The contrast between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight could not be greater. In character and character development, as well as plot, Buffy eclipses the anodyne Twilight series. Buffy is a character in her own right, a woman who, albeit a student still, knows her own mind, acts independently, and leads her team. Even when she consults with her teacher – the school principal, a man ‘in charge’ of the educational institution where Buffy meets and matches the vampires she slays, she consults with him on a basis of equality. He may advise and mentor, but on Buffy’s terms and on Buffy’s ground. She seeks when she chooses to seek information. She assesses and assimilates where she makes the decision that the information imparted is ‘right’. It is no surprise that followers of Buffy included women who took on powerful roles in the polity – at least one, the former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja - going on to lead her political party (the Australian Democrats – AD).
Sadly, it is difficult to imagine any of Twilight’s adherents being propelled into independent action, much less political leadership. Publicity for the books, now film series, stays true to the idea of woman-as-server, woman-as-marriage-material, woman-as-secondary-to-leader (and leading) man. Film advertisements show Bella as secondary to Edward – his junior in height as well as intellect (although attributing to one or the other this capacity overstates the fictional reality). Edward invariably looms, Bella invariably succumbs, diminished, supplicant, seeking his protection, his strength to her weakness: after all, she is but a ‘girl’.
Buffy played on US and global television screens from 1997 to 2003. Twilight came shortly after, first as a series of novels, then a series of full-length feature films. Publication of the novels upon which the films are based commenced with the first volume, Twilight, in 2005 with the films released in 2008, 2009, 2010, climaxing in the final two full-length features manufactured from the fourth novel – these films being released in 2011 and 2012.
Comparing and contrasting these two popular series – one playing on television (with one feature length film in 2002), the other screening in multiplex cinemas throughout the Western world at least, provides insights into the struggle between popular media creating and promoting strong, independent women characters, and providing viewers (and readers) with submissive, male and marriage dependent ciphers.
Though Buffy as the leading character in the series bearing her name was played by a slim, blonde beauty, this did not detract from her obvious vigour, ‘fight’ capacity and generally powerful demeanour. The ‘main’ female character in Twilight (no leader nor leading character, she)displays none of this: droopy, pale, bedraggled of hair, her expressions (when they appear) confined to soupy looks directed at the principal male character and, at times, at his rival, it is impossible to see her acting independently, much less playing the major role. Buffy exists as a woman who can act on her own, albeit leading a committed team. Isabella (Bella) Swan’s existence is entirely framed on her relationships with the male characters. When Buffy interacts with male characters, it is as an equal – even where one major male character is far older and in an authority position.
How is it that in less than twenty short years, popular media went from Buffy, powerful, strong, committed and a leader, the main character in her own television series, with the task of destroying the vampire, whilst pale, wan, characterless Bella marries him? Even the titles of these popular vehicles indicate the heights from which a woman can fall – Buffy, the Slayer, to Bella, the housewife … ‘Twilight’ is too aptly named, indeed.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) October 2014