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Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best TV show ever made and I would let it babysit my children

The cult TV show – 20 years old today -– played with genres, bust clichés and spawned a language. If you haven't watched it – why not?

“He’s going to bite her.”

Words cannot describe the glee I felt when my boyfriend fell hook, line, and sinking fangs for the first ever scene in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. In it, Darla – an innocent blonde in schoolgirl attire –nervously breaks into Sunnydale High School with a teenaged boy. In a bored tone, my boyfriend promptly called out the apparent unoriginality of the 17-year-old TV show that I was – and this is no exaggeration – physically forcing him to watch. “He’s so going to bite her.”

On screen, the teenaged boy is reassuring Darla that they are alone. “Are you sure?” she asks coyly. “I’m sure,” he replies. Pleased with this news, Darla’s angelic face transforms into that of hideous vampire, and she buries her yellow fangs into the unsuspecting boy’s neck.

This scene is, fundamentally, the essence of Buffy. “I would love to see a movie in which a blonde wanders into a dark alley, takes care of herself and deploys her powers,” Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, told TIME magazine in the Nineties. Although the initial movie version eventually derailed from Whedon’s vision and flopped, the ensuing TV show became a cult classic which flipped every existing trope on its head while constructing a thousand brilliant new ones. If anything you see in Buffy feels tired and clichéd, it’s only because the show did it first, and so very, very well, that every other show had no choice but to follow suit.

My joy at my boyfriend’s initial mistake was only matched in intensity when, ninety episodes later, I found myself sobbing (completely and utterly red-face baby-wail sobbing) in his arms. Why? Because at the crucial moment when Travers, a member of the Watchers’ Council, was pausing for his big reveal, my boyfriend interrupted to guess the plot.

[HERE FOLLOW SPOILERS FOR A TWENTY-YEAR-OLD TV SHOW]

“Glory isn’t a demon. . .” said Travers.

“. . . She’s a god,” said my boyfriend.

There is no doubt that my sobbing was an extreme overreaction to this development. But I was crying because my boyfriend had guessed a reveal that, over a decade earlier, had flooded my body with emotion. I remember how I felt, as a child, when that moment aired. I can viscerally recall the “Oh SHIIIIIT” reaction tingling up from my spine and forcing me to flap my hands like an excited cartoon character.

I could devote time here to talk about the technical reasons why Buffy is widely regarded as one of the best TV shows ever made (it invented a language, it was incredibly progressive, it is the most-studied item of pop culture ever) but to me it is a combination of two, very simple factors. It makes me laugh, and it makes me cry.

Lots of shows do both things, sure, but they end up being both less comedic and less tragic than if they simply focused on generating one emotion. Not Buffy. It makes me laugh more than any comedy and cry more than any drama – so much so that I can confidently call it my favourite example of both genres.

This is why I insist that the people I love watch Buffy. While Harry Potter is a big old phone-cover and wardrobe-accessories part of my life, I still allow my boyfriend to sleep in the same bed as me despite the fact he’s never read it. With Buffy, he was forced to watch the show within the first few, fleeting, should-still-be fairy-tale moments of our romance. No, I don’t want to meet your parents. You have to meet Joyce Summers.

I write this next sentence wary that it ruins my chances of ever seeking out any fame, lest it be dug up and used as evidence to prove that I am a fundamentally terrible person undeserving of the aforementioned fame. If I had a child, and for some reason I had to choose someone other than myself to raise that child, I would not choose a nanny. I would choose Buffy. The show taught me everything that I need to know about life, love, loss, and librarians.  

Postscript: I will concede that there is one single flaw in all 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and his name is Riley Finn.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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