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Talk about the end of girl power

Last week, Buffy the Vampire Slayer finished a magnificent run.

I started watching the show for its confident mix of humor and action, but quickly became enraptured both by the way creator Joss Whedon and his writing staff were able to create metaphors for larger life issues in a subtle, unpedantic manner: you know, the way art is supposed to work.

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For the first couple of seasons, the show was mostly about the tribulations of becoming an adult: high school may be hell on earth for some, but for Buffy and her friends, it was actually located on the mouth of Hell itself. Fighting monsters and chasing demons was really about getting the confidence you needed to grow up.

But over the last few years, the show became about much more than maturity: it expressed, better than any other show on television in the last few years, what it meant for a young woman, with great potential and magnificent talent, to fight a man's world, constantly insecure about her proper place in it. She even died trying to figure it out a couple of times (on her tombstone: SHE SAVED THE WORLD. A LOT.)

Last week's episode provided a fitting summation to all this speculation: in the show's finale, Buffy and her friend Willow come up with -- and execute -- an audacious plan. You see, one of the rules of the show was that there could only be a single slayer in every generation. Empowered womanhood was exceedingly rare.

But, as we found out, this was a rule. A rule made by men, as it turns out, and these sort of rules are meant to be broken. And so a spell is cast, and every girl who could be a vampire slayer suddenly becomes one. Victory is theirs, and the show ends with visions of legions of strong, independent women.

Sadly, this idea ended up being more fantastic than the Hellmouth: the very minute -- literally -- the show ended, the UPN network immediately undercut everything it stood for.

They premiered a new program directly after the series finale of Buffy: a new reality show called America's Next Top Model, in which the essence of girl power seems to be the ability to pose prettily and stoically undergo waxing.

I doubt that anyone at the network was aware of the irony here. Which is, of course, exactly the point. In this age of American idols and extreme makeovers, when what you look like is increasingly more important than who you are, we'll miss Buffy. A lot.