Open letter to Joss Whedon, thank you# 10 Mar 2017 by Sean (and edited 21 Aug 2017)
One of my most embarrassing memories is the time that I ambushed you at the Apple Store in Covent Garden and said (really, all in one word) “Hi-I-went-to-Wesleyan-2010-OMG-you’re-so-cool-thank-you” and ran away. I think it was around the time you were in town filming Avengers II.
I was wearing an Apple t-shirt at the time. I think you just needed a charger.
That ‘thank you’, while rushed, panicked, and probably creepy, was heartfelt.
Considering the date of this post, y’all can probably figure out where it’s headed. But if not, that’s cool. It’s going to be about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (today being the 20th anniversary of its premiere). This isn’t a list of things I loved about the show (but you can find a great one on io9). This is a look at why this show was so important to me.
I didn’t start watching Buffy until well after it finished airing. In fact, I wouldn’t really have paid it much attention had I not gone to Wesleyan University, but once I was there, it was all over the place1. Today, I am glad that I did watch it (also glad that I went to Wes). I wouldn’t be the person I am now without Buffy in my life.
My freshman year at college sucked. I was homesick, pining over a girl, and lonely as all get out. I was so afraid of my peers that I didn’t talk to anyone. Sophomore year was better, but I ended up staying on campus for the first month of that second summer doing a Russian language intensive (sadly, I can no longer carry on a conversation because I’ve let it atrophy). And the loneliness that had only partially abated over the prior 9 months came back quite strongly.
By now, I had heard about Buffy. And in part to see what the fuss was about, and partly to try to fit in, I started watching it. I finished all 7 seasons of Buffy, and all 5 of Angel, before I left to go back to California for the rest of the summer. This means that I watched every single episode of Buffy and Angel in under 3 months.
This wasn’t an act of will. Pretty quickly it became my lifeline. Buffy is a show about teenagers for a good while… and as such it can be pretty broody.
Watching Buffy became my comfort food2. I was down, and I binged. I identified with her when she was down, and I became heavily invested in her picking herself back up. Which she did.
And more importantly… I drew strength from her when I started to pick myself up. I am a white cis male. And were it not for Buffy, there’s a better than even chance that I wouldn’t be half as aware of my privilege as I am3. But the thing is, my heroes aren’t Hulk Hogan (He was still cool when I was a kid), or Don Draper, or the Drumpf, or whoever the heck else stands for white male ‘greatness’. At an important moment in my life, the person who I most needed to be was a teenage blond girl from Sunnydale. When I need a hero, it’s often Buffy whom I think of. Or Cordelia, or Willow.
Representation is incredibly important. Just as much for those of us who do look and think like the commonly represented forms as those who don’t. And I want to thank you (and really, I should include SMG, Charisma Carpenter, Alyson Hannigan, Bianca Lawson, Emma Caulfield, Eliza Dushku, Kristine Sutherland, Juliet Landau, Julie Benz… and all the other women of the show4. But I didn’t totally awkwardly shout ‘thank you’ at them and run away in an Apple Store) for creating a work in which I could find myself in someone who is traditionally ‘other’ for people who look like me. It has made me a much more whole person. I am a better human, a better man, and I hope a better ally for it.
So Joss, this is what I tried to thank you for before I ran away. For helping bring a character and stories into the world that have had such a lasting effect on me, and for showing me how I can try to be a better person.
BA Wesleyan University 2010
This post has been updated to include a link to the great io9 post about some of the best parts of Buffy.
There was a rumor that you came up with the seed for Buffy after having a recurring dream of a blond woman running through the graveyard outside your WestCo dorm and dusting a vamp. I asked you about this a different time that I ambushed you in the store… ugh. This is worse. ↩
Which is funny, because I definitely used on-campus currency that should have been used to feed myself to buy at least some of the box-sets from the University book store. But it’s OK, because most of the good dining halls were closed over the summer, and Neon Deli isn’t part of the campus currency thing. (I miss Neon). ↩
To be fair, I did go to Wes, so I wouldn’t be blind. But Buffy was huge for me. ↩
And as I write this, I’m aware that most of these people are white… but in part because of Buffy I have the awareness and tools to recognize this, and I can seek out other heroines. My favorite Shepard? A woman of color. The best book I’ve read in the last year? The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, whose characters, while in text aren’t explicitly black, sure as shit don’t feel white as you read it. ↩
Update after Kai Cole’s piece in The Wrap.