Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Buffy and the WB: A Study In Sexual Morality

I recently began watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. I know, I'm a little late in the game here, as the series began in 1997. Unfortunately, however, I never really watched the show when it was actually on TV. I erroneously believed that the Kristy Swanson/Luke Perry Buffy movie that came out in 1992 was the "real" Buffy and that any TV spin-off was likely to be even more lame than the movie. (I know, blasphemy!).

But now, having actually watched the first 4 seasons over the course of the past few months, I see the error of my ways.

Not only are there feminist themes galore in many Buffisodes, but our hero is a woman. Women in Buffy do not play the token "love interest" or "victim" roles that used to be so common in media portrayals of women. And indeed, this was creator Joss Whedon's intent. He wanted to get away from "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie" and he wanted "to subvert that idea and create someone who was a hero."

But, as male Buffy fans probably would like to note, having a female hero is not to say that men are unimportant in Buffy. They're not. They are father-figures, love interests, heros themselves, and yes, victims and villains too.

[You will notice from my citations that there is an entire Buffy universe within the pages of wikipedia, proving perhaps the obsession and loyatly the show breeds!]

And then, of course, there's the show's treatment of sexuality. It was one of the first TV shows where one of the main characters was a lesbian. And, in pre-L Word days, we women-folk on anything other than the hetero end of the sexuality spectrum were starved for any positive representation of ourselves in the media. (On second thought, we still are.) Sure, we had Xena: Warrior Princess, where our female hero had an ambiguous relationship with her sidekick Gabrielle. And yes, we appreciate the winks that the writers threw in for us when they could get away with it, but an open and honest portrayal is different. A portrayal that acknowledges the character's non-hetero sexuality affirms the lives and sexualities of its non-hetero viewers. And for non-straight people growing up in isolated and rural areas, the ability to see yourself reflected on TV is meaningful.

As sensitive as the Buffy's treatment of sexuality was, however, I would like to raise some issues that reflect more upon the network than upon Buffy's writers and producers.

What follows is a brief study in sexual morality. Specifically, it's a study in the types of sexual behavior that are considered "more" moral than homosexuality. See, when Willow, Buffy's lesbian character, came out and entered into a relationship with Tara, the two showed no overt signs of being in a relationship. Okay, by that I mean, for as much as the other characters get to make out and have sex, I want to see some woman on woman action.

Apparently, this no-lesbian-action rule becomes null in the 5th season when Buffy moves from the WB to a more lenient network:

"Broadcasting constraints from the WB meant that, unlike the heterosexual characters, Willow and Tara were not allowed to be shown in any sexual scenes. The couple did not have their first onscreen kiss until the Season Five episode, "The Body", almost a year after their relationship began. This changed significantly when Buffy switched networks to the more lenient UPN, with Willow and Tara shown kissing, sharing a bed, and even having metaphorical oral sex (cf. "Once More, With Feeling")."

Can't wait.

I mean, um, how very open-minded and tolerant of UPN.

Anyway, here is my list of WB-constrained sexual behaviors on Buffy that are "more" moral than Willow kissing her girlfriend:

1. 17-year-old Buffy (a minor) allowed to kiss her 300+-year-old vampire demon boyfriend Angel (Surely that counts as some form of necrophilia!)

2. Buffy allowed to have sex with her 300+-year-old vampire demon boyfriend. Now, to be fair, we don't see actual sex scenes from this occurrence of premarital sex. But we do see little snippets and flashbacks.

3. Willow allowed to kiss her boyfriend Oz during her pre-lesbian days and share a bed with him several times.

4. Buffy allowed to have premarital sex with her boyfriend Riley. Including the episode "Where the Wild Things Are" in which they were sort of addicted to having sex with each other and were seen throughout the episode rolling around in the sack together.

5. Xander and his girlfriend Anya's (who is a former demon) allusions to having (frequent) premarital sex.

6. Oz cheating on Willow while in his werewolf state with Veruca, who is also a werewolf. (I think that counts as some sort of bestiality...).

7. Buffy's mom and Giles making out and having sex on the hood of a car.

All that action going on and us non-heteros (and hetero viewers who would enjoy that sort of thing) get nothing from Willow and Tara!!

Anyway, I'm sure there are more. Buffy fans, feel free to point them out. If anything, I hope this exercise helped demonstrate the absurdity of puritanical values when it comes to gayness.

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