Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why So Campy?

As one who barely remembered that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel aired a decade ago on the WB, and one completely unfamiliar with “Buffy Studies,” I was especially struck by the campiness of the show. While I’m certain that some of what stood out to me was also a product of whatever strange trends that happened to be in vogue at that particular point in time, the stupidity and ignorance of all outside of the "Scooby gang (no relation to the other 'Scooby Gang' from another notable Sarah Michelle Gellar work)" especially evident; moreover, the depiction of the vampires was perpetuated innumerable stereotypes. Certainly a less heavy handed approach would yield heightened dramatic tension-in short, I would prefer to be pleasantly surprised (or shocked) than have every single bad guy labeled with leather jackets and a scowl. Clearly, the latter has an excitement coefficient roughly equal to that of tea time at a cricket test match.

I would like to believe that all of this is a conscious decision to put a B-movie type layer on top of an obvious homage to the works in the horror genre in the past. The need to lighten the dark themes of Buffy so that they’re more in line with what was acceptable on network television is clear, and perhaps by bringing in some degree of campiness and some degree of self awareness. Certainly show’s propensity for poking fun at itself draws parallels to sitcoms a la Arrested Development and 30 Rock rather than the seriousness and scariness of the Exorcist or the Poltergeist. There are other instances where horror is turned upside down and pushed out of the foreground precisely because when enough emphasis is placed on the campiness and absurdity of traditional horror tropes, it reaches a point of excess past the threshold of sensible horror, instead exuding humor as evidenced by the recent Zombieland or even the somewhat less recent Scary Movie franchise.

The B-movie elements (at least for me) render Buffy supremely more watchable…after all, I don’t think too many viewers have the stomach for so many years of dark and brooding vampire battles. It's almost like a reflection of the music industry, where for every emo band there is yet another derivative pop rock/pop hip-pop crew singing themes on some variation on Katie Perry. Taking the B-movie out of Buffy would amount to an inordinate dose of norwegian heavy black gothic speed trash death metal, at which point I would very much crave whatever the silver screen equivalent of "Firework" or "E.T." is. My question is instead this: do these elements detract from the depiction of heroines as an equally effective force for good compared to our traditional heroes?


  1. I definitely agree that the campiness in Buffy makes it much more entertaining and watchable. When you're operating in a world where vampires exist simultaneously with high school students, you simply have to accept the fact that comic relief is required or else resign yourself to hours of somber seriousness that will bore the audience to tears. Drama and humor go hand in hand and I think every story, no matter how serious or dramatic, needs humor to both provide some relief for the audience and to make the dramatic elements more dramatic in comparison.

    I think the necessity for humor is especially true in stories with a heroine instead of a hero and instead of detracting from their effectiveness it actually adds to it. It's definitely no accident that Joss Wheadon chose to use a female character with an ultra feminine name (Buffy is just about the last name I'd expect for a vampire slayer) and physique as the main character. I think he knew that this would add an additional element of interest to the show, giving him plenty of opportunities to play with our expectations of a female character and poke some fun at it all and also to make the dramatic elements of the show that much more dramatic when they happen to a woman.

  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is intended to be comedy, not horror, as is evident in the name of the series. Much of this comedy is derived from the seemingly irreconcilable identities of "Buffy"- skinny teenage blonde Valley Girl who loves shopping and "Vampire Slayer"- powerful killer with the world on her shoulders. The premise for the show is absurd, and it must be portrayed in a fitting medium. That means in humorous B-movie style, not heavy-handed horror. Who would name their child Buffy anyways? Is it short for anything? Joss Whedon delivers the cartoonish campiness of Buffy with a self-aware wink to the audience. I do think that this campiness, at least in the earlier seasons, detracts from Buffy as a believable heroine. Even though we realize that serious themes are packaged inside this bubblegum wrapping, it's difficult to identify with Buffy.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.