Friday, April 14, 2006

In defense of sarcastic, soulful blondes everywhere

Numerous comparisons have been made between Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. People can't seem to avoid drawing parallels between two smart, sassy, petite blonde girls who try to right wrongs in the world. I think the comparison is reasonably apt, however a friend of mine recently pointed me to an article suggesting that Veronica comes up short.

The article discusses an "emptiness" that prevents VM from reaching the heights that Buffy did, saying that while Buffy "aspired to explore a higher meaning of life and purpose in the world", Veronica Mars "lack[s] soul and an overall moral compass." It goes on to applaud Buffy for bringing depth to the supporting characters as well, criticizing VM for showing supporting characters with "an ethic of selfish laziness and apathy that never seems to change."

I couldn't disagree more. It's the struggle to do good and find one's place in the world that I find compelling, not just the knowledge that one is good and has a place. And Veronica Mars knows that struggle well.

One of the things I love about Veronica Mars is the moral ambiguity. Every season, Buffy had a 'big bad' that was clearly the villain of the season. Buffy and her Scoobies were clearly the 'little good' meant to combat that evil (though in later seasons they explored that the big bad was perhaps within the characters themselves).

Veronica Mars doesn't have such clear-cut definitions of good and evil. Characters who start out as good can do things that are perceived as evil; characters who we meet as "obligatory psychotic jackasses" can turn out to have a core of goodness. This applies to the supporting characters as well -- Troy, Celeste, even Lilly. And if there are characters with an "ethic of selfish laziness" (Dick Casablancas, anyone?), these characters are almost constantly disparaged even as they're made sympathetic.

What I think stands out in the world of Veronica Mars is the presence of choice.

Buffy was good because it was her destiny to save the world from evil. Sure, she wasn't always comfortable with it, but the universe had chosen it for her. She didn't have to define which side of the eternal battle to be on -- the powers that be had marked her squarely in the "good" column.

Veronica, on the other hand, is driven by the force of her own free will. To get justice, she operates according to an admittedly flexible moral compass, but her ultimate goal is the truth. She takes it upon herself, and at great personal cost, to investigate her best friend's death. She does this not because she is an instrument of the greater good, but because she as a person cannot rest until it is resolved.

In other words, Buffy was chosen. Veronica chose herself. What's more meaningful than that?


At 5:15 PM, Blogger Abbey said...

Excellent Rebuttal! I thought that might give you a little something to talk about! : )

And I couldn't agree more with your argument. There is nothing more important in life than CHOOSING what you do. Yes, being chosen is, of course, an honor...but being able to chose your own destiny gives hope to all of us out there that aim to give a little something to the crazy world out there.

Veronica gives us a heroine to look up to...someone to attain to be!

At 7:22 AM, Blogger rowanceleste said...

Great article and I completely agree. None of the characters on Veronica Mars are anything so clear cut as good and evil and it's the facets of the characters that make them so interesting and compelling. The choices they make are a lot different and I'm sure their lives would be a lot easier if everything was a straightforward as making sure you just stake the right bad guy. Not everyone is completely good or completely evil and it's the choices these characters make that hold our attention.

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Shiveta said...

You articulated my own thoughts exactly. I loved Buffy while it lasted (hell, I still love it, almost three years after it's ended), but Veronica Mars is a different animal. I really think that the moral ambiguity of both the show and heroine is what draws people in - who doesn't struggle with similar questions, albeit on a drastically smaller level? That's not to say that Buffy didn't deal with issues that also struck close to home - most of us probably also struggle with living with some aspect of our lives we didn't choose.

What I'm trying to say, then, is that I agree with your assessment completely, and that I don't think by doing so I have "betrayed" my love for either show in any way. They are similar on only a superficial level, which probably is what brought in Buffy lovers, but Veronica Mars has a very different credo. Thanks for posting such an articulate rebuttal!


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