The surprisingly academic appeal of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is easily one of the most notable shows of all time. The show is a cult classic, and for good reason: It’s smart, funny, supernatural perfection. BTVS made us laugh and cry and scream in turns; it featured vampires way before they were “cool”; and it paved the way for kickass female protagonists on modern TV. It’s no surprise that even over a decade off the air, it remains beloved to so many.

But while BTVS has been called many things over the years, there’s one quality to the show that might surprise you: Its appeal in the academic world. According to The Atlanic, the show has been the subject to intense academic exploration and analysis over the years — including “hundreds of scholarly books and articles” in academic journals, and a conference series called “Slayage.”

As it turns out, Buffy‘s legacy goes far beyond being one of the best television shows ever. (Yes, I’m biased. Team Willow forever — even if the latest fan theory says she killed everyone.)  The Atlantic delved deep into this peculiar phenomenon in an article last week, claiming, “Academics have found Whedon’s cult classic to be particularly multi-dimensional—trading heavily on allegory, myth, and cultural references—while combining an inventive narrative structure with dynamic characters and social commentary.”

With just shy of 150 episodes in its seven season run, there’s also a lot of material for academics to work with. According to the article, the show is representative of a shift in television and the cusp of the medium’s “Golden Era.” It pushed the limits of TV in ways previously unexplored, and many academics have found the show to be a metaphor for greater themes beyond the page and screen.

“In Buffy, monsters act as physical stand-ins for societal differences and threats: Vampires symbolize sexual predators, werewolves represent bodily forces out of control, and witches tap into tropes about how female power and sexuality is seen as threatening,” Katharine Schwab writes. “By fighting the ‘Big Bad,’ Buffy and her friends fight the monsters everyone faces—oppressive authority figures, meaningless rules, confining social norms, sexual awakening, loneliness, redemption—in other words, the terrors of growing up and finding one’s way in the world.”

Of course, the academic fascination with Buffy is also a part of a greater fascination with the Whedon universe. While some of his work might be considered a bit more campy or comedic than other television/film greats, he’s definitely earned his place in the history books — and Buffy is proof of that.

The article goes on to make the case that television is a pivotal part of modern pop culture, and therefore just as worthy of study as any other topic. So the next time someone tries to throw shade for your Buffy love, take comfort knowing that academia is on your side.

Check out the rest of the must-read article over at The Atlantic.

(Image via Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

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