By Kirk Calvo
On March 10th, we fans of the fantasy TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer celebrated the 20th anniversary of its premiere. It's not an overstatement to say that Buffy has inspired and moved millions of people, particularly those who were young kids and teenagers when the show originally aired from '97-2003. For me, it was a particularly powerful touchstone of my childhood - I was 7 when the show first aired, and I have vivid memories of watching the show with my sister and pretending we were Slayers in our backyard (no one got hurt, thank you very much).
One of the things that's often pointed out is that the character of Buffy Summers was and is a "role model" - that is, she inspired and continues to inspire superhuman strength and resolve in an all-too-human way in people dealing with vulnerable, or even dangerous situations in their lives. This was the case with me. I was an eccentric little boy who liked "girly" things and would sing girly pop music in the hallways of elementary school and so on. Needless to say, I was an easy target for bullying by my classmates, and I always felt on edge, and at the time didn't quite know why. Which is what made Buffy Summers all the more "necessary" for me to have as a role model. As I grew and discovered that I was gay, I could relate to this incredibly strong, kickass, FEMALE character who dealt with her own feelings of difference on account of her lot in life, had the weight of the world (literally!) on her shoulders, yet still won the battle every single time because she was a superheroine.
Sarah Michelle Gellar as an actress often gets overlooked for her part in Buffy Summers' impact as a character. People will generally praise Joss Whedon, the writers, etc. for creating the character and inventing such compelling storylines, interweaving the fantastical with the mundane struggles of reality. But at the end of the day, those are just words on a page. SMG breathed such life into those words through the complexity of her acting abilities that I can guarantee you Buffy would not have been half the inspiration to me without that actress embodying her. To highlight this: little kids pick up certain mannerisms of people around them that they carry into adulthood. Gellar’s particular phrasing; the way she'd deliver lines in the characteristic, punchy, uniquely Buffy fashion; the way she would look at a foe or someone who just particularly pissed her off... I carried a lot of that into my adulthood. Sometimes I'll even catch myself and think "Damn, I felt like Buffy just now!"
I want to close out by pointing out one of my favorite scenes from probably my favorite episode of the series: Becoming, Part 2. There's a scene where Spike and Buffy are negotiating on the terms of their partnership to defeat Angel and Joyce, having just found out that her daughter is The Slayer, sits there bewildered sipping whiskey. The writing and acting in this scene is particularly superb because it uses (deliberately on the writers' part I'm sure) a lot of the language of a parent whose child just came out to them. While Spike and Buffy talk shop and Buffy's mind is on saving the world, Joyce is hitting her with questions like, "Have you tried not being a Slayer?" "It's because you didn't have a strong father figure, isn't it..." etc. Buffy more or less brushes her mom off and tries to walk out the door because she has to, well, go save the world, and then Joyce shatters her glass of whiskey against the wall and demands that Buffy explain herself. In the climax of the scene, Buffy loses her temper and asks her mom how on earth Joyce hadn't figured out who her daughter really was by now. Joyce retorts, "Well, it stops now!" Buffy: "It doesn't stop. It NEVER stops. Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is... how dangerous?" Joyce, understandably, still can't grasp Buffy's destiny and tries to prevent her from walking out. Buffy shoves her aside and makes for the door, and Joyce says with the tone of a mother whose child just revealed that she wasn't at all who Mom thought she was, "If you walk out that door don't even think about coming back." And, of course, Buffy has to save the world, so she walks. There was/is something very poignant for me, recognizing that "did you choose to be (gay) a Slayer" dialogue, yet put in the context of Buffy-as-superhero, that moved me to view my own difference not as a source of weakness, but a source of strength. And consequently I never once have felt shame about who I am.
So, however the character of Buffy and BtVS awakened the Slayer in you: I humbly say thank you to Buffy for being that role model I so desperately needed as a young'un, and for teaching me, "Hey, I drew the short straw and turned out to be different than people around me. Might as well kick some ass about it."