Last Buffy Update

I’m finally wrapping up my data collection for my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s dialogue, and I can already see that the scope of this project turned into something far larger than I had anticipated. My binder contains hundreds of entries, each with an invented word or an unconventional turn of phrase. I’ve also given a lot of thought to the impact this dialogue has on the show. Each season, for at least the first five seasons, seems to follow a pattern–the first several episodes are lighter in fluffier in tone, and there are several more noteworthy moments in the dialogue in these episodes. The casual, inventive dialogue used creates a sense of familiarity both among the characters and between the characters and the viewers. It’s a language that is different from the way we generally speak, but similar enough to be easily understood, so it feels like the viewer is a part of this intimate group of friends shown on TV. In the show’s very first episode, when all the main characters are first introduced, I recorded 21 separate entries. Later in each of these seasons, once the characters have been established and the show gets much darker and more dramatic in tone, the entries in my unofficial Buffy dictionary generally decrease. For example, the episode “Becoming, Part 2,” which is season 3’s finale and one of the darkest episodes of the show, has no entries. The fun, inventive quotes like “Pretty juicy piece of clue-age, don’t you think? (season 4, episode 8)” add a lot to the lighthearted tone of goofy monster-of-the-week mysteries, but they would seem inappropriate and out of place in those later, much more serious episodes.

I mentioned that this pattern arises in the first five seasons because the last two look very different. I have not done the math yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the average number of entries per episode was fairly similar in the last two seasons compared to the first five. However, the tonal pattern is different in these last two seasons. Instead of the gradual descent from a lighter to a darker tone, the show has a much darker tone overall, with some extremely lighthearted episodes thrown into the mix, with corresponding changes in dialogue. These last two seasons seem to bounce back and forth between two extremes, making generalizations much more difficult.

Another aspect I considered in this project was the way that Buffy and other shows like it can influence the way the general public speaks. I mentioned in my first post that the use  of “much?” in situations like, “Wow, tired much?” was popularized by Buffy. However, I didn’t realize when I began this project that I would also do a little accidental experimentation on myself. I watched all of Buffy in one summer, and after just a week, I started to notice changes in my own speech patterns. Obviously, for me these changes were amplified by the fact that I watched it a lot more frequently than most people would, but it still brought to my attention just how much our speech is affected by pop culture. For example, I started to use the made-up titles I mentioned in my last post a lot in conversation. I once caught myself saying, “Next time, instead of being Mr. Always Late, could you try being Mr. Actually-On-Time-for-Once-in-His-Life?” to my brother, and it’s a line that sounds like it came straight out of Buffy. Normally, I would have just said something like, “Could you try being on time next time?”. Even more amusing, though, was watching how it affected the rest of my family. I noticed my siblings and occasionally even my parents pick up some things that I got from Buffy, and none of them have ever seen a single episode of the show. After this summer, I can see how the massive scope of Buffy‘s impact, which others have written about, is not as exaggerated as I previously thought. The show can impact people’s speech patterns whether they’ve seen it or not.

From now until my presentation next month, I will try to quantify some of the patterns I described, and I also want to dig deeper into my research on how the show affected our speech in general. I am very excited to share everything I have discovered.

Comments

  1. Leonor Taylor Grave says:

    It sounds like you’ve found some really interesting dialogue patterns in your project and I look forward to seeing what you present at the showcase! I find it very interesting as well how when going through life we end up picking up the speaking patterns of those around us or of the shows we watch and media we consume, and it made me wonder if you have any idea what might have been the biggest influence on the creators of Buffy that could have inspired its distinctive style? And do you think any particular characteristic of Buffy dialogue seem particularly outdated compared to today’s TV language standards?
    I think it would also be really interesting to see if this type of dialogue is unique to Buffy, or if it permeates the rest of Joss Whedon’s work as well. That’s definitely something I’ll be on the lookout for in the future.

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