Subliminal Packaging
Howard Russell

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Hello Everybody,

I should obviously be busy writing but I’ve been struck by an odd thought and find myself compelled to share it with you.

Quick show of hands. Who here owns the Buffy DVDs? The region one versions? I thought as much. You can put your hands down now. Sit down. No, you in the back, sit down! I don’t care if you have the Emmy consideration DVD of OMWF; that’s not important to our discussion. I’m only concerned with the seven individual season box sets. For I think I have found some subliminal Wiffy goodness in the packaging itself. You will have to examine the sets from the other regions for yourselves; I do not have access to them.

Season One

Subtle Wiffy. All of the large pictures are of Buffy alone. Front and back cover, Buffy; insert pages, Buffy; discs, all Buffy. Except for the spines. Season one is the only set where the two spines are different. One spine is the side of the box opposite the opening which shows Angel, Buffy, and Willow. The other is the spine of the insert, where the discs are, which has Xander, Giles, and Cordelia.

Here’s where the subtle subtextual element comes in. If I were choosing which people to put where—purely on the basis of who the characters are—I’d have grouped the super-naturals (The slayer, the vampire and the watcher) together on one side and the normal characters (the three students) on the other. But that’s not the way it is.

Angel and Buffy together makes perfect sense: They are the canon couple. They haven’t actually become a couple in this season but they are well on their way to becoming one. By the time the package was made, they had been a couple. Now, for the third picture to share the spine, who are you going to choose? The watcher? Giles is her supervisor, her instructor, and the man with all the mystical knowledge. A perfectly reasonable choice to share the space. Xander? The mortal boy who tries to rival Angel for her affections. Another perfectly reasonable choice. Why Willow? In season one she shares the status of best friend with Xander and she’s not yet magical. Why put her on the side with Buffy? I know why the people on this board would put her there and I have to wonder if the designers agree.

Canonically, Willow and Xander should be together. They’re lifelong friends and Willow’s obvious—and safely het—crush on Xander is a big part of season one. Why separate the two of them? Well, the set came out long after Willow did, so maybe the designers used that knowledge. Put her where her affections obviously would have been. Showing Buffy and her two options. Yay for the Wiffy.

Season Two

This is the big bad B/A season. The front and back are Buffy and Angel, as expected. When you remove the DVD insert, while still closed, the front and back pictures are of Buffy. It opens to show Buffy and Angel on the left and a quote in the right. Opening it further, the first two discs seen are three and four: Buffy and Willow. Following the theme, I’d have expected it to be Buffy and Angel. Heck, Angel doesn’t even rate a disc. Spike gets a disc but Angel does not. I think someone in the design team wasn’t a good little B/A ’shipper. Point two for Buffy and Willow.

Season Three

The front and back covers are identical. Buffy in the center with Angel on the left and Faith on the right. I find this to be an interesting choice. Almost like these are her two options, Angel or Faith. I’m gonna call this a point for Buffy femslash in general.

Season Four

Season Four DVD Box Set Cover

This is the set that started my febrile imagination on this quest to inspect the packaging. Seasons two, three, five, six, and seven all have Buffy alone on the spine. Season one has all six regular characters on the spines, three on each. But season four has Buffy and Willow. Front cover? Buffy and Willow. The first two discs you see? Buffy and Willow. Are you sensing a pattern here? I know I am—and I like it. There are six discs and the four original Scoobies are four of them. The other two? Oz and Spike. Not Riley. Not Tara. Coincidence? I think not. Four stars for Wiffy packaging!

A closer inspection of the Willow disc shows that it is the same picture as the Willow on the box. The colors are slightly different, but it is the exact same picture. Look at her hair, every wisp is in the same place. This is significant because in the disc version you can see her right shoulder. But on the box, her shoulder is hidden behind Buffy. Ah ha! This is not a publicity shot of the two of them together; it’s a composite. A manip. The designer created this picture just for the box. Why would someone do that? I know why I would. Did someone on this board design this box set? Own up to it if you did.

Season Five

The packaging is sadly lacking in subtext. Much like season five itself.

Season Six

The only bit is in the insert. When you first open it, Buffy is on the left and Willow on the right. But the Willow is the scary-veiny Willow from the end of the season. This is reminiscent of the season three insert where it was a dark Angel on the right, opposite a light Buffy. And in season three, despite her options as shown on the box, the insert reveals her eventual decision: Angel. In this season it’s Spike who’s busy pursuing the Slayer but Willow gets the insert. Hmm. Buffy and Spike get the first revealed discs. Yet it’s Willow who gets the insert. It’s not much but I’ll take what I can get.

Season Seven

Utterly devoid of Wiffy, much to my distress. But there is a subtle nod to femslash. When you first open the insert, there’s Buffy and Spike on the left panel and Xander and Anya on the right. Two ‘couples’ who are no longer together. When you flip the left panel again there’s a picture of Buffy and Faith. Another past couple, perhaps? I know I’m stretching for it but I’m used to that.

The Chosen Collection

Also utterly devoid of Wiffy. Not even a subtle nod to femslash. The pictures are either screen captures or studio publicity shots. The closest I can come to extremely subtle Wiffy is that Buffy and Willow are next to each other in almost every cast publicity shot. And it isn’t always that close. Season five is the worst, since Spike is between the two. Not Wiffy friendly. Damn, I wish the people responsible for the season four box set had made this.


The Wiffiness on the packaging resembles the subtext of the show. I already like the ’ship so I see signs for it everywhere. But it was a fun game for me to play. Hope you enjoyed playing along with me.

Your fellow ’shipper,
Howard Russell

Grrr . . . Argh.

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