Obsession. The grand passion that drives a nominally sane member of society to destruction, murder, and madness. Great literature of every era has explored this topic: Ahab’s obsession with his white whale, Othello’s obsession with the fair Desdemona, Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring, and of course Plankton’s obsession with the secret recipe for the Krabby Patty. The lesson learned, the inevitable moral in each literary morality play, is that the obsessor will inevitably and thoroughly get his heinie kicked into the middle of next week.
But if the middle-of-next-week rule applies to the grand obsessions in life, what about the smaller obsessions? You know what I mean. The mild-mannered, second-cousin-once-removed distant relative of a real obsession. For example, the way I feel about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Surely that can’t do any harm, right?
For whatever reason, I missed Buffy during her 1990s to early 2000s original incarnation. Unlike my admittedly luckier peers, I was completely oblivious of the exploits of the most famous high school vampire slayer of the age. I missed the water cooler talk, I skipped the weekly suspense of waiting to find out what would happen to Angel or would Buffy’s mom ever win that coveted Worst Mom in the Universe award. Clueless and happy, I passed a decade or so without knowing what I was missing. Then, after watching and loving an obscure science fiction series called Firefly, I looked up information about writer-director Joss Whedon, and that led me to another of his creations: Buffy.
The thing I find most fascinating about Buffy is the juxtaposition of the concerns of a high school girl (boys, hair, boys, makeup, boys, parties) with the whole vampire-slaying thing. Hey, vampire slaying is important, but it better not damage the new outfit. A hell mouth in the school basement (which I suspect lurks in every high school in the country) means that every evil thing on earth and below is drawn to poor old Sunnyvale High.
I absolutely love that the parents and administrators don’t seem to find the weekly body count cause for concern or even comment. Buffy’s mother (possibly the least sensitive woman on the planet) dates a controlling and abusive stepfather wannabe who is determined to keep Buffy in line . . . oh, and who turns out to be an android. The principal, extremely upbeat and positive, has sold his soul for power (another thing I suspect isn’t all that uncommon in principals), and eventually turns into a giant snake monster.
Buffy’s friends, the Scoobies (a tip of the hat to the old Scooby-Doo cartoons), are always loyal, but they’ve got problems of their own. Tests, studies, and oh yeah, one of them turns into a werewolf each month, another’s a witch, and one’s a reformed vengeance demon.
Then there are Buffy’s enemies: from the vampire who is “cursed” to regain his soul and falls in love with her to the bleach blond bad boy who loses his power to attack humans (ah, Spike). Although serious and scary at times, the series is all about the humor. My very favorite episode (so far at least) has to be the one where the town is cursed to live out the day in a musical, and the characters break into song and dance numbers at every turn.
Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I can now watch one Buffy episode after another, undiluted by either commercials or the weekly wait between episodes. Seven seasons, 144 episodes—my television is now permanently stuck on the Buffy channel: All Buffy, All the Time. Right now, I’m in the middle of season 7, which means I’m . . . sob . . . almost finished with the series. Thinking about it gives me cold chills in the middle of the night. What will happen when I’ve seen them all? What will I do after dinner? What will be the point of getting up in the morning?
So . . . does loving a ten year old B-grade television series about teenage vampire hunters qualify as an obsession? I like to think so—obsessions are edgy, even if they’re on the low end of the danger spectrum. Let’s face it, if Ahab had spent his summer watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of chasing Moby Dick through the seven seas, his heinie would have ended up large and flabby instead of kicked. Pretty hard on literature, maybe, but a whole lot better for Ahab himself. Give me Buffy any day.
Janice Hamrick is the winner of the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Kansas, she now lives in Austin, Texas, with her two daughters.
Read Janice Hamrick’s other Criminal Element posts.