I have an interesting take on these two tales because Buffy the Vampire Slayer was popular when I was in high school and college (I was born the same year as many of the primary characters), and the Twilight series was popular when I first started teaching middle school in 2006. I did not watch Buffy in high school and college, as I was focused on Dawson's Creek, Felicity, and Friends (although I was a little young to watch Friends when it first came out), and I was not as into speculative fiction as I am now. However, I wish I had watched Buffy when I was younger, as I think a lot of the themes would have been helpful to me at that age. I binge watched it more recently as a thirtysomething and found it healing, for reasons I'll elaborate on in another writing piece.
I started reading the Twilight series in my mid-twenties, in part of out curiosity because of my love of vampire stories and in part to relate to my students, who pointed me into the direction of Twilight and The Hunger Games (which, by the way, was better). I liked the first book in the Twilight series, but I thought they got progressively more problematic as they went along. When I watched the Twilight films in my late 20s, I wondered why Bella didn't go for Jacob, with whom she seemed to have a healthier relationship. Although I found aspects of Buffy and Spike's relationship problematic, particularly in some episodes of Season 6, I would far rather my female students, potential nieces, and daughters (if I have one) have Buffy as a role model than Bella. I don't have a problem with teenagers reading and watching the Twilight series, but I think they should do so with critical literacy and critical media literacy perspectives that encourage thought and discussion. I heard Stephanie Meyer speak once at a Barnes and Noble in Atlanta, and she said she thought many readers misunderstood Jacob's intentions. Since Bella narrates the novels, Edward comes across more positively than Jacob, although the movies clearly paint Jacob in a more positive light. Perhaps part of the discussion could be how people perceive their relationships when they are in them and very young, versus how we perceive them once we are older, more distanced from them, and have had some time to reflect.
Since we FINALLY have a Wonder Woman movie coming out soon, it's intriguing to me to think about how Wonder Women has set the tone for other female characters, particularly characters like Buffy who are superheroes or who have superhero-like qualities. Lillian Robinson's book Wonder Women (2004) explains how Wonder Woman as a superhero has changed over time in correlation with the values of various decades. This visual post is spot on in showing these shifts over time.
During World War II, men were fighting, and women were working so-called men's jobs in the U.S. Charles Moulton, known otherwise as psychologist William Moulton Marston, had a feminist view of Wonder Woman as a dominating, strong female who ruled a female's utopia known as Paradise Island. Moulton had a worldview in line with radical feminism and believed that women’s empowerment in sexuality and in other areas of life would make the world a better place.
Eventually, Wonder Woman left Paradise Island, in part to follow her love interest Captain Steve Trevor (Robinson, 2004). It is ironic that although her creator subscribed to feminist beliefs, some of which were radical, she still ended up making a major life choice based on following a love interest. Still, her overall persona in the early comics conveyed strength, although some later artists and writers of the Wonder Woman comic did not follow Marston’s vision and made her a more traditional woman. Over time, Wonder Woman’s history shows the changes of people’s attitudes toward women, as she is much more empowered during some decades than others (Robinson, 2004). In spite of these shifts in representation, Robinson (2004) argues that Wonder Woman has paved the way for more recent postmodern comics with non-linear plotlines and female characters who, akin to Judith Butler’s (1990) theories, challenge ideas of traditional gender performance, such as the Incredible She-Hulk, Xena the Warrior Princess, Elektra, Scarlet Witch, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel, and Sue Storm Richards a.k.a. “Invisible Woman,” among others.
I know some of my hard core comics friends disagreed with me on this, but I was disappointed in the Batman vs. Superman film, including the portrayal of Wonder Woman. Her superhero costume was great; it was short, but it looked like a warrior costume, and I loved her in the fight scenes toward the end. However, before she was in her Wonder Woman garb, I thought she was hyper-sexualized in some scenes. I can see the point that part of the idea was to depict her chemistry with Batman, but those low-cut dresses? Seriously? And I know they addressed why she didn't come through until the end, but I would have liked to have seen more of her in superhero form sooner. Maybe they will make up for that when she has her own film, though.
Overall, I remain hopeful. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still a cult classic that fans of all age watch more than once. People are looking a teenage romance novels, and romance novels in general, with a healthy critical eye. We now have a teenage Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel and many other comics with diverse characters, in terms of race and gender. And, to close, we have Zoe from Firefly and the Serenity comics and film, and hopefully even more characters like her will follow.
Robinson, L. (2004). Wonder women: Feminisms and superheroes. New York, NY: Routledge.