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Everything I ever needed to know I learned from… Joss Whedon television!


BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (Image Credit: Warner Bros.)

It would not be an understatement to say that Joss Whedon and his television shows – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse – have shaped my life. I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at 10, and I just never really stopped watching Whedon shows. Or movies. But I liked Whedon before he was cool, AKA before The Avengers came out.

There’s no real way of capturing how much Whedon’s shows have meant to me in the brief span of this article or to mention every single thing I learned from watching them. So for the purposes of this article, I’m going to highlight a few of the life lessons that I consider most important to who I am today and that you should definitely take note of.

“We’re family.”/ “You’re on my crew.”

Found families, found families. I didn’t really know how important found families were to me until recently, but nevertheless, a lot of the TV shows I’ve watched have featured found families, obviously Whedon shows included.

Each of Whedon’s shows features a found family – Buffy has the Scooby Gang, Angel has the Angel Investigations team, Firefly has the crew of Serenity and Dollhouse has the Actives and those willing to fight against Rossum.

Blood family is occasionally still important in a Whedon show, as Buffy has her mother and Simon has his younger sister, but it’s the found families that are important, the families that are held together not by blood ties but by love and loyalty to each other.

One example of this importance of found family is in Buffy’s “Family,” when Tara’s blood relations come to take her home with them. At the climax of the episode, Tara’s father, angry that the Scooby Gang won’t allow him to take Tara without her consent, demands, “We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?”

Buffy simply replies, “We’re family.” And that’s so important. It’s such an important message that family is what you make it, especially to people who don’t have blood relatives or don’t get along with them.

Firefly’s “Safe” makes a similar point after Mal and the crew of Serenity help Simon and River escape from people who want to burn them at the stake. Simon asks Mal, “Why’d you come back for us?” Mal replies, “You’re on my crew.”

In spite of Mal’s problems with Simon, he came back for the doctor and his sister. It goes beyond blood ties and personal problems. It’s loyalty, pure and simple.

“What’s left? Me.”

At the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 2, Angelus and Buffy have a final showdown. Angelus manages to divest Buffy of her sword. As he goes in for the kill, he taunts, “Now that’s everything, huh? No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away… and what’s left?”

Buffy looks beaten, but when Angelus moves to finish her off, she stops the sword inches from her face and replies, “Me.” She then proceeds to win the fight, but that’s secondary to the main lesson here, which is to rely on yourself and believe in yourself. Obviously friends are important – see above and below – but when it comes down to it, can you do what needs to be done? The answer is yes.

“You find someone to carry you.”

But as I’m sure we all know, sometimes you can’t do it on your own, and there’s a Whedon moment for that too. In Firefly’s “The Message,” one of Zoe and Mal’s war buddies turns up on the ship, looking for help. Now, the context of this quote gets a little iffy based on where it falls in the episode, but the quote itself is still good: “When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that… you find someone to carry you.”

Basically, it’s okay to not have a handle on everything, and it’s okay to need help. You don’t have to go it alone. Buffy needed her friends, Angel needed his, Echo needed hers and Mal certainly needed his. You can “find someone to carry you.”

Are you ready to be strong?”

Whedon is widely known for his female characters’ strong writing. In fact, while female leads are becoming more prevalent now, they still aren’t the norm on television, but two of Whedon’s shows – Buffy and Dollhouse – have female main characters. Angel and Firefly also feature a number of women in their ensembles.

But few things get more “girl power” than “Chosen,” the Buffy series finale. In the finale, Willow and Buffy work together to unlock the Slayer power in – I don’t think I’m being too grandiose here – all of us, and Buffy gives the following speech:

So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

It’s hard to articulate just how important that message is, not just in terms of the finale itself – unlocking the Potentials’ power is what helps them win the final battle – but in life. Women can be strong. Girls can be strong. We can all be strong, no matter who tells us otherwise.

“They can never stop the signal.”

Astute Whedon fans will know that technically this quote doesn’t come from one of his shows. Instead it comes from Serenity, the movie based off of Firefly. But it ties directly into a lesson that the legacy of Firefly itself teaches: the power of the fans.

Only 11 episodes of Firefly aired before its untimely cancellation. Plenty of shows are canceled every TV season, many of which run for longer than Firefly did. In spite of this fact, the show didn’t flare out and die but managed to live on in the minds of fans, in the form of a movie and in cultural consciousness.

Why do fans rally behind their favorite shows, trying to get them moved to other networks? Why do most shows get DVD box sets now, even if they’ve been canceled? Why did Veronica Mars get a movie recently? Yes, that last one was largely due to Kickstarter fans, but Firefly and Serenity have to be seen as huge contributors as well.

They proved it could be done. That the fans could stand up and say, “We want more of that.” And that studio executives would listen. That’s power.

I could spend way more time talking about how much Whedon’s work has meant to me, but I think at this point, I’d rather hear from you. Whedon and his shows have a very vocal fan group. So, what are some of the most important lessons you’ve taken from shows like Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse? Tell us in the comments below!

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