“I’d Very Still”: Anthropology of a Lapsed Fan

Some things never die. For anyone who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, first on that list might be vampires. For true-blue fans of any stripe, it may be the love of a fictional person, place or thing. And even for the rest of the population, the category includes “things you said on the Internet.”

Case in point: On November 7, 1999, I joined an e-mail list. It was a place for rabid fans of Oz, the werewolf played by Seth Green, to commiserate during his absence from Buffy. That list wasn’t my first online Buffy hub, but it was the one to which I was most devoted and it remains first in my memory. Anyone who watched the show knows that Oz’s absence became permanent — as did the mailing list; as did the community it formed; as did the virtual record of my adolescent identity: “I’m new and stuff, so here’s me introducing myself. I’m Lily.”

Other things do change. If not death, there’s shrinking or aging or moving on. Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air in 2003. Not long after, I stopped checking the e-mail account that went with that mailing list. I now go days and often weeks without a thought of slayage, although a scone, official pastry of Gileses everywhere, can be to me as Proust’s madeleine. And when that occurs, I wonder what happened to my fan family, and why I left them. Even more, I wonder how any fan community can survive for so long without the original object of its devotion.

Buffy fans are still out there, indisputably. Controversial plans for a non-Whedon Buffy movie were recently announced, and the 40th and last issue of the Season Eight series of the eponymous comic — which began production near the start of the show’s third season — came out in January. I haven’t bought one since 2007, but industry data consistently ranks Buffy among the best-selling independent comics out there; Season Nine is in the works. It was something about hearing that news that got me combing through the archives of that old mailing list. Among the flotsam of fandom, there were gripping reminders of what life had been like when the show was still on, the way we cared so much about actors and episodes and one another, and of what could have been if I hadn’t let it go. Suddenly, I was 14 again, up too late on a school night, glued to the mid-‘90s-model Power Macintosh in my family’s living room, unable to make myself log off.

I had missed that.

So, in the interest of investigation, I let the nostalgia take over for a while.

“You need a thing, one thing nobody else has. What do I have?”

“An exciting new obsession. Which I feel makes you very special.”

— Xander and Oz, “The Zeppo” (Buffy 3.13)

While I confess that I stopped buying Buffy comics, I may as well come clean that I didn’t start watching right from the first episode.

It was January 19, 1998. Halfway through its second season, the show moved from Mondays to Tuesdays; the romantic Buffy/Angel developments advertised in the commercials for the episodes that covered the switch, “Surprise” and “Innocence,” were enough to get my friends who watched to tell me it would be worth checking out.

The battles! The baddies! The banter! I was hooked. I watched the next night and every week after for five years. Almost right away, I began compiling the collection of VHS recordings that still sit, meticulously labeled, in a box somewhere in my parents’ basement. Before long, I was waking unsure whether my memories of what had happened on last week’s episode were canon or my dreams. I even let myself be the anecdotal lead in a New York Times article about teenage television habits — a mention I’ve long tried in vain to get to sink in my personal Google hits.

And it turned out that “Surprise” was a serendipitous place to start. There, in the first few minutes of the episode, was Oz. He was sitting on the bleachers, strumming a guitar, and sweetly asking Buffy’s friend Willow on a date. He had me at “Hey.” More importantly, not starting at the beginning meant I had to catch up. I probably would have eventually done some sort of Buffy-related HotBotting anyway, but needing rerun schedules got me there faster. I had no idea what I would find…

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