Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reading Buffy Synoptically: Musings on Sex and Relationships in Buffy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show which portrays high school and college life and sex and relationships, those omnipresent aspects of high school and college life, as just another aspect of human life in general and as just another aspect of our Scoobies lives in particular.

Xander is, as the show makes clear, obsessed with sex, at least in his high school and early post-high school years (“Ear Shot”, “Becoming, Part 1” with the wonderful linoleum makes me think of sex line). But he doesn’t remain locked in a holding pattern where every other thought he thinks concerns sex. Like all of the Scoobies he grows and changes over the course of the show. Where once he obsessed on praying mantis woman (“Teacher’s Pet”), fell in love with Inca mummy girl (“Inca Mummy Girl”), had a short term relationship with sometime Scooby Cordelia Chase (from What’s My Line Part 1 to “Lovers Walk”), and had a brief flirtation with fellow Scooby Willow (“Homecoming”, by “Lovers Walk”), he finally couples with Anya, an ex-vengeance demon and patron of scorned women (“The Prom”, “The Harsh Light of Day”), and has what appears to be a genuine and sexually fulfilling relationship with her even though, like almost everything on Buffy, this doesn’t mean eternal TV happiness for them (from “The Harsh Light of Day” through “Hells Bells”).

In Buffy sex is just another aspect of Scooby lives. And have sex they do. Willow has sex with Oz (“Graduation Day, Part 1”, “Graduation Day, Part 2”), Tara (“Who Are You?”), and Kennedy (“Touched”). Buffy has sex with her longtime boyfriend Angel (“Surprise”, “Innocence”), with Parker, the devotee of the pleasure principle (“The Harsh Light of Day”), with her secret agent world domination manly man Riley (much of season four), and with her vamp boy toy Spike (Season six beginning with “Smashed”). While the sex Buffy and Angel have has nasty consequences—it activates a vengeance curse placed on him by Gypsies turning him into the brutally evil Angelus when he experiences this true moment of happiness--their sex is not condemned. The problem, of course, with the Buffy/Angel relationship is that Angel is a vampire while Buffy is the Slayer and that Angel is substantially older than Buffy. He is, in other words, exactly the wrong guy for her, something Buffy’s mom Joyce, vampire Spike, and Season three’s “Big Bad” Mayor Wilkins recognise before she does (“Lovers Walk”, “Choices”, and “The Prom”).

Buffy is not the only one of our protagonists with relationship problems. Scooby Xander’s problem is his past, especially his dysfunctional family past and the effect this has on his relationship with Anya. His dreary family background has made him fearful of what his life will be like and it has made it difficult for him to commit to coupling with anyone (“Restless” and much of Season six culminating in “Hell’s Bells”). He also remains deeply in love with Buffy and deeply jealous of anyone else who loves her (“Becoming, Part 2”, “Entropy”).

Sex and girls or boys, of course, are not the only things the Scoobies think about or are involved in. Yes they think about sex. Yes they have sex. Yes their sex has consequences. Yes they reflect on their failed relationships, sometimes even learning and growing from them. But they also worry about the evil in their midst. They worry about the next apocalypse they might face. And they worry about their mundane and not so mundane futures.

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