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Lean Teen Killing Machine Buffy has problems with the cool kids at school, with boys, with the undead .

Posted 02/10/99

The Irish Times
By Roisin Ingle
Page 62


Xena mentioned briefly ("And in TV shows such as, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Xena Warrior Princess the lead characters are even imbued with supernatural powers - all the better to weave their morality tales") in this news article about how teenagers actually use Buffy et al. as role models in their every day lives.


    Seventeen-year-old Dubliner Helen Robinson was faced with a typical teenage
dilemma recently. It's a sign of the times that when working her problem out she
asked herself what Moesha, Sabrina or Buffy would do.

   These cutely named young women are not her closest friends. Or even her
sisters. They are the IT creme-de-la-creme of female teen characters currently
proving a hit with young viewers here and in America where they were conceived .

   In the end Helen plumped for a solution worthy of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer,
(BtVS), fashion-conscious High School student by day, kicker of undead butt by
night. If popular culture was to provide an alternative to the Samaritans, then
the 16-year-old slayer is the girl this generation of troubled teenagers would

   She may look like your average, spoilt prom-queen but Buffy (played by Sarah
Michelle Gellar) leads a double life fighting to rid the world of the forces of
supernatural evil while still finding time to worry about stuff like shoes and
split ends. Fulfilling her destiny (she is the sole slayer of her generation)
causes the wise-cracking martial-arts expert some problems as she struggles to
meet the demands of both her personal and professional life. "Girl power to the
max," as one devotee described it. Meet Buffy Summers of ghoul-filled, Sunnydale
- aka Slayer Spice.

   According to Padraig Ferry of Wow Comics in Dun Laoghaire, where Buffy
comics, T-shirts and badges sell like hot stakes, she represents a new type of
role model for teenage girls.

   "This age group has not been catered for positively in a long time," he says.
"There has been nothing to fill that void, nothing that gave teenage girls a
strong role-model, someone to look up to."

   The timing couldn't be better. BtVS, now in its third series, emerged at a
time when marketing people, TV bosses and movie producers realised the potential
of tapping into the needs of a whole new generation of teenage women crying out
for strong, self-assured female role models that turn the traditional stereotype
on its head. Mouthy teen pop star Billie, for instance, has no qualms about
asking the object of her affection: "Do you have a girlfriend? (You're lookin'
real good)" while B*Witched croon "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." And
in TV shows such as, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Xena Warrior Princess the
lead characters are even imbued with supernatural powers - all the better to
weave their morality tales. With movies such as Scream featuring strong female
roles, Hollywood hasn't missed out and the next, big girl-power celluloid smash
will be Wonder Woman the movie. There's money in them thar girls.

   Buffy creator Joss Whedon's inspiration for the character stemmed from his
desire to challenge the female image depicted in horror films. The creator of
the Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street movie series felt sorry for what he calls
the "bubble-head blondes" going down dark alleys in these movies and ending up
dead: "I thought, why not create a blonde who mops up all the evil creatures?"

   Young women such as Helen Robinson and her sister Bernadette (22) appreciate
the self-determined outlook and intelligence of BtVS. "I like the characters in
Buffy," says Helen. "They have problems everyday teenagers have - the pressures
of school, having a destiny to fulfil while still trying to concentrate on your
homework . . .

   "Buffy teaches you that you can stand up for yourself. She has a lot of
determination and puts herself on the line for her friends," she says.

   "These are situations that children can relate to," Buffy-portrayer Sarah
Michelle Gellar, a tae kwon do expert in real life, has said. "The themes
throughout the show are common: loving a friend, being at an age where you are
having problems with Mom, and wanting to be an adult and wanting to be a child
at the same time".

   "The scariest horror exists in reality," she added. ". . . these are feelings
and situations teenagers can understand."

   Buffy is not the television programme of choice only for discerning young
women. Teenage boys find the mix of blood-sucking action and a mini-skirted,
glossy-lipped Sarah Michelle Gellar as irresistible as the X Files. The added
bonus is that, according to Whedon, they get the girl power message too: "If I
can make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes charge of a situation
without their knowing what's happening, it's better than sitting down and
selling them feminism," he said.

   Brothers Ian and Aidan O'Sullivan are avid Buffy fans, collecting merchandise
and taping every episode as it is shown on BBC 2 and TV3. Eleven-year-old Ian
can repeat endless details of the gory vampire-slaying action which is
interwoven with the teen angst of BtVS, but he doesn't miss Whedon's message:
asked why he likes Buffy, he said that in most movies and TV shows "the girls
seem totally helpless and they just spend their time chasing boys. But Buffy is
a really strong character."

   Aidan (14) likes the way the situations are reversed so that "it is not the
man jumping in to kill the bad guys all the time but the girl that kicks ass".
"She has you laughing all the time," says Helen in a tribute to some of the
wittier writing on TV (before Buffy zaps a vampire she quips: "This is not gonna
be pretty. We're talkin' violence, strong language, adult content"). "She makes
you feel there is hope no matter what is going on in the world," Helen adds. And
isn't that what everybody really, really wants?

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