Saturday, July 16, 2011

Comparing Harry Potter and Buffy

As I've mentioned, I'm not a Harry Potter fan. I don't really have anything against it. It just isn't quite my thing. What is my thing is Buffy. And The Dish linked to this Amanda Marcotte post arguing that Harry Potter is a "jock", which is the opposite of the "gang of misfits" story that a lot of geeky films, books, and tv shows depict.

We're used to the X-Men or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Scooby Gang, so much so that we don't see that Harry's trajectory is the inverse of Buffy's. Buffy is a former cheerleader whose magic powers actually make her a geek and an outcast. Harry is a nobody-special who finds out that he's special, and becomes not just the star athlete and hero of his school, but an actual celebrity. Sure, there's ups and downs, but his trajectory is away from being the outcast and towards being the homecoming king. Which may not be as emotionally satisfying as "my greatness makes me an outcast", but is probably more realistic. In his world, being a badass is appreciated and he's realistically rewarded in his society for it.

I actually talked about this point before in a previous Buffy post. I pointed out that Buffy was the Cordi of her old high school (that she burned down fighting vamps). She was the pretty, popular cheerleader who was kind of shallow. When she becomes the slayer she gives all of that up and joins Willow and Xander as the outcasts that Amanda mentions.

Having only seen the last two Potter films I'm hesitant to draw too many in depth conclusions about what the series is supposed to be about. But it struck me as odd that Potter was such a popular person within his world. So popular in fact that a lot of people sacrifice themselves in order to protect him. And then it turns out that Harry had to kind of sacrifice himself in order to kill the main villain. That kind of made him less sympathetic to me. It seemed that the greater heroes were everyone else on the good side.

As for Buffy, she actually chose to be an outcast in order to perform her job as the hero better. If you remember back to the first episode, Cordi seems very willing to let her into her exclusive group. Buffy turns away from Cordi and actually seeks out Willow as a friend. Willow even asks Buffy why she would want to talk to her instead of Cordi.

I think this gets a bit overlooked because even though Buffy has to risk her life being the slayer, her high school days could have been better than they turned out. She could have been the pretty, popular cheerleader who just happened to fight evil on the side. Its not like the school would have gone crazy if most of them knew she was the slayer, as evidenced by the class protector award they gave her at prom. And that's really the only benefit Buffy gets from being the hero. Harry Potter is revered by seemingly everyone. Buffy dies a few times and only a few of her outcast friends know she did so saving the world. And she can't find a nice normal guy to date, whereas Harry gets a pretty and popular girlfriend, not to mention Emma Watson to stare at all the time.

Not to bash on Harry Potter, but breaking it down like this just shows how awesome Buffy is. The show is couched in just as magical a world as Harry Potter. But the emotional depth of the characters is just as real as any other drama. And that is why Joss Whedon has such a devoted, albeit not completely mainstream following. Perhaps that will change with The Avengers.

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