Buffy The Vampire Slayer Fans & Textual Poaching
As a die-hard Buffy fan, I have always had an eyebrow ready to raise at the merchandise, fan art, comics, and figurines available for loyal followers of the slayer-verse. Somehow merchandise repping the ass-kicking, ponytail sporting teenage demon-killer seemed to so often involve latex and bikinis, usually absent from the “real” Sunnydale. And it’s not just me. Many fans and critics have found the products that surround the show….questionable, and generally catering to or created by the heterosexual male Buffy fandom. Referred to by some as “textual poaching,” this unwilling transportation of female heroines to comic-style pinups and horror rag splash art is all too common, and has landed many a cult character squarely in the gaze she had been skillfully evading. Buffy was always sexy, but in a powerful, relatable way. She wasn’t afraid to be girly and powerful, but knew that she didn't have to be both (or either) if she didn’t want to. The type of sexualization or fetishization present in the images of Buffy in Femme Fatale magazine or the Dark Horse comic book series skirt past this unique incarnation of sexuality and femininity in exchange for an old fashioned pin-up akin to vintage pornography.
A common motif is her paralyzed with fear beneath the looming figure of...oh no...a vampire at her neck! “The real” Buffy would have fallen on the floor laughing. It seems surprising to me that fans could sexualize her in such a way, when her own sexuality is so much more interesting and appealing without betraying the nature of her character. Buffy and Willow’s awkward progression into adulthood, sexuality, and independence is so well articulated and communicated that it seems that (and I know I’m about to play into another cult fan stereotype, but here goes) maybe they just don’t get it. Maybe I'm giving myself away here.
Admittedly, Joss Whedon’s first ideas about what he wanted Buffy to be promoted the age-old sci-fi heroine, fetishized through a mix of innocence and physical power, the “final girl” archetype with a twist. However, in execution Buffy and her female sidekick Willow defy these stereotypes and develop their own power and personalities. There are a number of other female characters that appear as the series continues that confront and evaluate these sci-fi stereotypes (Kendra, Glory, Faith, Anka to name a few). It isn’t perfect, and not many sci-fi or supernatural television shows can claim to be as progressive as some fans would have hoped, but Buffy The Vampire Slayer comes pretty close. I would argue that in its obvious awareness and attention to these themes, it opened up space for more feminist or progressive readings than erotic ones.