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Occasionally Comparable to Moloch
My little brother used to copy me. He thought it was funny if he repeated everything that I said and did. I disagreed. However annoying it sometimes feels, mimicking is by no means unusual. Throughout our lives we are trying to be something. People have role models, idols, and others to look to for guidance. However, what makes this copy-cat mentality interesting is that everyone can choose different people to model their behavior after. And the most interesting part is that the model does not even have to be someone that the copying individual knows. In fact, they do not even have to be real. A review of Buffy the Vampire Slayer literature revealed that because fans connect to the show on such a personal level, those personal connections cause the fans to develop into a strong community (or fandom); however beyond that, my own research suggests that because of the strong ties to the community, individuals begin to shape their own online personalities based on both characters from the show and other fans. This theory has been developed based on my close analysis of discussion boards on Buffy fansites, a music video produced by fans, and the episode “I Robot, You Jane”, all in conjunction with existing literature by Buffy scholars.
` Television has become participatory, no longer is it about sitting alone and merely viewing. Kristina Horner, a famous YouTuber who goes by italktosnakes, demonstrated her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by creating a music video called “What Would Buffy Do?” It is only on the surface that this video is fun and frivolous. If you look deeper, you discover this video demonstrates how Buffy has become more than just a character and has matured into a role model for fans, especially young female fans. Even the title suggests to the viewer that Buffy is someone whom we should desire to behave like. The original phrase is “What would Jesus do?” Replacing Jesus with Buffy, subtlety tells us that Buffy may have started off as a mere television character, but has ‘ascended’ into a figure that fans not only desire to, but should, model their selves on. In addition, Buffy devotes her time to saving people from the ‘hellmouth’ that would otherwise consume them, and eventually sacrifices her own life to save the rest of humanity from a hell universe, paralleling the Christ figure giving his life to protect people of the world from hell. The principal portion of this analogy between Jesus and Buffy is that when fans do try to behave like her, she ‘descends’ back to earth as a palpable force that then has the power to influence others. The lyrics build on the impressions given by the title. Repeated several times throughout the song are the lines, “But just think what would Buffy do, When your life is going south” (Horner). Not only do these remind the viewers that Buffy is a character worthy of emulating, but that she supersedes the character and has developed into an idea. People continue to behave like her, thus perpetuating her legacy, so the idea of her lives eternally and each person in the Buffy fandom helps to make her that way.
Horner is not the first to compare Buffy and a religious figure. James B. South also made an argument about Buffy’s similarity to a heroic God figure, in his 2001 article, “All Torment, Trouble, Wonder, and Amazement Inhabits Here: The Vicissitudes of Technology in Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. There he referred to Buffy as a “Promethean figure” (South 95). In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the God who saved humanity by bringing them light and warmth through fire. Later, South used the episode ‘The Wish” to discuss how despite the fact that Buffy is the savior, her work would be impossible without the support of her friends (South 100). Similarly, while a spark can start a lifesaving fire, it will not do so unless there is oxygen, and fuel to help it. Horner’s video reaffirmed this idea. In the video, it transitions between Horner who is representing Buffy and another young girl who is merely trying to make it through the consistently underestimated trials of high school. Horner is dressed in dark colors and leather, just as Buffy normally did, and she fights people costumed as Vampires. Immediately following each of Horner’s scenes, the young girls is shown dressed in the casual apparel of a normal teenager (jeans and a t-shirt) while she stands up to bullies and peer pressure (Horner).
The visual transition between the two girls is smooth, as if the camera just pans straight across from one scene to the next. This shows how extremely connected fans feel to Buffy. Fans see the struggles that Buffy faces and then they see their own struggles reflected in them. She may be fighting mythical Vampires and Demons, but this video shows that they are not all that different from the ‘horrors’ fans face every day in other people. Thus fans begin to try to face their struggles with the strength and determination that they see in Buffy. In the article, “Fans with a lot at Stake: Serious Play and Mimetic Excess in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by Geraldine Bloustien, she discusses how fans recognize the realism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They see realism in the hellish toils of daily life. Buffy does not just struggle against the things that go bump in the night but also with chemistry, French, societal pressures to conform, and with relationships. These struggles are not displayed as secondary or lesser, and the fans are able to relate to that. Just because the troubles that fans face are not stereotypically ‘epic’ they are still troubles and this parallelism not only connects the fans more intimately to the show, but also to each other. Buffy the Vampire Slayer reaffirms the fan’s beliefs that their troubles are worthy of concern and this affirmation makes the fans more willing to sympathize with each other.
In Horner’s video, the camera is positioned below the young girl as she stands up to bullies and peer pressure to smoke. Therefore the viewer is literally ‘looking up to her’ as an example to follow the way she follows Buffy’s. This shows how fans begin to not only model their behavior on Buffy directly, but also other fans. Thus, fans end up behaving like another character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike. In their paper, “The Vampire Spike in Text and Fandom”, co-authors Dee Amy Chinn and Molly Williamson describe the phenomenon surrounding the character Spike, who begins the series as the most dastardly of villains and ends it as a hero. Throughout the series Spike feels (and is) highly ‘othered’ by everyone surrounding him so eventually he begins to change his behavior until he is more like Buffy and her group of friends (Dee and Williamson 280). By the end of the series, Spike is actually working to teach other young ‘potential slayers’ how they should act, fight, and generally how they should live their lives. Therefore, in Horner’s video the young girl not only mirrored Buffy, but also grew into someone worth emulating, just like Spike. Spike differs from Buffy because she is portrayed as a worthy and righteous leader from the beginning of the series, while Spike definitely had to grow into this role. Therefore Spike is very easy for fans to relate to because most people recognize their own flaws and enjoy seeing how someone who is so distinctly flawed can still be someone worth emulating.
The idea of mirroring other fans is really more than just an idea. On the very prominent Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan website, buffythevampireslayer.org, there is an introduction discussion page for members of the site. On this particular discussion thread, the many ways that fans begin to mirror each other becomes quite visible. The majority of posters start with their own name, then move to where they are from, and then to their favorite character. Some other commonly brought up tidbits are favorite episodes, how long they have been watching, and how often they re-watch the series. Becky, a seventeen year old girl from England had an especially stereotypical post (Welcome). She not only followed the unspoken rules listed above about what to post, but also posted the same as the others stylistically. There is a distinct lack of punctuation, capitalization, and generally speaking, no deference for the normal rules of grammar (Welcome). This is because these fans are all naturally comfortable with each other. They share a common bond through the fandom, and since none of the earlier posters felt constrained by proper grammar, Becky is free to follow their lead and ignore those rules as well.
The fans all search for things that they have in common and other discussions shoot off of the ones started on the introduction page. For example, while introducing themselves fans state their favorite character which inevitably led to the common Angel v. Spike debate (Welcome), about whom Buffy loved more. Both Spike and Angel were long running characters on the show that Buffy had relationships with. Also fans began to write more and more similarly as the discussion went on. For example, capitalization of the word “LOVE” appears increasingly often throughout the discussion (Welcome). Also, posters started to reply to each other’s posts more frequently, which shows the fan’s desire connect with each other. These replies were usually to discuss things in common, which is interesting because despite the variety of poster’s origins and ages they all seemed to desire to appear as similar as possible to each other while online. Matthew Pateman’s discussion of the fluidity of self in his article “That Was Nifty: Willow Rosenberg Saves the World in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” can be applied to the situation occurring on this message board. By the end of his article, he concludes that while parts of “the self” might be fluid, there is a fundamental part which can never be changed (Pateman 77). In the case of the discussion board, the fundamental piece of self is their love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because they all share this fundamental attribute, they are then able to adapt their online personas to at least appear more and more like each other. The fact that all of these people are even on the same fansite serves as an unstated introduction because everyone comes in knowing that they are surrounded by people who share their passion for the show. Therefore in this welcome discussion thread the individuals can immediately begin trying to find other commonalities between each other because their assumed status as a fan has already made the initial connection with all of them.
The language used in both Horner’s music video and the discussion board also demonstrates the echo relationship between the characters in the show and the fans. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was started in the mid 1990’s. At that point “wig-out” was a common phrase and was often used in the show. Now that is definitely not the case. Despite this, Horner used the phrase ‘wig-out’ several times during her song (Horner). She does this to try to strengthen the ties between herself and Buffy for her viewers. Similarly, in the online discussion boards the posters all used terms that would be very confusing to people who did not belong to the online community. For example, they use the word “Spuffy” to represent the relationship between Spike and Buffy, and “Bangel” to represent the relationship between Buffy and Angel (Welcome). This is important because neither of those terms was ever used in the original show. They only appear in online discussion about itand thus belong solely to the fandom. By doing this they continue to echo each other, becoming even more fused by their similarities by creating an online colloquialism. The reason that this online ‘place’ for all fans can even exist is because, as Rhonda Wilcox said in her article “There Will Never Be A `Very Special’ Buffy” (1999), it is very easy for fans to connect the world shown in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the world that they see every day in their real lives (Wilcox 16). I believe that because of this perceived connection, the fans end up actually creating a third ‘place’ online where the two worlds actually merge. This third place can only be created because the fans all subconsciously desire to come together, thus they need a place where their new combined self has the opportunity to exist.
The episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I Robot, You Jane” from season one, actually directly addresses the development of an online self. In the episode, Willow (Buffy’s best friend) starts a relationship with someone online, who turns out to be an evil demon. Throughout the episode, the demon (Moloch) takes more and more people over to his side to aid him (I Robot). Until eventually, Buffy defeats him. Shockingly, there are several similarities between the online Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom and Moloch’s demon possession via the internet. For example, both grow exponentially stronger as more people become involved. Moloch, converted more and more people to his side and became harder and harder to stop. In the same way, the more people who begin to behave like Buffy, the more people who will be influenced by them and start behaving like fans of Buffy. Of course there are also differences between the fandom and Moloch. For example, the fandom has yet to collectively try to take over the world (I Robot). The fandom is also very much real, and generally speaking a good thing. My point here is merely that the show and its creators understood and specifically chose to discuss the development of online identity. This episode was aired in the late nineties during a time of great growth for the internet. Therefore, the creators’ choice to discuss the online personalities was very progressive. This made it more relatable to the fans and since the internet is something that will always be current, in some way shape or form, this episode will always be highly relatable to fans.
Whether you are a fan becoming a member of a fandom, a child annoying your sibling, or an adult trying to fit in at the office, all human beings have some subconscious desire to reflect those that they see around them. Through this reflection, the people involved actually begin to attempt to become one another. However, because there are so many people connected to each other, one person cannot simply turn into a person that they mimic. Rather, all people involved end up adapting into a whole new combined being, while still retaining and developing pieces of their individual initial selves. This is why online fandom exists: it provides people with the opportunity to find common ground on which we can continue to create new existence with each other. This is especially true within the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom. Through fan videos, discussion boards, and episodes of the show we are shown explicitly how the Buffy community mirrors both characters from the show, and each other to develop individual and group personalities. The internet has provided us with many things, from immediate access to information to amusing cat gifs. But in my opinion, the most important thing that we have gained from the internet is expanded opportunities to identify with a plethora of different people, and thus the ability to recognize a self which is closest to what we truly are.