Staking Out Boundaries

Okay, so I tried explaining “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to my father.

It didn’t go so well, in that he never lost the bemused affection that suffuses his face when he’s listening to me go on about pop culture. When I was younger, that look drove me crazy to the point of turning red and refusing to speak. He loved that!

Now that I’m running headlong into 40, I can handle not being able to communicate my deeply held beliefs or loves clearly, especially when they involves vampire. There are some things you just can’t expect of a parent who finds most pop culture narcissistic and venal.

Also, Buffy has a twistiness that doesn’t lend itself to casual visitation. A teenage girl is chosen to protect the world from demons drawn to the Hellmouth, located just north of Los Angeles, underneath a high school. Also, she falls in love with a vampire with a soul but kills him, when he temporarily loses said soul, in order to save humanity from being sucked into a hell dimension. And so on. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief just to get past the bouncer at the door.

My father, while a dramatic fellow who appreciates a good adolescent emotion spike now and again, doesn’t enjoy entertainment that is poorly done, or done without the humor and intelligence that transcends generations. He has no interest in revisiting high school, and he doesn’t like soap opera, unless it is Mexican soap opera from the 1930s.

“One Tree Hill,” for example, he might watch after a hearty Thanksgiving meal at a tedious relative’s house in order to surf the mindless waves of shiny goop, but when the end credits flashed over an equally mushy soft rock number, he’d roll his eyes, say, “Pretty low,” and go hang out in the kitchen to eat peanut butter and raisins.

I don’t know how he’d take the fight scenes in “Buffy,” either. Her superpower manifests itself in a mystical blend of karate, jujitsu, capoeira and cool moves that look good on TV. The sound effects punch up the kicks and hits in the most delightfully visceral and goofy way, and there’s not much blood, surprisingly, but there are demon guts and vampires exploding into dust and the occasional expiring nubile girl.

I didn’t get into all this with Pop, not the fact that the show has a huge heart, a wicked sense of humor and, in the early seasons at least, a full grounding in the reality of friendships and family and English class. Demons were evil, of course, but it was the variegations of the human soul, its hopes and failings, that drove the stories.

In our short Buffy talk, we did touch briefly on the groundbreaking fact of a fully realized female superhero, never duplicated since, but we were hungry and opted for leftover apple pie rather than a full exploration of the thesis.

I told him we’d watch an episode the next night. I sort of meant it. I mostly didn’t. When I was a teenager and younger adult, I’d bring home music or movies that I’d fallen in love with. Let’s watch! I’d insist. Listen to this!

It almost always ended in frustration for me. Pop was tolerant, for the most part, except he mocked “The English Patient” and was suspiciously silent about the Indigo Girls. (I ask you, what’s not to love?) Most of the time he asked a question or two then changed the subject, or moaned about his back, which moaning I now understand was perhaps a convenient excuse to keep from enduring any more singer-songwriters.

His lack of interest tarnished the music and shows for me. I tried to put his responses aside, but I was too young and too insecure, and I knew that, sans Indigo Girls, he was probably right. So much contemporary entertainment lacks the heart-centered value, the giddy imagination, that he and I both love. I was embarrassed to have betrayed my shallow sensibilities.

My boundaries are better now, as is my taste, and I have learned that I don’t need my dad or mom to like what I like in order for it to be valuable to me. Is this what they call maturity? It sure took a long time to show up.

Still, Buffy is dear to me. Maybe my dad would dig it, maybe not, but for now I’ll keep it to myself, this silly, great show filled with demons and teenage tears. There’s no need to explain.

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