Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Xander off Buffy

(Fictional Character)

NEILL says:

"The aim of art", said Camus, "the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily. No great work has ever been based on hatred and contempt. On the contrary, there is not a single true work of art that has not in the end added to the inner freedom of each person who has known and loved it." Albert Camus died in 1960, so it seems contingently unlikely that he was familiar with popular US TV import 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', which any way you look at it is a tremendous shame. Buffy, taken as a work, espouses an ethic of personal responsibility, moral freedom and fraternal loyalty that is thoroughly commendable and not a million miles away from the ideas which drive Camus' own The Plague. What's more, there are kung-fu vampires. At the heart of Buffy (the show) is the character of Xander Harris. In a chaotic sea of supernatural evil, demonic warfare and lesbian empowerment, he is a point of viewer identification par excellence; the everyman's everyman. We laugh as he makes obscure Jimmy Olsen jokes. We sympathise as he gets beaten up by every monster-of-the-week for seven straight years. And, most importantly, we cheer as he notches up intimate relations with (to name but a few, to date) Alyson Hannigan, Emma Caulfield and Eliza Dukshu; this is a show that understands audience wish-fulfilment alarmingly well.

Surrounded by his more colourful and dramatically interesting castmates, the hapless, geeky Xander rarely gets a chance to truly shine. He hangs out with witches, warriors and werewolves, yet his own powers stretch only so far as the well-timed sarcastic quip (to wit: "mix in a little rectal surgery and its my best day ever", "just because you're better than us doesn`t mean you can be all superior", and the classic "I laugh in the face of danger, then I hide till it goes away"). However, when get he does get a show to himself, it's a goody and then some. The one time Buffy has run with a wholly and unreservedly Xander-centric episode, Season 3's formally experimental zombiefest 'The Zeppo', is renowned amongst true connoisseurs of the arts the world over as, well, pretty much the Best Thing Ever. Seriously - it's a total cultural barometer. Try applying this simple rule yourself, on meeting a new person: do they dig 'The Zeppo'? If yes: this is a person it is worth getting to know better. If not... well, I leave it to your own judgement, but I'd imagine a lot would depend on breasts.

The downside to viewer identification this strong is that it cuts both ways, and later seasons of Buffy became increasingly uncomfortable to watch due to Nicholas Brendon's ever-puffier jowels and intangible but accumulating air of 'angry bitter failure'. One has to feel some slight concern for the actor's future, as well - once upon a time he was a fresh-faced young man with a nice line in teen-Chandler-Bing schtick, and was even hotly tipped for the role of Peter Parker in the then-proposed cinematic version of Spider-Man. That was a long time ago. But, hey, screw it. I wish him nothing but the best. Xander, we salute you. Through you we have had seven years of absorbing good-hearted escapist entertainment, which I dare say has probably added something to the inner freedom of at least some of those who have known and loved it.



I dig 'the Zeppo'! Although I always identified more strongly with Buffy.


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