow and Oz...ugh.  Plus we don't quite get to see any of the truly adorable Willow/Tara-ness until season 5.  Giles had Olivia, but that was underused, if you ask me.
5.  Riley.  Riley seems like he would be a Republican, doesn't he?  I think maybe that's part of why I dislike him so much.  I mean, from a Midwestern state, devoted to the military, believes very much in traditional gender roles...has a thoroughly punchable face...
6.  I don't like "Restless".  Sorry.  Just don't.
7.  It just seems to lack the heart that the show had previously for me.  And I feel like the series regained its footing in season 5 for the most part but I just wasn't feeling it here, for the most part.

There are good things about season 4.  There are GREAT episodes, like "Something Blue" and "Hush" and "Fear Itself".  And I think that the tone of the show fit the way a freshman year at college feels--lost and scary and transitional.  It's just that I didn't really like that feeling when I WAS a freshman in college and don't really enjoy revisiting it.  I also think this show missed an opportunity to have a truly interesting first female Big Bad in losing Maggie Walsh.  Up until now, all of the season-long bad guys were male.  Fortunately we don't have to wait too long for Glory to show up in the next season, but we'll talk about that soon enough.

Okay, that's all I have to say about that.  Later today I will try to post my Least Favorite Romance thoughts.  I promise they aren't as predictable as you think.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 9

Day 9: Favorite Romance

Yikes this one is hard.  Honestly there are no good romances on this show.  At least, no romances that end ell and aren't tainted by the way they end.  I love Willow and Oz but how that ends really sucks.  Same wih Willow and Tara.  Xander has good relationships that he always screws up.  And each other Buffy's relationships have good aspects but are tainted in the end.  So which of these ill-fated romances to choose?  I know I'm Giles-heavy these days, but that won't continue forever.  So...

Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar

They respected each other.  They had a wonderful and playful repartee.  She was sexually aggressive in a way that charmed him but was not overwhelming.  And the electrical charge in those scenes when she was making innuendo towards him?  Damn.  

His relationship with Jenny was one of the last self-centered acts Giles ever committed. She got wrapped up in the disastrous consequences of his youthful black magic and still cared about him.  And when Jenny kept secrets from Giles and Buffy that led to Angel's turn back to evil, he eventually forgave her even though Buffy didn't.  Jenny was a breath of fresh air for Giles, a foil who loved Burning Man and technology and didn't mind teasing him about his tweed and uptight Britishness.  And yet, they cared about each other deeply.

This makes her death even more devastating.  The expression on Giles' face when he walks into his house, hearing the romantic music and seeing candles and rose petals, is adorable--the excitement mixed with adoration and anticipation--and it makes what he finds waiting for him soul-crushingly sad.  He immediately goes off to kill Angelus, the only time that he seeks revenge and violence on behalf of any individual except for Buffy.

And his love for her stays with him.  Jenny is the mask that Drusilla uses to torture Giles at the end of Season 2, and the only thing that could break him.  He loved her and, though he does have a seemingly casual affair with Olivia late in the series, Giles never really commits himself emotionally to anyone again for the rest of the series.  

Maybe this romance is only seemingly best because it never got to be carried through to its ultimate end.  Because of Jenny's death we never got to see what nightmares could have awaited them-what they would both have to compromise and sacrifice, the emotional turmoil that would have undoubtedly been in their future.  But the way it was, it was beautiful.  

To end on, this segment of adorableness/sexiness from Season 2 episode "The Dark Ages":

Oh! Thank you so much for loaning me
the Forrester book. It's wonderful.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

it was so romantic, so evocative.

That edition was my father's. I must
have read it 20 times.

You know how you have to dog-ear
your favorite pages so you can go
back to them?

You have to what?

Well, I practically folded back every
page. So I underlined the passages
I really wanted to discuss.


But then I spilled coffee on it and
I couldn't even read it.

Coffee. On the first edition.

I'm lying, Rupert. The book's fine.
I just love to see you squirm.

Oh. Well, I trust I gave good squirm.

Did anyone ever tell you you're kind
of a fuddy duddy?

Nobody ever seems to tell me anything else.
She moves closer to him.

Did anyone ever tell you you're kind
of a sexy fuddy duddy?

That part usually gets left out. I can't
imagine why.

This weekend --

Would you like to go out?

I think I'd like to stay in.
The implications of this are not lost on Giles. They lean in for a kiss -- their lips meet -- they get off about a second's worth before a door opens and kids are charging through them. They separate, her smiling ruefully, him nervously trying to maintain decorum.

This Saturday night, then?

Saturday night. I'll see if I can
make you squirm.
Did it just get hot in here?
Tomorrow I discuss my least favorite season.  Place your bets now.  

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 8

Day 8: Favorite Friendship

I'm a bit behind, so I'm going to get this one done today, and another one too, and try and catch up a little.  I promise it's not just me trying to bury the Xander hate-fest.

Giles and Buffy

I don't know if this technically counts as a friendship because it's a mentor/mentee relationship, but the relationship between Buffy and Giles is just so fantastic in so many ways.  From day one they have a great dynamic together.  I'm going to go through some of the Buffy and Giles Greatest Hits here.

In Season One we learn that one of Giles' greatest nightmares is letting Buffy die.  For so early on in the show, it's impressive that he is so connected to her.  In "Prophecy Girl", the finale of Season One, Giles finds a prophecy that says Buffy must face The Master and die.  After she--rightfully--freaks out about this, Giles decides that he will go up against The Master himself instead. 

Buffy isn't going to face the
Master. I am.
No you're not.

So I'm looking for a kid, huh?
He'll take me to the Master. GILES
Buffy, I'm not sending you out
there to die. You were right.
I've waded about in these old books
for so long I've forgotten what
the real world is like. It's time
I found out.
You're still not going up against
the Master.
I've made up my mind.
So have I.
Well, I made up mine first. And
I'm older and wiser and just do as
I say for once. All right?
It's not how it goes. I'm the
I don't care what the books say.
I defy prophecy. I'm going. Nothing you
can say will change my mind.
I know.
She punches his lights out. He goes down in a heap. She looks at Calendar a moment, then takes the cross Angel gave her from the table. She puts it on.

When he wakes up, tell him... I
don't know. Think of something
cool, tell him I said it.
 I love that.

In Season 2, Giles and Buffy really grow closer.  He tries his best to comfort her through the difficult points of this season (their exchange at the end of "Lie To Me" comes to mind) and after Jenny Calendar dies in "Passion" his commitment to Buffy is reaffirmed.  She is more than just the subject of his job, he has to protect her at all costs. He is kidnapped by Angelus and tortured in "Becoming" for his trouble.  Here's that exchange from "Lie To Me", because warm fuzzies:

I believe that's called growing up.

(little voice)
I'd like to stop, then. Okay?

I know the feeling.

Well, does it ever get easy?
Ford BURSTS from the grave, a snarling VAMPIRE, and lunges at Buffy -- who plants a stake firmly in his chest. She doesn't even look as he explodes into dust.

You mean life?

Yeah. Does it get easy?

What do you want me to say.
She thinks about it a moment.

Lie to me.

Yes. It's terribly simple.
As they start out of the graveyard:

The good-guys are stalwart and true.
The bad-guys are easily distinguished
by their pointy horns or black hats and
we always defeat them and save the day.
Nobody ever dies…and everybody lives
happily ever after.

(with weary affection)
Season 3 is a complicated time for Giles and Buffy.  I've already covered their dynamic in "Helpless", an episode that is essentially about their relationship.   Buffy also keeps Giles on after the Watcher's Council fires him.  And he fights the Council on behalf of her.  The expression of pride and joy on his face when she wins the Class Protector award in "The Prom" always makes me...get something in my eye.  And at the end of "Graduation Day Part 2" he actually fishes Buffy's diploma out of the wreckage of Sunnydale High.  Also here's that time Giles would instinctively kill a dude for threatening Buffy:

You never get even a little tired of
hearing yourself talk, do you?
He smiles at her, turns to Giles.

That's one spunky girl you've raised.
Giles says nothing. The Mayor's smile goes away.

MAYOR (cont'd)
I'm gonna eat her.
Giles is a blur as he lifts a sabre from the table and SHOVES it through the Mayor's heart. The Mayor stumbles back, sword sticking through him.

Season Four is kind of sad in some ways with these two.  There is no longer a high school where Giles can be the librarian, and Buffy goes off to college and doesn't need him as much anymore.  But even within the first episode we see her return to him--for comfort and normalcy more than anything--and their relationship is maintained throughout this season despite some bumps.  She even holds Thanksgiving dinner at Giles' house!  Of course the most important moment for their relationship in Season 4 comes in the episode "A New Man" in which Ethan Rayne turns Giles into a demon.  Giles is feeling replaced and obsolete after Buffy teams up with Maggie Walsh and the Initiative.  But when he is turned into a demon by Ethan Rayne and Buffy thinks he is dead, her true affection for him comes out.

(crossing to Giles)
Giles? You okay?

Embarrassed mostly. Buffy, I don't
know what to say. You know I'd
never intentionally--

I know. And I'm so sorry about,
you know, stabbing you in the heart...

How, how did you know it was me?

Your eyes. There's only one
person in the world who can look
that annoyed with me.

At the beginning of Season 5, Giles has every expectation of quitting and moving back to England because Buffy doesn't need him anymore.  But he is happy to stay after she tells him that she needs him to help her understand her past and that they have plenty of work left to do.  In this season Giles buys The Magic Box and uses the space to sell items as well as make a training room for Buffy.  When Joyce dies, Giles is the first one that Buffy calls and he is there for her and Dawn every second of the way.  He begins to serve as a sort of surrogate father figure for Dawn in this season as well.  Then, in "Spiral", he almost dies AGAIN for the cause.  

I'm sorry.

For what?

We should have stayed. If we had,
none of this --

(a beat)
You did... what was necessary. What
I've always admired.

Running away?

Being able to place your heart
above all else.
(a beat)
I'm so proud of you. How far you've
come. You're everything a Watcher -
everything I could have hoped for ...
Note how he separates himself from the idea of just "a Watcher".  Then, in The Gift, he does the dirty work he knows Buffy can't.  
Can you move?

Need... a minute… She could have
killed me.

No she couldn't. Never. And sooner
or later, Glory will re-emerge and make
Buffy pay for that mercy, and the world
with her. Buffy even knows that, and
still she wouldn't take a human life.
Because she's a hero, you see.
She's not like us.

Giles coldly clamps his hand over Ben's mouth and nose. Ben struggles feebly for a while. Then stops.
Giles' expression never changes.

Season 6 provides us with probably the most interesting dynamics between Giles and Buffy.  Here, Giles returns after Buffy comes back to life but when Buffy's depression makes her too reliant n him to do everything for her he decides to go back to England.  He has a very heartfelt song about this in "Once More With Feeling" and he leaves in the next episode, "Tabula Rasa".  After Tara dies and Willow turns evil he returns to England to save Willow--and the world.  

God. I don't know where to start- GILES
Well, Willow's clearly been abusing
the majicks-
She has. She was - and I barely even
noticed. Everything's been so...
Dawn's a total klepto, Xander left
Anya at the altar and Anya became a
demon again. And I - I'm so... I've
been sleeping with Spike.
Buffy stops. Can't believe she just blurted that out.
GILES stares at her for a moment.
Buffy becomes self-conscious, assuming he's disgusted with her. She's about to say something when, suddenly
GILES bursts out LAUGHING. 


Duct tape?
Over their mouths! Then I'm letting
the demon eat them-

Because they're just figments?
More laughing.

All of it! You, Sunnydale... And I'm
a nutcase in L.A.!
Of course. Why didn't we see it
After a few beats, they catch their breaths. 

GILES (cont'd)
Can you forgive me? BUFFY
For what?
I should never have left.
Oh, Giles... You were right to
leave. We're just... stupid.
They both chuckle faintly at that.

But I know you're all stupid. I
shouldn't have abandoned you. BUFFY
No. You were right about everything.
It is time I was an adult.
Sometimes the most adult thing you
can do is ask for help when you need
Now you tell me.

In the midst of such a bad situation, Giles and Buffy still manage to be candid with each other and remember how much they care about each other.  

I'm not going to go into Season 7 here because that, again, is another post for another time.  But I love these two interacting with each other.  It's sweet, sometimes hard, and very emotional.  They both help each other to grow massively over the course of the series and they also have some hilarious moments along the way.

Next, for an entirely different dynamic, I will give you my Favorite Romance. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 7

Day 7: Least Favorite Male Character

I'm warning everyone right now: THIS IS THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL POST I WILL WRITE.  This will wound a lot of you, I am sure.  But I have to say what's true to me, and though you may close this tab with disgust it must be said.  I await your fiery feedback.

Xander Harris

Almost everyone's answer for this is Warren Mears.  And that's understandable.  Warren is a misogynistic, sociopathc piece of shit.  But let me put it this way: A lot of times my male roommates will make misogynistic comments and jokes just to get me riled up because they know how feminist I am.  Eventually this stopped working on me because I got used to it, it was boring and I knew they didn't mean it.  This is kind of how I felt the writers were playing Warren.  He was so one-dimensional and misogynistic that he was simply there to rile up the fans and you were SUPPOSED to purely hate him.  He never did anything redeeming, he was just there to be a woman-hating asshole.
Xander, on the other hand, is the everyman character.  The audience is supposed to relate to him.  And there aer things about him that are relatable.  Who among us has not felt the anxiety of not knowing what we want out of life while all of our friends are off doing big, important things?  Xander also does some things that are brave and useful--he saves Buffy's life twice--and he does grow and develop in some ways over the course of the series.  BUT--and this is a but the size of Greenland--he also does some terrible things that he never sees consequences for.

This link is full of a lot of fantastic examples of why I dislike Xander.  It is not a complete list, but I would advise reading it.  I'm going to start in broader terms before I get into any examples (either used a that link or on my own), so here we go.

Xander is a Nice Guy.  He is attracted to Buffy right off the bat and for the entirety of the series he disapproves of her sexuality whenever it surfaces with anyone else.  Except when she dates Riley.  Remember that, we're going to come back to it.
Xander is paternalistic.  He bitterly judges Buffy's choices--and the choices of his friends--all the time because of the fact that he feels inferior.  He also treats Anya like a child a lot of the time because of her lack of awareness of social customs.  He does not recognize that she is likely smarter than he is, he simply takes the opportunity to feel superior to someone.
Xander is slut-shamey, not just to Buffy but almost constantly to Cordelia both before and during their relationship.  And when pointed at Cordelia it is almost always played off as a joke.

So let's get down and dirty here with some examples.  These are not in chronological order.

First of all, we hate Warren right off the bat when we find out he made himself a robot girlfriend/sex slave in the Season 5 episode "I Was Made To Love You."  But look at the way Xander responds after the gang finds out about April the robot girlfriend:

XANDER: She's a sexbot. (to Giles) I mean, what guy doesn't dream about that?
Giles walks off to help the customer.
XANDER: (wistfully) Beautiful girl with ... no other thought but to please you ... willing to do anything...
He looks up. Shots of the four girls staring at him. Xander laughs nervously.
XANDER: Too many girls. I miss Oz. He'd get it. He wouldn't say anything, but... (clears throat) he'd get it. 

Xander does seem to have a propensity for fantasies in which girls bend to his will, hence his spell in "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".  I'll just leave this here.

A love spell?

Just the basic. You know - can't eat,
can't sleep, can't breathe anything but
little old moi.

That kind of thing is the hardest. I
mean, to make someone love you for
all eternity -

Whoa. Back up. Who said anything
about eternity? A man can only talk
self-tanning lotion for so long
before his head explodes.

Then - I don't get it. If you don't want
to be with her forever - what's the

The point is - I want her to want me.
Desperately. Then I can break up with
her and subject her to the same hell
she's putting me through.

I don't know, Xander. Intent has to
be pure with love spells.

Right. I intend revenge. Pure as the
driven snow. Now are you going to
play or do we need to chat some
more about invisible homework?
Gross, right?
Now we come to the most damning moment in all of Buffy for Xander.  First, let's talk about the Season 5 episode "Into the Woods" (why does such a crappy episode have to be named after such a good musical?).  In this episode we find out that Riley has been "cheating" on Buffy by paying vampire women to suck his blood for money.  Buffy is, entirely reasonably, upset.  Then Riley blames her, saying that she hasn't been emotionally available enough and doesn't "need" him enough.  Let's keep in mind that she is not only dealing with having a sister that is actually a giant amalgamation of energy and not a real person but her mother was also just in the hospital with a brain tumor.  Anyway, on top of all this Riley says that the military wants him back and unless Buffy gives him "a reason to stay" he's leaving, right away.  Obviously Buffy does not take too kindly to this, and he leaves.

And then fucking Xander shows up.

This is gonna be a long excerpt.

Nobody told me anything, Buffy.
It's been right in front of my Xander
face. The guy would do anything
for you-

(cutting him off)
The guy got himself bit by
a vampire!

He lied to me. He ran around
behind my back and almost got
himself killed. And now he has
the nerve to tell me that he's
leaving with some covert military
operation at midnight, unless
I convince him not to.
No tell me you "understand" -
because I sure as hell don't.

Are you going to let him go?

It's not my decision if he wants
to take off--

Of course it is.

Well, that's not fair!

Who cares if it's fair? In about
twenty minutes Riley's gonna
disappear -- maybe forever --
unless you do something to
stop him.

What am I supposed to do?
Beg him to stay?

Why wouldn't you? To keep Riley
here, you wouldn't --

I don't even know who he is!
I mean he's... I thought Riley
was dependable --

Dependable? What is he, State Farm?

You know what I mean.

Yeah, I think you mean convenient.
I think you took it for granted that
he was gonna show up when you
wanted him to and take off when
you didn't.

Look who's talking! You've got
Anya following you around like a
love sick puppy --

Oh boy is this not about me --

Is she more than a convenience?
'Cause that'd be kind of a surprise.

If you don't want to hear what
I have to say, I'll shut up right now.

Good. 'Cause --

I lied. See, what I think?
You got burned with Angel.
Then Riley shows up-

I know the story, Xander.

But you missed the point. You
shut down, Buffy. And you've been
treating Riley like the rebound guy,
when he's the one who comes along
once in a lifetime. He's never held
back with you - he's risked it all -
and you're about to let him fly
because you don't like ultimatums?
He then proceeds to tell her that if she feels anything real for Riley she should go after him.  And then she does.  One of the worst moments of the entire series.
I've heard people posit that Xander's defense for Riley here--being extremely out of character for Xander--is because he sees Riley as a substitute for himself.  Angel was a vampire, a superhuman, something that Xander could never be.  But Riley is the same guy-next-door type.  Perhaps Xander was living vicariously through him.  
When Buffy and Riley are arguing she states that she is who she is and he's getting the package.  This isn't enough for Riley--he needs her to be different.  And it seems that Xander agrees with that assessment.  

I have heard the argument that Xander is the embodiment of why masculine gender roles hurt men, and that's a pretty interesting thought.  He did have a tough upbringing, and I get that his father was a scary figure for him and that's part of the problem.  But again, Xander is a character that we're supposed to celebrate and see as one of the main heroes.  

 There are a million other examples of Xander being a jerk, and there are examples of him not being horrible.  But these are some of the biggest reasons I have a problem with the characterization and framing of the resident Nice Guy of the Scooby gang.  Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, I'd love to hear it. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 6

Day 6: Favorite Male Character

Not even any contest.  And I promise it's for reasons other than just how incredibly attractive I find him.  And...this video:
Rupert Giles

Giles is such a wonderful example of how it is possible to be paternal without being paternalistic.  He was always there to teacha n guide Buffy, and while he pushed her into fulfilling her potential he always tried to let her make her own decisions.  In fact, in the sixth season he realizes that Buffy needs to learn to do things on her own so that she can grow and he leaves so that she can develop skills without leaning on him.

He also has an interesting past as a crazy troublemaking demon-worshipper which he eventually overcame.  When it resurfaces as an issue in "The Dark Age" he tries his best to handle it himself and keep his watchee out of it.  Also in "Band Candy" he listens to Cream and smokes cigarettes and does Joyce on a police car.  Twice.  Swoon.

Giles is not only a father figure for Buffy, either--he serves as a paternal force for all of the Scoobies.  Think about it.  Buffy's dad is practically out of the picture for the whole series, Xander's parents are often referenced as being scary and dysfunctional, and we never hear about Willow's father at all.  As far as even the secondary Scoobies, Anya has no parents, Oz's are never discussed and Tara's is crazy and chauvinistic in his one appearance.  Giles has an especially tight relationship with Willow.  He takes her back to England with him after she recovers from her dark magic overload so that she can recover.  He also knows how to be tough with her when need be.

The amazing thing is Giles' willingness to break with the Watcher's Council, the patriarchal organization discussed in my post on Season 3.  In "Helpless" he objeccts to the test and then makes it invalid, saying he'll do whatever need be done to stop it.  After this he remains Buffy's Watcher in a more personal capacity even after she herself breaks from the Council.

And he IS a personal figure for her.  He is the first person Buffy calls after she finds her mother dead in "The Body", and he reacts in an almost equally shocked and frantic way as Buffy herself did.  HE clearly grows to love Buffy and her entire gang.

His position also forces him to sacrifice his own personal life, to a degree.  He loves Jenny calendar but must face her death as maturely as possible.  He is tortured more than once in his capacity as Watcher.  Even his relationship with Olivia is interfered with--she visits him during the episode "Hush" and sees The Gentlemen come past his window.   But his devotion never, ever wavers. 

Giles never let me down once through the entire series.  He always has good one-liners, causes some of the biggest tearjerkers of the whole show and makes all of the other characters better.  He is the Mr. Feeney of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and then some.  And that is why he is my favorite.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 5

Day 5: Least Favorite Female Character

This one is really hard.  one thing that Buffy does really well, at least feminism-wise, is making good female characters with strong story arcs.  The male characters...well, that's another story that I'll write about over the next two days.  But seriously, I actually had to make a bracket for this one and even then I wasn't satisfied with my choice.  So I'm going to go with a kind of obvious choice.

Amy Madison
Honorable mentions go to Harmony Kendall (she's just so annoying), Maggie Walsh (probably won't be if her story arc hadn't been truncated) and the villain that Mrs. Landingham from The West Wing plays in "Where The Wild Things Are".  Also, I wanted to write this peace on Dark Willow of the last three episodes of season 6 but I was told by several people that she can't actually be separated from Willow as a whole.

Amy isn't just boring, she's kind of problematic.  We see her first in the third episode of the entire series where her mother--a former beauty queen wanting to revisit her glory days--uses witchcraft to switch bodies with Amy.  She shows up again on a number of occasions, using magic to turn herself into a rat to avoid being burned at the stake in "Gingerbread" and then continuing to be that rat for three years.  Willow keeps her for all of that time and finally brings her back to human form after Willow and Tara break up.  Then, with no real reason whatsoever, Amy becomes friends with a magic "dealer" and tempts Willow back into using magic.  After Willow finally says they can't do any of those things anymore she casts a spell on Willow in Season 7 that drives the plot for an episode.

And that's the thing--Amy doesn't really exist past the third season as anything other than a joke or a plot device.  She has little motivation, is not really characterized, but is somehow evil despite being portrayed as a sympathetic character during the high school years.  Then again, being turned into a rat might do that to you.

There are lots of characters that are used for plot devices but most of them aren't supposed to have an "arc" or as much screen time as Amy does.  I feel like the audience is supposed to care about her but I just really can't find it in me.  She clearly had a difficult childhood--dad that left, crazy mom--but we don't really get to see any of that come to fruition in a meaningful way.  Which is disappointing--I think a lot could have been done here.  I guess you can't develop every side character.

This is a short one for today because...well, there's not all that much more to say.  Trust me, the treatises I'm going to write in the next two days will definitely make up for it.  Tomorrow is Favorite Male Character.  I'm sure a lot of you can hazard guesses on my selection.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 4

Day 4: Favorite Female Character

This was not easy.  There are very few female characters in this show that I don't love at one point or another.  The character I'm going with may surprise you, but hear me out.


Honorable mentions go to Jenny Calendar, Tara, and Katrina Silber (remember her?)

First and foremost, Anya is hilarious.  She has some of the best one-liners in the entire series, and I never get sick of the running joke of her hating bunnies.  She's also one of the most sexually liberated women on this show, though the reason for that is debatable.

Anya starts out, interestingly, as an example of two anti-feminist paradigms.  When we first meet her, she is Anyanka, a millennium-old vengeance demon who specializes in helping women scorned get back at their exes (always male, the heteronormativity of which bothers me but that's another post for another day).  This character is practically a caricature of the man-hating, ball-busting feminist.  She believes that men get what they deserve when they're horribly disfigured for hurting women, and she's the strong female demon who's going to dish out that retribution.  Thus, she learns to hate men--in fact, her own revenge against her philandering husband back in the ninth century gained her the demon job in the first place.

After Anya becomes human and mortal, she does a kind of 180.  She pursues Xander, first asking him to the prom at the end of Season 3 and then approaching him for sex in season 4, pushing until she becomes the archetypical clingy girlfriend.  She becomes obsessed with being his girlfriend and connects with his friends and his life without much of a live for herself outside of him.  Of course, circumstances prevent much else--she's been literally living in different worlds for centuries, and Xander is the eyes through which she sees the human world (what a shame that he abuses that power and trust by treating her like she's an idiot so much of the time).  At the beginning of Season 5, in the episode "The Replacement", Anya has a bit of an existential crisis--realizing that she is now mortal and only has a finite lifespan she realizes that she wants a very traditional life with a house, a marriage and children.  But there is something here that I think gets overlooked.

Anya is a perfect example of patriarchal socialization.  She came from a different culture--before she was a demon she was apparently Viking--and when she became mortal again she was a blank canvas.  This is why Xander had to so frequently condescendingly coach her on what to do in social situations.  In the episode "Real Me", Anya is playing the Game of Life with Xander and Dawn when this exchange occurs:
Look at this. Now I am burdened with a
husband and several tiny pink children and
more cash than I can reasonably manage.

That means you're winning.


Yes. Cash equals good.

Oh, I'm so pleased! Can I trade in the
children for more cash?

Is it a coincidence that "The Replacement", where Anya realizes that she is mortal and suddenly wants to have children and a home, is the very next episode after this one? Having just become a human a year and a half before, Anya absorbs knowledge about what is expected of her and not necessarily what she wants for herself.  But at the same time, she also becomes independent--in Season 5 she starts to work at The Magic Box and even becomes a part owner of the shop later on in the series.  Despite this, her identity still revolves around Xander.  Could this be a comment on societal expectations of women?

Everything changes at the end of Season 6 and beginning of Season 7.  When Xander leaves her at the altar she is once again left without an identity, and so she goes back to being a vengeance demon.  Only this time her heart isn't in it--after spending time being human a part of her as become empathetic and compassionate.  This all comes to a head in the Season 7 episode "Selfless".

This episode is interspersed with flashbacks.  The first is to back to the 9th century where we see her as Aud, married to a man named Olaf. He clearly gives her an identity here, saying that she will "always be Aud, my beautiful girl."  In the next flashback we see Aud again after she has turned Olaf, who cheated on her, into a troll.  The ruler of the vengeance demons, D'Hoffryn, shows up and tells her that she isn't Aud, she is "Anyanka, a vengeance demon, her true self."  She resists this at first but then succumbs to it, accepting her new identity.  The last of these identifying flashbacks comes as a return to an unseen moment in "Once More With Feeling".  And yes, I am psyched that I get to use this video (once again, couldn't find one with the actual video but just imagine Anya going around doing domestic things like turning down the bed and removing a sleeping Xander's shoes and hat).

Here she identifies herself as "Mrs. Harris".  In fact, she doesn't even care about her own name--"Mrs. Lame-Ass Made Up Maiden Name...Harris."  She doesn't even seem that thrilled about the idea of marriage--the whole second verse of this song comes off as her trying to convince herself that it's a good idea--but she is thrilled at the idea of having this solid identity. 

Anya is now too human to be a vengeance demon.  After massacring a room full of frat boys she is so alarmed and sickened by what she did that she is practically depressed.  But if she no longer has Xander to give her identity, and she can no longer cut it as a vengeance demon, what is she?  

Xander -- You can't help me. I'm not
even sure... there's a "me" for you
to help.

But in the end she does accept the price of death to undo what she did to the frat boys and to make herself not a vengeance demon anymore.  Unfortunately D'Hoffryn kills Halfrek instead--something I'm going to come back to later--and Anya lives.  The end of this episode leaves her aimless and uncertain as to who she is.  And yet, she does not turn back to the safe and easy arms of Xander so that she can once again define herself as his partner.  She wanders off into the darkness alone--a pretty blatant metaphor.

And she does develop a self for the first time really in this season.  She and Xander have one more passionate romp on Buffy's kitchen floor later in the season after which they agree they have finally moved on from each other.  And then in the final battle she fights, instead of running away the way she did at the end of Season 3.  She truly becomes a part of the group on her own terms and her own merits.  She even stands up to Buffy at the end of "Empty Spaces."

There's a prompt later on in this series that asks for a thing that happened that you wish didn't.  I'm going to give my first choice away right now and write on something else then.  I wish Anya hadn't died.  I wish that the writers would have left open the possibilities for her finding herself and doing big things in the world.  I feel that, given some time to find herself, Anya would have been quite a force.  It wasn't that she was without talents--she was always far more intelligent than anyone gave her credit for, she had financial drive and sense, and she obviously has a wealth of experiences--she just didn't have any reason or confidence to do much with her gifts.  I think she got shortchanged in the end.

I will leave up to you, dear reader, to decide whether or not Anya can be seen as a personified metaphor for the difficult road women have to walk to find themselves in a world where they are expected to define themselves by the men around them.  I think she can be read that way. I also think she deserved better in the end.

I'll be back tomorrow with my Least Favorite Female Character.  Which means I have 24 hours to decide who that is.  A March Madness-style bracket may be in order for this one.