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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

October 27, 2002

In Defense of Buffy

This past summer, an organization called the Parents Television Council (PTC) claimed that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the worst show on TV. I beg to differ.

The PTC, which, according to its web site, seeks to bring "America's demand for positive, family-oriented television programming to the entertainment industry," cites Buffy's "sexual content, use of foul language, and violence" for its worst-show rating. The PTC goes on to write that

"Offensive language has included uses of "bitch," "bastard," "hell," "damn," "ass," and "piss." Violence on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not only frequent, but also very graphic. In past seasons, episodes included vampires being aroused by biting their victims, Buffy being stabbed, and Dawn's wrists being slit. In the 2001 season finale, Buffy committed suicide, jumping to her death to save the world. The 2001-2002 season premiers showed her decayed corpse regenerated and resurrected through witchcraft."

So those are the PTC's beefs. I'll address them one at a time.

Foul language

The PTC has a point here. I've long thought that profanity has no place on TV. I've never heard anyone say that a show or movie or book was good, but just needed a bit more cussing to make it great. Cussing adds little enjoyment and actually decreases audience. Hundreds of thousands of people avoid all movies, shows and books that contain too many four-letter words, while few, if any, people watch movies or shows just for cussing. Why limit your audience and viewing public just for the sake of some profanity?

I'm writing a book right now, a vampire novel in the old West, that has no cussing. I don't think it's necessary, and I want my 13 and 10-year old nieces to read it. When (not if!) I finish it and get it published, I doubt that reviewers will knock it for not having profanity.

But, some might say, there are exceptions. All fiction, in whatever medium, must contain a certain plausibility to sound authentic. Fiction must be believable, even if it's fantasy or science fiction. Readers and viewers must be drawn into the show or book with an emotional attachment. A show that is too implausible or unbelievable will not create that attachment because viewers won't spend the time to do so. Why should they? It's obviously fake, so why should they care?

I agree to an extent, but TV has gone too far. It has created an unbelievable world in which everyone always cusses, and that is simply not the case. 

So the PTC is right in criticizing Buffy for having too much profanity, and I wouldn't miss it if it went away. But the PTC should be consistent. It rated The Bernie Mac Show one of the ten best, though it "frequently features offensive language such as "ass" and "damn" and some sexual innuendo." In the very next sentence, the PTC declares that Bernie Mac "can be enjoyed by the entire family."

If a show with bad language can be enjoyed by everyone, why slam Buffy for bad language?

Graphic violence

On this issue, the PTC is off base. The show is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after all, which suggests some violence. In fact, the violence is necessary for the show to work, and is portrayed in a manner that is actually good for kids.

Buffy's task as slayer is to kill vampires and demons. She has also saved the world on more than a few occasions. However, in the first few years of the show, Buffy often rebelled against her fate, wishing she could live a normal, teenage life. If she had her way, she would concentrate on boys, homework, her friends, and school rather than beating up vamps and demons. As an essentially good and decent person, she did not enjoy killing, but it was necessary. Otherwise, evil would reign and people would suffer.

As a firm rule, she rarely uses her slaying power against other humans. In fact, in one episode, Buffy is guild-ridden because she believes (mistakenly) that she has killed a person rather than a demon.

In other words, the show features a good person who uses violence only when evil beings force her to. If it were up to her, she'd give up all violence and live a normal life. We have a word for such a person: hero.

Violence portrayed in this manner teaches an important moral lesson for children. Sometimes, good people must do bad things to bad people so more good people don't get hurt. What better way to teach children this lesson through television, when they and their parents are safe at home, before children are forced to learn this the hard way, or even fail to learn it at all.

Such lessons about violence are prevalent throughout history, in books and movies, from Star Wars to Saving Private Ryan to High Noon to Louis L'Amour and Zane Gray novels. Buffy merely continues that proud and important tradition.

The PTC shows no sign of understanding such basic concepts. Note that it portrays Buffy's self-sacrifice to save the world as "committing suicide," as if a person who willingly gives up her life for someone else's is wrong! In that episode, Buffy faced an impossible choice: kill her own sister or herself to save the world. Or do neither and let evil win. Because Buffy is a good person, she can't let evil win, and she can't kill her sister. So she commits the greatest possible act of selflessness and compassion. To the PTC, that's committing suicide. That's nonsense. In fact, Buffy personified love as Jesus himself taught in John 15, verses 12-13: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." 

And that leads me to my beef about the PTC. Its ratings are amazingly shallow. It examines only surface issues, marking down each naughty word, and ignoring the deeper lessons the show offers. 

When the series began, Buffy was just another self-absorbed teenager. Then a man informed her of her true calling, and her life changed forever. She learned there are some things that are more important than what she wears to school. There's a whole world out there, beyond her own limited scope, and it's a dangerous world, and only she can stop evil beings from doing bad things. It forced her to, as John McCain might say, fight for causes that went beyond her own self-interest. She assumed an awesome responsibility and, though she rebelled at times, embraced it. She learned she could make a difference. Her friends, who aren't blessed with her slayer powers, learned the same lessons, and they all learned the values of friendship, self-sacrifice, and loyalty.

Aren't these important lessons for teens and children? Isn't this what parents strive to get into their kids' heads? And here's a TV show that reinforces and strengthens that message, and what's PTC's response? It's bad and shouldn't be watched.

My defense of Buffy is not a defense of TV in general. Along with Law and Order: SVU, Buffy is the only other show I watch. Television is largely a moral cesspool. But when it gets something right, it deserves credit. PTC needs to understand that wholesome entertainment can be found in some unlikely places.

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