On Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Power of Becoming
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not “just” a television show. It is part of the process whereby television as an artistic medium is finally coming into its own in the world of Great Literature.
So what is Great Literature? As we learn in our first high-school literature courses, to qualify as Great Literature the events of the story must cause the main character to change inwardly, emotionally, either to be shattered or strengthened by the events. The characters learn lessons and become different people.
Great Literature is also identified by the effect on the reader–that the reader feels the characters’ emotions and understands the impact of the lessons on the character–understands inwardly how it comes about that this kind of person becomes that kind of person because of the events in the story. Thus the work is memorable. The characters’ journeys of becoming are indelibly stamped upon the reader’s mind.
Beyond that, to be labeled “Great Literature” the piece has to contribute some distinctive evolutionary change to its field of literature and out-last its contemporaries.
Buffy’s field of literature is the television dramatic series, and I believe I already see evidence that the show is contributing to a process whereby television is becoming a medium that can support Great Literature.1
In the 1960s commercial television discovered that the shows that made the most money were the ones that were “anthology series”–with the episode constructed so that at the end of the episode the ongoing characters are restored to the same emotional and physical condition …