Academic journal article Shofar

"That Was Nifty": Willow Rosenberg Saves the World in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Academic journal article Shofar

"That Was Nifty": Willow Rosenberg Saves the World in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Article excerpt

The extent to which ethnicity permeates an understanding of identity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is apparent from the ways in which species difference stands in for racial or ethnic difference. However, among its many points of contact with ethnicity, one that is especially curious is the case of Willow Rosenberg's disappearing Jewishness. As a character, she shifts from nerd, to poster-child for geek-chic, she suffers from major addiction, is a lesbian and ends up as something approaching a goddess. She is also, intermittently, Jewish. The paper encourages a reading of Willow that sees her as cool and occasionally as Jewish but not necessarily as Jewish cool. To that extent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be read as an index of shifting sensibilities in relation to representations of Jews in popular culture whereby old stereotypes and perceptions are largely ignored, but there are not yet the necessary store of images and discourses available for young Jewish womanhood.

Willow Rosenberg (Alison Hannigan), in the very last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN, 1997-2003), saves the world.1 She does so by summoning her extraordinary magical powers and performing a spell of such magnitude that it transforms all of the girls and young women who might have become the Slayer on the death of the previous one into a Slayer now. In other words, it alters millennia of (super) natural law and lore and, in the process, allows Buffy (the current vampire slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar) to have an army strong enough to defeat the First Evil. As a by-product, Willow glows in translucent white light, seemingly becoming a goddess, and she comments in happy, exhausted satisfaction at the conclusion of all of this that it was "nifty." A cool Jew indeed. Except that she is not. Or, rather, while Willow's status as cool is not in doubt (though it certainly has been), her status as Jew seems much less assured.

Buffy the Vampire Shyer as a program, and as a title, demands, through its frivolity, a high level of serious consideration. The juxtaposition of the name "Buffy" (with all of its tremendous connotations of American teenage vapidity, of die blonde and fluffy mall- worshipping fashion junkie) with the phrase "vampire slayer" (which inspires thoughts of pre-modern forms of existence and relations to the world, of a supernatural world of threat and promise) alerts us to the program's doubleness. Not only is this true in the sense that different relationships to history are offered immediately (contemporary, depthless, postmodernity set against Modernity, pre-modernity and an archaic mythic time), but also in the sense that the show and its main character accommodate the seeming contradictions inherent in that juxtaposition. For Buffy is not only an American teenager, she is also the vampire slayer. Her identity is constantly being renegotiated, re-articulated. Neither wholly one thing nor the other, Buffy is a complex and purposefully complicated and difficult character. As the focus of the show, it is her identity and the problems which surround it which provides the main focus of most seasons. However, it is a testament to the strength of the series that Buffy is also committed to exploring unravelling and engaging fully in the development and construction of the identities of the rest of the so-called Scooby Gang also. While this, in part, is a function of time (the characters change as they grow up over the seven seasons), it is also a function of an attitude to identity which the show constandy projects; and this attitude is an aesthetic one. Identity is constructed as performative in Buffy: rather than identity being fixed, given, and immutable it is open to change and transformation. In some sense this is nowhere more apparent than with Willow. As Jess Battis puts it:

Throughout the seven seasons, Willow has occupied many personas: shy academic; computer expert; budding witch ("budding" being a signifier commonly ascribed to Willow's magical studies, which holds all kinds of double-voiced meaning when connected to her name) . …

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