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 5 Serious Social Issues Buffy The Vampire Slayer Tackled Head-On

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5 Serious Social Issues Buffy The Vampire Slayer Tackled Head-On

http://whatculture.com/tv/5-serious-social-issues-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-tackled-head-on.php/6

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1. Bereavement

In my humble opinion, the social issue that was dealt with best on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was bereavement.
The tragic and utterly heartbreaking death of Buffy’s Mother, Joyce Summers, was both a joy and incredibly hard to watch. The episode The Body was exemplary. It was rightfully critically acclaimed – even being described as one of the best single episodes of television in history. Joyce’s death was beautifully dealt with.

The thing that made it so impactful was the fact that Buffy and her friends dealt with death on a weekly basis and had learned to take it in their stride, but the natural passing of her Mother via an aneurysm was bewildering, shocking, terrifying and hugely upsetting to them all. It was the first natural death of a character in the show and it occurred well in to the fifth season.

Each member of the group contemplated the loss of Joyce in different ways, with Buffy knowing she will have to take on more responsibility with regards to her sister, household chores and bills (amongst other things) and continue slaying without maternal comfort and support, Dawn knowing she’ll have to grow up without a Mother, and Xander, Willow, Anya, Tara and Giles all mourning the loss of their friend’s Mother – who was a friend of their’s herself – in their own ways.

The episode was devoid of music, which added to the solemn and upsetting tone, while prolonged scenes of uninterrupted filming added to the reality of the experience. It was acted beautifully and really did highlight the fact that, while the show was fun and not necessarily taken seriously as a piece of performance art, the actors who starred in it and the people behind it were incredibly talented and versatile.
Of course, there were other deaths, but when you think about bereavement in the Buffyverse, Joyce’s death is the first thing that springs to mind and Joss Whedon and his crew deserve some serious respect for the way it was handled.

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2. Sexuality

The social issue which caused the most controversy for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was sexuality and, in particular, homosexuality.
The most obvious and significant plot concerned with homosexuality started in season four, when Willow Rosenberg (who had previously been romantically involved with the male characters Oz and, kind of, with Xander) began a romantic relationship with the newly introduced female character Tara Maclay.

This eventually led to Willow coming out as gay. This period in Willow’s life saw also her dramatically expand her ‘magical’ powers and, subsequently, ‘magic’ was frequently used as a metaphor for their developing sexual relationship and for sex in general. For example:

Xander:Sometimes I think about two women doing a spell… and then I do a spell by myself.”

Willow coming out as gay created some real controversy in the media, as well as heated controversy and debate amongst fans of the show.
Joss Whedon, his peers, and the television networks on which Buffy the Vampire Slayer was aired received criticism from both sides of the debate; those opposed to gay characters on television saw the plot as an outrage, while some pro-gay viewers were actually upset about how tepid and secretive the relationship was at first.

There was also some criticism of the fact that the gay characters were both witches, which some people considered as an invocation of long-standing and very old-fashioned stereotypes.

Of course, there was also an insinuation of a previous brief homosexual encounter between Spike and Angel, but that occurred in the spin-off show Angel.

Spike: Guess I don’t have to worry about that, ’cause Angel and me have never been intimate. Except that one…

I don’t think the female (or gay) viewing audiences would have minded seeing that!


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3. Class

Class is another ongoing issue in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In its early days, the subject off class was obviously an issue in the relationship between Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase. Xander and, in particular, his family, were depicted as being working class people with a less than ideal home-life, while Cordelia is depicted as the stereotypical spoilt brat coming from an upper class, well-to-do family.

Consequently, Xander would often look at Cordelia with a ‘la-de-da!’ attitude, while Cordela was reluctant to be seen with Xander and would even mock him with her friends with comments about his appearance, social standing and clothes.

Xander’s standing in terms of class would continue as a theme in the later seasons. While the majority of the Sunnydale alumni graduated and went on to study at university, Xander would follow his working class roots and become a construction worker. As a result, his life experiences were dramatically different from the likes of Buffy, Willow and Riley. But, of course, his continued close friendship with the group was testament to the notion that class really doesn’t matter in that sense.

The complete difference in their class of upbringing was also a key part of the conflict between Buffy and the rogue slayer Faith – in fact it could be said that Faith’s disliking of Buffy was rooted in class.

Faith was brought up in a working-class area of South Boston, which meant that Buffy’s upbringing in a middle-class Los Angeles (and then Sunnydale) family home was relatively luxurious to her. Faith does, at certain points, openly express her contempt and jealousy towards Buffy’s life and in the episode This Year’s Girl, Faith uses a device called the Draconian Katra to swap bodies with Buffy and immediately relishes the simple luxuries in Buffy’s life, like her wardrobe, a warm bath and her make-up.

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4. Gender Roles

Much like movies such as Alien that came before it, simply by having a female protagonist in a lead action role, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was challenging the supposed ideals of gender roles.

When Alien was released, Ripley’s inclusion was heralded for challenging gender roles, particularly in the science fiction, action and horror genres, and gave worldwide recognition to Weaver. It remains her most famous role to date – much like that of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s role as Buffy.

Buffy was the major physical threat in a team of good guys that, at different points in the show, had included the likes of Rupert Giles, Xander Harris, Spike, Angel, Riley Finn, Oz, Andrew Wells and Principal Robin Wood – which completely flipped the notion of men being physically superior on its head.
Characters like Glory, Darla and Drusilla echoed this reverse notion, while guys like Xander, Andrew Wells and numerous guys who Buffy was briefly romantically linked with often found themselves as the male alternate of the typical ‘damsel in distress’, being saved by Buffy when the bad guys attacked.

However, at the same time, it also played into the stereotypical gender roles. Buffy, whilst being a bad-ass vampire slayer with powers beyond human comprehension, is the blonde, popular high-school cheerleader who faces all of the bog-standard challenges associated with a girl of her age and social standing – love, friendship, morality, loss and the academic issues associated with a normal school, college and working life.

In that sense, I guess the entire point was that we shouldn’t take people of either gender at face value. There’s no reason why a girl, for example, can’t be both effeminate and ‘normal’ but also be able to kick some serious ass. Okay, that’s undoubtedly simplifying the point in a major way, but you still get it.


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5. Substance Abuse

The major ‘substance abuse’ plot in Buffy the Vampire Slayer occurred in season 6.

The arc involved Willow using dark magic which was used as a metaphor for drug-use, as she slowly and gradually headed down a path to self-destruction, becoming addicted to the highs associated with magic and doing whatever she could do to get her hands on it.

The consequences of her actions included her personality changing, her relationships becoming extremely strained and her actions hurting others – such as when she drove whilst ‘high’ under the influence of magic and crashed the car she was driving, breaking Dawn’s arm in the process and severely angering Buffy and company.

It was a very clever way of showing what an addiction to dangerous substances can do to a person and their family and friends without actually showing any drug-use on screen – which may have drawn criticism from parents who were letting their children watch the show.

Drug-use was also alluded to on other occasions, such as in the episode No Place Like Home, where Buffy carries out a spell to learn more about Dawn’s origins and the results are quite… trippy, to say the least, and when Riley became addicted to allowing vampires to suck his blood.

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