You are here: Home > Publications > Generations Review - The Newsletter > Back Issues > October 2009 > “Die young and stay pretty”: the Vampire Myth as Ageism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Die young and stay pretty”: the Vampire Myth as Ageism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Martin Westwood
Stroke Nurse Practitioner, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, Doctorate Candidate, DHRes Programme, University of Hertfordshire

Buffy the Vampire Slayer arrived on UK terrestrial television in January 1998, and ran for seven years, charting the growing pangs of Buffy Anne Summers, who was (and, as far as many fans are concerned, still is) The Slayer, the ‘Chosen One’ of her generation, who would stand alone ‘against the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness’. Well, not quite alone, as she had her Watcher, Rupert Giles, and a group of friends who became known as the ‘Scoobies’.

Joss Whedon, the series creator and creative force of nature, envisioned a world, now known as the Buffyverse, were magic is real, and the mythical creatures of nightmare walk amongst us – representing, in his mind, the ‘Hell’ of growing up. He had not had a happy time at school.

During the seven seasons that it ran, Buffy died twice, had a number of less than satisfactory relationships, found her mother dead on the sofa, gained a sister manufactured by monks, and ended up destroying her home town in order to close a door to Hell once and for all. Meanwhile her friends became witches, werewolves, carpenters, human, and lesbians.

The one hundred and forty-four episodes parodied not only the horror genre, but also detective procedurals, school soap operas, eighties films such as Pretty in Pink, and, famously, the Musical. Throughout the programme’s run, Whedon provided social commentary though battles with the massed forces of evil and personal demons.

A body of academic study has grown up around Buffy, it even has its own, on-line, peer reviewed journal, and has spawned papers in journals ranging from Qualitative Social Work to Philosophical Issues. Elements of the series, from the importance of music, witchcraft as an analogy of drug addiction, the role of authority, power and the opening sequence, to the episode ‘Earshot’ and the Columbine shootings, have been examined through a variety of lenses, from feminist to aesthetics.

This paper, based on an analysis of the first three seasons, examines an aspect of this ‘teen’ drama not previously commented on – its attitude to ageing.

Whole episodes, ‘Band Candy’ and ‘Killed by Death’ for instance, deal with attitudes to the older generations and, such as in ‘The Dark Age’, the possibility of their having once been young,

Giles: I never wanted you to see that side of me.

Buffy: I'm not gonna lie to you. It was scary. I'm so used to you being a grownup, and (inhales) then I find out that you're a person.

Giles: Most grownups are.

Buffy: Who would've thought?

Giles: Some are even, uh... short-sighted, foolish people.

Buffy: So, after all this time, we finally find out that we do have something in common. Which, apart from being a little weird, is kind of okay.

(“The Dark Age”)

whilst in episodes such as ‘Ted’ and ‘Nightmares’ the older person is the monster.

The series also portrays some older people, such as Mr Giles, Wesley, the replacement, Dr Gregory in ‘Teacher’s Pet’ and Willow’s academic, sociologist, mother are accorded wisdom by virtue of their age – an archetype in its own right.

Much has been made, in the writings of others (Evans 1992, Stevenson 1988 for instance) of the vampire myth as a representation of sexuality – the stalking and the hunt of victims interpreted as a distorted reflection of seduction, and both the bite and the staking seen as coitus, if not rape. Whedon re-envisioned and re-interpretation of the myth, or the myth as described by its classic Western text (Dracula: Stoker 1897) , has left much of its symbolism and tradition in place, including the power of the cross, holy water and the Sun, the lack of a reflection, and the wooden stake. Sex and the sexuality of the vampire have also been un-obscured in Buffy, represented foremost by the relationships between Buffy and, during the first three seasons, the en-souled vampire Angel, and later, the somewhat less respectable, Spike.

It is here that we find our first dichotomy.

Angel, played by David Boreanaz, appears in the series as a young man, not significantly older than Buffy. However, as we learn in an eponymous episode in series one, he is in fact much older:

Willow: So, Angel's been around for a while.

Giles: Not long for a vampire. Uh, two hundred and forty years or so.

Buffy: Huh! Two hundred and forty. Well, he said he was older .


Once she overcomes the moral dilemma of his being what she has been chosen to destroy, Buffy doesn’t seem too phased by the difference in their ages, even joking about it:

Buffy: Hey, speaking of 'wow' potential, there's Oz over there. What are we thinking, any sparkage?

Willow: (smiles) He's nice. Hey, I like his hands.

Buffy: Mm. A fixation on insignificant detail is a definite crush sign.

Willow: Oh, I don't know, though. I mean, he is a senior.

Buffy: You think he's too old 'cause he's a senior? Please. My boyfriend had a bicentennial.


This attitude, what Ford, the wannabe Vampire, describes as the teenage dream,

Ford: A couple more days and we'll get to do the two things every American teen should have the chance to do: die young, and stay pretty.

(“Lie To Me”)

echoes the modern ideal of ageing – that it’s okay to grow older, as long as you don’t look your age – and is evident every day in the cultural, and lucrative, phenomena of ‘anti-ageing’ products advertised in the press, television, and other media, and the commonality, a commonality bordering on social acceptance, of, so called, ‘cosmetic’ surgery.

This ‘beautiful copse’ syndrome is not confined to the hero-protagonists Angel and Spike, but also to their once or current paramours such as Darla and Drusilla, but whilst these vampires appear either handsome or beautiful in some of their dealings with the outside world, when their intensions are nefarious, when they are preparing to feed or to kill, their faces change into what Buffy refers to as their ‘game face’, and what Spike refers to as their ‘bumps’, or ‘wrinklies’.

When the vampire’s face becomes distorted what is most evident, aside from the teeth, are the wrinkled foreheads – just what those anti-ageing creams are trying to avoid. A reading of this addition to the vampire myth (it is not present in the ‘traditional’ vampire such as Dracula or modern filmic retellings such as the Blade trilogy, the Nightshift, or Underworld) is a connection between the facial changes, the wrinkles, and evil. As Spike said, in a moment of pride in his own evil,

Spike: … Now, any of you want to test who's got the biggest wrinklies 'round here... step on up.

(“School Hard”)

This connection is reinforced, as a construction of ageing, by the representations of the oldest, and most evil, of the vampires, such as The Master, who is the ‘big bad’ in series one, the cloven-handed Kakistos in series three, or the insane, migraine prone, Kralic in the episode “Helpless”, are permanently fixed with the ‘game faces’ of the demons within. They are gnarled, ugly, and evil, yet retain the sexuality of the bite – conforming to the stereotype established even more firmly in the 1969 comedy horror ‘Dracula, The Dirty Old Man’ (Edwards 1969) .

Whilst the sexuality of the older, but young looking, Vampires in Buffy is accepted, the sexuality of those older adults who will not look young forever also emerges as a, negative, theme, such as here in the attitude of Buffy to even the thought of intimacy amongst adults:

Buffy: Look. You know how disgusting it is for me to even contemplate you grownups having smoochies.


Be it expressions of disgust at the suggestion of Buffy’s Watcher, Rupert Giles, and the techno-pagan computer teacher Jenny Calendar,

Jenny: (to Giles) Walk me to class?

Giles: (a smile on his face) Pleasure.

Jenny and Giles head for her class. The others watch them go.

Buffy: Look at them.

Xander: A twosome of cuteness.

Willow: Can't you just imagine them getting together?

Their expressions all change to ones of being grossed out.

(“The Dark Age”)

Zander’s crush on the predatory (quite literally, as it turns out) stand-in teacher Miss French,

Buffy: The younger man is too dumb to wonder why an older woman can't find someone her own age, and too desperate to care about the surgical improvements.

(“Teacher's Pet”)


or Buffy’s exclamation of outrage when she discovers that Giles and her mother had sex,

Buffy: Why are you...? (she bolts up in bed) You had sex with Giles?!

Joyce: (gasps)


Joyce: It was the candy! We were teenagers!

Buffy: On the hood of a police car?!?

Joyce: I'll be downstairs. You feel better.

Buffy: (calling after her) TWICE!!!!


sex amongst the comparatively older members of the community is treated as something that is not only wrong, but even intimations of it are something that should be hidden from sight (Kessel 2001) , for whilst sex and youth go together, older people should remain sexless.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was not written as an ageist text; however deeper cultural attitudes to older people are visible through both the battles and the humour.


Edwards, W. (1969) Dracular, The Dirty Old Man. Vega Film, US.

Evans, W. (1992) Monster Movies: A Sexual Theory. In Popular Culture: an introductory text(Eds, Nachbar, J. and Lause, K.) Bowling Green University Popular Press, US, pp. 463-475.

Kessel, B. (2001) Sexuality in the Older Person. Age and Ageing,30(2), 121-124.

Stevenson, J. (1988) A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula. PMLA,103(2), 139-149.

Stoker, B. (1897) Dracula, Vintage Classics, London.

Join BSG
Discover the benefits of membership
Ageing & Society
The Journal