exactly that

Buffy is So Whiny…

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg as Buffy and Dawn SummersExcept, anyone who has spent five minutes speaking to me knows that I don’t really think that at all.

And yet, I find that is a really popular opinion, and it begs the question, why that is?

Because I just don’t see the fly in the ointment logic, at least not in the sense by which people are trying to sell it to me.

Sure, I have had my fair share of “SHUT UP BUFFY” moments (*coughs* Angel Season 01 “Sanctuary” *coughs*), but I think that most of us could use a nice resounding STFU when we are behaving badly every now and again by our friends. But usually, this whole “Buffy is whiny” nonsense comes with a whole mess of evidence that would get Batman a hug and another comic book spin off. (What? Your parents were gunned down in an alley? I bet that really hurt and gave you a lot of emotional stuff to work through!)(But NOOOO! Buffy! You can’t be upset about YOUR MOM DYING!) (Or YOU DYING!)

During our recent Summer of Buffy re watch, we got to round-about Season Five, where people tend to start thinking that Buffy “just isn’t growing as a person” or that she “isn’t written well anymore”. I hear that is where the writing took a crap (I beg to differ), and that it must be because Joss was just stretched too thin with too many shows on his plate (once again, differ). I’ve also heard that it was because he let too many chicks to too much of the writing, but it didn’t seem to be any more than usual. In fact, any changes that were made seemed to be things I found favorable. We had the introduction of Glory, my favorite Big Bad of the series. We had Season 2 of Angel working hard, spinning into the deep dark recesses of Angel’s history with Darla. We saw the introduction of Jane Espenson to the mix. Production-wise, life was great! (Except that it was ALL MARTI’S FAULT!)

Buffy has been doing the dance for five years. She has been taking the strides and getting about as many kicks as she has given in the game of Life as thanks for carrying on her Duty as Chosen One. She got nice big death traps for her 16th and 18th birthdays, when most girls her age and demographic were going through regular milestones like tampons and Prom dates. She carried the lives of most of her graduating class through to adulthood and was thanked with a nifty toy surprise.

She was tricked and bossed around by a Watchers’ Council out of touch with the job she stuck her neck out for every day and yet whom expected her to continue putting herself and her family at risk to continue doing.

In Buffy’s world, life was starting to come apart at the seams. Buffy finds that she suddenly has an adolescent sister, and as added fun, that sister is a mystical key given to her to care for. That key is coveted and hunted by a timeless and greatly worshiped goddess hell-bent on using it to open a portal to a world that will suck this one into oblivion, killing her unknowing sister in the process.

Buffy’s mother also becomes ill, getting incredible headaches, and it turns out she has a brain tumor. Buffy moves home to care for her and her sister. Suddenly, she is thrown into the adult situation of answering medical questions, and insurance questions and making sure that Dawn is fed and tucked in. And also not scared that their mother is dying. Like the adult that she isn’t sure she is ready to be.

And then their mother does die.

Suddenly Buffy is the mother-figure. And the Slayer. And still protecting Dawn because the world just doesn’t stop trying to find your kid sister who is a mystical key just because you are grieving the loss of your mother while carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Even her dad is in Spain with his secretary.

So who do you turn to if you are Buffy?

Your Watcher? Who just opened his magic shop?

Your boyfriend, who has become an emotional black hole after losing his superpowers? He can’t deal with your brick wall of needing to be strong for everyone else, so he becomes a risk addict, seeing out blood-sucking vampires for fun while you are mopping up your mother’s vomit. He never got over his jealousy of your vampy ex-boyfriend, so since he can’t use his words and talk about he feels, he has to be sucked on or give ultimatums. It’s now, or deep-undercover military ops.

Your friends, who are also caught up in worry about your mother, and helping you take care of your sister so you can care for your mom? Nice Guy Xander who is there to tell Buffy what she wants and badger her about every bad decision she has ever made (…you’re about to let him go because you don’t like ultimatums…)?

It seems to me, that if we had someone, say Spiderman, Batman, Wolverine…who started going through the same thing, they would have legitimate pain. Their need to always be on top of things, their need to stay strong is admirable, and when they crumble under the agony of emotional pain… well it is understood as the regular pain of being a misunderstood superhero.

But this girl?

She’s whiny.

She literally gives her life to protect the people she loves (twice); she trades hers for Dawn’s. Her friends pull her back from the dead, from a place where she was at peace after all the fighting.

But she’s whiny.

Being alive hurts her, and her friends give her shit about it, wanting her to bounce right back to happy-go-lucky life. A life where she has to take up the fight again instead of letting someone else do it. A life where the crushing world of responsibility comes crashing down on her again.

But she’s whiny.

She has to back-burner college and get a crappy minimum-wage job to take care of her sister and home, while Dawn rebels by shop-lifting, and all the while everyone is watching her as if she is going to break.

But she’s whiny.

She is shamed for seeking solace in a less-than-savory relationship with Spike, despite the fact that it seems to give her what she wants. It gives her comfort, and then it is used against her as if it should be a means to discredit her.

But she is whiny.

I find it telling the way that we are willing to hold Buffy to a different standard. She is a different sort of superhero than we are used to. She is young, and a woman, and was the longest superhero of her kind on the telly. But it just doesn’t seem that we are willing to give her the human space of emotion to hurt the way we do some of our other superheroes.

Why is that?

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Comments on: "Buffy is So Whiny…" (44)

  1. This is interesting. I feel like my perspective on “Into the Woods” changes every time I see it. Sometimes I’m Buffy and I’m emotionally shut down and not ready for a relationship. Sometimes I’m Riley and feeling unloved and unappreciated and turning to other sources for affection and validation. Sometimes I hate Riley. Sometimes I hate Xander. Sometimes I’m angry at Buffy for giving Riley the short shrift. Sometimes I cheer that Riley is leaving and we can finally move on to other plots.

    My beef isn’t so much with season 5 Buffy, or even early season 6 Buffy, as what comes after. After she gets wrenched back from the grave, she’s understandably depressed and even suicidal. But I feel like the show never moves beyond that, never gives Buffy a reason to feel happy to be alive again. Maybe that’s realistic, but I feel like it made Buffy’s character less dynamic, and I got sick of it. In the first few seasons, despite the awful things that happen to Buffy and her friends, she’s still the upbeat “valley girl” and always ready with a snarky quip. I liked that about her. It was the contrast evident in the title of the show, the fact that “Buffy,” this typical teenager, would be fighting the forces of darkness. Later on there wasn’t that contrast. Maybe that’s just part of growing up, but it’s like if snarky, upbeat Peter Parker grew up to be dark, angsty Batman. It seems like a fundamental change in the character rather than a natural progression.

    I wish they had gone in a different direction with the Spike thing and made Spike a really good thing to her, someone who really loved her (I think he did) and was even willing to change his ways for her, and that would give her a reason to be happy again. But instead they had her always be ashamed of her relationship with him, always feeling like it was just something that came from her depression and had no deeper meaning, and then they had him attempt to rape her, and… I vastly prefer the fanfic about those two, is what I’m saying.

    I also really hated the characterization of Dawn. Dawn is ALWAYS portrayed as a whiny kid, even though she’s ALMOST THE SAME AGE as Buffy was when the series started. I wish she had been allowed to be more involved in the gang’s adventures, without always being the one who carelessly screwed things up. Or at least, I wish Buffy had recognized that she herself was only 15-16 when she first became the Slayer, so maybe she should be giving Dawn a little more slack.

    • Hmm. That is a lot of insight to take on in one comment, so I will try to chunk it up (but psst: Peter Parker was Spiderman. That’s OK. All those dudes are a blur to me at times, and I only know the basics):

      I was actually watching “Into the Woods” as I wrote this last night, because that was where we are in our re watch. I go through waves with my relationship with Riley as a character. Part of me wants to love him because he is the “good” relationship Buffy has. Part of me hates him because of the way he can’t self validate and the way he can’t define himself away from his superpowers or being in a relationship. That caused him to be emotionally needy just when Buffy couldn’t handle that (even if she couldn’t see what was going on through her layer cake of important stuff already going on), and to add a kick to the hornets’ nest he also couldn’t provide any emotional stability for Buffy. When she dug her heels in so she could, once again be strong, he pulled away, and made it all about him.

      The S6 story arc and into S7, post death 2, which is what you are talking about, are a separation from Buffy’s “perky teenager” years. I see more tolerance for Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker when they slip into this very behaviour pattern — and they surely do according to my superhero loving partner and friends — but I see so many people with the same thoughts as you. I seldom see people refer to Peter Parker being angry, dark Spidey and saying “Gee, he’s so whiny, I’m just sick of it!”. In addition to growing into early adulthood (the age where I suddenly became a mother too young) Buffy is ripped from a peaceful eternal rest, and thrown into young motherhood, back into violent slaying, once again protecting her friends (how Will Not Appreciate what she is going through, as usual), three jerks who are frankly just messing with her, and this mantle of responsibility. S6 and S7 Buffy also showed, very well in my opinion, a spiral into a dark place reminiscent of years of Putting Up With Bullshit and now she has come to wonder if it will ever end. Because Death certainly doesn’t stick so that isn’t going to work. What is there to look forward to? Her best relationship went down the drain so she is going to spend her time figuring out how to ride it out, because obviously, she is stuck here. I wouldn’t say “suicidal”, because there are plenty of ways for a Slayer to off herself if she really believed death would stick (which I think Buffy is hopeless in this department). But it is definitely a dark theme the decided to follow. I can see how the shift would be off putting for fans who just wanted to see a young girl quip and who couldn’t handle one dealing with serious depression, but frankly, this is a great depiction of a woman dealing some serious issues she feels are out of her hands now.

      I would agree that they could have gone a different direction with Spike, except that I think that my position is they didn’t have to start things with a rape. They had already shown a bond between them. They had already shown a connections on Buffy’s darker side. I don’t see why Spike had to be “a really good thing to her”…because I think he was exactly what she needed: Solace. He was a release of whatever she was feeling and perhaps even just a sexual urge that needed filling. I think really some viewers had a problem seeing a woman fill that need in such a dark way (the scene in the house where they level the house is to me…well kind of hot) and I always have to ask myself why that is. Why can’t we watch a woman (especially a young woman whom we think should be in a “good relationship” just scratch a dark itch? I believe that Spike loved her… not that it really mattered as far as sexual itches go IMO… but he went and got himself a soul over the deal which sparked a lot of fan debate over “who was more of a champion” since Spike did it voluntarily and Angel had it thrust upon him and ran with it. Spike and Buffy’s relationship had some good seeds in it, and he sacrificed a lot for her in the end (and wound up on Angel as a result! Which was win!).

      I agree that it is odd that at Dawn’s age she should be shown as more grown up… But I see that Dawn is supposed to be a) the youngest b) coddled c) innocent of everything due to her role as the key. It is a dynamic (albeit an extremely exaggerated one) of being the Baby of the Family. Dawn comes into her own in S7, a little later than Buffy did, which I think is about appropriate for someone who was a protected as Dawn’s character was. I had a lot of trouble swallowing Dawn’s character at first for the same reasons. But I tried to view her in terms of my own dynamic between myself and my brother (there is about the same age gap there). Dawn was Buffy’s responsibility, and Buffy becoming essentially Dawn’s mother so young (and protector earlier than that), I think that Buffy reacted the only way she knew how: hyper protective. Tara was a huge part of allowing Dawn to come into the world, and I think she was great in that sense after they moved into Joyce’s house, to help temper Buffy’s ultra-protectiveness. But when protective your little sister means protecting the world’s existence, that is probably difficult to let go of. Then, when keeping her safe is your mother’s dying wish, it probably plays in there. They are all subtleties I can feel in the writing in the late seasons. A realness that made it poignant to me, as someone who became a mother about the same age that Buffy did.

      I like these conversations. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope I didn’t get too long-winded!

      • Oh, I know Peter Parker is Spidey. That’s what I was saying, is I usually associate Spiderman with quips and jokes, while I associate Batman with angst and darkness. But I know Spidey has some dark days too.

        The “suicidal” comment was a reference to how she almost let herself burn up during the musical episode. That was the one instance I remember seeing of it. I think the show depicted her depression well. I just wish they had also shown her being able to work through it and find some moments of happiness and inner peace.

        I agree that Spike was exactly what she needed, but the *show* was never on the side of them being together, I feel like. Buffy was always kind of disgusted with herself for giving in to her attraction to him, I think. I’m not saying it needed to be all rainbows and happiness, but I was dissatisfied with where they took it. If Buffy had been able to admit to herself that she liked Spike and that that wasn’t a horrible thing–not another thing she had to hate herself for–I would have liked it better.

        I think the later seasons of Buffy had some great elements, they just didn’t come together as cohesively as the first few. If every episode of Buffy were as good as the best episodes of the later seasons, it would have blown every other show out of the water, but the quality was inconsistent. To my mind, at least.

        Don’t worry about being long-winded–I love talking about Buffy! :)

        • I agree that Spike was exactly what she needed, but the *show* was never on the side of them being together, I feel like. Buffy was always kind of disgusted with herself for giving in to her attraction to him, I think. I’m not saying it needed to be all rainbows and happiness, but I was dissatisfied with where they took it. If Buffy had been able to admit to herself that she liked Spike and that that wasn’t a horrible thing–not another thing she had to hate herself for–I would have liked it better.

          She did in the end. She was fond of him. I don’t think we need to fall out and love people to be sexually involved, and I maintain that people have a hard time seeing people in that role. Relationships don’t work for Buffy, and I think that Spike helped temper that.

          I think Dawn brought her that peace. I thought about it a little more while I was doing some stuff today. Joyce passed on to Buffy the importance of caring for Dawn. She knew in the end that Dawn wasn’t her daughter (and we knew that in the end too, the Monks made her out of Buffy so that she would love her). Buffy was meant to care for her. I remember thinking that Dawn would have made a great potential, or a great witch too, i can relate to Buffy’s urge to keep her away from all of that. Like Danny said, Buffy was in a better position to actively keep her away from it.

          In my mind, the fact that the show has been off the air for about ten years, and we are still talking about it, dissecting it, and examining the characters and themes means that it did blow so many shows out of the water. It was a hallmark. There was nothing like it, and there has been nothing like it since.

  2. It seems to me, that if we had someone, say Spiderman, Batman, Wolverine…who started going through the same thing, they would have legitimate pain. Their need to always be on top of things, their need to stay strong is admirable, and when they crumble under the agony of emotional pain… well it is understood as the regular pain of being a misunderstood superhero.
    I don’t know about that (which I think I may do too often when I come by here so I hope you aren’t wishing to be rid of me but this is one of the few places where I talk Buffy/Angel stuff). If you look at those three heroes you see that time and time again they are expected to make the sacrifices and never show any hint of breaking down. I wonder if its an extension of them being men (you know the whole “real men are tough at all times and never show any weakness” thing).

    I think its easier for people write off Bruce Wayne as a rich playboy rather than think about the fact that he doesn’t get close to people because that would put them in danger. I think its easier to write Logan off as an animalistic killer than as a man that can’t even put together his whole past. I think its easier for people to write off Peter Parker as a man who gives up having relationships for the sake of the greater good. Add in what you say about Buffy and I think its a matter dropping heroes/heroines into the most convenient box rather than actually looking at their lives (and I think in this case the convenient boxes are gender). And I think another thing that throws off the comparison a bit is that Buffy had a full network of friends who were in on her Slayer activities.

    About Spike I always had the feeling that Joss was a bit confused on exactly what to do with him. He couldn’t just write into Angel II so he had to go another way. Which is how I guess we ended up with Spike relating to her darker side vs. Angel related to her lighter side.

    • Ha! You do say that a lot when you come here…but that is OK. I take a deep breath and read.

      The thing is, I don’t hear anyone calling them “whiny”.

      I hear what you are saying with the rest of it, and I agree fully (except the animalistic thing. If Wolverine were a girl it would be the same thing I believe) agree. I just extend that gender expectations hurt everyone, which I think you believe.

      I also agree about Spike. They had a popular character, and needed a way to keep him when the show ended. He fit well to slid into Angel. I have always seen Spike as an Angel foil.

      • Oh yeah I get you on the lack of calling them whiny. I think its a matter of what is okay to write them off as. Not trying to excuse it, just trying to figure out how/why it happens.

    • pandoradeloeste said:

      I wonder if its an extension of them being men (you know the whole “real men are tough at all times and never show any weakness” thing).

      I wonder if this is what Joss Whedon had in mind during his “strong women characters” speech at Equality Now. One of the reasons he gives for writing strong women characters is that by getting his viewers of all genders to identify with a female superhero, they can access or express hopes/desires/emotions they aren’t comfortable expressing – for example, feeling overwhelmed from all the horrific things happening in their personal life and the stress of being a superhero and having to stop apocalypses all the time.

  3. Danny :
    And I think another thing that throws off the comparison a bit is that Buffy had a full network of friends who were in on her Slayer activities.

    Yes! Buffy’s friends were always shown as her strength, her backbone. Over and over we see that her friends’ help and support is the reason she’s survived longer than most slayers, the reason she didn’t become like Faith, etc. They even went literal with it in the end of season 4, when all of her friends help her with a spell to defeat Adam. But in the later seasons it seemed like Buffy was more emotionally isolated from her friends. I should rewatch them so I can have a more accurate perspective on this, but it seems from my vague memory that there was more discord among the group than there had been. She couldn’t even turn to Giles for help because he was pulling away from her, wanting her to be on her own. I feel like they lost that theme, of unity being strength, a little bit in the later seasons. Even Dawn could have been a part of it but they had her be the one who always gets in the way, instead.

    • I think that isolation was partly from simply growing up and moving on.

      Back in seasons 1-4 they were in high school/college together and they were around each other all the time back then. After that I think it was just a matter of moving on. Willow and Tara becoming an item. Xander trying to be independent. Anya trying to exist. Giles thinking that Buffy should be able to handle things on her own (by that time he was no longer her official Watcher and he was in the probably rather unique position of having a Slayer that lasted well into her 20s). You can’t keep that tight nit clique forever.

      In fact recall the season 6 episode “Tablua Rasa” (not sure if thats the title but its the one where Willow tried to cast a spell to get Buffy to forget her time in Heaven but messed it up and erased the entire group’s memories). While their memories were wiped they seemed to get along just fine. Almost reminiscent of the old days. But as soon as the memories were restored everyone seemed to drift apart again.

      You know thinking back on Dawn I wonder. Seeing Buffy try so hard to keep out her out of the Slayer activities reminded me of how Joyce wanted Buffy to stay out of the Slayer activities. Joyce pretty much had no choice but to watch in fear, expecting to get a phone call that Buffy’s corpse had been found in a crypt or something. Buffy on the other hand was able to take a more direct approach in keeping Dawn out (and I think that played a big part in her acting out. parts “why won’t anyone pay attention to me!” and “my sister is consumed by her Slayer duty and my mom is dead. what is there for me in this world?”).

      • I could write endless posts about Buffy’s friends.

        I loved each of them, and yet, each of them were unsupportive jerks, who had no grasp on what it was that Buffy was carrying on her shoulders.

        I thought “Tabula Rasa” was to alter Tara’s memory. Was it for everyone? I haven’t gotten that far, but I have it in my schedule to write a post about Joss’ love of altering memory.

        • “Tabula Rasa” was to make Tara and Buffy forget that Willow had hurt them, but it went awry and everyone ended up losing their memory completely. I think Willow’s use of magic to get out of every bad situation was really fascinating. I wish they had gone further with that instead of doing the magic = drugs storyline at the end of s6. That’s one of my major problems with the later seasons. Apparently Joss was going to have Willow be the big villain of season 6 and have them need to kill her at the end, but he copped out because she was such a fan favorite.

          • Just out of curiosity how you’re thinking it could have gone further? As in simply drag it out longer? Maybe take it in another direction?

            And if Joss did have them kill Willow at the end of S6 that would have been a big feather in The First’s hat to use in S7.

            • Something else I learned by listening to Marti in the commentary on either “Bargaining” or “Afterlife” was that they really felt they didn’t go far enough to get Buffy back. They wanted to do this Big Epic Thing where they had to go to the Underworld to retrieve her, because she was a resting Warrior. In fact, George Lucas was filming part of Attack of the Clones there and actually invited them there to film such a thing because his daughter is such a huge Buffy fan, and he called up SMG (because when you are George fucking Lucas you can do these things) and asked to come to the set. Of course she said yes. Joss had all but booked the tickets to go, but they changed the arc at the last minute. Marti uses words I won’t use, but I get the impression that she felt cheated that Buffy was “just brought back by a spell”.

              My point is that if they had killed off Willow, it would have been a chance to re-visit that idea, IMO.

            • I mean have her be addicted to *power*, not “magic,” the way she was starting to try and use magic to solve bigger and bigger problems in season 6. I wish they had continued with that instead of making magic itself like some kind of drug.

  4. It is really funny to listen to the commentary on the disks because the other writers and the other producer, Marti Noxon, make Joss out to be this big tyrant to work for. They talk about how the “never know what is going to set Joss into a rage today” or something close to that. I can totally see Marti (who wrote most of S6) coming up with that story arch and Joss saying “Nah”. Except that they said that Joss had already decided by the end of S5 where the end of S6 was going to go. Interesting that they would change it for that reason, because another joke that they have if you listen to disk commentaries (OMCC, did I just reveal myself as a HUGE NERD!) is that in the “Whedonverse” you seem to work more after you have died that before. See: Darla, Buffy, Angel, Spike, Phantom Dennis, Lila, Cordelia, Holland Mathers, Fred/Ilyria (to name only a few)… Notable Exceptions: Joyce Summers, Tara, Doyle, Book and Wash.

    Thanks for the brush up, too. Sometimes I get fuzzy on some episodes while others are crystal clear in my memory.

  5. I think I am going to duck out of this thread for now, for no reason other than I am moving on to my next few Buffy posts, and want to save some thoughts for those. I would love it if you kept going here, if you are so inclined!

    I noticed some traffic from ONTD-Feminism and a Buffy Boards Forum, which is pretty exciting, and all of you folks had some really thoughtful and generous things to say. I thank you for that. I haven’t really had one of these pop-culture posts go viral in such a positive way. I appreciate all of the discussion, and invite you to partake in future, or even past posts!

  6. lil missy said:

    I feel Buffy get’s called whiny simply because she is a female superhero, she is expected to be able to deal with these emotional situations better than a male superhero, such as batman (who is just considered to be broody). I feel her change in season 6 should have been expected, nobody would come back from the dead their chirpy selves, however if she had come back with all her witty one-liners the show would have been criticised for not being realistic enough. I sense a damned if you do damned if you don’t moment for Whedon here.

    As part of my Masters Dissertation I have created an online survey to help discuss notions of feminism within the show. I’d be really appreciative if you could take 5 mins of you time to answer a few questions as I would value your views, as I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the comments to this page. Thank you. http://www.kwiksurveys.com/online-survey.php?surveyID=HKNOHF_daf884a1

    • Hey, lil missy: I apologize that my Very Hungry Spam Filter ate your comment, not even once, but the second time you posted it. Probably because of the way you dropped the link. I fished it out for you (luckily I looked before I dumped today!). I apologize if that caused any grief. I thank you for your thoughts on this, much of which I agree with. I also find your survey interesting, and will probably take a look at it in the near future.

  7. I’ve always said that season 5 is my favorite of all the series and I guess Marti’s to blame. Buffy may have been a hero but she was also a person and I think that all the fighting over who she was going to ‘end’ up with led to a lot of judgements on the sides of whoever the fav boyfriend was. I have to say something about one, Riley.

    Riley, he was one of the most hated boyfriends Buffy ever had because of the vamp hooker thing. I looked at it from an addiction thing. You have this clean cut guy who on the surface seems so perfect then find out that he’s been an experiment. He was planted with a device, given performance enhancing drugs, then both were removed suddenly. After that he felt like his life was over. He could no longer keep up with his girlfriend’s demon fighting. He admitted that she didn’t love him, then he lost control in an attempt to regain some of that feeling he got from having that false power. What he did (vamp hooker) was wrong. But is he the worst person in the world, no. Like Buffy he is a person and he made mistakes. He was the guy who was supposed to make Buffy forget Angel, then another vampire gets in the running and Riley couldn’t cope. I think that if we are going to expect perfection from a character, we have to expect it from all of them. No one is perfect and if the characters only did what we wanted them to do the show would have been a bore.

    • While I am not a big fan of the word “hooker” in this context (or really and context), I find your thoughts about Riley thought provoking, which is why I let this comment through. If you come back to rejoin this conversation I would ask that you refrain from language that is derogatory towards sex workers.

      I actually have some thoughts on Riley that need to be fleshed out here, probably in a post of their own. I think his loss of superpowers fed a feeling of inadequacy, which were probably fueled by his seemingly traditional/conservative upbringing, and it would seem that Riley just fell into a trap of expectations that he set up for himself and couldn’t fulfill.

      • I’m sorry the use of the word “hooker” was offensive as that wasn’t my intention. I wanted to use a word that would evoke the emotion Buffy had when she found Riley in the room with the female vampire. It was in no way a slam on sex workers.

        I think the thing that amazed me was the fact that people have been so hard on Buffy and Riley for making very human mistakes but readily give a pass to vampires who got a soul back after killing for years. I would post about Angel and Spike and how they could be redeemed only to find it hard to reconcile why people would condemn Buffy and Riley for making mistakes while at the same time trying their best to protect the innocent. To me redemption just couldn’t be something limited to favorite characters but everyone.

        I think there was an obvious attempt to show how wrong Riley had gone by having him go to a vampire (so seemed to be in the stereotypical sex worker situation, and looked like an addict herself). Many people on the boards I went to thought Riley was the worst of the worst because he had gone to what appeared to be a sex worker (Giles did point out that it wasn’t a new thing) to get that thrill of getting bitten. To me, he had become addicted to the bite after failing to recover from the loss of his drug enhanced power.

        If we take each character from Willow,Xander, and Giles to Angel or Spike there are good and bad and evil things we can point out that each one has done. The thing about relationships is that they evolve and change and people can be alternately heroic and petty. What the series was so good at was making us care so much about the character on the show and still be talking about them.

        • It’s five by five. Accepted. ;) And the sex worker analogy is an easy one to see, and I doubt unintentional, since sex and vampirism have been paralleled since time forgotten. I think Joss knew that. Oh, yes…

          Your point is apt.

          I think, IMO, the thing with Riley is, and again, I plan to flesh this out one day, that he was sneaky about it. Angel (who was far from perfect, for sure), and Spike (who to be fair, we get to see first hand more of his climb to redemption than we do of Angel’s) were laid out naked in a way, their evilness was inherent, being vampires. Angel is “good”, now, but because he is cursed. Against his will. It is an unnatural state of being. Spike is chipped, and thus his goodness is forced upon him as well, even though in the end he really works for his redemption, and it saves the world at least once.

          But Riley was good. He was a force for good. And he was sneaky McSneaksalot, sneaking around trying to get a fix of thrill, while understandably it was after losing powers that were never meant to be his. I *get* that. But it was his need to be shady with his activities that, IMO, made him more of a traitor. We expect evil actions from an evil person.

          This is not to say that this issue is black and white. It isn’t for me, and I have so very many thoughts that I need to flesh out, about Riley, Angel, Spike, and many things about them all. But I do get your point. It isn’t that they all were not flawed. It is just that Riley went to the trouble of hiding this particular bad thing, and I think we are used to seeing the bad things be more obvious.

          • From Fool for Love:

            “XANDER: You know what he’s like? He’s like a cat. You know, a big
            jungle cat. How come I’m not
            like that? It’s just so cool…”

            I just have to make this little point…Riley was trained to be sneaky…;)

            With all the characters one thing remains constant and Buffy said it in Earshot:

            “BUFFY: My life happens very occasionally to suck beyond the telling of it. More than I can stand sometimes. And not just me.

            Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re way too busy with their own. The beautiful ones, the popular ones, the guys that
            pick on you… everyone.”

            Everyone evil or good gets stuck in their own pain and that can make people do stupid things. Riley started getting bitten because he wanted to feel for himself what he thought tied Buffy to Angel. Well, that one made him a sneaky addict who lost the girl because he didn’t trust her judgement. He also knew that said girl didn’t love him and I think it was easier to think a magic bite was the answer instead of the simplicity of Buffy simply not loving him.

  8. I agree. Buffy has been one of my most favourite characters in the series. From the moment she closed the door of her mother’s car to go to school till seven years later; her mother is dead, she has to be the tough one around everyone and after all that and more, Buffy’s whiny? You’re whiny!

  9. Perididdle said:

    I’m not even done reading, but let me just say, I let out a strangled whoop when I read this:

    Your friends, who are also caught up in worry about your mother, and helping you take care of your sister so you can care for your mom? Nice Guy Xander who is there to tell Buffy what she wants and badger her about every bad decision she has ever made (…you’re about to let him go because you don’t like ultimatums…)?

    THANK YOU. Finally, someone who who agrees that Xander, for all his funny guy moments, is a real jerk to the Buffster when she doesn’t need it. In fact, he’s a real jerk to everyone when they don’t need it. Boo, Xander. Boo. Okay, back to reading the article…

    …and done. This really makes me happy, because I too did a massive rewatch, about two summers ago. I first watched Buffy when I was just a wee thing, through 5th/6th/7th grade. I started literally weeks after the last episode aired, and watched the episodes I collected them on DVD. First time through, I really disliked Buffy as a whole. As an MC she rubbed me the wrong way, got on my nerves, and really could’ve taken a hike. Dawn was fine, never found her whiney at all (Dawn is so much better when you’re thirteen. “OMG, I TOTALLY SYMPATHIZE WITH HER!! MY LIFE SUCKS, TOO!”), and I loved S6. Second time through was a slow process over the next couple years, watching episodes here and there. Then, I buckled down and watched it all with my best friend over a few months. And man oh MAN did growing up change my PoV. Buffy is one of my favorite characters – I love her growth, I love how she morphs and changes but stays Buffy at her core, I even love how SMG plays her, an actress issue I finally overcame. Dawn in S6, and S6, are probably the most irritating parts of the show for me – but then S7 saves it all. People rag on the last 3 seasons a lot, but S5 is a gorgeous piece of writing, ans S7 is everything I ever wanted Buffy to be. S6 is where there’s melodrama that I cannot quite handle. I don’t think the characters go out of bounds of what they’re capable of, but there are certainly episodes I do not want to watch (Wrecked/Smashed, Seeing Red) because I don’t like the idea of “my” characters going as far as they go.

    I love this article for finally defending poor Buffy, who really has a lot of crap handed to her on the plate of life, and she handles it by saving the day every time. That’s a girl who deserves to have a pained song to sing, or a crying spell every so often. Or, at least, a tall, stiff drink.

    • Perididdle (as a former beginning percussion instructor, I might add that I love the handle!): You might also enjoy my post about Xander. I actually have a fairly extensive archive about BtVS and Angel.

  10. I would say that the “whiny” critics really miss a lot of the point of Buffy.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer was about a hero that was SUPPOSED to be vulnerable, life-like, emotionally available, with ordinary problems, with difficulties coping — and with ordinary mistakes in judgment sometimes — that the average viewer could relate to.

    So how many of us can actually relate to Batman? For that matter, how many of us can relate to most superheroes? IMHO, most superheroes are depicted (most of the time) in a way that appeals almost exclusively to adolescents, largely male, and adult males who don’t want to grow up, whereas Buffy is a hero for both genders and all age groups.

    It should be no wonder such adolescents (in truth or in spirit) call Buffy “whiny” as so many with that kind of outlook fantasize more about being invulnerable, emotionally and otherwise, than they do about anything else.

    • So how many of us can actually relate to Batman?
      Anyone that thinks they must put their life on hold for the sake of the greater good.

      Anyone that thinks their emotions are a weakness that must be kept in check at all times.

      Any man that tries to abide by the script of being a man.

      Sadly there are people who can relate to Batman. Perhaps in a damaging way but they can.

      • Thanks for that, Danny. I know I said I was ducking out to get some other things finished (it is coming, I promise!), but I agree. My comparison to Batman is simply to illustrate two superheroes who live in the human world who are expected to keep their emotions in check solidly with extreme loss in their lives, but with which their are huge expectational differences which I see based on gendered divides. That, however, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also look at the way that those gendered roles don’t hurt both (societal enforced) ends of that presumption. Gendered expectations (such as chivalry) hurt men and women. I mean for my Buffy/Bruce Wayne comparison to allude to that.

        I am pretty sure you are the choir I would be preaching to, Danny. I am just saying thanks for fleshing that thought out. Because everything you said about Bruce/Batman applies to what I feel about how people view Buffy under human (as opposed to supernatural) hardship.

        And your last point there, is entirely too true, for both characters. But perhaps it can be healthy as well, and that might be worth exploring.

      • You do have a point, although I don’t know that I see Batman as someone who has put his life on hold for the sake of the greater good. That’s one interpretation and I suppose valid enough.

        I can’t relate, though. Batman is also obsessed, emotionally unbalanced, and elitist… that’s another interpretation.

        My father was as tough as they come, but he was also nurturing and in touch with his emotions, as am I — and in my experience, men who are in touch with their emotions are usually far tougher and far more dangerous than the guys who are just following a script of what they imagine it means to be a man.

        • As you say Batman can be interpreted as unbalanced, elitist, and obsessed.

          Sounds like a lot of cops. Cops who end up putting their job over their family (which is related to how men are expected to put their career over their family).

          As for putting his life on hold for the greater good. If he wanted to Bruce Wayne could easily give up the Batman life and just become another rich businessman. But he doesn’t.

          Take a look at how at the end of The Dark Night (the second Batman movie with Christian Bale) where Batman tells Lt. Gordon to blame him for the death of Harvey Dent/Two Face. This helps maintain Dent’s good name (he was a prosecutor with a long list of convictions but if it came to light that he had become a criminal then all those convictions would be questioned) at the cost of making Batman a wanted fugitive for murder. That’s not just putting his life on hold that’s putting his life on the line.

          • Some of this may be just arguing about terminologies.

            The phrase “putting his life on hold” I interpret as meaning that there is another life that is desired that the character is not living — but I would contend that Bruce Wayne does not put his life on hold because in most depictions I’m familiar with there is little to no indication that he desires to live some other life, i.e., being Batman is how the character has chosen to live his life, so nothing is really on hold.

            And of course that choice — to be Batman — means that his life is always on the line.

            As for the real world, I’ve only known three cops personally, so I can’t comment about how unbalanced, elitist or obsessed they may be as a group.

            One of them decided to make another choice after eleven years, and the other two still “get off” on being cops after a few decades of it.

            “Get off” might not be a very PC way of putting it, but I have little doubt that they get a kick out of being cops, and I have serious doubts about whether they are doing it “for the greater good.”

            I don’t think I’ll go into any more detail about it. I really don’t know them all that well; and again, I don’t feel qualified to say much in general about the nature of cops as a group. I suspect there are probably all kinds, but I don’t really know.

            As for men being expected to put their careers over their family, while I think many men do that, for whatever reasons, my experience in the work world suggests that that expectation is not as pervasive as it once was.

            But of course everyone’s employers and work experience varies…

            Anyway, your points have been very well made. Thanks for the stimulating discussion, but I think I’ll bow out now.

            • Odd, also, because this particular part of the conversation seems to almost, *almost* imply that cops are all men… Not outright…but it has that hint.

              My mother was a correction’s officer for 15 years in maximum security mens’ prisons, and not some desk jockey, but she did everything that any other person did. She transported prisoners from point A to point B, etc. etc. She was injured twice in prison fights. She also learned how to take down men twice her size in self defense.

              It was just an interesting thought.

              I don’t want to get into the rest right now, because I don’t want this to be a conversation about men and Batman on my site…

  11. I agree. I actually think it is a total double standard, not just for her as a female but for her as a hero who you also see as a 3D character with flaws and neuroses. It seems that people don’t want to see their heroes complain and they think being a hero somehow excludes them from feeling fear or insecurity.

    On top of this prejudice, Buffy is also a girl, and I find audiences are the harshest of critics on women who show emotion when they are meant to be “strong” female characters. Emotions are considered a weakness, instead of a strength, even though Buffy has proven time and time again that her emotional decisions are many times the things that help her to save the world.

    I think that everyone should have the right to critique the show and plot lines, but I think calling Buffy whiny should always be challenged.

  12. Some good points. My problem with 6th season is not that Buffy is whiny, but that the world is too harsh… particularly after Hell’s Bells. Buffy handles it pretty well all things considered, but I want a show with a little more happy-go-lucky in it. I’d have been OK with the crap Buffy endured and her reactions if there was *something* else going on that made the season fun to watch, instead of one angst-fest after another.

    In other words: you’re right, Buffy isn’t whiny. She reacts appropriately to what happens to her. However, what happens to her is dictated by the writers, and I think the writing in the later seasons made everyones’ lives more dismal and depressing than I wanted to watch in an entertainment show.

  13. To be honest, even if one were to think that Buffy’s situation wasn’t that horrible (which, as you noted, would be very, very wrong), I still don’t understand how anyone can call her “whiny.” If anything, Buffy does not talk all that much about her circumstances. She internalizes A LOT.

  14. […] Buffy is So Whiny… « random babble… But usually, this whole “Buffy is whiny” nonsense comes with a whole mess of evidence that would get Batman a hug and another comic book spin off. (What? Your parents were gunned down in an alley? I bet that really hurt and gave you a lot of emotional stuff to work through!)(But NOOOO! Buffy! You can’t be upset about YOUR MOM DYING!) (Or YOU DYING!) (tags: buffyverse meta female.characters) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)links for 2009-05-20Women and the SciencesMore on Science and Gender EquityMore Super-Smart Boys Explains Gender Disparity in Science, o rly? […]

  15. Wow. This is really, really well written! And well-argued.

    I see your point about Riley – you’ve given me something new to think about :) – but I do think Buffy was a little closed-off emotionally from him during that time. He did try to be there for her. But his spiralling off into his dark period is still his responsibility.

    • I agree that she was closed off from him…but I felt like it was obvious (in that she told him) that if she started letting out any emotions, they were going to make her collapse, and she had to be strong right then, to protect Dawn and care for Joyce. I was sad to see him leave like he did, and perhaps she wasn’t there for him either, but I think there wasn’t enough to give, and family had to come first. He wasn’t able to understand that. And if he couldn’t, then he wasn’t the match that everyone though he was.

  16. […] second link for today is the, clearly ironically, named Why is Buffy so whiny? It points out the way that tropes of femininity and masculinity affect the way we respond to […]

  17. I adore this post so much. I think Buffy gets a LOT of unfair crap, and it was so wonderful to read something that defended her.

    The criticism people hurl at her for not being peppy and cute all the time (read: boxed up and easy to handle) is unbelievable. People call her ‘whiny’, ‘self-righteous’, ‘bitchy’, etc. all the while praising male protagonists for their ‘heroism’ and ‘sensitivity’. Buffy’s perfect in her imperfection, and I think she grows tremendously as a woman and an adult in seasons 5-7.

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