How a Bad Movie Changed the World

Cover of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Cover of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In 1992 I saw a movie that, while it wasn’t a very good movie, made this geek girl happy.  I am talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  No, not the television series starring Sarah Michelle Geller.  That was actually pretty good.  The movie, starring Kristy Swanson with an appearance by the post-Florida-arrest train wreck that was Paul Reubens, well, wasn’t.  Still, in one sentence that movie turned the role of young women on its head, and I applaud that achievement.

At the time I was the mother of a teen-age daughter who was growing up in a post-feminist culture.  Women no longer felt compelled to burn our bras or stage marches, but there was (and still is) a wage disparity, a cultural and career glass ceiling, inequities in medical care and research, and severe restrictions on women in the armed service.

This last, which banned women from serving in combat, among other things, reflected the outdated notion of women as the “weaker” sex.  It was that notion that Buffy challenged.  I am sure our readers are familiar with Buffy – the teen cheerleader who is forced to play the reluctant hero, and who eventually embraces her role.

There was another woman hero that year.  Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Aliens 3.  But in order for Ripley to be a hero, she had to go hundreds of years into the future.  Buffy lived in the here and now.  And she established a beachhead for the kick-ass heroine who became a staple of fiction.  Without Buffy the movie, there is no Buffy the TV series.  No La Femme Nikita.  No Sydney Bristow (one of my personal favorites).  Our current crop of urban fantasy heroines are the cultural descendants of the cheerleader with a stake.

We can argue whether the words of a writer or director, spoken by an actor, should have more authority than a parent.  You can take the position that they shouldn’t and you won’t get any argument from me.  But let’s be realistic.  Our kids, especially by the time they are in their teens, do take many of their cues from the culture around them,  And that includes TV, movies, books, and music.

We can also argue whether Buffy started a cultural shift, or merely reflected it.  Certainly someone was eventually going to lead this particular charge, and perhaps it was a cultural inevitability.  But the truth is, Buffy did do it.  She spoke the line that signaled one teenage girl who put herself in charge of her own destiny; a young woman who most assuredly did not need to be rescued.

The scene in question is the final action sequence.  Buffy and her date are at the prom, dressed in their finest 90s attire, when the vampires attack.  Her boyfriend tries to protect/rescue her, and gets soundly defeated.

At that point Buffy steps up.  She turns to the battered boyfriend and says (if I may paraphrase) “Stay here.  I’ll take care of this.”

With those two little sentences, Buffy went from victim in need of rescue to hero who rescued those around her.

It was a moment every teenage – and younger – girl needed to hear.  Finally, someone besides a parent was telling them they could be the hero.  It was something every parent wanted her daughter to hear.

Thank you, Buffy – you made this geek girl, and all the geek girls that follow, very happy indeed.

Christine F York

8 thoughts on “How a Bad Movie Changed the World

    1. Thanks for the comments!

      My daughter apparently learned the lesson well – she isn’t one who needs rescuing. And I’m very happy that my granddaughter is growing up in a world that’s on the “other side” of that moment. There’s room for improvement, but I am glad we’re moving in the right direction!

  1. I absolutely take your point, but , um, not to be picky, La Femme Nikita (1990) predates Buffy by 2 years. (I’m a big Luc Besson fan ever since I actually caught this one in the theater.) And The Point of No Return remake of Nikita was 1993, in production as Buffy was finishing. And Terminator 2 in 1991 gave us Linda Hamilton kicking butt, my true heartthrob. These 3 characters are why all my books (I started writing in 1994) start and end with a kick ass heroine. So, while I agree with you about the moment in time and the wonderful breakthrough it achieved, I found my kickass heroines in a few other places. GRIN!

    1. Good point, Matt, except —

      La Femme Nikita didn’t get wide released in the US until after 1991, and it didn’t get wide release until late that year or early the next. It also wasn’t marketed as a teen movie, which Buffy certainly was.

      However, I’ll give you T2’s Linda Hamilton, even though she was definitely a need-rescuing character in T1.

      As I said, Buffy could reflect the cultural shift rather than lead it, but I remember distinctly the “Hell yes!” reaction the first time I saw it.

  2. T1 (1984), feh! I fell for Linda as the strong woman in “Beauty and the Beast” 1987-89 (never missed an episode). But then she flipped over to kick-ass in T2. That’s the image that started me writing strong heroines in 1994. Women are so much stronger than they are typically portrayed. I’ve tried to teach my step-daughter that (she’s coming up for her black belt in Tae Kwon Do this summer before she goes to college, so I think it at least partly worked).

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