beer_good_foamy: (Buffy)
[personal profile] beer_good_foamy
Go, then. There are other worlds than these.
- Jake Chambers, Stephen King's The Gunslinger

So I wanted to post something for Buffy's 20th birthday, and why I still care so much about this little series, but I wasn't sure just what until I started a rewatch and got to this line in "The Harvest":

JOYCE: Everything's the end of the world when you're a 16-year-old girl.

Which got me to this:

She saved the world. A lot.

Which got me thinking about just what the hell (heh) the "world" and saving it means in terms of the Buffy- and Jossverses, and why that would matter.

I mean, we're talking about the guy whose most recent original work in Cabin In The Woods (spoilers ahead) ended with our heroes explicitly refusing to sacrifice anything to save the world and letting it end. What changed, Joss? Besides, Buffy doesn't seem to do a whole lot of saving outside the larger (and not very large at that) metropolitan area of Sunnydale, as much as they try to convince us that one ancient vampire taking over a small town in SoCal would somehow constitute the end of the world.

Funnily enough, right off the bat, season 1 of Buffy has lots of characters talking about "the world". And they're all defining it from a personal perspective.

GILES: Because you are the Slayer. Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt--
BUFFY: -- the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil blah, blah, blah... I've heard it, okay?

BUFFY: You, Xander, Willow, you guys... you guys know the score, you're careful. Two days in my world and Owen really would get himself killed.

DARLA: Do you know what the saddest thing in the world is?
BUFFY: Bad hair on top of that outfit?
DARLA: To love someone who used to love you.

SNYDER: My predecessor, Mr. Flutie, may have gone in for all that touchy-feely relating nonsense, but he was eaten. You're in my world now.

WILLOW: I'm trying to think how to say it... to explain it so you understand...
BUFFY: It doesn't matter as long as you're okay.
WILLOW: I'm not okay! I knew those guys. I go to that room every day. And when I walked in there, it... it wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun. What are we gonna do?

Thing is, "the world" is a very malleable concept. "The Earth" is a lot more unambiguous, we're talking about a planet, but the world - that can mean a lot of different things. Especially in a series as wilfully post-modern as Buffy. Within the larger Buffyverse there are many different worlds; the two separate series Buffy and Angel (and, if that's your poison, their various comicbook, novel, board game and fanfic spinoffs), hell and heaven dimensions, alternate realities (usually referred to as verses* by fans) ... Sure. But the show also runs on what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, and keeps sneaking into both the characterization and plot that each person is narrating their own story. No two characters experience the events of Buffy the exact same way, they all live their own version of it. There is not ONE world; each person lives in, and constitutes, a world of their own.

BUFFY: What I want is to be left alone.
ANGEL: Do you really think that's an option anymore?

In these days of "alternate facts", filter bubbles and whatnot, that may sound a bit creepy. Surely, that means Ford's or Warren's or Richard Wilkins' or any crush-kill-destroy demon's worldviews (to borrow a word from the current politicsverse) are no less valid than Buffy's? Is Buffy just another PC-gone-mad SJW out to force her biased version of reality on people who just want the freedom to suck the blood of the living in peace? Well, no, because the thing is, those worlds are not mutually exclusive. Just because you have your own, you can't ignore those of others, because the Buffyverse makes them tangible and frequently gives them very sharp teeth.

MASTER: A dream is a wish your heart makes. This is real life.

Much has been made of how Buffy fights demons that are metaphors for her own situation. Less is made of how often she fights other people's demons as well; pretty much every episode of season 1 has her try to protect someone at school, whether they be weirdos or cheerleaders. Buffy is an inherently empathetic story. Even the monsters get their say; Vamp!Jesse gets to explain exactly how this is an improvement for him - while putting some fairly overtly rapey moves on Cordelia - but his story must still be put to an end once he's presented his world. We get to see the horror of Marcy Ross' situation even though it's clear that she's become, in Buffy's words, a thundering loony. The Master weeps over Darla. Buffy's Slayer role was always part-counselor, long before Robin Wood rolled into town; she doesn't just use violence, she lets both victims and perpetrators explain their worlds, even if it may just be a throwaway rationalisation from one of Giles' books. Buffy actively welds other stories to her own. Buffy actively welds other stories to its own. The genre roulette isn't just a fun way to add variety to a weekly TV show, it serves to validate the people in them. Record their pain. Save their worlds.

JONATHAN: Stop saying my name like we're friends! We're not friends! You all think I'm an idiot! A short idiot!
BUFFY: I don't. I don't think about you much at all. Nobody here really does. Bugs you, doesn't it. You have all this pain, and all these feelings and nobody's really paying attention.
JONATHAN: You think I just want attention?
BUFFY: No, I think you're up in the clock tower with a high-powered rifle because you wanna blend in. Believe it or not, Jonathan, I understand about the pain.
JONATHAN: Oh right. Cuz the burden of being beautiful and athletic, that's a crippler.
BUFFY: You know what? I was wrong. You are an idiot. My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own. The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening.

Buffy was never a perfect series. 20 years later, there are things about it that haven't aged well (especially in season 1) and the very fact that it tried to be on-message tends to call more attention to the ways it failed. But flaws and all, the show was still always based around that simple act of seeing others, of acknowledging them, of dealing with their situations because they are not separate from your own. Saying that we're all in this together. And, in that simple but brilliant twist at the end of the season, have Buffy thwart prophecy and be free of predestination from then on - still trapped in a hellish world, but with the right to fight for her life and others'.

XANDER: You're still weak.
BUFFY: No. No, I feel strong. I feel different.

Which brings us back to Cabin In The Woods, and our heroes' choice to not save the world. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's... complicated, but basically we learn that our heroes have been put through the standard horror-movie script and killed off one by one in order to appease the old gods who will rise and wipe out mankind if they don't get their sacrifices (hello to Buffy's HP Lovecraft-lite backstory, as explained by Giles in s1), and at the end the survivors are told to kill each other off to entertain the monsters or let humanity die. Despite the fact that at least one of them is already bleeding to death, they choose to get stoned and wait for the end of the world instead.

MARTY: Giant evil gods.
DANA: I wish I could have seen them.
MARTY: I know. That would have been a fun weekend.

Does this sound familiar? Because this is not a random monster of the week deciding to try and destroy the world. This is one world unambiguously ending. This is... well, this:

ANYANKA: You trusting fool! How do you know the other world is any better than this?
GILES: Because it has to be!

This world will not stand, Cabin In The Woods says - much like Buffy does in just about every episode. It matters how we treat each other, and realities in which it doesn't must be fought.

We live in a time when a lot of different people are pushing end-of-the-world scenarios, claiming to do it by "listening to the people" (who always seem to agree with them) and "saying what you think" (without ever specifying what that is). If we don't do X (kick out the immigrants, or build higher walls, or return to Traditional Family Values, or...) it'll be the end of the world as YOU know it, so keep your blinders on and trust us to get rid of those invisible monsters for you. Well, any eschatology worth its salt ends with a new world rising from the ashes of the one that ended. Buffy begins and ends with the notion that the world looks different for everyone, meaning that those new worlds were all there all along. Buffy isn't about the apocalypses, it's about the cases-of-the-week. Every time Buffy shows a victim or a monster, it creates a world. Every time Buffy saves a life, she saves a world. And by focusing on the ones left by the wayside of the traditional narratives, by refusing to accept that there's just ONE world, ONE narrative, she keeps doing so 20 years later. And I for one am very grateful for that.

So thank you, Joss, SMG, and all the rest of you who took part in it, actors, writers, producers, and fans. Here's to 20 more.

BUFFY: We saved the world. I say we party.

* Sidebar: Yuri Herrera's very highly recommended novel Signs Preceding The End Of The World uses the verb "to verse" (the equally neologous "jarchar" in Spanish) as a catch-all term to mean to leave, to enter, to pass, to cross, to transgress, as his heroine crosses the Mexican border into the US, moving from one world while giving birth to another. Metaphorically. Maybe. Great novel at any rate, read it.
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