Archived Discussion

This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

Is "Plucky girl who saves the day" a genuine trope created by Buffy?

Opinion Girl : Note that "plucky girl who saves the world/day" is widely cited as a TV trope in reviews, and always attributed to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Christopher Tumber : I think you've just mis-spelled Nancy Drew (smile).

Opinion Girl : Nice try. Plucky girl with supernatural powers who saves the day. I also don't remember the TV Nancy Drew as ever doing more than solving mysteries.

Christopher Tumber : Umm, you're redefining your statement to suit your argument - adding "supernatural". If catching a criminal and/or preventing more crime is not "saving the day" I'm not sure what is. But, okay, I'll bite - If "Plucky girl with supernatural powers who saves the day" is now a trope, name another example besides Buffy.

Opinion Girl : Tru Calling, Joan of Arcadia, and Wonderfalls are the three I've seen the most callouts from. Charmed also postdates (and reused many plot devices from) Buffy.

Christopher Tumber : Not to get into a huge semantic argument, but, I'd stack Nancy's exploits against Tru or Joan anytime - Neither of them have saved the world either, have they? Charmed tends to be bigger in scale but as you mentioned it's also much more firmly entrenched on Buffy's coat-tails. IMHO, these all fall under the recent resurgence in female [action] heroes which started with Laura Croft and Xena, continues in Alias and has it's roots in characters like Wonder Woman.

Opinion Girl : And "saving the day" is, in my mind, larger in scale than preventing a crime. Superman saves the day. Columbo doesn't.

Christopher Tumber : Then how do Tru Calling, Joan of Arcadia or Wonderfalls make your list?

Opinion Girl : Aren't both Tru and Joan saving the day? I haven't actually seen any of the three shows; as I said, I'm citing reviews.

CT : By my definition, and common consensus yes, by your revised definition, no. They're Columbos, not Supermans.

Opinion Girl : The point I was trying to make, which I'll reiterate, is that the postmodern shows are creating new tropes/idioms

CT : Yaya, I got ya, we agree and I think we pretty much covered this on the previous page - I was just saying that examples for old tropes from pomo shows is less than optimum - I expect we could come up with examples from The Simpsons for just about everything on this site. But what value is that, except maybe as some yardstick of a trope's prevalence - ie A trope which has been skewred on The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama and Buffy is probably a lot more common than one which has only been seen on The Simpsons. It's the difference between spotting the trope in the wild and in captivity.

Opinion Girl : When television reviewers talk about strong, kickass teenage heroines with supernatural powers, they always refer back to Buffy; indeed, strong, kickass heroines in general are frequently back-referenced to Buffy, rightly or not.

CT : The fact that a group with as short memories as tv reviewers only references back as far as the immediate past is not much of an argument.

Opinion Girl : I saw Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew wasn't an ancestor of Buffy. Buffy was a genuinely new version of an old theme. She owes much more to The Saint? (Roger Moore version) than she does to previous female detectives. Indeed, she's not a detective at all.

CT : This paragraph is self-contradictory on so, so many levels.

OG: Why, thank you. I admire your reasoning and courtesy equally.

CT : The bottom line - You keep dancing around your defintion in order to force Buffy into being first of type, but then at the expence of omitting those who are supposed to have followed directly from Buffy. "Plucky young girl saves the day" is NOT a new type.

OB: My original definition was not a new type. My original definition furthermore inadequately characterized Buffy. I'm attempting to refine it as I go. You may call that "dancing around your definition" if you like; I call it trying to converge on the truth.

My claim is that Buffy is a new thing. I'm still trying to find adequate wording to capture why it is a new thing. You've effectively shot down "saves the world"; I abandon it.

I think the crux of the matter may be "self-reliant" and "strong" rather than "supernatural". Buffy is an agent; she doesn't look to adults or to men for direction. Nancy Drew did.

CT : You equivocate on "saves day" - It must now be "saves the world" or something equally grand.

CT : You shoehorn in "supernatural powers" which excludes obviously related shows like Alias.

CT : Joan of Arcadia has no supernatural powers (God does) and works on a small scale, saving one soul at a time.

CT : Tru Calling has supernatural powers but also works on a small scale, saving one life at a time.

CT : It's like definitions for super-hero which attempt to tailor their definition so as to explicitly make Superman the first super-hero, but without "getting their hands dirty" by actually stating in their definition "Superman is the first super-hero". The result being a definition which either includes precursors (The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Phantom) or excludes other characters which should be included - It's very hard to create a definition for super-hero that includes Batman but not The Shadow unless you state that arbitrary cut-off at Superman. Or you exclude non-comic book charcters (which introduces it's own problems given the number of obviously super-hero characters which originate outside comics).

Opinion Girl : Buffy was a genuinely new version of an old theme.

Exactly. It's an old theme. Thank you.

OG: There is nothing new under the sun. Certainly nothing new in human relationships. On the other hand — Sherlock Holmes was not brand-new — he was preceded by Dupin and by others. He was nonetheless a new thing. Sherlock Holmes became an archetype, and became the father of a line. I am claiming that Buffy is a new thing in the same way — she clearly has immediate ancestors, but she also changes the way that people are able to perceive the world. Writing Sherlock Holmes created an idea that other writers could instantiate. Writing Buffy did the same thing in a way that, say, writing I Spy did not.

Opinion Girl : She owes much more to The Saint? (Roger Moore version) than she does to previous female detectives. Indeed, she's not a detective at all.

CT : I never said she was a detective. You're creating a straw man. She's a "plucky young girl who saves the day". Just like Nancy Drew.

OG: Sorry, you said that Buffy was the same sort of thing as Nancy Drew. I perceive Nancy Drew as solving crimes for her own amusement. (Detective trope.) I perceive Buffy as attempting to right various wrongs — many non-vampire related — in the world.

CT : We're talking about a very significant shift in a popular culture which has traditionally seen it's heroes, particularly action and adventure heroes as male. Buffy has been a tremendous populariser of this, but she didn't start it, and I can't fathom denying her obvious roots any more than ignoring other obvious relations like: La Femme Nikita / Point of No Return, Out of Sight, Amelie and Dead Like Me.

Weremonkey Gus: Buffy is a prototype character. Nancy Drew is a prototype character. Perhaps The superclass is unimportant?

CT : Maybe, but see above paragraph. How many female action/adventure heroes preceed the Xena/Croft/Buffy explosion - Wonder Woman, Nancy Drew... And who else that isn't either a supporting love interest (Maid Marian, Guinnevere, Lois Lane) or spin-off character (Supergirl, Batgirl, Bionic Woman)? Modesty Blaise? Barbarella? Brenda Star? Annie? All pretty obscure... The modest size of that list is very significant.

Weremonkey Gus : For what it is worth, the case looks pretty strong for Buffy being the prototype of something like Extraordinarily Empowered Girl on TV. She may be a variant of Gumption Girl.

CT: I can live with that.

CT: This is getting tough to follow so I'll try to re-thread a bit:

OG: Sorry, you said that Buffy was the same sort of thing as Nancy Drew. I perceive Nancy Drew as solving crimes for her own amusement. (Detective trope.) I perceive Buffy as attempting to right various wrongs — many non-vampire related — in the world

CT: You're kinda putting words in my mouth, but I can see how you're misinterpreting me (of course it can't possibly be that I've been unclear!! (smile)). Specifically, you offered Buffy as originating the "plucky young girl who saves the day" and I countered with Nancy Drew. Nowhere in there is anything about detective or detective work - I don't believe the specific of how they save the day is the point, just that they do.

CT: I think the the core of the disagreement we're having is that you think I'm saying:

"Buffy is exactly the same as Nancy Drew".

When I'm actually saying:

"Buffy is a decendent of Nancy Drew".

While I hear you saying:

"Buffy is completely different and unconnected to Nancy Drew"

But what you're actually saying is, um, I dunno that may actually be what you're saying. At any rate, I have a big, big problem with what I 'think' you're saying. And in particular your original definition was too broad - and I don't think I'm quibbling.

OG: I'm attempting to refine it as I go. You may call that "dancing around your definition" if you like; I call it trying to converge on the truth.

CT: Okay, fair enough - It just seems that every time I point out your definition includes Nancy Drew, you change it, at which point it becomes too confining to be usefull.

OG: What I'm trying to say is "Buffy has predecessors, like any other character. However, she combines those predecessors in such a way as to become a new thing in the same way that Sherlock Holmes or Superman was a new thing." Not unprecedented, but nonetheless a watershed.

So, what New Thing is Buffy? Here's where I am brainstorming. I'm going to try to create a definition, then listen to your arguments.

Buffy is a young woman who is her own authority, who is not ruled by either men or by adults. Buffy is powerful. Buffy is exercising her power for the benefit of others, not for her own benefit. Gus's Extraordinarily Empowered Girl works for me.

CT: BTW - I think Gus has it pretty much nailed with Nancy Drew as Gumption Girl (see also: Little Orphan Annie, Shirley Temple's various roles) and Buffy being an early example Extraordinarily Empowered Girl which is closely related and possibly a sub-category. (There are still precedents for Extraordinarily Empowered Girl that predate Buffy, but they tend to be extremely rare outside of comic books so Buffy really is the bellweather, along with perhaps Xena [depending upon the significance placed on age])

OG: On the other hand — Sherlock Holmes was not brand-new — he was preceded by Dupin and by others.

CT: There are still important differences between a prototype, an archetype and a populariser.

OG: Which of the three is Sherlock Holmes, in your mind?

CT: Other Buffy ancestors: She-Ra, Sailor Moon, Jem and the Holograms, Sabrina the Teen-age Witch, Wendy the good little Witch, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie

OG: Wendy, Samantha, and Jeannie are all powerless, as you say. The only thing they have in common with Buffy is femininity. It is not true that every supernatural female is an ancestor of Buffy, just as not every detective is an ancestor of Monk.

CT: Bewitched and Jeanie are the antithesis of Buffy as a central theme is a woman's subservience to a man and the repression of her true self (Both Jeanie and Sam are repeatedly admonished to hide their gifts and deny their nature)

CT: She-Ra, Sailor Moon, &etc are obvious precedents to Buffy however their appeal was exclusively to girls (Yes, Sailor Moon has male fans, but they're freaks) while Buffy's key function is as populariser in helping expand this type to a male audience. Note: this type dates back even further to at least Mary Marvel in the comic books of the 40's and possibly Alice in Wonderland.

Weremonkey Gus : OG, I would say Sherlock Holmes was a populariser.Going back, a bit: Is there consensus that Gumption Girl is a trope worth listing? Or should should it be Plucky Girl? This discussion could be moved to a footnote-entry, if needs be.

CT: I've referenced Gumption Girl in Mouthy Kid, however Plucky Girl might be better - I think "Gumption" may date the concept (which might not be wrong - a little girl who stands up for herself is not so noteworthy now as it was in the 40's). Other examples of Plucky/Gumption girl from tv?? Laura Ingels (Little House on the Prairie)?

Ungvichian: Besides the Plucky Girl / Extraordinarily Empowered Girl debate... why not drag the Action Girl trope into the discussion as well?

PMA: Sorry for intruding on this very interesting conversation but how old are CT and OG purely out of interest - just wonder if they are the Buffy generation or older.

Gus: I'm not too sure what age group the "Buffy generation" refers to. The same ages as the actors, maybe? At any rate, I'm pretty sure CT and OG are old enough to vote and younger than Morey Safer.

Silent Hunter: Does Sarah Jane Smith from Doctor Who count as one. There's not a single story where something nasty doesn't happen to her... She does flip at the end as well.

Robert: Pluck is about courage and tenacity. It counts for a lot less if you're extraordinarily empowered. Buffy, for example, wouldn't usually qualify because few of her opponents were her equal or better. (Faith, Angelus, Glory, etc were, but they were exceptional, not routine encounters.) Buffy did show pluck sometimes, as when depowered, but it was rare.

Sarah Jane in her first story, after realising she's been dropped in the Middle Ages, leads an assault on a castle, without any help from the Doctor. That's pluck, and it doesn't need any supernatural help.

Given this, are there any examples for this trope? Women who consistency demonstrate great courage, against the odds, with or without special powers?

Ununnilium: ...well, Sarah Jane, for one. ``v In the same vein, possibly Rose from the new series.

Otherwise... hmmmm. We know the Plucky Girl is not an Extraordinarily Empowered Girl. Could she be an Action Girl?

Robert: The Plucky Girl is not normally an Extraordinarily Empowered Girl, nor vice versa - there are always exceptions, alas.

The Action Girl is usually plucky - the entry says spunky, which amounts to the same thing. Inspirationally Disadvantaged girls are often apparently intended to be plucky, but don't really qualify for the opposite reason to the Extraordinarily Empowered Girl.

I'd say, the Plucky Girl includes every Action Girl who isn't a professional and many of those who are but also females amateur detectives and the like who regularly put themselves in danger without being very good at action. Some versions of Lois Lane would qualify, given the risks they're willing to run to get a story, implicitly even before Superman was around to rescue them.

((Tzintzuntzan)): Since just what the entry refers to is a little vague...does it count if the girl just goes through hell without being traumatized, without any supernatural events? I was thinking of Spike from Degrassi, a fourteen-year-old mother. She has truly amazing will to see things through — including when the school tries to kicks her out because a pregnant student isn't seemly. (We eventually see her as a no-nonsense adult.)

Ununnilium: I think so. I think the Plucky Girl is a female character who goes through hell but emerges triumphant and with her happy nature unchanged at the end. `.`

Stm177: This entry needs more description of what a plucky girl is, and isn't. Right now it's too vague, and I'm not sure what people had in mind when it was created. =(

Farseer Lolotea: Is there any good reason why this shouldn't just be merged with Determinator, with some notes as to how male and female versions tend to differ?
Lale: A Western Animation category didn't exist until now? Is that scary or just depressing?