As I'm sure everybody is all too well aware by now, issue 8.34 of the 'Buffy' comic contained numerous scenes of a certain man and woman naked and having sex together. A lot of people found this to be distressing and even disgusting. Other people didn't have a problem with it. Both sides tried to explain their reactions. These explanations themselves offended some people who felt that their own feelings were thereby being invalidated, diminished or maligned. It all became a mess.
I don't want to address the wider issues in this post, because honestly, just about everything that can be said already has been. However, there's one particular sub-strand of the debate where I do think I have something new to contribute, thanks to an hour or two spent Googling for transcripts of interviews with Sarah Michelle Gellar.
I did so because a lot of people in the debate have raised the question of what she, personally, would think about the explicit depiction of Buffy naked in 8.34. Would she be embarrassed or offended or feel violated? The fact that she had a no-nudity clause in her contract on 'Buffy' was mentioned, and the way her wardrobe on the show became less and less revealing over the course of the seasons, apparently through her own choice. She also criticised the amount of sex in the Season 6 storyline - although there was some debate over what exactly she said. My search for interviews began with that; I wanted to see if I could find her exact words recorded. (I'm a historian by training. Checking for primary sources whenever possible has become ingrained. *g*)
As it happened, I didn't find an account of her talking about Season 6. I found something else instead... something which on first reading left me completely gobsmacked. In fact at first I wasn't sure I even believed it was genuine - it was a typed transcript of a TV interview - so I went looking on the various online video services to see if someone had uploaded a clip of that show so I could actually hear her say it in her own voice.
They had, and she really did say it. It's under the cut, and it might be considered Not Safe For Work given what she's talking about.
This is an interview she gave on the Conan O'Brien late night show back on 13 June 2002, just before 'Scooby Doo' was released. The relevent bit starts about 6 minutes in; she's talking about the fact that she and Freddie enjoy playing practical jokes.
SMG: But my friend Nicole came to New York with me a couple weeks ago. And she had to go to work. And I was really annoyed, because she wouldn't play with me! And like all kids, you know, I have to act out if I'm not getting attention. So I got the keys to her hotel room. And she had her office computer, her laptop hooked up. And so I downloaded all my internet porn onto her computer in the hotel room.
CO'B: Wait a minute. 'All my internet porn'? What internet porn?
SMG: See, I can't tell these stories!
CO'B: Oh, now let's talk about this. What do you mean, all your internet porn? What porn?
SMG: You know, where they take actors, and they take your head, and they put them on, like, other bodies. (To audience) You guys know what I'm talking about. (To CO'B) You must have some sites like that.
CO'B: No, that's *my* body.
SMG: Oh. (Pretends to be abashed.)
CO'B: That's a terrible thing to do. She's gonna get in big trouble now.
SMG: I just -- when the chambermaids came to clean her room, and they look at her computer, and it's just all flashing... butts and --
CO'B: Yeah. And then they call the police, and she's arrested. And you're laughing.
SMG: It was pretty funny when that happened.
So. Not only does Sarah know about the practice of erotic photomanips (putting actors' heads onto sexualised images of other people's bodies) - and not only does she apparently not disapprove of the practice (in fact she thinks it's funny)... she even has her own internet porn collection of them! And she's willing to tell the whole world about it on a late-night TV show, and explain to them exactly what she means in case any of them don't know about photomanips!
One thing I'm not entirely sure of - when she says "all my internet porn" I first assumed she was talking about her own personal stash of downloaded images she keeps for, you know, private moments. Re-reading the transcript, another interpretation is that when she says "my" internet porn she means "pornographic photomanips of me" - that fits with her then asking Conan if there are websites with photomanips of him out there too.
Either way, I think that puts a whole new light on her likely reaction to the images of Buffy naked in the comics, don't you? And no, this certainly wasn't what I was expecting to find when I went searching for quotes by her about sex scenes and nudity. :-)
And I should probably put in a disclaimer here that just because Sarah is apparently completely comfortable with the concept of naked photomanips of actors doesn't mean that every other actor would be. It's funny how different people can react to things differently. ;-)
So given this attitude, how do we explain her reported unease with Season 6 of 'Buffy', and specifically with the balcony scene in 'Dead Things'? I can only speculate, but I suspect it was the context of the sex more than the fact of it being sex. She wasn't just acting in a sex scene - she was acting the role of a woman letting herself be degraded and humiliated in a public place, having sex with someone she didn't love and didn't trust because she felt she was too worthless to object and that this was all she deserved.
That's really not a positive image of female sexuality to be sending out (And please note, I'm not talking about the entirety of the Spike/Buffy relationship here, only how it appeared in the middle of Season 6). One thing that comes across loud and clear from her interviews is that Sarah knew that Buffy was a role model for young women, and didn't want anything to tarnish that. So she objected to that particular storyline.
Bear in mind that a couple of years earlier she played Kathryn in 'Cruel Intentions' who was definitely not a role-model for young women - at least not for young women who don't want to snort cocaine, ruin people's lives for fun, and promise to have sex with their own brother if he wins a bet. But at least until she gets her deserved comeuppance in the final reel, Kathryn is never a victim. Sarah apparently enjoyed playing that role, and while she didn't appear nude in the film either, her role and appearance were certainly highly sexualised.
It's all about the context.