Of all the things that have influenced me and helped shape me growing up, I would say that these three TV shows have had the biggest impact.
Three shows that have strong female leads delivering important messages to millions of viewers across the world from as early as 1995 until...well...they're still popular despite the all of the shows ending with the latest in 2006, so I guess for as long as there are reruns, DVDs and, of course, die-hard fans.
I'd like to take the time to explain why these shows and their characters have and will always have a special place in my bitter and shriveled heart.
*SPOILER WARNING* - You have been warned!
Each of these shows - Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and Xena: Warrior Princess - while having very similar themes delivered their own messages that preached love, hope, forgiveness and kick arse feminism. I have never been one to shy away from deifying and identifying with strong female characters who are fighting the good fight in ways that can be read as allegories for struggles I've also endured.
Xena: Warrior Princess is the earliest of these, starting in September 1995 and running until June 2001. The character originally appeared in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and quickly gained a following which, naturally, led to her own spin-off with Lucy Lawless reprising the role. Ancient Greece has always been rich with material for creative folks to draw from because of it's fantastical mythology. Unlike Buffy and Charmed, Xena is not set in a fixed location and the characters travel to various other countries interacting with their culture and myths.
Even though Xena seemed like she hated everyone, she does show a softer and more compassionate side. Through the violence there comes a point where she acknowledges that she should avoid it where possible and fights only in defence of herself, her loved ones and for the greater good.
Now we all know Xena has a big, pink, queer, elephant in the room - The relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. Everyone knew it was there, it was written into the subtext of the show and even the actors have admitted they were pretty much a married couple
Gabrielle was a massive influence on Xena in following the way of love. This for me is THE message of the entire series. LOVE.
Xena had a varied and somewhat shady past, and her adventures with Gabrielle and Joxer where just as interesting. Despite all of the struggle, heartache, death etc. Xena still follows love. She gives up her divinity to heal Callisto, her arch-nemesis for a large part of the series. After 25 year magical slumber (I can only assume it is magic) she wakes to find she has missed her daughter growing up, and she has grown up into a war loving evil bitch, Xena still follows her and is determined to show her the way of love and is willing to forgive the atrocities she inflicted. She destroys the Olympian Gods to make way for the god of love; Aphrodite being the only goddess that doesn't take up arms against Xena and Gabrielle as she doesn't want to hurt her friends.
Even Ares, the god of war, gives up his immortality to heal Eve, Xena's daughter, as he knows that no matter how much he plots and schemes, Xena will always love her daughter more than him/war.
So this is the message I have taken from Xena - Love is complex as hell, but without it we become the very things that we are fighting against. The show has helped me to remember that.
Charmed is an interesting one. Unlike the others, this preaches literal sisterhood over the ideas of 'urban family' that Buffy embraces and Xena skirts along.
Starting in 1998 and ending in 2006 it is the longest running of the shows and was more concerned with magic as a weapon than physically kicking arse. The series is set in San Francisco and begins with three sisters - Prue, Piper and Phoebe discovering themselves. They are witches. Not just any witches though, THE witches. The Charmed Ones and all the destiny and crap that comes with that. After a few year of battling with this, they go through it all again when Prue is killed and find out they have another sister, Paige.
For a large proportion of the show the sisters keep saying they want to have a 'normal life', especially Piper who becomes the eldest after the death of Prue and starts her own family during the course of the show. This is definitely something that resonates with me. There have been points already in my life where I have sat down and thought what it would be like to just be 'normal'. No artiness. No queerness. No uphill struggles and no running. Like the Halliwell Sisters I too have then stood up and realised that is not really my path. That I can have the best of both worlds if I just keep working at it. The perfect balance is somewhere in that light at the end of the tunnel, providing of course that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train, unlike the Halliwells I do not have magical powers to stop the train.
The message Charmed give is one of hope and perseverance. Even though we've been through many dark times (Not as dark as your husband being the source of all evil and having to vanquish him while you are pregnant with his baby, but close enough.) giving up is not the way.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is perhaps the most important of these three shows. Running from 1997 to 2003, the series is set in the fictional town of Sunnydale which has been built over a 'Hellmouth', a gateway to hell. The direct location of this happens to be below the high school where our protagonist just happens to be. Buffy herself is played by Sarah Michelle Gellar and is designed to look like the ditzy blonde cheerleader from every horror movie ever. She, however, is not. She is a Vampire Slayer. Buffy has to contend with this destined duty, school, family and friends. Things that it is revealed over the course of the series that previous slayers have failed to balance.
The series has so much detail and is so rich in imagery and allegories that I'd be here for hours if I went through it, in fact there are courses taught on the cultural significance of Buffy and essays and theories galore have been written about it. I'll try to keep this short and sweet so this post doesn't become an essay of it's own.
Buffy promotes themes that the other two shows preach and more. Joss Whedon created something fantastic in Buffy that made it so endearing - he made her human. Every single episode she has to deal with things that we mere mortals have to deal with every day. Friends, family, love, death, sex, school, college, work etc. All our complexities blown up to scales that they do sometimes feel like and made ever more fantastical by the addition of magic and demons.
This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from any TV show...or in fact the most important lesson ever.
Buffy has taught me how to be human.
This is something people, institutions and society in general struggles to teach and yet here it is. One of the world's greatest lessons wrapped neatly in a 7 season box set of 144 episodes. And I'm not ashamed to admit that it is beautiful.
Scooby Gang 4 lyf.
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