film, life
Comments 21

TV’s strong heroines

It’s no secret that I love storytellers. They come in all forms; writers, filmmakers, journalists, musicians, painters, photographers. It is the basis for this blog – that the stories we tell ourselves shape the way we live our lives, and so they are very important. The question is what kind of stories are we exposed to? What were the stories that shaped my core that holds the beliefs after which I construct the world around me? Do my stories correspond to those of the people around me enough so we can co-exist peacefully together? In many places around the world the stories people tell themselves cause very real conflicts leading to suffering, plights and death. Politics is about making your beliefs into a reality that benefits the majority of the people living in that area, but leaving enough liberty for those who do not agree with you to also live fulfilling lives. But every day we witness the terrible consequences when people in power take it upon themselves to force their stories, with violence, persuasion or bribes, on groups that have chosen a different story. Maybe if we learned to separate stories from absolute truths, we could also find a way for different stories to live side by side.

Many people got their stories from their parents or family. Many got them from religion or other cultural organizations. I got a lot of mine from TV. I suspect many from my generation and those younger did as well. Books, too, naturally but mainly TV. That leaves our modern storytellers with a lot of responsibility.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the reason I believe in love at first sight. It sounds super silly but it was May 1997 and I was 13, just about to finish seventh grade. It must have been around 8:45 on a Saturday night and I was by myself channel surfing all 15 or so channels that we had (at the time Norway had about three free channels and in addition my parents had bought a 10 channels package, but not the expensive channels that showed recent movies). There was a cute blonde girl in a blue coat in a dark crypt fighting an ugly looking vampire creature while being very witty and sassy. It was the final five minutes of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The episode ended, and I was in love before I even knew what was going on. For the next couple of years I had to battle my parents every Saturday night to catch a glimpse of Buffy (we only had one TV) but eventually it started airing on Tuesdays and I learned how to use the VCR record button so I could re-watch whenever I wanted. My only problem then became that I had started taking Tae Kwon Do lessons on Tuesdays, which ended at 8pm, and Buffy began at 8:15. If my mom ever wanted to be a race car driver she got a lot of practice that year.

I started practicing Tae Kwon Do because I wanted to be like Buffy. I wanted to be fearless. I wanted to be strong yet vulnerable; I wanted to be tough but lovable. I was learning that women not only can be all these things; they already are. We are survivors. Buffy was my imaginary friend as I walked down the hallways in school; some people thought she was a freak, too. Boys said insensitive things that sting way too much when you are fourteen years old, but Buffy always had a comeback. And if she didn’t, she went out at night and staked vampires. Buffy was there as I ran through the woods to get home at night, after staying too long at a friends’ house. I didn’t have a boyfriend in a high school, but Buffy didn’t really either, so it was okay. becomingInstead, Buffy had an epic love in Angel and I always knew I would meet mine some day and preferred it rather not be in high school. (I met mine when I was 24, which seemed old at the time but seems young now. Funny how that works.) She was the big sister I never had. I’m the oldest sibling so it was nice to have someone who was three years older to look up to. Maybe I should be embarrassed about this but I’ll admit I did freak out just a little when I turned 22. The show ended when Buffy was 22, so now I would never be younger than her again. The road ahead I had to face alone. She was the greatest role model to grow up with. I feel kind of sad for those who didn’t.

There is a book now called “What would Buffy do? The Vampire Slayer as a Spiritual Guide“. I love that. I love that I’m not the only girl who was so deeply moved by this character, who still asks the question ‘What would Buffy do?’ more than fifteen years after I was introduced to her. Buffy is not flawless, but she is moral. She is human; she breaks, sometimes crumbles and runs away, but at the end of the day, she accepts her lot in life. She makes sacrifices, she makes the tough decisions, not because she wants to but because no one else will. She is strong. Joss Whedon created one of the first truly complex female characters on TV, and I think the keyword there is TV. When women are strong in two hour movies, they become cold machines. As much as I love Quentin Tarantino and Kill Bill, it is “only” a revenge story. There is not enough time to explore their vulnerability so they become caricatures of strong women, with no room for self-doubt. I read that Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar had acompetent difficult working relationship because she felt he never truly acknowledged her bringing Buffy to life, while he felt he deserved the credit since he created the character. I sympathize with both of them and I’m eternally grateful the stars alined to where they both came together to give us Buffy Summers for seven great years.

I’ve loved tons of great shows since Buffy ended, among them Carnivale, Rome, Alias, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Criminal Minds, CSI, Dollhouse, Dexter, Firefly, Supernatural, Nikita, Fringe, Veronica Mars, Newsroom but none yielded a heroine like Buffy. Until Game of Thrones. Daenerys Targaryen is the chosen one, the medieval Buffy Summers on steroids. She begins her life as a refugee and is sold into sexual slavery by her brother (granted, in the show it’s an arranged marriage) at the age of 13, pregnant at 14 only to lose the baby and everything she has ever known, even the husband, within a year. The only source of strength she has is the knowledge that she is part of a dynasty that once ruled the world, she is fire and blood made flesh, she is a dragon. But really, she is a scared fourteen year old in a wasteland desert. Daenerys-daenerys-targaryen-30464003-1280-720I LOVE this character. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced love at first sight (not counting my wonderful boyfriend) but with Game of Thrones it was instant, and universal, by all accounts. I devoured the first season of HBO’s new fantasy show in the summer of 2011, and had read all five books (all 6000+ pages) of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire by Christmas that year. For the first time since Buffy, my obsession has remained as fervent as day 1 and I keep rereading the books (they just get better! So much rich detail you miss the first time!), researching characters and plot theories online while counting down the days to season 3 (March 31!)

On a whim I started watching Shameless the other week. I’ve had a girl-crush on Emmy Rossum since Phantom of the Opera, I would watch her face in anything, but somehow the existence of this show escaped me. Fiona Gallagher, largely thanks to Rossum’s portrayal, is my TV heroine of the year. tumblr_lxekqj3Adu1qkwdt1o1_250She is unapologetic, take-no-prisoners, raw, fierce, any adjective you want to pair with ‘strong’. This character probably has been handed one of the shittiest deals you can get in the western hemisphere with a drunk deadbeat dad and five siblings to raise at the age of 22 but the way she handles it almost makes you want to trade places with her, just so you too can become the awesomeness that is Fiona Gallagher. Emmy Rossum is a revelation. I know that word is overused when it comes to actors but she truly is. In every single shot she is so alive, either with the tiniest facial expressions or barking orders at her flock. In several episodes she has moments where it all gets to be too much and she starts to break down, tears welling and deep sobs, before she instantly gathers herself, as if she lets herself cry just once she is never going to stop, so she just moves on. I am so impressed with this actress. It’s the sort of performance that makes me wish I had tried harder at becoming an actor because what could possibly be more fun and rewarding than get to excel at being someone else for a living? It’s never too late, I guess.

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Shameless has a great ensemble cast and each character is pretty much equally horrifying and endearing. I realize that if I ever met this family in real life I would run for the hills, but on TV, I love them. Show creator Paul Abbott, hats off to you.

I’ll end with this quote I found of his today. Storytelling is hard work, but it’s the only way to make sense of the universe of emotions inside each of us. It connects us and lets us know we are not alone.

It isn’t really a hobby. For ten hours a day, you sit there and write… You have to be a little mad to get the bits out of you that mean the most. – Paul Abbott

21 Comments

  1. I have to admit, I love Buffy. I had never really watched it but my Susie was a huge Buffy fan. She bought the boxed set and yes I am a man but I am not ashamed to admit I have seen every episode about half a dozen times. (including the Angel spinoff) I think Susie was so drawn to Buffy’s character because she was everything that Susie was taught she shouldn’t be growing up. She was very quiet and reserved but she had the spirit of a tigress. She got me hooked on Buffy and I expanded her musical horizons. It was one of the things we shared and bonded over. This post made me remember all the nights we sat cuddled together watching episode after episode. Thank you for this. :) I have discovered in my own writing that I love writing strong female characters, that too I attribute to my time with Susie. Again thank you for sending me down memory lane.

  2. When my twin daughters were in seventh grade we watched our way through the entire Buffy-verse any time the three of us had 45 minutes together, and the show is still a major touchstone in our relationship–and a fantastic source of metaphors for my “dad lectures” on life. Quite possibly the most valuable show for parenting daughters this side of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood–and it just happens to be a bad ass show with the best heroine ever brought to the small screen.

    • This is such a sweet comment! Thank you for that. I’m so happy to hear you were able to have that time with your daughters. I’m sure they will grow up to be kick-ass girls themselves! I have no idea if Buffy would even be watchable anymore if/when I have kids and they would be old enough to watch it considering how quickly the quality of TV shows are changing… but you bet your life I would try to make it happen :)

  3. So glad you mentioned Fringe if even just briefly. Olivia Dunham became my favourite female character but Fringe is so underwatched and underrated.

    I agree about the point you made about Kill Bill too.

    I think The Walking Dead has some great female characters as well.

    Only just starting GoT so I’ll have to see how the Daenerys Targaryen character plays out (I skipped a little bit there to avoid any spoliers haha)

  4. I’m a big Dany fan, too. :)

    A couple of other heroines I loved from past shows were Peta Wilson’s La Femme Nikita (so emotional and sensitive, and so very strong all at once), and Aeryn from Farscape.

    Also, Dax from DS9 was a lot of fun. Really smart and also learned in martial arts. Plus had this great, goofy sense of humor.

    I need my heronies to be real, to have emotions, and come across as three-dimensional people/characters. Not just some one-dimensional Hollywood idea of “tough girl”.

    • Great picks! I loved all the incarnations of Nikita. I thought Maggie Q was brilliant in the latest American adaptation but I might be biased because she is so damn hot ;) I don’t like the one-dimensional Hollywood version either and I feel they are usually found in movies, where you only have 90 minutes to develop backstory + plot. During the past couple of years I am just floored by how TV writing has come leaps and bounds from what it used to be. But it makes sense. Good writers + 13-22 episodes a year to develop characters and I think that’s why so many of us prefer TV these days. Oh, I can go on and on about the fascinating developments in TV writing right now :) Thank you for stopping by my blog – I’ve really enjoyed your take on Penny Dreadful lately!

      • I’d love to see the latest Nikita show but unfortunately it never aired over here. :( Ah well. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to catch it on netflix or something.

        Oh, and thank you so much! I figured that since most of my readers have probably already seen the first season of Penny Dreadful, that it might be fun to read reviews from someone who’s just watching it now. And perhaps have a giggle at the things I may predict wrongly. :)

  5. This post is awesome! You’ve very accurately articulated the love that a lot of people have for Buffy, Daenerys, and Fiona and I enjoyed reading it so much :D

    • Thank you for reading! I appreciate your comment :) I always love finding fellow Buffy fanatics – it just really is the best show ever, despite its flaws!

  6. LOVE this! I have always been a big Buffy fan and still enjoy watch reruns of the show. You do a great job of storytelling- keep it up!

  7. Lovely post, and to this day Buffy remains my absolute favourite television show. I adored Buffy, but I am more Willow – if that makes sense! She showed there’s a place for the geeky side kick to also become a strong yet sweet woman.

    I know what you mean about a lack of similar women in TV & film today. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to a Buffy sized girl-crush is Skye in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which also has a touch of the Whedon’s about it (Agent Melinda May is also well worth watching – her character development from implacable butt kicking war machine to complex human capable of deep emotion has been one of my highlights of season 1).

    One of my other favourites has been season 1 of The Originals – proper bad, devious and complex vampires and some interesting female characters. The downside has been that Klaus & Elijah, the two male characters, just own every scene they walk into for me, so sometimes the female characters get overlooked (especially werewolf Hayley). That said, there’s the brilliant Claire Holt playing their sister Rebecca who has brought a huge range of complexity, vulnerability and emotion to the role of a vampire despite not being in the full series. I’m looking forward to seeing how season 2 develops these characters.

  8. Buffy is still one of my favorites – I have to watch this show over and over again, at least once a year! And Daenarys is also one of the characters I like the most in GoT! I never heard about Shameless, but based on the other two similar tastes, I think I must go and watch that show sometime soon.

  9. I love Buffy and this entire post. Its always great to see strong women on TV and I love how you found Buffy as a role model. I hope more girls are able to find great strong women like Buffy to look up to today.

  10. As a writer, english major, and lover of everything with a story I have to give you props for this blog. Plus I have an equally large girl crush on Emmy Rossum, which has only grown since devouring Shameless. Here’s to strong women.

    stay sassy girlfriend
    livelifesassy.com

    • Thank you so much for leaving the first official comment, sassygirl! I’m thrilled that you like my blog. I think any girl who crushes on Emmy Rossum has fabulous taste :)

  11. svjohn says

    Love your writing & messages! Keep up the goodness that is You! <3

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