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Shifts and changes in audience reactions to Xander

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  • Shifts and changes in audience reactions to Xander

    I freely admit that Xander wasn't a favourite of mine when I first watched the show in 2011. But I really liked how his character changed and continued to grow in the S8 comics (although it took a while to get used to Xander/Dawn). That combined with discussing him here with Sosa lola as the comics runs continued, led me to really reconsider his character when I came to my first rewatch of the show. I think of him very differently now and love his character and his path through the series.

    During all this time, having come to the show and fandom way after the show aired, I kept hearing the belief that there was more intolerance for the character now because of how he is perceived to behave in an entitled way around Buffy in the early seasons. There seemed to be a general feeling in fandom that the modern audience is less patient with the character.

    I've been quite keen to see how he is responded to when watching reactors seeing the show for the first time. They seem to me to contextualise Xander to the times of the show pretty well. He doesn't often feature as a favourite, but most reactors seem to react fairly well to him. See his ups and downs. But one reactor said after the first 2 or 3 episodes that she was getting comments about not having included thoughts on Xander. Obviously, understandably, being looked past isn't something Xander fans hope instead of criticism. But I'm not seeing the heightened criticism fandom had given me the impression he receives.

    How do you feel the modern audience and new members of fandom are responding to the character? If you were around for the show's original airing, do you think it has changed?

  • #2
    I think you raise a very valid point that the reactors often don't seem to reflect hardcore fandom's views. If we see reactors as the 'general audience' then this has actually always been fairly true. Hardcore fandom is but a small portion of the overall audience and has actually always had fairly different views from the casual audience who watched the series. You can see that reflected in the ratings, comic sales and internet polls on websites not geared specifically towards BtVS.

    I've made similar points myself when people have complained about how viewers 'nowadays' can't handle flawed characters or the dated aspects of the show etc. The reactors are the new viewers and they seem to handle this just fine. The people doing the complaining are actually people who have been fans of the show for a while and who have become hyper-critical of it over the years. It has now become trendy to hate certain characters and idolise others. Previously very popular characters in fandom like Willow are now considered terrible people and characters like Cordy and Tara have been practically elevated to sainthood. Even Buffy, who used to cop a fair bit of flack in fandom, is now pretty much universally adored and can do no wrong which actually plays into why characters like Willow are now hated because it's usually about any perceived wrongdoing she's done onto Buffy (the resurrection, Empty Places, Dead Man's Party etc).

    As for Xander, he's always had haters. From as early as I can remember in fandom he's had people who despised him for 'The Lie' in Becoming II and for being a 'misogynist.' The only thing that has really changed, IMO, is that in fandom's heyday most of the hate seemed to come almost exclusively from Bangel/Spuffy fans who seemed to personally resent him for his views on Angel/Bangel and Spike/Spuffy whereas now the hate is a little more widespread. It seems like he gets more hate from all corners. But I remember being really surprised by just how much he was hated by some fans when I first properly joined fandom in 03-04 because I just assumed people would like him.

    IMO, some of the criticisms are certainly valid and others are part of this really unfortunate trend of writing off entire characters as "trash human beings" if they do a handful of things wrong. There's no consideration taken for all the heroic, selfless, caring things the character did because there's a black and white tendency now for a character to either be a "Saint" or "Trash" and very little in-between. We've lost the nuance but I'm not sure if it's 'modern audiences' or just what's left of hardcore fandom. I think people are impressionable and go with whatever the majority is saying and we've seen how tolerant fandom can be to people, like the reactors, when they express a view they disagree with.

    My views of Xander have changed a little. For instance, when I was younger I mostly just laughed at his jealousy of Buffy/Angel whereas now I cringe at how selfish and hurtful it can make him be sometimes. It is also very hard for me not to be a little uncomfortable whenever I watch his 'gay panic' over Larry in episodes like Phases and Earshot because it's just so outdated now that I can't help but cringe a bit. If a character displayed that kind of homophobia nowadays it would be far harder to tolerate or look past it whereas back then it was considered normal and Xander's uneasiness was meant to just be humorous. Similarly, I cringe now whenever Cordy throws around the word "retard" which does several times in AtS and when Xander does in Grave. But overall I still think it's clear as day what a caring person he is, how loyal and brave he is, what a good friend he can be to Buffy and Willow, and how much he suffers in silence over his home life and upbringing. I'll never really understand how people can't see that or how his flaws totally eclipse all of his positive traits. But I'll always have so much affection for him because he's part of my childhood. He remains one of my favourites.

    ~ Banner by Nina ~


    • #3
      The people doing the complaining are actually people who have been fans of the show for a while and who have become hyper-critical of it over the years.
      I think that's right. When I first came into fandom I was astounded at the vitriol aimed at certain the extent that I wondered why they bothered to watch the show at all. I can't say with certainty that I've never loved a fictional character but I don't think I've ever hated one.


      • #4
        I think for me, I was just less interested in Xander on a first viewing. I did think he obsessed about Buffy in a way that was unpleasant at times, the jealousy towards Angel and outright hostility towards him. But I really don't see reactors doing much more than eye-rolling at him at those moments or voicing their opinions on whether it's at all realistic. I do also see him being praised for his bravery and loyalty too. Even if he doesn't end up being a favourite.

        For me, Xander's bravery was the first thing I started to notice and appreciate more. Then, when discussing the show and seeing his path running alongside Buffy's and Willow's I realised that he gives some really interesting contrasts to growing up. Both in social differences, academic and through his home life. The impact his parents had on him and the flashes of that you see through the seasons through to some of the more blatant impacts in choices he makes, is great. And appreciating him more in turn led me to appreciate the core group more too.

        I totally agree that the gay panic has definitely not aged well. Both Xander and Spike are used for jokes this way that makes me cringe. I do think that people do take issue with the writing there fairly, but do also seem to recognise that it is illustrative of the change in attitudes rather than damning the show or the character for it. This may be my perception, but it seems the pursuit of Buffy/jealousy of Angel coupled with cheating on Cordelia with Willow wasn't a great combination for engendering a positive impression in the early seasons. But still, reactors seem critical of him but don't hate him to me.

        I think you're both right that it is the hardcore fans that tend to be the ones who become passionate in their dislikes of characters. It's a shame really as I honestly have found that discussing the show has increased my appreciation and enjoyment of the characters. Getting the chance to see the positives from other perspectives. But I think it is fair to say that there is a section of fans that don't actually want to reconsider things and that possibly reflects those fans that bully reactors when they don't respond in the way they want to see them responding.


        • #5
          I came to fandom very late and can't really tell how it used to be before 2017.

          My first impression of Xander when I watched the show was that I liked him. I do not love him, I can see his flaws but to me, his strengths outnumber his flaws. This is basically the same to me for Willow. Overall I think I tend to like Willow a bit better but that just might be because she is a woman and I can relate to her better. I also used to be a shy, bookish type, so there is that.

          I was completely stunned when I found out how much hate there is for both Xander and Willow. But then again I was also stunned when I found out how much hate there is for Spike and even for Buffy. As vampmogs said it is also very common to think of Tara, Cordy, and to a degree also of Anya (of all people!) as saints. This was almost as stunning to me because seriously, even Tara has huge flaws. Does anyone remember how she sabotaged a spell that was done to save people from a dangerous Polgara demon?

          One of the many examples of an irrational bias is the belief Willow (and to an extent Tara, who surprisingly is still a saint despite this) are freeloading in season 6. There is nothing in canon to support this idea. Not even a single word. Yet it is being repeated over and over again as if it was factual.

          All of this happens inside fandom, not within the normal viewing audience. Only people who talk about the show online perpetuate those views. People who belong to the vast majority of normal viewers usually don't seek out forums, Facebook groups, Discord channels, or platforms like Reddit or Tumblr. Neither do they watch people who are watching the show on YouTube. I enjoy many tv shows but I have never been to a fandom place for any of them except for Buffy.

          I believe that many people who watch Buffy for the first time with no or almost no knowledge beforehand notice the flaws but don't overestimate them.

          I do think that we are all more sensitive when it comes to sexual harassment, bullying, and a general under- or misrepresentation of ethnicities, genders, or handicapped people. A tv show wouldn't have one of the good guys call someone retard nowadays. So, we have made progress. Yay us. But that doesn't mean the character who called someone else a retard twenty-five years ago is evil. In my childhood, I loved Astrid Lindgren's books about Pippi Longstockings. They have been written in the first decades of the last century and they use the N-word. It's not supposed to insult anyone. It's actually meant to be an honorary title (Pippi's father is the "king" of islanders in the book). We wouldn't use this particular word or title anymore but this book was written in a different historical and cultural context and it is okay to not tear the book apart or burn it but instead to make a footnote explaining why we don't use that word anymore.

          I don't even think we need a footnote for Cordy's use of the word retard because most people who are watching the show today should be able to see her use of that word in the context of the time the show was written. And that's what I see when I watch reactors. Some of them stumble about things like this or for example Xander chasing away a guy from a bench where he wants to sit with Buffy. But they don't make a big fuss about it. We have certainly become more perceptive but that's a good thing and it doesn't mean reactors start to hate Xander. As vampmogs said they still see him for what he truly is and that is first and foremost an incredibly brave and loyal character.

          Last edited by flow; 09-09-21, 05:41 PM.

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          • #6
            Very much agree flow . Most people do seem to view the poor social elements in context. And I'm coming to accept there just is a biiiiiig gap between hardcore fandom and the general audience.

            Originally posted by flow View Post
            I believe that many people who watch Buffy for the first time with no or almost no knowledge beforehand notice the flaws but don't overestimate them.
            This does seem to be key. It's a section of fans, or differing hardcore fans depending on different characters, that emphasise and over emphasise/react to characters flaws and dislikes. Often the motivation seems to be about trying to shut down or drown out those with differing opinions. I think this is why reactors struggle sometimes with the responses they get. Fans can be rude, bullyish and way too intense when disagreed with. And of course it happens within fandom too. We've all been in discussions that get too heated and unpleasant. And I know I've been on both sides of it too.

            What is strange about the perception of Xander being heavily disliked, is that fandom seems to hold it and then projects it onto the wider audience.


            • #7
              My own views of Xander changed. Speaking for myself when I first watched it when it first aired it was mix for me. I thought his relationship with Cordy was funny and endearing with all the verbal word play and banter. As I got older I just now find it nasty though even back then the whole spell thing to make her love him so he could dump her just to cause her pain I found uncomfortable, now its just WTF

              I never had a problem with his not telling Buffy about the spell, she was going into a fight to the death and needed to be all in and not holding back. What I wish they had done was explored the consequences of that in S3 and had Buffy find out about it but the never did.

              I hated both then and now his setting Faith up to kill Angel but then almost given an out by the writers over his role in that and having it washed away.

              During S1 His "can I have you" line to Buffy I think was played for laughs but back then I didn't find it funny either. His angry reaction to Buffy rejection I always thought out of line. She'd politely said no and was angry with her. I was never a B/X shipper but looking back now its almost like he sees Buffy as his possession, now maybe it wasn't meant be portrayed like that .

              I always felt him being glad of 14yr Dawn having a crush on him even back then angry she had a crush on Spike a bit ermm What ! Quadrupled after the comics

              Anya was the comic relief and the writers clearly loved the humour of Xander mocking her. Then I didn't mind so much and thought it funny. Now not so much and it makes me uncomfortable.

              The show showing his fantasy dream of all the potentials was I guess meant to be endearing but it just came across as creepy both then and now. Thank god the actresses were older than there roles or I think people would've disliked it more.

              His comic relief fun to humiliate role in S4 (Jane Espenson words) I was just Meh about didn't care either way .
              When he is being the writer's mouthpiece as in Into the Woods and Seeing Red, that I do have issues with but that's not so much the character as the writers themselves.

              Not just Xander. The show audience perceptions did go through changes even when it was on from the late 90's to 03.
              9/11 Afghanistan invasion and then the Iraq Invasion all happened during S6 and S7 and a quippy show about a girl called Buffy killing Vampires seemed frivolous when those real life issues were happening at the time. They did for me anyway .
              While the Whedon quips that was considered cutting edge dialogue in the 90's feels less so now imo