This past weekend, the "Buffy vs. Edward" meme hit fever pitch, with a video mash-up joining the popular T-shirt showing the vampire slayer killing the Twilight idol. But Buffy-ites are being hypocrites: it's Joss Whedon's fault that vampires are wimpy.
So in case you missed it (like if you weren't on Twitter, or you were abstaining from the internet all weekend) here's the Buffy Vs. Edward mash-up:
It's pretty fantastic stuff, showing just how creepy Edward really is, and how overbearing his smarmy brand of "lurve" is.
But really, the Buffy fans shouldn't throw stones at the Twilight-heads. Joss Whedon was a major pioneer of the broody, stalky, "dangerous" yet kittenish vamps. It's not what Buffy was about, but it's pretty much what Buffy turned into.
Okay, you can point a finger at Anne Rice, too, and a whole bunch of other creators and franchises that tried to give us sympathetic and/or wimpy vampires. But to me, the first really popular franchise that gave us annoyingly loveable vampires was Buffy and its spin-off series Angel.
I say this as a huge Buffy/Angel fan, one who has a desktop pattern showing Buffy staking Vampirella on my laptop, and a piece of the Buffy set in my home. But my least favorite part of both shows was always the vampires as love interests. I never really bought Angel as a heart throb, and you can chart the rise of Spike as an allegedly "lovable" character as the downfall of BTVS.
Here's what's cool about vampires: They're evil. Here's what's not cool about vampires: They're emo. Got it?
Buffy The Vampire Slayer started out — as its name suggests — being a show about a deceptively slender blonde girl who's secretly the Slayer, and who goes around killing vampires and other nasties. But from early on, the show introduced a love interest for Buffy — Angel, the tormented vampire who was one of the worst sadists in the game until he was cursed with a soul, and now he's filled with remorse.
I actually really like Angel as a character, and I like his spin-off show a lot more than it probably deserves. He's a fun tragic hero. But the Buffy/Angel love was never my favorite aspect of either character. It's no accident that the Buffy/Edward mashup above uses tons and tons of scenes of Buffy and Willow obsessing over Angel — because Angel stalked Buffy just the way Edward does in that video. And then we learn that Angel was homeless and eating rats in alley for 100 years until he saw Buffy and decided to follow her around. Oh, that's not ooky at all.
(Yes, the "100 years in an alley" thing was eventually retconned, so we could have lots of episodes where we discovered that Angel took part in World War II, got caught up in the McCarthy era, hung out with the Rat Pack, was the dolly grip on Barbarella, did the catering for Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra and turned both JFK and Marilyn Monroe into vamps. But it was still established before it was retconned.)
Angel is an engaging enough character that it hardly matters that his romantic chemistry with Buffy was always negligible. When he got his own show, he managed to go five seasons without having a really compelling love story — first he moped over Buffy some more, then he had a fairly low-key flirtation with Cordelia, which got nipped in the bud when she was whisked off to Heaven. And finally, he had a sweet, fairly easy-going romance with Nina the werewolf, which was nice precisely because it wasn't made into a huge saga. Angel is good at being a tormented hero, but as soon as you cast him as the lover, he starts to seem just petulant and all wet.
The one redeeming feature about the Buffy/Angel love is also the creepiest part: the fact that when Angel and Buffy finally consummate their doomed love, he reverts to being a psychopathic soulless monster. It's such a great metaphor for the loss of innocence and the way in which love can go south that it almost makes everything else worth it.
But really, the Buffy/Angel love isn't where Buffy got into real trouble, and helped to inspire Edward Cullen. The real crux of the problem is the vampire who pretty much took over as the new Angel after Angel left: William the Bloody, aka Spike.
Salon.com summed up the show's troubles with a May 13, 2003 essay entitled "Why Spike Ruined Buffy The Vampire Slayer":
A once-good show becomes a bad one through the unexpected popularity of a posturing, vaguely thuggish minor character in a black leather jacket. In television, as in life, events tend to repeat themselves. First there was "Happy Days," where a charming show about growing up in the '50s was revamped to focus on the Fonz. And now there's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which has been all but destroyed by the Fonzie of our time: Spike.
Let's review. Spike was introduced in season two as a new antagonist, and he wound up sticking a lot longer than the writers seemed to intend originally, because his punk-rock devil-may-care sensibility brought a breath of fresh air to the show after the portentousness of the Master in season one. And his twisted, sadistic love affair with fellow vampire Drusilla was one of the show's high points. Spike risks everything to heal Drusillia, only to find the newly evilled-up Angel moving in on his territory.
So Spike always had his pouty, tragic side, and the Spike/Drusilla romance culminates in an episode where Spike tells Buffy and Angel that he's love's bitch, but he at least he's man enough to admit it. And that's great stuff. Yay. That probably would have been a great time for Spike to disappear forever.
Instead, we get the incredibly ill-conceived Buffy/Spike romance, which I still can't wrap my head around years later. It starts in season five, with Spike having a chip in his head that prevents him killing humans. This isn't the same as Spike being good, and he only joins forces with our heroes because he's defenseless on his own. As late as the start of season six, we see him smiling with sadistic glee as his fellow vampires loot Sunnydale, now that Buffy's dead.
But when Spike isn't wishing he could start murdering every human in sight again, he's pining after Buffy, following her around and moping like a schoolboy. It's like the darker, less noble — and less interesting — version of Angel's season-one stalkerhood. Buffy comes to trust Spike, even though he's clearly never trustworthy, and eventually makes him her sister's protector. But at least we get one cool song out of it, "Rest In Peace," which affected James Marsters so deeply he can no longer remember the lyrics:
If you want absolute wrongness and eww-hood, there's always season six, where Spike discovers that he can bite Buffy because she's no longer technically human after coming back from the dead. And Buffy is so empty and numb after returning from Heaven that she wants to have loads and loads and loads of self-hating, sadistic, house-demolishing, nightclub-ruining sex with Spike in every single episode. And then, of course, Spike tries to rape Buffy in her bathroom. And yet, she still doesn't stake him.
But Spike really becomes the spiritual and emotional forebear of Edward Cullen in season seven, when he gets a soul and the "tormented Spike" meme reaches new lows. First the soul drives him insane for a number of episodes, leading to a lot of pitiful babbling. Then he goes on a mass-murdering spree in spite of his chip, but only because the season's big bad made him. Finally — for no reason that I can discern — he winds up in bondage for about twenty episodes, being physically tortured over and over again, because only by seeing Spike in chains can we understand fully how deeply he feels the pain of being Spike. Can you feel Spike's pain? Can you?
Just in case you're not feeling Spike's pain, here are some Youtube videos that fans have made:
There's plenty more where that came from.
Honestly, I can't get into Twilight for the same reason I can't get into True Blood: I don't want to empathize with vampires, or follow their love affairs, or worry about whether people are going to be mean to them. I want to watch people killing vampires. That's what Buffy was originally about. But the moment Buffy failed to stake Spike when she had a chance, the show veered away from that idea and started asking us to sympathize with vampires even if they didn't have souls like Angel's. So really, it's all Joss Whedon's fault that we're drowning in emo vamps now.