Lesbian Sex = Death? Was Killing Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer-Right after She'd Had Hot Sex with Willow-A Throwback to Old Antigay Cliches? or Is the Acclaimed Series Too Smart for Such Accusations? (Television)

Article excerpt

In more than five years on TV, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has endured more than a few bloody scrapes. Even as the series dealt with changing networks and Emmy snubs, the characters in Sunnydale faced death every night. In a series in which the lead character has died and returned twice, perhaps the biggest stake through the heart came in May's controversial finale to the sixth season.

In it, powerful witch Willow and her female lover, Tara, who was often the show's most responsible and mature character, finally got to have glorious, sweaty lesbian sex on-camera. And then, moments later, Tara (Amber Benson) was killed by a stray bullet to the heart, launching Willow (Alyson Hannigan) on a descent into black magic vengeance that not only turned her into a killer but imperiled her friends, her sanity, and eventually the world itself. The resulting public backlash against the series's events has ignited newspaper columns and Internet Web sites.

But to what end? According to many fans, the season finale reversed anything good that was accomplished by this all-too-rare TV lesbian relationship. Fan E.M. Colson notes that "whether viewers are conscious of the juxtaposition of not, murdering a lesbian just minutes after she has sex suggests a causality between lesbian sex and death."

Buffy creator Joss Whedon notes that he grew up with a gay godfather and that his mother provided "a liberal upbringing." Marti Noxon, Buffy's executive producer, was raised by two mothers. Both Whedon and Noxon wanted to do a Willow-Tara relationship "that felt respectful and fully fleshed out," says Noxon.

Willow's character didn't start out gay, but two seasons ago she fell in love with Tara. According to Amy Wilson, coauthor of the online "The Death of Tara, the Fall of Willow, and the Dead-Evil Lesbian Cliche FAQ," the show was successful in its lesbian portrayal: "Up until the finale of season 6, [Willow and Tara] were treated with remarkable sensitivity and realism, even if their onscreen sex life was mostly nonexistent. Because Willow was an established, beloved character before she carne out, the Willow-Tara story line forced many Buffy viewers to confront their homophobic attitudes, whether latent or overt."

Toil and trouble

Wilson complains that "Joss Whedon and [his] staff writers gained trust [about Tara's future on the show] under false pretenses, then leveled viewers with a bloody, cliched story line." And then there's the question of whether Willow's turning to the dark side in her rage equates to the "murderous lesbian" stereotype fostered by such films as Basic Instinct and TV shows like Law & Order and Quantum Leap. …

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