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September 23 2010

Women Connecting Through Buffy. A visual representation of the complexity and depth of women's relationships in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and how it stacks up to other genre shows).

When you take a look closer, you'll note that the lines depict the depth of the relationship through size and boldness.

This is really cool. I love it, and the fact that it's a visual representation illustrates the point very well.
Yes, fascinating. I'd love to see more shows analyzed this way as well as the same kind of analysis for the other gender as well. I'm sure there are loads of interesting revelations to be had on all fronts.

Although, I think it could do with a more thorough description of the methodology involved.
I think it's more fun for us as Buffyverse fans to immediately understand why they're connected. Isn't it self-explanatory for us? All I have to do is look at the chart and I know how Glory connects to Buffy, Dawn, Tara and Willow, but not to anyone else.

But hey, someone here can make a list for how they all connect. :)

[ edited by Emmie on 2010-09-23 04:01 ]
Very nice! This is a big reason for my Buffy love, and also makes the biology student in me very happy. It's like a food web, but for people talking and fighting on that show that was too girly for specs.
It's nice, but it does appear to selectively use facts to advance a position.

Let's consider B5: From memory, Ivanova interacts with Lyta and NaToth on a number of occasions. Lyta interacts with Lochley. Talia and NaToth interact. Delenn interacts with NaToth, Lochley (pretty major oversight, there...), Lyta, and Talia. Number One interacts with Lochley. That jumps us from about 2 edges (connections) to 11, or an edge/vertex ratio of about 2:1.

Guess what Buffy's edge/vertex ratio is? You guessed it: about 2:1. Furthermore, of the edges listed for BtVS, roughly half (14) involve Buffy herself--the main character of the show.

While the graphs are pretty and all, all the increased connectedness in Buffy can be directly attributed to having female main characters, supporting characters, recurring characters, and villains.

Neither B5 nor TNG involved any females as main characters. That is certainly a debatable assertion, but for the purposes of B5, I limit the main characters to Sheridan, Sinclair, Londo, and G'Kar. Delenn, Ivanova, and Dr. Crusher are all supporting characters, much as Willow and Dawn are in Buffy. Likewise, neither show featured recurring female villains like Glory, Prof. Walsh, or Drusilla.

I can't comment on Xena, not being familiar with it. It would be interesting to pick a couple more modern, Joss-appreciated shows and throw them into the mix: Veronica Mars and BSG come to mind. Quick mental calculation says you'd still see a roughly 2:1 edge to vertex ratio.

The bottom line with these social network graphs is something we already knew: if you write more female characters, they interact together more. While the lines may appear busy on the diagram, they're actually scaling out in a rather linear fashion.

ETA: Oh, and FWIW, the number of potential connections is a geometric scale: for N vertices, the number of potential edges is N(N-1)/2, such that unless a new vertex (character) has (N-1)/2 associated edges, that new vertex is actually decreasing the connection density of the resultant graph.

[ edited by jclemens on 2010-09-23 07:40 ]
It is one of the more original links that it's been posted here for a while. Though I would be interested to see the writer compare Buffy to her contemporaries (Charmed, Alias and even Smallville) as TNG, Babylon 5 and Xena feel like they belong to a different era (well to me anyhow).
Yes! This is something I always look out for in tv shows and it never ceases to piss me off when women don't have relationships with other women. jclemens I really don't think one person talking to another counts as a 'relationship', it's more about affecting one another's lives. I don't think it's selectively using facts any more than you are, less in fact, and it would be nice if you didn't just dismiss a very real problem in television shows, especially when you're male and therefore don't have these crappy representation issues on tv.
digupherbones: Whedonesque isn't a place for having a go at other posters. Play the ball, not the person.
These are lovely graphs. Only, I'm starting to wonder what they'd look like in matrix form. For all this at the end, Joss, thank you.
I believe someone on a slash site posted a similar graphic with the men of Buffy/Angel, with poor Cordelia out of the loop.
Buffy and Xena are both my "love-affair" shows. I always loved their (imho) realistic portrayals of the relationships between women. This was something that I felt I had never experienced watching another television show. (This is also probably why I gulped down Baby-sitters Club novels growing up like they were made of candy.) This was a very interesting link, thanks for posting it, Emmie. As Simon has mentioned, I would have loved to have seen a similar comparison with Buffy's contemporaries.
Thanks, Simon--I appreciate how the moderators here strive to keep discussion focused and cordial in disagreement.

Digupherbones, I think the criteria ambiguity is a really good point, but one that can be applied multiple ways. How much of a "relationship" does Buffy really have with Drusilla? You've accurately pointed out that the interactions in e.g., B5 are less frequent and/or intense than they are in Buffy. But how many of the solid lines are inherent in the setup? Joyce-Dawn-Buffy "thick" lines (indicating strong relationships) are almost unavoidable given the familiar relationship--is BtVS somehow more special than another TV show depicting sibling/parental relationships? Never watched 'em, but don't Charmed and Gilmore Girls both count on that score?

What would be more interesting is to include male and female characters for a show, and then separately color male/male, female/female, and male/female relationships. The possibility of more male/female and female/female relationships as a proportion of the relationships in the show will increase with the number and importance of the female characters--two areas in which BtVS clearly bests most other shows.

There's no question in my mind that yes, Buffy has more and stronger female/female relationships than most other shows. My two gripes with the linked article are that the relationships are primarily a function of the number and importance of its female characters, and that the visual representation is misleading to someone not familiar with graph theory.
Hence,

To put a graph in matrix form, simply make an NxN spreadsheet with each character listed in a row AND a column. You can simply make entries boolean (0 = no relationship, 1 = has relationship), or code for strength (0 = none, 1 = interaction, 2 = friendship/association, 3 = intimate or family). Note that you either need to reflect the values (Joyce/Buffy == Buffy/Joyce) or you can set up the possibility of dichotomies in relationship strength, which offers up its own analytical possibilities.

There are any number of tools which can be used to analyze or visualize such a matrix representation.
jclemens, your critique on graph theory is a good one, but on B5 I think your recollection may not be totally accurate; I just re-watched every episode with Na'Toth (except her 5th-season cameo), and she only interacts with Ivanova and Talia in one episode. The chart doesn't really do Lochley justice, yes, but it's pretty accurate for Lyta. At least that was a plot point, not a gender-bias oversight.

And while yes, the graphs are clearly a function of the number and importance of its female characters, isn't that at least part of the author's point?
Xena aired from 1995 to 2001. Buffy aired from 1997 to 2003. They seem like the same eras to me, especially as I watched them at the same time.
Have yet to watch Xena myself but the show gets so much love here I'll netflix it one of these days. But every time I hear the show mentioned in connection with Buffy I think of a funny story a friend told me about a guy she had started dating who was a big Xena fan, and was telling her about why the show was so great. So my friend asked him "What about Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" His confident reply - "Oh Xena would kick her ass."
ManEnoughToAdmitIt, Wikiquote shows Lyta interacting with Ivanova in Hour of the Wolf, Divided Loyalties, and Passing Through Gethsemane--though often adversarial, and never better than cordial, they do relate. In S5, Lyta is cut off from essentially everyone per the plot point you reference, but I'd still draw a line there if Dru and Buffy get a line.

I'd love to see this done more formally, with actual written criteria for what constitutes a relationship. This would probably make a good thesis or dissertation in media studies. As Simon said, it's an interesting way to visually depict this... so as someone who's done graduate work involving graph theory, my eye is probably now lacking the wonder I experienced at the first time I saw this way to depict information.
Veronica Mars is an interesting case to bring up. I just recently got around to watching it and have made it through seasons 1 and 2 so far. I remember being surprised when I first started watching by Veronica's lack of significant day to day relationships or interactions with other women. That really didn't change until...erm, S2. I think. (I can't recall exactly. I've only seen it once but it sure felt like it took a long time.) All the female roles were fly by night clients, sketchy suspects, or some marginal high school authority figure. (Or, you know, dead and therefore of the past.) It felt so odd to me that I actually noticed it--and annoyingly repeated my noticing. Oops. Such things rarely register with me. That had been my only complaint with the show and fortunately, they eventually fixed it somewhat.
Based on the crying-in-her-lap scene, I'll nit-pick the Tara-Buffy line should be thicker. "Yah vell."
I do like this diagram and waying of looking at BtVS. I don't see it as a graph or a scientific explanation but rather a creative way of looking at something visceral. I like visuals when I am learning or trying to figure out a problem. It often helps to write things down or draw.

As I see it, what the author is trying to portray is what draws her to Buffy so much and what she realised after she'd drawn the diagram was that it was the many female relationships (good and bad) that occurred on the show. If you look at it, you'll notice that Willow has almost as many lines as Buffy, with the exception of Drusilla and Kendra. Willow had interactions with both of them, but not enough to really call it a relationship.

I'm a big Bbabylon 5 fan, too, and I like the relationships between the various characters, but this woman's drawing is accurate. Fleeting interaction between Ivanova and Lyta in three episodes over the five years of B5 does not make a relationship of any kind. On the other hand, Buffy and Drusilla tried to kill each other numerous times in S3 - and again in S5.

As soon as I read this article, I immediately drew a similar diagram for Gilmore girls, which I have just finished rewatching and which I like almost as much as BtVS - not surprising when several Buffy writers were on their team at various times. That diagram looked even messier and more like an intricate spider's web because all 19 women that appeared in at least recurring roles had ties to at least one or two, if not all, the others.

It is an interesting exercise - one that I may use with other shows.

edited to correct on oversight.

[ edited by samatwitch on 2010-09-24 02:33 ]
Hi, jclemens! I'm the author of the linked post. :)

Your rigorous analysis is appreciated, though you'd probably be best to step back from the trees to see the forest on this one. The graph is very roughly and informally made as it's not intended to be a detailed breakdown of the various female relationships on the show. Its function is purely to illustrate the overall point of the post, which is an explanation of the appeal of BtVS for me. In that function, it serves well to display very quickly the fact that BtVS has a network of intense and varying female relationships underlying it.

You're, of course, free to attempt to analyze it further, though I'm afraid it would likely be an exercise in futility seeing as the graph wasn't made with very exacting or technical standards in mind. As such, scrutinizing it to such a degree is a bit beside the point and it's not likely to get you very far. Anybody else willing to take on the concept and put it to a more strenuous execution is, of course, welcome. I would love to see it.
Barboo, have a watch, Xena is great fun. If it weren't for Xena, I might never had started to watch Buffy. After years of "If you like Xena, you're sure to like Buffy" I finally gave in (I was holding out because, well, I thought that Xena would kick Buffy's bum, no problem) and I'm happy I did.

Samatwitch - That's funny, I'm also rewatching the Gilmore Girls. (I'm on season 5 now. I very recently re-watched season 6 with my mom, though, so I might skip onto season 7). I might try to draw a diagram, to see what my results look like.
jclemens and Simon my apologies for being too personal. I just felt like the point made by this graph was being dismissed and I have been fighting feminist internet battles against people who try and insist that men and women are like, totally equal now, for a long time. It just made me angry, but I realise this isn't the place for that and I was out of line. So yeah, sorry.

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